Tangent: Travis Scott performing “Goosebumps” 14 times in a row is live music’s greatest achievement

Travis Scott is an excellent artist, and judging from his taped performances, he seems to put on an excellent show. I probably won’t be going to a Travis Scott show anytime soon because I value my life, but bless anyone who does.

On May 12 at a show in Oklahoma City, Travis performed his hit “Goosebumps” 14 times in a row to set a world record for most times a single song was performed during a concert. What’s even more impressive is that every repetition seemed as energetic as the last, both from Travis and the crowd. What’s most impressive is that no one died. This is the greatest thing to ever happen at a concert.

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25. “Respeita” – Sango, DKVPZ

A YouTube description calls American DJ Sango and Brazilian rapper DKVPZ’s collaboration as “favela funk.” Considering I don’t understand what DKVPZ is saying, I’ll just go with that.

24. “Concrete Angel” – Hannah Diamond

“Concrete Angel” begins like a lot of pop/techno crossovers; nothing special, right? But then a minute and a half in, the music fades out, ceding to a soft yet soaring melody, the first of three surprises the song provides. Miss Diamond isn’t a particularly impressive singer, but her innocence and trust in producer A.G. Cook provide the perfect template for the PC Music mastermind to work his computerized magic.

others: “Never Again

23. “Bambi” – Jidenna

Remember “Classic Man?” It was that 2015 smash done by an industry plant with a sartorial schtick, if you needed a reminder. Well, that debut album finally broke through the bureaucratic tape for a super late release earlier this year, and…maybe Jidenna isn’t such a puppet after all?

22. “Mi Gente” – J Balvin, Willy William

The nicest thing I can say about Beyoncé’s Spanish is that she tries. Her presence does not make the remix of J Balvin’s international smash better than the original, however.

21. “The Story of O.J.” – Jay Z (3)

Hoo boy, where to begin? How about with the video’s fantastic art direction? Or the fact that this is the first interesting thing Jay Z has done this decade? Or making a song so politically charged that no white bloggers can sincerely dissect it? Congratulations HOV, you’re retroactive Grammy’s are currently processing.

 

Tangent: Geriatric rappers

171130140017-jay-z-t-magazine-intv-3Prophets of Rage, a supergroup composed of members from Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill released their debut album this year. It sucked, but it was supposed to suck. Well-intentioned as it was, proletariat screams from once-popular punk bands don’t age very well. Rappers age even worse.

Except for this year, apparently. Old as hell Fat Joe got the ball rolling last year with the not-terrible “All The Way Up.” French Montana used that momentum to de-age fifteen years with “Unforgettable.” 37-year-old Gucci Mane regained mainstream relevance. 37-year-old Yo Gotti found it for the first time. Future ruled the world and is closer to 40 than 20. Big Boi released a well-received album and is closer to 50 than 30.

Run The Jewels had the most impressive story for a while: Killer Mike and El-P, both 42 years old, seemed to have hit their peak with RTJ3, the best album either rapper has ever released. Even more impressive, however, is the oldest rapper to ever get a number 1 album: Jay Z, at the ripe old age of 48, sounding mature and as hungry as he was at 28.

Just what in tarnation is happening?

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20. “Rake It Up” – Yo Gotti, Nicki Minaj

If you’re going to make a strip club anthem, you might as well go all out. Make the trunk rattle. Put some body glitter on it. Have Nicki hop on a verse, even if she’s just reprising her role from “Throw Sum Mo.” And make sure you give it a stupid hook, preferably using garden tools.

19. “Money” – Riton, Kah-Lo, Mr Eazi, Davido

It’s hard to hear international voices on Western radio without a cosign from a white DJ these days. Blame Diplo if you want. So thanks to Riton for curating, but does he need to get top billing?

18. “Blood Under My Belt” – The Drums

Alas, The Drums haven’t lived up to the promise that their 2010 debut predicted, but they’re still chugging along far beyond what early aughts contemporaries Surfer Blood or Harlem or even Best Coast could accomplish. “Blood Under My Belt” keeps the listener hooked by never receding to the one chord, something only the most courageous of pop stars could pull off.

17. “Stay Happy” – Broken Social Scene

I still have no idea how BSS is pulling this off.

others: “Protest Song,” “Please Take Me With You

16. [REDACTED]

Tangent: PWR BTTM, gay heroes, and due process

pwrbttm_andrewpiccone_3a5471I wanted to place queer rock duo PWR BTTM’s anthem “Big Beautiful Day” at 16th on this list, but some things got in the way. And for those of you that spent an inordinate amount of time in May reading PWR BTTM think pieces, feel free to glaze over this one. It won’t be any different.

But some context for those of you who haven’t: two days before the release of what was to be their breakthrough sophomore album Pageant, PWR BTTM member Ben Hopkins received accusations via Facebook and Twitter that he sexually assaulted at least two women. The band responded not by addressing the accusations or pursuing a legal defense, but by limiting direct communication between the victims and the band to a private email address. LGBT+ groups and internet forums called for blood, and the band’s recording company Polyvinyl responded by canceling the band’s tour, canceling the album’s release, removing the band from the label, and cutting the band’s rights to Pageant. This effectively killed PWR BTTM.

Though neither Hopkins nor bandmate Liv Bruce has been charged with any crime, the overwhelming flood of accusations point towards a sad likelihood: Hopkins is probably a predator, and Bruce is probably an enabler. And in a queer community that values self-policing, there is no room for either.

But lost in the accusations and record-label drama crept out a really good album. You can’t buy or legally stream Pageant anywhere, but it still sits on torrent sites as one of the most underexposed records of the year. Pageant is a wonderful display of power pop, mixing incredible melodic instincts with witty banter and unshakable energy. Self-actualization anthems like “Silly” and “Big Beautiful Day” would’ve rocked festivals for years to come and would’ve empowered innumerable queer kids to pursue their dreams. Hell, those songs might still do that, anyway.

And if they do, it will be because listeners decided to separate the art from the artist. Whether one can compartmentalize appreciation and support is debatable, but it will be necessary if PWR BTTM wants a successful resurrection. One of the band’s biggest ironies in fighting for queer rights is that when faced with horrible accusations, they didn’t receive the same benefit of the doubt that other straight-identifying predators like Chris Brown and R Kelly received. Which is fine, because if your message demands respect for other people, especially the vulnerable and disenfranchised, then you better goddamn respect them.

I really like PWR BTTM’s music. I really like Pageant, and I really wanted it to become the punk starter kit for millions of confused queer kids. When “Big Beautiful Day” implores the audience to curse those motherfuckers, I still get emotional. I just didn’t want these guys to be the motherfuckers I had to curse.

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15. “Krippy Kush” – Farruko, Bad Bunny, Rvssian

The island’s baseball team kicked off the year with its march to the finals in this year’s World Baseball Classic, only to fall to its Yankee superiors. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee released literally the biggest song of all time. Citizens voted overwhelmingly in support of becoming a U.S. state in a national referendum. And then Hurricane Maria essentially destroyed the island, exacerbated by a callous American response, and has still left much of the island without power or hope. Puerto Rico had itself quite a year, and in the grand scheme of things, “Krippy Kush” probably doesn’t even get a side note on the island’s 2017 diary. And uh…I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Pray for Puerto Rico.

14. “Need To Feel Your Love” – Sheer Mag (2)

It’s kinda hard to believe that a band debuting three EPs of meat-and-potatoes classic rock would find gold in funky soft-rock, but I guess there’s more to Sheer Mag than their face-melting licks initially suggested.

others: “Expect The Bayonet,” “Just Can’t Get Enough

13. “Mayor” – Wiki

Wiki really wants you to know that he’s both Puerto Rican and Irish, and being of a similar ethnic mix, I understand the exuberance. Though he might as well just say New Yorker since he sounds like Ghostface Killah with half a bodega breakfast sandwich in his mouth.

others: “Stickball

12. “Flush” – Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts (2), Karen O (2)

Karen O is scary, yo.

11. “GUMMY” – Brockhampton

I don’t think Brockhampton are as paradigm-shifting as the Internet says they are (unpopular opinion below), but I can’t deny that they released many excellent singles this year, “Gummy” being the stickiest.

others: “GOLD,” “SWEET,” “BOOGIE

Tangent: Brockhampton exploits white mediocrity

 

brockhampton-to-release-saturation-3-tomorrow

(from left) JOBA, Merlyn Wood, Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Ameer Van

At this point, the Brockhampton/Odd Future comparisons seem too easy. Both used the Internet, the former to reach beyond their home in West LA and the latter to gather in South LA, to find an audience of young hip-hop nerds excited by their rejection of current norms. Both groups even have the same manager, and former Odd Future centerpiece Tyler, the Creator even recognized Brockhampton’s footprint with an invite to his massively popular Camp Flog Gnaw carnival. So why does Brockhampton receive almost universal praise in 2017 when Odd Future got such a polarizing reaction in 2010?

 

Some would say that Odd Future’s violent lyrics, trendy fashion, and provocative behavior paved the way for an equally ambitious group like Brockhampton to exist, and there’s some truth to that. Others might argue that Odd Future made intentionally uncomfortable content while Brockhampton preaches inclusiveness and accessibility, and I buy that as well. But I think there’s a more sinister factor at play: Brockhampton got better press because they have white members and Odd Future did not.

The two members in question, Matt Champion and JOBA, are the least interesting regular vocalists in the group. Champion manages on a passable flow and pretty-boy bravado, but little about his abilities distinguish him from the other rappers in the group, much less from solo rappers in the industry. He embodies white mediocrity. JOBA, meanwhile, is the group’s wild card, though his abrasive falsetto does little to distract from his mediocre bars. He, too, screams mediocre.

And yet, because of the group’s emphasis on equal participation, Champion and JOBA get as much playing time as their more talented teammates, who all happen to be black. And if this were Little League, that would be fine. But rap has always been treated like a professional sport, and the truth is the only two Brockhampton members worth mainstream attention are the centerpiece Kevin Abstract and the wunderkind Ameer Van. Everyone else, white kids included, is disposable.

Odd Future faced the same problem in 2010: outside of Tyler, Earl Sweatshirt, and occasional collaborator Frank Ocean, none of its members merited a second listen.  Groups by definition have stronger members and weaker members (even Wu-Tang had U-God), but stay together because the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. But with an overreliance on posse cuts throughout their two full-length mixtapes, Brockhampton gave us plenty of material to judge all of its parts, not all of which deserve equal space on their records.

But despite a clear gulf of talent amongst the band’s members, Champion and JOBA stand as popular, maybe even more so, as Abstract and Van. Odd Future didn’t get this benefit: they were all young, black, and brash, and much of white America viewed them as a threat. Brockhampton, meanwhile, market themselves as an American Boyband, charming and inclusive and very much non-threatening. Never mind that they have yet to make something as wild as “Rella” or as charming as “Oldie;” this is hip-hop you can bring home to your parents, or at least your more progressive friends.