The first time I internalized Aretha Franklin – not “heard,” because as an American growing up post-1966, you never hear her for the first time – I was playing a video game against my oldest, not older, brother, back in the relatively nascent console days when video game producers didn’t know what to do other than to license actual music to fill in gaps in gameplay.
Specifically, the first time I internalized Aretha Franklin, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 76, was during one of the marathon sessions of NFL GameDay 2000 that yours truly used to play against his older, wiser sibling. To give you an idea of how the games themselves usually went, I relied on the fake punt-pass as my go-to fourth down play, and it never worked, and the most memorable game we ever played rests on that guy using that play, my play, to beat me in the final seconds of a game in which I was already ahead. He kept a running log of this particular series, but that is neither here nor there. It’s in Chicago, if I had to guess.
After I saw the 2018 Album of the Year Grammy nominees, I told myself that I wouldn’t be mad if any of the artists nominated won the highly coveted award. There were no glaring insults to the culture-at-large, à la Beck or Mumford & Sons. There was Bruno Mars, Lorde, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino and, of course, Kendrick Lamar. All of these artists released albums that seeped through popular culture (though you could argue that the extent of Lorde’s and Childish Gambino’s impacts was less pronounced than the other three nominees).
Despite having a lineup of albums that had their valid arguments and did not seem personally imported into the category by John Lennon impersonator and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, the final win for Bruno Mars’ resounding coronation changed my earlier assertion that I would not fault the Grammys for awarding something like 24K Magic for Album of the Year. The more I began to reflect on Bruno’s win and what it meant, the more I began to question why we should even pay attention.
Tonight, Devonté Hynes will lead his project, Blood Orange, in the second show of a stand at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater with several guests, in charitable performances for Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. Along with the matinee performance this afternoon, Hynes’ two shows at the Apollo were highly anticipated and, as such, sold out almost as quickly as a Bruce Springsteen concert. For the latter, timelessness is an accepted standard; for the former, critical acclaim has become his typical accompaniment, and the Apollo shows should stand to be something of a turning point for Hynes in terms of popular recognition, even in the face of his highly-touted collaboration with Carly Rae Jepsen earlier this year, “All That,” which he co-wrote, and the Saturday Night Live appearance which followed.
Before you go jettisoning yourself into superstardom at the Apollo, however, you must prepare yourself for the endeavor. On Thursday night, in a secret show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, Hynes did just that, with an exclamation point.
There was a moment when I just sat staring at the scene in Chicago’s Union Park. It was on Sunday, the last day of the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival. Caribou was playing on the main stage, the smell of marijuana was pungent, and I was enjoying a hot dog. There were people everywhere. Most crowded at the front of the stage for Caribou, some standing idly talking with their friends, and others, like myself, nodding along to the bassline of “Can’t Do Without You.” It was a moment of clarity that I experienced in a festival (my first) marked by a rush of emotional states which played out like a roller coaster through a grueling three day plunge. There was CHVRCHES’ maelstrom of synth, Freddie Gibbs putting Pitchfork on blast for previous line-ups, an actual maelstrom that shutdown the festival for all of 20 minutes, the dirge of listening to Panda Bear and the rowdiness of A$AP Ferg’s energetic dorkiness. Yet, throughout all of it, festival goers noticed a fair amount of community throughout the throngs of festival goers. We weren’t inundated with a slew of corporate sponsors, distractions and a disorienting amount of people. That community created an atmosphere in which we could enjoy the acts, no matter how close or far away we were from each respective stage. It was a community I was glad to be part of for three days.
R&B has been at an interesting crossroads in 2013, with many new acts incorporating gender-bending vocals, subject matter about an artist’s sexual orientation and experimentation in weird, dark soundscapes. It may seem like a rather odd time for R. Kelly to jump back in the swing of things and record another album to give to the masses. But evidence suggests that this is probably the most opportune. From sharing the stage at Coachella with Phoenix to releasing a flock of doves during the Pitchfork Music Festival, Kelly has been received by crowds with all the enthusiasm of people who act like they’ve been sexually repressed for decades. This has translated into the surprise success that Kelly’s collaboration with Lady Gaga on “Do What U Want” has seen in recent months. The world wants the directness of R. Kelly again, and R. Kelly is what they get with Black Panties, perversion and all.