For three consecutive years in college, I bought the above as a poster at an annual fair on campus. The first two met their ends in predictable fashion, either tearing irreparably from the wall one night while I was asleep or falling victim to the typical antics of undergraduate dorm life. The third couldn’t handle the unexpected transition from average resident to resident assistant and ended up in a garbage can, probably next to some Bob Marley counterparts and cans of new formula Four Loko.
The image, of course, is one of the most iconic of the twentieth century, something not even its ubiquity in male collegiate dorm rooms can ruin. In it, Sonny Liston looks up helplessly at the heavyweight champion of the world, a Kentuckian formerly called Cassius Clay whose brash demeanor and furious wordplay underscored a revolutionary style of boxing for the heavyweight division. Muhammad Ali, who has passed away at 74, made a habit of shocking the world, precisely as he said he would.
We here at TwH are not in the business of declaring something as THE Song of the Summer – there are a ton of other places for that. We’re just here to guide you to some songs you might want to add to your Spotify, Tidal or that little upstart with its own live, actual radio station, for the summer. We’ll give you updates as the summer progresses.
It’s the middle of the summer, and temperatures have risen to the point where it’s either barely bearable or torturous. Basketball is out, the U.S. Women’s National Team brought us a World Cup, and now we’re just left with the slow burn of baseball’s languorous pace. We’re nearing the dog days, but the music churned out since Memorial Day has been anything but a slow roll. Here are some tracks to keep you cool in the unforgiving broil of the mid-summer sizzle.
There’s been a lot of print dedicated to telling people that Chance the Rapper will be a featured player on Surf rather than the star. That hasn’t stopped some critics of the surprise, free release (!) from griping about how the whole product isn’t a definitive showcase for Chance’s singular Bugs Bunny-as-Edward G. Robinson style. To be sure, Chance is on the record, but his rapping is as it was advertised in the press: a featured player.
His rapping serves more as an additional instrument to the lush jazz production that defines Surf. If anything, he’s just a necessary link to the relative unknowns in the Social Experiment as well as the “We are the World” ensemble of guest stars. The true star is the horn of Donnie Trumpet which pierces, zips and buoys its way through 52 minutes of a long, strange, wonderful trip.
It’s impossible not to talk about the direction of rap during the decade without mentioning A$AP Yams. Yams’ ability to connect the chasm between New York and the rest of Hip-Hop America relied on a voracious appetite of regional styles that only the Internet could facilitate. His omnivorous consumption dictated his vision for the A$AP Mob and the genre at large. Thus, Yams’ tragic death early in 2015 left a hole not only in the genre but in the position of spirit guide for the Mob. This void in the A$AP universe can be felt on At.Long.Last.A$AP (RCA), the sophomore effort of the Mob’s most visible star, A$AP Rocky.
For what feels like a truly immeasurable number of reasons, the existence of the Wu-Tang Clan is a monumental feat in hip-hop. Consider the genesis of the group: a couple of kung-fu-obsessed cousins in Staten Island recruit some friends and start rapping to each other with a full-fledged five-year plan to take over the music industry. An unparalleled debut album gives way to a flood of solo records, each more outstanding than the others. Individual personalities coalesce and gestate inside the Clan before embarking on a crusade to change the way people think about how music happens and why. On November 22nd, at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, we had a chance to bare witness to this pursuit, as one of the Clan’s most prominent members and his most trusted associate spat and spun the crowd into a full-fledged ruckus as if it were 1994.
What I’m really trying to say is this: from the slums of Shaolin, Method Man and Redman struck again.
After being hit with a five-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy, Larry Sanders spoke highly of the medicinal benefits of marijuana use. While other players, such as David Harrison and Josh Howard, have previously advocated for marijuana legalization in the face of league enforcement, Sanders may be the first to do it without fear of league-wide stigmatization. All this, as rumors of a Bucks sale have his team eyeing greener pastures. Elsewhere, the NBA might have to create an award for “Most Underappreciated Player” (MUP) specifically to recognize Shaun Livingston’s efforts in Brooklyn, and DeMarcus Cousins is not releasing a hip-hop album, much to the chagrin of people who like fun everywhere.
The first time I heard Young Thug, I was in my car. I had just downloaded his 1017 Thug mixtape and put it on my iPhone. The first song I skipped to was the one that garnered a considerable amount of buzz among message boards and tastemakers alike – a song entitled “Picacho.” “My diamonds just say Picacho,” Young Thug shouted, his voice almost cracking before heading into the second line. Though the wordplay itself was not necessarily the best I had ever heard, it was certainly noteworthy because of the yelping vocal delivery. It’s a pulse of energy that you can feel in your chest with each listen, and you just want to sing along during every chorus. You want to imitate that weird style and see if you can pull it off yourself. You are not Young Thug though, and you cannot perform this to desired results. It is, however, extremely fun to try and do so.
Fast forward to January, and Young Thug drops Black Portland with his booming cohort, Bloody Jay. On this effort, you hear gargles, warbles, whispers and that esophageal sound that you’d only hear when watching The Grudge. The signature sonic hiccuping from 1017 Thug is still present, but it is flanked by Young Thug using the low end of his voice. There’s a lot more mumbling, which starts from a high squeal, but it slowly degrades into something you are hardly able to discern. This is most evident on “Movin,” where Young Thug devolves into someone who hasn’t quite remembered the words to his favorite rapper’s song and starts uttering them with the confidence of a backing track. It’s one of the many things on Black Portland that makes it such a great listen. It can go from ALL-CAPS to 8-pt wingdings at the drop of a fast-paced snare roll.