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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.

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For some of us, 2015 was a year of fulfillment, consistency and hope. For the rest, it served unpredictable dishes with sides of indifferent mediocrity, crushing despair and lukewarm-bordering-on-cold broccoli. That’s not to say that lukewarm-bordering-on-cold broccoli is necessarily bad, but it definitely could’ve been better.

No matter the feeling of leaving 2015 in the cracked rear view, a new calendar is upon us. With it comes so many more opportunities for change, inspiring moments in sports, reasons to believe, heartbreaking losses and chances to leave your friends hanging by staying in on a weekend night because you don’t want to deal with it. We at TwH get that. In that spirit, we gathered around our digital campfire and threw darts into our brains trying to pinpoint some of what we think may come to fruition in the coming year. Don’t quote us on this.

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Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, performing at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

Flying Lotus performing at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

The idea of a producer/composer as we now know it is something that two decades ago might have seemed unnecessary or excessive. The rise of DJs as actual musicians rather than jukebox heroes, people who create rather than simply derive, has powered this century toward an electronically-driven, hyper-evolving state in which genres become all but irrelevant. People like Aphex Twin and DJ Shadow blazed a trail for computer-programmed, beat-driven music that incorporates samples and drum machines in experimental capacities. A flood of noise precedes a few identical bars before one element changes, soon leading to a fire sale of sound exchanged for something entirely different.

To call Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, simply a DJ is to miss the mathematical beauty behind the cacophonous waves he creates. On his first four LPs, as well as the handful of mixtapes and EPs in between, he explored rippled soundscapes which tore through the listener’s consciousness so quickly and maniacally that there was hardly time to breathe. On his latest release, You’re Dead!, Ellison finds himself delving further into the infinite influences which have surrounded him since childhood and molded the 30-year-old’s long view.

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Schoolboy Q sans bucket hat

The line stretched for almost a full city block. Among the throngs of fans waiting to get in to see Schoolboy Q were bucket hats – a lot of bucket hats. It was almost like a show of solidarity. You couldn’t mistake the fact of who these people came to see. Yet after the headliner took the stage, you wouldn’t be faulted if you felt like he wasn’t the main attraction.

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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.

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Courtesy of Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

“Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?”

This was shouted by Public Enemy in 1988 on the track “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic.” Flash forward to 2014, and it turns out that a lot of people still care about the Grammys. Yet, the event in our world of numerous social media streams has become fodder for snark and reaction in 140 characters or less. The Grammys is the Sharknado of awards shows for some, but for others, it’s an actual indicator of the direction of popular music.

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