[Album Review] Azad – A Very Emotional EP

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We can’t help but appreciate the honesty shown by Azad on his newest EP. From the project’s title down to its most negligible lyric, the Los Angeles-based performer offers up straightforward thoughts and sensual energy in this classy hybrid of R&B and hip-hop, A Very Emotional EP. The record features a ton of material for an EP – verses laid out with consistent, adept flow, hooks highlighting his soft, lilting voice, all couched in excellent instrumentals from an all-star cast of producers. We’re grateful the singer/songwriter took enough time away from his label Mind Of A Genius to bless us with this compilation.

From track to track the EP tells a familiar but timeless story. First, serious longing and heartbreak. Then, introverted analysis leads to a return to confidence. Finally, it’s baby-making time.

“Enough of You” lays out the pattern that each song takes. Azad’s rhymes, sometimes styled more like freeform poetry than rap bars, tumble out towards in the verse towards a chorus that sounds like many a softer cut from Drake or J. Cole. The deep beat comes courtesy of Sango, Atu and Dpat, a trio which literally made great waves together in 2016. “Special” reminds one of The Weekend’s best tracks from 2016, but with more hard-edged lyricism in between the shiny hook. Catch the creative homage Azad pays to one particularly influential rhyme sayer in the second verse.

The talented Millz Douglas from East Baltimore holds it down with a great beat on “Godesses”, the type of pocket beat that offers a prime platform to a rapper, and Azad slides right in. The next two tracks, “Trust” and ‘Grind on Me” are produced by Jonathan Marquez, whose guitar samples refresh the soundscape. Trust is difficult to achieve, and the absence of it seems to be driving much of Azad’s emotional turmoil. Azad has a special ability to tell detailed, true stories in verse, especially on “Grind On Me”. Love songs are common, but it’s rare to hear an honest, productive, real discussion of relationship troubles packaged in smooth verse over the kick and snare. Only a few in the game do it well, and Azad puts forward his best effort on this cut.

Stwo from Paris offers my personal favorite beat on the compilation with “Ready”, a boom-bap dripping in bass with a kick that sounds like a heartbeat and a snare that is deliciously minimal. The lack of glamor in the instrumental makes room Azad’s smooth, soft flow. “Teach me how to love I never learned how / it’s like every house I ever built gets burned down.”

After such an emotional EP, “Sweet” is a perfect capitulation. The raunchy lyrics and braggadocio fit perfectly into HUCCI‘s big-ass booming beat (Strictly!).

A Very Emotional EP is a very strong effort from Azad. It’s exactly what an EP should be – a thoughtfully-curated series of stellar instrumentals, each one employed carefully by the songwriter to tell a different part of his emotional tale. Few artists rhyme with the complexity and sing with the catharsis of Azad while keeping it so real with the subject matter. With all the new-age R&B out there, it can be hard to find the durable cuts. A Very Emotional EP is full of them.

’Enough Of You (Prod. By Sango, Atu & Dpat)’
’Special (Prod. by Patrick Collier)’
’Goddesses (Prod. by Millz Douglas)’
’Trust (Prod. by Jonathan Marquez)’
’Grind On Me 2016 (Prod. by Jonathan Marquez)’
’Ready (Prod. by Stwo)’
’Bonus Sweet (Prod. by HUCCI)’
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[16 To End 2016] Ninja Ash’s Best Of The Year

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As many grievances as 2016 brought, it’d be a lie to say it wasn’t an incredible year of music. Perhaps, that’s how it always works–the best art comes in the worst of times. Music has always been my primary coping mechanism and I couldn’t be more thankful for all the artists that made this year bearable and, quite honestly, pretty damn fun despite it all. These are the songs that soundtracked my best moments and lifted me up during my lowest–I hope they can do the same for you. Happy New Year!

Solange
Cranes In The Sky (Kaytranada Edit)

No song quite captured the struggle of depression in a more captivating manner than Solange‘s ‘Cranes In The Sky.’ Kaytranada‘s edit makes it glow even more.

Moses Sumney
Lonely World

2016 was a well-deserved breakout year for the incredibly talented Moses Sumney. “Lonely World,” with its intense progression, would be my song of the year if I had to pick one.

Autolux
Change My Head

Autolux were easily one of my favorite discoveries of the year and “Change My Head” is them at their most potent–haunting, grungy and catchy with raw, dynamic percussion.

Moderat
Reminder

Moderat‘s III was my favorite album of the year and ‘Reminder’ exemplifies the super-group’s incredible production in both its stark lows and explosive highs.

Mick Jenkins
Drowning feat. BADBADNOTGOOD

This is just a beautiful protest song in so many ways. From Mick Jenkins‘ versatile rapping and singing to Badbadnotgood‘s flawless live instrumentation, it possesses a unique balance and thoughtfulness that few similarly themed songs display. Make sure to check out the entrancing music video as well.

Blood Orange
E.V.P.

This one’s for Prince! Blood Orange couldn’t have given us Freetown Sound at a better juncture.

Kaytranada
Glowed Up (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Two of 2016’s all-stars team up for pure gold capturing Kaytra’s intriguing cadence and Anderson .Paak‘s soulful flows.

Innanet James
Summer Prod. The Kount

Innanet James‘ introduction to the music world comes with this no-fucks-given summer anthem that also highlights The Kount, a candidate for best new hip-hop producer.

Kid Cudi
By Design (feat. Andre 3000)

Kid Cudi, Plain Pat, Pharrell & Andre 3000…yeah, could’ve guess this one would be in my 16 before I even heard it. Can’t stop listening to this one.

A Tribe Called Quest
We The People

A message of inclusion that came when I needed it and from exactly the crew I wanted to hear it from. RIP Phife Dawg!

Rufus Du Sol
Innerbloom

“Innerbloom” is truly Rufus Du Sol‘s manifesto–an epic that captures the essence of their endlessly playable 2016 release, Bloom. This song also spawned one of the best remixes of the year from What So Not.

Kenton Slash Demon
TT

Kenton Slash Demon continue to enamor me with their trippy, textured take on dance music. ‘TT’ manages to feel both ethereal and ready for the dance floor.

Frank Ocean
White Ferrari (Jacques Greene Edit)

The original version of “White Ferrari” may be my favorite track from Frank Ocean‘s emotional masterpiece, Blonde–capturing both its most and least accessible elements. Montreal producer Jacques Greene released nothing but phenomenal productions this year but this remix of Frank takes the cake.

Ross From Friends
Gettin’ It Done

Aside from having the best name in dance music, Ross From Friends flipped everything I thought I knew about house music on its head. “Gettin’ It Done” certainly makes you want to dance but the lo-fi sonics teamed with a masterfully utilized soul sample create a vibe unlike anything I’ve heard before. If you dig this one, check out this mind-blowing live performance from Ross & crew.

Mall Grab
Father

Mall Grab wins the award for my favorite house discovery of 2016 and this take on the sample from Kanye’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” was a staple in my DJ sets this year. While I love Kanye’s version, his cringe-worthy opening line disqualified it from any best of lists.

Billy Kenny
Work Me (Justin Jay Remix)

Werk into the New Year!

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[16 To End 2016] Ninja McNulty’s Best Of The Year

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Music is subjective and it is not. “What?” Well, we all have our own conception of what taste, treasure, and trifle are in music. The following list comprises my favorite musical treasures from 2016. They may appear as trifles to other ears tuned for different frequencies than my own are. Yet I’m confident that each cut presented here in one way or another makes a contribution to an overall upward trajectory, a positive progression for music which aims at an objective high-quality. Many songs harp on or exemplify trends in popular or underground music which I consider valuable. Some introduce new, well-turned phrases into the eternally in-flux dialogue. Others repackage old wisdom in a shiny new bow. Many simply evince the extremely high production value which I worship, idolator that I may be. If my rhetoric already seems innane, skip it, but do yourself a favor and enjoy a few of these sixteen songs.

Sunflower Bean
Easier Said

Sunflower Bean is a rock trio from Brooklyn. “Easier Said”, the first single from their debut album, is a near perfect pop song with it’s simple but emotive guitar licks and frontwoman Julia Cummings’ serene voice and poetic lyrics – “Should have just stayed home, but I’d rather be alone instead.”

Tom Misch
I Wish

Tom Misch can do no wrong. This one-man-band – vocalist, guitarist, pianist, producer – released his Reverie EP in July, featuring this softly aching song about looking back on one’s past.

Open Ocean
Hurry

According to the producer’s Soundcloud, Open Ocean is about “depth”. 2016 saw the rise in “Wave” music, a strange concept when one considers all music is one intricate arrangement of waves. Open Ocean offers my favorite conceptualization of “Wave”.

Miguel
Waves (Remix) Feat. Travi$ Scott

This tune came early in 2016 and captivated me for employing production techniques atypical in R&B, even its contemporary strains. “Waves” has an uncompromising energy that hit the sweet spot. Travis Scott’s verse precurses his massive success and innovation through the rest of the year.

Jade Cicada
wubbalubbadubdub

Jade Cicada from western Massachusetts makes me almost incredulous with his profound production capabilities. What was first a 30-second clip on Soundcloud was then debuted in full when Jade Cicada opened for Dave Tipper at the latter’s Full Moon Gathering in April in Florida. It’s been a standard in the underground glitch hop scene since.

COPYCATT
Survive (ft. Maksim)

COPYCATT is a 19-year-old producer from Brisbane who released this track with the MC Maksim on Inspected 2, a compilation from the boundary-pushing music/fashion collective Inspected which dropped in November. The British bars over the nutty sound design evokes Grime, but the sound design is far more sophisticated. I desperately hope to be caught by surprise and flattened by this song on a dance floor in 2017.

Wax Future
A Love That Lasts Forever (Tsimba Remix)

Wax Future, a producer/guitarist duo from Philadelphia, have been upping the ante on the sample-collage, electro soul sound popularized by Pretty Lights. Budding Connecticut-based bass music producer Tsimba brought his “future roots” sound to bear on this WF original. The subterranean bass and esoteric thematic material made it an easy pick for me.

Shivaji
Take It

I was introduced to this too-fire track by Bassnectar who dropped it one Halloween weekend. We expect great things from one of Kannibalen Record’s most promising young talents, who has the touch. To end the song the producer samples Doors frontman Jim Morrison who presciently describes the future of music. I see you, Shivaji.

Bombino
Akhar Zaman (This Moment)’

The singer, songwriter and axe-wielding phenom from Agadez, Niger named Bombino stole my ears mid-2016 with his album Azel. With it’s simple popish formula and striking riff, “Akhar Zaman (This Moment)” is my favorite song from this vital North African rock-and-roll masterpiece.

Bassnectar & G. Jones
Mind Tricks Ft. Lafa Taylor

Bassnectar’s 2016 album was more subdued than most of his work from the past five years, but “Mind Tricks” featuring Lafa Taylor on vocals and G Jones on production is an unequivocal banger. The syncopation between the bassline and the drums is a hallmark of both Greg Jones and Lorin Ashton, native Santa Cruzans from different generations who apparently have an EP in the works for 2017. Lord help us.

Kursa
KURO 黒

Clearly, my ears are mostly keenly tuned to dirty, heavy neuro bass music. Few sauce it better than the mercurial producer Kursa who released this absolute flamethrower in October. I was fortunate enough to hear a top notch selecta spin it live before year’s end.

Tipper
Sleeper

I’m not being punny or cute when I say this was a sleeper on my list. Dave Tipper released this song for his stepfather PJ the day he passed away. For someone like me who also lost a close loved one in 2016, the existential beauty of this song stimulates self-reflection and an appreciation for life’s fleeting treasures.

Chance The Rapper
Same Drugs

It would be convenient and almost accurate to substitute my list here for Chance’s entire Coloring Book. Same Drugs soars above the rest because of how sensitive and relatable it is. “Same Drugs” highlights the artist’s versatility as a singer and songwriter, while humanizing someone whose star was soaring so high all year.

Pretty Lights
Only Yesterday’

“Only Yesterday” was an early song-of-the-year pick when it dropped in April as the first new music in almost two years from Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights. Words can’t describe the catharsis this man creates through sound. He takes the most endearing elements of America’s musical past, and synthesizes them to pioneer its future. Anyone who’s felt lonely or lovelorn could probably bump this tune ad infinitum.

Uyama Hiroto
Minano Pride

I’ve saved the best for last. Perhaps this is unwise in an age of ever-decreasing attention spans. Regardless, if you’ve made it this far then enjoy this acoustic masterpiece furnished by Uyama Hiroto. This favored collaborator of Japanese beat legend Nujabes is a master. His 2016 drop Freeform Jazz takes the Japanese hip-hop/soul sound to new, emotive heights. Minano is a town in central Japan, but whether or not Hiroto is referencing this place is unknown to me. Nonetheless “Minano Pride” is my favorite cut from my favorite record in 2016. Thanks for reading and listening.

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[Album Review] James Lanning – Another Day Wasted

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James Lanning, the man fam Maryland who merges urban exploration and hip-hop in New York City, releases a deep, dark and extremely relevant EP Another Day Wasted on Onamazu. The rapper’s debut EP is laced with the dark and depressed vibe of the broken buildings he loves to photograph, as well as the high-strung tension which likely pushes him to risk his life climbing skyscrapers.

The topic of mental health among musicians has breached the mainstream recently after Kid Cudi and later Kanye West both admitted struggling mightily with their selves. In a brief interview with Mass Appeal, Lanning states he wants to “alter the discourse” about mental health and the way mentally unstable people are treated when they come forth for help. Making music helps Lanning to channel his own frustrations, and that creative process lead to the cathartic tracks on Another Day Wasted.

The first cut, “Spring” features voicemail messages from the artist’s life set with a backdrop of tense string and music-box notes, culminating in a deep wave of bass. The abrupt finish leads into the chill-inducing title track on which Lanning bears his soul over a paradox of a beat produced by Kace. “People say that I’m crazy, but I say that I’m patient / what’s today but another day wasted?” Depression, the invisible illness, afflicts millions of people. Lanning exposes his own affliction to the world with no frills or filler, and for this, he’s to be commended.

“Run Away” and “Regina” find Lanning walking the thin line between sanity and success over more unique, wavy Kace beats. “Until 27”, featuring a hot verse from Michael Christmas, finally finds Lanning radiating a positive vibe and finding his step.

Another Day Wasted is a raw musical expression that blends hip-hop with more avant-garde ambient and electronica styles. The subject matter and the music can strike a chord deep within anyone who’s struggled with their own motivation and mental health. You can purchase EP from iTunes.

’JAMES LANNING – Spring’
’JAMES LANNING – Another Day Wasted’
’Run Away (Feat. Inas)’
’JAMES LANNING ~ Regina’
’Until 27 (Feat. Michael Christmas)’
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[Event Preview] BUKU Music & Arts Project March 10-11

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Every city in America has its own music scene, but in New Orleans, music is a way of life – a cultural infrastructure as essential to the city as its freeways and French Quarter. Jazzfest attracts the best in rock, folk and jazz to NOLA each year, but for those of us who want more youthful, visceral music and a more colorful, fluid experience, BUKU Music and Arts Project goes down on March 10-11, 2016 for the sixth year straight.

BUKU stands out in a saturated music festival market both for its timing (arguably the first big event of “festival season”) and it’s consistently nuanced lineup. No one is reinventing the wheel by stacking their lineup with hip-hop, indie, and dance music, but whom are you booking specifically? It takes balls and creativity to craft a card of eclectic, forward-thinking and often experimental artists like what BUKU has assembled. Where else can you see Deadmau5 and Travis Scott? Clams Casino and Troyboi? Shiba San and Thundercat? If you’ve answered, “I can see them at Festival XYZ,” it doesn’t matter, because that’s not in New Orleans.

BUKU is set just outside the city’s French Quarter on a sprawling riverside esplanade. The Power Plant stage is adjacent to the river and sits in the shadow of an abandoned industrial colossus. Two indoor stages diversify the vibe with The Ballroom offering an intimate aesthetic, and the Float Den serving as a massive gathering spot lined with Mardi Gras floats and craft vendors. A fourth stage, the Back Alley, is tucked beneath the Crescent City Connection bridge and offers an unbroken stream of dance music all day and into the night.
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Quinn XCII Speaks On New Track Straightjacket [TMN Interview]

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Quinn XCII
Straightjacket

You wouldn’t think the temperature is starting to drop when listening to Quinn XCII’s music, including his recent single “Straightjacket.” This vocalist/songwriter has seamlessly melded electronic, hip-hop, soul, and pop and brought heat to everything he’s touched this year. His singles and EP’s have landed him a tour with Louis the Child, #1 spots on HypeMachine, over 40 million plays on Spotify, and regular spins at Top 40 radios around the country.

The single, produced by The Wiild, is a buoyant tune that floats just in between hip-hop and electronic, a skill that Quinn has mastered. The simplified melody keeps focus on the lyrics and the story behind them telling a relatable story that some, if not all, of us may have experienced when dealing with love. We were excited to catch up with Quinn and ask him more about his year and the single.

TMN: What got you into music? Have you always been a singer?

Q: I can remember being a fan of music since I could walk and hearing my parents play it around the house. That, and I was always into creative writing. It wasn’t until my freshmen year of college, though, that I really put the two together and started writing my own content and sharing it with friends. At the time it was actually more indie-rap stuff, but then I started focusing on singing and things started to evolve into my current sound.

TMN: Detroit is a huge hub for music and art in general, has growing up in Michigan influenced your music in any way?

Q: Definitely. The older Detroit music I feel has strongly shaped my writing in terms of melodies. Motown, du-wop style melodies that have that ear-candy quality about them has always attracted me, and I think have definitely crossed over into my own music.

TMN: A lot of your work is in collaboration with ayokay, did he help with “Straightjacket” or did you work with someone new?

Straightjacket was actually produced by The Wiild, a very talented producer from Australia who works with a lot of the pop acts out there. ayokay and I are still working very closely on my new music though, he’ll be producing majority of my next project again. We live together and have a studio in our house so we’re constantly writing new things together – it’s a really creative environment.

TMN: Almost a year ago you released the Bloom EP – Is “Straightjacket” just a single or can we expect something more after this? Another EP or LP?

Q: Straightjacket is the first song from my upcoming debut album. We’ll be releasing a few more singles from the project in the coming months and then we’re expecting to have the full album out by Spring/Summer of 2017!

TMN: Any specific inspiration behind Straightjacket?

Q: The idea behind Straightjacket was really about shedding light on the girl that has secrets, more bad ones than good. She acts a certain way in public and in front of your friends, but behind closed doors is a bit of psycho and can’t be contained. The two-faced mentality was very appealing to me to try to put into words and narrate.

TMN: You were on tour with Louis The Child, what was that like? What would you say was your favorite stop?

Touring with LTC was amazing. They’re both super talented guys and it’s really inspiring to see them at such a young age connect with people the way they have been. I’d say my favorite stop on the tour was in Minneapolis.. All the stops were amazing but that show has stuck out to me since getting off the road.

TMN: How would you sum up your 2016? Any specific moments stick out in particular?

Q: I signed with Columbia Records over the summer, which has definitely been one of the most memorable moments of the year. I’d say 2016 as a whole can be summed up as a big stepping stone for both ayokay and myself. I think we really made a big stride in our careers and are finally beginning to get placed on the platform we’ve been striving for. Now it’s just a matter of how much we want this to continue, and putting in the work is what will dictate that. I’m ready for it.

TMN: What’s 2017 looking like for you?

Q: 2017 will include the release of my debut album, a lot more touring, festivals, some really cool collaborations, and hopefully a lot more.

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[Electronic] Artifakts – Hustler

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Artifakts
Hustler [Free Download via Philos Records]

“Hustler” is the most recent release from the “ever-evolving hip-hop project” known as Artifakts, the musical mantra of Garret Meyer from Milwaukee. This cooler-than-cool, six-minute jam session may be the greatest work yet from this highly-capable producer. A sturdy funk bassline and drum break form the backbone of the song, while piano keys flutter above this foundation whimsically. Resonant samples from what sounds like a string quartet take center stage, followed by a saxophone sample. “Don’t you Know By Now?” a vocal sample repeatedly questions. The mix moves along modestly in this manner until an unexpected drop makes way for a wobbling space-age synthesizer.

Hip-hop was once made by collaging an infinite array of samples, and electronic music by manipulating drum machines and synthesizers often past their breaking point. Both of these once rarified techniques are more accessible to producers today. Those like Artifakts who take advantage of this embarrassment of riches can provide us with sublime soundscapes which simultaneously sound like they’re prepared in the past and flung backward from the future. Meyers is organizing so much musical material on “Hustler”, showcasing his skills for sampling and synthesis and creating a tune with tangible texture and warmth. Pick up a free download from Philos Records here.

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