A Few Quick Things: We’re Still Inside

It’s difficult to fully encapsulate how it feels to be in the midst of a lockdown in a world defined by social distancing. You try to hold onto optimism even as you look around and see the United States make almost every incorrect decision to the point where it feels like your brain is melting. Meanwhile, all you can do is try and take daily walks, take up hobbies, and find comfort in the interactions with the people you love to stave off the feeling that you’re turning into a vegetable as the pandemic continues to put the country in a chokehold. Even as the summer approaches, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that COVID-19 has moved us into a new reality marked by social distancing and health precautions that will affect us for many years to come. And even then, you try to make the best of it.

But hey, there’s been a bunch of new music that released in the past couple of weeks. There’s a lot to like from a number of different artists, allowing the music industry to fill a void for many listeners. On top of the bevy of new music that we’ve been gifted, I’ve routinely reached back into old playlist and artist discographies to find some solace in the feeling of nostalgia. So, here are my thoughts on some music things. Try reading this outside so y’all can get some sunlight. – Ritchie

Drake releases Dark Lane Demo Tapes

May 1 was one of the busiest days for music in recent history, as multiple artists like Mozzy and Jay Worthy sought to make a splash on the first of the month. However, the eyes and ears of the genre jumped towards Drake, who announced a surprise tape merely hours before the turn of the calendar. Even the rumblings of a potential tape put Twitter on high alert, which reminded everyone of the attention that Canadian superstar commands with every move. It’s empirically impossible to avoid the discussion around his music and actions, and that’s not even including when he actually drops something.

Dark Lane Demo Tapes is primarily comprised of songs that had either been teased on Instagram Live or leaked previously on Soundcloud. This means that a large percentage of his fans, including myself, previously heard at least a couple of songs on the tape. It’s a testament to the attention that Drake commands that so many people were excited for a bunch of leaks. And for what it’s worth, these leaks and former snippets were extremely enjoyable. The previously leaked two-pack of “When to Say When” and “Chicago Freestyle” made an appearance, and were just as satisfying as official releases. The “Song Cry” sample hit just as hard, and Giveon’s piano-backed feature showcased the best of the rising R&B singer as he became the perfect counterpart to Drake’s wistful bars. “Desires” and “Time Flies” are perfect consecutive counterparts: Drake and Future turned out one of their signature tag-team efforts as they lament as the wandering freedoms of their lovers that don’t seem to align with the rappers’ state in life. Then, Drake finds the perfect hook as he sings “I’m outside in AMG” on “Time Flies,” which is adept at getting stuck in your head. The Toronto native keeps his ear on the pulse of Rap, from finally giving us the “Pain 1993” snippet featuring Playboi Carti to fully jumping onto the Drill wave with tracks like “Demons” and the previously released “War.”

Honestly, I don’t have much to say on Drake other than the fact that I really enjoyed listening to the project. He doesn’t show much deviation from the subject matter that he’s been doling out for years now, which is perfectly fine. It still sounds good and I still enjoy listening to it. I’m not very interested in decoding the psyche of Drake and why he refuses to say anything particularly new, even in the face of the life-changing event of his child being born. I’m perfectly resigned to ingest the project at face value, in the same manner, that Drake has decided to proceed in his life.

Jay Worthy and Harry Fraud are the new dynamic duo on Eat When You’re Hungry Sleep When You’re Tired

I love listening to Jay Worthy rap. It has been one of my favorite pastimes during this quarantine life. He raps with an air of simplicity that makes it impossible for him to be out of place. His voice and cadence adapts flawlessly to every possible beat, as each time he hops on a track it feels as though he’s having a conversation with you. Well, not so much a conversation. It’s more like he’s telling you all about his day and you’ve got no inclination to find an excuse to not listen.

The tape that he released with New York producer Harry Fraud is just another example of the magnetism that he posses in his raps. Over Fraud’s delicious sample loops, Worthy puts on a great performance that deserves attention. The seven-song EP opens up with “Ms. Parker,” which samples the Deborah Cox’s 1998 track “We Can’t Be Friends.” The pitched up, soulful vocals provide the perfect backdrop for Worthy’s succinct bars, as he delivers a brief one-minute sermon that draws in the listener with emotional and transparent references to the struggles of him and those in his life. He’s wildly open about his life, as his raps on “Hard Knock High” double as chronicles of his past experiences. Worthy’s straightforward rapping style also lends itself to successful collaborations, like the funky track “Can’t Be Stopped” featuring fellow West Coast riser Larry June and the beautifully sampled “Frankie Lymon” with Elcamino and Big Body Bes. The project’s highlight comes while Jay Worthy is alone on the track “Hold Something.” Fraud samples Eddie Drennon’s 1975 R&B track “Do What You Gotta Do,” which creates a hypnotizing beat as the titular lyrics loop in the background. Worthy handles the beat with ease, taking us on a sublime journey through his growth as an artist. His charisma drips through with each word, as he makes the promise that he’s “good in any hood.” And honestly, there’s no reason not to believe him.

Jojo returns with her album good to know

Most of the music world remembers Joanna Levesque, aka JoJo, from one of her two iconic tracks: “Too Little Too Late” and “Leave (Get Out).” The two Pop hits from the former teenage superstar are deeply ingrained into the memories of anybody who was a child during the mid-2000s. Her career has been a bumpy ride since that bright spots of her first two albums. She sued her label Blackground Records and Da Family Records, in 2013 and was subsequently released from her contract the next year. Then, her music was removed from streaming services because she did not own her recordings. So, after she released another original album in 2016, she re-recorded and re-released both JoJo (2004) and The High Road (2006) in 2018.

Now, she’s back with her latest album good to know, which is a clear signifier of both a maturation in her voice and in her subject matter. She’s moved on from the Pop genre and has jumped headfirst into the realm of R&B. She never feels out of place on the album, as her newer sound registers as if she has been making R&B jams for her entire career. The project’s opener “So Bad” is an elite display of dirty-macking as she sings to convince a former lover to cheat with her. The opener is produced by Sir Dylan and Doc McKinney, who did notable production work with Solange and the Weeknd, respectively. Her new R&B sound fits perfectly on “Gold,” as she croons about a particularly skilled lover. Her voice flaunts its prowess seductively as she sings “You movin’ inside of me, speakin’ so heavenly / I call that divinity, we already know.” She’s hit a sweet spot in her artistry that sounds fresh to her fans, without sounding disingenuous.

“Nightrider” by Tom Misch is a great song

If there’s one thing you must know about me, it’s that I love mood music. There is absolutely nothing more pleasing than a relaxing track that calms me down. Whenever a song captures sublime and smooth energy, it becomes a go-to for listening during the late hours of the day. English artist Tom Misch specializes in this type of music, as his entire catalog is rife with earnest and relaxing tracks that speak to the listener’s soul. A couple of weeks ago, he released a stellar album, What Kinda Music, with drummer Yussef Dayes. It is a great project, one that represents a strong move in an already solid discography. Misch’s production and voice lull the listener into a state of bliss as Dayes propels the beats forward with vigor.

To me, the standout track is the last single to arrive for the album. “Nightrider” is a sprawling five-minute track that calls upon the talents of the best rapper alive Freddie Gibbs (yes, I’m willing to die on that hill). The production is muted, allowing the drumbeat to take hold on the track. Misch chronicles a blissful ride at sunset in both his verses and in the chorus. The words reveal a simple message: “relax and come take a ride with me.” He echoes the sentiments of many stuck in quarantine right now, as people undoubtedly take drives to clear their minds and forget the pains of society’s situation. Misch makes driving around feel and sound like the greatest activity on Earth. Gibbs then creeps onto the track in a whisper tone, asking the listener for permission to destroy his verse as he says “Should I bless the track or let it breathe?” The question was obviously rhetorical. As the guitar sets in, Gibbs proceeds to deliver an outstanding verse that meshes perfectly with the smooth sounds of “Nightrider.” His performance exposes him as a chameleon, as someone who blends inconspicuously with any genre he feels like. Gibbs’ verse bookends a perfect song, with Misch and Dayes playing the listener out with a sublime lullaby.

Old love songs that remind you of someone that you love

It’s high time to admit it: I am a hopeless romantic. I think that love and affection are two of the most important things for a human being to experience. And to me, it’s beautiful when someone develops meaningful feelings for someone else. It’s an exciting time. I can only compare it to the first time that you tried warming up chocolate chip cookies before eating them. That’s how good it is.

There’s no better conduit for someone’s love than love songs themselves. A perfect love song can elicit the same feelings and memories that arise when you look at the person you love. On top of that, a love song that can become a bridge between two people, a moment that they can share every time the song is played. And the best stretch of love songs appeared from the 1960s to the late 1990s. There just seemed to be an intrinsic soul and connection to emotion in almost every artist during this period. In each and every vinyl crate, there’s a golden love song that perfectly mirrors the emotions that occur when you have a legitimate attraction to someone. So, to close out this article, I’m just going to ramble about some of my favorite older love songs that I’ve had on repeat for the past month or so.

Ambrosia, “How Much I Feel”

It’s the hook of this song that makes it so powerful. Each verse is muted in comparison, with lead singer David Pack quietly resigning to do what’s best for the love of his life, even if it is in direct contradiction to his urges and emotions. He embodies the act of giving up during each verse, holding in his true feelings for what his lover wants. But when the chorus hits, he and the band experience an outburst, both sonically and lyrically. Pack’s voice reaches a bright crescendo as he bares his soul, singing “That’s how much I feel, feel for you, baby / How much I need, need your touch / How much I live, live for your lovin’.” The band’s supporting vocals and rhythm kick into high gear, as the guitar and keyboard intensify to go hand-in-hand with Pack’s pained vocals. The track is undeniably catchy and easy to repeat. It was also sampled by Big Sean for “All Your Fault,” back on his Dark Sky Paradise album. So there’s that.

Mtume, “You Are My Sunshine”

Finding solace in the existence of another person is a beautiful thing. Their presence in any form can perk up your day, from a simple text or phone call, to seeing them in person. Mtume captures this feeling with a simple message. Powered by a smooth and mellow keyboard synth production, James Mtume sings about the simplicity of his love. He can sit and wait all day, but that moment that she calls makes it all worth it. And no matter what, his love for her progresses and grows. There’s no fluff, the metaphor is clear and straightforward. On the backs of a funky production that only gets better with time, we get a timeless track that makes love seem so simple. It’s what we all want in the end.

Billy Stewart, “Sitting In The Park”

I guess this one isn’t so much a love song, rather a cautionary tale. It’s one that registers to a whole community of people that feel as though they’re wasting their time waiting for the love of their life to come around. Stewart croons about the suspicion of being hung out to dry by the one that he loves as he sings “Somethin’ tells me I’m a fool / To let you treat me so cruel.” He recognizes that he’s being wronged, but because of the love that he feels for this person, he can’t bring himself to leave. Against all reason, he sits and he waits. It doesn’t make sense, as this obviously isn’t the first time he’s been stood up. But again, it doesn’t have to make sense. Because of love, he would still be sitting there, waiting for her to show up.

Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home to Me”

It’s hard to decide what the best part of this song is. I’m inclined to stick with the opening piano riff at the beginning, which burns into your memory banks like a great memory on a sunny day. But then, my answer could shift to Cooke’s heartbroken voice, which immediately grabs my attention. The recognition of his mistake, leading to his loneliness and beckoning for his lover to return, all feeds into the soulful pain in his tone. Or, it could even be the call and response “yeah’s” between Cooke and his background singers, which are particularly fun to belt out in different octaves by yourself. Like I said, I can’t decide. It’s all great.

The Isley Brothers, “For the Love of You, Pts. 1 & 2”

Few groups achieved a mastery of the love song like The Isley Brothers. The group’s patented blend of funk and soul production combined with their iconic voices and timeless lyrics to create God’s elixir in music form. Each track that they devoted to the emotion of love captured the essence of what it means to care about someone else. This song, in particular, is special because of the aura it creates. The production is light and breezy, as it wraps the listener in a sphere of comfort and bliss. The song trots along peacefully as Ronald Isley devotes his love to one person, singing “Driftin’ on a memory / Ain’t no place I’d rather be / Than with you.” He echoes the sentiments of everybody who is madly in love, recognizing that the best place for him to be is with them. And when you’re with that person, nothing else matters.

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