Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar review – the genre-bending Scottish band deliver their best album yet

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Young Fathers are impossible to categorise. They’re a pop group. An indie band. A punk band. An alternative band. A hip-hop group. They’re African. They’re Scottish. They’re accessible. They’re experimental. Young Fathers are truly one of the music unique bands to come from the UK in a while and one of the most exciting bands right now in music period. Young Fathers were formed in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008 by Alloysious Massaquoi (of Liberian descent), Kayus Bankole (of Nigerian descent) and Graham ‘G’ Hastings. They released a pair of mixtapes Tape One and Tape Two more rooted in alternative hip-hop than anything they’ve done since but also with elements of punk and reggae. I first discovered them in 2015 after their second album White Men Are Black Men Too had just been released. The provocative title caught my eye and I listened to it once or twice enjoying it but not being blown away. I proceeded to listen to their 2014 Mercury Prize-winning debut album Dead which I really enjoyed as well but again didn’t return to often. In January 2017 I returned to their discography and completely fell in love with their music. With the release of Cocoa Sugar, they’ve become one of my new favourite bands.

I became reacquainted with Young Fathers at the perfect time. It had been two years since they released their second album and while I wish I had more time to spend with their music at least the wait for new music was shorter. They only released one single in 2017 “Only God Knows” for the T2: Trainspotting’s soundtrack but I anticipated new music and how glad I was to be right. The first single from this album “Lord” absolutely captivated me and in the context of the album sounds even more amazing. In the middle of the track list, it begins with the sound of heavy vibration before it transitions into a mellow piano chord and vocals singing “Lord, don’t pay me no mind / Lord, if you choose a time / Lord, don’t pay me no mind.” The gospel-influenced lyrics didn’t surprise me as “Only God Knows” similarly had gospel-influenced lyrics. The track perfectly captures the beauty of Young Fathers. It is both incredibly moving and powerful yet simultaneously unsettling and dark. The synths and reverbs reinforce their choirboy vocals and the combination of gospel lyrics and electronic production is just one of the things that make the band so unique. It is completely overwhelming.

Cocoa Sugar is an album full of experimentation like their previous albums but some of the elements which were enhanced in their previous albums are stripped back, simplified and minimalised. It is still by now means a completely accessible album. There is no mainstream chart-topping pop hit but songs like the opener “See How” and “In My View” show they’re capable of simplifying their sound without sacrificing their uniqueness. “See How” at only two minutes is a beautiful introduction to the album. The production is full of strange sounding synths but the vocals are very sweet and poignant. The repeated lines “see how it goes” give the song an uplifting tempo. The album delves deeper into the weird with “Fee Fi.” The percussion and the vocal chanting give it a tribal sound. While it’s difficult to parse the meaning of a lot of Young Father’s lyrics they’re undeniably beautifully written. The standout track on the album, however, is the infectious earworm “In My View.” Perhaps the most straight-forward and accessible song they’ve ever written with the potential to be a minor indie hit, however, it still carries their signature idiosyncrasies. The production still has a slightly haunting feel to it, there’s a drone in the background but the vocals are incredibly pleasant. The hook is also very catchy “In my view, nothing’s ever given away / I believe to advance that you must pay” their boyish vocals are so charming I could easily imagine them in a doo-wop group or as choir boys in a gospel choir.

There’s so much soul and passion in their vocals and the way they sing. Throughout all of Young Father’s albums, their passionate vocals and beautifully written lyrics remain their strength. The inventiveness and innovative production only enhance the strength of their vocals. While their singing isn’t pitch-perfect, there’s a desperation and an earnestness to their singing that captivates you. “Turn” begins with the line “I’ve always been this way / All my days” while this isn’t so abstract like a lot of their lyrics it’s open to interpretation. On “Tremolo” the repeated refrain “tremolo my soul” is sung with so much emotion that you can’t help but be moved. Another reason Young Fathers are such a unique group is how well all three members sing and harmonise together. “Wow” has a pulsating rhythm, heavy percussion and synths, the track builds up with so much momentum as vocals repeat “giving me what I need.” On “Border Girl”, the production and the additional background vocals make it sound like Demon Days-era Gorillaz. It’s also the most political track on the album without being explicitly so. Its title and the lyrics referring to the wave of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments around the world.

Another highlight on the album is “Holy Ghost.” Like “Lord” its title suggests a religious theme but the vocals sound totally different to that track. It’s full of unique vocal experimentation, the singing is raspy and desperate with some rapping to add to the energy. The lines “I got the Holy Ghost fire in me / As in hell, you can call it blasphemy” also carry so much meaning however you may interpret them. “Wire” is a very brief post-punk influenced track, frenetic and impactful in its brief length. “Toy” is another high energy track backed by an upbeat high tempo, clapping, unique vocal inflexions and more rapping. The album closes out by returning to a slightly more accessible sound. An organ chord and rattling drum rolls back the infectiously sweet and earnest vocals as they sing “I’m picking you and you’ / Cause that’s all that seems to matter to me lately.” It’s as romantic as they’ve ever gotten. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers prove they’re one of the most exciting bands today. They simplified their sound without sacrificing what makes them unique showing their ability to transcend genres and make powerful music which is subtly political.

Black Panther: The Album review: Kendrick Lamar curates this worthy companion to the film

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By now it’s no surprise that Black Panther is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It received massive critical acclaim with many praising as one of the best films in the MCU and the superhero genre in general. It broke several box office records and is fast on track to making $1 billion in just 3 weeks since its release. It’s also no surprise that Kendrick Lamar is on the soundtrack. What is surprising however is that Kendrick Lamar along with his record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), founder Anthony Tiffith curated and executively produced the album. The album features many of Kendrick’s fellow artists signed to TDE including SZA, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Zacari but excluding Isaiah Rashad, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker. Kendrick was initially only going to work on a few songs for the film, but after he watched a majority of the film, he decided to create the album which he mostly recorded while touring DAMN. (his latest album) around North America.

This soundtrack album can be classified as a solo Kendrick album in the same way as Prince’s Batman (1989) soundtrack is regarded as a Prince album. Kendrick is credited on all fourteen tracks on the album however he only features heavily on five tracks while making minor contributions to the rest of the album. So while the album can be seen as a Kendrick Lamar project it can’t be judged to the same high standards of his studio concept albums. But DAMN if the album isn’t also so good. Kendrick absolutely works well within the limitations of the album and makes it a unique, fresh-sounding and energetic companion piece to the biggest film of 2018 so far and one of the biggest Black cultural events in recent memory. The title track “Black Panther” immediately sets the tone for the album. We hear the sounds of matches being struck and ominous whispering and Kendrick begins to rap “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland / King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we livin’ again / King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’.” Kendrick makes the song relevant to themes of the film whilst simultaneously relating it to themes in his own personal music – the gang warfare going on in the streets of Compton. Of course, the film is partly set in Oakland, California a city suffering from similar issues making it relevant.

“All The Stars” the lead single from the album featuring SZA is one of only three tracks actually featured in the film, the others being “Opps” and “Pray for Me.” I’ll admit at first I was very lukewarm on the track. I thought the production by Sounwave was too poppy and that Kendrick’s lyrics weren’t his sharpest. I still think SZA absolutely outshines Kendrick on this track, as other collaborators do on this album, and I now love the production. The pulsating beat, subtle sounds, orchestrated strings it sounds incredibly beautiful. When I saw the music video, a visually inventive treat celebrating the diverse cultures in Africa it finally clicked. SZA’s hook is an absolute earworm and the song is so catchy. The album is chock full of bangers. “X” featuring Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi sounds far too good for an album soundtrack. Although Kendrick has a verse he allows his guests to take the spotlight with Schoolboy Q delivering the best verse. On “Opps” he delivers a great verse backed by pounding West African drums, Vince Staples gives a punchy short verse but South African rapper Yugen Blakrok steals the show with her biting flow and hoarse aggressive voice.

Tracks such as “The Ways”, “I Am”, “Redemption Interlude” and “Redemption” along with “All The Stars” are the poppier tracks on the album but the production is still excellent. “The Ways” features pop singer, Khalid, and Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee who both harmonise with sweet vocals. “I Am” features British breakthrough artist Jorja Smith who adds a British soul flair to the album. “Redemption” and “Redemption Interlude” both feature Zacari with the interlude featuring South African singer Babes Wodumo. “Paramedic!” features California Bay Area group SOB x RBE who dominate the track with unique regional flows and cadences while Kendrick plays background. Kendrick’s hook is however infectious “I wish a nigga would / I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would / I wish a bitch would.” “King’s Dead” features James Blake, Jay Rock as well as Kendrick of course. While I really enjoy both Kendrick and Jay Rock’s verses I absolutely love Future’s for how hilariously absurd his falsetto singing of “La di da di da, slob on me knob” is. This album is not only great as a soundtrack album connecting the themes of the film but works as an album on its own. Kendrick Lamar and his collaborators have created a very diverse album full of fresh sounds, bangers and pop tracks, popular and unknown rappers, local West Coast and American and South African artists. As he continues to push boundaries Kendrick Lamar has raised the standards for future soundtrack albums.

Black Panther review: Afro-futurist film is a game-changer in the MCU and superhero genre

It’s finally here! I remember when I first saw T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War (2016). I was completely blown away. When it was announced he would star in his own film I was so excited. I eagerly anticipated the release of this film. It seemed like the longest wait ever. Then a trailer was released in July 2017 and I began to get really hyped. Since July last year until just before I saw the film I was constantly anticipating its release. With every new trailer, still and poster I got excited. And now it’s finally here. Again I was blown away. I was speechless after seeing it. Black Panther (2018) deserved all the hype and more, it far exceeded my already very high expectations. I absolutely loved it!

The character of Black Panther first appeared in an issue of the Fantastic Four in July 1966. Black Panther was the first Black superhero in mainstream American comics. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (two white guys), T’Challa was a symbol of anti-racism during the peak of civil rights movement. The character predates the radical black nationalist/socialist organisation, The Black Panther Party, by a few months and the name was purely coincidental. In fact, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tried to distance themselves from people associating the character with the party by briefly renaming him Black Leopard. Not only was Black Panther a black superhero but an African superhero the character was so important for Black representation but at the same time also problematic. With the first adaptation of Black Panther finally, on the big screen, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, made some important changes to the character and story for modern Black audiences.

Black Panther begins a week after the events of Civil War. In Civil War, T’Challa was introduced, for the first time on screen, as the noble prince of Wakanda. Wakanda is a fictional country located in East Africa. After a bomb kills his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa as heir to the throne of Wakanda is set to become the king and the new Black Panther, a role each new monarch takes. The first shots of the film are breath-taking. There is a CGI depiction of the history of Wakanda. It shows how the different tribes went to war over a meteorite containing vibranium. Vibranium, the fictional metal, has incredible powers and has made Wakanda the richest and most technologically advanced nation on Earth. However, to the rest of the world, Wakanda is just another poor African nation full of suffering people because it hides in plain sight to avoid outside interference. The film draws clear parallels with real-world history. The history of imperialism and colonialism and how African nations have been colonised, plundered, had its people kidnapped, killed, its resources drained and continues to suffer from the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The film also draws on the history of decolonisation and Black revolutionary movements in the 20th century with sub-Saharan African nations gaining independence from colonial powers, African-American political movements, the rise and fall of revolutionary African leaders and military dictatorships. Early in the film, there’s a scene where T’Challa and Okoye (Danai Gurira) the leader of the Dora Milaje fighting force, extract his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from an undercover assignment so she can attend his coronation ceremony. There’s a visual reference to the Chibok girls who were kidnapped by terrorist organisation Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 with the kidnapped girls in the car dressed in hijabs.

The film follows T’Challa as he becomes King of Wakanda and the new Black Panther. He struggles with the enormous new responsibility as ruler of a wealthy African nation. The central conflict of the film arises when he is rivalled and challenged by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) also known as Killmonger who does not agree with Wakanda’s isolationism. Coogler, who also directed Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) both featuring Michael B. Jordan, has a unique vision. He ties in his hometown of Oakland, California into the film as the city where Killmonger grew up. The minor changes from the comics help to enhance its story because despite it being a big budget blockbuster it’s also a very personal film. In interviews, both Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman have talked about wanting the film to be as authentically African as possible. As African-Americans, they have been disconnected from their roots and both went to visit several countries in the continent to discover more about cultures from the continent they’re descended from. The character of Killmonger, brilliantly played by Michael B. Jordan, is in a way a proxy for African-Americans. Although he is an antagonist and may be described as a villain because he’s in opposition to the hero’s goal the great thing about his characterisation is that his motives are complex.

The film looks absolutely gorgeous. It is shot by Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography, and it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The beautiful black skin of the actors glow and pop in the lighting. From the extreme long shots of the rolling hills on the outskirts of Wakanda to the snowy mountains where the ostracised Jabari tribesmen reside to the Utopian afro-futurist landscape of Wakanda everything in this film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s distinctly African and modern. And there’s plenty of eye candy. What a cast. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as T’Challa, regal and stoic, while he’s not the most interesting character Boseman plays him very well. Michael B. Jordan is perfect as Erik Killmonger, one of the best performances of a villain (or antagonist), up there with Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). It’s a very difficult performance to pull off he is ruthless and violent in his methods but charming at the same time. As we learn about his backstory he becomes more sympathetic. While I love both their performances. My favourite characters had to be Shuri (Letitia Wright) and M’Baku (Winston Duke). Shuri is the younger sister of Black Panther and the source of much of the film’s comedic moments. The film has the perfect balance of humour and drama and never overdoes it. It’s better not to spoil the lines but the audience I saw it laughed whenever she was on screen. M’Baku is just the best. The leader of the tribesman he’s inexplicably the only character with a Nigerian accent compared to the rest of the cast’s South African leading to hilarious line readings I won’t spoil.

You don’t need to have seen other films in the MCU to understand this film, it works perfectly on its own. Other than T’Challa, T’Chaka and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) the only other characters we’ve previously seen are the token white guys in this film, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a South African arms dealer who works with Killmonger and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) a CIA agent who T’Challa brings to Wakanda after he saves Nakia’s life. It has an absolutely stellar cast of Black actors from across the diaspora. Oscar-nominated, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu and so on. The music is also excellent. The original score was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who mixes West African drum rhythms, South African vocals and different sounds from the continent. In addition, the costume design is exquisite drawing from many different cultures across the continent. Black Panther if you’d excuse the pun is a marvel. A fresh and updated adaptation of the first Black superhero for modern audiences, it is very important for representation to see a Black superhero as the protagonist of his own film. We’ve had films like Blade (1998) and Hancock (2008) in the previous two decades but those were anti-heroes and nothing on this scale, of this magnitude and spectacle. It is in my opinion by far the best film in the MCU yet and one of the best superhero films ever.

Kendrick Lamar at the O2 review: the king makes a stunning return to London on the biggest stage

By now you should be familiar with how much of a superstar Kendrick Lamar is. If you aren’t, where have you been? His latest album DAMN. was both critically acclaimed and his most commercially successful yet including his first number one single as a lead artist “HUMBLE.” and was Billboard’s Year-End number one album of 2017. He won four out of seven Grammys he was nominated for at this year’s ceremony making a total of twelve Grammys under his belt. He is the undisputed king of hip-hop and he proved it to a crowd of 20, 000 adoring fans this Tuesday at the O2 arena in London. Coming off the back of the massive success that DAMN. had Kendrick couldn’t stop there. He had been working on the official Black Panther soundtrack album while touring DAMN. around North America, which he curated and executive produced and appears on most of the tracks. The hype was real.

I’m a huge Kendrick fan. Like embarrassingly huge. Like I’ve had him as my phone wallpaper for months. Like I cried the first time I saw him perform live. I first saw him in 2015, he didn’t tour To Pimp a Butterfly but he did make festival rounds. I caught him at Leeds Festival and I was blown away by how much of an incredible experience it was. To Pimp a Butterfly is still my favourite album, ever. For the Leeds Festival performance, he had a live band and they sounded so great. When I saw him again at British Summer Time Festival it was a similar experience not as emotional but an even better performance. Third time lucky because he gave the best performance that I’ve seen live on Tuesday, the second date of a two-day London stop on the European leg of The DAMN. Tour. DAMN. has a much more minimalist approach in its production than To Pimp a Butterfly. That isn’t to say the production isn’t also incredible but whereas To Pimp a Butterfly had jazz and funk production and live instrumentation the production on DAMN. is much more stripped back and bass-heavy. There was no live band or DJ on stage just Kendrick.

Supporting Kendrick was James Blake who had collaborated with Kendrick on “ELEMENT.” and the recently released track from the Black Panther soundtrack “King’s Dead.” I missed most of James Blake but I managed to get to my seat and catch a couple of songs. I wasn’t too gutted as I had already seen James Blake headline Field Day Festival in 2016. When James Blake finished his set the anticipation was palpable. A huge black curtain with the words “DAMN. THE DAMN. TOUR” covered the stage and fans eagerly hurried to their seats. Before long the curtains lifted and on a large screen on stage played the short film which accompanied the album “The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny.” A slightly tongue-in-cheek take on Chinese martial arts films featuring Kendrick as a Kung Fu warrior on a quest it played at different times during the set. Kendrick appeared on stage resplendent in a regal white robe looking angelic, godly even. He began with a bang performing the fiery “DNA.” a track which blew my mind when I first heard it. He didn’t quite match the studio version considering the vocal effects and editing involved in making that track a Molotov cocktail but he spat the bars with incredible dexterity and breath control.

The set was expertly constructed. There were brief interludes where pre-recorded vocals repeated “ain’t nobody praying for me” a recurring line on the album. He didn’t just perform tracks from DAMN. he also performed “Goosebumps” a track he features on by Travis Scott and “Collard Greens” by label-mate ScHoolboy Q. He also performed songs from his back catalogue including “King Kunta”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “Money Trees.” For “FEEL.” He simply had a performer dressed as a ninja with a blade performing incredible dances moves to the instrumental. When that ended he appeared on another stage, the golden circle, and performed “LUST.” with lucky fans surrounding him, while he performed the stage rose and a cage formed around him. For one of my favourite tracks on DAMN., “PRIDE.” he performed on the main stage but lying down on the stage. My favourite moment of the entire night, however, was after he performed “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The energy in the crowd was at its peak and the entire arena erupted in woos, cheers, applause and shouts. It lasted for several minutes, Kendrick watching on stage in awe. Every time I’ve seen Kendrick he seems incredibly humble you know he still can’t believe he’s performing in front of 20, 000 thousands of miles from his hometown. He expressed his gratitude calling London “his second home.” The set concluded with “Alright”, my personal favourite track by him and “HUMBLE.” which he had the crowd perform the hook and then performed it a second time. What an end to the night…but wait no, not without an encore performance of “GOD.” He absolutely commanded the crowd on that night. The king’s not dead he’s very much alive and the greatest living rapper.

 

Quick Update

Just thought I’d give you guys a quick update since it’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think about what to do with this blog. I started this blog at a difficult time in my life. I struggled with self-esteem issues and anxiety for most of 2017. I started this blog as a way to vent and avoid going on Twitter rants every day. I initially planned to publish a post every week but obviously that’s not been possible. However, I’ve managed to publish at least one post every month which is something. This post is my 20th (yay)! Now I’m in a (slightly) better place in my life, it’s a new year – Happy 2018 guys! So I feel like although the title Anxious Black Man still describes me it is not something I want to define me this year. January has been a really productive month for me. I’ve written a lot!! You might not be able to tell from this blog but if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that for half of this month I was working on two assignments, one of which was a 6000-word dissertation which you can read here. As it’s my final year I had to put a lot of work into them. I got back to uni just a couple of weeks ago and I’ve written two articles, one for my uni’s newspaper Inquire and my first post for a blog called The Move . I also recently had my first appearance on the radio on Csrfm which may become available online soon. I’ve got a lot of big things planned this year. I plan to continue writing more and more, getting better at writing and start getting some of my writing published in more online publications. I plan to start a radio show/podcast or join one. I also plan to write a script for a short film and hopefully direct. I’ll also be graduating this year and that’s just in the first half of the year. So yeah, I’ve got a lot of things going on. I don’t know what this blog is gonna turn into. I may make a separate personal/portfolio website and keep this blog running but update less frequently. I don’t think I can change the domain without paying but I’ll figure everything soon. Thanks again to everyone who has read my posts, followed and supported this blog. Hope everyone has an amazing 2018!!

Peace and love, Emmanuel/Siji

 

 

Top 10 favourite albums of 2017

2017 has been a very eventful year for music. Kendrick Lamar continued his dominance of the rap game releasing another critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, DAMN., and taking the charts by storm. Drake released a “playlist” called More Life which introduced the world to UK rap legend Giggs and further confused those with his ever changing accent. UK actor and comedian, Michael Dapaah in character as Big Shaq became one of the biggest memes of 2017 and released the biggest UK rap song ever “Man’s Not Hot” after the success of his viral Fire in the Booth freestyle with Charlie Sloth. Sampha finally released his debut album Process, which won the Mercury Prize, and captured the world with his beautiful soulful voice. SZA, Syd, Kelela, Daniel Caesar, Brent Faiyaz and more released some of the smoothest alternative R&B albums in a while. JAY-Z got everyone talking when he admitted he cheated on Beyonce (stupid) and released some of his best music in a while and some incredible music videos. And throughout the year, there was so much amazing black British music. J Hus, Stormzy, Skepta, Dave, Little Simz, Krept & Konan, MoStack, Giggs, AJ Tracey, Kojey Radical, Wiley, Not3s, Nadia Rose, Chip, 67, Kojo Funds and more all released amazing projects and songs this year. So let’s get into it. These are my top 10 favourite albums released in 2017 from favourite to slightly less favourite.

10.

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Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

One might be tempted to label Moses Sumney as an R&B or alternative R&B artist because he’s a black singer but he’s much more similar to an Elliot Smith than say Chris Brown. On his debut album Aromanticism, Sumney softly coos in his falsetto about loneliness and isolation backed by ambient and indie folk instrumentation. Think Dirty Projectors or Arca. His voice is often a quiet whisper a perfect vessel for delivering his beautifully written poetic lyrics. Sumney joins other current soulful black singers like Sampha and Benjamin Clementine who are creating some of the most unique music melding the genres of electronic, indie, soul, baroque, folk and R&B music in a distinctly black style.

9.

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LCD Soundsystem — American Dream

In February 2011 LCD Soundsystem disbanded and it was made official following a large farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. The farewell concert was chronicled in the documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits. So it came as surprise when in January 2016 the band announced their reunion and a day later their fourth studio album American Dream. LCD Soundsystem return without a hitch with American Dream, still sounding like quintessential LCD but with some bells and whistles. They return with their distinct dance-punk and new wave sound but updated and refreshed for 2017. Frontman James Murphy muses on the current turbulent political climate with his unique brand of lyricism. It’s a great return to form and shows that no one does dance-punk/rock better than LCD Soundsystem but nice try Arcade Fire.

8.

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Slowdive — Slowdive

Legendary English shoegazing and dream pop band reunited in 2017 for the first time in 22 years since the release of their last album Pygmalion in 1995. Along with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive are regarded as one of the best and most influential dream pop and shoegazing bands ever. Their latest, self-titled, album after more than two decades proves why they’re so critically acclaimed. When an album is self-titled it sets very high expectations and Slowdive definitely exceeded them on this album. They sound as dreamy as ever but their new songs are even more vibrant and fresh, the wash of guitars and reverb entrancing you in bittersweet memories and nostalgia.

7.

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Jay-Z — 4:44

After the disappointments that were Magna Carta Holy Grail and The Blueprint 3 Jay-Z is back to prove why he’s still considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jay-Z, I got into hip-hop when I was around 13/14 so the first Jay-Z album I remember coming out and listening to was Magna Carta Holy Grail which massively disappointed me. I always preferred Nas and Biggie to Jay. 4:44 is Hov going back to basics, leaving behind the braggadocio and ego and being more vulnerable and honest than he’s ever been. The album is brief and the production is stripped back solely handled by long-time collaborator, No I.D. and Jay-Z himself. The album succeeds immensely with tracks like “The Story of O.J.” being among the best this year.

6.

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SZA — Ctrl

SZA’s debut album could have come a few years earlier but because of issues with her confidence and lack of control it didn’t. But it came this year which was the perfect time because this has been SZA’s year. Almost every black woman I know has loved SZA’s album and related to it in some way. As the sole female member of indepedent hip-hop label TDE, which has produced some of the biggest artists in hip-hop including Kendrick Lamar, she’s an odd fit. But like most members of TDE she’s incredibly talented. The production on Ctrl is very smooth and reminiscent of 90s neo-soul yet simultaneously contemporary and unique. The album also has an indie spirit with dreamy guitar riffs such as the one on “Drew Barrymore” the anthem for misfit girls everywhere. Her voice is expressive and her lyrics are poignant as they are relatable for weird, awkward black girls.

5.

Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory

After the critical acclaim of his debut album Summertime ’06 Vince Staples could have easily played it safe with his sophomore album and repeated the success. However, Vince does the opposite on Big Fish TheoryBig Fish Theory is one of the most unique hip-hop albums in recent years and as experimental as a relatively mainstream hip-hop artist gets. Of course Vince is not going to be topping charts any time soon but with his infamous interviews and hilarious Twitter account he’s increasingly popular. Big Fish Theory is a very unique album, it’s production is totally electronic there isn’t a single beat I could call traditional hip-hop. The album has a mix of different electronic genres including UK garage, house, techno and EDM. Vince flows incredibly well on these unconventional beats and enlists Kendrick Lamar on “Yeah Right” one of the best bangers of the year.

4.

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Tyler, the Creator — Flower Boy

Flower Boy also known as Scum Fuck Flower Boy is I wanted Tyler to make after Cherry Bomb. While Cherry Bomb wasn’t a bad album, Tyler’s experimentation with production meant it was often a difficult listen and he didn’t always pull it off. But he showed glimpses of the greatness that appears on Flower Boy. When Flower Boy leaked it started a lot of speculations about Tyler’s sexuality referring to some not so subtle lyrics on the album. Tyler has still not confirmed these rumours despite some who point to tweets he’s made in the past. The thing about Tyler is that no one takes him seriously because he’s sometimes too much of a joker. But I think Tyler wants us to take him seriously  on Flower Boy and let the music speak for itself because he doesn’t use the persona of Wolf Haley on this album it’s just Tyler Okonma. And Tyler Okonma is very talented. Flower Boy has some of the most beautiful production, soulful singing and honest poignant lyrics on any album this year. It’s been great watching Tyler grow into a mature artist and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

3.

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J Hus — Common Sense

2017 has been an incredible year for black British music as I mentioned in my introduction and J Hus’ Common Sense is a stand out. J Hus has been making massive waves since he broke out in 2015 and it’s great to see that he’s been able to turn that talent into a great album. Common Sense is the perfect encapsulation of young black Britain in 2017, it captures the mad raves, the dance-hall and afrobeats hall parties, the roads; the essence of young black British African and Caribbean life. The production on Common Sense (most of which is handled by JAE5) is fantastic, from the jazzy title track “Common Sense” to a grime rave banger “Clartin” and UK garage tunes like “Plottin.” J Hus is undeniably one of the most talented artists in the UK and I’m so excited to see what he does next.

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Sampha — Process

I’m so glad to have another black British artist not just in my top 10 but in the top 3. Not to go on about it but it really has been an incredible for black British music. In any other year, Process could be my number one but a certain someone had to release another masterpiece. But what an incredible album Process is and well worth the wait. Sampha has caught people’s attention since appearing throughout SBTRKT’s self-titled debut album in 2011 stunning everyone with his angelic soulful voice. I’ve seen Sampha live and honestly he sounds even more incredible live like that’s even possible. By having literally one of the most beautiful voices ever Process could have had average production and I would have loved listening to it. Thankfully that’s not the case as the production is also great handled by Sampha himself and Rodaidh McDonald. It’s production is electronic similar to James Blake but it’s also very soulful. He bares his soul on this album singing about his anxiety, fear, loneliness and grief. A standout track is the piano ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” dedicated to his late mother it’s the most emotional, touching song in an album full of heartwarming moments.

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Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

And it’s no surprise that my number one album of 2017 is a Kendrick Lamar album. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Kendrick Stan but this pick is only slightly biased because I genuinely think DAMN. is the best album of 2017. It had some fierce competition and I’ve had Process over it a few times but in the end I think I made the best decision. No other album in 2017 affected me as much as DAMN. After To Pimp a Butterfly which is my favourite album ever I eagerly anticipated what Kendrick would do next. I don’t think  he will ever top To Pimp a Butterfly, at least for me but he came pretty DAMN. close. On DAMN. whose concept I still haven’t fully begun to unpack yet, Kendrick goes internal examining his now messianic status, his fears and anxieties and the state of the world we’re living in with excellent results. “FEAR.” the album’s centrepiece is one of the best Kendrick Lamar songs ever, a 7-minute epic detailing his life from the age of 7 to now. “HUMBLE.” proves that he’s capable of making of chart-topping bangers without sacrificing lyricism. On “DNA.” he goes in on his critics and does lyrical acrobatics. The album is full of highlights and while there are some more poppy songs like “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.” Kendrick continues to prove that he’s the greatest active living hip-hop artist. After To Pimp a Butterfly was released there was not doubt Kendrick Lamar was one of the greatest rappers of all time (and my personal number one) there’s no absolutely reason why anyone should think otherwise after DAMN.

Top 10 podcasts of 2017

2017 has been a great year for podcasts. My old favourites has continued to release great episodes and I’ve discovered a lot of interesting new ones especially Black British ones. This list is my top ten favourite podcasts I’ve enjoyed listening to in 2017. Whether they debuted in 2017 or not, as long as they released new episodes in 2017 they count. They’re ranked in alphabetical order only.

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Blanguage: Co-hosts, Janelle and Daniel are best friends and Black Londoners who discuss music and Black British culture. They’re so fun to listen to because of their friendship and their Black British perspective is in much needed in the podcast landscape.

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The Bugle: The Bugle was created 10 years and was originally hosted by Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. John Oliver left The Bugle in 2016 with the success of HBO news/satire show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Since its relaunch in 2016, The Bugle has remained one of the most essential political satire podcasts, still hosted by Zaltzman with a rotating set of co-hosts. It’s very hilarious and frequent co-hosts include Nish Kumar, Hari Kondabolu and Alice Fraser.

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Code Switch: Another NPR podcast is Code Switch co-hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji. It’s a podcast on race and ways of navigating race, although focused on America, it’s often relatable and applicable to other countries. Typical of NPR the production quality is incredible and the level of reporting and research is outstanding.

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The Friend Zone: The Friend Zone is made great by the close friendships of the co-hosts. Fran, Dustin and Assante discuss their personal lives and wellbeing and give great advice to help you get through the week.

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If I Were You: If I were You is co-hosted by comedy duo, Jake and Amir, who played comedic versions of themselves in a long running series on web comedy website/YouTube channel Collegehumor. The pair humorously answer listener questions often asking for relationship advice and the banter is always hilarious. There are catchphrases, running jokes and off-kilter humour. It’s seriously funny stuff.

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Mostly Lit: Mostly Lit is honestly one of my favourite podcasts ever. Black Londoners, Alex Reads, Rai and Derek Owusu discuss literature, pop culture and wellness. They make talking about books so interesting and have encouraged me to read a lot more and always have the best recommendations. I love their banter and friendship and their Black British perspectives.

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The Nod: After ending their podcast, For Colored Nerds, co-hosts Eric and Brittany started The Nod, a podcast about all things black. Self-described as blackness biggest fans they discuss things about being black that are not so obvious. It always makes for an interesting listen.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a long term favourite of mine and as someone who really enjoys all things pop culture. Linda Holmes hosts with a panel of guests which often includes Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon. This year they’ve released some shorter episodes on a more regular schedule. It’s recommended listening for anyone interested in pop culture.

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Still Processing: The hosts of Still Processing describe their podcast in their intro so I’ll just paraphrase that. Wesley Morris writes about how pop culture relates to humans and Jenna Wortham writes about how humans relate to technology. They talk about many different things often to do with pop culture and race. It’s always interesting to hear their perspectives on things.

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Tag Me in Podcast: Based in Bristol, Anton and Ola are another pair of Black Londoners who bring more Black British voices to podcasting. They discuss and give good advice on personal and professional lives.

Nervous Conditions review: Almost 30 years later this seminal novel is just as relevant and important as it was upon release

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It’s been almost 30 years since the novel Nervous Conditions was published in 1988. Written by Zimbabwean author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, it was her third novel and to date is one of only four novels the author has published (a sequel to Nervous Conditions was published in 2006). Set in late 1960s and 70s Rhodesia, an unrecognised state from 1965 to 1979, now Zimbabwe, the novel is especially relevant considering the recent events. The recent coup of the national party, Zanu PF and the forced resignation of revolutionary turned dictator, Robert Mugabe who ruled the country for 37 years prompt a look back at this novel. The interesting thing about the novel is not it is not overtly political. Set in the 60s and 70s this was before Zimbabwe began independent from British rule and before Mugabe became president. The novel follows its protagonist, a little girl named Tambudzai, as she navigates the oppressive patriarchal domination in her home. After her older brother, Nhamo, dies Tambu is sent to the missionary school, where Nhamo studied, away from home with her wealthy middle-class uncle Babamukuru and his family. She finds it difficult to assimilate into the culture of the missionary school and is alienated from the white British missionaries and their children who speak Shona rather than English. Her cousin, Nyasha, after arriving back in Rhodesia from England where she had spent a significant portion of her childhood struggles to fit back into the oppressive patriarchal landscape of Rhodesia. The novel highlights the way in which assimilation is not necessarily a positive thing but can be a difficult and traumatic experience. It also points to the way women experience assimilation might be different from men. Both female characters experience this change in very different ways. The politics of the novel is not explicit or overt but is represented in the mental states of the characters and what colonialism has done to the natives of the countries it’s affected. It’s certainly not the first but is an important representation of African feminism and the struggles which black (especially African) women go through. The novel however does not wallow in despair it’s certainly dark at times but it’s ultimately uplifting and recommended reading for everyone especially young black girls.

Nathan For You season 4 finale review: a beautifully poignant portrayal of regret and loss

Two weeks ago on November 9th 2017 the season finale of the fourth season of Nathan For You aired. The feature length episode (an hour and 24 minutes) had been hyped by the promotional material for the series and expectations were high after the spectacular season finale for the third season. If you’ve never seen an episode of Nathan For You the premise might sound insane but it totally works. It is a docu-reality comedy series co-created by comedian Nathan Fielder and airs on Comedy Central. The premise is Fielder plays an off-kilter slightly exaggerated version of himself who tries to use his business background and life experiences to help struggling companies and people. He frequently offers them outlandish and ridiculous strategies and despite the reluctance of the business owners they often go through it. The lines between reality and fiction are tricky. None of the contributors and business owners are actors but Fielder and his team have an eye for finding the weirdest, most interesting and sometimes delusional people.  He also has a large production team who are able to orchestrate and are able to put the ridiculous plans into action. Despite not being scripted the series often gets into the most extreme and farcical situations imaginable.

In a season two episode titled “Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” Nathan helps a Hollywood souvenir shop and during the episode meets a Bill Gates impersonator. The season four finale begins by looking back to when Nathan and a so-called Bill Gates impersonator, Bill Heath, recorded commentary for a DVD release. Bill comes to their office regularly to drop gifts and chat with the team. But he is preoccupied by a long-lost love, a woman named Frances Gaddy who he regrets not marrying. As a lonely 78 year old he doesn’t have much in his life and still clings on to the glory days of playing (American) football in high school. Nathan decides to take on the mission of finding Frances. It’s an ambitious task as there are over 600, 000 women in the U.S. named Frances and she’s likely to have a different surname if she married, nevertheless Nathan goes through with it. Throughout the four seasons of this show Nathan has gone through a lot of ambitious tasks and while this might not be overall the most difficult one it’s the most emotionally-affecting one making this the best episode of Nathan For You ever. Nathan and Bill go back his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. Frances went to another high school to Bill, in a town called Dumas a couple of hours from Little Rock. They have difficult gaining access to the school but as usual Nathan comes up with a ridiculous plan which somehow works. Nathan and his team pretend they’re shooting a sequel to the 2012 film Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, called Mud 2: Never Clean. They find a random extra in the background of the film and gain access to Dumas High School. This is all so they can find a yearbook with a picture of Frances and use it as a lead to find her.

While this episode is about Bill’s desire to find Frances and declare his love for her, it contains some surprisingly vulnerable moments from Nathan. It’s difficult to tell where the real Nathan begins and the persona ends but they seem close as Nathan comes across as a naturally shy and awkward individual in interviews. When he finds out that Bill wasn’t the best boyfriend to Frances, Nathan hires an escort to see how he treats women. Bill refuses to talk to the escort but since Nathan has already paid for the services he goes on a number of dates with the escort. Although it’s difficult to tell the escort seems to like him. The episode concludes with Nathan and Bill finding Frances through a newspaper clipping and looking her up on Facebook. They discover that Frances is married but Bill still wants to go see her in person. Nathan sets up rehearsals with an actress who looks somewhat like Frances so Bill can practise what he’s going to say. When they drive up to where Frances lives Bill is so nervous after all the anticipation he calls her and decides not to see her in person after realising she’s happy in her marriage. In the end, Bill asks Nathan how to get into contact with the actress and when they meet it seems she genuinely likes him. This feature-length episode is one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever watched. It’s a sad but honest and poignant portrayal of regret and how we as humans want to be loved. Nathan For You has been renewed for a fifth season but this is likely to be the best episode the show’s ever done.

J Hus O2 Brixton Academy review: the Stratford rapper celebrated his London homecoming with extravagance

J Hus has had an incredible year and as 2017 starts to round off he’s topped it off with an incredible first headline show at the O2 Brixton Academy in Brixton, South London. At the end of last week, it was announced that “Form 696” was being scrapped after newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan had called for a review of the form’s use earlier this year. Since 2005 promoters and licensees have been asked to complete a “Form 696” as a risk assessment for hosting music events with DJs and MCs. Many in the grime and UK rap scene have accused the form of being a racist way to target black youth. It’s no coincidence that the form was introduced in 2005 just after grime music began to break into the mainstream. And grime music is primarily produced by black artists and at least in 2005 its main consumers were black. 12 years later, the grime scene is healthy after a resurgence in 2014. With perfect timing comes J Hus who just had an extravagant and successful first headline show in London. J Hus is a truly unique artist who is very difficult to categorise. Though there is some grime influence very little of his music can be classified as grime at all. He sounds like no one else. His music is a cocktail of UK afrobeats, dancehall, trap, UK garage, grime and hip-hop. He began his musical career in 2015 and after a series of freestyles released the infectious hit single “”Lean & Bop.” Earlier this year, he released Common Sense, the Mercury-nominated album which is one of the best albums to come out of the UK in a while and a future classic. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the sound of Black Britain. Stratford born and raised with a Gambian mother, his influences are as Black British as they are by their origin in West Africa, the Caribbean and the diaspora.

I was particularly excited for this show, J Hus being one of my favourite artists and having booked my tickets several months ago I eagerly anticipated the gig. To my disappointment, in my excitement in buying tickets I must have accidentally bought the wrong tickets which meant I was in the “circle” the balcony in the venue. Despite not being able to be in the moshpits which are some of the best parts of seeing live music, I was still excited to see the show. The supporting acts were Young T and Bugsey, NSG and DC and while they all brought energy to the eager young crowd they couldn’t match up to the legendary show J Hus was about to put on. On stage, there were four Mercedes-Benzs and a giant rotating fisherman’s hat (in reference to the song “Fisherman”). The fisherman’s hat rotated to reveal a full live band and J Hus came out and performed the title track “Common Sense.” Audience members were given a plastic band which I didn’t think much of until J Hus performed “Closed Doors” and simultaneously everyone’s bands lit up in fluorescent blue. On stage was a large screen which had visuals related to each song, the lights flashed and flames flew on stage (literally lit) making it a visually stunning show. When he began to perform “Mash Up”, MoStack the featured artist came on the stage to perform his verse. Krept and Konan then came on to perform MoStack’s track “Liar Liar (Remix)” which also featured J Hus. And as if the audience could not be embarrassed with enough riches later Dave come on to perform his track “Samantha” featuring J Hus. I wish I didn’t have to imagine what it was like to be in those moshpits but they looked incredible. I was just glad to be there. When he performed the track “Clartin” he encouraged the biggest moshpits and from what I saw they were mad. He ended the show with his biggest hit yet, “Did You See.” And what an apt song, he left myself and the 5000 plus crowd marvelling at what he’d just done.