Reflections on a summer

Summer’s nearly over. I’m writing this blog post a couple of hours before it becomes September in the UK. I’ve recovering from a very fun but exhausting past couple of days. I just thought I’d reflect on my summer this year, my experiences and things I’ve learned. Thinking back I haven’t done everything I wanted to this summer and it was a little disappointing but it was still a lot of fun and I’ve had some great times. I went to the Field Day festival in London in June. I had gone last year and I really enjoyed it so when I saw how good the line-up looked this year I had to go again. It was a really great festival, all the acts I saw performed well and delivered good sets. Flying Lotus was a highlight of the festival and one of the best acts I’ve ever seen live, I caught him a second time a week later at Parklife festival in Manchester. I also saw Forest Swords, Gaika, Nicolas Jaar, Run the Jewels and Sinkane. The only act I was gutted I missed was Death Grips but I got to see Sinkane instead who brought some good vibes. I’ve loved going to festivals since I went to my first festival in 2015 to see Kendrick Lamar headline. Sure they can be very crowded, dirty, expensive but I just love music and seeing live music never gets old for me. Being part of a crowd of like-minded fans all repeating the words and moshing is always fun to me. I was going back home the next day but I went to a house party my friend was throwing. I was exhausted from the journey back from the festival but I got off the coach and went straight to my mate’s house and socialised with friends, acquaintances and strangers. House parties were one of the best things about my second year of uni haha of course I really enjoy my degree but the house parties throughout the year were a lot of fun. I had made a lot of friends from being part of my uni’s hip-hop society since my first year and going to most of the events. A lot of these friends were in their third year and have now graduated this summer so that was the last I would see most of them for a while and some of them ever again so it was a bittersweet time. I stayed as long as I could which was until the sun came up at like 5am. I was probably the most sober person at the party because I had to be up in a few hours to be ready to pack up and my parents were coming to pick me up.

A week later I’m back home in Leeds. I took a few days to unpack all my luggage even though it wasn’t that much because I’m not a hoarder. After I had settled I spent most of the week at home before going to Manchester for another festival, Parklife. I saw Bonzai, Mura Masa, NAO, Sampha, Stormzy and FRANK FUCKING OCEAN!! Of course it was amazing finally seeing Frank Ocean, one of my favourite artists live, and trust me he was amazing. But all the other acts were really great as well. Bonzai I had never heard of before but she delivered a great set, NAO serenaded the entire crowd with her beautiful voice, Sampha was just absolutely incredible I literally cried and the moshpits at Stormzy were mad. After those two festivals I spent how I’ve spent most of this summer to be honest: catching up on TV, watching films and playing video-games. I also read more than I usually do. I was still applying for internships in those last couple of weeks of June but I wasn’t confident I would get anything. This continued for most of the summer lowering my self-esteem and making me feeling worthless until I decided to stop and just go onto my final year of uni. Oh and I also received my uni results which were disappointing. I did well but not quite as well I wanted to on a module I really enjoyed and totally bombed the other and got the lowest grade I’ve ever gotten in uni. Overall, across my modules I got a decent 2:1 which is 40% of my degree which I’m happy with and I can still graduate with a first if I do better this year.

Anyway July was a little better. I started off the month by going to a Kamasi Washington gig in Leeds. Kamasi Washington and his band was jaw-droppingly great, they really killed that shit. The crowd was loving it and they performed for a long set which was very impressive considering how difficult and exhausting it is to play jazz. I started to play pick-up basketball again with my long-time friend I’ve known since secondary school. I’m still not that good but I love playing basketball and the more I play and practise the better I’ll get. I strongly doubt I’ll be good enough to make the first team but might possibly make the second team if I keep practising with these last few weeks I have before to going back to uni. Since going to uni I’ve loved coming back to Leeds and seeing familiar faces again, hearing Leeds accents and enjoying the beautiful city that is Leeds. I consider Leeds to be my hometown even though I wasn’t born in Leeds and I don’t have a Leeds accent, at least not noticeable, my accent tends to get more Northern when I’m speaking to another Northerner. I was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria which I have no memory of because my parents moved to Lagos a few days later but I’m glad I was born in the same city as Fela Kuti and Wole Soyinka. I lived in Lagos for 9 years but those 9 years weren’t formative for me. I have some clear memories but not that many and I think I would struggle to adjust if I went to live there permanently. But I definitely intend to visit Nigeria especially Lagos in the next couple of years I’m sure some buried memories would resurface but I’m far too comfortable with British life right now even though there’s a lot of fuckery going on.

This summer wasn’t just a couple of festivals, a gig, a few games of pick-up basketball and staying in though. I did turn up at a few Nigerian parties. One of them was a church fellowship couple’s 25th anniversary party. As with most Nigerian parties I’ve been to it was pretty lit there were some drunk uncles misbehaving, afrobeats playing and people dancing. Another time, it was female friend’s 21st birthday party which was even more lit because it was a young people’s ting. The DJ who I knew played a lot of great afrobeats tracks. When the party ended at 10 I was a little surprised to be invited to an afterparty by the female friend. While I consider her more than an acquaintance we’re not exactly close or we don’t hang out so I wasn’t expecting her to invite me to an afterparty. It was one of the best nights of the summer because while I’ve known a lot of the people at the party for some years I wasn’t close with many people but I felt included. We were all first generation, some who were born in the UK and some who were born in Nigeria but grew up in the UK. We all shared similar childhoods, cultural experiences and had immigrant parents or assimilated in our early childhood or adolescent years. I felt happy to know that even though as a black person I’m a small minority in the UK I’m part of a large community. I had a similar feeling when I took my parents to see the play, Barbershop Chronicles which you can read my review of¬†here.

Which brings me to August which ends in less than an hour. In August I decided I was done with the stress and headache of constant rejection and stopped applying for internships. I felt bad because one of my friends was in London working as an intern for Disney, an internship I applied but was rejected for, and I had other friends away in America on their year abroad. I feel better now that I’m going to my final year of university without having studied abroad or worked in the industry. I will make the most of my final year and will likely go on to a do a masters right after I’ve graduated. That way I will still get at least another year to see my friends who will be away this academic year. Last Saturday, I went to the Leeds West Indian Carnival for the first time and had a great time. I went with a friend and his brother and had the best time. It was great seeing so many beautiful black people, eating curry goat and jerk chicken for the first time, reggae, soca, dancehall and afrobeats music playing in the streets and watching local grime acts perform to huge crowds. I drank a lot of rum that day and at night we went out again to the after parties where the DJs played afrobeats and dancehall and of course I secured a few whines. It was funny seeing the ridiculous over-reaction from a few blogs over John Boyega catching a couple of whines at Carnival on his insta story. It was just making a big fuss out of a few dumb comments he received from people who don’t know about the culture. He actually replied to me which I was so gassed about.

And finally last night, I saw Vince Staples (finally!) and he was just incredible!! The supporting act was DJ Semtex who played banger after banger so that by the time Vince come on I was already tired but I immediately got my energy back up when the thumping bass pounded. He was a silhouette a lot of the time but I was often close enough to the stage that I could see his face clearly. The moshpits for a lot of the songs were intense, people got in a circle for a moshpit for songs that weren’t even hype. He performed so many of my favourite songs by him and the bass was so heavy. So yeah while it’s not been a particularly busy summer for me but I’ve definitely had a lot of fun and been more productive than I thought I would be. Now I’m tired of being at home and am so excited to go back to my final year of uni. Bring it on!

Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy review ‚Äď still with boyish charm Tyler matures on this beautiful poignant coming out record

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Less than a week after Tyler, The Creator announced his fourth studio album¬†Flower Boy (promoted as¬†Scum Fuck Flower Boy)¬†it was leaked. Shortly after there was a lot of online discussion and speculation about his sexuality with many suggesting that he was gay and citing lyrics from the tracks¬†“Foreword”, “Garden Shed”, and “I Ain’t Got Time!” This was equally met with immediate distrust and scorn, some from long-time fans dismissing these lyrics as simply provocative as his lyrics on previous albums and some LGBT and ally music critics condemning them as “queer-baiting” and a lie. I’m not going to speculate about Tyler’s sexuality in this review but it is clear from evidence over the years that Tyler, The Creator is definitely not straight. He has yet to address the rumours and I don’t think he should. Like Frank Ocean (who is featured twice on the album) who came out just over five years ago in a¬†letter posted on Tumblr, it seems Tyler is refusing to label his sexuality. People still speculate over whether Frank Ocean is gay, bi and he’s often labelled as queer but Frank has never explicitly labelled himself as any of these. It is only clear that he isn’t straight but other than that unless he says what he identifies as we can only speculate. In the still on-going discussions and speculations about Tyler’s sexuality I rarely saw anyone consider if he might be bisexual or identify as something else or is still figuring things out. In an interview with Larry King three years ago Tyler said “I hate people who’s not comfortable with themselves” when King prompted “do you think we’ll ever have an openly gay rap artist?” Tyler responded “why does that shit matter, why do we care.” Three years later, if we’re to take the lyrics on this album at face value, and we should, these words are much more revealing.¬†Flower Boy¬†is by far Tyler, The Creator’s best project yet. It’s his most honest and earnest, beautifully self-produced with his most poignant and best written lyrics ever.

Before getting into the review it’s important to provide a little context on Tyler’s background. It has been seven years since L.A. rap collective, Odd Future, first broke out into mainstream popularity. Formed in 2007 by leader, Tyler, The Creator, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (abbreviated¬†to¬†OFWGKTA) were the most exciting thing in hip-hop and music at the time. They were a bunch of teenagers saying extremely vulgar, distasteful and controversial shit on record, jokingly advocating kids to “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” and inspiring suburban white kids and weirdo black kids across the States and the world. Although I wasn’t following blogs at the time, I was keenly aware of how demonised they were in the blogosphere and by the media. Odd Future were no Wu-Tang Clan, they weren’t a bunch of hardcore gangsters from the cold, gritty streets of New York City, they were a bunch of weirdo black skater kids from L.A. who had nothing else to do. I remember when the video for “Yonkers” came out, I was 14 in secondary school and I remember all of sudden hearing about this video where a black guy eats a cockroach. I think I took a while to watch it because as a shy, anxious kid it sounded scary to me but I did watch it a little later.¬†Odd Future was’t big in my British secondary school but I remembered that soon after a few people in my year started wearing Odd Future merch and talking about Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. I’ve liked Tyler since then, I find him really funny, his music has been pretty good and he was really creative, producing most of his own music, cover art, fashion, TV shows and directing his own music videos. He was also half-Nigerian and as a full Nigerian I feel a kinship with anyone of Nigerian heritage ūüá≥ūüá¨. But I preferred Earl Sweatshirt as a rapper, technically Earl was and still is better rapper, and Frank Ocean was a much better singer though I didn’t judge Tyler on his singing. I’ve liked all of Tyler’s music though¬†Cherry Bomb was slightly disappointing¬†but I hadn’t been blown away until¬†Flower Boy¬†really impressed me.

First thing to say is that¬†Flower Boy¬†is immaculately well-produced. It was entirely self-produced by Tyler and shows his growth as a producer and his influences including Pharell Williams who appears on the album and has appeared on his other albums and Kanye West who was featured on the Cherry Bomb¬†track “Smuckers.”¬†¬†The first track “Foreword” has a ticking sound throughout and features guest vocals from English singer, Rex Orange County. Tyler also shows his eclectic taste in music¬†sampling ‚ÄúSpoon (Sonic Youth Remix)‚ÄĚ, a remix by American noise/alternative-rock band¬†Sonic Youth¬†of the song ‚ÄúSpoon‚ÄĚ by German krautrock band¬†Can. The lyrics are also revealing: “shout out to the girls that I lead on / For occasional head and always keeping my bed warm /And trying their hardest to keep my head on straight” clearly suggests he isn’t straight I mean how ambiguous could those lines be. The dismissal of Tyler’s coming out is not surprising but has been really disgusting. It’s unsurprising because Tyler has made some homophobic remarks in the past and while those deserved to be criticised it is ridiculous that people cannot see how honest he’s being on this album. Tyler doesn’t (hardly) pitches his voice lower or use an alter ego on this album, he is wholly himself. He is just Tyler Okonma. While, those remarks in the past should still be condemned but they can be seen as a kind of self-hatred. The demonisation of Odd Future especially Tyler is really revealing because it represents the demonisation of black boys. Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice were two young black boys who were shot by police because they looked older than their age and were seen as more intimidating. Tyler, The Creator was a tall, lanky and edgy teenager with an overactive imagination and a deep voice but effectively harmless yet he was demonised by the press because he was black and therefore seen as intimidating. As¬†Moonlight¬†so poignantly showed, hyper-masculinity is often used as a protective armour by queer black boys and men.

Flower Boy¬†is chock-full of beautiful guest singer spots. Frank Ocean croons on the chorus of “Where This Flower Blooms”, “I ride to California /¬†These frog oval goggles.” Tyler also delivers some clever, important lines “Tell these black kids they could be who they are / Dye your hair blue, shit, I’ll do it too / Look, I smell like Chanel” makes some references to Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean dyed his hair for the promo of¬†Blonde, Frank has embraced who he is and helped other queer black kids be who they are and “Chanel” refers to a single Frank Ocean released earlier this year alluding to bisexuality or the fluidity of his masculinity and femininity. “See You Again” is a highlight in an album full of highlights. Tyler does some singing on the chorus and while it isn’t great it’s really endearing and Kali Uchis delivers some killer vocals. “Can I get a¬†kiss? /¬†And can you make it last forever? / I said I’m ’bout to go to war / And I don’t know if I’ma see¬†you again.”¬†The album is just full of so many beautiful catchy vocals which I haven’t been able to stop singing since. Despite being alternatively titled¬†Scum Fuck Flower Boy¬†the only indications we get of “scum fuck” are “Who Day Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” Tyler just revealed that he wanted to give ScHoolboy Q a verse on “Who Dat Boy” but he totally bodies this beat. The beat is such a banger it’s ridiculous, the horror movie synths, the build-up and the way Tyler and A$ap Rocky flow on this beat works so damn well.

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“I Ain’t Got Time!” is not as hard but the chorus is really infectious “I ain’t got time for these niggas / Better throw a watch at the boy” and the one of the lines which has had many speculating about his sexuality “Next line will have ’em like “Woah” / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”

Throughout the album Tyler proves he is equally a great rapper and producer. His voice and flow perfectly match the jazzy, funky smooth beats extremely well. On “Pothole” he enlists Jaden Smith for the chorus and Smith is another carefree black boy who flouts conventional models of black masculinity – as weird as he might be. “Garden Shed” is a stand out track, perhaps the most revealing and one of the most beautifully produced tracks I’ve heard all year. It begins with some smooth guitar riffs, synths, jazzy drums and Estelle comes in with beautifully sung vocals (Estelle is low-key underrated). The title of the track likely serves a metaphor for the metaphorical closet non-straight people come out of. “Garden shed, garden shed, garden shed, garden shed / For the garden
That is where I was hidin’ / That was real love I was in / Ain’t no reason to pretend,” although these lyrics use imagery and are poetic it is pretty unambiguous what they could be referring to. More unambiguous lines: “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase /¬†Thought it’d be like the phrase; “poof,” gone / But, it’s still goin’ on.” What a way to do it and I applaud Tyler for his courage and am really happy for him. “Boredom” is a smooth jam about being bored and really speaks to me in this long boring summer where I expected to do much more. It features a lot of sweet guest vocals from¬†Anna of the North,¬†Corinne Bailey Rae¬†&¬†Rex Orange County. “911 / Mr. Lonely” is a two-part track, the first track is a smooth jazz-funk track with guest vocals from Steve Lacy, who was also featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “PRIDE.”, and Frank Ocean again.

Flower Boy¬†never drops in quality throughout but it does drop seeds on “Droppin’ Seeds”, Lil Wayne’s verse in his idiosyncratic delivery sounds perfect on Tyler’s idiosyncratic jazzy production. “November” is a track with a really good drum loop and some bells, Tyler reminisces about the past using “November” as a metaphor for a time he misses “Take me back to November / Take me back to November / Hawaiian shirts in the winter, cold water, cold water.” The track switches up at one point before going right back into the drum loop and it just shows how well produced this entire album is. The only noticeable time Tyler does change his pitch on this album is on “Glitter” but for a totally different effect. He pitches his voice up and down on and it is a love song where he sings. I’ve listened to this album quite a few times and assumed it was another guest vocal but it appears not. The album ends with a funky instrumental which samples baby noises showcasing his producing chops. With this final track he doesn’t need to make a grand statement he’s already made them throughout the album. Flower Boy¬†shows Tyler, The Creator fully maturing as an artist but still having his boyish charm. It is an extraordinarily well-produced album full of excellent guest vocals, honest, poignant lyrics and really gives the world its first true glimpse into Tyler Okonma. Indeed, a world of glitter and flowers.