Tag Archives: 2019

Ariana Grande – thank u, next

25 Feb

It’s an unlikely thing to say about someone who’s already pop royalty, but thank u, next is Ariana Grande taking herself to the next level. She’s already a superstar and a household name, but this is the album that really pushes herself as maybe the most important act in pop today.

This felt clear from the moment the title track dropped. There’s a maturity to “thank u, next” that was expected at this stage of her career but is no poorer for that. This could have easily come off as cynical and trite but Ariana has an effortless sincerity here that carries the song. Her conclusion of self-love would have been cliche in less skilled hands but instead you find yourself happy for her. Pop has always played out at least in part in the E! News of the day but Ari has made it service her music and not the other way around.

Her voice is the centerpiece of the album. Powerful when it needs to be, delicate when it needs to be, it gets the showpiece here that it long deserved. Her musical instincts are likewise impeccable. “7 rings” felt like a misstep at first as repurposing “My Favorite Things” needs to be handled with care and her interpolation is unconventional. She pulls it off though and pulls off the tonal shift of flossing as well. This is a large part of what makes this album such a statement. She’s built the confidence to inject some strength and variety into her work and the result is eye-popping. 

Unsurprisingly, I also really like the sexy, playful Ari you see in songs like “make up.” “NASA” is a lot of upbeat fun. It even feels a little retro and I’m always a sucker for spelling titles out like it’s the 80s again. Also, the metaphor still makes me smile. “needy” reminds me pleasantly of the last SZA album.

I like her harder stuff more though. “bloodline” has a great, assertive beat and the callousness is delicious. “bad idea” is very sharp. “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored” is supercilious and excellent for it. This is the Ariana Grande that I am now here for.

This album is Ariana’s best yet and hopefully a blueprint for what is to come next. This album apparently only took a few weeks from alpha to omega and the result is more free-flowing, more honest and more confident than ever before. It’s time to crown a new pop queen.

@murthynikhil
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J. Cole – Middle Child

20 Feb

This song is easily one of the best of the new year. First things first, it’s a good beat and a good flow. That opening feels like trumpets before a war and the song itself is a salvo.

What’s shocking though is the positivity. His lines on Drake giving him a watch as a gift are strong and rejecting manufactured beef are interesting in the genre famous for war being mutually beneficial. The game seems to be turning away from the aggression that once codified it and it’s a fascinating development to watch.

I also appreciate him talking about bringing your people up with you. I appreciate him sending love to the new rappers and sending love to the OGs. Generational strife almost always feels like both sides are out of touch. J. Cole stepping away from that, despite the many calling for him to kill trap or take the torch or whatever other narrative du jour is floating around, is heartening to see.

The contradictions here are interesting. He claims all love, but there are still shots at Kanye and Drake here. The lines are barely subliminals. This makes some sense as he criticizing actions like theirs, but this seems to be swallowing your beef and having it too. Also, look at the refrain “Niggas been countin’ me out / I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips / I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list / I’m checkin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ ’em hit.” It’s this aggression that makes the song though. This isn’t a call for ahimsa, it’s a militant call for love.

On that note, the hook is amazing. The drawn out “feel” with the sung notes is excellent. It lets him put a lot of emotion into very few words. That said, the words of the hook are extremely clever. I love the image from contrasting a pistol in the hand and money in the palm. Playing the drink in his hand giving him something to feel against his foot on their neck is similarly strong. Also, the hook just gives the song a swagger. It’s a boastful song for something meant to bring people together and that’s why I love it.

The corniness is a bit of a sour note though. His advice to the young rappers is painfully cliche when it comes to specifics. Also, is he really Jay-Z’s younger brother? It made sense when Kanye took that epithet in 2007, but J. Cole really feels like Jay’s grandson. He’s always made a habit of giving himself titles that I don’t feel he’s fully earned and it comes off as grasping.

This is the song that makes the case for him though. This is really strong rap and uniquely J. Cole’s. I hope we see a lot more like this from him soon.

@murthynikhil

James Blake – Assume Form

1 Feb

Assume Form does two things that immediately catch my attention. The first is feature Metro Boomin, who is the music man of the moment. The second is feature Andre 3000 who will always be the music man for every moment. The trap of the Metro Boomin songs works really well against Blake’s softer production giving the two songs an excellent texture. Travis Scott adds heft to “Mile High” and Blake’s singing forms strong hooks there.

“Where’s The Catch” with 3k is excellent. The production is built off a loop that constantly teases a resolution that never comes and stays intriguing the whole way thanks to some fascinating dives off the base form. Andre 3000 is amazing as always and we’re all still waiting for a new album from him. It’s a song that’s more producer driven than it is standard rap, but Andre still does fantastic work in it and it’s just a great song.

Sadly, the album doesn’t do as well without the guest stars. “Power On” is trite both musically and lyrically, as is “I’ll Come Too”, although that at least has a tiny twist of the knife in it.”Don’t Miss It” doesn’t do enough. I respect how personal it is, but it’s still also shallow and cliche. It needed more personal touches and just takes too much time for too little payoff. ”Can’t Believe The Way We Flow” is just boring. At least “Into The Red” has a solid phrase forming the beat and that does a lot for it.

Overall, this album just has too many songs that do nothing. The standouts are excellent though.

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