Mic Drop: Are We on the Come-Up?

Mic Drop: Are We on the Come-Up?

Lo Village – “Lost in America”
Lo Village – “Lost in America”
Screenshot: YouTube

We all know music can be a useful outlet for all of the pent-up shit we deal with, whether we’re simply listening to it or actually making it—and on the subject of “making it,” this week’s music releases all had a major “come-up” vibe to them.

For instance, I was really excited when I saw that Erick the Architect had officially released a solo project. I’m a big fan of Flatbush Zombies and wasn’t disappointed by what he’s produced apart from the hip hop trio. There were also artists I hadn’t heard of, such as “Lo Village” (pictured above), whose island-meets-science-fiction-inspired music could inspire interesting conversations around Black hope in America.

In fact, most of this week’s music had some form of self-reflection or spiritual element tied to it. Regardless of when it was recorded, mixed or produced, all of these artists have clearly been going through it (who hasn’t?) and their music is doing a lot of the talking for them—but that’s what music is about, right? It’s a whole place to escape from the fucked up reality that comes with the last year or two—or even ten.

The only musician who didn’t seem to be in their bag this week was Jon Batiste, an artist well past his come-up phase—but that’s a whole other story.

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Alycia Bella – “Mississippi Gun Rights”

Alycia Bella – “Mississippi Gun Rights”

Alycia Bella’s sultry vocals float above abstract harmonies on this longing alternative R&B ballad, as additional vocals, distant and pitched, are mysteriously laced throughout the song. A slow electric guitar and soothing piano melody accompany Bella’s vocals, while the percussion—a combination of mellow drum beats, soft high-hats and reverberating wave-like sounds—add to the meditative mood. The intensity deepens towards the end, making this an ideal add to your next “Slow Jams” mix.

January 21, 2021, Indie Pop Records (Alternative R&B)

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Angel Haze – “Weight”

Angel Haze – “Weight”

In this fun yet dark music video, Angel Haze raps about her experiences with God and her own come-up-in-progress over a brooding instrumental base centered around a simple synth loop. Her pitch and flow vary from harsh and fast to loud yet enunciated, making “Weight” a dynamic trap song. The song ends with a calming, emotional piano outro that adds a striking contrast from the rest of the song and video, which has a lawless, Mad Max vibe to it, evoking a dystopian Afro-futurist feel.

January 22, 2021, Republic Records / Island Records (Hip Hop)

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Elhae – “Fun Fact”

Elhae – “Fun Fact”

In this R&B vignette of his 2020 release Fun Fact, Elhae brings soul and balladry to a simple love song of loneliness and longing. Opening with a simple electric piano melody, a sharp snap provides the percussion, along by a low bassline holding down the track. Reflecting our stay-at-home life this past year, the visuals take place in two rooms seemingly filled with random objects which take on new life as Elhae pulls some magic outta his fingertips.

January 19, 2021, Atlantic Records (R&B)

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Erick the Architect – “I Can’t Lose”

Erick the Architect – “I Can’t Lose”

I really fucking love hip hop that uses pitched singing—I’m not sure what it’s about, but here we are. “I Can’t Lose” has exactly that: sped-up, pitched-up vocals that repeat throughout. Erick the Architect is best known as a producer for the hip hop trio, Flatbush Zombies; his official debut solo project dropped on January 21, 2021. This single features a deep bassline met with dull high-hats and a slow synth piano melody which opens up to soulful piano and vocals in the chorus that add to the “never give up” message conveyed throughout.

January 21, 2021, Glorious Dead Recordings (Hip Hop)

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Jon Batiste – “I Need You”

Jon Batiste – “I Need You”

Picture this: the global panorama has ended, you can go places without a mask or fear of getting sick, you see a fine-ass woman looking at a photograph and think, “Damn, I know how to impress her. I am going to sing and dance and make all of the people in that photograph she’s looking at come to life. That will get her!” Newsflash: it does. Jon Batiste’s retro-inspired new single and video “I Need You” opens with the acclaimed musician’s soft jazzy piano, transitioning into an upbeat funky tune accompanied by a soulful bassline with intermittent clapping and tambourines. The tone of the song is dynamic, as are Batiste’s vocals, which fluctuate throughout. But aside from all of the musical genius and cinematic creativity that went into the video production, the best part has got to be the end—wait for it.

January 22, 2021, Verve Recordings (Soul)

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Lo Village – “Lost in America”

Lo Village – “Lost in America”

A soft, whistling melody plays behind ambient city noises as a teenage boy rises and readies himself in his typical teenage room in this evocative video. Exiting his home, the song starts, composed of two contrasting types of melody–a soft and mellow chorus and the hard, spacious, almost sci-fi verses—a little like living while Black. Each member of Lo Village plays a small role in the production of Lost in America, a somber reminder of Black America’s propensity for hope, while paying poignant tribute to Breonna Taylor.

January 22, 2021, Rebel Music Collective (Hip Hop)

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Marcellus Juvann – “Hardheaded”

Marcellus Juvann – “Hardheaded”

Marcellus Juvann’s “Hardheaded” employs cinematic sounds and jarring visuals, its frantic wind instrument melody reminiscent of a swarm of bees—an eerie element over a deep drum beat that hovers just below the melody. The manic energy of the video echoes the various vocal techniques–distortion, speed and reverberation—as we zoom into Juvann’s eye, into his bloodstream and beyond. Each visual seamlessly transitions to another—as do his lyrics, which consider the duality of life decisions and experiences.

January 22, 2021, Everyone Lives In The End (Hip Hop)

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Valerie June feat. Carla Thomas – “Call Me a Fool”

Valerie June feat. Carla Thomas – “Call Me a Fool”

Valerie June’s Call Me a Fool opens with an African proverb read by Stax legend Carla Thomas, set against the sounds of wind and ethereal piano which give way to June’s voice, slicing through the silence in this twangy, soul ballad. Set in a Victorian-style home, there are surrealistic elements used throughout the accompanying video—swirling wood beams, cherry blossoms and a digitized full moon. Likewise, June’s voice starts steady with a simple melody alongside an acoustic guitar, piano and drums, crescendoing to a horn section which pairs well with the soulful elements and bravado her voice carries throughout.

January 21, 2021, Fantasy Records (Soul)

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Wale – “Good Vibes (Za)”

Wale – “Good Vibes (Za)”

In a way, this is a political song. In the chorus, Wale talks about being tired and angry with the president (who at the time of this single’s release was still Trump), and the increasing number of Black men being killed. We’ve all been there—and ultimately, Good Vibes (Za) is about cultivating exactly that—while still recognizing everything that has happened and continues to threaten us. Heavy on the bass, the beat’s soft high-hats float just below Wale’s vocals as he raps and sings on this track, his singing voice making a plea for better days on the hopeful chorus.

January 19, 2021, Warner Records Label (Hip Hop)

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DISCUSSION