Archive for the ‘Rap’ Category

Over the years, I’ve had the honour/privilege/good fortune of attending many, many live music shows. Spoiler: they’re not all created equal. Over my years of accidental research, a good show seems to be a combination of venue, crowd, seat location, and the intensity of my fandom for the performing band. When these factors are in perfect equilibrium, you get the best of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, and will never miss.

 

The xx

The first time I saw them was on their 2012 Coexist tour at Massey Hall – one of my favourite venues, because of its intimacy, worn out seats, and movie theatre-like atmosphere. I went alone as true fans do, and I wore my most comfortable pair of jeans, hoodie and Converse kicks (because obviously.)

I had the aisle seat, 3rd or 4th row from the front on the main level. I wasn’t sure what to expect because as much as I love their unassuming, nuanced, yet powerful music, I wasn’t sure how it would translate live.

But from the second they walked on stage, every aspect of their meticulously arranged music, took on a life of its own. I was so engrossed, I barely noticed when my body danced uncontrollably in my seat; you could feel the music all over.

The second time I saw them, was an outdoor show at Echo Beach, for 2017’s I See You tour, with a friend who is as much of a Stan as I am when it comes to The xx. The performance was full of so much emotion, passion, heart pangs, gut punches, near tears, euphoria, and the absolute need to dance it all away. The fact it was a standing-only venue was only fitting.

 

Nine Inch Nails

This has to go down as one of the most surprising concert experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve only seen them once, way back in 2009, when I scored free tickets to Virgin Festival at the (then) Molson Amphitheatre.

It was a long day in the sun/humidity with a fellow music fan. All the bands I wanted to see had already performed, and NIN was headlining. I’d never been a huge fan of theirs – 1994’s Downward Spiral was probably the only album of theirs I’d listened to at that stage – and even then only partly.

I wasn’t planning on sticking around, but my music fellow music fan insisted I at least check them out. So I did. And holy shit. They were super loud, punk rock, heavy metal, noisy, but in all the best ways. You could hear and feel every word, note, lyric, in spite of the noise. Organized chaos at it best.

They are so freakin’ talented, and the amount of creativity that goes into making the music they put out, is unreal. So much attention to detail, so much anger and pain, but channeled in a way that makes it understandable, approachable, even on a live stage. They just blew me away.

 

Eminem

What can I say? I’ve always loved Eminem. His rhymes are unstoppable, his flow is flawless, and he has no problem saying what’s on his mind. He rarely tours though, so when I heard he was headlining Lollapalooza in 2011 in nearby Chicago, I couldn’t resist.

I spent all day hovering around the main stage, just so I wouldn’t lose my coveted spot in Grant Park. Eminem did not disappoint. He didn’t miss a single beat during the performance, didn’t mess up a single lyric. His flow was even more smooth live, his rhymes tighter, and his delivery off the charts; he was on fire the whole time.

He performed every track imaginable, and then some. He’s an artist in its truest form, and when he performs, what you see – more than anything – is his undeniable passion; his dedication to his craft. He lives and breathes his music, and it’s an absolutely incredible thing to see.

Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s music is like a dream. Their sound is mostly soft and subtle, with some instruments peppered in along the way. Lead singer Justin Vernon’s voice is one of the most ethereal ones I’ve ever heard. Their lyrics are like poetry – lathered in imagery and metaphors, making the tracks simultaneously difficult to understand, but also wide open to interpretation.

The one and only time I saw them live was at Massey Hall in 2011 for their Bon Iver tour (they haven’t returned since.) Their entire performance was breathtaking, captivating, perfect, and beautiful. The music let your imagination run wild, and transported you to another universe. I went with a friend, and I can’t even remember if we sat together or separately, I was so entranced.

My absolute favourite moment during the show, was when they performed the track “Re: Stacks.” It was just Vernon, an acoustic guitar, and his heavenly voice. It was so mesmerizing – pin drop silence from the crowd for the nearly 7 minute duration of the song. It was – pardon the cliché – an out of body experience, shared by everyone in the room. So many chills and goosebumps that night; such musical genius.

The Killers

I’ve always liked the Killers, and enjoyed their music: it’s fun, anthemic, lead singer Brandon Flowers’ vocal styles are unique and full of character. The first time I saw them was at the ACC, on their 2013 Battle Born tour; it was a last minute situation where a friend had an extra ticket, so I tagged along.

Kerfuffle swiftly ensued, when turns out we had fake tickets. After being escorted out by a manager struggling to believe we didn’t know we bought fake tickets, and a stern phone call/email from my friend to StubHub, we were awarded with free new tickets, plus a comp for the fake ones. Winning all around.

Then, the previously dubious manager morphed into a much kinder human being, and escorted us back into the venue, to even better seats. Maybe because the circumstances worked so much in our favour, maybe because my friend is a super fan and watching anyone lose their shit at a concert is priceless. Whatever the case, the show was incredible. So much showmanship, so much flair, and so much fun.

I loved their show so much, I went back a few years later. Same venue, for 2018’s Wonderful Wonderful tour, this time alone (clearly, a pattern.) I braved the the 7 min walk in the freezing January cold, and boy, was it worth it. Such a high caliber show, one where all aspects are bigger and better. The music was louder, the lyrics more meaningful, the vocals stronger, the production more glamourous, and the energy overflowing. It’s the best way to listen to The Killers.

Foo Fighters

I’ve seen them in dingy standing-only venues; large sports arenas; outdoor festivals. Each show is unique in and of itself. We all know lead singer Dave Grohl knows how to get a crowd going. He’s loud, interactive, and knows how to put on a helluva show, along with the rest of the band.

I’ve seen Dave Grohl play standing on crutches, sitting in a throne. I’ve heard them play acoustic, and electric; endured mosh pits and lost my voice in their honour. I’ve seen them play in peak humidity, apocalyptic rain, and under perfect summer skies. Each and every time, it was a show for the books.

The amount of stamina they have is like something I’ve never seen before. Over 3 hours straight. No breaks. No encores either, simply because they’re above that. They play until they physically can’t play anymore.

Since they’ve been around for decades, seeing them live means witnessing their evolution, their history, as well as how music in general has changed over the years. They’re constantly creating, changing, and experimenting with their music. But what never changes is how well they entertain, how much fun they have, and how much of themselves they leave on stage during their shows.

 

 

 

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It’s pretty certain most us would like to put 2017 behind us, and move forward to the (hopefully) better and brighter 2018. Musically speaking, 2017 was a decent year, so let’s celebrate all it had to offer (Note: once again, these are solely my opinions, and as usual I didn’t listen to every single record that was released this year.)

Best Rap Album: DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

I’ll be honest: I didn’t fully get the “hype” behind Lamar until this album came out. It wins because Lamar’s lyrics are smart, honest, and he’s actually saying something. Plus, the album as a whole is a solid mix of rhymes, dope beats, and a whole lotta love.

Guiltiest Pleasure: “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes

He’s so plain and vanilla; boring and unoriginal. Yet this songs makes me dance, and I just can’t help it.

Worst Collaboration: “Something Just Like This” Coldplay + The Chainsmokers

Coldplay has been dead to me for some time now. The minute they shed everything that made them them, I cut the cord. The Chainsmokers were never on my good list, because there’s nothing good about them. This is a musical abomination on so many levels.

Best Collaboration – “I Know You” by Craig David feat. Bastille

David’s smooth vocals against Bastille’s rock operatic ones; David’s R&B sound, with Bastille’s rock-electronic vibe. Mash it all together and what you get is beautiful music. Not to mention: Craig David is back!

Best Latin Collaboration: “Mi Gente” by J Balvin, Willy William feat. Beyoncé

The original of this infectious track has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube alone. Add Queen Bey into the mix and it’s completely unstoppable.

Most Surprising Track: “Rockstar” Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

At first glance, Post Malone leaves nothing to be desired. That should teach me to judge a book by its cover. Although he screams drug addict trailer trash, with nasty grills and hair that hasn’t been washed in months, his music is actually pretty good (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Most Disappointing Track: “Walk on Water” by Eminem feat. Beyoncé

This wins this category because in spite of its huge potential, it falls flat. The content of Em’s flow is pretty good, but his delivery is lazy, slurry and sounds a little too much like Macklemore (sorry Em!) Bey’s chorus makes the track listenable, but otherwise, it’s a bit of a snoozefest (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Best Indie Track: “Nobody Else Will be There” by The National

It’s moody, dark, and puts your stomach in knots. Everything a National song is supposed to be.

Worst Indie Track: “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

It’s so catchy that it very quickly becomes too catchy, which automatically makes it intolerable. It’s just trying too hard.

Best Club Track: “Unforgettable” by French Montana feat. Swae Lee

I dare you not to bust a move right now.

Best R&B Track: “Skywalker” by Miguel feat. Travis Scott

One of the best tracks off Miguel’s release War & Leisure, it shows off his velvety vocals, a sick beat, and also appeared on HBO’s smash hit Insecure.

Best New Artist: Amy Shark

Delicate vocals full of vulnerability and soul, Australia’s Shark is a singer-songwriter who has managed to dominate radio waves, in spite of the fact she’s only ever released a 6-track EP. Look out for her in 2018.

Worst New Artist: Cardi B

There are just so many things about Cardi B that, despite my best efforts, I just can’t.

Best Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles

This track wins mostly because the sound is just more to my liking. A little more rock ‘n roll, a little edgier. Niall’s offering was too cheesy boy band pop; Zayn’s was too over the top and all over the place.

Worst Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Strip That Down” by Liam Payne feat. Quavo 

Payne just isn’t vocally strong enough to be a solo act. Everything about this screams someone who’s a little too keen on changing his image. Newsflash, Liam: it’s not working.

Best TV Soundtrack: Big Little Lies

It has everything from Leon Bridges, to Alabama Shakes, to Martha Wainwright. Oh, and this killer theme song.

Best Movie Soundtrack: Atomic Blonde

Question: what’s better than watching a stiletto-wearing Charlize Theron kick ass to the sound of new wave/rock/pop/punk 80s music? Answer: nothing.

Best Canadian Album: Everything Now by Arcade Fire

I will agree that Arcade Fire is definitely an acquired taste. But once you get into them, there’s something unique about the way they make music and put it all together, that sets them apart. This wasn’t their best album, but a solid one nonetheless.

Best Comeback: N.E.R.D.

It’s been 7 years since N.E.R.D. released an album, and 16 years (!) since their anthem “Rock Star” was released. This year’s No One Ever Really Dies is such a force, both musically and lyrically; there’s nothing out there that sounds anything like it. Bravo.

Worst Comeback: Theory of  a Deadman

Technically ToaD put out an album in 2014, but let’s be honest – it’s been at least 12 years since they released anything anyone heard, and, frankly, it should’ve stayed that way. They are, and have always been a poor man’s Nickelback.

Most Underrated Artist: Billie Eilish

Ms. Eilish released her debut EP, Don’t Smile at Me, this summer. At only 15 years old (!), she blew me away.

Most Overrated Artist: Ed Sheeran

Look, I know it’s easy to come down hard on Sheeran, but it’s just as hard not to. His music is formulaic, his vocals aren’t anything special, and he’s a ginger. Somehow, he’s heralded as the best of the best, and his smugness exacerbates with each accolade. I will never understand his appeal.

Best Cover Song: “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by London Grammar 

The key to a good cover song is to maintain the integrity of the song, while putting your own spin on it. London Grammar has done exactly this with The Verve’s 1997 classic. Grammar stripped it down, and made it more haunting. As far as covers go, it’s perfection. Not to mention, lead singer Hannah Reid kills it on vocals.

Worst Cover Song: “You Get What You Give” by Felix Cartal

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to cover a song, make sure it’s a song that’s worth covering. The New Radicals’ original from 1998, wasn’t a good song. It was mediocre at best. Then completely changing the sound from pop/rock to techno is an even worse decision.

Best Live Show: The xx 

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts, and I can say without a doubt, The xx came out on top this year. Their music builds up so subtly, until it takes over and pulls at every emotion inside your body. The only option you have left is to dance off the emotional wreck you have become – it’s the best way to heal.

Worst Album: Reputation by Taylor Swift

Swift needs to take a chill pill. Her attempt at shedding her “good girl” image is so predictable, and so not working. No one believes her to be this villainous vixen (except maybe her millions of fans.) She tried to throw shade at the Kardashian-Wests, her music gets worse and worse with every album, and she needs to stop with the red lipstick.

Album of the Year: I See You by The xx

This album has the ability to make you feel things you never thought you could feel; it’ll make you hear things in ways you never thought possible; it’ll break your heart, sweep you off your feet; it’ll understand you like your best friend, and hurt you like your past love. All while making it impossible to resist dancing like no one’s watching.

Worst Song: “Take a Knee…My Ass” by Neal McCoy

This requires zero explanation.

Song of the Year: “Performance” by The xx

The first time I heard this song, it permeated through my skin, invaded my soul and sunk my heart; time actually stopped. The story it tells is one that resonates with us all, and its honesty is so real, it hurts. In a good way.

I’m probably not going to get a lot of love for say this, but I never really got into A Tribe Called Quest back in the 90s (don’t yell, I’m sorry!) To be fair, I was so immersed in the rock/alternative music-sphere, it was difficult to pay attention to anything else. However, as I’ve grown up, matured, and broadened my horizons, I’ve become a fan of any good music. When A Tribe Called Quest dropped their album We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service this year (18 years after their last studio album,) it was high time I paid attention. Here’s my review (from the perspective of a new fan.)

What I found most refreshing on this rap/hip-hop album was how real it sounds, compared to today’s hip-hop. It’s not overproduced, no auto- tuning, just rappers spitting out their rhymes, to a light catchy beat that keeps you in, but doesn’t overpower the track. It’s nostalgic, old school hip-hop in 2016 daylight, and it totally annihilates today’s wanna be rappers (Tyga, cough cough).

They’re not going on about useless crap like poppin’ bottles, or how much money they have. They’re having a conversation with the people, with each other, with whoever’s listening. They talk about racial injustice on “The Killing Season”; politics on “Conrad Tokyo” and the power of today’s youth on “Dis Generation.”

If that weren’t enough to intrigue you, let’s talk about the fact that the 2 disc album is loaded with guest collaborators like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and obviously (?) Jack White (I guess his appearance on Beyoncé’s “Dont Hurt Yourself” got him access to all new kinds of music,) to name a few.

A Tribe Called Quest started out in the 80s as a duo of rapper/MC Q-Tip and late rapper Phife Dawg (who passed away during the making of this album.) They became a trio/quartet, and released 5 albums in the 90s, during the whole east coast vs. west coast rap rivalry. They were part of a music era that no longer exists – 90s rap isn’t really a thing anymore. But with this album, Tribe brings that energy, that feeling, that sound, and those lyrics that defined that time in history. All these years later, they’re still representing.