As I’ve reflected on my experiences with music albums, radio hits, and live shows throughout this year, I’ve realized I have a lot more things to say about music than I can really say just by sharing my top five albums and songs of the year. While I’m still making a last ditch effort to listen to a bunch of albums that got press at least once before I make my mind up completely, I thought I’d share some of those things that have impacted me. Here we go:
1. Drake is actually pretty good – There. I said it. Wheelchair Jimmy finally grabbed my attention, got me to listen to Take Care, and carved out a small place for himself in my perception of hip hop. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had “Forever” and “Over” well before Take Care was even released. I’d go as far as admitting I was fixated on rapping along with “Over” driving to and from high school my senior year. But regardless of past transgressions, a combination of cynicism and minor jealousy has led me to perceive Drake as the penultimate douche. I can’t tell whether he’s a total bro that’s just putting on this musical facade of a man stricken by poor relationships with women (so much so that the sensitive persona has been embodied in multiple Twitter accounts), or if he is actually the softest rapper three times over. I could write an entire thinkpiece on Drake if I had the time or interest, but my view of Drake’s persona isn’t the nucleus of this point. The point is despite my negative view of the man, Take Care has more than a handful of catchy singles, and his 2013 follow-up Nothing Was the Same delivered the same and more (“Hold on We’re Going Home” is one of the best songs of this year, regardless of whether it shows up on my personal top five). Drake is one of the few artists who can single-handedly bridge the gap between rap and modern R&B, and for that he deserves respect.
2. “DJKhaledMusic” still sucks – It’s another obvious point that I’ve finally learned, but when I was thinking about how much hip hop I’ve listened to (significantly more than any other genre I’ve listened to this year), the best stuff is all the music that stands out sonically. Mainstream rap has become saturated with the same beats and packages of lyrical content, and it took DJ Khaled’s 2013 album Suffering from Success for me to figure it out. Praise Yeezus it only took me two minutes on iTunes to realize every song on the album consisted of booming bass, rapid, electro-hi-hat, and the synths you hear on every other song about a Bugatti. (While I actually did give Ace Hood’s album [the one with “Bugatti” on it] a full shot at impressing me, it fell right into the same realm of what I’ve dubbed “DJKhaledMusic”.) I’d also like to thank Kanye West for being the visionary he is. Without creatives like himself, Tyler, the Creator, and others, modern hip-hop would be dead to me.
3. Live bands are essential to great live music – I attended more concerts this year than I have in my entire life, and I got to witness a lot of things. I moshed in the pits with diehard Lamb of God fans, I chilled on the Terrace and saw both local and nationally touring acts, and I saw a variety of hip hop shows, with and without live bands. When it comes down to it, the best hip hop show I’ve been to was the one Hoodie Allen put on at Revelry outside Union South, and he had a live band. When I saw rap group Souls of Mischief at the Majestic, an ad promised a live band, and when only a DJ was present I was sorely disappointed. I saw KiD CuDi, Tyler, the Creator, and Logic when they came though Madison this year, and the concert as a whole was so underwhelming I didn’t even bother to write about it. They didn’t have a live band either. It’s difficult to fully describe with just text, but it should be pretty intuitive that any musical artist performing with a live band is going to be more entertaining than someone rapping over a recording of their song.
4. A music video can entirely change you view of a song – I wrote a track by track review of Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail over the summer, and I could have saved myself the time by simply stating the album was mediocre. One of Hova’s tracks, “Picasso Baby” came off as plain to me, like Jay wasn’t putting much effort into making a memorable track. Then, he goes off and drops this gem:
With a long form music video/short film, Jay Z puts music and live performance into the perspective it finally deserves. We can often think of music as an art form, but we seldom place hip hop within this scope. With songs like “Ayy Ladies” by Travis Porter, it’s admittedly difficult to. But when you have an icon showing the potential for musical performers to draw energy from an audience and build an intimacy within a particular space (in this case an empty art museum with Jay Z performing for multiple hours as its marquee piece), it provides a breath of fresh air for music as a whole. Needless to say, “Picasso Baby” isn’t that bad anymore.
5. There is a ridiculous amount of music we are all missing out on, but none of us can listen to all of it – The video I’ve shared below goes into enlightening detail on the “mind-blowingly finite” but still beyond astronomical amount of possible music in the world. Even without this video, I’ve learned from my friends in WUD Music about countless artists that I had never heard of, artists that we are booking for student entertainment on a weekly basis. As this year’s gone on, I have now become one of these dedicated WUD members, committed to bringing quality music to the Union at UW-Madison. I love this role I’ve taken on and how it has shaped my extracurricular activities (including this blog!). At this point, I can only imagine what opportunities are in store for me.
Think I missed something important from music this year? (*cough* Beyonce *cough*) Comment below with anything you’d like to share about your music experience in 2013, or hit me up on Twitter @AndrewMackens and we can start the conversation there. Hoping everyone had a great year, and here’s to an even greater 2014.