Category Archives: Spotlight

Who and what we are looking forward to

[Photos] Taylor Bennett, Morrocco Brown, Melo Makes Music and Mic Kellogg at the Miramar Theater

Taylor Bennett and others at The Miramar in Milwaukee, WI. Photographer Jaren Holden (@DigitalJay_) was at the concert to document the event. Give him a follow on Instagram @DigitalJay_ to stay up on the best Chicago has to offer. Click through the photos below to check out more photos of Supa Bwe, Mic Kellogg, Morocco Brown and MeloMakesMusic.

Extra photos of MeloMakesMusic’s DJ Radd Simons.

All photos by Digital Jay

Advertisements

A Psychoanalytic Exploration Of Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’

Kanye West
Photo by Jesse Wiles

  Dr. Kanye West begins Yeezus with the deeply unsettling “On Sight,” a jumble of noises constituting what is the most chaotic and least melodic song on an album predicated on chaos. This opening song is comprised of aggressively minimalistic techno sounds with intermittent soul samples providing brief respites from the onslaught of noise, thus creating a platform for the cognitive dissonance that is a major theme throughout this album, an inherent contradiction resulting from the uncanny elements of Yeezus, where Kanye combines that which is familiar with that which is not, creating a uniquely repulsive, yet beautiful experience that simultaneously draws us in and pushes us away. This paper explores Yeezus from a psychoanalytical perspective utilizing the Freudian concepts of “narcissism” and the “uncanny.”

  Freud defines narcissism as, “the attitude of a person who treats his own body in the same way in which the body of a sexual object is ordinarily treated—who looks at it, that is to say, strokes it and fondles it till he obtains complete satisfaction through these activities.” Kanye West is, by popular consensus, the modern-day embodiment of narcissism. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Yeezus, where he makes such bold proclamations as, “I am a God,” in an identically-titled track. He consistently refers to himself in the album as a god and star, as well as a genius.

  Although it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemning Dr. West for making such braggadocian statements, it is necessary to take into account that he is saying this as a black man in America, a rapper no less, whose genius is constantly being downplayed and whose accomplishments are frequently being negated for no other reason than his status as a black rapper in a white, racist and repressive society. The intense narcissism exhibited by the middle and upper-class Victorian women who were Freud’s patients is likely a result of the sexual repression imposed upon them, which forced them to concentrate their libido on themselves as a means to achieve both sexual gratification and validation of their self-identity. So too, Kanye is narcissistic as a response to the lack of validation and recognition he receives for his work in order to affirm his identity and self-worth in a culture that downplays his worth and refuses to acknowledge his genius.

Freud defines “the uncanny” as, “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” He goes on to explain that “the uncanny,” while related to what is frightening, “to what arouses dread and horror,” is not identical with the active field of the frightening, but rather constitutes a subfield of that experience, namely, that in which, “the familiar can become uncanny and frightening.” Later in Freud’s essay he explains that such circumstances exist when this “something which is familiar and old established in the mind,” becomes alienated from it, “through the process of repression.”

A recurring motif in Yeezus is the use of uncanny primal, sub-human sounds, which are littered throughout. On “Black Skinhead,” an already very raw and emotional song, Kanye’s shrieks and hollers function as intermittent climaxes of emotion. These screams are familiar to the human unconscious as they are manifestations of primitively innate Id impulses. They are, however, unfamiliar on a conscious level, where we do not understand their primordial nature. The very controversial track, “I Am A God,” ends with an assortment of distorted screams by Dr. West, which once again feel almost human in a familiar way, yet distant and unfamiliar at the same time. Both songs employ these screams to create an intentionally uncanny sensation for the listener.

The use of unintelligible lyrics is prevalent throughout Yeezus in several different forms. Both “I Am A God” and “I’m In It” utilize Jamaican dancehall samples, which feature English that is nearly impossible to understand. Although the lyrics are recognizable as English, the content of the lyrics is not something that can easily be deciphered. Similarly, on “Blood On The Leaves” and “Guilt Trip” there are moments where the words are intentionally distorted beyond recognition. Our familiarity with the sound of words only adds to the strange feeling produced by not being able to understand them. The ending of “New Slaves” also uses this incoherent singing to create an uncanny feeling of familiarity intertwined with the unfamiliar in an intriguingly repelling way.

Throughout his article on “the uncanny,” Freud uses the German word unheimlich to denote this concept. In a key passage, Freud quotes a long extract from the German philosopher Schelling, who repeatedly uses the term unheimlich and concludes: “unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained… secret and hidden but has come to light.” Freud then explains:

“What interests us most in this long extract is to find that among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheimlich.’ What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich… Schelling says something which throws quite a new light on the concept of the unheimlich, for which we were certainly not prepared. According to him, everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.”

“Hold My Liquor” explores this dialectical conflict of being both concealed and visible, as Kanye West struggles between his attempt to hold everything in and his desire to let it all out. The liquor referenced in the song serves as a metaphor for his outspokenness and his attempted self-censorship. For most of the song, he maintains the concealed and visible aspects of himself hand-in-hand, both being a reality for him and neither negating the other. This examination of the contradictory nature of the uncanny ultimately ends in the breaking through of his outspokenness as he is no longer able to “hold his liquor,” making him totally transparent and vulnerable, a refutation of the uncanny.

Dr. West attempts to relate to his listeners throughout the album, but to no avail. His uncanny attempts to be relatable actually make him even more “un-relatable” and inaccessable to his fans. He opens a window into his life for his fans to look into, yet it ultimately distances them from him, despite his best efforts to establish a connection.

The ending of “Black Skinhead” involves Kanye uttering “God!” in disgust, over-and-over again, as a way of expressing his dejection with the racist, capitalist society in which he lives, a sentiment which most of his fans share and which should have brought him closer to them, but instead it shows just how out of touch he is, as he can never relate to the oppressed individual’s disillusionment in the system due to the fact that he is a part of the system, having succeeded and thrived in it.

In “I Am A God,” he rebels against the world, essentially writing it as a big “fuck you” to everyone and everything. This is also a sentiment echoed by many people today, yet the way he actually rebels through talking about his tremendous capitalist success is once again unrelatable and even alienating to almost everyone.

“Fuck your Hampton house/I fucked your Hampton spouse” is the beginning to what may be the most quoted snippet from Yeezus. This excerpt from “New Slaves,” rather than being a critique of capitalism and the fact that some people are tremendously wealthy and others tremendously poor for no good reason, is actually Kanye’s way of demanding assimilation with “old money.” What he does not understand is that if it were a legitimate attack against “old money,” the attitude would be shared by others, but because it was only an attack against “old money’s” refusal to include him in its circle, it only comes between him and his listeners.

In “Blood On The Leaves,” Kanye West raps about his relationships and rich debauchery over a sample of Nina Simone’s rendition of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song depicting the lynching of a black man, in an effort to draw a parallel between the two experiences. Simone’s singing is something very real to which many people can relate. Kanye tries to create something equally real, but his tale of popping “Molly,” snorting cocaine, paying alimony, and keeping his “sidechick” away from his “wifey” is not relatable to all.

A significant theme in Yeezus is Dr. West’s uncanny critique of American bourgeois society. He criticizes capitalism, but does so from the perspective of a successful capitalist with no interest in eradicating it, which, by nature, makes it uncanny, as he provides a familiar opinion with an unfamiliar twist which makes it rather unnerving. “New Slaves” is a pseudo-revolutionary anthem, with the “new slaves” referring to black people who have fallen victim to consumerism. He is, however, one of the foremost proponents of consumerism, successful in thanks to it. He has no interest in radically transforming society so as to eliminate consumerism, because that doesn’t match his individual capitalist interests, which makes his anti-consumer message eerily uncanny. In “Black Skinhead” as well, he is criticizing a system which he is a part of and is trying to climb up in. His anti-establishment lyrics are uncanny specifically due to the fact that he is still part of the establishment, no matter how excluded he is for being a black rapper.

Kanye West’s Yeezus perfectly embodies several key theories of psychoanalysis, both intentionally and unintentionally. Kanye opens himself up, revealing the extent of his manic narcissism, a necessary response to his constantly being undermined by society for being an African-American rapper. He includes intentionally uncanny elements all around, designed to create an uncomfortable feeling within the listener. Yeezus’s uncanniness actually extends beyond the intentional, as it also shows just how out of touch with reality he is every time he attempts to prove how in touch he is.

Written by Victor Grossman-Perez

Rap is the new rock and roll, get used to it

022515-music-kanye-west-brit-awards.jpg

 

Like it or not, rap is the new rock and roll and it continues to usurp aspects of the genre as it evolves. From tour merch to style to onstage antics, rock and hip hop have more similarities than is first apparent.

As Kanye West stated emphatically in his 2013 BBC Radio 1 interview, “rap is the new rock and roll, we the rock stars.” At the time that seemed like a lofty proclamation, as it is with most of Mr. West’s statements. However, as things have progressed West seems to have had the definitive word.

Rock, the culture of hip hop, and the roots of raps lie in the African American community. Rock and roll came about in the 1940s as a mixture of blues and jazz and other music. However, it was adopted commercially as an overwhelmingly white genre, thanks in part to the popularity of artists like Elvis. Hip hop and rap began in the Bronx a few decades later, adopted from Jamaican and Caribbean music styles as well as funk and jazz. Unlike rock, the genre’s roots and commercial success are wholly attributed to African Americans.

With similar roots comes a similar a draw to the genre. In the 1950s it was the rebellious, non-conformists who were attracted to rock and roll. Similarly, rap is enticing because of its lack of boundaries and its accessibility. Anyone can rhyme, and with a few catchy beats and a little swagger, become a rapper, just like the possibility of becoming a rock star if you played an instrument or sang.

A lot of the content in rap is very similar to that of rock and roll. Aside from attracting the rebellious, both genres are very centered around social justice, sex, drugs and love. Where rap tends to stray away from rock is how misogynistic and violent it is in comparison.

The other, more materialistic magnetism is that rappers are living a lavish lifestyle while doing and saying outlandish things. Anyone who is anti-establishment is immediately attracted to this. Fifties and sixties parents hated rock and roll just as parents hate rap today.

The grungy and rebellious leather and denim clad teens of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have been replaced with an equally rebellious group of teens donning Air Force 1s and jogger pants. Everything moves in circles and currently rap reigns.

Instead of electric and often times obscene performances from Jim Morrison you have Travi$ Scott hanging from ceiling rafters and inciting riots at Lollapalooza. Mega stars like Bruce Springsteen and the band, Queen, who sold out shows all across the world, have been replaced by the likes of Kanye West and Drake. The experimental, in both music and drugs, Jimi Hendrix who turned feedback and distortion into something beautiful has been replaced with the squawks and yelps of Young Thug and the codeine induced slur of Future. Hendrix played a large role in shaping the innovative style of Kid Cudi, who, in turn, has helped shape contemporary rap. The youthful, fashion-rule bending duo of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi who make up the duo Rae Sremmurd have replaced KISS’s stage makeup and boisterous outfits with their loud patterns and ski goggles.

Sonically, rap is not too reminiscent of rock. However, rap style and tour merchandise have been greatly influenced by the fashion and commercialization of rock and roll. Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ tour merch used arguably the most recognizable font associated with a band. The official name, Pastor of Muppets, designed by Ray Larbie, is more commonly known as ‘Metallica font’ after the band used it for their album covers.

Tour shirts and vintage rock posters from bands like KISS, ACDC and Iron Maiden have also been emulated by the likes of Travi$ Scott on tour merch. The look has also become a popular trend donned by everyone from Big Sean to Lil Yachty. Aside from similar logos and fonts, rappers have recently been infatuated with denim and a grungy aesthetic, a staple for many rock stars.

Rappers truly are this generations rock stars. Rap is not for everyone, but neither was rock. Mr. West opens up his mouth a lot. He says a lot of things that are easy to shrug off. Sometimes it takes a few years for us to realize that he was right.

Written by Jesse Wiles

Review of Drake’s fourth studio album “Views”

Cg2YkksWMAACMbv

We’ve been waiting for this album since 2014. Almost immediately after releasing Nothing Was The Same in late 2013, Drake announced the title to his follow up Views From The 6 and that he was already in the process of working on it. In 2015 we got If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and that did not disappoint at all. But even after that, everyone was still talking about Views and what it could possibly mean to the hip hop world. Arguably the biggest celebrity at the moment, Drake sets himself up for failure early on in the album by calling it a classic only 4 songs in.

Views is in no way a bad album. It’s just Drake being Drake, which we’ve gotten many times before. He plays it so safe it’s almost sad. Yes, the Toronto artist added some dancehall flare with songs like “One Dance,” “Too Good” & “Controlla.” But that just isn’t enough anymore. Every song sounds too much like past work, lyrically and stylistically. It is almost as though every song could have somehow found it’s way onto one of Drake’s past albums.

Drake’s right hand man Noah “40” Shebib does an amazing job with the majority of the production and mixing/mastering. Drake sings more than ever on the album and his performance is phenomenal. Songs like “Feel No Ways” & “With You” have Drake hitting notes that I’ve never heard him hit before. Drake’s growth has been something amazing to watch over the years and for him to be able to sing like the majority of pop stars today is pretty fascinated considering he made his name rapping with Lil’ Wayne.

In terms of bars, Drake really goes in on “Hype” & “Still Here.” No features just bar after bar after bar. Those two are by far my favorite on the album. “Grammys” featuring Future sounds like it was recorded during the What A Time To Be Alive sessions but it still was a pleasant surprise to hear future body another verse. Overall, I wish Drake would have rapped a bit more but we always have If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to go back to.

After all said and done, Views is Drake’s safe album. It won’t be remembered like Take Care will be. Yes, it will be in rotation for quite sometime and it will obviously be talked about for months to come. But the real question is what is next for Drake. He can’t keep using the same formula in his music and that is apparent. No one will get bored listening to it but for music heads like myself I just want MORE. Hopefully we get that Drake/Kanye mixtape he hinted at during the Zane Lowe interview. Now that would be something.

What did you guys think? If you haven’t listened to the album yet, you can check it out on Apple Music here. Happy listening!

Written by Erik Lindberg