Despite the fact that he’s been working steadily these last 12 years, Black Milk remains one of hip-hop’s most underrated artists. The rapper and producer began his solo career with the decidedly conventional 2005 release Sound of the City, which featured the burgeoning hints of the artist’s tweaked genius throughout. His follow-up, Popular Demand (2007), was another set of squarely hip-hop tunes which were slightly distended by some of the out-there production.
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The digital revolution caught some musicians by surprise. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, owning instruments, much less booking studio time, was very much cost-prohibitive, meaning some amateur songwriters were left with little more than a hobby, not so much a profession. Nowadays, someone can get a studio sheen on everything from vocals to instrumentation without having to exit out of their laptops, leading to profoundly untalented acts like gnash scoring actual Top 10 hits in this day and age.
It’s a rare thing to make a living from music these days.
As traditional revenue streams dry up the majority of musicians are under no illusion that there is no money in music anymore. Just to eke out a living is hard enough with bands ever more reliant on crowdfunding and frugal self-management. Romanticized notions of Lear jets, bountiful supplies of drugs, and extravagant spending seem like distant ideas from a bygone era. However, by the law of averages, some artists do make it. Some bands do manage to build a career on a scale that is totally out of reach of the majority of musicians. No.1 albums, huge festival appearances, and a fervent and dedicated fanbase. That is exactly the position that Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro find themselves in.
Having conquered the charts in the UK and Europe with their latest album Elipsis, and with a huge arena tour, including an all-conquering Reading festival appearance, things couldn’t be rosier for the band. Over the course of seven albums, the band has steadily built the type of following that many bands dream of with a fervent fan base stretching from Chile to Slovakia. However, What happens when a band achieves everything they ever hoped for? How does a group keep those fires burning and retain that passion? In Biffy Clyro’s case, the answer is, rather surprisingly, to become a small band again. The kind of band with nothing to lose who has to convince people all over again. Just them, the music and the stage. What better place to take that giant stride backward than America.
Tuxedo is doing their part to keep funk alive.
Comprised of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One, the dapper duo (yes, they do actually wear tuxedos) sound as though they’ve come through a time warp to remind the world of the importance of getting down. Their self-titled debut was a perfect thesis for this mission in 2015, melding the buttery-smooth grooves of groups like Chic and Zapp with the rubbery G-funk of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik.
Sprinkle in a playful image and a tongue-in-cheek approach to songwriting, and you get a duo that, even in the wake of retro-funk acts like Daft Punk and Bruno Mars, most organically update the sound for modern audiences. PopMatters caught up with Hawthorne and Jake One as they tour their latest album, Tuxedo II, and got the scoop on how they kept the funk feeling fresh the second time around.
John Moreland’s new album, Big Bad Luv, takes a big leap forward for an artist already wash in buzz. The recent king of sad bastard songs found some joy in recent years, and the rock band of close pals supporting this record elevate his lyrics to a more accessible sound. If you already rode the Moreland wave, you will not be smacked upside the head with shock, but if you have not yet gotten on board, so to speak, you might not even realize the waves have changed.
“There’s two or three songs that I’ve had for a couple years,” notes Moreland, speaking to PopMatters. “I started writing those songs before High on Tulsa Heat had even come out because I wanted to get a jump start on the next record, you know. I feel like putting out a record and just chilling a little while, and then it sneaks up on me, and I’m like, “Oh! I’ve got to make a new record now, and I don’t have any songs.”
So, to step away from the beach theme—or not—Big Bad Luv is exactly the sort of album you will crank up with the windows down on a summer road trip. Hell, you’ll be chair-dancing at the red light. The more upbeat tone is balanced by Moreland’s insight into human relationships and our own tendencies to get stuck in our heads sometimes. You’ll still find yourself quoting him in your deepest conversations with those you love.