Music

Outasight: Nights Like These

On Nights Like These , Outasight struggles to convey a distinctive artistic identity, ultimately overindulging in a trendy bag of tricks.


Outasight

Nights Like These

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2012-11-27
UK Release Date: Import
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Yonkers, New York hip-hop artist Outasight (Richard Andrew) delivers his 2012 major label debut Nights Like These building off the success of platinum single “Tonight Is The Night”. A former college dropout experiencing trying times of being broke, struggling to make his artistic dreams a reality, Outasight would eventually land a major label deal with Warner Bros. Major label “OU” (his nickname) transcends hip-hop aiming to be an amalgamation of styles including pop, rap, and dance. Throughout the thirty-six minute course of Nights Like These, he attempts to balance eclecticism, ultimately delivering an album flawed by clichés and lack of his own signature individuality. Sound production work and catchy choruses help to salvage the effort somewhat.

“Let’s Go” initiates the effort with a distorted synth. After cliché drumstick clicks count off, the cut settles into pop/rock fare, characterized by gritty guitars and pummeling drums. Outasight’s approach is formulaic, opting to half-rap and half-sing his verses, unified by a sung chorus. Non-revolutionary, the formula merely assimilates to current trends. Outasight’s artistic energy translates somewhat, but overall results are clunky and mixed.

Proceeding “Shine” instantly feels more of a natural fit. Characterized by jubilant synths and animated hip-hop beat, the conception is smarter. Outasight focuses exclusively on rapping on his verse, only singing an undeniable hook (“Ride, ride, ride around the city / I got my windows down and I wanna take you with me…”). Aided by rap duo Chiddy Bang, “Chiddy” Anamege delivers a compelling guest verse. “Shine” balances pop and hip-hop sensibilities representing the best of Nights Like These.

“I’ll Drink To That” doesn’t quite reach the loftiness of “Shine”, but packs a solid punch. Conveying a reassuring message of embracing the good and ‘what you’ve got’ through struggles, Outsight articulates his story soundly. His smartest decision? Sole adherence to pop. Things begin to unravel and trend indistinct after this with “Perfect Words” revisiting a flawed pop-rap formula. While the dusty hip-hop beat is strong, “Perfect Words” itself wreaks of mediocrity. Rap, sing the second half, and drive home the chorus, a lack of surprise harms.

“Ready Set Go” continues an approach that is ‘more of the same’ differentiated only by its dance-pop production; the perception that Outasight has overplayed his hand gains traction. On “If I Fall Down”, as Outasight raps, his inflections are both imitative and gimmicky, adhering and playing victim to every pop cue (and miscue) of recent times. A ‘bread-and-butter’ chorus temporary soothes ills (“Running and running but I’m already here, waiting for something but for what it’s not clear”), but ultimately the cut follows more than it leads.

Platinum single “Tonight is the Night” provides a necessary lift. Not completely diverse from the multitude, the cut benefits from its healthy balance of pop, dance, and pop-rap. Albeit predictable scripting, more focused attention to detail and nuance shape its success. “Under Lock and Key” featuring RJ attempts to build off a surge of momentum by delivering a diversified production from its predecessors. The simplistic hook latches initially, but its catchiness wanes into unfortunate and annoying wear.

Penultimate second single “Now Or Never” clings helplessly onto predictability, undoing itself with over-repetitiveness and so-so songwriting. It’s largest flaw is its inability to duplicate the success of “Tonight Is the Night”. “Nights Like These” concludes solidly, though lacks the grandeur of “Shine” or “Tonight Is the Night”.

Overall, Nights Like These suffers from a lack of differentiation, variation and overindulgence in trendiness. Outasight attempts to establish artistry based on current trends as opposed to paving his own way to create a distinct pop-rap album. Unfortunately for OU, Nights Like These fails to show enough flashes of individuality, brilliance, and distinction from counterparts and other artists. Because of shortcomings, the effort disappoints more than it triumphs.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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