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Music

Seven Ways to Detox

It's 2009, and that means it has now been a full decade since Dr. Dre's last official release. Here are some suggestions for survival while you continue to await his long-gestating follow-up, Detox.


N.W.A.

Straight Outta Compton: 20th Anniversary Edition

Label: Priority
US Release Date: 2007-12-04
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Dr. Dre

2001

Label: Interscope
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iTunes

Detox, the reported follow-up to Dr. Dre's 2001 album, might be the most anticipated hip-hop release of all time. It's definitely at the top of the list for the 21st century. While R&B enthusiasts eagerly await records from Maxwell (he's touring, so maybe...), D'Angelo (keep your fingers crossed), and Van Hunt (I'll settle for a proper release of Popular), hip-hop fans are hoping the good California production doctor won't keep us in suspense much longer.

Since Detox has been promised and delayed for years now, perhaps 2009 is the year it will hit the market. If it does, what will the impact be? Will it change people's minds about the downward spiral of mainstream hip-hop, or has the extended delay between 2001 and its follow-up exacerbated the problems of dealing with an evolving musical landscape and a music industry structure that remains in flux? The uncertainty makes the whole thing fascinating. As far as Detox's release being a landmark event is concerned, I'm hesitant to count Dr. Dre out as long as his production skills are part of the equation.

In the meantime, some of us are in need of relief from "Dr. Dre Withdrawal". This syndrome, caused by a lack of material from Andre "Dr. Dre" Young, manifests in many ways, including but not limited to: 1) increased dissatisfaction and irritability regarding the current hip-hop climate ("Hip-hop was bangin' in the '90s! We had Gang Starr, Special Ed, Onyx, Dr. Dre..."); 2) simultaneous annoyance and glee when the Game namedrops Dr. Dre, paying mildly obsessive attention to Dr. Dre's current and former associates ("I wonder what Michel'le is up to?"); and 3) rationalizations for particular lyrical references to women claiming that they are not misogynistic but are merely tools for illustrating life's various facets and gray areas.

To cope with the pain of listening to hip-hop without a sufficient amount of material from Dr. Dre, I've devised a list of suggestions, none of which involve watching Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in The Wash.

1. Listen to Straight Outta Compton.

Dr. Dre from the days of N.W.A. is, mostly, one tough S.O.B. You don't get the full effect of his toughness from listening to his pre-N.W.A. output. Take Turn Out the Lights, by Dr. Dre's World Class Wrecking Cru. It's an R&B-styled set of pickup lines and come-ons, smoothed out and laidback. You'll find bits of attitude there, but nothing compares to Dr. Dre's display as an N.W.A. member. In the late '80s, Dre joined forces with Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Together, as N.W.A. (N*ggas With Attitudes), they ushered in a new age for what we call "gangsta rap", and possibly for freedom of expression, with all the potential pros (artistic integrity) and cons (inflammatory content, misogynistic rhetoric) along the way. Of course we shouldn't give N.W.A. all of the credit for this. In hip-hop circles, artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, and 2 Live Crew were pushing creative boundaries around the same time.

Dr. Dre handled microphone duties on a few tracks from the group's opus, 1988's Straight Outta Compton, most notably in the free expression anthem "Express Yourself", but his true gift was, and remains, behind the boards. Dr. Dre's style of using melodic old-school '70s grooves to support N.W.A.'s raw approach was undeniable. That style, combined with hardcore imagery and dope baton-passing verses from Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and MC Ren, made Straight Outta Compton a formidable product.

I keep hearing that N.W.A.'s legacy rests in the group's educational effect. No, don't be alarmed. No one's equating Straight Outta Compton with an episode of Sesame Street. But the idea is that N.W.A.'s stark and striking rhyming narratives taught the world about the harsh realities of life in the 'hood and, to some extent, life as a black person surviving through economic hardships. Police brutality, violence, and misogyny could, through this lens, be viewed within a larger communal and societal context.

My problem with this explanation isn't its veracity. There's no doubt in my mind that a song like "Fuck the Police" offered a different perspective on law enforcement and the legal system. The problem is that the "reality" or "keepin' it real" argument is always vulnerable when it's balanced against artistry and creativity. While N.W.A. brought "reality" out of the woodwork for everyone to hear, the group was far more effective in pushing boundaries, in taking elements of that "inner city reality" and turning them into urban tales and mythologies. In N.W.A.'s stories, conventional norms get flipped, upside down and inside out. Order is chaos, chaos is order, and society's traditional bad guys become the heroes. In this way, they created a world that felt real while exercising creative license.

And I still say Dr. Dre's production aesthetic rivals all of that as N.W.A.'s biggest contribution. Listen to the production on this album. The sonic variety will help you feel better about waiting for Detox.

2. Listen to Efil4zaggin.

Sometimes I hear people say that N.W.A.'s Efil4zaggin (1991), or "N*ggaz 4 Life" spelled backwards, is superior to its predecessor, Straight Outta Compton. Although it performed amazingly well on the charts, I disagree for several reasons.

First, Ice Cube had left the group to pursue a solo career between the releases of Straight Outta Compton and its follow-up. Quite frankly, a Cube-less N.W.A. isn't as good. It's not quite the Jackson 5 without Michael, but Ice Cube's absence left a significant void. Cube's departure, and the fact that he left on unfriendly terms, meant two things. One, it meant that the feud between Ice Cube and his former boyz-in-the-hood crept into the music of both camps. N.W.A. jabbed at Ice Cube in songs like "100 Miles & Running" and "Real N*ggaz", and in references to him as Benedict Arnold, a traitor. Ice Cube responded with a diss track of his own, "No Vaseline", attacking everything from Dr. Dre's ability to rap ("Yo, Dre, stick to producin'") to the car MC Ren used to drive when he and Cube hung out together.

The other result of Cube's departure was the reassignment of emceeing duties. Dr. Dre rapped more, as Ice Cube indicated in "No Vaseline", and his voice sounded irritatingly scratchy. It wasn't a horrible showing, but it didn't compensate for Ice Cube's absence either. Since Eazy-E, despite the uniqueness of his high-pitched voice, was never the most skilled rapper, the responsibility for carrying the lyrical weight rested with MC Ren. Listening to MC Ren's flow is probably the best part of Efil4zaggin, with Dr. Dre's contribution being the continued evolution of his G-Funk production sound. I always found it significant that Ice Cube, even in his most estranged moments with his old pals, avoided attacks on Dr. Dre's ability to produce.

My second problem with the album is that it contained too much filler. A sequel ("She Swallowed It") to the 100 Miles & Running EP's homage to fellatio, "Just Don't Bite It", and two songs devoted to singing (like, actually singing) older ditties by simply changing the words to make them funny or dirty? I could've done without that.

Third, there was the weak attempt to be political, in terms of responding to the group's controversy and criticism and in terms of providing a rationale and context for N.W.A.'s use of the N-word. With only a few exceptions, I just find it annoying when artists get big and then make songs referencing people's reactions to their success or trying to detail the problems that come with their celebrity. I'm not debating the downside of being famous, I just can't think of many examples where writing a song about it has resulted in classic material. And the rationales for using the N-word ("'Cause my mouth is so muthafuckin' nasty") are exceedingly unsatisfactory.

Nevertheless, I'm not a total hater. Songs like "Alwayz Into Somethin'" and "Appetite for Destruction", especially the radio versions, are still killer.

3. Listen to Death Row releases.

When Dr. Dre's relationship with Eazy-E soured, N.W.A. was done for good. Dre regrouped by hooking up with Marion "Suge" Knight and turning their label, Death Row Records, into a hip-hop powerhouse. It's difficult to say which label had a bigger impact, Sean "Puffy"/"P. Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Records or Death Row. Both signed incredibly successful acts. Both contributed to the drastic changes in rap styles, fashion, and videos that occurred in the 1990s. Both were involved in the escalation of regional factionalism (the East Coast-West Coast beef) that has often been associated with the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

The definitive album of the Death Row period is not, as some have suggested, Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle (1993). As much as I like Tupac's music, I can't say it's 1996's double LP All Eyez on Me, either. No, the album that still defines the Death Row era for me is Dr. Dre's The Chronic (1992), an album that, for those who weren't alive in the time period, might not sound all that impressive from a 2009 standpoint. In this way, The Chronic is like A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory (1991), which I think is a groundbreaking album in its own right. I have a buddy who (somehow) managed to live through the '90s without ever hearing The Low End Theory, aside from the single "Check the Rhime", and he can't understand what all the fuss was about. I've heard similar complaints about The Chronic.

The fuss over The Chronic is once again related to Dr. Dre's approach to making his music. That's not to say the album doesn't have standouts. It absolutely does. Singles like "Dre Day", "Let Me Ride", and "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" were smashes, in spite of and perhaps because of their flashes of troubling lyrical content. "Dre Day" took potshots at Tim Dog, Luke, and former homie Eazy-E. "Let Me Ride" took the love of the automobile to the next level, with references to "bitches" and "hoes" to boot.

That certainly doesn't mean that Dr. Dre is the first person to make a song about how awesome it is to cruise around in your favorite ride with onlookers staring in awe. Heck, even Aretha Franklin sang a little tune about taking a "pink Cadillac" for a spin down the "freeway of love". (I still say Prince's "Little Red Corvette" is most certainly not about a car, though!) "Let Me Ride" was also constructed from Parliament's "Mothership Connection" ("Swing down, sweet chariot, stop, and let me ride"), so I'm not placing the whole category of rim rap and vehicle worship at Dr. Dre's doorstep. I just think the slick and sophisticated way he structured and layered his rhythms, helped immensely by Parliament and other funky grooves, made everything about The Chronic sound as fresh and as clean as Outkast's later paradigm shift.

Appearances by Death Row artists Daz, Kurupt, Lady of Rage, RBX, and Nate Dogg added texture to The Chronic, but the true showstopper proved to be Snoop Dogg. Introduced prior to The Chronic on the Deep Cover soundtrack song "One-Eight-Seven", Snoop's southern drawl and agile flow worked like a charm. The Snoop-assisted hit song, "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang", is still a crowd pleaser.

Albums by the Dogg Pound (featuring Daz and Kurupt), Lady of Rage, and, later, Tupac Shakur were also benchmarks. Snoop's Doggystyle, as I mentioned, is sometimes considered the best of the Death Row releases. Some even consider it to be one of the greatest hip-hop releases of all time. When you need a Dr. Dre fix, you can't go wrong with any of these albums, although I admit the references to women in all of the material mentioned thus far is problematic and worthy of discussion. However, I'd like to reserve the right to revisit that issue in the future to give it the attention it deserves.

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Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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