Music

Rick Ross: Trilla

Jordan Sargent

Rick Ross is, quietly, one of the most important emcees in rap. His second album succeeds on the back of great beats and guests, while he deftly manages not to ruin it all.


Rick Ross

Trilla

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2008-03-11
UK Release Date: 2008-03-17
Amazon
iTunes

Rick Ross, though you may not be aware of it, is one of the most successful rappers in music right now. That said, he’s an odd case. Unlike with Jay-Z, Kanye West or T.I., you won’t see any of Ross’ albums appearing on a year-end list in this website, Rolling Stone or probably even XXL. And unlike 50 Cent, another hugely popular but critically reviled rapper, Ross has neither a unanimously acclaimed album nor single in his past. Yet, Trilla, his second album, sold 198,000 copies in its first week out, despite the fact that the album’s big lead single peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at #87, and that his face showed up on as many magazine covers as mine did.

Not only does all this make Ross a confounding presence, but also a pretty important one. If middle-schoolers aren’t buying Ross’ albums with their birthday money -- and all indications are that they aren’t -- than who exactly is vaulting this dude over chart mainstays like Snoop Dogg and the Now collection? The answer has to be rap fans, meaning Rick Ross -- the rapper who will forever remain infamous for rhyming “Atlantic” with “Atlantic” -- is galvanizing rap’s core fan base like only its most visible pop stars can. Common and UGK, two rap acts whose last albums also went #1 despite minimal pop crossover, share peer boosterism with Ross, but they’ve been around. Their number ones felt owed to them. Ross on the other hand, hasn’t influenced a whole generation of successful rappers (and even though I like Trilla, and him in general, I hope he never does).

What’s Ross’ appeal. then? With regards to his avid listeners, it’s obvious: his willing omission of details. He presents a life, and an album, unencumbered with the pitfalls of celebrity, the struggle of coming up, or the emptiness that can creep in when one actually owns 18 cars. When people think of being rich enough to own a Maybach, a yacht, and four houses, they think of the utopian life Ross raps about. It’s the strongest form of escapism, one that eschews both the realities of one’s actual life and one’s fantasy life. Trilla is for when listening to, say, Bun B, is all too real, for when one realizes how to get from point A to point B, but wishes to bypass the line in-between altogether. For Ross’ buyers, be it a corner hustler, a valet, or even an investment banker looking to double his six figure salary, Trilla provides the same type of utopian escapism as would a James Bond film.

And when you get caught up in all of that, Trilla is sometimes captivating. First single “Speedin’” reaches epic heights when R. Kelly launches into its chorus (“Fast life / I live / Big cars, big cribs / Speeeeeeeedin’”), encapsulating the album’s themes of freedom and kingdom in both lyric and mood. Follow-up single “The Boss” isn’t meant for playing chicken with cops on I-95, and its droopy-eyed T-Pain hook is decidedly understated, but the J.R. Rotem beat is (surprisingly) sly, its female coos slowly unfurling around the booming Ross like a twisted version of the mythological Furies. And on “We Shinin’”, the solidly consistent producer Bink! provides Ross with a lush, blue-soul beat, giving the rapper a blush of humanity that he’d be hard-pressed to conjure up himself.

For his part, Ross isn’t as awful as he’s been or could be. He still thinks he is way more clever than he actually is (“Caesar salad / Caesar’s Palace” etc.), but he manages well from a technical standpoint and he even gets out his fair share of great to passable hooks. His best asset is his persona, which he doesn’t stray from until the last track, allowing the album to come together more fluidly and coherently than you might expect.

And when it comes down to it, Trilla was supposed to be at least as good as it is. Def Jam needed to break the bank here -- with regards to both beats and guests -- and it paid off. Both producers and rappers turn in performances befitting of the type of event album Trilla tries to be; (hell, we got a banger out of J.R. Rotem), and it turns a song like “Luxury Tax”, which would have been (and probably was in some incarnation) a deep-cut snoozer on the last DJ Khaled album, into one of the best and most luxuriant rap songs of the year.

It’s all very calculated, and some would say empty, but albums that are good because the rappers do just enough not to ruin a great collection of beats and guests verses is not a foreign concept to us. Why Trilla especially is catching so much shit for it, I’m not sure. I mean, we all heard American Gangster, right?

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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.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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