Phife Dawg: Always on Point

Rip Phife Dawg

RIP Phife

When I woke up that morning to find out that Phife had passed, I felt like a dear friend had been taken away from me. It’s been four days since the passing of Malik Taylor and I am finally comfortable enough to play Tribe. I tried to write something as fast as I could but I just found myself extremely discouraged and refused to listen to the group out of denial-something I’ve never done before.

A Tribe Called Quest has been marauding my ears since ’94. The first sounds we hear as babies are the low end of sounds from the outside world and our mother’s heartbeat. It was somewhat poetic that The Low End Theory was the first real time I fell in love with music. I hadn’t realized it in the moment but I had started a relationship that would last forever. At first it was just an attraction from afar and I hadn’t really known their name. That was the state of things until I matched face to name on the Thrasher: Skate and Destroy soundtrack (one of the best skating soundtracks of all time, sorry Tony Hawk). Soon after, I would be skating to ATCQ in the real world as I was completely taken with smooth basslines and golden era flows.

They say you really start to forget a person when you forget their voice but I know this will never happen with Phife. The uncanny notion about legends dying is that they have already been immortalized before they actually pass. Phife established himself as a legend to me with everything he did on record. A student at heart, one of my favorite aspects of Phife was his ability to teach. “You see my aura’s positive, I don’t’ promote no junk,” was so straightforward in delivery, yet a line you can always muse on. From smooth wordplay to intricate lessons about the actuality of the world, Tribe taught me everything. They taught me how to listen for basslines. They taught me how to feel music in my soul rather than just listen to it. They told me how to be smooth and be myself. My roots are embedded in the Zulu Nation’s frontmen.

“You see my aura’s positive, I don’t’ promote no junk.”

Phife was short but he taught me how to stand tall. He was always on point and will be all throughout time.

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Missed Stop: Last Train to Paris

A couple of weeks ago I was inspired by Diddy’s IG to revisit his 2010 album Last Train to Paris. Having only been six years ago, this project was way ahead of its time.

 

I first genuinely got into Diddy-Dirty money from the mixtape Love Love vs. Hate Love released in 2011, a few months removed from their debut album. The group consists of Diddy, Dawn Richards (from Danity Kane) and Kalenna Harper. Their sound resided with me and stood out amongst most of the content form that era. Songs like “Ass on the Floor,” (my jam) were often triumphant and surprisingly therapeutic. Last Train to Paris was one of the first products of the paradigm shift that was 808s & Heartbreak. They borrowed from the Yeezy archetype and mixed it with EDM grooves to push the sonic adventure forward.

This project has been deemed a concept album on multiple occasions. The idea behind that being a journey to find love lost. The title provides more indication of where that love is and the urgency to get it back. Here we find Diddy more vulnerable than he has ever been on record. That level of exposure keeps the content raw and unapologetically honest. Diddy is still very-much-so Diddy, but I have never felt more of a connection to anything else in his discography except “Last Night,” featuring Keyshia Cole (with Part 2 ironically featured on the deluxe version). All the feels are packed into a tour throughout different stages of the protagonist’s relationship, with Dawn and Kalenna giving their takes from various perspectives.

There are so many features on this album but there is no point where any of them feel invasive or interrupt the flow of the record. The variety of producers come together well without stepping on each other’s toes. They work similarly to an ensemble cast and contribute diversity to the sound. I enjoyed what each of them brought to the table, notably Chris Brown and Usher. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a dependency on these other artists because of how well Diddy-Dirty Money remains in the foreground. Diddy uses rapping as a mode much more than a skill here to deliver his side of things until Dirty money comes in and interweaves their vocals into the lining of the track.

This album had six singles, with “Coming Home” raking in the most success. Appropriately referred to as a “cult classic,” the album seems to have a polarizing effect on its audience. When I listen through today, I don’t approach it with a genre in mind. Genres in the hip-hop and R&B world were just starting to really blur their lines back then and the EDM realm door was barely cracked for collaboration. Furthermore, everything always goes back to the sound, which was extremely experimental. So depending on your music exposure you either loved it or shrugged it off as nothing special. The world is even smaller musically than it was six years ago and I believe Last Train to Paris will resonate a lot better than it would have back then.

So don’t miss that train:

Rihanna vs. Ree-Anna

According to charts and memes, “Work” is the most popular song off Rihanna’s latest album, Anti. (Though my personal favorite right now is “Woo” with production from Hit-Boy and Travis Scott.) Including a feature from Drake, this song has a lot of star power as is regular for any Rihanna record. One of the many aspects of the record that has contributed to its success is the catchiness of the hook. Though singing along has proven somewhat difficult for those not familiar with Rihanna’s native tongue. All throughout the song Rihanna uses a fair amount of the language native to her birthplace, Barbados. This language, Bajan Creole, is mostly concentrated in the hook and has been labeled as “gibberish.” The vernacular spoken is very similar to Jamaican Patois, which has a similar speech pattern. The fact that her lyrics have been referred to as gibberish has revealed something that has been going on with popular black music for a while now.

When black culture reaches the masses, there seems to be a limit on how much people can take. You can be black, but you can’t be too black. This appropriation of culture can be seen in form of clothing style, trending slang, and musical genres such as rock n roll, hip-hop and R&B. People mirror within boundaries safe enough for themselves with no true understanding of what they are mimicking. I am in no way against the collision of worlds but the method when it comes to black culture is really skewed and has been for most of our “free” history.

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Recently Beyoncé’s last few media headlines involve controversy with her last music video for “Formation” and her performance at Super Bowl 50. They both received polarizing responses from the world that has supported her thus far. SNL summed it up perfectly in their “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” skit. When she took a stance regarding the devaluation of black lives and celebrated her blackness, the same people that hailed her as queen began to antagonize her as an enemy. She was just being too black.

This is the case on a much less political scale surrounding Rihanna’s latest single. When people look at the lyrics as nonsense, appropriation is still taking place but from a much more intricate viewpoint. What is happening here is a modest result of hundreds of years of western globalization. In this particular scenario the ideas from “Work” are not being taken but rejected. People assume that the tongue being spoken has to be English, so that is the standard they will judge by. While the U.S. doesn’t operate with an official language, English is the official language of 65 countries and territories. Out of these places, 35 have made English their only official language. The impact of English has led to influence on other languages, like Bajan, as a superstrate.

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The problem with this outlook is that the world is judging cultures by the standards of their own rather than the local standards of the cultures being observed. If you truly listen to a song only expecting to hear English you have closed yourself in a lone world as if music isn’t universal. This methodology applies to all culture and forms of diversity across the globe. (If you need to get clarification on lyrics and their meaning the best site to do so would be genius.com.)

With that being said, I love that Rihanna went all out with her West Indian customs from the track itself to the double video. (Fader did an awesome interview with Director X that dives into the themes and mindset behind the illustration.) “Work” is the perfect ratio of dancehall, electronic sounds and pop appeal that she has been working on for 8 albums. Everyone I know and have seen when exposed to it has felt it’s undeniable danceability. With the success of this record I’d hoped there would be a better response to the mesh of culture but it seems we have a long way to go.

When approaching diversity in music and life I hope you please try to remember the following:

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit” – Wade Davis