Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

Little Simz photographed by Jen Ewbank; Prince photographed by Richard E. Aaron

I feel like I’ve opened this post with negativity a lot lately, but I can’t just ignore the biggest album release of the year so far. “Certified Lover Boy” is bad. Really bad. And really long. So bad and so long, that I remembered how bad & long Drake’s last record “Scorpion” was and decided I loved myself too much to force my ears through the 2nd half of CLB. At least we got those Kawhi Leonard GIFs.

On the same day that CLB dropped, Little Simz released an album that actually deserved to do the numbers Drake did. Seriously there are interludes on “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” that are 10x better than anything I heard on the first half of CLB. So my first few honorable mentions go to… pretty much every song on the album except for the one I picked as my favorite for the week.

With their new album “Going Going Gone” releasing a week from today, Mild High Club put out another single this week, the fittingly titled “A New High”. This is the jazziest single from the new album so far with Winter contributing guest vocals. Mild High Club tracks that let the piano take center stage generally produce the band’s best work, and this is no exception.

Maxo Kream collaborated with Tyler, the Creator on “Big Persona”. Honestly, Tyler carries on the beat and the hook and totally outshines Maxo with his verse. It really just feels like one of those victory lap loose singles Tyler started dropping between album cycles after “Flower Boy”.

I didn’t think the Carnival theme was executed very well on the other two tracks from Gorillaz new “Meanwhile EP”, but the title track with Jelani Blackman & Barrington Levy is pretty good. Blackman’s nostalgic verses about Notting Hill fit perfectly over the lowkey synth beat.

The “Shang Chi & the Ten Rings” Soundtrack is out in full, and as predicted there’s plenty of 88rising all over the 18 tracks. Unfortunately, I was left hoping the movie is better than the soundtrack.

The first half is forgettable at best, except for “Lazy Susan” & “Every Summertime” which were released as singles a couple weeks ago. Even Anderson .Paak’s contribution “Fire in the Sky” is lacking his usual presence & wit, and doesn’t make up for it anywhere else. “Lose Control” by JJ Lin does it’s best “Random Access Memories” impression, and you might like it more than I do. “Never Gonna Come Down” is rock bottom, and things improve a little bit from there. Guapdad 4000 injects some much needed personality into “Foolish” along with Rich Brian & Warren Hue- the flows kind of remind me of mid-2000’s Missy Elliott. It’s definitely the best non-single here. I was bored with “Clocked Out” but Niki’s performance on the back-end kind of saves it- it’s worth a listen at least. The idea of Rich Brian & EARTHGANG collab was exciting, but “Act Up” is a by the numbers trap banger. “War From Heaven” by keshi provides a reprieve from the generic trap beats, and is actually a pretty nice pop ballad. Meanwhile, sad boi ballad “Hot Soup” sounds like Joji’s recent work but really, really watered down- I wasn’t crazy about it but if you’ve just had a break-up or something you might feel differently.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Introvert” by Little Sims

I could’ve picked at least seven tracks to talk about here, but opener “Introvert” captures everything I love about this album.

Beginning with a fanfare featuring a stiff drum line, extravagant horns and a church choir that sounds like something out of “Clash of the Titans”, the heightened level of ambition on this album compared to Simz’ previous work is set immediately. Strings and a pensive guitar refrain help transition the track from army march into a simple but still glamorous old-school beat. Simz wastes no time diving into the heavy themes of the record- gender & racial inequality, mortality, systemic oppression and trying to cope with all this within herself as an individual and as an artist directly affected by all of it.

Each and every line is vulnerable and personal, while still making smart observations on the wider state of society like my favorite bars from the 2nd verse “Like they strip you of everything you’re deserving. Realise there is a prison in us, we are conditioned as fuck. Man, it’s like they can’t sleep till our spirit is crushed.” Despite the dark subject matter, the song still convincingly delivers an uplifting message of unity and self-confidence as Simz proclaims “I’m a Black woman and I’m a proud one. We walk in blind faith not knowing the outcome. But as long as we’re unified, then we’ve already won”.

The bombastic opening giving way to a stripped down conscious rap masterclass is the perfect way to start “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”. It’s wildly ambitious, with new sounds and ideas constantly coming across the 19 tracks, but will definitely still appeal to old-school hip-hop heads who love storytelling and MCs with something to say that matters. Little Simz’ flows are on point on every track, and there’s not a single performance that feels phoned in.

No album is perfect- despite being one of the tracks that deals with the theme of introversion most directly, the 80’s influenced bedroom pop track “Protect My Energy” is really out of place and underwritten. Not all of the interludes are great as “Never Make Promises” & “Little Q pt. 1” feel unnecessary and lengthen an already long album. But those are pretty much my only major gripes about “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”. It’s definitely the best record released last week, and I think it’s the best Hip-Hop record released this year.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Baby I’m A Star” by Prince

I’m honestly shocked it’s taken me fourteen weeks to talk about Prince.

I mentioned in a previous FN&OTOW that I got my middle name Presley from Elvis, and my first name (subconsciously apparently) from Michael Jackson. Like lots of people, MJ was where my love of music started. I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard most of his songs because they were just always part of my life. His “Number Ones” compilation was the only CD that never left my mom’s car.

My mom loved Prince almost as much but maybe because his music was often um…let’s say “more grown-up” than Michael’s, he didn’t get as much play when I was younger. I’d heard the hits a million times, but didn’t actually listen to a Prince record from start to finish until I was a couple years into figuring out my own taste.

It was the Summer/Winter (I was in Australia) I turned 13, and one night without much warning we had a power outage. We broke out all the candles, and as I’d been doing a lot during that visit down under I took a look at my dad & stepmom’s CD collection, and found a copy of the “Purple Rain” soundtrack.

I popped it into my laptop (laptops still had CD drives kids), and hit play. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a major inflection point for me as a music fan. That night my allegiance in the Michael Jackson vs. Prince debate flipped, and I started to appreciate musicianship in music a lot more. Without first loving Prince, I’d have never been able to appreciate Jimi Hendrix a couple years later, or have my mind blown by modern virtuosos like Benjamin Clementine.

“Baby I’m A Star” is one of my favorite Prince songs, and I feel like it gets overlooked because it immediately precedes the title track on “Purple Rain”, which is on most people’s shortlist for greatest songs ever written. I love when great songwriters just throw the kitchen sink at a song, and this is one of those songs- particularly in the last minute. Prince is serving his peak exuberance and bravado, and like every track on the record his performance is oozing charisma. He was one of the only artists that made those blown out 80’s drums not feel cheap, pairing them with that pounding keyboard rhythm. It’s a fantastic song and you still come away from a listen knowing he somehow would’ve made it sound twice as good live.

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