Stay calm in quarantine with these transporting albums
Music impacts us differently these days.
The albums we usually listened to on our daily commutes suddenly bring us pangs of bitter nostalgia now that there's nowhere to go. Bright optimistic tunes suddenly sound hollow, and we can't help but feel especially resentful towards songs that make us wanna dance and party.
Feet of Clay by Earl Sweatshirt<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="476b1a1228281791a6155c4950bc8294"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uxdY_6JTIO4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Thebe Kgositsile's fourth project as Earl Sweatshirt is a thematically dense, albeit brief, collection of cynical poetry. The 15-minute project takes the Lo-Fi/Avant-Garde Jazz offerings of <em>Some Rap Songs</em> and mutates them, grading them down into woozy, reticent fragments that feel as if they're strung together by a shoestring. Sweatshirt unapologetically yanks us into a hallucinatory world and spits us out at the other end with very little clarification as to what just happened. From quarantine, Sweatshirt's withdrawn distortions are more palpable than ever. Kgositsile <a href="https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/earl-sweatshirt-feet-of-clay/" target="_blank">described <em>Feet of Clay</em></a> as "a collection of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire," which feels eerily fitting for the current climate. </p>
NEGRO by Pink Siifu<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f7b34a0809a5a24bbc53bf708247572"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CNYKet2GWfQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Alabama-based polymath Pink Siifu has captivated the underground in the last few years with his enigmatic collections of hazy lo-fi and hushed storytelling, but on <em>NEGRO</em>, Siifu's rage boils over. Siifu rages against the machine, screaming with unabashed fury at the police and his experience as a black man in America. "White man tryna take my sh*t," he howls through suffocating white noise on "SMD." "Landlord tryna take my sh*t! Tell the police he can eat a d*ck!" As the anger for our current political climate boils over, Siifu's <em>NEGRO</em> is a perfect outlet for all that pent up rage.</p>
FOTO by KOTA The Friend<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a2194161a71961f65b65f0a4de787de5"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/C9p_hejpVZI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>KOTA The Friend thrives on good vibes. Backyard barbecues, bagel dates, looking through photographs–the emcee helps us focus on the little joys that life has. "F*ck an umbrella, cus I like it when it rains," he raps with a shrug on "Sedona." On KOTA's wholesome debut, <em>FOTO</em>, the rapper steers away from any negativity and over 19 tracks nostalgically reminisce about growing up in Brooklyn and all the emotions that come with growing up. "Love is everything and everything is love," he says on "Chicago Diner." <em>FOTO</em> is like a burst of Vitamin C on a cloudy day.</p>
Pray For Paris By Westside Gunn<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6931de97664fb56a3dab01392e898ebd"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kmhgibIoJj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Westside Gunn has had one of the most unlikely glow-ups in Hip-Hop. The grimy Buffalo-based emcee and his Griselda constituents are a product of no-frill rappers like Mobb Depp and Method Man. Their production is kinky and rough, their swagger is timeless yet malicious, and their lyricism is merciless. "Ain't no eye for an eye, you take an eye we take your whole head," Gunn says on "Party with Pop Smoke" with his rugged, confident vibrato. On <em>Pray For Paris</em>, Gunn aims to ditch the niche underground aesthetic of Griselda's past efforts and establish them instead as an act of sophisticated grandeur. The album cover was designed by Virgil, the introductory adlib an<a href="https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/westside-gunn-pray-for-paris/" target="_blank"> excerpt from the record-breaking sale</a> of Leonardo da Vinci's <em>Salvator Mundi.</em> The self-proclaimed high stakes make for a transporting journey, with Westside Gunn and his friends offering some of the best bars of their careers. To indulge in <em>Pray For Paris</em> is to indulge in high art.</p>
The Price of Tea In China By Boldy James<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cfe96ff00750b50c6a37667be65dd61e"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0s76k0nRdxw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Complex and arresting, The Alchemist's cinematic instrumentals are enhanced by Boldy James' captivating storytelling. Written by one of the most underappreciated lyricists in modern-day hip-hop, <em>The Price of Tea In China</em> is an enthralling journey, with James' mid-tempo narrative flow guiding us through the streets of Detroit in explicit detail. "Jail tats that linger from teenage years, insomniac drives down to Kentucky," wrote <a href="https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/boldy-james-the-price-of-tea-in-china/" target="_blank"><em>Pitchfork</em></a>. "Gloved hands clutching guns...Pyrexes full of dope that looks like oatmeal." The emcee's web of details make for a remarkably visual listening experience, and James' provocative images are only enhanced by The Alchemist's technical prowess.</p>
Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.
Villains always have the best outfits.
From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.
Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com
But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.
Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.
Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.
Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com
Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.
As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.
History of Nazi Chic
For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.
The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.
Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it
Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.
The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com
Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.
Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.
Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com
Nazi Chic in Asia
Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.
A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.
In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.
OF COURSE. i.imgur.com
That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.
In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.
So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?
The answer is not so black and white.
On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.
But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.
Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.
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The alternative rapper is finally seeing his work pay off, just don't try to box him in
Medhane prides himself on being a Hip-Hop antithesis.
Full Circle, the rapper's enigmatic new EP, is produced entirely by him, and the project's dense 15 minutes offer little breathing room. As the polymath sips on a Chai latte in a crowded cafe in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, he explains to me that his stream of consciousness raps are purposefully devoid of certain contexts. "It's open to your perception. It's just art," he said. "You don't look at a painting and say, "Oh this painting is about this." Like a painter, Medhane's music ebbs and flows moment to moment and portrays an artist unabashedly present in the art he's creating. I asked if he would describe his music that way, like a painting. "Kinda, but like not really. It is, but it's not, it's just expression." When I asked him who Dan Freeman was, he told me that he was the protagonist of Spook Sat by the Door, a profound 1964 novel about a black CIA agent trying to overthrow the white establishment. When I asked him why he named Full Circle's opening track "DAN FREEMAN," he smiled. "I don't know, that's just what I thought it should be."
As a Brooklyn native, Medhane was raised on the sounds of Soca and Reggae, along with acts like Nas and Indie.Arie. But when he was 11, he admits, he was mostly into screamo. "I forget the name of this band but they had a song called "Daddy's Fallen Angel," he said with a laugh, "and I just thought that was the hardest sh*t ever." After getting in trouble at school, Medhane's father took him to D.C. for the weekend to experience President Obama's inauguration. While they were in town, they also went to see Notorious, a buzzing new biopic about the late Biggie Smalls. "I just went fully down the rabbit hole after that." He started making freestyle videos on his phone, and by his senior year in high school (he graduated when he was 16 after skipping a grade) he was incredibly committed to the genre. But his mom insisted he get a college education, so he reluctantly applied and was accepted into Carnegie Mellon's civil engineering program. As he dragged his heels academically, his music started to buzz, and he recalls flying to London to perform at a sold-out show with Lex Records, only to fly back and return, nameless, to his classes. "That sh*t f*cked me up."
Medhane - Affirmation #1 (Dir. LONEWOLF) www.youtube.com
His free form art thrives on unpredictability, so as a result, Medhane can't stand when the press, myself included, tries to decipher it. His lyrical meandering is often boxed in with that of Earl Sweatshirt. The comparison is often intended as a compliment, but all of it just frustrates him. "They always try to be like, "This is about depression," or, "On this song [Medhane] recalls a three-day bender." He scoffed. "There was no 3-day bender that ever occurred in my life." He refers me to a lyric from "I WAS JUST IN THE MARA." "Still speaking in code, I know how them riddles go? That's kinda what that means."
Did you see things start to change after Pitchfork reviewed Ba Suba, Ak Jamm?
"Kinda, but not really. After that project, I went back to school and...I was just going through it. I stopped putting out music, I dropped "Sky," but I was just so stressed that I went ghost. No tweets, no music for like six or seven months."
What was that experience like? What did you do to take care of yourself?
"I ghosted a lot of my friends. I was just overwhelmed. I watched a lot of Blacklist, and that show sucks. I was watching bad TV, bro, when I should be making beats. I was on some self-doubt s*it. That's what I was doing."
When did all that start to change for you?
"I graduated and got back in touch with MIKE and Caleb [Giles] and just kinda started making tracks again. I also took a family trip to Kenya, and it restored me somehow. Just coolin' with my family really brought me back. When I got back from [that trip] it was go time."
Then you dropped Own Pace?
"Yeah, and that album did numbers. That was kinda me explaining what I had gone through during that time, and people really related to it."
So what's different now with Full Circle?
"It's totally self-produced, and it's just getting more in-depth. More in-depth with certain topics. I'm just exploring that time more and exploring what really happened.
Creatively, Full Circle is a lot denser than your previous work. What inspired you all to head in this alternative direction?
"I don't know, bro. I just try to mix everything I f*ck with. I feel like out of all the homies I'm the most versatile. I could play you five songs of mine that all sound different, that all slap, and I'm not switching my style on none of them. I listen to all types of sh*t.
What's next for you?
I'm tryna run it up this year. I'm 23, I gotta be on my Jordan s*it. I'm putting out three projects this year.
It seems like things are really changing for you.
"It seems like it. I don't know. There's always that skepticism that comes with life when good s*it starts to happen to you. But everybody just keeps telling me like just keep going, which is kinda what I'm doing. We not falling off no time soon, ever."
- Medhane: Full Circle Album Review | Pitchfork ›
- Medhane Is Powering Through Life at His Own Pace: Interview ›
- Medhane on Spotify ›
- Medhane - Albums, Songs, and News | Pitchfork ›
- Medhane ›
- Medhane's stream on SoundCloud - Hear the world's sounds ›
- Medhane (AFB) (@mehdonny) • Instagram photos and videos ›
- Medhane (AFB) (@mehdonny) | Twitter ›