MUSIC

Review | 'Testing' Looks for New Sounds in Hip-hop and Beyond

'Testing' is Eager to Find a New Sound in Hip-Hop, but Not New Ideas.

A$AP Rocky's 'Testing'

The Skepta-assisted "Praise the Lord" is pure hip-hop gold, an eargasm that embodies what Rocky does best: boast about himself.

Like Kanye West, A$AP Rocky is another narcissist, but a pretty one. And he's jiggy—don't forget. Testing is Rocky's I'm-a-90's-boy-with-Harlem-swag-and-model-exes psych-rap album that infuses the same sticky, distorted, feverish psychedelia he explored on At.Long.Last.A$AP.

On Testing, the title confirms the same static friction bellowing under the surface of nearly every song, with Rocky mumbling his most emotional and honest bars; meaning Rocky talks about how hot he is and the occasional adversity he faced on his way to the top, or as he proclaims, "I put New York on the map." Before who specifically, Rocky? His bravado is commendable since no other rapper sounds like him—that much can be said.

But his range is starting to show. Rocky can talk about two things well: his model girlfriends and his clothes. He's not an intellectual; his music isn't the type to win a Pulitzer Prize, though it's emblematic of his style and charisma as a young MC. What he lacks in substance, he makes up for in pure swag. He has the voice of a rapper, a cool and collected braggadocio that excuses moments where he seems incapable of going deeper. He remains on the surface, quite literally summarizing his childhood and rise to fame. The connective tissue between Rocky as a young drug dealer to a Dior-wearing fashion icon is disconnected, leaving the limbs of the album frail and malnourished. The look is there. The vibe is there. Now think of a Rocky who actually tells a story, says something more profound than what hair color and sexual orientation he prefers his ever-growing collection of women.

The Skepta-assisted "Praise the Lord" is pure hip-hop gold, an eargasm that embodies what Rocky does best: boast about himself. The production is clean, sexy, jiggy, and sounds like a 90's banger—everything you'd want in a rap song. Skepta's voice is a delight, his accent adding a rush of energy to the chorus. Rocky samples Moby, an unlikely choice for a Harlem rapper, but it speaks to his eclectic tastes; his vision—he's shown in everything from his music, fashion, and acting—isn't black or white.

"Hun43rd" is a dizzying kaleidoscopic vision of what rap could become if artists were willing to deviate from sounds traditionally heard in mainstream music. It's oddly beautiful as a composition: It grates at the ear, right before it drops into a woozy, luminous bubble where Rocky details the rhythm and spirit of his Harlem neighborhood. Those moments feel and sound so good, you forgive Rocky for his botched attempts at enlightened political discourse ("My newest President a asshole / I guess that's why I'm leaving turd stains.") Our political climate is certainly disappointing, but it shouldn't cause incontinence. Go see someone for that, Rocky.

The feature roster on this project is impressive: Frank Ocean, T.I., Diddy, Tyler the Creator, Kid Cudi, FKA Twigs, and several others lend their voices, creating a performative fabric around the album, a weird collaborative project that lacks heart in the songs that need it most. "Purity," is a strong close and maybe a look into a new Pretty Boy Flacko, one who has something more to say.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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MUSIC

Review | .Paak's 'Bubblin' Is a Satisfying Appetizer for What's to Come

"Bubblin," His Latest Single, is a Satisfying Appetizer

.Paak's 'Bubblin'

Now that's he made it, it'll be interesting to see how .Paak musically indulges his newfound currency as an artist, fur coats and all.

It all started with Breezy LoveJoy. Anderson .Paak looks unrecognizable from his earlier days, when the singer/multi-instrumentalist/proud Aquarius dropped music under a name he infamously created for being particularly larger and gassy…. Not the most romantic of name concepts, then, but .Paak would later graduate from his mixtape efforts, which often felt like miscellaneous parts of a larger project more methodical in its curation and production.

Then came Venice, SoCal soul, paired with funky jazz instrumentals he'd amplify in his critically acclaimed album, Malibu. On the album cover of Malibu, .Paak sits in his underwear, underdressed and overwhelmed, flooded with musical inspirations. Listening to .Paak is a similar experience, a wild immersion into his world that is at once sublime, disruptive, soulful, sardonic, and above all, cinematic. It's like being on a raft in the ocean, except the raft is a piano and .Paak is shifting his weight for kicks. He's spontaneous, but he thrives when he's at the fore, his voice registering a type of anguished wisdom only gained through life experience—and he has plenty.

A late bloomer to his own success, .Paak returns in 2018, set to release two new albums, one of which is another solo album, the other with his band The Free Nationals, consisting of Jose Rios, Ron Tnava Avant, Kelsey Gonzales, Callum Connor. "Bubblin," the latest release from the iconoclastic artist, shows .Paak's strengths as a rapper, something he's always excelled in, gaining the attention of Dr. Dre who eventually signed him.

His bars are quick, playful, and are pumped with his frenetic charm. The accompanying music video is directed by Calmatic, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles and also stars .Paak's adorable son, Soul. They both sport fur jackets as Soul gives us a taste of his burgeoning talents as a dancer and performer. Not to mention the hilarious imagery of the video, where .Paak courts an ATM that dispenses money when it's complemented, with .Paak furiously protecting it from everyone he encounters. The symbolism infers the challenges of new success, of course, but it's also fitting that .Paak describes his own relationship with money and fame at this moment in his career.

He's since established himself as a household name. In 2017, it seemed as though he was over-featured, working with artists like Kaytranada, GoldLink, The Game, Rapsody, Domo Genesis, Mac Miller, and was featured on Dr. Dre's long-awaited Compton album.

.Paak collaborates with Dre once more on his follow-up to Malibu and his fans are eagerly anticipating what soul-crunching verses he's prepared on his hiatus. What will the funnyman/loverboy spit for us this time? If "Bubblin" is any indicator, Anderson is done struggling, comfortable in his skin, confident, and hella funky. Now that he has made it, it'll be interesting to see how .Paak musically indulges his newfound currency as an artist, fur coats and all.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


POP⚡ DUST | Read More…

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FILM & TV

Saturday Film School | The Most Dysfunctional Family on TV Is Back

On its last leg, Arrested Development returns on Netflix with new episodes.

Netflix

What was once the quickest, driest family sitcom on TV is now a graveyard for puns about incest, awkward romantic pairings, and aimless adults who still don't know any better.

It's hard to watch a show die. Arrested Development, a show that originally aired on Fox, returns on Netflix after its disastrous fourth season nearly derailed it. Convoluted storylines, familiar gags, and a handful of unfunny gaps in time make for a bumpy start, but devoted fans will find reasons to return to the ever-dysfunctional Bluth family.

Arrested always responds to real-world events in a subtle manner; this new batch of episodes—particularly fixated on Trump and the infamous wall set to divide the U.S. and Mexico—has a way of heightening the absurdity of microaggressions and police brutality. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz sets out to unearth the same comedic gold that made seasons 1-3 sitcom treasure, but it's often exhausting watching the show's wheels turn, a well-oiled machine that has no purpose to keep running except to outperform its glory days. Arrested is still fun to watch, but the characters bounce off of each other in a rotation that is, by this point, predictable. Thankfully, the cast is still enjoyable when they hit their stride outside of Hurwitz's heavy-handed exposition.

Having since become a Hollywood A-lister, Jason Bateman still nails Michael's brand of narcissism filtered through his deadpan delivery, getting himself into trouble even in situations that call for no such effort, and the kids, Maeby (Alia Shawkat) and George Michael (Michael Cera), banter their way through the episodes as if nothing has happened (How old are they supposed to be, again?). In reality, too much has happened—one of the biggest downfalls of season four: The farce-style humor was dialed up so much, it seemed the show itself was going to implode.

This time around, Buster (Tony Hale) is still the butt of every joke and his bionic hand makes for a consistent gag throughout the season, but his lunacy and dramatic outbursts, again, are to be expected. What was once the quickest, driest family sitcom on TV is now a graveyard for puns about incest, awkward romantic pairings, and aimless adults who still don't know any better. Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), the mom you love to hate, is equally nail-grating and hilarious—her antics embody the show's cynicism, so naturally, she's a pleasure to watch…cocktail in hand.

Oddly enough, Jeffrey Tambour returns reprising George Bluth Sr. and Oscar, his twin, but those familiar with Transparent probably recall his termination on set after accusations of sexual misconduct. Seeing him on screen feels wrong, almost like a weird pass given to him by his male co-stars.

With what Netflix has released thus far (more episodes are set to release later this year), it's clear that Arrested knows its formula and is set in its ways, content to wring out the very last laughs its conventional model has left. But I and many other Arrested fans are underwhelmed. It's hard watching something settle into familiarity, knowing what was once in its prime is now merely the framework of a house that reimagined what a dysfunctional family sitcom could look like. Some will cozy up to season five and its we'll-never-be-a-normal-family ethos, but those that relished the show's earlier seasons will find a lukewarm midnight snack in season five. Binge-watching it feels like mental labor, where you spend a considerable amount of time adding up plot points and character arcs that get lost halfway through. Some flames simply don't burn as strong the fourth and fifth time around, but the Bluth family, in true fashion, will carry on in their dysfunctional splendor.

POP⚡DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


POP⚡ DUST | Read More…

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