British electro-funk/soul collective WINACHI call their sound a blend of “swaggering Mancunian tenacity spliced with smooth Californian G Funk soul”, a perfect description for their delectable music stew of infectious sexy grooves. Based in Warrington, situated roughly halfway between Liverpool and Manchester, WINACHI consists of Liam Croker (lyrics and vocals) and Antony Egerton (keyboards, programming), Inder Goldfinger (percussion), Andy McKay (lead guitar), Richard Ritchie (bass) and Paul Lawrence (drums), all accomplished musicians with diverse musical backgrounds.
They formed in 2015, but I first learned about them in Spring of 2018, around the time they released their funky dance single “Transition”. I instantly loved it, as well as all their subsequent releases, and have featured them numerous times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their PARASITICAL ELIMINATION E.P. (You can find links to some of those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.) That EP included four great collaborative remixes of three of their previous songs by international artists and producers Howie B, Paolo Baldini, Jim Spencer, and Impey. Now WINACHI are back with a marvelous new single “CHARACTERS“, the first of a long line of singles they plan to release in 2022.
The track, which features additional keyboards by Lee ‘Latch’ Parker, was engineered and mixed by Jim Spencer and mastered by Ben Booker. About the song, front man Liam Croker explains: “CHARACTERS is about how we’re all living together in this extremely beautiful yet completely fucked up world, and how once you get past all the prejudice, hate and judgmental bullshit, we’re all just the same, living under the same sky…we’re human beings and without each other we’re nothing. When writing and producing this track we wanted to make something that sounded like a cross between Beck, George Clinton and a Looney Tunes cartoon, I think we succeeded with that. The world’s such a dark, insane place at the moment that we wanted to put out our own little slice of madness…except exchanging the darkness for a bit of a colour. CHARACTERS is exactly that, a funked-up Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
I’m not sure I can improve on Liam’s description of the song, so I’ll just elaborate on what I love about it. Firstly, there’s that seductive and funky bass-driven trip hop groove that grabs you by the hips and shoulders, compelling you to move! Then there’s the colorful mix of magical glittery and darker industrial synths, punctuated with flourishes of sci-fi and cartoonish sound effects, hand claps and wonderful jangly guitar chords, all of which come together to create a trippy, enchanting soundscape.
Liam’s distinctive vocals are smooth, but with a seductive, slightly raspy undercurrent that conveys an air of mystery as he croons “The people that we meet, will paint the pictures of our lives. Some make a fortune, some shoot to get by. Some walk on the moon, while some just shoot to get high. We’re all just faces in the crowd./ We’re characters of the world.”
WINACHI never disappoints, and with “CHARACTERS” they deliver another stellar track for our listening enjoyment. I’m certain we’ll continue to hear more great songs from them in the coming months.
5ON5 is a collaborative music project based in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of four distinctly unique artists who’ve come together to make music that, in their own words, is “a little new, a little naughty, and a bit different.” The quartet itself is a bit different, its members spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and who’s previously released two albums Taboo and GAMES as a solo artist, the project also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was born out of Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects their eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including EDM, synthpop, hip hop and alternative rock.
Over the past year so so, Max and $INAN have been writing songs for their upcoming EP, which the group then came together to record. The first single is “Runaway”, actually a ‘maxi-single’, featuring an original version of the song, along with a special party remix. Drum production was performed by Steve van Velvet, and piano by Hansol Cho. Both tracks were mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang.
The song is infectious as hell, with a wonderful uptempo groove that finds its sweet spot between dubstep and EDM, though the beat most definitely compels our hips to move. Things start off with a simple keyboard riff, then a dominant pulsating bass line enters, putting the track on a solid footing. As the song unfolds, 5ON5 gradually layers a rich palette of swirling synths, lovely piano keys, crisp percussion and edgy surf guitars to create an enchanting soundscape awash in colorful textures and sounds.
But as good as the instruments are, the contrasting vocals and pleasing harmonies of the four members are the real highlight for me. Max’s echoed vocals are sung mostly in a higher register just below a falsetto, giving his verses a mysterious, almost otherworldly vibe. $INAN mumble raps his verses, then with near-perfect harmony, he, Max, Yumin and Maxx B sing the chorus “Would you run away from me, away with me, away with me, would you run away now?”
The cool animated video shows the band members walking through a landscape by both day and night, fleeing from troubles and ultimately emerging free and into the light.
The party remix was created by Max, and to my ears sounds pretty similar to the original, other than having a somewhat sharper and cleaner sound with sparser synths. The accompanying video is similar to the main version, except that it’s produced in dark blue hues.
This is a second guest post by Nicole McCray, a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Nicole writes articles on a wide range of topics, including health & wellness, lifestyle & beauty, music, movies, TV & filmmaking, and animals & pets. You can check out some of her work at https://www.nicolemccray.com/. Her previous post was “Five Up and Coming Artists To Expect Big Things From”, which you can read here. The idea for her second post came to her after attending an event at her son’s college, where he was performing as a rapper. She was impressed by many of the underground artists who gave exceptionally good performances, inspiring her to write about some promising new hip-hop artists.
I’ll admit that hip-hop is not one of my favorite music genres, however, as EclecticMusicLover I feel it’s worthwhile to expose myself to music I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward, as well as feature some of it on this blog from time to time. With that in mind, I’m pleased that Nicole chose to write this post.
Six Emerging Hip-Hop Artists To Watch This Year
The hip-hop scene has definitely been further solidified in 2021, with chart dominance by standout artists like Rod Wave and Jack Harlow. Rookies have made their stamp on the hip-hop and R&B genres as well, with other artists proving that music still managed to make its way forward even in a problematic year. It’s difficult to predict which of these artists will emerge as big stars in the coming year, as we learned quickly from last year how things can change in a second.
The music industry certainly got hit hard during the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped artists from finding creative ways to make sure their music and influence are heard by the masses. Public recognition doesn’t always make or break a thriving artist’s journey.
Suppose you are a musician or independent artist looking to develop new ways to monetize and keep incoming customers coming in. In that case, you should research some of the artists below and see what methods they are taking to broaden outreach. It can also help you organize and utilize a platform for managing your links to keep yourself on track.
Here are some of the greats we’ve discovered and expect big things from in the upcoming year and how they make their mark in the music world.
Los Angeles-based hip-hop artist born Matthew Burdette, known professionally as Blxst (pronounced “Blast”), gained considerable success in 2020 with his debut EP No Love Lost. The EP tackles complex topics, including relationship woes that leave us wondering how close to home this plays out in his own love life. The journey unfolding within the album paints a clear picture of his life and covers the failure of a relationship. The song and video for “Overrated” shows him speaking to her, asking if she will “bleed the streets” with him to prove her loyalty. Later in the album, it depicts him trying to deal with the loss of his lover while they still are living together.
Blxst grew up listening to other hip-hop influencers like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. His style is compared to other rappers such as Ty Dolla Sign and Nate Dogg. He received a lot of underground support and has become a fan favorite with soul, impacting his fans everywhere, and we are anticipating some full-length albums to emerge next.
Hailing from Chicago, Lil Eazzyy seemed to come from nowhere with an EP entitled Underrated, which, just like in the name, was entirely true for him getting some buzz on social media and then being picked up by underground fans. He ignites a bouncy, almost chattery rhyme style, which captivates his audience, and has us all excited for more.
His hit song “Onna Come Up” demonstrates his confidence and self-awareness. It went viral and has garnered over 69 million streams and counting on Spotify, while a remix of the song featuring G Herbo has been streamed nearly 30 million times. His next mixtape, Rookie Of The Year, injects even more style to his buzz, telling stories of overcoming the odds while growing up on the Southside of Chicago. It is clear that this artist has his sights set on being the next success story, stating, “I’m trying to be MVP.”
Rapper J.I. (born Justin Irvin Rivera in Brooklyn) declared himself the “Prince of N.Y.”, but now wishes to be more than that, not loving that television rapper name he was pinned with from the start. His music has been well-received in the hip-hop world, getting nods from stars like A Boogie, Drake, and Lil Tjay. His sing-like rap style gives him star status, and his hit song “Need Me” is an excellent demonstration of his potential in the Latin hip-hop scene. It has over 100 million streams on Spotify.
He already has stated that he hopes to break all preconceived assumptions about him as an artist and his music. He doesn’t like to be labeled, so he will continue to be whatever he wants to be. He has earned much of his success as an internet sensation, with huge followings on YouTube and Instagram. Because of his large fanbase, he included some of his fans in the video for “Why U Mad”, which is a great tribute to his impressive lyrics that showcase how well he stands with seasoned artists. We can surely expect this young artist to bring us more spirited drills in his new releases to come.
Milwaukee-based WebsterX is a leader of the hip-hop renaissance, with his original music picked up and promoted by a licensing agency. He has tapped into the powerful practice of yelling together as a central part of his music, and he loves to work with other artists in collaboration to create something new. His performances often consist of multiple artists playing solo songs as a group. His lyrics have a way of plunging deep into the soul while also inviting you to sing along. He has no problems diving into deep-rooted emotions and putting them on display.
His hit single “doomsday” and its accompanying video are what provided this artist with his breakthrough. The rapper developed a keen interest in poetry while he was in high school and said that an integration program opened up his world, helping him promote racial and cultural unification. Although he also says that each project he tackles takes on an experience that he has endured. His 2017 album Daymares addresses his feeling anxious and depressed when he dropped out of school and told his parents he would pursue being a musician, while his latest single “HUFFY”, released in April, touches on his experiences growing up and “riding his huffy through the hood”.
Erica Banks is a leader with her song “Buss It,” taking a sample from Nelly’s super-popular “Hot in Herre,” and blowing up on Tik Tok to become one of the first (and biggest) dance challenges in the new year. It also helped her song to land on the Billboard chart.
She’s been compared to Megan Thee Stallion because of their shared Texas roots, which she has laughed it off on her Twitter account and stated that they have a similar accent because of where they are from. Erica has recently signed with Warner Bros entertainment, so we are excited to see if there might be another dance challenge on Tik Tok in the works. Maybe a collaboration with another Texas hip-hop artist like Tara, perhaps?
Putting out not just one but two albums last year – Platinum Heart and Poetic Pain, as well as recording a large number of collaborations with artists like DaBaby, Summer Walker, and Lil Durk – Toosii has encumbered an enormous buzz around what’s to come next for the Syracuse, New York-born rapper. He made a name for himself by releasing projects independently, and earning a lot of his fans through social media followings.
The rapper dropped out of school at 17 years old to pursue his dreams, and his most recent album Thank You for Believing is his way of singing praises to his family, friends, and fans for supporting him and helping him to achieve success. He said he just wanted to demonstrate that the music isn’t always just about the artist – it’s about the people who help get you to that status. His song “shop”, a collaboration with multi-platinum rapper DaBaby, has him delivering multiple witty one-liners.
He is described as having the “sound of tomorrow,” which leads us to know that there will be more to come soon from him. The release of Poetic Pain in 2020 exceeded all expectations, so there is a lot of anticipation to see what he will do next to top it.
Many other ground-breaking artists will make their hip-hop sounds heard in the coming year. These are just some of the standout artists we’ve highlighted to look out for, since they’ve made such a massive impact on their fans and boomed into the hip-hop scene. 2020 was a rough year for artists, and with 2021 showing more promise, it will be great to get things back to the normal we’re used to, including live concerts with some of these fantastic and talented hip-hop artists.
Tobisonics is the music project of Toby Davis, a longtime alternative electro-pop artist, composer, songwriter and music producer based in Luxembourg. For several years, he used his creative vision and talents mixing, mastering or remixing other artists and bands’ music, but starting in late 2018, he decided to create his own musical works as Tobisonics. About his moniker, he explains “All Tobisonics really means is Tobi sounds. And that’s how I think of myself, as a noisemaker, rather than a musician.”
Costi is a London-based hip hop artist and rapper who describes himself as an “Emcee slash poet who mixes spoken word with hip hop music.. plus a little guitar.” He’s been featured on Fresh on the Net – Fresh Faves 316 and the BBC Introducing Mixtape, and has been involved in numerous musical collaborations and projects, including as one half of the hip hop/electronic music duo One Line to an Angle, who released a terrific single “Cassette Tape”, along with several remixes, last October.
I’ve previously featured Tobisonics three times on this blog, most recently last October when I wrote about his single “Military Industrial Complex“, a politically-charged electronic track featuring two important and diametrically opposite speeches by Presidents Eisenhower and Trump. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the “Related” links at the end of this post.) Angered by Trump’s incendiary Rose Garden speech last June, in which he threatened a harsh government response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Toby decided to contrast Trump’s menacing words with Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address warning of the need for perpetual vigilance to safeguard the liberties of the American people against the military industrial complex and include them in his song. Though the song resonated with listeners and music critics, and received radio play on Amazing Radio US, KGUP FM, and scores of respected independent radio shows, Toby later confessed to having mixed feelings: “I feel ‘Military Industrial Complex’ was artistically successful but, in terms of its application, it failed. I wanted to engage with traditional voters on the right, instead I just ended up just preaching to the choir.”
With that sentiment in mind, he decided to create a new song that would tackle populist nationalism not with clever comparisons, but with hope: “I wanted toinspire hope and remind people of a time when we believed we could be one race of humans, a better people, a great people, a global people.” He teamed up with Costi to collaborate on a song they titled “Eye of the Storm“, an electro-synth retro-wave anthem of hope to raise people up after all the stress, worry, fear and pain of 2020. The single will be released on all music platforms on Wednesday, January 20th, in recognition of Joe Biden’s Inauguration as the 46th President of the United States. It’s the first of four collaborative music projects Tobisonics has planned for 2021.
For the song, Tobisonics sampled President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech, along with lyrics written and sung by Costi. The track opens with Costi singing the chorus, followed by several verses alternating with the repeated chorus. Musically, Tobisonics employs a powerful thumping synth bass beat, accompanied by ominous swirling industrial synths that seem to mimic bombs dropping from the skies, while Costi raps the biting lyrics with an impressive and commanding flow. At the two-minute mark, Kennedy’s speech enters, followed by the chorus. In the fifth recitation of the chorus, Costi’s lyrics are interspersed with the most famous lines of Kennedy’s speech:
The future’s bright that’s the neon lights (And so my fellow Americans) Demolition man put your dreams on ice (ask not) Said it’s going down if you’re seen on sight (what your country can do for you) Countdown started and we leave tonight (ask what you can do for your country)
The song ends with the often-overlooked second part to Kennedy’s most famous quote: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”, driving home the strong unifying message Tobisonics and Costi desired to great effect.
I’ve been following Canadian singer-songwriter and rapper Krosst Out since early 2017, when he reached out to me about his debut EP Life of the Party, an outstanding work that examined the darker aspects of party life, along with the sex, drugs and alcohol abuse that often go hand in hand. (You can read my review here.) Since then, the hard-working artist has released a number of singles and collaborations with other artists, and just dropped his debut album Phone Calls With Ghosts, which was a labor of love for him.
Born and raised in the small town of Campbellford, Ontario, he first studied piano as a child, then took up the bass guitar in his teens. He moved to Toronto, where he started his music career, but earlier this year he relocated to Montreal with his girlfriend and fellow music artist Melotika (who I’ve also featured on this blog several times). Influenced by the music of artists such as Manafest, Eminem, Underoath, Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down, Nas, and Marilyn Manson, he fuses hip hop with grunge, alt-rock and punk to create his own unique contemporary sound. And like a lot of hip hop artists, his songs draw heavily from his own life experiences, with brutally honest, introspective and raw lyrics.
Phone Calls With Ghosts is a decidedly bleak work addressing youthful mistakes, broken relationships, and the reality that nothing will ever again be what it once was. Krosst Out elaborates: “Ghosts aren’t just your run of the mill spooks, they’re the thoughts and actions of your past that torture you, the baggage you never seem to shrug off. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to hide my demons from myself and the rest of the world, that I thought it was time I faced everything head on. It was like these ghosts were trying to call [me] my whole life and I never picked up. Writing this [album] was my therapy, it helped me come out of this dark place I’d been in, and made me realize more about myself. Ghosts are real, they are the thoughts that torture you, the people you leave behind, the moments you never get back.“
The album was recorded mostly at Pink Distortion Music in Toronto, under the guidance of producer and mixer Adam Van Ameringen aka Rain, although “Intro (Preface)”, “Reckless” and “Black & White” were produced by another frequent collaborator Jor’Del Downz. The entire album was mastered by Sean Savage.
Opening track “Intro (Preface)” does just what it implies, laying out for us what the album’s about and setting the overall dark mood. Against a backdrop of throbbing, reverb-heavy bass accompanied by enchanting synths, Krosst Out tearfully pleads “Can you hear me? Can you really hear me out there? Pick up the phone!” A heavy beat then kicks in as he launches into an angry freestyle rapping tirade, recounting his early dreams of making it as a successful hip hop artists, the sacrifices he made and poverty he endured, and decrying those who never had faith in him: “Don’t ask me why I’m angry / Don’t ask my why I’m upset / These likes and these retweets don’t amount to much / Fuck every single person that ever doubted me / Cause I’ve been down and out.” The song ends with a woman’s voice (who I’m guessing is Melotika) saying, as if a telephone operator, “Welcome to phone calls with ghosts. Thank you for calling.“
“Funerals”, the lead single from the album that I reviewed this past April, touches on how Krosst Out has changed and grown since leaving Campbellford. It’s often challenging when leaving home and moving away to make a new life for ourselves, and though we generally maintain a sense of love and fondness toward family and friends we left behind, the distance and passage of time can complicate and/or diminish relationships. He told me the song title “Funerals” is a metaphor for the death of his old self. “I feel like I’ve just grown so much that I’m unrecognizable now, but at the same time, if I wanted to go [back] home I couldn’t. Also, the more you grow, the more you have people that will hate you for that.” The song has a heavy dub step beat, with a dramatic mix of spooky psychedelic synths, deep, throbbing bass and glittery keyboards creating a dark and moody backdrop for his impassioned free style rapping as he laments about the guilt trips foisted upon him by his mother and friends.
Krosst Out taps into his love of grunge on “Drive“, a cynical song about just saying fuck it, ditching your problems and heading out on the road in search of thrills, because nothing really matters anyway. “Cause I’m living for today, put that on my gravestone.” I like the dark vibes and Rain’s badass grungy guitar riffs at the beginning and in the choruses.
The haunting “Edges” speaks of a failing relationship, with the singer pleading to his partner to stop torturing him. Swirling keyboards contrast sharply with ominous harsh industrial synths to create a darkly beautiful backdrop for Krosst Out’s bitter vocals as he bemoans “We push, we pull, we scream, we shout, you say you want me out.” Guest vocalist Kyle Laird of Ontario metal band As the Structure Fails growls the chorus “You’re breaking my heart. So I’m burning these bridges. Stop tearing me apart. Cause I’m only these edges.”
On “Reckless“, he sings about not giving a fuck what others think of him to a guitar-driven melody over a dubstep beat. Rain’s grungy guitars make a return appearance on “Running in Traffic“, a song that continues on the theme of living life recklessly with a fatalistic attitude. With his voice brimming with emotion, Krosst Out raps “Never played it safe. Screaming here I am. Running in that traffic. Please don’t hold my hand. Gotta take my chances, gotta be a man. Now the ghosts are calling.“
“Background” is a bleak yet beautiful song about that seems to be about a person contemplating suicide. Over a sharp knocking beat and pulsating rhythm, Krosst Out and Rain layer haunting piano keys and a lovely strummed guitar. Krosst Out raps about his feelings of depression and futility, with Rain joining him in vocal harmonies on the chorus: “There are days I wish to just not wake up. I won’t be that shoulder that you needed to lean on. I can’t be that person that you need right now. Let me go, let me go into the background.“
The final track “Black & White” has a funereal grunge rock vibe, with a deep, reverb-heavy bass groove, accompanied by an almost haunting chiming guitar riff played by Andrew Falcao. Krosst Out ruefully raps the lyrics that speak of past regrets he has no desire to correct, and the pain he continues to self-medicate: “I never said goodbye to my friend that died at 25 / But these hard pills get easier to swallow. Don’t be alarmed, numbing myself is just part of the process. All of this shit is just hard to process / You can erase me if you like, black & white. It makes no difference, so take me out.” The instrumentals continue for the final two and a half minutes of the song, highlighted by Falcao’s marvelous guitar solo.
Phone Calls With Ghosts is a marvelous little album with a huge, impactful sound. I love Krosst Out’s songwriting and lyricism, and while he doesn’t have a particularly strong voice, he’s a highly emotive vocalist and terrific freestyle rapper. It’s been a distinct pleasure following on his musical journey over the past four years and watching him grow as an artist. I’m so very proud of him.
Blurryface is my favorite album of the past 10 years, and twenty one pilots is my current favorite band. I love them, and their music brings out the 25-year-old still lurking inside my decrepit old body. I saw them in concert in St. Louis with my sister in August 2016, and the two of us were quite literally the oldest people there who were not chaperoning their children or grandchildren!
Formed in 2009 and based in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, twenty one pilots consists of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun (who joined the band in 2011 after two of the previous founding members left). Incorporating a ridiculously eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.
Released in May 2015, Blurryface was the band’s fourth studio album. Although they’d been putting out music since 2009, it wasn’t until April 2015 that I learned of them, when I first heard their single “Tear in My Heart”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a huge fan. I downloaded Blurryface on iTunes as soon as it was released, and also binged on their back catalog of music, especially their brilliant 2013 album Vessel. I burned Blurryface onto a CD, put it into my car stereo, and played it every time I went anywhere for months, turning many friends onto it as well.
The album is named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.” The album is of such high caliber that every one of its 14 tracks could be a hit song, and in fact, in 2018 it became the first album in the digital era to have every track receive a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. It spent 276 consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 Album chart, peaking at #1. It finally dropped off the chart three weeks ago, but then re-entered the following week, and as I write this, it’s enjoying its 278th week on the chart.
Although I love every song on the album, I’ll discuss my favorites to keep this write-up from becoming tedious. The first is “Tear in my Heart”, the second single released from the album and, as I stated earlier, my introduction to twenty one pilots. It’s a delightful song of love inspired by Joseph’s marriage to his wife Jenna a month earlier. Not only do I adore the song’s exuberant arrangement, arresting stop and start melody, colorful instrumentation, and Joseph’s wonderful plaintive vocals, I also love the endearing lyrics about the contradictory emotions of joy and agony that often come from romantic love: “The songs on the radio are okay. But my taste in music is your face! And it takes a song to come around to show you how. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m alive. She’s the tear in my heart. I’m on fire. She’s the tear in my heart. Take me higher than I’ve ever been!”
The video shows Joseph and Dun performing the song in L.A.’s Chinatown, with the people around him barely paying attention. Eventually, the surrounding buildings begin crumbling as Joseph notices Jenna in a group of people, and follows her down an alley and into a restaurant. She sings to him the opening lyrics of the song: “Sometimes you’ve got to bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul“, to which he responds: “but it takes someone to come around to show you how“, whereupon she starts beating him until he’s bleeding. The video ends with them kissing.
The pinnacle track on the album is “Stressed Out”, which is my favorite of all their songs, and now ranks among my favorite songs of all time. It’s a catchy and brilliant song with a relatively simple alternative rap-rock melody. The lyrics speak of facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood, while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” The song also references the album’s title and Joseph’s alter-ego Blurryface, expressed in the lyric “My name’s Blurryface, and I care what you think.” I especially love the strong drumbeats, spacey synths and contemplative piano keys. The song was a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. The delightful video, which has been streamed more than 2.1 billion times, portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval.
“Ride” was the fifth album cut to be released as a single, and was also a big chart hit. It’s a deliriously upbeat alternative hip hop song with a strong reggae undercurrent, and I love Joseph’s extraordinary vocals that go from earnest to rapping to falsetto to impassioned wails. He’s a really talented rapper, with an ability to deliver lyrics in a hard, staccato style of fast-paced rapping that only a handful of artists like Eminem are good at. The lyrics speak to uncertainties and anxieties over the meaning of life, with references to thinking about death, which Joseph raps about at high speed: “‘I’d die for you,’ that’s easy to say / We have a list of people that we would take a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room / But I don’t seem to see many bullets comin’ through / See many bullets comin’ through / Metaphorically, I’m the man / But literally, I don’t know what I’d do / ‘I’d live for you,’ an’ that’s hard to do / Even harder to say when you know it’s not true.” At the end, he concludes “I’ve been thinking too much, help me.” Dun’s power drumming is amazing, and the organ is a nice touch as well.
The guys show their darker, edgier side on album opener “Heavydirtysoul” which was the sixth and final single released from Blurryface. A melodically complex song with harsh industrial synths, crushing drumbeats and Joseph’s frantic rapping, several critics named it the best track on the album. They typically opened their sets with this song for their tours promoting Blurryface.
“Lane Boy” is a perfect example of how they blend together an unorthodox mix of music styles like dubstep, hip hop, jungle, ska, EDM and rock to achieve a thoroughly original and melodically surprising sound. And Joseph’s rapping on this track is particularly mind-blowing. The song challenges the idea that artists should stay in a ‘lane’ or be defined by a particular style, sound or genre, and not stray or vary from that expected formula for fear they’ll alienate fans or confound music critics: “They say, ‘stay in your lane boy, lane boy,’ but we go where we want to / They think this thing is a highway, highway, but will they be alive tomorrow?”
Another favorite is the beautiful track “Hometown”, which shows that the band is equally skilled at producing a more conventional EDM-styled song. I’m a big fan of this kind of electronic dance music, and the lush sweeping synths and driving beats are cinematic and glorious. The lyrics seem to address questions of faith, self-identity and depression: “Where we’re from, there’s no sun / Our hometown’s in the dark / Where we’re from, we’re no one / Our hometown’s in the dark.”
Album closer “Goner” is a melancholy song about defeating the darkness and fears represented by Blurryface once and for all. The track starts off with a gentle piano melody as Joseph plaintively sings “I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath / I wanna be known by you.” The music gradually builds with added percussion as he pleads “I’ve got two faces, Blurry’s the one I’m not / I need your help to take him out.” At the three-minute mark, the song erupts with explosive percussion and screaming synths as Joseph passionately wails “Don’t let me be / I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath!“, abruptly calming down at the very end and leaving us spent.
Twenty one pilots would go on to release an equally outstanding follow-up album Trench in 2018. A concept album about the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema ruled by nine bishops, Trench was produced by Paul Meany, front man of alternative rock band MUTEMATH (who opened for twenty one pilots on their Emotional Roadshow Tour), and reflected a somewhat more mature and even more complex sound for twenty one pilots. Nevertheless, Blurryface remains my favorite of their albums.
The song at #96 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Wander” by Vox Eagle, featuring rap vocals by Pierre Fontaine. Vox Eagle is the music project of Australian-born and now Colorado-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Crosby. One of the tracks from his outstanding 2018 album TriumAvium, “Wander” is an enchanting mashup of melodic dream rock and hip hop, and when those magical keyboard and string synths wash over us like a shower of tiny diamonds, it’s absolute bliss. Eventually, a trip hop beat ensues as Andy freestyles about how communication has broken down in his relationship, his vocals going from sultry to falsetto as he sings: “We don’t talk no more, baby girl, we just wander.” Guest vocalist Pierre Fontaine’s smooth rap vocals take over on the last third of the track, adding another wonderful textural element to this stunning track. I love this song so much I’ve probably listened to it five hundred times.
Because literally no one is reading my decade-end post 100 Best Songs of the 2010sfor reasons that escape me – unlike my five-year-old post of the 100 Best Songs of the 2000s that still picks up 5-15 new views every single day – I’ve decided to post each song from the 2010s list, individually, at the rate of one per day. I worked very hard on that post, painstakingly writing about each of the 100 songs, and this will enable me to hopefully bring a bit of attention to each song by sharing my pithy discussions as to why I think it deserves to be considered among the 100 best of the decade.
I’ll begin at #100 – “Dang!” by the late Mac Miller, featuring Anderson .Paak. The untimely death of Mac Miller (born Malcolm James McCormick) was one of the more heartbreaking and unfortunate losses suffered by the music industry over the past decade. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Miller was a musical genius of sorts, learning to play the piano, guitar, drums, and bass by the age of six. As he entered his teens he decided he wanted to be rapper, and started recording and releasing mixtapes at 15, becoming prominent in the city’s hip hop scene. By the time he reached 21, he was presented a key to the city by the mayor of Pittsburgh, and had a day named in his honor. He was such an amazing talent who produced an impressive catalog of music by the time of his death at 26, and we can only imagine what more great music he would have given us.
The first single from his fourth studio album The Divine Feminine, “Dang!” is ear candy from start to finish, featuring not only Miller but also the wonderful Anderson .Paak to sweeten the mix. Over a thumping retro-soul groove and shimmery synths, .Paak delivers the hook in his smooth, soulful croon: “I can’t keep on losing you / Over complications / Gone too soon / Wait, we was just hangin’ / I can’t seem to hold on to, dang!” Then Miller enters the scene, delivering his flow with swagger tinged with just enough vulnerability to reveal his consternation over the fragile state of his relationship. Initially boasting of his sexual prowess: “Yeah the dick ain’t free, I don’t give no fucks”, he later concedes love ain’t so simple: “Can’t concentrate, you always on my brain. If it’s love then why the fuck it come with pain?”
The sweet, colorful and sexy video produced for the song is superb.
Man, time flies when you’re having fun! It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s already been more than four years since I last featured Brooklyn, New York-based artist Yellow Shoots on this blog. (You can read my article here.) I remember being blown away by his soulful and sultry vibes, and it’s heartening to see his star continue to rise. He fuses R&B, soul, funk, jazz, psychedelic and hip-hop grooves to create his own unique neo-soul sound that envelops you in raw sensuality and emotion.
Yellow Shoots is the music project of singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Matthews. His artistic name comes from his experiences with synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sound, leads to an automatic, involuntary response in a second sensory or cognitive pathway, such as sight. He sometimes sees vivid yellow colors when hearing music (a common form of synesthesia is known as chromesthesia, for sound to color), hence his name “Yellow Shoots.”
He started releasing music after moving to Brooklyn from Philadelphia in 2014, beginning with his single “Pieces”. He’s put out a fair amount of music in the years since, including his marvelous Prince-influenced album everything in 2018. One of the singles “make it to the summer” has been streamed more than 446,000 times on Spotify. Now he’s back with a new single “Wonderful Day“, from his forthcoming EP Naked, due out in June. Released via LaReserve Records, the song was written, performed and produced by Yellow Shoots, mixed by Javon Gant-Graham, and mastered by Dan Millice. The track has already been featured on TIDAL’s official .WAV playlist.
Photos by Elijah Craig
About “Wonderful Day”, he explains: “This song combines my 90s rap and R&B roots with late 60s/early 70s records I dug as a teenager. It’s sorta like Nelly meets Zeppelin. It’s a trippy love song I wrote last Summer about being comfortable with the past.” The song has a languid and funky trip hop beat that forms a chilled backdrop for his strummed acoustic guitars, soulful bass, gentle percussion and hazy psychedelic synths.
Yellow Shoots electronically alters his warm, sultry vocals at various spots in the track by doubling and/or speeding up the pitch in a manner similar to what Prince was doing in the 80s. The result is quirky and utterly charming as he croons the sweet lyrics to the object of his desire, hoping she has similar feelings for him: “I put my cards on your table, throwing out the clues / If an apple or a pear, I need your divine / And I think about you every day. I’m hoping I’m the paper underneath your pen.”
I saw this Song of the Day Challenge on my friend Cathy’s blog Catherine Micqu, and thought I would give it a try. Cathy, who’s from Luxembourg, is a terrific and thoughtful writer, and shares a lot of great music too, so do check out her blog.
The song challenge was launched by Rockhal, the biggest musical venue in Luxembourg, on their Instagram account, but like Cathy, I think I will share my selections here instead. Day 1 is “a song that motivates you”, and my pick is the Eminem classic “Lose Yourself”. He wrote the song for the 2002 film 8 Mile, which he also starred in, and chronicles the struggles of the character B-Rabbit, and how he overcomes his problems and obstacles to gain the respect of other rappers. But in a broader sense, the song speaks to zeroing in with a laser focus on one’s dreams, and not letting anything or anyone dissuade you from doing everything you can to realize those dreams. If music is your dream, then you need to ‘lose yourself’ in it to make it happen. Like Eminem says at the end of the song “You can do anything you set your mind to, man.”
“Lose Yourself” is considered by many to be the greatest rap song ever, and was a huge hit, spending 12 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and also reaching #1 in 19 other countries. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and Grammys for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Solo Performance. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, and ranks #2 on my 100 Best Songs of the 2000s.