Words by Edwards.
Certain questions come to mind when I think of the term progression as it relates to the music industry. Is it not truly a fantastic time to be alive as an artist or likely any individual who gets to listen to such music? So much so, that shouldn’t we be immensely thankful? Do we not exist presently within the greatest era for artistry in music? Or can we just simply always state, outside of an apocalypse or vast change in democracy as we know it, that the future will always be better than the past? Maybe that’s a metaphysical topic for a much deeper piece. Or maybe moguls like Diddy who know first hand the killing raked in by platinum record sales in the nineties will laugh at this very notion. Clearly Drake and Future would utmost concur that now is a great time to be alive. There are two more artists that may also agree with me for various reasons, but most definitely regarding their present works; Kanye West and Beyoncé. The metaphorical white smoke as it were of the charring fire that was Kanye’s The Life of Pablo release and subsequent chart topping, and the still aflame scorched music industry Beyoncé has slayed as she slashes that to which we previously knew to be the way of releasing a body of work. The two artists share a chariot, and that chariot is an interface befitting of kings, a carriage born from the spoils of war like litigation of an industry that shared far too less, thought unappreciative, and lacking the very creative freedoms now rife upon their own individual trails and headings into their respective futures. This great mechanism is a high fidelity music and video subscription streaming service owned by a coalition of artists that include Jay Z, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, J.Cole, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Rihanna, Deadmau5, Beyoncé and Kanye themselves to name but a few of the many who have stakes in the company. Let’s think MySpace of then, Youtube of yesterday, and lets go ahead and consider Tidal of today. Side by side technological advances, artists have lunged beyond previous norms of expressing and distributing their music to fans in favor of more progressive, effective means.
The Life of Pablo was released February 14, 2016 under G.O.O.D. Music and Def Jam Recordings. The album quickly received positive and negative energy alike largely fueled by Kanye’s antics on social media and in his personal life. I am not interested in going down that heavily traveled path, although I’ll sheepishly admit taking a deeper thought and pondering how much of mad scientist type pomposity and ostentatious sized lapses of sanity may be responsible, and potentially a source for Kanye’s genius would be assuredly of interest to explore. Nonetheless, in spite of the former, Mr. West’s 7th Release, The Life of Pablo, has been a game changer. Like him or not, the facts are undeniable. TLOP is the first and only No.1 on the Billboard 200 by a majority of SEA (streaming equivalent albums) units. Being streamed over 400 million times worldwide under SEA guidelines translates to 267,000 album sales. Just fyi people, each SEA unit is equal to 1,500 streams from an album. Furthermore, as a result of TLOP being released exclusively on Tidal the service has more than doubled its subscribers and for the first time reached #1 in the Apple IOS app store. Can all this be attributed to Kanye’s musical brilliance, or highly effective marketing and branding strategies? I like to think that the world simply knows what I have been saying for the past 60 plus days, and that is The Life of Pablo is an absolute marvelous work of art. I believe that Kanye has far exceeded the normal levels of excellence and appeal expected out of a hip hop album in TLOP. The rapper/mogul/fashion designer, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kim refers to him as God (at least Daddy), has not only managed to once again remain at the brink of what is currently possible by ensuring his own ability to acquiesce to an inherent vindication of producing nothing less than greatness, but he has provided the genesis for all artists who wish to strive toward perfection by allowing the change, edit, and update of released projects as they see fit, or are duly inspired.
The simplest, most near-sighted of individuals can see the figurative ground breaking conceptually around such a capability. It’s fair to imagine infinite possibilities from any number of artists going forward as a result. The beauty of technology often lies in the very freedoms and dynamism of creativity in production and the potential for unbounded enjoyment. Like Kanye says in his track from the album, and I must add my favorite track of the entire record, Father Stretch my Hands, “I just want to feel liberated!” This is why to me TLOP is a progressive game changer, a most brilliant pleasantly dependable tow surf board designed specifically to best take advantage of the massive Tidal wave (see what I did there with Tidal) to which he will ride upon and audibly incontestably raise the quintessential music industry bar. Think of all those albums that had the first off, noticeable, radio popular hits you’d play and jam no sooner than you could rip the CD out of the plastic and slide it ever so gently on or into the player. The songs that likely motivated you as you wore those largely ineffective ridiculous headphones at your local mall Sam Goody. It would be but a couple weeks later that either purposely or accidentally you let the tunes ride throughout; to the point where you listen deeper into the other remaining tracks. You soon hear the beauty of what you paid little attention to, and begin to enjoy those tracks equivocally, or even more so than the first off tracks you played over and over. This is what I liken TLOP’s conceptual ever evolving album to; a joyous dynamic industry hallmark of a strive for perfection that in due time may come to presently surprise each of us.
He or she who can not finish the following popular saying may be by my permission, slapped. For they likely by obvious admission are probably too dumb or not perceptive enough to even fathom where such slap came from. When life gives you lemons you make? A, Orange Juice B, Koolaid (I love me some Koolaid), or C, Lemonade? Congratulations, you have not been living under a rock sheltering you from general everyday knowledge for your entire life, and you have also managed to identify Beyoncé’s much anticipated, highly celebrated, and utmost innovative second visual album. I had the prodigious pleasure of watching and listening to Lemonade a few nights ago, a day after the release. I try to always sum things up in rather simple terms with the most descriptive of beseeming flattery, but I find myself in this capacity unlikely desperate. Desperate because I can only hope, because I can only attempt to do Beyoncé’s Lemonade justice in my praise and by way of figurative ovation. Beyonce has proven with Lemonade that she remains one of few artists that can consistently transcend pop, R&B, hip hop, and even music thus becoming as a recent Guardian article has perfectly dubbed her, a cultural phenomenon.
Her work tackles issues that have been on the tip of most issue conscious individuals tongues, as well as the unfortunate tongues of those that have little choice but to be conscious of such issues. Lemonade includes touching shots of the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown holding dear photos of their children. Throughout the years Beyoncé has often received flak for not doing enough in black communities, and as of recently she was accused of exploiting a New Orleans artist’s death in her recent Formation works. It is my belief personally that Beyoncé does a lot, at the very least in bringing more attention to black issues, even going the extra step and downright supporting protestors as her and Jay-Z donated money towards their bail last year.
Like Kanye, Mrs. Carter also has her share of personal tidbits of low brow topics of conversation on the album that mostly are based upon her relationship with Jay-Z and his apparent mishaps regarding infidelity and those to which he may have been unfaithful with. The funny memes have yet to cease circulation on social media platforms, and one particular meme I find rather funny is an image of Jay-Z with a rather dumbfounded stare, as the caption reads, when you don’t know if you should drop a diss track to comeback at your wife. Yeah pretty funny, I am sure you agree. This will largely be the extent to what attention I will give to the Carter’s personal life here. What I will say in finality on the subject is that I firmly believe Jay knew good and well that Beyoncé was going to release such songs, and that he whole heartedly was not only okay with such actions, but for both obvious and more ambiguous reasons potentially encouraged her to let it all out.
Speaking to the many abundantly positive aspects of her album, a close friend, who appreciates the most classic tones of country music, rather enjoyed her dabble into the genre with her track Daddy Lessons. I am even more curious about what the country music community as a whole thinks of her country track I rather surprisingly, jammed to. Her album is an artistic visual masterpiece that will likely go down as a classic in the realm of music video production conceptuality. My fiancé and I watched Lemonade together, and one feeling in particular continuously resurfaced over and over; a feeling of pure awe. That repetitive feeling was expressed often by a combination of words such as: “damn”, “wow”, “whoa”, “no she didn’t”, “oooh”, “that’s my ish” and the occasional, “oh snap”.
Lemonade to me is a monstrously gorgeous masterpiece, that should ever remain an inspiration for progression in music and visual works of all genres. I can foresee more artists doing visual albums in the future, as the success of Lemonade is without doubt. In my opinion the debate is not if, or has Lemonade made an impact on the industry, artistry, and creative expression, but how much of an impact within the latter capacities will Lemonade in fact have going forward. As imitation is an utmost sincere form of flattery, in that respect, Beyoncé may be the most flattered artist of all.
The only constant is change. This is a popular quote from Heraclitus, a self taught pre- Socratic Greek Philosopher. He is the very same wise gentleman who said that no man stands in the same river twice. Under these beliefs one can easily argue that a person is only as valuable in both business and in life as how well he may adapt to, compose, or formulate change. Change is not exactly progression, however progression does in fact always require change. Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all have bear witness in varying degrees of consciousness to a progression in how artists in music creatively and freely express themselves. In what ways do you think TLOP, and Lemonade will effect progress? Maybe we are simply in a place of time where creativity is thriving to the point where music artists will continue to break the ground we all walk on, leaving us ever stepping beyond the metaphoric confines that was simply the street, and walking upon the depths of an earth, all together as one. Or maybe not, who knows.
On an interesting, slightly related, side note: next time you meet a racist person, give them a high five. The high five was invented during a game in 1977 by an African-American, openly homosexual, tough as nails, Dodgers baseball player named Glenn Burke. That way you not only confuse the hell out of them, and look like the most tolerant of individuals, but you get them to unknowingly celebrate the achievements of a black gay guy. So in the spirit of Beyoncé currently selling “Boycott Beyoncé” tee shirts, let us not only progress in our art forms, but collectively progress our thinking and actions.