Podcast: Talking Lauryn Hill, Frank Ocean with Cole Cuchna of Dissect

As The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill turns 20, Cole Cuchna has launched a new mini-series on the classic album for his massively successful Dissect podcast. Cuchna joins Kiel Hauck to reflect on the album and its influence before delving into the work of Frank Ocean, as covered in season 3 of Dissect. Cuchna also shares details about his process when examining music and discusses how empathy continues to play a key role in his work. The two also converse on the future of podcasting and how the medium as continued to evolve in recent years, attracting even more invested listeners. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Twenty One Pilots are one of the biggest bands on the planet. I’d say it’s been that way since they released Vessel in 2013, although maybe that’s because I found them during that album cycle. Either way, I’m unironically and unapologetically obsessed with them.

I was just as excited as everyone when I saw their social media go dark. A little sad, sure, because Blurryface was such a good album and really marked when the band gained the most acclaim. 2015 was a great year for Twenty One Pilots.

You can buy or stream Trench on Apple Music.

So, let’s get into Trench. As themed as everything had seemed leading up to the album’s release, there are only a couple of instances where the concept of Trench as a physical place and the bishops we saw in the “Jumpsuit” video are brought to life. To me, Trench seems to be the new incarnation of Blurryface from the last album.

Per the usual, the band continues to create new standards for how good an album’s production can and should be. I think that what makes Twenty One Pilots who they are isn’t the band as a concept. It’s the members. The band’s incarnation, in a sense, changes with each album. What is always consistent, though, is how Tyler and Josh treat the art they’ve created — with reverence and ingenuity. They’re obsessed with moving higher and higher up the creativity ladder and it’s paying off. My favorite example of this on Trench is “Pet Cheetah”.

There’s only one pitfall to this album for me: they built it up as having a continuous storyline and created a narrative that, when listening to the album as a whole, doesn’t really come out for me. It worked for the singles they released, but it does kind of jump around a little bit. To be fair, perhaps I just haven’t spent enough time with it — it isn’t even a week old — but it seems a little rollercoaster-y.

I’m not going to get into favorite tracks here because there are 14 total songs on the album and they’re all good in their own way. TOP has found a formula with how their albums are laid out and this one is no different. There are tracks that are significant changes of theme in their discography here, though. Somehow, they’ve become bolder — how they talk about mental illness in “Neon Gravestones” and how Tyler addresses faith in the final track “Leave the City”.

I do want to touch on “Legend”. Written for Joseph’s deceased grandfather, this song is intensely meaningful in a way the band has never touched on. We see vulnerability about mental health and other personal issues everywhere in music, but nothing could compare to how I felt when I heard the last couple of lines: “Then the day that it happened / I recorded this last bit  / I look forward to having / A lunch with you again”.

I’ve touched on the loss of my own grandmother in other contributions for the site but nothing really hit so close to home as this line when it comes to bringing back that feeling. I get it.

I’m sure they wouldn’t want to admit this, but fame has changed Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. They have a different attitude with this album cycle than the last. It’s not necessarily a negative change, but it’s still evident. They’re more protective over the thing they’ve created — and I think they have every right to do so.

By now I’m sure you’ve guessed that I really like Trench. It’s continuously original and interesting, and they’ve brought up new views to the topics they’ve proven to be passionate about in their past offerings. Trench is a masterpiece. They (again) topped an album that didn’t seem top-able. Take some time to digest this album; I think there’s a lot we can glean from it.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Podcast: Another Summer of Drake

Drake is back with another mammoth collection of songs, just in time for Summer 2018. On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck talks with Drake fans Lowell Bieber and Chris Waflart about Drake’s triumphs and misfires on list latest album, Scorpion. They also break down Drake’s massive catalogue of songs, ranking some of the best (and worst) and dissect Drake’s continuing cultural cache. Listen in!

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What tracks compose your Drake playlist? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

Tha Carter III is truly a hip hop time capsule, memorializing extreme highs and lows of the genre. The sixth studio album from Lil Wayne would prove to be his best, showcasing the lyrical acrobatics that made him one of the most revered rappers of a generation. Unfortunately, it also displays an unmistakable misogyny and homophobia that plagued the genre for decades.

One of the greatest albums of our lifetime also serves as a stark reminder of how far we’ve come in just 10 short years, and how much further we have left to go.

You can buy Tha Carter III on Apple Music.

Tha Carter III is littered with hits and distinctive moments that make it impossible to forget, but perhaps the reason the music still stands so vivid is because of Lil Wayne himself. Coming from the projects of New Orleans, Wayne began his path to stardom at a young age as a part of Cash Money Records’ rise to power in the late 90s. In the matter of a decade, Wayne had blossomed into a star full of personality and humor, reaching the peak of the cultural zeitgeist by the time of the album’s release. By the summer of 2008, Lil Wayne was larger than life.

It’s hard to imagine most artists cashing in on that moment as firmly as Wayne did with Tha Carter III. With a running time of over 76 minutes, the album is a behemoth full of moving parts and voices, but at its core, it’s a celebration. The production is slick, the stylized autotuned vocals drip with bravado, and Wayne’s legendary wordplay is on full display, even if the constant double entendres begin to wear you thin.

No song on the album captures this motif better than “A Milli”, a track about nothing in particular that astounded upon first listen and still seems impossible to comprehend. Rumored to have been recorded in one take as a freestyle, the song quickly took on a life of its own – too winding and crass for radio but a track that you had to share with everyone you knew the moment you heard it. Wayne’s punchline of, “I can turn a crack rock into a mountain” near the song’s end still causes my hands to raise involuntarily just as the ghastly Dennis Rodman line causes me to cringe.

Even with its bloated length, Tha Carter III contains enough entertainment to make the time pass quickly. From the fantastic opening of “Mr. Carter” with Jay-Z to the unforgettable beat of “Mrs. Officer”, the album’s standouts are peppered in between hidden gems. The production on “Lollipop” and “Got Money” is appropriately over the top and drenched in autotune, serving as a glimpse into the world of pop rap in the late aughts. When Wayne manages to slur out on the latter, “I’m a Great Dane, I wear eight chains / I’m in so much ice, they yell, ‘Skate, Wayne!’” it’s an outlandish reminder of the hilariously hypnotic grip he held on listeners with such ease.

In hindsight, Tha Carter III and Lil Wayne’s own brand of over-the-top revelry arrived just in the nick of time. Later that year, 808s & Heartbreak would turn the genre on a dime, ushering in a new era of emotive, existential hip hop, driven by minimalism and dark tones that lasted until Kanye himself teamed up with Jay-Z to Watch the Throne. Perhaps it makes sense that Wayne could never follow that thread, forever cursed with a million dollar smile and a penchant for a life lived at 100.

Instead, he continues as a cultural icon and a living example of a rapper existent on both sides of hip hop’s social journey. While Wayne could never fully deliver an acclaimed follow-up, maybe it wasn’t necessary. Even amidst its growing pains, Tha Carter III helped usher in a new awareness and interest in hip hop on a mass scale, evolving Lil Wayne into a multi-faceted, bonafide star in the process.

How we’ll reflect on the more difficult moments of albums like Tha Carter III, or even albums with a more recent release date, in another 10 years’ time remains to be seen. For now, we learn while we listen and continue to ask questions of the art we love.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Ye, Yeezus, and the Problem of Kanye West

Resident hip hop aficionado Brock Benefiel stops by It’s All Dead to chat with Kiel Hauck about Ye, the latest release from Kanye West. The two discuss their problems with the uneven album, the frustration that comes with Kanye fandom, and what to expect going forward. They also reflect on the five year anniversary of Yeezus and how the album has both held up and proven to be problematic before touching base about Daytona, the new release from Pusha T. Listen in!

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What are your feelings on Ye? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Kanye West – Ye

As I watched the live stream listening party for Kanye West’s eighth studio album Ye, I couldn’t help but focus on the flames.

In the middle of a field in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a crowd of listeners surrounded a large bonfire as speakers pulsed with music. As nightfall fell over the mountainous landscape, the fire’s glow seemed to provide a sense of warmth and comfort amidst the chilly surroundings. Yet as the fire crackled and sparked, I kept wondering how close one could stand before getting burned.

It kind of reminded me of what it’s like to be a Kanye West fan in 2018. If I’m being honest with myself, maybe it’s always felt this way.

You can buy Ye on Apple Music.

At seven tracks and just under 24 minutes long, Ye is almost the polar opposite of 2016’s mammoth-sized The Life of Pablo. It’s focused and concise, and even with its short running time, there’s plenty to dissect. It’s also problematic.

But then again, so was Pablo’s “Famous” and Yeezus’ “On Sight” and Graduation’s “Drunk and Hot Girls” and The College Dropout’s “New Workout Plan” and on and on and on. Kanye’s devil has always avoided the details, sitting in plain sight as we collectively shrugged it away, even if it got more difficult as more time passed.

This time around, the new music comes on the heels of candid support of Donald Trump, the elevation of problematic alt-right commentators, and an avalanche of non sequitur ramblings in the name of free thought, including a disastrous comment about slavery being a choice.

Even in the midst of disgust and heartbreak, a small part of me held out hope that a new album might help correct course or salve wounds. This line of thinking reveals that I have learned little – Ye doesn’t fix anything. It just sounds good.

It takes less than a minute into the album’s second track, “Yikes”, for Kanye to utter the lines, “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me, too / I’ma pray for him ‘cause he got #MeToo’d”. The cringe on my face likely mirrored the one I displayed upon hearing the now infamous Taylor Swift line in “Famous” just two years ago. In both instances, I kept listening because the beat was so good.

And in typical fashion, the production on Ye is something to be admired. But this time, it can’t cover up the flaws, because right now, the emperor truly has no clothes. “All Mine” is reckless in its ideas of women as possessions, and even a genuine attempt by West to address his own misogyny for his daughter’s sake on “Violent Crimes” comes up startlingly short, placing the impetus on North to follow a certain path in order to avoid the pitfalls of a sexist society.

In its best thematic moments, Ye deals openly with Kanye’s battle with bi-polar disorder and thoughts of suicide, and finds him grateful to his wife for not leaving his side amidst his self-created chaos. Like so many Kanye albums, Ye is messy, and in large part, this is what has made his music so approachable, relatable, and powerful. But at 40 years old and deep into his artistic career, is it time to ask for more? Or at least ask for growth in the areas that continue to cause pain and alarm?

There are no easy answers to this and the responses will be varied and deeply personal. On “Ghost Town” Kanye and Kid Cudi team up again, with 070 Shake joining late in the track with a repeated refrain of, “We’re still the kids that we used to be / I put my hand on the stove to see if I still bleed / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free”. There’s a lot packed into those lines and interpretations will differ, but for me, as long as the stove remains hot and the fire still sparks, I’m comfortable putting a little distance between myself and the flames.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Shea Serrano Talks Rap Rivalries and More

In 2017, The Ringer‘s Shea Serrano released his second New York Times Bestseller in “Basketball and Other Things”, following up the smashing success of “The Rap Year Book”. In our latest podcast episode, Shea joins Kiel Hauck to discuss rap rivalries and how competition impacts the genre. Serrano talks the brilliance of Kendrick Lamar, the lasting greatness of Nas, the political power of hip hop and much more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Which rapper will hold the hip hop title belt in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Photo courtesy of Scott Gries/Getty

Podcast: Kanye West Bracketology

March Madness is here, which means lots of buzzer beaters, upsets, and, of course, endless arguments about the best Kanye West songs. Wait, what? After Kanye Madness goes viral, Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel sit down to parse through the Kanye West bracket and break down the various match-ups in hopes of finding Kanye’s best song. The two also share their thoughts on why the bracket blew up the internet and what it means about Kanye’s cultural relevancy in 2018. Listen in!

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You can view the full Kanye Madness bracket below. Which track won your bracket? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Kendrick Lamar Shines Once Again on “Black Panther: The Album”

Like millions of others this past weekend, I made my way to the movie theater to take in “Black Panther”, a truly beautiful film. There’s no questioning the cultural significance of Black Panther’s arrival on the big screen, and although the long wait for such a film was absurd, it’s exciting and satisfying to see director Ryan Coogler and the cast handle the story with such care and power.

You can buy Black Panther: The Album on iTunes.

The track record of everyone involved in the film is one of excellence, so in many ways, it was delightfully fitting when Kendrick Lamar was announced to be handling the soundtrack earlier this year. The single that proceeded the release, “All the Stars” featuring SZA, was an immediate jam and set the stage for what was to come.

While I can’t say I’ve ever written about a soundtrack, I felt compelled to comment on Black Panther: The Album because it is easily my favorite release of 2018 so far, it’s another brilliant chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s ongoing dominance, and it speaks to the strength and beauty of the hip hop community to surround this film with a release of such magnitude.

After a few spins, I texted resident hip hop aficionado and podcast regular Brock Benefiel to question whether Kendrick might unexpectedly be vying for another hip hop title belt. While there’s no comparing Black Panther: The Album to recent solo releases like DAMN. or To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s certainly something to be said regarding Lamar’s gravity to draw in such a stellar supporting cast and his vision for a truly important project.

From The Weeknd to Vince Staples to Future to Jay Rock to Khalid to SZA, the album is unrelenting in star power and everyone’s voice shines. While the collection is meant to accompany the movie itself, and the placement of key songs within the film is excellent, it’s a compilation that stands alone just as well. It’s a soundtrack that could have been released under the guise of an unattached one-off project and its impact would still have felt relevant.

In early 2016, while we were all still digesting the scale and impact of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick dropped Untitled Unmastered, a collection of unreleased songs that was met with immediate praise. Black Panther: The Album feels similar in a way – an unexpected but fully wonderful release that keeps Kendrick well in the zeitgeist and continues to solidify his status as an all-time great.

But perhaps even more important is that the soundtrack speaks to the great strengths of the hip hop community and why its music and voice are so vital.

Ryan Coogler knew full well the importance of this soundtrack and likely had little hesitation in handing the project to Kendrick Lamar. It’s a soundtrack of powerful black voices making a statement that couples well with the film while speaking to the heart of the genre. Whatever hip hop has in store for 2018, Black Panther: The Album was a truly unforgettable start.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Who Won the 2017 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss who won the hip hop title belt in 2017 (surprise, it’s Kendrick). The duo also reflect on newcomers and movers and shakers in the genre that shaped the year, while looking ahead to predict what might come to pass in 2018, including possible albums from Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What hip hop albums are you looking forward to in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck