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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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.

10 Classic Music Videos Turning 10 in 2018

Even with the days of MTV music video rotation squarely in the rearview mirror, the impact of the music video can still be felt. In 2008, YouTube had become the new gathering place for music fans to experience their favorite bands and artists in a visual way, with music videos garnering tens of millions of views in the blink of an eye.

Taking a look back at some of the videos turning 10 this year, it’s easy to remember a time when we were willing to wait out the annoying buffering to get a glimpse of our favorite bands doing their thing on screen. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2008 and be sure to share some of your favorite music videos from 2008 in the replies!

Panic at the Disco – “Nine in the Afternoon”

Remember how weird it was to hear Pretty. Odd. for the first time? Lead single “Nine in the Afternoon” captured all of that stark strangeness from every angle. Clearly stylized after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Nine in the Afternoon” combines vivid colors, marching bands, archery, and odd uses of vacuum cleaners to create a surreal experience.

Fall Out Boy – “I Don’t Care”

Before the “hiatus,” Fall Out Boy gifted the world with Folie à Deux, an album unappreciated in its time. In the video for “I Don’t Care”, the band’s members embrace their inner bad boy, only to be later revealed as various celebrities and other musicians. In typical Fall Out Boy fashion, there’s more than meets the eye – it’s a satirical look at the caricature of celebrity – and it’s fun as hell.

Kanye West – “Welcome to Heartbreak”

Long before Kanye stole the mic from Taylor Swift or donned a MAGA hat on Twitter, he made a sad album of sad songs called 808s & Heartbreak. One of those songs introduced us to Kid Cudi, whose chorus on “Welcome to Heartbreak” is still just as stellar as it was 10 years ago. The dark, dingy music video matches the vibe and showcases a softer side of a complicated artist.

Anberlin – “Feel Good Drag”

It’s still hard to believe that track 8 from Anberlin’s sophomore album would go on to be the smash single from their fourth album, New Surrender. The year’s biggest rock song is displayed on video in deep sepia tones and captures the sin buried within the song. It’s the perfect video for a breakout from a band that had long ago earned its time in the spotlight.

Hey Monday – “Homecoming”

Long before Cassadee Pope was winner of The Voice and a star country singer, she fronted the pop punk band Hey Monday. The band’s lead single “Homecoming” is captured here in a bowling alley where Pope’s jerk ex-boyfriend is pulling the same tricks with a new girl. Fortunately for her, the band’s power chords save her from heart break. Or something?

Taylor Swift – “Love Story”

In 2008, Taylor Swift was coming into her own and blossoming into aa full-blown star. The video for “Love Story” finds her traveling back in time, petting a horse, and running through a field. Wait a minute, is this video actually good? No, but it’s definitely a time capsule of what 2008 sounded like.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies”

“Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” Need we say more?

Anthony Green – “Dear Child (I’ve Been Trying to Reach You)”

This is such a weird little video, but it fit the quirkiness of Anthony Green, who in 2008 was blossoming into aa full-blown rock star. With Saosin and Circa Survive success under his belt, Green led his solo debut Avalon with this video featuring a variety of animated creatures, along with a scorned ex with…octopus arms? Eh, whatever. It works.

Lil Wayne – “Got Money”

Was there anything more thrilling in 2008 than Lil Wayne and T-Pain robbing a bank in a music video? The answer is no, there was not. Still one of the best autotune pop rap songs of its time, “Got Money” is just about as fun as music videos get, especially Wayne and T-Pain’s adorable shirts displaying “He Sings”, “He Raps”.

Metro Station – “Shake It”

This song is kinda gross and the video is mostly boring. But can you honestly think of 2008 without remembering this track playing in the background of every memory? Damn you, Trace Cyrus and Mason Musso with your whisper verses and over-the-top hooks!

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: 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!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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!

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2018: #1 Chance the Rapper Gives Us a Reason to Smile

Over the past two years, Chance the Rapper has maintained such a presence in the cultural zeitgeist, both as an artist and activist, that it almost feels like Coloring Book just dropped. Chance’s third mixtape still feels just as fresh and hopeful as it did upon its 2016 release, but that won’t stop us from wanting more.

In truth, now is the perfect time for Chance to strike again. His carefree and optimistic demeanor elevate him above the greater hip hop narrative and provide him with a unique voice – one that would be quite welcome as we enter another year. Throw in his passion for social justice and his quest to elevate the voices of the youth, and we might just end up with the album that 2018 needs most.

With his cultural cache at an obvious high, another surprise Chance mixtape might be just the positive fodder the internet needs to distract us from the daily flood of dread. Until then, we’ll just keep pressing repeat on “All We Got”.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #7 Kanye West Returns to the Throne

I’m placing Kanye West on this list knowing full well what history has taught us. The lead-ups to Kanye albums are notoriously mysterious and filled with confusion. I have no idea if Yeezus will bless us with new music this year, and neither do you. But that won’t stop me from clicking down endless conspiracy theory rabbit holes and getting myself excited without a shred of concrete evidence.

Here’s what we do know: Kanye and Kid Cudi’s reconciliation last summer allegedly led the duo to Japan for a private recording session. G.O.O.D. Music teased us with a new and suspiciously blank Soundcloud account at the end of December. Multiple tweets and Instagram posts from involved parties appeared to hint at a New Year’s Eve release, which obviously didn’t come to pass, but then again, when is the last time a Kanye album arrived on time?

Whether we receive a Kanye/Cudi collab, a potential Cruel Winter collection from G.O.O.D. Music, or a full-blown Kanye West follow up to 2016’s The Life of Pablo, odds are, something is dropping early in 2018. Will there be frustrations along the way? Of course. But if it leads to another potential hip hop masterpiece, we’ll deal with the hiccups as they come.

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.

Reflecting On: Kanye West – Graduation

Graduation could easily be considered the weakest of Kanye West’s seven solo albums. That should tell you something about the music of Kanye West. When I want to sit and solemnly reflect on what it means to be a creative human being while wrestling with inner demons, I listen to Kanye’s masterpiece: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. When I have a house party and want to turn the vibe to 11, I throw on Graduation. That should also tell you something about the music of Kanye West.

Graduation is an album meant to be heard en masse, blasted through arena speakers. This is not Kanye’s strong suit. Nevertheless, Graduation is the best example we have of what an arena rap album would sound like, and the unlikely guiding light that provided inspiration for a new generation of hip hop artists.

The most common narrative attached to Graduation is that it hammered the final nail into the gangsta rap coffin. This is true. I, like you, purchased Graduation instead of 50 Cent’s Curtis on September 11, 2007, putting an end to the final gasps of a subgenre that had served a great purpose. In truth, gangsta rap had already received its notice by the time The College Dropout hit shelves in 2004, but because of the faux 50/Kanye beef, Graduation will always be remembered in this way.

But for true fans of Kanye West, this new album was more than just a cultural statement – it was a complete transition from the soul-inspired, backpack rap that permeated his first two records. Graduation is a frenzied party thrown by its creator in celebration of the fame and attention rightly garnered by those first two albums. Graduation is a true pop album, and as such, it includes the best and worst parts of the genre.

When Graduation is at its best, it allows us to roll down the windows, turn up the volume, and lose ourselves in indulgence and excitement (“Stronger”, “Good Life”). When Graduation is at its most thoughtful, it finds Ye digging at shortcomings that would spill into the heavy subject matter of 808s & Heartbreak and Fantasy (“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). At its worst, Graduation devolves into reckless, nonsensical revelry and braggadocio (“Barry Bonds”, “Drunk and Hot Girls”).

With the hindsight of four more groundbreaking solo albums and a lifetime’s worth of controversy and public scrutiny, Graduation appears in a much different light than it did a decade ago. It’s a collection of songs by a man desperate for attention and adoration. It is also a collection of songs by a genius who began to show early signs of an unparalleled ability to tap into the in-the-moment cultural zeitgeist. Graduation was the perfect sound for 2007 – something that is somehow even more obvious when reflecting on it today.

As a pop album, Graduation excels in terms of electrifying production. As a Kanye West album, it finds ways to poke through the strobe lights and inflict us with conundrums. On the opening lines of the bass and synth-heavy “Flashing Lights”, Ye raps, “She don’t believe in shooting stars / But she believe in shoes and cars”. This is a clever nod to an old country song by Don Williams and a hilarious callback to West’s breakthrough smash “Gold Digger”. It is also an indictment on Kanye’s sometimes-fickle fan base.

Throughout Graduation, West creates these moments of sublime juxtaposition, forcing us to involuntarily dance as he wryly drops knowledge. When he turns trivial, well, who cares when the beats are hot? If an album like Fantasy is a lesson in picking up the pieces and evaluating one’s life journey, Graduation is the killer party full of dumb or embarrassing moments that still taught us a thing or two. Moreover, many of the album’s most frivolous themes take on a new light when dissected through the lens of Yeezus.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m glad we have Graduation, with its Daft Punk production, goofy artwork, T-Pain autotune, silly rhymes, and fleeting moments of brilliance. I’m happy because it’s a time capsule that marks a shift in our understanding of hip hop in the mainstream conversation. I’m happy because it continued an unlikely sonic progression in Ye’s career that persists to this day. But I’m mostly happy because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, even 10 years later.

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.