KennyHoopla – Discovering Magic By Accident

One of the things I miss the most in the world is being new to music, walking into a Best Buy and buying an album because the album caught my eye, as though preordained by a cosmic power. Since I did this nearly 20 years ago (Jesus Christ, I’m old) to discover Copeland, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Early November and The Used, among others, it’s a practice that has been more or less extinct for more than a decade.

Today, KennyHoopla appeared to me as if sent by fate. In a YouTube channel curated with mostly stand up comedy, anime and video game highlights, KennyHoopla caught my attention in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time—with an image.

The thumbnail for the live version of his single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” shows the artist passionately clutching the microphone, shouting into it. The emotion of the thumbnail stood out on its own like a painting on the wall. I was utterly drawn to him. You can see it below.

As is, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is an electrifying new wave infused rock song. The live video features KennyHoopla raging to the sound of a drumset and a single guitar, commanding attention with the energy of Bruno Mars and the flare of AFI’s Davey Havok. His voice crackled with an intensity that hovers between grunge and soul, finding a perfect mixture of graveled purity. Within 30 seconds of the song ending, I needed to hear more.

As a single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is phenomenal. As an EP, How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway is magnificent. The album mixes elements of new wave, punk, pop, R&B and emo from a lost age. The result is something that feels organic and inspired within almost any genre. KennyHoopla is the result of smashing the YeahYeahYeahs and Bloc Party together.

The EP sizzles with honesty, such as in the slow synth embedded “dust//”, a song The Postal Service would envy (“And this anxiety, It creeps into my home / This is really all my fault / Is this really all my fault?”). Although the EP revels in feelings of inadequacy and doubt, there is a sensationalism to it as well (“Well I’ve seen the stars and they look like us”).

A picture demanded I listen to a song today. A picture delivered me an artist I am absolutely enraptured with. Somehow sounding simultaneously vibrantly fresh and from a lost age of music, it seems incredible that an artist like this would only just now appear with this much potential. With so many ways to discover new music over the last couple of decades, it’s sobering and enlightening to know that an image can still convey everything you want and hope for in an artist.

The fact that KennyHoopla isn’t already a mainstream name is a crime. The wait until he is, though, will be well worth it.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and dreams of the deep drawl of Kelsey Grammer telling him nice things about the world.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Unlike most bubblegum pop acts, Katy Perry has managed to stay newsworthy throughout her entire career thus far. Whether we’re talking about her joyous pregnancy and pending marriage to Orlando Bloom, or cringing at her Twitter defense of Ellen, Katy has kept our eyes focused on her since 2007. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to talk about Teenage Dream, which turns 10 this week.

You can buy or stream Teenage Dream on Apple Music.

In 2010, I was trying my hardest to be an emo kid, so the pop stations were an absolute no-go for me. And yet, I couldn’t escape “California Gurls”. Try as I might, it was stuck in my head and its upbeat tones serenaded my every step. Ugh. I put in my headphones and played some Fall Out Boy, trying to keep my ears pure and free from the forbidden world of “mainstream music.” Obviously, since I’m writing this now, it didn’t work. With five singles from Teenage Dream topping the Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry and her cotton candy-laced universe was here to stay.

If you took a listen to our podcast about the most important albums of the last decade, you’ll see that I find Teenage Dream the most influential album of 2010. With an aura of positivity and escapism, it ushered us into a new age of pop music where anything was possible — even a gauche anthem to the dick pic (“Peacock”). But the songs that didn’t make it to radio are really what I want to talk about today.

The first track that we don’t recognize immediately is “Circle the Drain”. It’s arguably one of Perry’s most serious songs. Supposedly this one is about Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame, but really, it’s an anthem for anyone who has watched someone they love take the dark path of substance abuse. She sings, “Can’t be your savior / I don’t have the power”, and eventually has to walk away. She tries to be scathing, but the song still comes across as desperate and hopeless. It’s one of the best tracks on the album.

The album really does highlight Katy’s battle between moving back to her ultra-spiritual background and Katy Hudson days, and reveling in her new-found fame. We go back and forth in the second half with her about whether she’s made the right decision in her career and personal life, (“Who Am I Living For?” and “Not Like the Movies”) and a look back at how her upbringing affected her self esteem (“Pearl”). 

The journey we go on with Katy is not only like the candy coated road she skips along in the “California Gurls” video, it’s full of questioning and wandering. I feel that’s one of Katy’s biggest strengths, even in later albums. She has found the balance between satisfying the hungry music exec’s needs for radio-worthy pop, and saying what she truly wants to. Teenage Dream wasn’t just an album for 2010’s summer. We shouldn’t take her advice of “Don’t ever look back,” because the singles provided us with one of the most carefree seasons in music we’ve known, but the more serious tracks on the back half of album tell us how much truth Katy had to offer the world.

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.

Review: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

If you were to frequent our website back when we launched in 2013 and suddenly return today after a long absence, you likely wouldn’t recognize the place. Seven years ago, I certainly wasn’t predicting that Carly Rae Jepsen would crack the top five on our Best Albums of the Decade list and had no idea how much the music of Kendrick Lamar would change the way we pondered about great art. But I’d say it’s inarguable that we’re infinitely better for the evolving and diverse tastes of our writing staff.

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

In so many ways, It’s All Dead’s emergence unexpectedly coincided with the scene’s slow decline, capped by Warped Tour’s last gasp. Yes, the music is still around, but the community we once knew has become a shell of itself. There are both positive and negative outcomes of that dissolvement, and personally, it’s been a while since guitar-driven music held much interest for me, anyway. So we’ve worked to create an open-door community that might pique the interest of any sort of music lover.

But even as the winds have changed, there are still traces of the scene in my blood, and it’s something I’ve felt quite vividly since discovering Stand Atlantic. As strange as it feels to lose myself in a pop punk band in 2020, I can’t speak highly enough of Pink Elephant.

When the Sydney, Australia, act entered our purview with their Sidewinder EP just three years ago, it was hard to find any space left for a band of their ilk, no matter how much promise those early recordings held. But as the scene they entered began to board up its doors and windows, Stand Atlantic found a way to construct something new.

Upon hearing early singles like “Hate Me (Sometimes)”, I thought maybe it was nostalgia that was tickling my ears. But as the slow rollout of the band’s sophomore album took shape, I found myself drawn to the way the band so effortlessly morphed their sound into something so uniquely…them.

Vocalist Bonnie Fraser began developing a knack for self-exploration on Skinny Dipping, the band’s 2018 debut. In just two short years she’s become one of rock’s most fascinating songwriters, weaving metaphor and painfully literal musings within these 11 tracks that seem to change pace to whatever vibe she’s seeking.

Album opener “Like That” captures the band’s newfound blend of pop and aggression with the kind of begrudging indifference to falling apart that so many of us seem to feel these days. Fraser brings down the house on the track’s post-chorus with the lines, “Crushing bones, I don’t know / My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that”.

Pink Elephant moves at a relatively fast clip and is so hook-laden that you sometimes need to pause to avoid missing the more intricate moments. When it does shift pace, as it does on “Blurry”, the album blossoms into something that usurps the pop punk label. An alt-rock track with electropop influences, “Blurry” is a dark ride that showcases all of the ways this band is unique from their peers. “Clutching weapons while we’re sleeping / Got me bleeding like I mean it / It’s just enough to keep me blurry”, Fraser seethes across the bridge, backed by sparking synthesizers. What sounds like a trick out of CHVRCHES’ playbook feels fresh and new when the drums kick back in to drive the chorus home.

Similarly, “DWYW” blends a brooding darkness with syrupy pop melodies, while somehow side-stepping the genre expectations the band leaned into on their debut. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wavelength”, I can feel Miki Rich’s bass line rattling my rib cage from two stages away on a hot day at Warped Tour. But those are the ghosts that flutter throughout Pink Elephant to draw you in before shoving you in the chest with an unexpected turn. “I know I’ve always said I’m not a saint / So I’m gonna push you to the floor”, Fraser breathes on the opening seconds of the track before the wall of sound hits.

Stand Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing with this album, and it works in every way it’s meant to. It speaks volumes to the band’s growth that when they strip everything away but a piano and Fraser’s vocals, as they do on “Drink to Drown”, that the songwriting truly shines in the most beautiful and painful of ways. Fraser and company seem to have every intent on carving their own path forward, scene decline be damned.

So here we are, nearly 800 words deep on a review of an album that I never expected to impact me in 2020 in the way that it has. In nearly 15 years of writing, I’ve doled out perfect score reviews at a snail’s pace that still numbers in the single digits. But whatever. Fuck it. This is the album I needed right now and I can’t think of anything I would change about it. 

5/5

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Hanif Abdurraqib Talks 68to05 and Musical Influence

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio, who has recently launched a new project called 68to05 in which he pinpoints the arc of years that made him the music listener and lover he is today. Hanif joined Kiel Hauck on the latest episode of It’s All Dead to discuss the project and how he is tracing his musical influence and lineage forward and backwards. He also discusses the ways in which music education in America is flawed and what we lose when black artistic influence is erased or forgotten. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

You can find more of Hanif’s work at his website: Abdurraqib.com.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Underoath Observatory Kicks Off with “Lost in the Sound of Separation”

I attended a concert on Friday. Sure, I wasn’t standing front row in a sweaty venue, camera in tow, earplugs in place, absorbing the experience amidst a sea of other fans. But I still enjoyed every second.

Underoath, who recently completed a live-streamed Twitch series breaking down each of their albums, have begun a string of three shows on consecutive Fridays titled Underoath Observatory. Each show will explore one album in its entirety. The event kicked off with Lost in the Sound of Separation and will be followed by Define the Great Line on July 24 and They’re Only Chasing Safety on July 31.

Aaron Gillespie (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

This experience was obviously a no-brainer for me. Although I’ve seen the band live nine times, I never turn down another opportunity if it’s within driving distance. And this Friday’s performance of Lost in the Sound of Separation – my favorite album from my favorite band – is something I’ve been waiting on for a long time.

Two years ago, on the album’s 10th anniversary, I pondered why the album hasn’t been given a fair shake alongside Define and Safety since the band’s reunion. I was fortunate to see Underoath during their headlining tour for Separation in 2008, but even then, several key songs from the album (including my favorite, “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine”) were left off the playlist. Having the chance to see the album performed in whole, filling in the gaps on my “Underoath Songs I’ve Seen Live” bingo card, was something I couldn’t pass up.

Spencer Chamberlain (screengrab by Twitter user @jmcjmc451)

The band has long been heralded as a great live act, putting more effort than most into their on-stage production. Seeing Underoath live is more than just seeing the six members perform on stage. Each tour is like its own piece of performance art. And in typical fashion, the band has spared no effort in this endeavor. Thankfully for fans, so many musicians have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to explore live-streamed performances, but Underoath Observatory is on another level.

From the lightning to the camera work to the fantastic quality of the sound production, Friday night’s performance felt every bit like experiencing the band up close and personal (minus the sweat and ear-ringing). Each track felt special, but seeing the band explore songs never performed on stage was a delight. The liberty the band took on album closer “Desolate Earth: The End is Here” may have been a highlight.

But then again, it’s hard to pick one moment. About an hour after the stream ended, the rendered video from the performance was put online for ticket-purchasers to re-visit. Without hesitation, I poured myself another drink and relived the experience again.

In times like this, we savor every opportunity we can find to cherish our favorite music. It’s not lost on fans how important it is to support the artists we love who have lost their ability to make a living on the road. If you’re a fan of Underoath (or heavy music, in general), you can still grab tickets to the next two performances at UnderoathObservatory.com. And don’t forget to snag a vinyl copy of one of the three albums.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Surviving Summer 2020 with Stand Atlantic

As we’ve noted repeatedly these past few months, Summer 2020 has shaped up to be…not good. Not good at all. No summer concerts. No summer road trips. Just a cycle of sickness that could be broken if we could all show just an ounce of responsibility (please wear a mask, for the love of god).

But as we’ve also noted, one beacon of light these past few months has been the onslaught of incredibly good music that has lifted our spirits and kept us company. Summer has always been a season I associate with some of my favorite music memories. It’s hard not to get an itch for Warped Tour around this time each year, or reflect on those summer drives with friends when we blared our favorite pop punk bands from the speakers.

And even though the vast majority of this summer will be spent indoors and separated from friends and family, I’ve found more than a hint of seasonal solace in the form of Stand Atlantic.

The Australian pop punk act has been on my radar for a few years, but I haven’t given them the attention they deserve. The band, fronted by vocalist Bonnie Fraser, released their debut full-length album, Skinny Dipping, in 2018 on Hopeless Records. Next month, they’ll release a follow-up in the form of Pink Elephant.

If the first five songs the band have released are any indication, Pink Elephant is unlikely to leave my rotation for the duration of 2020. The recently-released “Jurassic Park” features the kind of sugary-sweet chorus that hasn’t invaded my ears since the summer of 2007 when All Time Low dropped “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. If Warped Tour was taking place in 2020, at least half of us would be sweat and sunscreen-stained t-shirts featuring the words “Dancing with ghosts in your garden”.

The crazy thing is, “Jurassic Park” may not even be the best song from Pink Elephant so far. That title goes to “Hate Me (Sometimes)” which successfully hits every winning note in the pop punk playbook while still sounding fresh as hell. But then again, it’s hard to argue against “Wavelength”, with its synth-driven verses and rattling bass line from Miki Rich. And what about “Drink to Drown” – a track that sounds like the best Mayday Parade ballad put to tape?

I guess what I’m saying is that I cannot wait to play this album all summer long, even if this summer blows. And I’ll never get tired of the feeling of finding a new band that captures my attention in a way that engulfs me. Those kinds of moments are the reason I started this site, and I’m hopeful that we can all experience a few in this interim period before we congregate once again to sing along to our favorite new songs in unison.

You can pre-order Pink Elephant here.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Haim – Women in Music Pt. III

“I know alone and I don’t wanna talk about it”, sings Danielle Haim on the bridge of “I Know Alone”; one of many highlights across the 13 tracks of Women in Music Pt. III. It’s a line that resounds for anyone that knows the kind of depression that Danielle and her sisters Alana and Este spend time processing throughout their third full-length album. It’s a line that feels poignantly un-forced and authentic – one of the great strengths of the band.

You can buy or stream Women in Music Pt. III on Apple Music.

But for all their ability to translate those feelings in such relatable words and sounds, this third offering from Haim has so many other notes to play. Make no mistake – Women in Music Pt. III is easily the band’s darkest offering, but the way in which it gets playful and creative in those valleys is what truly sets them apart.

Haim caught my attention with their 2013 debut Days Are Gone, largely for the way in which they seemed to be winking at the camera in the subtlest of ways. The video for my favorite track from that album, “If I Could Change Your Mind”, seems to find the band blatantly leaning into common visual tropes for female-fronted pop music without ever feeling like you’re supposed to laugh at the joke. The same could be said of this current album title.

And maybe laughter isn’t the right response anyway. On the stripped-down “Man from the Magazine”, the band explores the ways in which the industry at large has treated the trio (and assuredly so many other women). “Man from the music shop, I drove too far / For you to hand me that starter guitar”, Danielle sings on the same track that ends its chorus with, “You expect me to deal with it / ‘Til I’m perfectly numb / But you don’t know how it feels”.

Even the booty call intro of “3 AM” feels perfectly douchy, coupled with lines like, “But I’m picking up for the last time”, delivered with an inferred, resigned sigh. The track crackles with R&B influence not felt this robustly since “My Song 5” from the band’s debut.

The creativity in which Haim explore these myriad themes across Women in Music Pt. III is why you could argue it as the band’s best work. The glitchy electronics of “I Know Alone” sound fresh and moody. The sliding guitar work of “FUBT” rightfully comes to the front of the mix, at times covering Danielle’s vocals. 

Other tracks like single “The Steps” and “I’ve Been Down” are driven by the jangly, folk-rock guitars that occupy the band’s wheelhouse and feel familiar and inviting in this context. The album meanders sonically from the track to track, just as its lyrics spill across subjects, much like a 45-minute session with your therapist.

It’s the kind of imaginative songwriting that felt missing from Something to Tell You, the band’s long-awaited 2017 sophomore effort. That album showcased the sisters’ uncanny ability to write exceptional songs, but lacked the unique, tongue-in-cheek personality that sets Haim apart from any of their contemporaries. The lack of restraint felt on Women in Music Pt. III is an exciting reminder of what we all felt Haim was capable of upon the release of Days Are Gone.

The fact that such a personal and specific work of art could feel so relatable and intimate to so many, in so many different ways, makes Haim one of the most essential bands of the past decade.

4.5/5

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Anchor & Braille – TENSION

Back in 2014, Anberlin, one of alternative’s most exceptional bands, hung up their guitars and drumsticks. Stephen Christian has some of the most easily-identifiable vocals of the past two decades, and the idea that he wasn’t going to serenade us anymore was a thought I almost couldn’t bear. He hadn’t released anything from his side project, Anchor and Braille, since 2012, and we would have to wait another two years after Anberlin’s end for a new taste of what Stephen had to offer. 

You can buy or stream TENSION on Apple Music.

Fast forward to today, another four years later, and we finally have TENSION. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, TENSION is another pop album. Synthy, 80’s-inspired, romantic – what else could we ask for?

This album is clearly dedicated to Stephen’s wife Julia, as he sings in the first single, “DANGEROUS”. While that could turn some people off, I think it’s cute. It’s sickly sweet, like eating your entire box of candy during the movie previews and having that weird feeling in your stomach for the rest of the two hours, but no one can deny that the honesty is characteristic of an Anchor and Braille album.

Personally, I prefer Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. I feel like that’s because I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of pop music, and TENSION throws us a much lighter vibe. It’s a worthy addition to the Anchor and Braille oeuvre, but it definitely is the beginning of a shift in Stephen Christian’s sound. It’s enjoyable and sure to be a summer drive album, but it doesn’t have the same hard hitting lyrics that Late Night Drive gave us. My favorite track is “Closer and Farther”, which is undeniably the closest we get to a Late Night Drive B-side.

I will always gobble up anything Stephen Christian serves us, but TENSION is very monotonous. It never ends up taking us on the journey that Stephen’s art is so known for. The highs and lows of Felt, and the emotions of Late Night Drive, that we’ve grown to love and expect from Anchor and Braille are missing here.

3.5/5

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.

Run the Jewels Arrive Right on Time with “RTJ4”

It was November 11, 2016. Just days after one of the most disastrous and damaging presidential elections in American history, iconic hip hop crew A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. It was an album 18 years in the making, set into motion in the years prior thanks to the mended relationship of key members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, and largely recorded before Phife’s passing in March of that year.

That album was a moment. Less a celebratory victory lap for one of the genre’s most revered acts and more a statement of resistance in the aftermath of the election. Even now, tracks like “The Space Program” and “We the People…” feel as though they were penned on that dreadful Tuesday night. How was it possible for Tribe to have such foresight?

You can buy or stream RTJ4 on Apple Music.

Because foresight wasn’t required. Donald Trump’s election was just another sad, terrible moment in a country whose history is filled with the marginalization, oppression, and blatant hatred of people of color. The members of Tribe didn’t need a new reason to speak that truth.

I couldn’t help but think of that album this week upon the release of RTJ4, the fourth studio release from hip hop duo Run the Jewels. The album arrives with the country in disarray and protests taking place in every major city over the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and quite literally countless black lives at the hands of a system that devalues them. RTJ4 sounds hand-crafted for this moment in time.

It was last Saturday that Killer Mike spoke during a press conference with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an unscripted and powerful moment that captured the attention of the country. It’s the kind of speech you would expect a leader to give – the sort of thing that is in short supply these days. By Wednesday, in the words of Run the Jewels themselves, “Fuck it. Why Wait?” RTJ4 was here.

I didn’t make it through the first track before I had to pause and compose myself. “Yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” begins with the sort of fictional, fantastical banter that sometimes backdrops Run the Jewels’ music, adding moments of levity between the weight. The track itself is punishing, highlighted by its rapid-fire drum beat and rattling bass line. Mid-way into the track, Mike drops the kind of verse that makes time stand still:

“I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside
I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes
Chose the latter, it don’t matter, it ain’t suicide”
And if the news say it was that’s a goddamn lie
I can’t let the pigs kill me, I got too much pride
And I meant it when I said it, never take me alive”

Before you can digest those lines, El-P enters the scene with humor, jerking us back into this getaway episode, spitting, “I got the Grand Nat runnin’ in the alley outside / Now, Michael, run like you hungry and get your ass in the ride”. It’s a textbook Run the Jewels moment, but this week, it hits harder than ever before.

The same applies to “walking in the snow” featuring another heartbeat-skipping moment as Mike alludes to the last words of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 by New York City police. His verse now lands hauntingly in the wake of George Floyd:

“And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’”

Jesus. And he’s not done:

“And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy”

I could go on, diving in on tracks like “JU$T” featuring Pharrell and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, which features the repeated cry of, “Look at all these slave masters”, but you get the point. While this past week has served as a wake-up call (hopefully) for so many white and privileged people across the country, the stories of George Floyd and Breona Taylor are nothing new for the black community. Albums like Thank You 4 Your Service and RTJ4 feel so in the moment when they arrive because they exist in a moment that never ends.

At a certain point in time as the genre evolved and expanded, hip hop as protest music became a sort of subgenre. But truthfully, protest has always been in rap’s DNA. It has to be. Because black voices are marginalized and maligned today just as they were in the 70s when the genre began to form, and just as they were for hundreds of years prior to that. And while we’d all be wise to listen, maybe it’s time to act, too. Fuck it. Why wait?

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.