January is the first month of the year. It, quite reliably, presents the opportunity for change — a new year and a new you. Only, this year is a bit different, because, at the tail end of what was a particularly bleak year, we, collectively, lost faith. We lost faith in the system, in each other, and in the ability of new ideas to propagate change. I named the mix We Lost Faith (following the lead of ATL guru Nessly) to elucidate this fact. After all, we can’t combat a problem unless we know what it is. Our generation is one deeply affected by 9/11 and other random acts of terror, the Great Recession, and the most contentious presidential election in the past hundred years. A fundamental lack of faith in institutions is built into our DNA, yet this is clearly a losing point-of-view. We have to regain control of our collective destiny. Thankfully, we live in an era where it is easier than ever to communicate with one another and activate the fellow disenfranchised. So, yes, we lost faith. For a blip on the timeline, we fucked around and elected a megalomaniac into the most powerful office in the world. That… was not the answer, but I am confident we can contain the damage and begin rebuilding our faith.
I’m tryna tell you how it all restarted ’cause of Reagan / You walk out and the cops tryna shoot you like Cary Fagan
NOTE: Original image by Alessandro Ruggieri. Edit and design by Arjun Grover.
It is always exciting when a new president is elected in the United States. Between election day and inauguration day, speculation runs rampant, as the President-elect decides who will run the government with him or her for the next four years. During this time of great intrigue, people begin to get a feel for what their country will look like under this person’s leadership.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump was elected to the highest office in the land. Most people who voted for him did so in the hope that he will institute laws that will work better for them and their family. However, so far, during this transition period before taking office, Trump has put questionable people in positions of power, while tweeting thoughtless lies and failing to properly address the global conflicts of interest caused by his company (He has also suddenly reversed his position on many issues, making it seem like he previously never learned the details of, say, climate change.). Right now, the way his first days as President-elect have gone, it seems like Donald Trump will not work for the people who voted for him or for “all Americans,” as he claims; it seems like he will work only for Donald Trump.
That’s why I named this mix No Mans Land. It is a really, really dumb way of saying that I don’t think Trump is going to be a good president.
These lights sparkle but they might hurt you
NOTE: Original cover image by Natasha Jen.
I recently finished Ashlee Vance’s authorized biography of Elon Musk, CEO/founder of Tesla and SpaceX. The book paints a detailed portrait of an extremely smart and determined man, who cares less about making money and more about impacting the world in a positive way. His driving motivator, the one that causes him to work most hours of the day, is to make humankind a multi-planetary species and to give us the tools to shift our energy consumption to clean energy. The idea of working toward a larger goal, such as Elon’s, is fascinating to me: not working to live, not working to make as much money as possible, but, rather, working to improve the universe. And it is not about winning some make-believe competition of who can be the noblest lad in all the land; there’s a fundamentality to it.
We have “x” number of years to live and reproduce →
Our planet has a laundry list of unresolved problems, and our species is confined to it →
So, let’s improve Earth for future generations, while reducing our dependence on Earth (for future generations).
Ironically, I also learned that, with hard work and proper execution, big money often follows such ambitious purpose. There is not a shortage of big thinkers, there is not a shortage of money, but there is a shortage of people willing to assume large risk for an abstract but basic idea.
NOTE: The SoundCloud mix is missing track 12 (“O&D” by Louis Val). Original image by Spencer Tunick.
There have been a lot of weird, laughable moments in 2016 — a lot of overreactions over tweets and the like. A root cause of these reactions is people taking themselves way too seriously. The world is full of big problems, and little things seem to irritate people and consume their daily thoughts. In music, too, you feel people driving themselves crazy with their own seriousness. The reason so many people get into music is, of course, for self-expression, but also to entertain. It is easy to forget that, and important to remind yourself. It’s not that serious. You might want it to be, but it’s really not. Just have fun with it while it lasts.
NOTE: The SoundCloud mix is missing track 4 (“Moon II” by Louis Val) and track 16 (“Movie Screens” by Rory Fresco). Original image by Damon Casarez for NYT.
You may be currently sipping a cocktail in the backyard and tanning your skin away, but we all know the inevitable is coming — the end of summer. I know, it burns our ears too, but let’s not forget all the good times basking in the sun quite yet. We’ve compiled the perfect playlist for your last minute BBQs and days at the park. There are songs literally about summer (Kate Nash), songs that just make you want to get down at the labor day party (Roy Woods, Mac Miller), and some tracks that are simply light and catchy (Big Baby D.R.A.M., Kali Uchis) for those “windows down” car rides. Before you kiss the sun and warmth goodbye, take this playlist for a spin and just live in the summer moment.
I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography Steve Jobs, and in it he describes Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” in which Jobs appropriated reality to fit his own singular focus. It is a tool Jobs used to speak things into fruition and to empower his employees to make the impossible possible. His colleagues often despised his rigorous, borderline irrational demands, but in the end, these high expectations often benefited the final product, and for that, the surviving workers thanked him.
I think anyone with unconventional goals needs to occasionally bend reality to fit his or her vision. You can’t lose grip on reality, but a blind faith supported by hard work seems like a tried and true recipe for success.
This mix is the soundtrack heard upon entering your own reality distortion field. It touches on spirituality and features dancehall sounds with some obvious sounds of digital distortion — just to remind you that you are momentarily dissociated from reality.
Are you working or just wasting your time? Did I mention that you’re still on my mind?
NOTE: This mix was meant to include “Somewhere in Australia” by Louis Val as track 6, but the track was removed from Soundcloud.
Young Thug has long been a divisive character in hip-hop. People complain that he sounds funny, he acts funny, and he dresses funny. We are now a good 2 years (and hundreds of songs) into his meteoric ascension to mainstream consciousness. I felt it was fitting, especially before his rumored name change to No, My Name is Jeffery, to put together the Young Thug ‘Greatest Hits’ so far. Something to finally explain to the Young Thug doubters, who have somehow blissfully ignored all evidence of Thug’s greatness up to this point, definitively why the Atlanta native is rap royalty. Unfortunately, I was not the guy who could adequately put this together. To create the mix and write about what Young Thug means to him, I employed the talents of Sun-Ui Yum, a rising junior at Harvard and an expert on all things Young Thug.
Written by Sun-Ui Yum. Follow him on Twitter here.
I think the first rap song I ever cared about was “Stronger.” The first rap album I ever listened to was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the first rap artist whose every move I followed in as uniquely comprehensively as Twitter push notifications allows for is certainly Kanye West. Watch the Throne is the first album I ever stayed up all night in bed to listen to, and Yeezus is the first album for which I scoured YouTube for live videos of live DJ performances of unreleased songs. I think I knew every word to “New Slaves” months before the album. I’m not sure when that singular fixation shifted away from Kanye West for me, but the moment I realized it came earlier this year, when I couldn’t listen to The Life of Pablo without thinking of Slime Season 3.
I don’t really think it’s fair to make any sort of argument that Young Thug is a better artist than Kanye West – I’m sure there is one somewhere, and almost certainly one that I could formulate, but not one that I could comfortably write and get behind and stay behind, especially as I look at the list of Billboard Hot 100 singles under Kanye West on Wikipedia. What I do know is that Young Thug songs have logged significantly more plays than Kanye West songs in my iTunes, that Young Thug is the reference point around which all other artists rotate for me, and when the rare moment strikes that whatever music I’m listening to doesn’t click and I would almost prefer to be in silence, Young Thug drags me out of the pit without fail.
It has always been a pretty definitive fact that Young Thug can rap circles around people (just listen to how he winds up, then unravels on “Mine”), but it is increasingly clear that he has legitimate, legitimate hits in the arsenal. Kanye West knows, Travi$ Scott knows, Gucci Mane always knew – so does T.I., Usher, and Tinashe. It has also always been pretty clear that Thug has pushed the boundary, and everyone has followed – but we didn’t know that he was pushing those boundaries in 2016 with music that was recorded in 2013. At some point, his new project Jeffery is going to drop under some name. It will likely be the newest music Young Thug has ever recorded and released under a project. While it is clear that Thug is only moving up, it is impossible to predict in which direction he will veer. Will he be a full-blown pop star? A Travi$ Scott that simmers just under the radio radar? A cult hero? That is why this is the most important milestone of Young Thug’s career, a clear demarcation with a before-and-after. Who knows what it will be exactly? You just know it will be good.
Original image by Harley Weir
This mix is inspired by the wonderful Netflix original series Stranger Things and my growing concern that we might be living in its Upside Down World in light of the domestic shootings, international terrorism, and triumphs of Donald Trump in recent months. The mix also features my favorite songs of the past month, so naturally, it leans toward the more optimistic side–more DNC than RNC, if you will.
There are a few political tracks in the beginning. Then, it dips back into the epic love story consistent with most of my mixes (and most music, for that matter). In Stranger Things terms, the first half is fighting the Demogorgon. The second half is the Jonathan-Nancy storyline.
Spoiler alert: Who else was upset that Nancy got back with Steve? Smh, Steve is a tool.
What you gon’ do now that the summer’s over?
Zoe Cartier is an autotune architect from New Orleans who floats over beats and has likely had intimate relations with your girl. Her newest mixtape Enfant Sauvage (that’s French for “wild child”) is a focused, career-altering testimony on sex, drugs, and general savagery.
Alfredo Tirado is an A&R assistant at SONGS Publishing and a manager/A&R consultant at Take & Thrown, which he co-founded with Noah Yoo. Since following him on Twitter, I have come to realize that Tirado is a music biz whiz and a quintessential resource for cutting edge pop music. This playlist, aptly titled “The Shit I Like,” features the stars of tomorrow realized today. Personal favorites discovered on this playlist include “Tell Me” by Mobley, “Episode” by Gallant, Car Seat Headrest, and Radio Eliza – just to name a few.
Clear some time out of your day, scroll through these selections, and you will likely come away with new songs and artists that will stick with you for a long time.
And follow the playlist because it is regularly updated.
Candor is a concept emphasized in Creativity, Inc., a fascinating book written by Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull where he dissects the standards and practices that make Pixar a creatively rich work environment. Catmull posits that candor is “the key to collaborating effectively.” One way of ensuring candor from collaborators is by taking the power to enact change on a project completely away from the one doing the constructive criticizing. In other words, the people offering advice on your project have no say over what changes are implemented. The original content creator maintains full creative control over their work. Candor also requires an openness from the person receiving the criticism. Remember: they are critiquing the work, not you as a person. Ideally, the people offering their candid suggestions are creative problem solvers whom you respect.
Expanding this idea, I would argue that relationships are a form of collaboration, and therefore, candor is essential in any healthy relationship (romantic or platonic). This requires an openness from both people. The problem is that we don’t talk to each other’s faces anymore. We talk to our phones. It is often much easier to chuck your phone in disgust and never respond to someone than actually face an unsavory text head-on. The artists on this tape do not mince their words. It begins with Kelechi offering sage advice on “Advice,” works its way into some mysterious singer feeling sexual on NEIKED‘s “Sexual,” and finally, Brad Bonds avoids getting too involved on “Too Involved.”
Girl you crazy like Harley Quinn, I’m just joking babe, you a ten
Note: This is basically a Tape Tuesday, which is a feature I ended two months ago. The main distinction is that there is no “free download” option, out of consideration for the artists. That is something that wasn’t sitting right with me and felt unfair to the mostly independent musicians being showcased. More generally, music consumerism is shifting away from downloads and ownership into the exciting (and scary!) realm of cloud streaming services. Also, now I have the surprisingly liberating freedom of putting out SoundCloud playlists on any day of the week — not just Tuesdays.
I have been a Spotify user for quite some time now, but just recently I have realized the power of Spotify playlists, particularly the Discover Weekly feature. The issue I have with Discover Weekly is that it is too good. It is so accurate that it doesn’t offer those completely left field selections that surprise me and get me excited about music. To counter this, I had the idea for Spotify Spotlight, a new feature that will highlight playlists by Sunset writers, fellow tastemakers, and artists. These are playlists that I follow that hopefully can inject an element of randomness back into the music discovery process.
The first playlist of this feature is SAD SUMMER SIXTEEN by… me. These are the songs that I am listening to this summer, featuring everything from “Sad Summer” by Yeek to “Summer Sixteen” by Drake. I sequenced the 80+ tracks but would not judge if you throw it on shuffle, especially during long drives or in the shower. I will continue adding to and changing the playlist because much like The Life of Pablo, SAD SUMMER SIXTEEN is a “a living breathing changing creative expression #contemporaryart.”