This is a guest post written by Ambrielle Moore
“If you don’t understand my record, then you don’t understand me. So this is not for you.”
It’s been a pivotal, powerful year for black women. This album follows Anti (Rihanna), Lemonade (Beyoncé), and Telefone (Noname). It follows Jesse Williams’ BET Awards shout out. It follows Diamond Reynolds. It follows Solange’s own essay, penned after an experience all too many black women recognized. Most of all, this work follows our country’s ever-intensifying social climate as more black people are killed by law enforcement, and an openly racist, misogynistic millionaire inches closer to the White House. As a black woman, the context of this release feels significant. We needed this album in 2016, a year where, as a collective, it’s become crucial to express (in as many ways as possible) a simple, freeing, unapologetic statement: “I love my blackness. And yours.”
This album–like other black works of art this year–issues a personal narrative that expands a greater story on blackness, bringing to light the depths of our pain and experience rarely seen in the mainstream. Art in 2016 has allowed black people (especially black women) to explore, dissect and express a quiet internal storm that’s been building for some time now. As a conceptual work, then, A Seat at the Table succeeds in depicting a once overlooked but increasingly relevant character: the black woman. It is a complete and detailed exploration of that story, and though I imagine it will be educational to many, it is also a love letter in our own language–it does not pander, nor does it spell out obvious and accepted truths. Solange says quite frankly that this is an album for us, by us (see tracks 12 and 13). There are blanks that as a black woman, you fill in easily. Listening to this album is being in conversation with the artist herself, lamenting a shared struggle. Listening to this work as a young black woman is to be seen.
Other songs on the album, though, are clear messages to non-blacks (from a female black perspective). “Don’t Touch My Hair” is the clearest example when she says, “They don’t understand what it means to be me,” and follows up by equating her hair to a “crown” or “pride,” taking back the dignity and humanity often lost in awkward social encounters with non-blacks who confuse black women with friendly poodles or public property. For the black woman, hair is political and consuming in many ways. It’s not accidental that the cover art for this is a headshot of the artist with hair undone, clips strewn in. It’s vulnerable and purposeful and honest.
Let’s talk about the damn interludes though–because they’re flawless. The excerpts of conversation flow and carry the listener through, bridging gaps between songs thoughtfully. Through these smooth speaking transitions, Solange clearly states that this is a complete aural essay. This album deserves a thorough listen, complete and uninterrupted. A Seat at the Table should come on vinyl or cassette or as one giant song–shuffling a work like this should be sacrilege. Unlike a recent album by another important black visionary, I have zero desire to skip through these excerpts, because they matter and, most of all, they’re just pleasant to the ears. You don’t have to overthink them as they’re curated and direct, feeling more like source material introducing or expanding the adjacent tracks. With these clips, Solange proves her attention to detail and her penchant for easy, organic storytelling.
The best part about A Seat at the Table, though, is Solange’s pervasive calm. As the tracks progress, what is, admittedly, her signature and evolving aesthetic starts to feel like a purposeful critique of the angry black woman stereotype. The Mad Black Woman archetype is enforced by memes and movies which make light of her. There exists a whole world of reasons black women have to be angry, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That goes double for black women. If Lemonade embraces the spirit of that anger and that life by reclaiming it–smashing car windows and getting in formation–then A Seat at the Table subverts it. “Mad,” which may be my favorite track, is the best example of this, where a grooving slow tempo carries Solange’s high angelic voice as it delivers truthful frustration. She repeats, “I got a lot to be mad about,” carefully and calmly stating a fact modern black women rarely allow themselves to admit in mixed company. In predominantly white spaces, where many of us function on a daily basis, black women feel a pressure to avoid being labeled an angry black woman, and thus overcompensate with saccharine obedience. If you’ve ever been the black girl in an office, or classroom, or concert, then you know exactly what she means when she finishes the track:
I ran into this girl, I said, “I’m tired of explaining.”
Man, this shit is draining
But I’m not really allowed to be mad.
This track applies to a feeling of “other” and a feeling of exclusion and a pressure to be the opposite of what people expect of you. She drops this truth bomb about the number one black girl frustration, but delivers it with this slow, beautiful cadence and a damn near chilling Weezy verse.
While “Mad” portrays the stifled anger of a black woman, “Cranes in the Sky” breaks down another archetype in the Strong Black Woman. It is a role we are expected to fill as well, an unfair responsibility to provide strength for others–black men, children, bosses and friends. Think of the black best friend in any TV show. Think of every black woman who has to speak about the death of her child or husband in another shooting. Think of the often portrayed black matriarch working as a maid or cook. Black women are expected to be strong in the face of their own struggles and everyone else’s too. Cranes in the Sky could be in response to any myriad of heartbreaks, a romantic loss, a general feeling of exclusion, another televised death. It exposes the vulnerable playbook of coping mechanisms that Solange employs in the face of her own everyday trials. Her strengths fail, and no matter the medium, her melancholy persists. If a Knowles can admit the cracks in her armor, perhaps other strong black women can find solace in a strength that wavers. Instead of being “a strong black woman that don’t need no man,” A Seat at the Table gives us permission to be human in the various ways that somehow seem to exist for everyone else.
I think that’s what this album does so well. Solange dismantles the many myths black women share by humanizing our struggle, celebrating our magic, and building up our beauty.
-Written by Ambrielle Moore
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.
Today is my 24th birthday. The significance in this year is that it’s my year of the Black Mamba. This has absolutely nothing to do with music, but not much needs to be said other than the fact that both Frank Ocean (finally!), and Young Thug dropped new albums this month. Check out Best of August, as well as, Best of July below!
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?
We’ve officially reached the halfway point of 2016. We’ve heard from Chance The Rapper, Drake, Kanye West, Rihanna, and plenty more. However, we still have yet to hear from Frank Ocean. This upsets me, but we’re getting close. He teased his release a few days ago. In the meantime, the SunsetFam has put together one hell of a playlist for you to vibe out to with our favorite cuts (so far). Follow the playlist on Spotify, and we can’t wait to let you know our favorites from 2016 in December!
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.
Brooklyn-based nRCS has the perfect new single to get you ready for summer’s first major weekend, and we’re proud to premiere it here on Sunset. Produced by Sunset favorites and synth pop stalwarts Memoryy and Brothertiger, “Run Through the Rain” is a warm, gooey pop anthem that sounds like the closing track from your favorite inspirational movie.
Warm, gooey synths and cavernous drums give the track an anthemic quality; it’s part Bleachers, part Passion Pit. The song is endearing and earnest, the musical embodiment of a summer romance. It even breaks down for a few bars into a drums-and-vocals only hook that is sure to get your blood pumping.
nRCS has a six-song EP coming out soon, and it’s sure to be a rotation staple for the warm months ahead.
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.