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Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.
Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.
The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.
The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.
On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”
Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”
The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”
Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”
Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.
Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”
This week's New Music Friday has a new album from a rap legend in Snoop Dogg, a possible legend in the making with Young Thug, and one of the best rap crews with Quality Control, along with projects from shining R&B minds Snoh Aalegra and Bridget Kelly. Look below for the rundown on today's releases.
Snoop Dogg – I Wanna Thank Me
A week after top 50 rap lists circulated online, one of the greatest rappers ever has dropped his new project. After dropping his double-disc gospel LP in 2018, Snoop Dogg is back to what he does best with I Wanna Thank Me, the West Coast legend's 18th (!) studio album. Songs like "One Blood, One Cuzz" (feat. DJ Battlecat)" encourage gang unity, he experiments urbana sounds with "Do It When I'm In It" (feat. Jermaine Dupri, Ozuna and Slim Jxmmi), "Let Bygones Be Bygones" is dedicated to resolving his longstanding issues with Suge Knight, "Countdown" meshes Swizz Beatz adlibs with a classic West Coast sound, (feat. Swizz Beatz), and the title track uses his Hollywood Star acceptance speech to introduce a boastful, self-referential banger. Other guests on the 22-track offering include Slick Rick, Swizz Beatz, YG, Mustard, Russ, Wiz Khalifa, Trey Songz, the Hamiltones, Rick Rock, and RJmrLA. Snoop has spent the last 25-plus years becoming one of the most versatile musical artists on earth, and he tries out a variety of different styles here. He may be making his money in a variety of places, but the music is still consistent. Apple Music | TIDAL
Young Thug – So Much Fun
It's been two years since Young Thug dropped a full-length project, so fans have been foaming at the mouth for So Much Fun. So Much Fun has 19 tracks and features from Future, Gunna, Lil Baby, 21 Savage, Lil Duke, Quavo, Lil Keed, Juice WRLD, and J. Cole and Travis Scott on the previously-released "The London." While Young Thug has been influential in recent years, and nailed appearances with stars like Post Malone, Camilla Cabelo and Ed Sheeran, he has yet to release a definitive record – and this may be his chance to do so. Apple Music | TIDAL
A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats EP
With the announcement of his Yedi Tour with MurdaBeatz and MadeInTYO starting in November, Harlem's A$AP Ferg is giving fans new music to mob to at the shows. The Floor Seats EP is nine tracks long, showcases Ferg at his energetic best, and features appearances by MadeInTYO, Asian Doll, Rico Nasty, A$AP Rocky, Ty Dolla $ign, and Brent Faiyaz. Apple Music | TIDAL
Various Artists – Quality Control: Control The Streets Vol. 2
Atlanta's Quality Control has established itself as one of the strongest crews in music, and Control The Streets Vol. 2 showcases the squad in full bloom. The follow-up to 2018's Vol. 1 includes QC members Migos, Lil Baby, City Girls, 24Heavy, DJ Durel, Duke Deuce, Jordan Hollywood, Kollision, Layton Greene, Stefflon Don, YRN Lingo, YRN Murk and Lil Yachty. Guest features are provided by DaBaby, Gunna, French Montana, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Young Thug and more. With 36 tracks, fans will have plenty to dig into. Apple Music | TIDAL
Curren$y – Hot August Nights
Hip-hop doesn't get more prolific than Curren$y. The New Orleans spitter releases music at a more consistent clip than anyone that's out there, and he's continuing that with Hot August Nights, his third project of 2019. Spitta is as consistent as it gets, so we're expecting no different with this seven-track work. Apple Music | TIDAL
Snoh Aalegra – - Ugh, those feels again
Swedish singer/songwriter Snoh Aalegra, signed to Def Jam and to No ID's ARTium Recordings imprint, has spent the last several years earning a fan base that included the likes of Prince and Drake, who sampled her song "Time" on his record "Do Not Disturb" from More Life. Now, after releasing four singles this year – "You," "I Want You Around You," "Find Someone Like You," and "Situationship" – she's dropping her sophomore album. If the title and singles are any sign, listeners will be in their feels just as much as she is. Apple Music | TIDAL
Bridget Kelly – The Great Escape EP
After her 2018 full-length Reality Bites, New York singer/songwriter Bridget Kelly has released her The Great Escape, a five-song EP with production from Ayo N Keyz and StarchildYezzo. "It's True" sees her professing her love to a new interest, and "Just Playin" sees her looking to apologize to a lover for going overboard in an argument. Apple Music | TIDAL
Kill Em All - Kill Em All
Mach-Hommy is making waves, but the Haitian rapper from New Jersey is an exercise in scarcity: he doesn't reveal his face, and much of his music is only attainable via physical copy for hundreds or thousands of dollars. So when he drops something readily available, his quickly-budding fan base pounces on it. Kill Em All is his second available project of 2019 with DJ Muggs, after Tuez-Les Tous dropped this spring. Expect Muggs' signature brand of sparse, gloomy beats, and Mach's equally dark, conceptual rhymes. Apple Music | TIDAL
Nef The Pharaoh – Mushrooms & Coloring Books
E-40 signee Nef The Pharaoh has released his latest LP, Mushrooms & Coloring Books, using Bay Area sounds and dropping quotables while enlisting guest appearances from the likes of Tyga, Slimmy B, LOE Gino, ShooterGang Kony, Scando The Darklord, Sada Baby, Rexx Life Raj and ALLBLACK.
Apple Music | TIDAL
Normani pays homage to the early 2000s in the new music video for “Motivation,” the first official single off her forthcoming debut solo album. The nostalgic visual, released Friday (Aug. 16), finds Normani going all out in the choreography department, and sporting an unofficial uniform from the turn of the millennium complete with a studded belt, rhinestone belly button ring, and low rise jeans.
The New Orleans native teased the visual all week, and fans have been getting in the spirit sharing throwback trinkets like bedazzled flip phones, and airbrushed sweatshirts. Speaking of New Orleans, the “Love Lies” singer honors her NOLA music roots in the video by way of a jazzy dance break.
Although Normani has been mostly mum about her new music, she did reveal that Ariana Grande helped write “Motivation,” and has been “very supportive” as she embarks on releasing her debut.
“I talk to her about the creative process,” Normani told Rolling Stone. “I’m like, ‘When did you know your album was done.’ She was just like, ‘Honestly, you’ll know. Nobody will have to tell you. You’ll feel it. Just trust your instinct; trust your gut. And listen to that voice inside of you, and it’ll tell you that you’re done. Just take your time, too, and have fun in the process and make sure that it’s something that you love. She’s dope. She also has a part in the record that I’m releasing, too. She wrote on it.”
Watch “Motivation” in the video above.