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Going H.A.M.: A Track-By-Track Review Of The 'Hamilton' Soundtrack

Broadway's new cult favorite Hamilton switches up the script on American history from a hip-hop POV. Chronicling the life of former United States treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton as told by "America now," according to its star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. To ensure that the creators nailed the contemporary storytelling, the show's composer and producer enlisted the help of The Roots' Questlove.

After migrating from Off-Broadway to the Great White Way in August after a very successful run, Hamilton has hosted special attendees like Carmelo and La La Anthony as well as Madonna and President Barack Obama. For those who can't quite make their way to the Big Apple for the two-hour production can also enjoy the sounds of Hamilton with the hefty two-part, 46-track soundtrack.

Here's VIBE's play-by-play of the Hamilton LP.—Monesha Woods

"Alexander Hamilton"
The album's intro song details Hamilton's upbringing and growing pains. The song's booming instrumental, which features dramatic pauses and guitar strings, outlines the various struggles he faced including his mother's sicknesses, his father's departure from his life as well as his relentless desire to be a part of governmental affairs.

"Aaron Burr, Sir"
This track sees the introduction of Aaron Burr, one of Hamilton's closest friends. The song features a subtle reggae vibe as the slow tempo and beatboxing enhances the pair's discussion of their family lives and aspirations over liquor. The track also includes a late introduction of John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Marquis de Lafayette, who meet the duo at the bar. Though their meeting was unlikely, the five men would go on to play significant roles in the Revolutionary War, something the track valiantly sets up.

"My Shot"
The third track is set to an instrumental reminiscent of the '90s as Hamilton, Mulligan, Laurens, and de Lafayette chop it up about their relentless pursuit of success for the rights of all. Despite individual and societal adversities, they detail their plans for victory so that winning is one size fits all.

"The Story of Tonight"
This track features the four friends playing each other's hype man in the name of freedom, something "they could never take away." Hamilton, Mulligan, de Lafayette and Laurens take turns celebrating the special moment of now.

"The Schuyler Sisters"
"The Schuyler Sisters" introduces the trio of sisters, Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, who quickly get the guys hot and bothered. The siblings outline what they;re looking for in a fellow as each of the men tell 'em they have just what they're looking for.

"Farmers Refuted"
The fifth song is a blatant argument as Hamilton goes head-to-head with Samuel Seabury, a loyalist adverse to the American Revolution. As Hamilton digs into the man he says his dog "speaks more eloquently than," listeners are able to take in the quiet yet contemplative instrumental.

"You'll Be Back"
Let King George tell it. His Highness tells his colonists that they will indeed be back as they attempt to leave in pursuit of better things. Though most of the songs on the soundtrack are hip-hop in nature, this one is a sunny, playful take on the airing of grievances in what could be considered Beatles-style.

"Right Hand Man"
The soundtrack returns to its initial 1990s feel as Hamilton details George Washington's need for a ride-or-die while his battle for New York territory runs into a plethora of issues. By song's end, the historic pair meet in an effort to accomplish their different but similar goals.

"A Winter's Ball"
Hamilton & Co. talk shop about bagging women, specifically one of the rich Schuyler sisters. Though these women were told to stay far away from the men, "A Winter's Ball" spotlights the men's fervent belief to get the ladies they desire.

"Helpless"
"Helpless" finds Eliza Schuyler falling for Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's eventual wife does her best Beyoncé impression to detail how he stole her heart as Hamilton pledges to be faithful to his main chick, though he may not have the material wealth she is accustomed to.

"Satisfied"
Angelica Schuyler raps as fast as Busta Rhymes on the LP's eleventh track, bringing flashbacks of her first conversation with Hamilton. Schuyler reveals how wishes she hadn't "sized" him up because she has feelings for him, emotions that are now null and void after he married her sister, Eliza. "Satisfied" is a love song perfect for today's FM rotation with its contemporary feel and lyrical content.

"The Story of Tonight" (Reprise)
Hamilton and his pals celebrate and tease him on his wedding day, pointing out that if Hamilton can tie the knot, they can, too. They also toast to his accomplishments: "No matter what she tells you, let's have another round on us!"

"Wait For It"
Aaron Burr lifts his own spirits up on "Wait For It." After watching his friend, Alexander Hamilton, succeed both professionally and personally, Burr assures himself through song that his time is coming as he sings, "Life doesn't discriminate between the sinner and the saint."

"Stay Alive"
Hamilton tries to boss up while keep his fighting spirit in tact under Washington's command. The track is set to a quiet, methodical beat, which appears to stress the amount of planning that went into each move.

"Ten Duel Commandments"
Here, Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ten Crack Commandments" influences the fifteenth track, that features Hamilton and the crew outlining the rules for battle over a strong percussive beat. Like Biggie, the men exude dominance for their life-or-death duel.

"Meet Me Inside"
"Meet Me Inside" is a very obvious confrontation between Washington and Hamilton as the latter expresses his frustrations over his superior's ability to remain coolheaded and reserved. Known to be rash, Hamilton argues with Washington about a battle that just took place over a hard-hitting beat.

"That Would Be Enough"
Hamilton's now-pregnant wife, Eliza, expresses how appreciative she is to have love, life and family in "That Would Be Enough." The love song features a guitar and piano to support the sweet words Eliza sings to her husband.

"Guns and Ships"
"Guns and Ships" sounds like a nod to classic Eminem song as Hamilton, Lafayette, Burr and Washington discuss the war and the effort that goes into fighting one. It's also the speediest record on Broadway with 19 words per second.

"History Has Its Eyes On You"
The nineteeth track marks a monumental moment for Hamilton as he finally lands his promotion to command by George Washington. To ring in the momentous occasion, Hamilton passionately sings, "History has its eyes on me."

"Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)"
This song chronicles the last major battle of the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Yorktown. Earlier cut "My Shot" is infused in this track over a tough beat, where listeners can hear the perseverance of the soldiers in war.

"What Comes Next"
"What Comes Next" is a King George solo, where he ponders his next move after the last battle of the Revolutionary War has been fought.

"Dear Theodasia"
Burr and Hamilton sing this fatherly ballad to their children, Theodasia and Philip. "Dear Theodasia" gives the dads a chance to reflect on their childhoods whilst contemplating how to be better with their own kids.

"Non-Stop"
Hamilton and crew being back the reggae style for the last song of the first act of the musical. This song chronicles Hamilton's life from war's end to his promotion to Secretary of the Treasury over an instrumental that Bob Marley would probably be proud of.

PART 2

"What'd I Miss?"
The first song of the second act features a hearty welcome for Thomas Jefferson, who had been occupied with his roles as governor of Virginia and ambassador to France. After a much hyped return, Jefferson asks over a 1960s swing-style beat what has taken place since his absence.

"Cabinet Battle #1"
The rap flair makes a comeback in "Cabinet Battle #1." Modeled after a rap battle, the meeting of the minds includes Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison finds the squad trying to devise a plan to attack the financial crisis that is bogging the state down.

"Take A Break"
In this song, Eliza encourages her husband to cool out and spend quality time with the fam. The song is a ballad until their nine-year-old son, Philip, beatboxes to daddy dearest about his likes, dislikes and wants to his father's delight.

"Say No to This"
"Say No to This" is the vivid description of Alexander Hamilton stepping out on his wife. In this song, Hamilton makes it clear that he doesn't want to cheat on Eliza with Maria Reynolds but he can't resist, all over a '90s slow jam, Usher-style. This was considered the first major scandal in United States history.

"The Room Where It Happens"
"The Room Where It Happens" chronicles the Compromise of 1790 as told by Aaron Burr over a snazzy, jazzy beat almost to tease his VIP status: "No one else was in the room where it happened."

"Schuyler Defeated"
Here, the Schuyler sisters take the backseat on politics. Hamilton, his wife and son alongside Burr also go in about the changing political dynamics over a 1970s-styled beat.

"Cabinet Battle #2"
The battle continues on as Hamilton and Jefferson disagree on how to go forward in the war between Britain and post-Revolutionary France. Set to a Harlem Shake-ready beat, the disagreement finds George Washington trying to moderate and diffuse tensions between the two.

"Washington On Your Side"
"Washington On Your Side" tries to get Jefferson charged up by having him look at Hamilton and his relationship with Washington through a hateful lens. The conversation begins with policy issues but quickly branches into personal grievances as the two sing, "It must be nice," for Hamilton to have Washington's support.

"One Last Time"
"One Last Time" is the tale of Alexander Hamilton writing George Washington's address on politics before he resigned as president. Washington sings his heart out about national concerns over a sunny instrumental before he hangs it up "one last time."

"I Know Him"
King George confusingly reflects on Washington's resignation over an instrumental made for happy circumstances, which is the complete opposite of the content in "I Know Him."

"The Adams Administration"
"The Adams Administration" details the chaos that erupted post-George Washington. In the song, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams are viciously arguing over a classical instrumental.

"We Know"
Burr, Jefferson, and Madison accuse Hamilton of financial embezzlement on "We Know," prompted by Hamilton's ex-mistress, Maria Reynolds. The story unfolds over a fast-paced instrumental, as Hamilton struggles to maintain his innocence.

"The Hurricane"
The accusations force Hamilton into a public admission of infidelity with Maria Reynolds. As he reflects on his success, the "Hurricane" instrumental rages on, as a mirror to Hamilton's life.

"The Reynolds Pamphlet"
"The Reynolds Pamphlet" soundtracks the aftermath from Hamilton's proclamation of innocence. Still, the song showcases his vivid admission of a three-year affair with Maria Reynolds as welll as the re-entry of Hamilton's sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler, who trekked from London to support her sister Eliza.

"Burn"
"Burn" is a contemplative ballad sung by Eliza Hamilton as she reacts to her husband's cheating. The sentimental song features Mrs. Hamilton expressing her pain and heartache following the publication of The Reynolds Pamphlet. "By clearing your name, you've ruined our love," she sings.

"Blow Us All Away"
Philip Hamilton is a grown man now and rash like his father. To prove it, he duels with a man, George Eacker, who said some less than positive things about his father. Philip and the man, scheduled to battle in New Jersey, argue over a lighthearted beat as they prepare to throw 'bows.

"Stay Alive (Reprise)"
Philip is talking to his dad in the reprise of "Stay Alive." The sentimental track features the younger Hamilton contemplating his injury over a melancholy instrumental.

"It's Quiet Uptown"
On a hushed instrumental, both Alexander and Eliza Hamilton are grieving their son's death. They reflect on everything that has happened over the course of their lives together as Alexander tries his best to apologize to his wife. "If I could trade his life for mine, that would be enough," Alexander Hamilton said.

"The Election of 1800"
This song discusses the bitter 1800 election that featured Burr vs. Jefferson on the Federalist ballot. Though the election was contentious, the happy-go-lucky beat offers a sharp contrast to their verbal sparring.

"Your Obedient Servant"
"Your Obedient Servant" is an almost facetious depiction of Burr and Hamilton's relationship from Burr's POV. The serious back and forth banter is set to an almost circus-like instrumental.

"Best of Wives and Best of Women"
"Best of Wives and Best of Women" is set to the same melancholy instrumental as "It's Quiet Uptown." The song is simply a conversation between Hamilton and wife Eliza, while showing their improved relationship.

"The World Was Wide Enough"
In "The World Was Wide Enough," Burr and Hamilton battle as planned. It is in this scene that Burr dramatically kills Hamilton after he details how it is that his former friend became his foe while the percussion thumps.

"Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story"
The last song of the play is "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story." Eliza Hamilton steers the song as she reflects on her life, her marriage to Hamilton and their legacy, which includes the opening of New York City's first private orphanage. The song is set to a reflective yet dramatic instrumental as Hamilton's friends and family close the play with the posing of a simple yet deep question, "Who tells your story?"

Listen to the full Hamilton soundtrack here.

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The Narcotic Odyssey Of The Weekend's 'After Hours'

On the cover of The Weeknd’s new album After Hours, the Canadian singer leers at the viewer from above, brandishing a red suit, diamond earrings, and a face covered in blood. It’s an image that suggests Andrew W.K. with a Fairlight instead of a Stratocaster, or the protagonist of Eraserhead if he was aroused, rather than repulsed, by the squirmy sexual thoughts in his subconscious. While the singer born Abel Tesfaye has previously adorned his projects with oblique facial expressions, if he shows his face at all, here it’s clear he’s in the middle of something dangerous, and he’s loving it. After Hours invites listeners to ride shotgun on a hedonistic, nocturnal odyssey, the best Weeknd album yet.

Tesfaye first rose to prominence in 2011 by anonymously self-releasing three mixtapes, later collected into Trilogy by label Republic Records. The early Weeknd projects showcased an irresistible sound that paired Tesfaye’s lean and powerful voice with trap and cloud rap beats, left-field indie rock samples, and unflinching lyrics about sex, drugs, and the hazy overlap between the two. Tesfaye’s sound and subject matter were derided as hipster-baiting “PBR&B,” a short-sighted classification that also latched onto ascendant contemporaries like Miguel, Frank Ocean, and How To Dress Well.

But in the ensuing decade, The Weeknd moved closer to the pop mainstream via 50 Shades of Grey tie-ins, Daft Punk collabs, and unabashed MJ imitations. And pop’s center of gravity shifted towards the drugged-out melancholy exhibited by The Weeknd and his rapper peers like Future and Drake. It was a stylistic sea change that culminated with Billie Eilish, not yet old enough to buy cigarettes, sweeping the Grammys with a debut album that whispered about substance abuse and mental health issues over thumping beats.

The most striking thing about After Hours is the minimal presence of hip-hop across its 14 tracks. ATL super-producer Metro Boomin is credited on four songs, but his work is most noticeable on lead single “Heartless.” Metro deploys the same drum fill in the verses and refrains to build tension, similar to a pattern heard on recent hits like “Thotiana” and “Act Up.” If that’s too subtle, Tesfaye also shouts the producer out in the lyrics, intoning “Metro Boomin turn this ho into a moshpit” in a melodic rap flow.

Tesfaye comes closest to straight-up rapping on “Snowchild.” On an album without any credited features, Tesfaye acts as his own guest rapper. It’s basically his version of a Drake track, using a mellow instrumental to deliver self-aggrandizing juxtaposition between his humble beginnings and his current excess. “Cali was the mission” but now he’s leaving, Tesfaye raps in a reference to 2011’s “The Morning.” He’s far from the first writer to use California as a symbol, but this allusion is a powerful way to show him transcending his own youthful dreams.

The majority of After Hours is lush ‘80s synth-pop, with big synths and bigger drums. It’s a sound The Weeknd has incorporated throughout his career, and it continues to be a fitting sonic shorthand for the excesses of his lyrics. “In Your Eyes” is an electro-disco song packed with enough aural embellishments that to list them requires a full Stefon voice: Chic-esque rhythm guitar, victorious trumpet riffs, Daft Punk-esque robotic vocals, and a full-on saxophone solo on the outro. I was astonished that a song this sublime wasn’t released as a single, only for its video to drop this Monday.

“Scared To Live,” which debuted on The Weeknd’s recent Saturday Night Live appearance, is a full-on power ballad. Swedish pop craftsman Max Martin and Brooklyn electronica architect Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never are both credited, but the final product falls much closer to the former; a listener can practically see the disco ball spinning over a gaggle of youths at their prom’s last dance as Tesfaye urges “don’t be scared to live again.” The song Interpolates the iconic chorus of Elton John’s “Your Song” as a cherry on top, a pop star hedonist paying homage to a predecessor.

After Hours takes place over one night in Las Vegas, as Tesfaye’s narrator indulges in sex and drugs until the sun rises and he’s sick of both. When the album starts with “Alone Again,” he’s already near overdose, demanding a companion to “check [his] pulse for a second time.” It’s not the sort of narrative that requires a dedicated subreddit to parse (though some college freshman is likely grasping at lyrical straws at this very moment), but rather a loose frame to guide the album’s structure. On the conclusion of “Faith,” skyscraper guitars and sirens leave a wide-open space for the dance beat of the following track “Blinding Lights.” The expert sequencing keeps the album from dragging though it runs nearly an hour.

The details of the plot aren’t important; it’s likely the same story every night. The lyrics on After Hours stick to the typical Weeknd tropes. Tesfaye sings about being cross-faded on an irresponsible mix of sex and drugs and death. Sometimes love joins the party too.

The most quintessential Weeknd lyrics can feel sophomoric or profound, depending on your mood and mental state, and “Faith” is full of them. The first verse invokes lost faith, purple rain, molly, cocaine, and blunts in the span of seconds. In the second, Tesfaye chirps “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me.” Which is likely a Tumblr post already.

The feeling of doomed romance adds sizable emotional depth to The Weeknd’s songs. It helps offset the callousness of lines like “So much pu**y, it be falling out the pocket.” Still, it’s an easier listen than some of the imagery from his Trilogy era, where his decidedly less lucid narrators boasted “if she stops, then I might get violent.”

Though the dubious morality in his early work prompted plenty of discussion, ties between Tesfaye’s real life and his on-record persona have rarely been noteworthy. Fellow pop stars like Ariana Grande or Beyonce build the details of their biography into their work, but The Weeknd works best as a cypher. Some are surely trying to interpret a complaint about LA girls with “the same work done on they face” as a reference to one of Tesfaye’s exes, but sometimes a showbiz cliche is just a showbiz cliche.

 

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Tesfaye’s own chemical intake is equally irrelevant to his actual music. He recently told CR he has an “off-and-on relationship” with drugs, promising he performs completely sober. He’s also a world-famous pop singer responding to questions via email, so that statement requires a few grains of salt. But who cares about drawing fact from fiction when his music still oozes The Weeknd’s narcotic charm? After all, he begins the album singing “I’m living someone else’s life.”

Tesfaye has yet to release a project that’s truly all killer no filler. (2018’s My Dear Melancholy comes closest.) “Save Your Tears” dives too deep into ‘80s pastiche with chintzy keyboards on their default settings that fail to elevate a generic melody. The album’s early tracks flirt with interesting grooves – house on “Too Late,” drum and bass on “Hardest To Love” – but they’re forgettable. The album doesn’t really gain momentum until “Scared To Love,” 12 minutes in. And though they recur throughout the album, the repetition doesn’t grant cliches “This house is not a home” and “alone together” any actual significance.

Still, After Hours is the best Weeknd project yet. The music, courtesy of a murderer’s row of producers, sounds expansive as it is expensive. The narrative arc keeps the album from feeling as bloated as Starboy or Beauty Behind The Madness.

I had been social distancing for a week on After Hours’ release date. This past weekend I also found time to re-watch Uncut Gems, the 2019 Safdie Brothers thriller that featured Tesfaye playing his 2012 self. Amidst the relentless pace of the protagonist’s gambling, the scenes I enjoyed the most were in transit. Forget the crowded nightclub or the jewelry store, I yearned for cab rides between destinations on a neon night.

The Weeknd’s music has always been an avatar for all the listener’s hedonistic fantasies, but Tesfaye couldn’t have known that his latest album would debut in a world where we hesitate to come within six feet of each other, nevermind share pills and lines in bathroom stalls. On After Hours, the fantasy is as seductive as ever.

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Roc Nation

Jay Electronica Prays, Preaches, And Reveals On 'A Written Testimony'

Jay Electronica was a mythical figure in hip-hop before many of us even heard his voice for the first time. At the beginning of Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), his 2007 debut EP inspired by Michel Gondry’s sci-fi romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Just Blaze and Erykah Badu speak of him as a fascinating, Bobby Fischer-like talent. “We would talk and I was just like, ‘Yo, what is with this dude?’” Blaze says on the intro. “He would basically just ask you the craziest questions. … ‘Cause he's so much of a planner and a tactician, and I learned that later on.” Badu took it a step further. “I wouldn't even call him a person cause he's a weird looking cat,” she said. “His ears are kinda pointy, he's got a square head. He looks kinda like he's [an] alien from somewhere really … But in a rare beautiful way, like some kind of mythical creature who would have a bow and arrow on his back and wings under that bow and arrow.”

For a few years, Jay Elec lived up to expectations: his 2009 single, “Exhibit C,” made him a star; many believed he was the next Nas. He was going to save hip-hop, and the pressure heightened when he signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label — not only was he a prodigious talent, he now had support from the greatest rapper ever. Fans thought he could disrupt the game.

But the expected debut album, Act II: Patients of Nobility (The Turn), never arrived. For the next decade, he’d tease us with loosies and guest appearances but no actual album. Questlove said the album was done, but Jay-Z held it up due to the lack of a clear-cut single. After an incredible performance at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in 2014, he admitted that drugs and alcohol were to blame. Regardless of the reason(s), stories surfaced of deadlines being missed and studio sessions being canceled.

Despite his personal demons and the repeated delays, fans and peers still love Jay Electronica. That respect was on full display on Thursday (March 12), when he took to Instagram Live to preview A Written Testimony, his debut album. A flood of rap's greats - Lord Finesse, 9th Wonder, Juicy J, DJ Khalil, Killer Mike, Swizz Beatz, and more - were in the comments, geeking out alongside casual, non-celebrity fans. Now, Jay Electronica has finally delivered, even if he didn't create exactly what his fans may have wanted.

Many of Jay Electronica’s most celebrated songs focus on diaristic narratives from the story of his life: surviving homelessness, finding enlightenment and forgiveness through Islamic teachings, and battling depression. That topical matter continues on A Written Testimony, but it’s less self-narrative and more self-referential. While the witty, charismatic bars are still here at times (“I'm here to bang with the scholars, and I bet you a Rothschild I'll get a bang for my dollar,” he grins on “The Ghost of Soulja Slim”), he’s more focused on his mission now that he’s actually made it out of the slums; through the majority of Testimony, he professes his love for Allah and pledges allegiance to Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The minister speaks the first words we hear on the album in the intro, and he's referenced on nearly every song in one way or another. Indeed, Jay Elec’s rhymes evoke religious text, and in several instances, he speaks of himself in poetic third-person. He does this on “The Neverending Story” with dazzling results, using a somber, piano-laced Alchemist beat to unpack his narrative in a tangible way. “Have you ever heard the tale of / The noblest of gentlemen who rose up from squalor? / Tall, dark, and decked out in customary regalia / Smellin' like paraphernalia / Hailin' from the home of Mahalia,” he begins. “... The prodigal son who went from his own vomit / To the top of the mountain with five pillars and a sonnet.” It could come across as self-aggrandizing and cocky from many other artists; after all, everyone thinks that they’re chosen to save the game in one way or another. But it feels more purposeful coming from Jay Electronica, since he references his creator just as much as he references himself. Using third person so often makes him sound invested in how he’ll be seen long after he's gone, a rare concern in much of today’s fly-by-night hip-hop experience. While Kendrick Lamar delves into Christianity on good kid, m.A.A.d city and considers the beliefs of black hebrew israelites on DAMN., he essentially holds the hands of the listener, guiding them through his thoughts as he searches for the answers. Jay Electronica does the opposite: he often speaks in arabic (and once in Spanish) with no need to translate himself. It seems like he’s fine with only his fellow Muslims and their god understanding what he says.

Another prominent theme of the album is fear and self-doubt. On “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” Jay obliquely explains his hiatus with references to Paulo Coelho’s renowned self-discovery salvo, The Alchemist. “Some ask me ‘Jay, man, why come for so many years you been exempt?’ / 'Cause familiarity don't breed gratitude, just contempt / And the price of sanity is too damn high, just like the rent / Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my pen / Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my sin / Sometimes, like Santiago, at crucial points of my novel /My only logical option was to transform into the wind.” After Hov's challenge of "What, you scared of heights?" on "The Blinding," Jay Electronica continues the sentiment. “In the wee hours of night, tryna squeeze out bars / Bismillah, just so y'all could pick me apart?” Some will roll their eyes at this being such a theme when he hasn't released an album until now, but it's a peek into the process that he worked through before discovering the bravery to create an album that so convincingly sticks to what he wanted to do.

Jay-Z is the co-star of A Written Testimony, appearing on all but one song with a type of inspiration unseen throughout his career. While Kanye West helped extract topical diversity and familial reflections from him on Watch The Throne, Jay Electronica inspires his musical versatility. On songs like “Ghost Of Soulja Slim,” he spits as hard as he’s ever rapped, with references to cops dropping street kids off in rival neighborhoods and the survival of his ancestors. On “Universal Soldier,” he addresses feeling unloved by Allah, while cleverly rhyming and contrasting Chessimard (freedom fighter Assata Shakur’s surname) with Pablo Escobar. He flippantly defends his decision to work with the NFL on “Flux Capacitor,” moments before darting a clever triple entendre and deriding the inevitable freeloaders who will misrepresent friendships with him after he dies. While it’s easy to dismiss the album as Jay-Z “outshining” Jay Electronica, it’s more of a difference of styles. Hov’s flows are more stunning and polished, while Jay Elec’s delivery sounds a bit rusty – but lyrically, they’re similar quality with different goals. Jay-Z is unafraid to show off the flashy, pro-black ideology that’s been a focus of his career for the past eight years or so, while Jay Electronica pays more attention to sharing his mission from God.

Some will have their criticisms. Despite comparisons being made to Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx because of Jay-Z’s prominence on the record compared to Ghostface’s on the aforementioned ‘95 classic, they don't have the same seamless chemistry as the two Wu-Tang members. While they feed off of each other's energy on songs like “Ghost of Soulja Slim” and “The Blinding,” and share mutual love for fallen loved ones on the gut-wrenching “A.P.I.D.T.A.,” they sometimes sound sonically discordant. This definitely feels like Jay Electronica's vision - part successor to Act I with airy melodies and dusty film clips, and part major-label debut with help by Hit-Boy, Swizz Beatz and Travis Scott - but some fans simply want more verses from him after waiting so long; and it feels dishonest for the tracklist or album cover to avoid listing Jay-Z's name anywhere at all, when he serves as such an anchor. It also feels criminal that Just Blaze doesn't even have one beat here, especially when none of the production holds a candle to what he's provided for Jay Electronica (even though Elec’s soundbeds are effective and cohesive). Plus, Jay Electronica's open book history may have worked against him here - he's revealed so much of his life before on wax, and this doesn't have the same autobiographical feel that other memorable debuts have had.

But in those same ways, the album sees Jay Electronica being the disruptive force that rap fans prophesied him to be. Being the third voice on your debut album nearly two minutes into the second track could be seen as gun shy or egoless, with either of those perspectives bucking the assumptions that come with such a long-awaited record. Some would call Jay Electronica the complete antithesis to Jay-Z: the latter has been accused of putting profits above all; the former is an avatar for black consciousness. Dropping a debut album without your most prominent producer feels infeasible. Releasing an album ten years after announcing your debut is already questionable; and including a song on it that dropped 11 years ago is even weirder. But his favorite song from Prince was not “Raspberry Beret;” it was “Sometimes It Snows In April.” If Jay Electronica has told us anything throughout his enigmatic career, it’s that he works on his own terms. He’s making the culture come to him, not the other way around – and his art will last longer than he made us wait for it.

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Jhene Aiko attends the 2019 CFDA Awards at The Brooklyn Museum on June 3, 2019 in New York City.
Taylor Hill

Jhene Aiko Revels In The Power Of Resilience On 'Chilombo'

The depth of Jhene Aiko’s imagination is bold enough to conjure caution but warm enough to wade in. The R&B songstress, who routinely combines hypnotic poetic flare with bare-skinned sensuality, has made a career of evaluating then celebrating her complexity. Her 2013 debut EP, Sail Out, introduced the world to a woman claiming stake in the same vulnerability that she was expected to run from. Aiko’s first full-length album, Souled Out, came exactly one year later and dove deeper into existentialist thought. Avoiding the dreaded curse of the sophomore slump was light work with a release like Trip, released by the singer in 2017. Like the title implies, escapism served as the nucleus of the project with Aiko testing the waters of chemical experimentation.

For some, it’s been easy to write off her catalog as pure melodrama; a young girl hyperbolizing every personal experience and relationship to drum up intrigue and keep the spotlight solely on her. Her first two albums, while breaths of fresh air in the R&B realm, felt more jovial than weighty. They prioritized flowery ornateness over gravity—but that’s not to say they didn’t have an impact. Aiko’s lyrical stylings have infinitely shaped the genre’s newest crop of singers. From SZA to Summer Walker, there’s no doubt that her discography ensured that these women could be audacious and explicit on their tracks yet still experience success.

Aiko—like any artist—is evolving and growing into her power with every creative endeavor. However, she is the most remarkable when she is venomous, when she is unapologetic, and when she is feeling herself. Chilombo, her third album, is a culmination of all the lessons learned; where clarity reigns supreme and she has no problems owning up to her mistakes. The project, which pays homage to her surname (and by default, her heritage), was recorded in scenic Hawaii and finds Aiko trying to reclaim her center after a devastating heartbreak. She has always made transparency her strong suit, but Chilombo expounds on her candidness and shows that post-breakup, she is more comfortable with herself than ever before.

It also paints a much richer picture when it comes to Aiko’s totality. The introduction, “Lotus,” comes off as sonic serenity complete with lugubrious piano chords. However, the tale that Aiko is about to narrate serves as the opposite of tranquility: “There was a woman born from a Lotus/Her heart was golden, deep as the ocean/And then this one man, he came and broke it/’Til it was open, just like a Lotus/Oh, yes, there were explosions/She found her focus, the beast awoken.”

As the story unfolds, Aiko delves into her amorous dilemmas on her “Triggered (freestyle)” in which she gleefully trades in an amicable ending for pure revenge: “Cause when I get mad/I get big mad/Should have never did that, get back/’Bout to feel the wrath of a menace.” Her pleas go from contained to completely unyielding; the hurt and anger she’s experienced at the hands of a careless lover have seemingly laid the path for destruction. But on “B.S.,” featuring a cameo from H.E.R., she is way more cool and callous with her boasts because the same ex who scorned Aiko is practically non-existent: “I am on my own now/I am in control now/I need you to go now/I can fix my own crown.”

“Pu$$Y Fairy” is the artist relishing in the power of her own anatomy. For her, love and sexuality are inextricably linked and on this particular track, the chemistry her and a conquest possess is simply undeniable: “Cause I got you sprung off in the spring time/Fuck all your free time/You don’t need no me time/That’s you and me time/We be gettin’ so damn loud/That dick make my soul smile/That dick make me so damn proud.” The soundscapes are mellifluous on “Pu$$Y Fairy,” making Aiko’s proclamations that much more robust.

“Happiness Over Everything (H.O.E)”, alongside Future and Miguel, strives to be an ambitious anthem that empowers women to embrace their sexuality. It also encourages them to make that dreaded first move on a potential lover. However, a cliché chorus (“I hope she don’t think that I think she some kinda ho/I don’t care, that just lets me know that she knows what she wants)” coupled with Future likening himself to Jesus Christ makes the song feel too cheesy to stick. “10K Hours”, a collaboration with Nas, is a compelling—and slightly despondent—walk down memory lane. Once the rapper takes the reigns on his guest verse, it becomes apparent that he’s reminiscing about his former wife, Kelis: “Ten thousand hours turned to ten thousand bridal flowers/What was mine is ours/How many soulmates we get in this lifetime?/Right now’s the right time, you the wife kind.”

“Pray For You” stands out on Chilombo for an entirely different reason: it shows a moment of growth, acceptance for Aiko who has struggled with this notion throughout the entire album. Her ecclesiastical offerings are her purest form of selflessness: “But never will I ever not wish you well/Though we’re not together, God bless you still/It’s gonna get better/I know it will/Just hope you know, I still/I’ll pray for you.” “Lightening & Thunder” is a pure blues ballad about longing that John Legend accentuates with his grit and vehemence. However, Chilombo ends on a high note with “Party For Me.” By recruiting Ty Dolla $ign—one of hip hop’s most notorious hedonists—she truly drives home her quest to celebrate life while she can.

Chilombo, despite all of its ups and down, is about pain, resilience and growth. For Aiko, heartbreak has never sounded so intense, so all-encompassing, so arduous. But as she goes through the motions of misery, it’s clear that stepping into the woman she is meant to be actually becomes her saving grace. Aiko’s honest and gutsy approach to songwriting has always made her conspicuous, but her newest album reveals how it makes her whole. She basks in the limelight because of its warmth and the fact that she knows that she is never alone; her legion of loyal listeners continue to stand by her side knowing Aiko is as human as they are. And that will always be her most admirable trait: the way she wears—and covets—authenticity like a second skin.

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