Rihanna ANTI Rihanna ANTI

Review: Rihanna's 'ANTI' Is Gold... If You’re Willing To Give It A Try

Rihanna debuts some of her most advanced vocals and range of genres on 'ANTI.'

We’re all quite familiar with Unapologetic Rihanna. Bad Gal RiRi. The Rihanna who makes ordinary sidewalks her catwalk in anything from silk, slip dresses to outrageous, sometimes translucent, gowns. The girl unafraid to clap back at anyone who has a problem. Who we didn’t know was this Rihanna, ANTI Rihanna.

After months of false alarms and eye-rolling anticipation, Rihanna has blessed her navy with her eighth studio album, her first in more than three years since her 2012 Unapologetic. And with all the waiting and false-starts, the only thing running through our minds was: this has to be good. This better be the album that reignites our faith in the navy and has us going, Yes, f***ing yes. And the truth is, it’s good, just not in the way we expected.

If you’ve really been a Rihanna fan from “Pon de Replay” to “Umbrella” all the way up to “BBHMM,” this might not have been exactly what you were expecting. ANTI isn’t chock full of upbeat radio hits, and with the exclusion of maybe two songs, it isn’t the turn up. Sure, Rihanna’s always taken fans on a musical journey through her albums. We’ve seen the carefree nineteen-year-old playing on the beach and the unraveling of her public relationship during her darker, “Russian Roulette” days. And while most have enjoyed the natural progression from carefree to a more matured and multi-dimensional artist, her latest attitude—the I’ll do what I want, rebellion from all things tamed, soft, and cute—seemed like the most appropriate, final chapter. Even when the ANTI cover art was revealed, the miniature Rih masked by a crown and holding a balloon suggested all hell would break loose with tracks screaming independence and bad-assness.

Here, Rihanna is still a bad ass (as if that would ever change), but she’s not exuding the girl from Instagram, twerking on yachts or gliding through mansions in lace lingerie. She’s not talking about pouring it up or plotting to get her money back. “B***h Better Have My Money” isn’t even on the album (“FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” are also noticeably absent). It’s by far one of her most advanced albums in terms of vocals and sounds, though. One minute she’s getting lost in neo-soul flows with SZA in “Consideration,” the next she’s giving major pipes over a wave of an orchestra on “Love on the Brain.” It’s a roller coaster of experimentation with high and low notes, country, guitar strings and retro beats. This album captures the progression after what we thought would be the last – what happens after the fur and Swarovski crystals come off and she’s somewhere on a secluded island with maybe a studio, a strong drink, and one rolled. On ANTI, our favorite bad gal is laid back, but commanding; provocative, yet mysterious. And the same ol’ Rihanna is still there; you just have to dig through the ballads, because it’s good. Really good.

“Consideration” (feat. SZA): “I got to do things my own way, darling.” One of the first lines from the introduction track is basically the motto here. As one of the only features, Rihanna recruits SZA and, based on what we heard, it was a smart selection. The two compliment each other well as they exchange vocals about cutting ties. This is the first of many tracks where Rih brings her Bajan accent to the forefront, going in and out of singing and spitting a rapper’s flow. The single is made whole by fusing an eerie, down-tempo tune with a retro beat, two sounds that stay true to SZA’s alt-soul background and Rih’s affinity for hip-hop. This unexpected collab, joining pop’s reigning royalty and alternative’s rising star, has a feel good nature that sets the pace for what the rest of the album will sound like.

“James Joint”: Depending on the kind of Rihanna you enjoy or expect, this may be one of the more unfavorable tracks for some. It’s a spacy, dreamy single mixing a little marijuana with the struggle for true love. It’s a simple interlude that doesn’t bring or take anything away, but it does add to the overall cohesion of the album.

“Kiss It Better”: The glaring electric guitar intro immediately screams a modern, rock love song, and it’s not a bad look at all. The guitar and the back-up vocals on the chorus are fitting for the content, talking about mending broken fences and getting back together. Although this seems to be foreign territory compared to her previous love ballads like “Unfaithful” or “California King Bed,” this makes it seem like she’s always been singing this way. It may be the rock-inspired vibe or the desperation in her voice that makes the song feel so heavy and ultimately enjoyable. Either way it works, because it’s the climactic love song you want to blast from an old boombox.

“Work”: When you first see Drake’s name as a feature on this track, you can’t help give the air above a little high five. It’s been nearly six years since they teamed up for “What’s My Name,” so that alone warrants a listen. It was the first single to drop from the album and it took exactly five listens to really stand back and say, okay, this is good. She stumbles and fumbles through the chorus, but after you make out the fact that she’s repeating “work,” it makes you want to bust into a fast wine. The weird thing is she doesn’t actually say much on the track. The real words are left to Drake, which in some ways was a flop on his end. Going from lines like “The square root sixty-nine is ate something, right?” to “If you had a twin, I would still choose you” is a big leap from clever to corny. But this isn’t about Drake. So in terms of being the only track on the album that may get you up in a club, it’s good to have it in the mix.

FIRST SINGLE #WORK ft. @champagnepapi  from #ANTI out now. Stream & download here: http://smarturl.it/RihWORK

A photo posted by badgalriri (@badgalriri) on

“Desperado”: The opening eight seconds are pleasantly reminiscent of Banks’ “Waiting Game.” Again, she shows her versatility, matching a choppy, rustic voice with indie-rock. Not sure why it followed “Work,” considering the tempo is much slower and the lyrics desperately plead for companionship. But its addition to the track list is greatly appreciated as it gets us back in the zone. For lack of many comparisons, this one paints the picture of the western American story, similar to the missing “FourFiveSeconds.”

“Woo:” If you were wondering where Travis Scott’s influence was on the album, you’ve found it. This hard, militant intro and echo-y sound reeks of Trav. Nonetheless, the track is the kind of the gutter anthem most expected from Rihanna to begin with. She’s not actually saying much, but something feels right. Through its static sound, she compares herself to his next. “I bet she could never make you cry, cause the scars on your heart are still mine… Too bad she just eating off your dreams. Let me know when you’re ready to plea. Maybe you just need to send for me.” Clearly, she’s acknowledging the fans that may be getting weary of the slow songs and alternative sounds. Here’s the single you can blast at kickbacks and collectively nod your head to.

“Needed Me”: “Don’t get it twisted,” Rihanna is still a bad ass, and on this track she shows how “savage” she can be. The electronic sound and heavy bass triggers every woman’s ability to be sexy and a savage at the same damn time. It’s for the #Navy members who need a beat to gets them up and moving as well as for the others that would rather not move at all, choosing instead to sit back with hands lifted and sing to the chorus or ad-libs.

“Yeah, I Said It:” This song is to ANTI what “Skin” was to Loud. It’s the kind of raw, hot, and whimsy sound that you replay, even though it's not necessarily the most appropriate song to listen to on your way to work. The two-minute song gives a little more than “Birthday Cake” did (before the remix) but even so, as it echoes out you’re left wanting just a little bit more.

“Same Ol’ Mistakes:” She may be talking about old mistakes, but this is definitely a brand new sound. The soft, cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” definitely brings on the psychedelic, pop-rock feels. The song reminds you of the fluid motions of a lava lamp, casually changing from laid back to intense vocals.

“Never Ending”: There goes that guitar again. Unlike “Kiss it Better,” the sounds lean more towards country. Its organic melody and sweet back up vocals illustrate this idea of Rihanna performing on a beach with little to no instrumental support. Just like her lyrics, “Ghost in the mirror, I knew your face once, but now it’s unclear,” it’s a little unclear of whether this is a sad, love song or just a really beautiful chord progression, but whatever it’s going for, you feel it hard.

“Love On The Brain”: It took a second or two to warm up to the whiny vocals or all-tenor backup vocals, but as the band unravels into what sounds like a full blown orchestra, the song starts to come around. The sultry, love song depicts a destructive, yet addictive relationship, that has Rihanna baring her soul. While some production and vocal elements do sounds similar to Beyonce’s “Superpower,” it differs in the powerful and soulful performance that showcases her own range.

“Higher”: It’s an unpopular opinion, but the scream-singing isn’t too favorable. Still, there aren’t many complaints on this number. Her drunken plead for late-night companionship unleashes a powerful ballad. This song should have been the last song on the album, being that she gave almost everything she had left in the booth. “You light my fire. Let’s stay up late and smoke up a J. I want to go back to the old way.”

“Close To You:” Concluding the album is a somber ballad that drifts off to the soft instrumentals of the piano. It can similarly be compared to “Stay.” “If you let me, I'll be there by now / close to you," she sings. It seems like an odd song to end the album, but similar to the song’s fading out, it leaves you with a calming after taste of everything you just heard.

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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VIBE/ Jessica Xie

Review: Jessie Reyez’s Expressive EP Proves There’s Beauty In ‘Being Human In Public’

Jessie Reyez’s recently-released EP Being Human In Public proves that the Toronto musician’s fiery exterior comes with a cool, introspective center. Her 2017 EP Kiddo introduced her to the world as force who was willing to “go there” by singing about major issues like sexual assault and emotionally abusive relationships. This time around, Reyez muses about the softer side of love, displaying her flexibility within the overarching theme.

Much of her latest EP, which dropped Friday (Oct. 19), pertains to the wide range of emotions that come with romantic appreciation. Thanks to her animated performance ability, Reyez encapsulates the complex gamut of the strong emotional state; there’s longing, anger, confusion, confidence and so much more. The 27-year-old songbird’s vocal versatility has gained fans like Kamikaze collaborator Eminem and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and her attention-grabbing abilities are showcased throughout the multi-dimensional seven-song project.

Reyez’s true vocal gifts shine through when paired with more demure production, evident by the EP’s starting track “Saint Nobody” and the stand-out love anthem “Apple Juice,” produced by Tim Suby and Fred Ball. Her effortless falsetto notes at the duration of the aforementioned song are a melodic combination with the strings that finish out the track.

Perhaps the song that best displays Reyez’s tender core is “Sola (Interlude),” which is sung entirely in Spanish. She coos over an acoustic guitar to a lover about how she’s not necessarily the type of woman they should be with—she would be better off sola (alone). The result? A heart-wrenchingly relatable track that could have served best as the EP's stunning finale.

“I'm not the type of woman that your mother wants to see you with,” the lyrics translate to. “I could never please you...I'm an eagle, flying alone.”

While the content throughout Being Human In Public is rather profound in nature, Reyez makes sure that her signature unapologetic delivery to tackling topics through her songwriting is also highlighted. Thanks to assistance from budding music sensation Normani and Grammy-nominated R&B singer Kehlani on the “Body Count (Remix),” all three singers’ stances on body positivity, sex positivity and all forms of love are highlighted.

Additionally, the straightforward “F**k Being Friends,” which is slightly reminiscent of her quirky Kiddo track “Shutter Island,” deals with the occasionally murky divide between courtship and friendship. “My p***y beat better than my heart do?” she sings, “so why you p***y-footin’ on this part two?”

“In every aspect—in my music, in my life—I’m going to be straight with you, and I tell people too, I’m like that,” Reyez told VIBE in April about the importance of being upfront. “I need you to just tell me direct, because if the roles were reversed, I’m the type to tell you direct.” Love is one of the things that connects all of us as people, and if you can’t be real with that, what can you be real about?

Reyez makes sure that her honesty on wax is as plain and simple as it is in her personal life, and Being Human In Public is an audibly-pleasing extension of her personal beliefs and values.

READ MORE: NEXT: Behind The Extraterrestrial Voice, Jessie Reyez Is Human Like The Rest Of Us

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Lupe Fiasco performs as part of the benefit concert, 'Power To The People' at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot on March 18, 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images

Lupe Fiasco Eschews Label Drama And Controversy For Ambitious 'Drogas Wave'

In the early 2000s, JAY-Z called Lupe Fiasco “a breath of fresh air” for rap. Most of the hip-hop world agreed. He delivered a standout verse on Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky,” and a well-regarded Food & Liquor studio debut that led rap fans to saint him as an imaginative, skilled lyricist, adept at weaving storytelling, social commentary, sustained metaphors and technical precision together in an A+ package. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for that figurative breath of fresh air to become a sigh.

While crafting his third album Lasers, he began having creative differences with his former label Atlantic Records. Though the album was eventually released — after his fans literally petitioned for it — the struggle derailed what seemed like his inevitable trajectory to the heights of music that stylistic peers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole now occupy.

Lupe’s known in part for his sophomore album, The Cool, but it seems like a good stretch of his career was more defined by the frustration. In 2018, though, Lupe’s finally on the right wave — the Drogas Wave. Lupe dropped his first independent album last week, a 24-track conceptual piece dually exploring the drug trade and the transatlantic slave trade that cap-stoned his own trade of Atlantic Records for artistic freedom.

I really only did this album for solid Lupe fans. The PhD’s in Lupeism. It’s in no way for new fans, the casual listener, record sales, the year 2018 or radio. Just the core fans to have a ball with. https://t.co/N76F5YAeDJ

— “DROGAS WAVE” NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) September 26, 2018

He’s always been a master of conceptualization, weaving thematic, if not narrative-driven connections from verse to verse and song-to-song on albums like Food & Liquor, The Cool, and Tetsuo & Youth. Drogas Wave is among his most ambitious work in that regard. The album, which he’s said was made specifically for his “core fans,” ideates what the rhymer called an alternate, fantastic history of the slave trade in which a group of Africans jumped off a slave ship, survived underwater, and spent their new lives sinking subsequent slave ships.

But he still delves into the reality of what happened on songs like “Manilla,” where he sheds light on the currency that European countries used to purchase slaves from West Africa to build so much of the western world. Looking to unite black and brown people across the Americas, Drogas Wave shows him representing for three communities of African descent cultivated in spite of western colonialism: Latinos, West Indians and Black Americans. He rapped fluent Spanish on “Drogas.” He collaborated with reggae royalty Damian Marley on “Kingdom” and rhymed in patois on “Gold vs. The Right Things to Do.” On the thrilling “King Nas,” he dedicates some of the project’s most impeccable rhyming not to God’s Son, but his two young nephews King and Nas who are coming of age in a treacherous environment for all black people in America.

The album was well-crafted and laden with thought-provoking, research-worthy bars examining the scourges that plunder black and brown communities, but it wasn’t flawless. He utilized over a dozen different producers on the project, which resulted in a few compositions that are less compelling than others. There are also choruses by Nikki Jean on “Down” and Troi Irons on “XO” that felt a tad too eager for mass appeal. But even on those tracks, the invigoration and dedication that Lupe rhymes with make them worthwhile listens.

Drogas Wave shows Lupe on the right track. While so many of his fellow rap veterans were ravenous publicity hounds this year, he spent his online time on Instagram Live, dropping what he called “super facts” about the fallacy of white supremacy and the music industry. He also apologized to people he’s insulted like former President Obama, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and others. Throughout that March apology session, he ended his statements with variations of, “I should have kept that to myself.” Perhaps he’s now in a space that he should have been his entire career: independent and letting his incredible lyricism speak for him.

Lupe always has wisdom to impart, but like his Chicago comrade Kanye West, he doesn’t always communicate his thoughts in the best way. Over time, he developed a reputation for being an easily agitable presence on Twitter. He’s gotten into arguments with Kid Cudi, Azealia Banks, and several others. In 2013, he derogated Donald Glover as a “Black” instead of a “n***a” for arbitrary reasons.

In 2014, when Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was being accused of cultural appropriation because of her put-on “Atlantastralian” accent and racist lyrics, he defended her by saying she had “a space” in hip-hop. That comment made him one of the first victims of the dreaded social media “cancel,” and he lashed out with his own tweetstorm. He tweeted, “b***h I been here on the rooftop screaming in the ears of these brainwashed a** more money on they feet than in they pocket a** n***as,” and also proclaimed, “I'm here...kick pushing you ignant a** n***az and fast trout mouth a** b***hes all the way to the promised land kicking and screaming h**.”

His retorts were based in truth, but sometimes, brutal honesty is just brutality. The tweets typified why Phonte infamously likened Lupe to The Newsroom as a “technically brilliant show that would be a lot smarter if it stopped trying to show people how smart it was.” Compared to Q-Tip’s thoughtful hip-hop treatise to Iggy, Lupe came across like a know-it-all. But at the base of his anger was a frustration with being misunderstood. He incredulously groused, “I thought I was one of the good guys.”

The son of a Black Panther, Lupe had always delivered anti-establishment messaging in his music that hampered his budding status as the “Superstar” he rhymed about in 2007. In 2011, when most of mainstream hip-hop was deifying Barack Obama, Lupe was telling CBS that “the biggest terrorist is Obama and the United States of America” based on America’s warmongering throughout the Middle East, South America and Africa in particular.

His ire toward the country’s tyranny inspired an awkward, 30-minute rendition of the Obama-critical “Words I Never Said” at an inauguration party in D.C., which the show’s organizers called “a bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance that left the crowd vocally dissatisfied.” Songs like his “American Terrorist” series display his analytical acuity when it comes to diagnosing the roots of systemic oppression and its consequences, but at that point he seemed unable to properly convey his intellect outside the booth.

Lupe has said that he felt he was “immediately blackballed” after his Obama comments. While Lasers had sold 204,000 copies in its first week, 2012’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album was Grammy-nominated, but sold just 128,000 records overall as of 2012. His aforementioned Twitter antics were overshadowing his lyrical gifts, his attempts to drop knowledge were being mocked or misunderstood, and worst of all, he couldn’t release music on his own volition.

He told Power 106 in August 2014 that he was “worn down” by the “nonsense” of dealing with Atlantic, and that “we’re just trying to get albums out just to get off the label.” Months earlier he told Torae that, “I don’t have a 360 deal,” so “since they can’t eat off my merchandise or my publishing or my touring they treat me like a third-class citizen.” Still, he resolved, he’d ”fight through it.”

That determination defines him. While discussing “Mission” from 2015’s Tetsuo & Youth, he reflected, “I’ve been inspired by those who are surviving, thriving and fighting.” Just like he’s been fighting to thrive, in spite of label woes, the backlash from subversive beliefs, and self-sabotage that collectively tarnished his mainstream standing. Others artists have let the industry consume them, but Lupe’s still here, rekindling a musical brilliance that his fans knew he was capable of.

On Drogas Wave’s “Jonylah Forever,” a poignant song that ideates 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, shot dead in 2013, as an adult, he rhymed about how “the coolest thing is when they offered you that high paying slot, you replied ‘they need me in the hood,’ and that's where you reside.” He then talked about her saving a shooting victim, rhyming, “and in that moment, where you gave your help/I bet you didn't know that you saved yourself.”

That powerful summation also applies to him, as an artist who helped others see the light while vying to keep his own spirit alit in a music industry that he mentally “quit” on a decade ago. He told Billboard in 2015 that “I'm happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention.”

Einstein once mused that, “creativity is intelligence having fun.” It didn’t seem like Lupe was having much fun as a major label artist. But after fulfilling his obligations to Atlantic with Drogas Light, and releasing Drogas Wave independently, he’s revitalized for the next chapter of his career — on his terms.

He recently stated that there would be no interviews for this album cycle because, “I’ve never seen myself as a star and I still don’t.” That makes sense. Stars can’t see themselves, it’s only us spectators who experience the fascination of watching them hover.

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