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Seeing Black Male Humanity: Why 'Moonlight' Impacted Me As An Afro-Latina

My father, who is from Haiti, didn't express himself much to me growing up.

Watching Moonlight at a family-owned movie theater in New Jersey, I was in the company of my longest friend. She and I – now adults – had found new space to rebuild with each other after spending much of our youth fighting. Together we wanted to support the film, feeling tasked with the responsibility to sponsor a story of such narrative bravery. We're both passionate about our cultures, the men and women we share it with, and how the world perceives us in spite of it. The two of us often gravitate toward the underdog, almost always connecting with the proverbial “come up”—because we done came up. Not to mention, we’re also attracted to actors Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes who play Juan and Chiron, respectively. With our own coming-of-age story behind us and many other serendipitous reasons propelling us forward, my longest comrade and I sat in the dark theater surrounded by people from all walks of life.

My first sexual experience was with a homosexual guy in high school. I had fallen for a boy who was struggling with sexuality and identity, while trying to love me simultaneously. He was skinny, dark and popular, and was always the center of attention. He grew up in a religious household and brought the church wherever he went. He'd often quote the Bible, too, using his signature preacher’s voice: "In the name of Jesus! I rebuke the devil!" He was in the marching band and part of the gospel choir, traveling to different churches across Tampa to perform. He was the first boy to touch me, to sing me praises and even inspire me. I was in denial and didn't want to accept what my intuition was telling me about him. Rumors started to circulate about who his new partner was—another boy who was out. When he started to ignore me, I knew it was over. He had arrived at a point in which he could no longer hide from himself or the rest of the world. Years later, while in college, I received a letter from him: a confession and an apology.

When Moonlight was over, I immediately thought of him.

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The tone of black masculine vulnerability is set from the very first scene. We watch Juan park and emerge from a blue car before he confidently walks toward another man standing at the sidewalk. Toking on a cigarette, Juan, who plays a drug dealer, arrives just as a customer and apparent drug addict is attempting to negotiate a loan. All the while, the camera is moving in circles, a reminder that there is always something happening in the backdrop. A co-dealer, who addresses Juan as “sir” and thanks him for “the opportunity.” Juan briefly asks his newly appointed employee about his mother, letting the young man know she is in his prayers. They communicate with few words and more with eye contact and body language. Much of the film moves in this cautious way, allowing the audience to be a witness of the humanity in relationships between black men.

My father, who is from Haiti, didn't express himself much to me growing up. He was a provider, and the line between adult and child was not to be crossed. He was the most colorful when with his brothers. Now that I am an adult, out in the world and taking care of myself, he has evolved into someone wanting to share things with me. There is more of an interest in who I am now versus when I was a child. Although he doesn't share the same narrative of the characters in Moonlight, the film is a poignant reminder of the tenderness my father now exercises with me.

Shortly after being introduced to Juan, enters a cute, shy and dark-skinned Chiron who must deal with being bullied everyday and going home to a mother who is almost always high (Naomi Harris as Paula). For some reason, Juan feels inclined to take him in as his own, house him from time to time, and serve as an image of influence. We don't learn much of Juan's past (just that he’s from Cuba), so there is no informing why Juan found interest in Chiron. All we know is that a man and a little boy carve out a space for each other, becoming the father-son duo they never had. Soon, we meet the various men surrounding Chiron's life, whose interactions play pivotal roles in how he transitions into a man.

Terrel (Patrick Decile), for example, is a high school bully and arguably the least likable character. He appears only for the bad things, and is always angrily looking to cause mayhem while forcing others to join him. Chiron is an easy target because he isn’t confrontational and only looks to go home unscathed. By the time we meet Terrel, we've developed a soft spot for Chiron, wanting him to be and feel loved. Apprehension develops towards Terrel and I wished for him to hurry up and disappear.

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Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is the amiable, yet complicated cool kid who gets the girls because he talks and walks a good game. In fact, he’s so unbothered by his peers that he doesn't mind sitting alone at lunch. He befriends Chiron, still maintaining his swagger in the open. The interactions we go on to witness between Kevin and Chiron are youthful and good-natured. In one scene, for instance, Kevin instigates locker room talk after getting caught in the staircase having sex with a girl. "Why she gotta go ahead givin' a n**ga compliments and sh*t?" But then we are with them again one night at the beach, where they are soft with each other, eyes locked and embracing longer than they should. It is the first time we experience their intimacy. We see it again: two black men communicating with body language that speaks louder than words.

When Kevin betrays Chiron on school grounds at the hands of Terrel’s peer pressure, my heart shattered. I was later relieved when Chiron sought out his revenge. Even later, I was excited to see that Chiron – still a loner – grew into an aesthetically beautiful man. It was frustrating, however, to learn that his prior circumstances had eventually forced Chiron to choose a life of trapping.

It’s in the third act of the film where Kevin re-emerges, also fully-grown.

Men who better communicate with body language do not do well on the phone, so watching Kevin call to speak with Chiron for the first time in years was alluring. I found myself wanting to put words in their mouths—just tell Kevin you love him already! Chiron later takes a nine-hour drive from Atlanta to Miami to see Kevin in person.

And that vulnerable tango between them begins again: tender eye contact, soft smirks, more body language.

We learn that Kevin has a son by a woman he is no longer seeing. He’s chosen a simpler life, working as a cook at a local diner after spending time behind bars. He is happy—content. I begin to wonder what their lives would have looked like had they chosen each other, instead.

There aren't many women in the film. Early on, we meet Juan's significant other, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). Juxtaposed with Chiron's mother (Naomi Harris as Paula), the two present themselves as the good and bad of feminine energy. Their respective characters either give or take away, with Teresa always appearing to be the one who can better love and nurture Chiron. Paula, on the other hand, is only shown to us at her worst, being verbally and emotionally abusive.

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My mother, who is from Puerto Rico, sacrificed her dreams for others her entire life. Today, she has all the right ideas but lacks the focus and ambition to fulfill them. Like Chiron, my mother is the source of much of my pain and anger. But she is also the cause of my happiness and ambition. I remember her better days, when she was always center of attention, her friendliness attracting men, young and old. When she left my dad and downsized our life, I was angry at her most of the time for living the kind of life she did. I didn't understand at nine why she was partying and drinking all the time. Of course, she didn't feel like she owed me an explanation. She didn't know then that she'd begin a new life, in a new state, to sacrifice for others once more. Only this time she was giving her all to her religion.

My mother's struggle was nowhere near Paula's, but both women gave up pieces of themselves chasing a light at the end of the tunnel. The thing about staring at light for too long is that it’ll burn your eyes.

It’s no secret that the creators of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, built on personal accounts to tell a story that would allow us to observe a specific kind of human interaction. It was moving, and more, reminiscing of the people I've experienced life with from my youth onward. I was coincidentally watching it with someone from my past, who spilled into my present, and will optimistically be a part of my future. It reminded me of the first boy I loved, who hasn't served a purpose in my life for more than 13 years. Before I knew it, I was overwhelmed with a sense of knowing that everything that happens in our life is connected.

When my dear friend and I exited the theater, we walked out in sheer awe. Not only did we boast about the artistry and beauty of Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes, we felt overjoyed and privileged to have watched a film for and by black men that was filled with such emotion. (Shouts to Joi McMillon, the first black woman editor to receive an Oscar nomination). We arrived at my apartment, bottles of wine in tow, still impressed with the weight of the film. As we went on and on about it all, we lit candles and played music. We even called our sister-friend, the link that completes our tribe, to further unpack all that we were feeling in that moment.

Moonlight gave me permission to intimately connect with others in more ways than one. —Bianca Salvant

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Future Keeping His Sobriety A Secret Says More About You Than Him

On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Future made the revelation that he was sober. Who knows, maybe he traded the lean in for alkaline water and fresh juices. While this may have come as a shock to fans who have often linked the rapper to heavy drug use, what was even more astonishing was that Future concealed his sobriety for weeks or even months—not because he was diligently working on weaning himself off of the dangerous drug of choice without distractions, but because he feared how the announcement would affect his music stats and fan base.

It’s certainly customary for fans to tie a characteristic or specific subject to an artist’s music or brand. For instance, Mary J. Blige makes breakup music, Trey Songz markets sex, and Lil Peep frequently made emo, drug music. Future’s artistry in particular is deeply rooted in drug use as a method of self-medication to cope with heartache, pain and suffering. He’s arguably recognized as the godfather of this new generation of mumble rappers, who romanticize drug use as a form of self-care. Percocets and molly not only served as the tools for a catchy chorus in 2017’s “Mask Off,” but also provided a lens into Future’s real-life pastime.

When messages such as a breakup, sex and addiction become the primary focuses of an artist’s narrative, we inherently expect them to continue with those trends, especially if the music is a success. Future’s DS2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Mary J’s 2017 studio album Strength of a Woman—which discussed her public divorce from manager and husband Martin “Kendu” Isaacs—debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But Hendrix’s inability to share such a positive transition in his life says more about the negative effects of fan culture and the music industry as a whole than it says about him.

“I didn’t wanna tell nobody I stopped drinking lean,” Future admitted to Genius. “I didn’t tell because I felt like, then they gon’ be like, ‘Oh, his music changed because he stopped drinking lean.’ It’s just hard when your fans [are] so used to a certain persona you be afraid to change.”

The weeknd needs to get back on drugs and make some good music like he used to

— alaina (@lalalaina_) January 13, 2017

Fans naturally equate spiraling and unhealthy behavior with good music and would rather see their favorite musician continue to spiral for the sake of their craft and our entertainment. Although there are new movements promoting mental health awareness and self-care within the hip-hop community, fans still praise the destruction of the genre’s biggest artists.

When The Weeknd split with his girlfriend Bella Hadid in 2016, many prayed for another dark, narcotic-fueled album comparable to 2011’s stellar House of Balloons, which was released during a time when he was deeply involved with cocaine and pill-popping. Twitter users seemingly encouraged such behavior, leveraging musical satisfaction over the well-being of the XO artist.

While fan approval shouldn’t necessarily dictate an artist’s creative process, the possibility of negative feedback that comes with “switching things up” can often be too loud to ignore. In an interview with VIBE, A Boogie wit da Hoodie also reiterated his hesitation with stepping away from his usual themes of relationships and heartbreak on his No. 1 album, Hoodie SZN. He ultimately included both versions of himself—the heartbreak and the new A Boogie—in order to appease his loyal fan base and evolve as an artist. “I feel like all my fans saw what I was doing, but they just didn’t care. They loved how I started so much that they didn’t care about the switch up. They wanted me to be heartbroken.”

Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ pic.twitter.com/EXiOKoT72v

— John Canales (@_JohnCanales) April 25, 2018

The association of success and pain doesn’t only revolve around drug use or broken relationships. It was suggested that Meek Mill’s brief incarceration for a probation violation set the foundation for his 2018 comeback and No. 1 album, CHAMPIONSHIPS.

“Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ,” one user wrote on Twitter. Despite the frequent protests for his immediate prison release, it’s almost as if some fans approved of his demise once it was over because it somehow forced him to make better music.

There is a danger in requiring artists to stick to their brands, especially when it focuses on abusing and glorifying a harmful lifestyle. Fans have to be willing to allow artists to evolve because that transformation extends far beyond the music; their art mimics life. You will not die if artists like Future or The Weeknd pivot the focus of their music away from chronicling drug use, but they could, and that should be the only point that matters here.

If we can support artists like 21 Savage as he explores other subjects besides his chains (Nipsey Hussle cosigned 21’s decision after DJ Akademiks suggested that he didn’t want to hear anything else from the artist) or salute Jay-Z as he's evolved into talking about investing in stocks and collecting priceless artwork, then it shouldn’t be difficult to endorse the Future's new chapter—whatever that may be—as well.

Future is gearing up to release his new album The WZRD on Jan. 18, and if you can seriously criticize his music not because of the quality but because it doesn’t sound like his typical doped up brand, then Future was never the problem—it’s you.

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Ed Buck And The Black Queer Lives That Don't Matter

The saying goes “history often repeats itself” but for those who are black and Queer, that history is often violent and unprotected.

A déjà vu moment for the LGBTQ community happened last week when reports surfaced of another black gay man dying in the home of wealthy Democratic donor Ed Buck. New and disturbingly fresh to some, the story isn’t only stranger than fiction but proves gay black men are fetishized in plain sight.

Let’s back up a bit. On July 27, 2017, police were called to the home of Buck in West Hollywood, Calif., where the body of 26-year-old Gemmel Moore was found unresponsive. The Los Angeles coroner's office would initially rule Gemmel’s death an overdose of crystal methamphetamine—a growing problem within the LGBTQ community. However, there was an immediate outcry from the black queer community, as the narrative between Moore and Buck raised more questions than answers.

Today would've been Gemmel's 28h birthday. Instead of celebrations and Instagram posts from friends, Gemmel's legacy in the public sphere is that of a sex worker—a stirring attempt to discredit his worth while subtly blaming the victim for his own death. We have seen this occur many times when discussing the LGBTQ sex worker community. Transgender women are also painted as such in stories to devalue their worth. Far too often, sex workers endure victim blaming and shaming. A societal standard that contributes to the notion that sex workers are partly liable in their own deaths because of “risk” involved with the industry, intersected with mainstream views about sex work, not fitting standards or respectability.

Questions began to arise about why Buck, a 65-year-old white man, and social-political butterfly to Democratic party members like Hillary Clinton would have someone 39 years his junior in his home doing drugs. As more reporting by activist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick and others continued, a tale of privilege, wealth, and sexual exploitation became the new narrative of story many simply tried to bury.

Reports were coming out from other young black queer men who had dealings with Buck, many of them detailing his drugging of them with meth by needle—a technique called “pointing.” Entries from Gemmel's journal were also published by Cannick, revealing just how much pain and madness he was subjected to, including Buck, reportedly getting the 26-year-old hooked on drugs for sexual pleasure.

It is not easy to live at the intersection of being Black and Queer. It’s a double marginalization where we often find ourselves devoid of allies. On one side we have our own community which like all others, deals with homophobia. That homophobia often times bleeds into social justice work around black queer people. People who feel race should come first and be the only concern.

Black queer people are often fighting for others who would never fight for them. We have been conditioned by white supremacy to fall prey to respectability politics that makes us see anything other than cishet as an attack against our own community.

Despite the painful evidence, media began doing what it does with most black victims—painting them as the deviant and the abuser as the one being victimized. Gemmel was painted as a drug-addicted sex worker, an attempt at dehumanizing his value.

The views of sex work in the United States intersected with Gemmel being from a marginalized community was a tactic that saw many blaming the victim, rather than the manipulative predatory Buck, who was being protected by his wealth, whiteness, and proximity to those in power.

Following the LA coroner’s report, social media outrage eventually forced the LA Sheriff’s department to give the full investigation into the matter that it deserved. Unfortunately, after several months of getting statements and going over the evidence, the LA prosecutor's office refused to indict Buck, leaving the family and black LGBTQ community feeling hopeless that Gemmel would ever get justice.

However, last week news broke that a second black gay man by the name of Timothy Dean was found dead in the home of ...Ed Buck. This time around, media coverage was immediate as multiple major outlets covered the story about the 55-year-old victim, a significant change from the first death. With circumstances surrounding the incident much like the first time, the story was hard to ignore with national coverage happening almost immediately. Responders arrived at Buck's home to find Dean unresponsive by an apparent overdose.

Immediately, Buck’s lawyers issued a statement removing him of all culpability and once again blaming the victim for his own death. “From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” said Seymour Amster, Buck’s attorney. “The person came over intoxicated.”

With this being the second occurrence of death at his home, investigators were more eager to look into the situation—as was the media who showed up to the home of Buck that evening looking for comment. What most were greeted by was outraged citizens, many of whom were from the black queer community that has remained steadfast since last year.

Dozens of activists and community members protested in front of the home of Buck following the second death. During the rally, several citizens spoke out including Cannick. She challenged several city council members who showed up to the rally about how disengaged and harmful they had been the first time this happened, and how their support now was questionable at best. This is an important sentiment in the story because much of Buck’s protection came in the form of those he donated too, on both a micro and macro level.

When the first death occurred in his home in 2017, politicians refused to release statements about the situation. There were some rumblings from GOP members, but only because he was a donor to the Democratic Party, not because of who the victim was—partly why the buzz died down as media coverage went away.

For his political allies, there was too much at stake. With President Donald Trump creating more turmoil between the major political parties and the #MeToo movement surrounding the behaviors targeting those in Hollywood, there seemed to be limited space to care for black life–an aspect we’re used to these days.

On a micro level, these same city council members who accepted funds from Buck in the past were silent in the first death. Not wanting to ruffle feathers with the wealthy donor, choosing allegiance to secure funding over the life of Gemmel Moore. But now, the political climate has changed. In November of 2018, the Democratic Party took back the House of Representatives, all about removing any shielding Buck may have from the party. Once word broke of a second death, those who were silent are now issuing statements and sending money back that was donated by Buck.

Black lives, in general, are not protected in media nor community. White people are more concerned about preserving power and privilege then every affording us equity and justice. This sentiment bleeds into the white queer community, which has also helped to oppress black queer people.

Most recently, comedian Ellen DeGeneres spoke up on behalf of a community she did not belong to offer forgiveness to Kevin Hart for his comments about the gay community. However, when it is someone from her own community causing harm to black queer people, (ie: Buck) she like many other white queer people are nowhere to be found. It only adds to people who love to partake in our culture while turning a blind eye or aiding in our oppression.

This is a challenge to all communities witnessing the atrocities that black queer people are facing in this country. Your silence has become complicity in our death. It should not have taken for a second dead body to be found at the home of Ed Buck for people to join in solidarity with us. We have experienced this type of violence against our community for far too long with no justice in our plight.

Ed Buck is using his wealth, class, and power to manipulate black queer men who are vulnerable. Men who are sex workers or struggling to make a livable wage to sustain their own existence. Men who are already caught up in the meth epidemic and fall prey to sexual exploitation in return from drugs. How many more lives must be lost before a stop is put to this?

In the coming days, it will be more important than ever that media coverage does not let up and continues to press the LA Sheriff’s Office to not commit the same mistake twice. If black lives truly matter, then we must be more vocal and fervent in our fight when they fall among the most marginalized. This is a continuing story, one that we will not only cover but see through till the end—an end that looks like justice for Gemmel Moore, Timothy Dean, and the black queer lives that continue to go unprotected.

George M Johnson is a journalist and activist living in Brooklyn NY with features in over 40 publications including Vibe, Essence, VICE, and Buzzfeed. His debut YA memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is scheduled to be released January 2020 through FSG.

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2018 In Hip-Hop: A Year Of Quantity Over Quality

No matter who ranks in your Top 10 living hip-hop faves, they almost certainly released music this year. From young stunners and new jacks to career spitters and grizzled vets, rap poured down in proverbial buckets, dousing listeners Friday after Friday, with not infrequent ghost showers during select weekdays and weekends, too. Whether you vibe with the lyrical miracles or rage along with the screamers, your Spotify account got one hell of a workout in 2018.

Many rap listeners interpreted all this as an embarrassment of riches, the irrefutable evidence of hip-hop as the prevailing genre of the digital age. Stans collectively reveled in the new album smell of their chosen faves like J. Cole and Nicki Minaj, while emergent contenders including Cardi B and Brockhampton amassed major fan bases around the very existence of their full-length projects. Indicative of this recorded overabundance, LPs from consensus G.O.A.T.s shared release dates with fresh mixtapes by popular upstarts and emerging SoundCloud kids, as was the case when Lil Wayne’s long-awaited Tha Carter V arrived in the same frame as Logic’s Young Sinatra IV and Lil Gnar’s Gnar Lif3. Bruised by a critically panned comeback record late last year, Eminem applied shock tactics by releasing Kamikaze without warning, stunning the dueling chart toppers of Drake’s double-album Scorpion and Travis Scott’s Astroworld.

Collaborations, particularly high profile ones, proved more common and competitive than ever, with the Kanye West-helmed Nas project Nasir arriving the very same weekend as Everything Is Love, a surprise album from erstwhile rival Jay-Z co-headlined by Beyoncé herself. Buzzworthy trap climbers Lil Baby and Gunna tag teamed their way into the Billboard 200’s upper rung, making them essential guests on what seems like dozens of subsequent singles, albums, and mixtapes for the remainder of the year. One week brought the intergenerational codeine swap meet of Future and Juice WRLD while another partnered up cloud rap survivor Curren$y with Midwest lyricist Freddie Gibbs. Producer showcases exploded the phenomenon altogether, with Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes obsessively collecting Hot 100 hit-making rappers like coveted Pokemon critters. Hell, even The Diplomats got back together.

Further magnifying matters, some record labels made sport out of being prolific. G.O.O.D. Music kicked off a much ballyhooed six week experiment of successive mini-albums with imprint president Pusha T’s DAYTONA and wrapped with Teyana Taylor’s buzzworthy dark horse K.T.S.E. With less fanfare and, admittedly, a more reliable schedule, Quality Control Music has kept the autumn on lock with new full-lengths and EPs from its stable of talents including Lil Baby and Lil Yachty along with solo sets from two of the three Migos.

Event albums begat event albums begat even more event albums. That blockbuster spirit inevitably manifested as actual movie soundtracks, often with key rappers as executive producers. Mere months before winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music for last year’s DAMN., Kendrick Lamar turned the Black Panther soundtrack into a glorified Top Dawg Entertainment compilation. Coupled with the fanfare around the Afrocentric comic book film, it shot to the top of the Billboard 200. Coinciding with an altogether unwanted reboot of the 1970s cult exploitation flick, Future’s Superfly featured a dozen of his songs, comprising about half of the record’s total run time. Less effective in the category were soundtracks for the Rocky Balboa Cinematic Universe’s Creed 2, helmed by Mike Will Made It, and the Pepsi Max brand extension vehicle Uncle Drew, which included good enough tracks by A$AP Ferg, G-Eazy, and Wiz Khalifa.

At times, things got kinda weird, as should be expected when dealing with such creative profusion. Snoop Dogg compiled a whole gospel album, with appearances by notable vocalists Kim Burrell and Marvin Sapp alongside ones from his usual suspects Daz Dillinger and Uncle Charlie Wilson. Channeling his inner Clarence Carter, the Baton Rouge native Boosie Badazz dropped an hour’s worth of relatively conventional blues tunes, a decidedly hard left turn away from his typical trill fare. Zaytoven brought out pop icon Usher for an eight-song tribute to Atlanta, Lupe Fiasco concocted a movie-length audio fantasia about African slaves who survived sinkings by adapting to undersea life, and Tyga outed himself as a possible furry with the cover art to his pre-comeback flop Kyoto. Even Golden Age godhead Slick Rick slid into Mariah Carey’s (!!!) mentions with a low-key verse for her Caution highlight “Giving Me Life.”

While there’s no disputing that 2018 delivered in terms of quantity, quality was much harder to come by. More often than not, it seemed like labels and rappers were dumping hard drives worth of material onto the market, inundating listeners with a supply that obviously outpaced demand and our capacity to receive. In addition to the Superfly soundtrack and his WRLD On Drugs collab, Future dropped the Zaytoven-produced Beastmode 2, another eleven songs for DJ Esco’s Kolorblind, and features for everyone from Freebandz affiliates Doe Boy and Young Scooter to major label pals DJ Khaled and Rick Ross. Migos and Rae Sremmurd needlessly crossed the hundred minute mark with their sequels Culture II and SR3MM, each overstuffed with the unsubtle intent to game the weight given to digital consumption in both Billboard and the RIAA’s respective unit sales methodologies. The same went for Drake’s Scorpion, the latest blatant attempt by the streaming scofflaw to make every full play of his album count as 2.5 plays.

Say what you will about any of these aforementioned albums right now, but when it comes time to rank them in your iTunes record collection few if any will rise above as catalog contenders. Everything Is Love obviously brought excitement in that first weekend, but it assuredly won’t supplant The Blueprint, Reasonable Doubt, or The Black Album the next time some blue-checked Twitterer poses the question. Despite The Carters’ status in music, the ephemeral thrills of their record undeniably evaporated barely two weeks later when Scorpion arrived to crowd the conversation. Barely a month later, Astroworld finally hit. A week passed then Minaj’s ˆ came, followed a couple weeks later by Kamikaze.

The relentlessness of such a schedule, which obviously included dozens more projects from hip-hop artists with comparatively less fame, leaves scarcely any time to even attempt to fully appreciate these records. Apart from the most fixated of stans, who treat their factional fandoms with all the gravitas of reality show melodrama, the majority of listeners hopped around and sampled the wares at the streaming platform of their choice, perhaps weighing in online with glib one-listen reviews to demonstrate that they’d paid at least a modicum of attention. While so many rappers ruled the Billboard charts week after week, much of that success proved short-lived, with steep second week declines making the road to RIAA gold and beyond all the longer. Though problematic faves like 6ix9ine and XXXTentacion fueled hits off their legal woes and controversies, most artists found themselves quickly crowded out by the next wave of releases seven days later.

A lot of lip service has been paid to the shortness of attention spans in the social media era. Yet even if we weren’t all consuming our information in short-form videos and pithy tweets, the day still only lasts 24 hours, and only a fraction of that time can reasonably go towards listening to music. That may have made manageable EPs and sitcom-sized outings by Vince Staples, Young Thug, and others all the more enticing, but again the overall volume and steadily heavy flow of new material soon negated those projects too.

With only two New Music Fridays left in the calendar year, the amount of remaining 2018 releases continue the taxing trend. Last week brought albums by Kodak Black, Method Man, and Vic Mensa, while this one promises records by 21 Savage and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. A hip-hop soundtrack for animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is also on the way. Last minute surprises drops can’t be ruled out either, though Kanye’s twice-delayed Yandhi appears more idle threat than promise at this point.

Amid all the glut, admittedly, were some beautiful and memorable works. Noname’s coming of age word jazz odyssey Room 25 earned righteous acclaim, and the untimely passing of Mac Miller added greater gravity to his Swimming album. Hopefully something that dropped over the last 12 months connected with you enough to have staying power in your listening life. But looking back, 2018 felt like some sort of capitalist con, a calculated group effort to keep us dependent on streaming platforms backed by corporate tech giants at home and abroad. Back in the day, when sales meant physical media purchases rather than shorthand calculations guesstimating the value of a song play online, the industry wouldn’t have dared to unload this much music all at once. Now, however, they’re incentivized to force feed, leaving rap music listeners perpetually stuffed but somehow never ever satisfied.

RELATED: Debate Us: The 30 Best Albums of 2018

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