By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
What comes to mind when you think of Kanye West? Do you think of “Stronger” or “Gold Digger”? The time he criticized President George W. Bush for his supposed lack of efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina? The Taylor Swift incident and the ensuing memes? Or maybe you really enjoyed South Park’s portrayal of him.
Monday marked the 10th anniversary of West’s debut album, “The College Dropout.”
The title was blunt and true: West did drop out of college in order to pursue his dream of music. The album’s tracks detailed his story of struggles with work (“Spaceship”), his dance with death (“Through the Wire”), and his cynical criticism of the college system through a series of humorous — albeit, in your face — skits. West also explored his socio-political side with tracks like “All Falls Down,” “We Don’t Care,” “Never Let Me Down” and “Two Words.”
It is hard to imagine that it has been only ten years since West entered the limelight. Many people who don’t listen to hip-hop or don’t know West’s music tend to ask: “What’s so great about Kanye West?”
Let me tell you: “The College Dropout” changed the genre.
Released roughly one year after 50 Cent’s debut, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” “Dropout” was different: it was not an album glamorizing blatant criminal activity like a majority of the genre’s high profile artists at the time. West had crafted a project that told stories appealing to the masses, discussing the struggles of a man trying to make his dreams come true despite going against the grain of society.
Dropout paved the way for artists like Drake, J. Cole and Wale to find success, and for artists like Common to return to the spotlight. In short, nothing was the same since “The College Dropout” dropped. Congratulations, Mr. West.
By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
Imagine a time where the Internet was inconceivable and television had yet to become the norm. All of your entertainment and other information came from word of mouth, newspapers and the radio.
You turn on your radio one evening, checking the stations for some music when you hear a story from a Carl Phillips in New Jersey speaking with a Princeton professor about a strange object that fell from the sky.
Phillips describes the scene, a creature emerges from the object and attacks everyone – civilians and police alike. You curl in a ball and worry as you hear the screams of death and strange noises. The pleading of the innocent falls on deaf ears. Only the professor survives, but out of cowardice, and he eventually begins to describe the creature as well as the incoming extraterrestrial invasion.
This very scenario is what Orson Welles put many listeners through on Oct. 30, 1938 when he debuted his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds. For just over an hour, Welles had placed a spell on his audience, captivating listeners as they slowly heard the end of the world and the aftermath of the invasion as told by Princeton professor Richard Pierson.
Initially, Phillips interviewed Pierson about a series of strange explosions on Mars, but he denied the possibility of life on the big red planet. After receiving reports about the object, the two rushed to the scene of the brutal massacre by “heat ray”. Pierson is the sole survivor, and after a short interlude he begins to describe his life months after the initial invasion. The people he meets and with whom he interacts are interesting characters with thoughts of rebellion or submission, representing the schools of thought that would be expected to occur after an apocalyptic event.
On Oct. 31, 2013, the Regent Theatre hosted a live re-enactment of the original Welles broadcast, and it was one of the most interesting things to witness in this post-Google age. A projector was set up on a stage behind the cast members, who sat at their chairs with music stands, microphones and many hats. The sound crew was stage left, handling the volume and the effects as well. There was something oddly charming about the event even before it began. And then the broadcast occurred.
The performance of the broadcast was brilliant. The theater had an aura of a lecture hall, and the scenes were projected onto the screen as the cast splendidly performed their roles. A few changes were made from the original, such as reporter Carl Phillips being changed to Carla Phillips to reflect the voice actress.
The passion, comedy and overall delivery of every line and use of every sound effect made the show incredibly entertaining. It was funny when it needed to be, and creepy when the time was right. The effective acting was enough to make one forget that it was only an audio performance.
If you have never heard of War of the Worlds, I encourage you to find out as much as you can and to try to experience it as close to the original broadcast as possible. It was a worthwhile experience that was perfect for the Halloween festivities.
By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
Over the last few decades, the genre of hip hop has slowly been evolving. With each year, each new artist that has risen to ‘mainstream’ status has brought something new to the table (for better or for worse). Certain artists constantly push the boundaries either lyrically, sonically or both. Others tend to fly under the radar with a few notable songs. Sometimes, the producer has even outshined the artist, but one thing has remained clear: the genre has been progressing every year.
During the ‘90s, which has been dubbed the “Golden Age of Hip Hop,” the rise of popular rappers such as the Notorious B.I.G (Biggie), Tupac Shakur (2Pac), Nas or Jay-Z showcased the different directions in which the genre could progress. After the deaths of B.I.G. and Shakur, who were already locked in a deadly feud, Jay and Nas had their own feud.
Biggie and 2Pac are the most controversial artists of the era and the genre – with Biggie perfecting Big Daddy Kane’s braggadocio rap style and 2Pac adapting Slick Rick’s storytelling to fit his own tales. Jay succeeded Biggie as the big bragger, and Nas succeeded 2Pac as the dark storyteller and preacher as the 90s became the new millennium, what I like to call the New Age of Hip Hop.
New Age hip hop artists that became crucial movers and shakers were Eminem, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent and Kanye West. Eminem – who sold more albums than anyone else in this era – was the former protege of NWA rapper/producer Dr. Dre. Wayne was the adopted son and rising young rapper of Birdman; 50 was discovered by Eminem and became a hitmaker; and Kanye was the underdog producer-turned-rapper with an attitude that wanted to outshine his mentor, Jay-Z.
As the years went on, these names constantly popped up all over the genre as the biggest names in “the game” (despite OutKast and Lauryn Hill snagging DIAMOND albums). But eventually Eminem took a break and 50 lost his album duel to Kanye West as both released their 3rd studio albums on the same day. In the meantime, Wayne had released a stellar series of albums and mixtapes that had him claiming to be the “best rapper alive.” By 2010, Kanye and Lil Wayne were arguably the biggest names in hip hop during the 2000s.
2011 proved to be a good year as well for both of these titans as Kanye collaborated with Jay-Z for Watch the Throne and Lil Wayne released the best-selling hip hop album of the year with Tha Carter IV (which went double platinum). Both had also put together strong labels in West’s G.O.O.D. Music and Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment – a move that rising titan Rick Ross soon mirrored in his Maybach Music Group.
But with the rise of these new labels and their respective talents, I ask one question: who’s next? Who will be the big hip hop star of this decade?
Some names have already been thrown onto the table, names such as Drake, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, the list goes on. What I am asking is that in another 10, 20 or 30 years, who will be controlling the genre?
As of August 2013, only three hip hop artists that debuted in the current decade have gone platinum: Drake, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar. Drake has two platinum albums. Nicki has two platinum albums. Kendrick has one. These three are the current stars of the genre. Who will join them? Who will end at the top?
By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
If you have listened to mainstream hip-hop within the last year, chances are you have heard the name A$AP Rocky. After the success of his mixtape LiveLoveA$AP – featuring the hit single “Peso” – the Harlem native released his debut studio album, Long.Live.A$AP, early last week. Featuring notable guest appearances from artists such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and 2 Chainz and star producers like Hit-Boy, 40, Skrillex and T-Minus, Long.Live.A$AP strikes a balance between heavy-hitting party raps and trippy, wonky songs that will constantly have you guessing what comes next.
A$AP Rocky’s choice of instrumentals is truly extravagant. Every beat serves its purpose – the bass-heavy “Goldie” (produced by Hit-Boy) gives listeners the feeling that they are truly living life like King Midas, while the synths on “Hell” and “Pain” feel like something expected of Tyler, the Creator (in a good way). A$AP Rocky isn’t a rapper well known for his deep lyrics, but his personality on the mic is definitely noticeable on this album. He shines mostly on experimental tracks such as “Wild for the Night,” which features remixing by Skrillex; this loud, electronic instrumentation meshes well with his style of rapping. Despite this, his performance on posse cuts such as “F***in’ Problems” or “1Train” also stand out simply for his flow and cadence.
Rocky’s instrumental ear is complemented by his choice of featured artists; despite a diverse sampling, the album remains focused, and when featured artists – Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Joey Bada$$ – do appear, they remain a welcome surprise.
Unfortunately, his greatest assets on the album tend to be his greatest detriments as well. At times, tracks seem to drag on, or the instrumentals become too distracting, making it difficult to fully enjoy his performance. Also, by featuring so many artists, their vocals may become more memorable than Rocky’s at times. In fact, Rocky’s lyrics often play out as filler on some parts of the album: tracks such as “PMW (All I Really Need)” and “Fashion Killa” point out how repetitive some hooks can become. Even the current hit “F***in’ Problems” suffers from the issue.
Despite its shortcomings, Long.Live.A$AP is a welcome addition to the genre as the first major release of 2013. The production is top-notch, the pacing is enjoyable, and the features truly help to make gems out of some potentially skip-worthy tracks, even if they do take the spotlight off of the album artist. Give this album a listen if you enjoy hip-hop music.