The robin: harbinger of Spring, hipster of the bird world.
[Photo credit to AB (minnesotabrown.com)]
Spring has sprung. As temps warm, so does my urge to get out and be active. This past week I’ve traveled to MSP for a concert and some tournament hockey, ramped up my half-marathon training, won a trivia night, met some new people in some new places, got back to kickboxing, and saw a midweek bluegrass show. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve been busy. While the music from this week was selected with proper care and consideration, this write-up is going to be mostly off the top of my head and poorly researched. You’ve been warned. SKRRT SKRRT!
“Father Son Holy Smoke,” Smino (EJ)
Smino diGrigio. Smidi Pablo. Smino Papi. Smeezy F Baby, the F is for finito.
This dude Smino.
This song showed up on my Spotify new releases page, and I’d never heard of Smino, but it looked interesting enough. First time through, a half-assed listen, I heard some stuff I liked, so I added it to my SOTY potentials playlist. Then the next day, I was listening on shuffle and this song comes up, and the shit stops me in my tracks. Who is this guy? Where the hell did he come from? He’s rapping like Kendrick, singing like Chance, and showing shades of Thundercat. Oh, his main influence? Kanye. Checks out.
Smino grew up in St. Louis and Chicago, and is yet another blazing bright young Midwest hip hop prospect. The Chicago music scene is bursting at the seams with talent, and its artists have a knack for collaboration with one another and maintaining their independence as artists. You can ultimately trace it back to Kanye, but give credit to Chance for leading the recent movement for the emphasis of creativity over commercialization. Vic Mensa, Jeremih, BJ the Chicago Kid, Saba, Noname, and now Smino — their music speaks for itself.
“Father Son Holy Smoke” is the second single released in anticipation of Smino’s debut album, blkswn. The album fuses funk and soul and rap and jazz and gospel and R&B and comes off a bit chaotic and beautiful and maybe even a little groundbreaking. But before I get ahead of myself with blkswn (not eligible until next week), let’s briefly break down “Father Son Holy Smoke.”
Smino goes it alone on this track, sans features. He flexes some on the first two verses, getting into a good flow on what reportedly originated as a freestyle. The chorus is backed by a jazzy bass line, and lyrically blurs the lines between the peace of mind he derives from his faith and that from “the holy smoke that cool my mind.” My favorite part of the song comes in the third verse. Smino gets more personal here, speaking specifically about members of his family and how he still feels most at home in St. Louis despite moving around during his childhood. My favorite moment comes at 2:23 — the beat cuts to a simple drum track, and the harmonized vocals relate memories of a religious upbringing shaped by an addiction in the family. The meter and rhyming patterns, impressive throughout the track, really come through here.
As a budding hip hop head that values musicality, this shit is right up my alley. Smino’s melding of influences results in risk-taking and experimentation. It’s hip hop that you can parse over and analyze and listen to again and again.
“Chanel,” Frank Ocean (JH)
Frank Ocean is the shit.
He released his studio debut Channel Orange in 2012, and had smash success both critically and commercially. Always maintaining a mysterious persona, he went all but silent for the next four years while rumors swirled about his next project. It seemed like every few months their would be some cryptic report that Frank would be dropping his next album any day now. The rumors finally came to fruition mid-2016 with the release of Endless, which turned out to be some sort of visual album released as a super weird live stream of a construction project in a warehouse (???) that I admit I never made the effort to actually listen to. Turns out, that album was just a giant middle finger to Def Jam records and exists only to fulfill a contract obligation after a seven year negotiation battle.
Shortly after, Ocean realigned with Apple Music and released Blonde (which I most certainly did listen to, many times over), again reaching critical and commercial success. Frank being Frank, he quite publicly withheld Blonde from Grammy consideration, presumably still sour about feeling slighted by the Academy, whether for a perceived lack of recognition for his own music or that of his colleagues and collaborators. It was also basically another giant middle finger to the industry at large.
Ocean made his first appearance in 2017 with Calvin Harris and Migos on “Slide,” which, if your ears connect to your brain, you probably have heard by this point. We at WOLFSONGS are certainly fans.
“Chanel” came as a bit of a surprise, dropping late Friday night. It is some silky smooth R&B with a memorable hook. (“I got neeeewwwww money, and it’s alllll cash.”) Nothing incredibly groundbreaking, just Frank doing Frank. I hesitate mentioning this, because it really shouldn’t even be an issue, but its lyrics feature him being pretty casually overt about his sexuality. He’s always seemed very comfortable with the subject, but its nice to see it being a nonissue in a time when the latent homophobia of hip hop still rears its ugly head from time to time.
Both nominations from this week are deserving candidates for winner of the week. “Chanel” carries with it a stronger pedigree and more mass appeal. I almost chose it for nomination myself — at times it was really a toss up for me — before ultimately choosing the Smino track. Jake obviously held it in high regard, having chosen it himself. That being said, this feels a little bit like Diet Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean Lite. Fat Free Frank Ocean with No Sugar Added. It’s good. It’s not next level.
Smino, on the other hand, is for me the most exciting new artist in recent memory. Not only does “Father Son Holy Smoke” stand up to “Chanel” pound for pound in a head to head match up, it has the added edge of freshness. That clinches it for me.
Your weekly winner,
Smino ::: Father Son Holy Smoke
“Name For You,” The Shins
- The lead-off track and one of the highlights from Heartworms, out this week. This song is The Shins at their most upbeat. They are sounding very solid after a five year break, and they just announced a show coming up at Bluestem this Summer — shuould be a highlight of the summer concert series.
“Soothing,” Laura Marling
- Finally, Semper Femina is here! I’ve been looking forward to this album for several weeks, and it does not disappoint. This is the first track from the album, and showcases the prowess of Marling’s vocal chops as well as her excellent band. The string work, starting with that incredibly smooth bass line, is cathartic on this one.
“You are the Problem Here,” First Aid Kit
- This song, plain and simple, just kicks ass. It’s lyrics are pretty powerful: a message to anyone abusing a position of power to make unwanted sexual advances that it is NOT okay, you were NOT provoked, and you deserve no compassion in facing the consequences for your actions. It’s a girl power anthem with an angry edge. Like I said, it kicks ass.
“Meditation,” GoldLink ft. Jazmine Sullivan & KAYTRANADA
- This song emerges at the intersection of dance and hip hop, and stands out to me for its ability to seamlessly combine elements of classic hip hop bars and hooks with contemporary dance beats. KAYTRANADA made lots of noise in 2016 with 99.9% and continues to show up as a feature among some big names this year. His beat on this track is a strong selling point.
“1 Billion Dogs,” Jay Som
- I mentioned this song a couple weeks ago along with another Jay Som song I had as an Hon, but this week it gets formal appointment to the playlist. A little dish of punk rock with a catchy chorus from what was a very solid debut album by Jay Som (Everybody Works).
“All Aloud,” Adrian Lux
- Some classic Swedish EDM here. If you like that, you’ll like this.
“Girl at Coachella,” Matoma & MAGIC! ft. D.R.A.M.
- This seems like a fun threesome of artists that someone picked out of a hat. Add this to your summer playlist and make sure to remember never to trust girls at Coachella.
“Breathe,” Astrid S
- Back to Scandinavia with Norwegian artist Astrid S. She showed up on my radar with her first single 2AM and its subsequent remixes. In fact my favorite remix of 2AM was by Matoma (see above). That concludes this round of three degrees of separation from Honorable Mentions.
Editors note: I’ve been watching old episodes of The Office and this is all I can think about whenever I hear the name Astrid…
SHOWDOWN FOR THE BELT
After the lengthy discussion last week about what constitutes a proper belt-holder, we are again left with a tough decision. My love for Smino should be pretty apparent by this point. As mentioned above, his music is something to really dissect and digest. This doesn’t disqualify it from contention, but it doesn’t count for a lot of points in its favor. Last week I referred to “Die Young” (and Portugal. the Man’s “Feel it Still”) as fulfilling the purpose of bliss provision. This is where “Father Son Holy Smoke” falls a bit short. It gives me joy to listen to it, sure, but I don’t get the same easy blissful feeling I get when I get in a good sway along with Sylvan Esso. So while Smino is my new Artist of the Future, Sylvan Esso maintains its hold on the SOTY belt for another week.