Features, Music Reviews

Dark, Brooding, Fierce, Powerful: Racquel Jones’ IgnoRANT is No F*cks Given

DISCLAIMER: IgnoRANT is not for the pansy class. Middle-aged white dudes, beware. This album should be blasted in residential neighborhoods at peak volume. Anything else is unacceptable.

On her latest album, IgnoRANT, MC Racquel Jones weaponizes stereotypes against women and hurls them in the other direction. She’s not afraid to puncture an existing wound or stab a man fresh off a new transgression. The trip-hip, R&B, calypso, and electronic hip hop album is hyper-conscious, hyper-sexual, and highly stimulating. Her daggers are her words, the music a sounding board for higher frequencies of high-speed voltage to bounce off of, and Racquel has the power to flip the switch.

“Manic” gives off mucha Latina vibes (Maybe she borrowed a cue from Saudade, the Bossa Nova album by Thievery Corporation), and the music sucks you into a dream, and you’re losing your footing on a winding staircase that keeps spiraling and spiraling, never reaching the floor. The feeling of insomnia, of sleep walking, a never-ending problem. 

“Siren! Violent!” we hear Ms. Jones shriek on “Arrogant,” the sixth track on IgnoRANT. With a snarl not to be messed with, Jones brings memories of Steflon Don, Foxy Brown, and Lil Kim rolled into one song, proving that the goddess MCs of today’s generation can’t be pigeonholed into one sound, one vibe. They can be girly AND rough around the edges. Like manicures AND slamming a six-pack down. They can be angry and don’t have to apologize for it. 

“Queen,” the final track, is a discotheque of epic proportions. Ms. Jones flaunts her crown in the video proudly, and here, pride is celebration, not perceived as arrogance. She calls on other women to show up as they are, without fear of consequence, and names off famous icons, queens, and goddesses in history who have owned their shit. That’s a beautiful message: No competition, only celebration. All in the name of fierce women. 

IgnoRANT is the opposite of its name. It’s the got-damn truth. It’s an invocation. This is a philosophical work of art by Ms. Jones, who celebrates her Jamaican and Black roots and addresses issues with religion, on the album. This is not your ordinary dance album. It’s deeply personal, and in listening, you can feel the blood and sweat that was poured into its creation. Bravo, Ms. Jones, Bravo.

For the full album, listen here.

Connect with Racquel Jones: Website | Instagram

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Features, Music Reviews, Race + Culture

Social Justice in Music: Emerging Indie Artists of the Pandemic

By JD Brant // Contributing Writing By Saliek Ruffin

Hip hop has come a long way since the OG days of “Rapper’s Delight.” The track was the first hip hop song to reach Billboard’s Top 40 at a time when music by young black musicians was easily misunderstood. Now, almost 40 years later, hip hop still dominates Billboard charts. Streaming numbers have nudged the genre, yet again, into familiar hybrid pop/rock territory (Does anyone remember Blondie’s “Rapture”? That’s where it all started). 

At its core, hip hop is a political movement, and contemporary artists’ attempts to smash the status quo offers glimmers of hope for Gen Zers, millennials, and other lost generations. Here we’ve compiled a list of standout artists who’ve emerged victorious during the COVID-19 pandemic and have taken on social justice causes as influencers in the music industry. We will post one new artist a week throughout the summer. 

1. H.E.R.

Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson is her government name. Her stage name, articulated “her,” is an abbreviation for Having Everything Revealed. The Filipino/African-American vocalist and musician rose to prominence at the height of the pandemic, and has been soaring ever since. 

After initially releasing music under her government name, Wilson reappeared in 2016 with the H.E.R. persona, delivering her introduction EP H.E.R. Volume 1. She at that point delivered resulting EPs H.E.R. Volume 2 (2017), The B Sides (2017), I Used to Know Her: The Prelude (2018) and I Used to Know Her: Part 2 (2018). 

2020 was the year of H.E.R. She was designated for five honors at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for her album, I Used to Know Her, and Song of the Year for “Hard Place.” In September, she sang Prince’s tune “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, and during the pre-game celebrations for Super Bowl LV, H.E.R. performed “America the Beautiful” while playing guitar. 

What makes H.E.R. a beautiful soul is her passion for activism. Laced throughout her discography are reflections of her beliefs. “I Can’t Breathe” was the singer’s premiere social justice song, an emphatic statement on the current global policing crisis. She also contributed a song to the soundtrack of Judas and the Black Messiah titled, “Fight For You,” last August. 

Listen to “Fight For You” here:

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Uncategorized

Music Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: MELD – Words of the Water

By JD Brant

Nashville’s got soul, and a helluva lot of it. I previously wrote about a handful of womxn-identifying musicians taking New Nashville by storm, and I’m continuing the love with an album drop from a soul singer whose pipes are the source of much envy. MELD (government name, Melanie Dewey) recently performed songs off of her August debut, Words of the Water, live from the iconic Music Marathon Works in Nashville. 

During her live set, the ocean spilled from the movement of interpretive dancers and poetry from soul strummers Katie Buxton, Amber Lily, and company. MELD donated money raised to The Ocean Cleanup, and it’s not the first time she’s used her platform for environmental activism. 

A born-again Janis Joplin and a true jambander at heart, MELD has rocked out with Zoogma, Brothers Past, and her band’s played at The Mothership Festival In Taos, New Mexico, and Sonic Bloom in Colorado. She’s done all of this while raising money for charities like OceanAid, Coalition For Clean Air, and Urban Green Lab, making every droplet count. 

On Words of the Water, MELD climbs into subtle and gentle falsetto patterns on “Colors” that are more aligned with Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” than Ariana’s “Oh Santa!” (although Mariah and Ariana hit a high note with their whistle register, for sure). On “Freedom,” the listener is offered melodic grooves and tinctures of color and flame, or maybe Sound & Color, as progressive jazz rockers Alabama Shakes would have it. The track is exceptionally climactic, and a cliffhanger ending swells with the magic of a sunset rising above crashing waves. 

Words of the Water certainly isn’t MELD’s first swing out of the park. Her 2017 album H.U.R.T. is smoldering with instant classics. “Leaving You Out” (the out-of-this-world remix I’m speaking of is here) is a radio bop with club appeal. At a heart-racing BPM and silky-smooth orchestration, the song’s mastering (by Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio) is on the same level of quality as the producing chops backing Nashville megastars. Projects like Meghan Trainor’s Treat Myself, which splits discography credits among thirteen different producers, has a similar sonic bite.

On a personal note, MELD’s father passed away of cancer this summer, but before that time came, she was able to mobilize her social media forces and catch the attention of former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and Dead & Company member John Mayer. Both members gave her father, a loyal deadhead, a 50th birthday shoutout on social media before his passing. 

You don’t have to be a Grateful Dead fan to get behind what MELD is throwing down. If you enjoy Joss Stone or Jewel’s earthy aesthetic, you’ll have no problem connecting to a song on her album. 

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Uncategorized

Featured Review

ALBUM REVIEW: Bartees Strange – Live Forever

By John Mccracken 

Bartees Strange’s Live Forever is a pulsing, sonic conundrum, released on Music Memory and mastered by Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip. In the first minutes of Live Forever, the Washington D.C. songwriter paints with an ethereal brush. “Jealousy” opens with soft piano chords, birds chirping, and an almost unintelligible Strange delivers lines about anger, missing pieces of the self, and a missing but needed voice. 

Distinct sounds like his will stop you in your tracks when you first hear them. Music’s ability to mold memories with reality is palpable with brilliant songwriting such as his. While bathing my son after an extraordinarily messy lunch, the first notes of “Jealousy” played through a small Bluetooth speaker. The window was open and the trees swayed with their newly changing leaves. He babbled along to the slowly crashing chords, shimmying in the rippling water, pushing infinite waves to the edges of the pool.

“Mustang” followed after, cutting the soft sounds with sharp synthesizers and a driving post-punk anthem. Strange has a stunning vocal range, moving between soft indie rock and anthemic, almost bellowing choruses. Showing his vocal range alongside musical prowess, Strange delves into a gritty punk in an abrupt ending to the track. 

Bartees Strange is a gifted songwriter with a unique background. Born in Ipswich, England, he travelled across Europe at a young age, being exposed to music through the church. His life in the States has had a proclivity to move around, jumping between music scenes in Oklahoma, eventually finding his way to the metro D.C. area as a songwriter and producer. 

Citing his young life and navigating the world as a Black man, “Boomer” is a fast-paced song, switching between wittily delivered rap verses and jangling, boot-stomping country bridges. 

He juggles aspirations of a better life on the trippy rap track “Kelly Rowland.” On “Stone Meadows,” he builds a wall of stadium rock, blending his loud delivery and shuffling drums.

Strange’s power lies in his ability to evoke mood with the strike of a chord. His large breadth of musical experiences, ranging from country bands, emo bands, and formal opera vocal training, has created a perfect mix of the unpredictable in him. He transcends genre with a smile on his face and a quick whip in his words. 

While trying to trace a singular root for in his sound, a messy clump of vines lies in the wake. This album is a gesture towards an infinite possibility of sound, influenced by punk, rap, indie-pop, synth-rock, with a brilliant, singular singer songwriting voice.Genre isn’t really in Strange’s vocabulary, because his songwriting melds sonic worlds together in a distinctive thread. 

Strange closes the album with the moody anthem “Ghostly.” The track ebbs and flows with plicking synth chords as he contemplates memories of friends and the effects of growing distant from one another. Midway through, he shifts into a new refrain with driving chords, reaching towards a hefty album closer. The song evaporates quickly, mixing vocal harmonies and crashing static.

John Mccracken is a freelance writer from Wisconsin, living in Green Bay. He’s reported on breaking labor news, the intimacy of food in the face of a global pandemic, and interviewed multiple New York Times Bestselling authors. Visit his work here.

CONNECT WITH JOHN: Twitter

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