ON STRINGERS | 2019-02-14

From Wikipedia:

“In journalism, a stringer is a freelance journalist, photographer, or videographer who contributes reports, photos, or videos to a news organization on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work. […]

The etymology of the word is uncertain. Newspapers once paid stringers per inch of printed text they generated. The theory given in the Oxford English Dictionary is that a stringer is a person who strings words together, while others use the term because the reporter is “strung along” by a news organization, or kept in a constant state of uncertainty. Another possibility is that using a sports analogy, the freelance journalist is seen as a “second string” whereas the staff journalist positions are more of the “first string”. (This in turn comes from music, where the first string is the premiere violin in the orchestra, the second string is the next most talented player and so on.)”

It is arguably no debatable issue that journalism nowadays – dwelling within a fully digitised, grassroots bottom-up social media era – is pretty much dead. Or perhaps, it is reborn and come back to life by way of a previously unrecognisable shape, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. This holds true at least as far as its modern conceptualisation as enlightened classic fourth-estate goes, residing alongside centuries-long bred societal pillars and acting as a watchdog of sorts against disenfranchisement and corruption. Yet somehow, as per their crowdsourced definition above, it is probably not so far-fetched to view stringers as the true first scattered networked social media contributors, vastly predating Facebook, Twitter and co (the irony of it coming from the most famous crowdsourced knowledge platform is not lost on me…). Stringers were, in other words, the OGs of citizen journalism, ostracised to the outskirts of corporative newsroom boundaries yet ever so critical and paramount for that sensational breaking news story-piece every news director is constantly chasing. Bear with me here.

Enter Louis Bloom, a character stemming from the mind and pen of American screenwriter and director extraordinaire Dan Gilroy. Lou is the lead protagonist in Nightcrawler, an outstanding 2014 motion picture film written and directed by Gilroy himself, chronicling the rapid and exponential rise and parallel moral downfall of an aspiring DYI stringer hustling through the nocturnal streets of an irresistibly sensual Los Angeles. Now the thing is that, after devouring the movie for the umpteenth time, the penny dropped for me. That is, I was very surprised to come to realise that there was in fact a hidden, secret, and decisively revealing narrative carved in-between the fatty lines rounding up the edges of the official acted script. A script within a script. Deep down. A story we weren’t supposed to fetch and grasp at a first superficial glance, but one that in reality unveiled so much more beneath the surface about modern neoliberal markets, philosophy, and existential musings. Dub it whatever suits you best, I just went ahead and took the official movie screenplay apart, unpacking anything I could find while looking for that mysterious feeling that the film as a whole was somehow able to convey. Seeing is believing.

Luckily for us, I think I was able to catch it. I got it out. Extracting selected excerpts from the full script – incidentally all Louis Bloom lines – helped revealing a whole entire new storyline stuffed with elevated teachings about life and beyond. Camouflaged and packaged within a Hollywood blockbuster, there is perhaps one of the most daring and radical educational deliveries that contemporary mainstream mass cultural production has ever seen. Enjoy and consume it responsibly:

 

LOU
Sir, excuse me, I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told I’m persistent. Now I’m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that people such as yourself who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. Did I say I worked in a garage? Sir, I think you and I could work well together. So how about it? I can start tomorrow or even why not tonight?

LOU
This is a custom racing bicycle, sir, designed for competitive road cycling. This bike has a lightweight, space-age carbon frame and handlebars positioned to put the rider in a more aerodynamic posture. It also has micro-shifters and 37 gears and weighs under six pounds. I won the Tour de Mexico on this bike.

LOU
Well, I’m selling this particular piece for ten thousand. I think at that price there’s a lot of value in it for you.

LOU
Thank you. I’m just beginning so praise from someone such as yourself, well you can imagine it means quite a lot.

LOU
It’s a fine opportunity for some lucky someone. I’d like to know about your prior employment and hear in your own words what you learned from each position.

LOU
I’m giving you the chance to explore career options and gain insight into my organization. It’s not at all unusual for me to make full-time job offers to my interns.

LOU
Don’t rush you. Okay. Good, I can use that … You see, Rick, they’ve done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts have identified communication as the number one single key to success.

LOU
I liked how you handled Frank. You didn’t soften the truth or dilute it. I think being clear with your objectives is more important than trying to present ideas in a non-confrontational manner.

LOU
Well, all sorts of things, actually. I’m on my computer all day. I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? And what are you not that good at? Maybe you want to strengthen and develop knowledge about the things you’re already good at. Or maybe you might want to strengthen your weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that television news might just be something that I love as well as something that I happen to be good at.

LOU
Rick, I’m really pleased with how you’ve progressed and you’re doing a great job. However you just spilled gasoline on my car, which will eat the paint. I’d like you to tighten up a bit on this, because if you fill it like that again I’m gonna terminate you immediately, I promise you.

LOU
I’m focusing on framing. A proper frame not only draws the eye into a picture but keeps it there longer, dissolving the barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot.

LOU
Cabanita has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Most evenings there’s live music, but on Saturdays classic Mexican films are shown. Do you want to go with me? I think it would be fun if we went together.

LOU
Thanks for offering me the position but working for myself is more in line with my skills and career goals.

LOU
I feel like grabbing you by your ears and screaming in your face I’m not fucking interested. Instead I’m going to drive home and do some accounting.

LOU
Not me. I want to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera. The business is doing well but I’m ready to grow to the next level. To do that I need to stay one step ahead of my competition and take risks. I also need financial support to implement expansion. Would you like another margarita?

LOU
I recently learned, for instance, that most Americans watch local news to stay informed. I also learned that an average half-hour of Los Angeles television news packs all its local government coverage — including budget, law enforcement, education, transportation and immigration — into 22 seconds. Local crime stories, however, not only usually led the news but filled 14 times the broadcast, averaging 5 minutes 7 seconds. And K.W.L.A. relies heavily on such stories. With Los Angeles crime rates going down I think that makes items like mine particularly valuable, like rare animals. I imagine your needs will only increase during next week’s rating sweeps period.

LOU
There’s certain good things in being alone. You have time to do the things you want to do, like study and plan. But you can’t have dinners like this. Or be physical with a person, I mean beyond a flirtationship.

LOU
You’re the news director on the vampire shift at the lowest rated station in L.A. I have to think you’re invested in this transaction.

LOU
You’re not listening, Nina. I happen to know you haven’t stayed at one station for more than two years at a time, and you’re coming up on two years soon. So I can imagine you have a contract for that length of time and that ratings during the next week will directly affect that.

LOU
Actually that’s not true, Nina. Because as I’m sure you know … a friend is a gift you give yourself.

LOU
It’s half-dozen of one, six of the other. What I’d like is for you to admit that you didn’t read what you said you did. I think you know that I’m a reasonable person, but no one likes to be lied to.

LOU
Rick. Trying to leverage your salary in this economic environment is near impossible. Most firms have set starting wages. Ideally, you could leverage with other offers but that is just not the case in your situation right now.

LOU
I thought you’d worked in other factors. If I didn’t think you could do better I wouldn’t ride you about routes. You have to know that, Rick. I think it’s just possible that I have a higher opinion of you than you have of yourself.

LOU
You should have walked in and looked, Rick. If you were half-curious. That’s what I’m paying you to do. You need to show initiative. There’s no better way to achieve job security than by making yourself an indispensable employee.

LOU
All the more reason. You might have helped me. You might have learned a new skill that made you more useful and put us on a track toward growth.

LOU
I’m not going to list the many benefits of this piece. I think it’s best that you probably just watch it for yourself.

LOU
Those were poor Mexican people in a roach coach. Two of them were illegals. These are three wealthy white people shot and killed inside their mansion, including a suburban wife shotgunned in her bed. I know you, Nina. I know your interest and excitement in this product is greater than the amount you’re offering.

LOU
What if the story’s not over? The people who did this escaped. They’re still out there, walking around with the rest of us. If I had a family and I lived in a home that might make me nervous. I would want updates on what was going on. With this footage people will turn to your channel for the story. Now I like you, Nina, I look forward to our time together, but you have to understand that 15,000 isn’t all that I want. From here on, starting now, I want my work to be credited by the anchors and on a burn. The name of my company is Video News Productions, a professional news gathering service. That’s how it should read and that’s how it should be said. I also want to go to the next rung and meet your team and the anchors and the director and the station manager, to begin developing my own personal relationships. I’d like to start meeting them this morning. You’ll take me around and you’ll introduce me as the owner and president of Video News and remind them of some of my many other stories. I’m not done. I also want to stop our discussions over prices. This will save time. So when I say a particular number is my lowest price, that is my lowest price and you can be sure I’ve arrived at whatever that number is very carefully. Now when I say I want these things I mean that I want them and I don’t want to have to ask again. And the last thing that I want, Nina, is for you to do the things I ask you to do when we’re alone together at your apartment, not like the last time.

LOU
I don’t usually share my business plan with you, but a moment has arrived that could allow the company to make enough money to expand to the next level. We could call this the critical moment. I’m inviting you, Rick, to be part of the team that pounces on this opportunity.

LOU
You’ve been asking a lot about your performance review. Well, for starters I’m seeing a great improvement with regards to your overall focus and order following. Given complex problems you’re developing a real ability to find clear, simple solutions. I’m also aware of your increased enthusiasm. It’s great to see how your eyes light up when you’re working on new ideas. I hope you’ll be inspiring us with your innovative thinking for years to come.

LOU
What makes a job desirable isn’t just the dollar amount attached to it, Rick. You’re on the ground floor of a growing business. Your reward is a career.

LOU
We can reopen negotiations, Rick, but remember that when it comes to your work reputation you can’t un-ring the bell.

LOU
What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

LOU
I can’t jeopardize the company’s success to retain an untrustworthy employee.

LOU
That’s my job, that’s what I do. I like to say if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.

LOU
Congratulations. Your selection by Video News Productions is evidence of the hiring committee’s recognition of your employment history and unique personal qualities. It is my hope that through hard work and commitment you will move through the intern program and continue to pursue your career goals as full-time employees of Video News. I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times and other times unsure but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

 

Nightcrawler’s full screenplay can be found here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

nightcrawler_Car

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ON THEM 777 FLIGHTS WITCHA | 2018-10-26

Sometimes cross-channel influence, cognitive association, and topical inspiration can strike from the weirdest, strangest angles in life, working perhaps in a subliminally unconscious way yet yielding their initial igniting spark when one least expects it. While I’m not really here looking for interpretation or struggling for inherent meaning of what I’m about to stipulate, it’s true that to many a readers this pairing of sorts will appear rather odd, as if permeating through the meanders of algorithmically computed processes. First things first. There is a visual album by Frank Ocean called Endless, his third music project overall, that was released in August 2016 as his last commitment with Def Jam Recordings so as to ingeniously fulfil his recording contract with the Universal Music-owned hip-hip imprint, shortly before dropping his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed official second studio LP Blonde. Overlooking for a moment the scope of the very query beyond what the hell a visual album even is in the first place in today’s creative industries, Endless was initially distributed exclusively through Apple Music as an on-demand streaming-only 45-ish-minute video, before getting the sound recording re-issue makeover earlier in April this very year. The thing is, throughout its artistic and sonic existence, Frank’s audiovisual art piece always and forever existed in the shadow of his companion major album release and, needless to say, hitherto lived a life of critical overlooking and unwilling negligence.

I’d hate to be that guy, but this wasn’t the case for yours truly, who sincerely immediately connected with the boundary-pushing flair of the project’s experimentation, and almost continuously and consistently rated it above its sister (or perhaps, mother) marquee summer drop Blonde, the latter promoted and sponsored by antiquated industry ideas and appraisal canons supposedly ascribing what kind of attributes an album ought to have in order to be even considered as such. Speaking of reviewing conventions, and calling for a need of scrutinising standards, the auditory experience of Endless clocks in at about 40 minutes and change in length and, depending on which specific rendition one might be referring to, rocks about 20 quote-unquote cuts, ranging literally from atomised skits of a handful seconds to techno-reprises of intense seven minutes. What’s very interesting about this album is that it contains a special song entitled “Sideways”, sitting idle at number thirteen on my version of the track list, glowingly melting in a gorgeous fashion between crystal acoustic gem “Slide On Me” and choir-fuelled celestial “Florida”. Also, it’s interesting and noteworthy here to point out, in light of future revelations further down the piece, how the number thirteen is often viewed as carrying bad luck connotations by many superstitious cultures the world over and, more importantly, believe it or not many commercial airlines avoid its numbered seating row onboard their planes, out of that same superstition affinity. The track was crafted by London-based electronic music artist and sound engineer Vegyn, although further production handling on the song is credited to NY-based experimental glitch artist Nolife, who allegedly worked on the track with Frank himself while he was a temporary resident of New York City’s Mercer Hotel, even though he might as well have paid the whole mortgage for what he was spendingWhat I’ll do next is providing you with the full transcription of “Sideways”‘s lyrics, as a deep courtesy of genius.com:

[Verse]
I was in all them hours in it
10K, tokin’ mid strokes
Prime prime time of my life witcha
Puttin’ prime numbers up though
On them 777 flights witcha
Take a shower with it, gotta cleanse it
Keep the safety off innit
Now we finna have a mini
Outta wedlock, God forgive it
Then forget it
‘Cause only God can forget it
All this hotel living
Might as well pay the mortgage what I’m spending
Said the dick long as a swan neck
Put some real swans in the pond then
Fell asleep in the foreign
After the free show at the Garden
Let the LED roll, deer hunter
Leave the stage, watch it from the audience
Bet we sell the bickets out next week
On me on, my bodness

[Outro]
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m sideways, yeah, I set me straight
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m down they gon’ celebrate
Sittin’ sideways, too sideways
Nah, it’s not too late

Bear with me as here comes my main point. So all the while relentlessly tasting and indulging in repeated heightened listening experiences of and with Endless and specifically “Sideways”, I somewhere, somehow, sensed a sensorially bridged journey onto a a Swedish internet-based service displaying real-time commercial aircraft flight information on geographical maps, named Flightradar24. This freemium software includes flight tracks, origins and destinations, flight numbers, aircraft types, positions, altitudes, headings and aerodynamic speeds on a global scale. For affluent paid users, it can also show time-lapse replays of previous tracks and historical flight data by airline, aircraft, aircraft type, area or airport. Weirdly, this web app has become one of my biggest life companions as of late, given my quasi-frequent flyer programme status, which led me to reply to pretty standard – “where are you?” – questions from acquaintances on the phone with a weighted average value answer of – “on a plane” – during the past three to six months. My point here though is that every time I listen to Endless’ thirteenth track, or conversely spend enough time on Flightradar24, I am intensely reminded of the other one object, as if connected by a dotted figurative line, respectively. Something about the transcendent epistemology of both cultural artefacts was pointing out their intrinsic correlation, beyond my grasping almost in an ontological manner.

Now, it’s probably worth spending a couple words on Flightradar24 and its life-saving servicing protocol – just mainly as a public service announcement – without which many a times my airmile consumption patterns would have turned out even more painful and dreary than what they actually were. Like that time were I was quicker than the actual airline ground crew themselves to spot the mysterious air location of the aircraft that was supposed to come pick us up from Milan Malpensa (MXP) and fly us all the way to Barcelona El Prat (BCN) on a late Sunday evening. Or, that other time at Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) airport, where the service helped me figure out how big the apparent official flight delay actually was IRL (I was once again flying to BCN that time), given the incoming airplane’s route and location (unsurprisingly, there was a delta of about one hour and a half. Oh, no, not that Delta, this delta). Or again, and this might be my favourite inclusive utilisation modality of them all, when I would sneakingly monitor the exact route and location of family and friends I was supposed to go pick up upon their arrival at their destination airport, everything logically unbeknownst to all of them. Trust me when I say that you’d be glad you’d have used Flightradar24 before leaving your house to the airport when the specific plane you’re waiting for accumulated a delay of 2+ hours at source. At this point – and I beg your pardon if this comes too late – I would also like to point out that this is not a paid promotion advertorial in any shape or form whatsoever, but rather just an earnest and sincere shout out to not only an excellent travel companion, but also a subliminal Frank Ocean reference item.

You people have to trust me that the fact that this piece comes out into the Interweb on the very immediacy of Frank’s 31st birthday (he was born on 28th October 1987) is honestly a pure alignment of the stars coincidence, or perhaps yet another symbolic semantical component in the bigger meaningful design floating between 1) an Endless audiovisual art experience, 2) a software-as-a-service platform monitoring worldwide air traffic, and 3) a grander scheme of flight journeys. However, recently something perhaps too minuscule to itemise was able to cut through the reality distortion fielded mould and hit me with a sudden illuminating epiphany. I decided to get rid of all existing preconceived notions and mental conjectures that were supporting my struggle for meaning up until that point. Suddenly, I got it all. I got the apparent reason for the metaphysical connection between “Sideways” and Flightradar24, now all of a sudden so clear and yet at the same time always so latent throughout my consumption history with the New York City-nursed composition of 1:54 minutes. While it’s extremely hard to precisely and tangibly put a finger on it, at the end of the day it all has to do with Frank being my flight companion and travelling the world with me on airplanes. At first it might deceivably seem that a single line out of “Sideways”‘s lyrics score sheet could be the key to the mystery kingdom surrounding the opacity of such an obscure symbiotic and visceral connection, however upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to it than simply those five words.

Frank Ocean has actually always been the high-mile flight travel companion one would and should wish for (or is it Tyler Durden?), and he knew about Flightradar24 even before the Swedish folks who spun up and deployed its first source code of the beta software version knew about it. He was there ever since the free show at the Garden, when Kanye West introduced the idea of a living-breathing and upgrading album project to a puzzled and denying music business and mainstream press scene, at the time more concerned with his unbearable production delays in dropping the record and the elevated unpredictability surrounding his whole artist persona – an aspect notoriously shared with Frank Ocean himself – than the actual creative content embedded in the TLOP (w)rapper altogether. In a way, with Endless Frank followed Kanye’s advice, taking up the teachings of the grand master, in that he not only updated sonic and production elements of the original audiovisual album on the go, but effectively warped the whole nature of the artefact turning it into a CD-quality like studio album two years after its first release as a visual album. Very similarly, Flightradar24 tracks and updates flight movements on the fly across the world’s skies, no pun intended, drawing yet another parallel with the epitome of real-timeness which is the aural meditative immersion encapsulated in the minute and fifty-four seconds and the twenty-seven verses of “Sideways”, by Frank Ocean.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happiest birthday Frank.

AV

Flightradar24

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VARIOUS ARTISTS – “BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM” | 2018-02-12

After a period of over a month in which new exciting music releases were almost nowhere to be seen, perhaps understandably since most people were still wrapping up 2017 and/or getting ready for 2018, Friday 9th February came and saved the day for all of us. On said date, a wealth of both long-awaited and rather surprising releases hit Spotify’s New Music Friday shelves, offering a rich and large banquet to choose from across a wide variety of genres and styles. After sleepless nights and a lot of switching gears, my own personal choice eventually made it to a narrower clustered selection of three potential full-length studio albums to be reviewed among the ARM column. I was caught in a triple limbo between New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon’s sophomore solo record Sleepwalkers, indie-pop-psychedelia prodigies MGMT’s highly anticipated first LP in five years, Little Dark Age, and obviously, mighty Marvel’s Black Panther’s curated soundtrack album, executed by his Majesty Kendrick Lamar as well as Top Dawg Entertainment founder Anthony Tiffith. It soon became clear to me that all the signals pointed at both the challenge and opportunity of putting under harsh scrutiny a compilation of songs from various artists about a movie I’ve yet to see, as it was a one of a kind chance that I might not have had again for a long time.

Black Panther: The Album accompanies the massive Marvel Comics feature film of the same name, and, as anticipated above, was primarily masterminded by the multi-award winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar (performing on nearly all songs), who hasn’t necessarily enjoyed a ton of free time from the spotlight and the mainstream since releasing his breakthrough hip-hop opera To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015. Needless to say, this writing only and exclusively pertains to the sonic artistic output of the Black Panther franchise, that is to say, there is zero reference to the content of the movie or the comic books, not least because I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t had a chance to come round to enjoy and consume and of them yet. Yet, at the same time, I thought I’d be interesting to review a soundtrack hit compilation album so strongly tied to a different artistic medium and see how this sort of premise might influence both the listening experience and the overall judgement of the record.

The 14-song album, featuring more than 20 performing artists, dropped – rather predictably – under Kendrick Lamar’s home record label TDE, and was previewed throughout the whole January/beginning of February by three big, star-studded singles. First it was the record’s crown jewel and very melodic “All the Stars” on 4th January, featuring the curator himself paired with gorgeous and impressive label-mate SZA, followed up shortly thereafter by “King’s Dead“, a 4-minutes stomping epic that saw the return on the scene of Black Hippy member Jay Rock alongside Lamar, again, Future, and James Blake. The third and (as of now) last track premiering the full LP, debuting exactly a week before the full work, was called “Pray for Me” and saw commander in chief K-Dot deliver one of his most well-rounded and convincing performances on the whole project, albeit kept pretty brief so as to allow R&B megastar The Weeknd channel his most direct and harmonic Michael Jackson influences. The latter track, perhaps tied to “All the Stars”, also seems the one to have been chosen as prime flagship anthem for the movie roll out, judging by the amount of placements in airplay and promotional clips.

The choice of funnelling most of the album’s condensed promotional image to these three songs appears to be justified in my opinion by their extremely hooky melodies and refrains, as well as the portfolio of heavyweights featured on each track. However, if one were to stop here and try to forecast the rest of the musical critical mass on the album along similar lines, they couldn’t be further from the truth. While this selection of singles, championed especially by “All the Stars” and “Pray for Me”, has pretty much all it takes, from production, delivery, and lyrics (“Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me / You can bring a bullet, bring a sword, bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me”), to overshadow and outshine the rest of the songs, the album’s best moments live and breathe elsewhere.

A perfect example of such an unsung hidden gem on this Black Panther: The Album is “Redemption”, where Los Angeles-based neo-soul rising star Zacari mashes up with South African/Zulu singer Babes Wodumo, assisted yet again by Kendrick for a funky, groovy, and multi-coloured afro-beat hymn, previewed by a fitting interlude setting the scene for this high moment on the record. I figure the song is a quintessential example of what the overall project is trying to convene on a conceptual level, i.e. a global contamination of black music influences with an army of songwriters on a quest for expressions of freedom and empowerment. In the eyes of this type of analysis, “Redemption” ticks all the boxes.

Competing with “Redemption” and “All the Stars” for best cut off of the album is another hard-hitting, stomping industrial tornado of sound aggression, encapsulated in the fifth song on the tracklist “Opps”. The record features straight-edge rap/hardcore favourite of yours truly Vince Staples, accompanied for the occasion by another South African rapper Yugen Blakrok and – surprise, surprise – Kung Fu Kenny, who this time takes up more room than usual for it being a track not spearheaded by him. The song has abundant amounts of rough, hypnotic beats, that for one of the only times on the whole album, fit extremely nicely all featured artists, and to an especially pleasant degree Vince Staples himself, for whom it surely didn’t take long to realize that the tune could’ve easily been gestated during the afro-futurism-tainted writing sessions for his last album, Big Fish Theory. Furthermore, to me the song emanates just the right amount of carelessness and aggression that I’m somewhat expecting to perceive during the wider cinematic experience (albeit yet to be seen), this way solidifying its legitimacy to be a key sonic moment of the record.

Pretty unexpectedly for me, this LP doesn’t get away with a number of fairly underwhelming choices and sub-par executions. Interestingly, these are mostly to be found in tracks that draw heavily on the current trap trend (see ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi’s “X”, or Kendrick & Travis Scott’s “Big Shot”), with slow, at times mumbly, high pitched charleston sounds and auto-tuned vocals that, with all due respect, might have little to do with a longstanding discovery journey through legacy black music. This gets even more exacerbated when I get the impression that some of the easy and safe artistic pairing choices came more from a deliberate intention to ride the zeitgeist, rather than daring to risk a bit more to achieve a more experimental outcome instead. Undoubtedly, this goes to de-value a little bit Kendrick’s work as curator, who this time I’m not afraid to say is not without blame and can’t get away from it all without some criticism (besides pointlessly featuring on almost every single track on the album, often times bringing little to no added creative value to each song’s table). For instance, why not include more folks like the brilliant Babes Wodumo, Yugen Blakrok, upcoming rap collective SOB x RBE, or even Zacari himself, instead of reheated soups like ScHoolboy Q, Future, and Travis Scott? Definitely a missed opportunity here for Kendrick to offer a huge platform for rising black stars to resonate and amplify into the entertainment mainstream.

Now, there indeed are enough decent solid tracks to make up for the aforementioned flaws across just about 50 minutes of newly assembled material. Joining the squad of favourite cuts out of this Black Panther soundtrack album are the melancholic and gloomy “I Am”, performed by the impressive Jorja Smith and another example of where K-Dot’s laid back harmonising support work fits very nicely with the overall mood and aesthetic of the song; the hectic and hooky “Paramedic!” (by Zacari, Kendrick & promising Californian hip-hop group SOB x RBE); or even the slow and gorgeous “Seasons”, where Sjava’s Zulu chants are wonderfully wrapped by two of the most convincing bar sections on the whole project, spit out by Californian rapper Mozzy and fellow South African MC Reason. That being said, this collection of songs does leave the listener with a slight bad taste in their mouth, found lost in-between safe and sexy artist orchestration choices that address current hip-hop and R&B trends, and an overarching struggle to find a truly owned identity that sets it apart, perhaps trying too hard to be liked by the ruling voices, at the expense of versatility, experimentation, and freedom. If you think about it, nothing too dissimilar from some of the dynamics found in wider societal racial struggles against power and hegemony. But that’s a whole other discussion that involves an ocean of additional considerations and voices. So let the music speak for now.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

VARIOUS ARTISTS

“BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM”

2018, Top Dawg Ent./Aftermath/Interscope

http://smarturl.it/BlackPantherAlbum

Black Panther_The Album