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On the Come Up in Music City: Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Jota Ese, Saaneah, & Kyshona Armstrong. Illustrations by Brandon Celi.

Though it’s historically well-known for its country music scene, Nashville, Tennessee isn’t just the town of honky-tonks and the Grand Ole Opry. With indie labels like Infinity Cat and Nervous Nelly Records providing a showcase for punk and rock, and with Americana and folk lining the rosters of Jack White’s Third Man Records and Dualtone, Nashville these days is truly Music City, writ large. Pop aficionados can also find a place here, as well as anyone interested in hip-hop and R&B. It’s those last two genres that have seen the biggest growth lately, as former residents of LA and NYC flock to the city, and established locals can finally find both collaborators and an audience to help support their craft.

Growing up with gospel music in the church, DeRobert Adams, of the G.E.D. Soul Records band DeRobert & The Half-Truths, moved to Nashville’s sister city Murfreesboro in 2000, home of MTSU, where he joined his first band. He’s been making music ever since. G.E.D. Soul has been one of the hardest-working labels in Nashville for the last decade, producing, recording, and distributing funk, soul, and R&B tracks, mostly via the label’s Poor Man Studios in north Nashville. Boasting what the label calls an “analog aesthetic,” the records feel like lost gems dug out of a dusty stack of retired jukebox 45s. Label owner Nicholas DeVan says “Country is still the main attraction, but there’s always been an enormous amount of non-country music being recorded and performed here. I would say that we are seeing a different type of person being in the music scene here, lots of LA folks and musicians from other cities. I feel like Nashville has always been a destination for musicians that need a more low key city than LA or New York; people come here to lose the big city vibe.”

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Celebrating the 45th Anniversary of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” with Artists on Bandcamp

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Nick Drake was the kind of musician other artists dream of being—and, in some ways, fear becoming. Largely unknown during his 26 years on this planet, Drake’s dark-yet-delicate music returned to public consciousness more than twenty-five years after his 1974 suicide, when the title track of his final record, Pink Moon (1972), was included in a dreamy 2000 Volkswagen commercial hawking the Cabrio convertible. Seventeen years later—and 45 after Pink Moon’s release—a diverse cross-section of musicians are still citing Drake as an influence.

In many ways, though his path was different than both of theirs, Drake was a kindred spirit to artists like Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith (who also owes quite a bit of his spare, haunting sound to Drake). He was deeply in love with music, hungered for success, but, in many ways, shrank from the trappings of music stardom. As a result, he died “thinking he was a failure,” as his sister Gabrielle said in a 2015 interview with Esquire.

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Five New Chicago Punk Bands to Know and Love

Espejos

Espejos

Chicago has a long history of excellent DIY punk—the city was home to Naked Raygun and Bhopal Stiffs in the ’80s, Los Crudos and Charles Bronson in the ’90s, and The Repos and Raw Nerve in the ’00s, just to name a few. Still, it has an equally long history of being overlooked in favor of its coastal peers when it comes to the greater canon of U.S. punk and hardcore.

Well, enough is enough. In the past year or so, Chicago has been on a marked upswing in terms of producing exciting new bands that can easily go toe-to-toe with popular coastal punk bands. Whether they feature people who have been at it for years in other projects, or individuals who are new to the city’s punk scene, these new bands continue to breathe life into Chicago punk. Here are some of the newcomers that demand your attention.

Lowhangers

We live in a post-Hoax world, where stomping, mid-paced hardcore punk is still a dominant form of mosh fuel. There are plenty of bands in this style that aren’t especially memorable—then there’s Lowhangers.  Their first recording, Ulterior Motives, gifts us eight tracks of ear-splitting hardcore punk that, while fairly straightforward much of the time, also takes a fair amount of influence from noise rock, powerviolence (think the parts of No Comment songs in between the fast stuff), and sludge. These influences are incorporated with a deft hand, which is what makes this band work so well.  In the midst of a hard-hitting riff, a guitar part will appear that sounds like it could be on a Scratch Acid song, or feedback from a His Hero is Gone interlude. Add raw, vicious vocals into the mix and the result is a very promising first recording.

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Doom Metal: A Brief Timeline

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Sleep “Dopesmoker”

The core sound of doom metal is instantly recognizable—and has been for more than 45 years. No one’s going to confuse doom with death, thrash, or black metal. And even though modern practitioners of the form have modified the structure, blended it with other subgenres, and sped up or slowed down the tempos, doom will always have its place in the lexicon of metal.

The structure of the music is rooted in the same scales as the blues, and doom’s emotional impact parallels the drained, downcast spirit of artists like Robert Johnson and Son House. But the sound is amped up and magnified so the tone isn’t just sad, it’s mean and disconsolate too. From the moment Black Sabbath broke through with their self-titled debut in 1970—essentially defining metal in the process—they laid the foundation for doom.

Doom affects the gut and the psyche, conveying sensations of darkness and foreboding with fuzzed out guitars, mid-paced tempos and generally morose vocals. Groove is paramount, as is a certain amount of repetition, generally achieved with crunching, palm-muted guitar chords complimentary, minor key melodies and rhythms that wax and wane, only to rise again. Sometimes there are organs, samples, and variations in musical complexity. These sonic shifts are what have helped sustain the genre from one generation to the next. But even without the musical modifications, doom is forever because dread and grief are universal—and musicians will always be drawn to express universal feelings of anger, hopelessness, fear, and sadness.

Once bands in the ‘70s heard Black Sabbath and Paranoid (which came out later that same year),  they were indelibly impacted; some started tuning down their guitars, plugging into overdriven distortion pedals and writing the loudest and ugliest dirges they could conceive of. Between the substances they were consuming, the wave of occult literature they were drawn to by Anton Szandor LaVey, Aleister Crowley, and Austin Osman Spare, and popular films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, a sinister, depression-fueled spirit spread through the counterculture and stoked the growing flames of metal. And once doom had a foothold in the music form it would never be the same.

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Five Artists Who Are Keeping Bay Area Hip-Hop Strong

Otayo Dubb

Otayo Dubb

The Bay Area hip-hop scene has certainly had its share of notable moments over the years, but the last scene to find favor with a large audience outside the region was the Hyphy era, which slowly faded into obscurity around 2010. But that doesn’t mean the Bay has gone quiet; the area has a long history of making noise, whether it was Too $hort, E-40, Hieroglyphics, Living Legends, or any one of the number of critically acclaimed acts in between. That spirit remains strong and vital to this day.

Diversity is the key: The Bay Area is host to a wide variety of of hip-hop styles, from ‘hood vibes to backpacker to the live band approach — there’s even some pop rap. Ironically, the result of all this variety is a spirit of camaraderie: artists support one another, keeping the Bay fresh by showing that an intimate scene can achieve longevity simply by covering all of the stylistic bases. That’s one of the reasons Bay hip-hop is still here, and still healthy and relevant.

These five artists are a perfect example of how fresh and versatile that scene remains.

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