In this week's "Our Spilt Milk," Raphael wants to know how much "Saturation" is saturation, Lexi is into lo-fi house, and Alex has been listening to hip-hop history.
“‘Why you always rap about bein’ gay? ‘Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay,” says Kevin Abstract, the de facto frontman of Internet supergroup Brockhampton on “Junky,” from their new album Saturation II. It’s a simple sentiment, but an important one, considering hip-hop's a history of homophobia. Classifying Brockhampton as "queer rap” crew, though, would be an oversimplification.
Brockhampton describes itself as a collective, and that spirit of collaboration is far more essential to its sound than any of their individual sexualities. Its 15 members come from every corner of the country. They met on a Kanye West forum, and this origin story speaks volumes about their disparate backgrounds and their current common ground. Their catalogue spans multiple genres, from hip-hop to punk to R&B to weepy acoustic rock, and their willingness to experiment—and their ability to do it exceptionally well—has fast-tracked them to the upper echelon of the underground. At the same time, it sometimes serves to spread their projects too thin. Surprisingly, their debut, All American Trash, felt the most polished and concise of all their projects. This makes sense when you consider that their follow-ups, Saturation and Saturation II, were released merely two months apart, and that Saturation III is expected in October.
On Saturation II, an album half-composed of skits and songs under two minutes, Brockhampton often chooses style over substance, quantity over quality, but their are still a few gems that show just how good the group can be when it gives itself room to breathe. Aside from “Junky,” there’s the hyperkinetic “Tokyo,” the hard-hitting “Queer,” and the undeniable end-of-summer anthem “Sunny,” which somehow survives its cringy chorus (“It ain’t my birthday yet and I’m acting like a bitch / Screaming motherfuck your set like I’m 2pac”). If and when Brockhampton figure out how to streamline—not necessarily in number, but certainly in album fluff—it will be a force to be reckoned with. (Raphael Helfand)
“Bootman,” released in August by DJ Ross from Friends, starts with repetition of the line “I need you girl, you are my world.” The lyrics repeat for the rest of the song and serve as background to the lo-fi house beat, which fades in and out. At times, the repeated lines capture a removed quality, as if heard from underwater, and they become another layer of the beat instead of the song’s narrative. They help maintain the song’s trance vibe, even through the stretches when things get heavier.
Ross from Friends, whose real name is Felix Weatherall, returns to the unpolished beat-making of house music’s early days for something distinct and new with “Bootman.” “D1RT BOX” off his six-song August release The Outsiders get slightly funkier as it nods to the past and finds some of the soul that the pop takeover of electronic music left behind. “D1RT BOX” opens with a singular beat, and then one by one adds and removes riffs on the piano, drums and vocals before bringing them all back in. This construction and deconstruction treats each sound as a pre-existing condition, as if each was on its own until it found the others in the song. Then, the song fades these layers, leaving only a final static noise that cements the raw feeling of his work. (Lexi Kirkwood)
Now that Gimlet Media’s Mogul is finished, you can binge-listen to the history of hip-hop as manifested in the life of Chris Lighty. The six-part podcast mini-series traces the story of Lighty from a guy who got his foot in the rap game by helping DJs shlep crates of records into clubs in New York during its infancy. His career passed through Def Jam and Rush Management en route to starting his own management company, Violator, which handled Nas, Mobb Deep, Ja Rule, LL Cool J, Mariah Carey and more. His story attracted attention because he was one of the most powerful people in hip-hop in the early 2000s, but he committed suicide in 2012.
Lighty’s story touches on developments that first affected the music and eventually the culture, from the roots of turntablism to rap’s growing place in the music marketplace. He managed 50 Cent, and their deal with Vitamin Water got them paid like no one in hip-hop had been paid before, but with success came very human problems that eventually brought him down. Still, so many of the details of Mogul’s story are specific to hip-hop, including the entire story of how dangerous 50 Cent was to know in 2002 when Lighty signed him.
The producers have milked the series’ raw material for all they can, releasing short episodes with stories told by Fat Joe, Warren G, Russell Simmons and more, and the last two talked to DJs and producers about sound design for the series. Those segments teeter into the self-congratulatory, but even then, I’ll listen to some of that to get Prince Paul, Don Newkirk, and Nana Kwabena talking about hip-hop production. And in those episodes as in the series, you can hear the relationships that ultimately keep Lighty’s story from being a simple celebrity story or rich guy story. (Alex Rawls)