Our Spilt Milk presents our favorite things, which this week include comedian Hari Kondabolu, rapper Noname Gypsy, and Frank Ocean.
I disappeared down a Hari Kondabolu hole this week, listening to the comedian’s interview on the Nerdette podcast as well as two episodes of Politically Re-Active, the podcast he does with W. Kamau Bell. The two worked together on Bell’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, so it’s not surprising that when the show relies on the two of them, their vibe is strong. The conversations they had with Bikini Kill and The Julie Ruin’s Kathleen Hanna and activist/CNN commentator Van Jones were genuinely illuminating as well, and both got as close to the feel of what would happen if three smart, funny people sat down in coffee shop to hash it out for a while. Hanna breaks down third wave feminism in a way that sounds accessible but still principled, and Jones talks about the different roles he plays and how he adapts to them, even when it’s listening to the crazy things that come out of the mouth of Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord, his designated sparring partner on CNN.
I’ve interviewed Kondabolu (by email) and Bell (here and here), and both successfully work the hard line of being progressive and funny. In the Nerdette podcast, Kondabolu shied away from the “activist” label, which makes me wonder what the word means to him because at his best, his comedy does give listeners insights they might not get another way, particularly into the immigrant experience. On his new album, Mainstream American Comic, Kondabolu remembers his role in starting the #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter after Jindal announced his presidential bid, tracing his complicated antipathy to Jindal’s willingness—even eagerness—to jettison his heritage. In the bit, Kondabolu remembers his lifelong struggle to get people to pronounce “Hari” properly while Jindal seemingly gave up Piyush and any challenge associated with it as quickly as Americanly possible. “#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite he beat himself up after 9/11,” he tweeted. “#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite he refers to Indian food as “ethnic cuisine.” “#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite that he’s looking for a minority running mate to diversify the ticket.”
Although Kondabolu’s comedy is topical, he is unquestionably a part of the story. His jokes are inextricably linked not to the point of view of a person with his cultural background but of him specifically—“I’m a killjoy who does comedy,” he jokes. “This is how I’m hard-wired.” (Alex Rawls)
You may remember the artist formerly known as Noname Gypsy from her brief spot on Chance The Rapper's breakout mixtape, Acid Rap. Her uneven, monotone flow turned heads on "Lost," where she matched her host on both wordplay ("Miss Mary Mattress, geriatrics) and poignance ("Fuck me into open caskets"). Since then, she's put out a few singles and collaborated with Chance every now and then, but as her name suggests, she's remained relatively anonymous, one of the many up-and-coming Chicago rappers whose rep doesn't extend much further than the city limits.
She changed all that last Sunday with the release of her debut mixtape, Telefone. A thoughtful, cohesive project, Telefone exceeds all expectations (if any existed) for the 21-year-old slam poet who claims she never considered a career as a rapper until recently. The tape starts off with the gospel-style "Yesterday," which deals with heavy issues despite its hopeful tone ("Check my Twitter page for something holier than black death"). This juxtaposition of gorgeous, soulful production with a mournful, semi-political edge is a recurring theme, never more obvious than in "Casket Pretty," whose name says it all.
Even when the subject matter is at its most serious, Noname's flow stays chillingly steady. Her voice is far too forceful to ever come off as indifferent, and this subtle ability to convey intense emotion--seemingly without moving a vocal muscle--is what sets her apart. Telefone may lack the big-name features and flashy production of Chance’s Coloring Book earlier this summer, but Noname's delivery and the refreshing honesty of her lyrics make up for anything that may be lacking. (Raphael Helfand)
As a Frank Ocean fan, I’m naturally a melancholic masochist, but I’m not quite sure how much more emotional manipulation I can take.
Fans were once again let down when Ocean’s sophomore album, Boys Don’t Cry, didn’t drop Friday on Apple Music as predicted by The New York Times. Fans spent little time sulking over the missing album—fool us once, Frank—and instead invested in new Ocean conspiracy theories, the newest being that Boys Don’t Cry might drop on November 13, the last due date on his library card.
So while we wait for Ocean to get back in the game, let’s smooth over any abandonment issues and revisit his 2012 masterpiece channel ORANGE (and I'm not the only one), where the New Orleans crooner brought sad, sweet talking, mid-tempo stories to the forefront of R&B and hip-hop. I’ve been passing time reinvesting in such ballads as “Bad Religion,” listening in on Ocean’s confessional cab ride, and in the anthem of undersupervised, overindulged teen nihilists in “Super Rich Kids.” And though nothing can truly numb the heartbreak that each cry of wolf faux release date brings, at least we have channel ORANGE to cry to in the meantime. (Emily Tonn)