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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Pazz & Jop Comments: It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

Popular music, at its top-dollar best, is either music to drive to or music to grill to; at its bestest best, it’s both. By my reckoning, track by track, the Carters’ Everything Is Love record is for: grilling, driving, driving, grilling, driving, grilling, grilling, driving, grilling. “Music has my kids sound asleep” might not be a lyric that will appeal to many, but it did to me as the year hit its crescendo, the hills on fire on every corner of America’s 8 1/2 by 11, the sky turning peach. “Summer’s light like summer’s night/It’s like Christ’s masterpiece” indeed.
— Daniel Brockman

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https://youtu.be/syi60tUIP48

On Room 25, Noname delivered on a sophomore album with a lot more dizzying raps than her first. It’s almost like she heard the masses talkin’ shit about her skills and went wild on this record. Who else’s pussy is writing a thesis on colonialism?
— Tirhakah Love

Not enough can be said about the weight of this genre-welding meeting of titanic Texas forces: On “Gone Away,” Bun B writes what is, in all likelihood, his final letter to UGK bandmate Pimp C, but does it in a way that’s broad enough to be applied to any lost kin; Leon Bridges delivers a somber and vulnerable hook, and Gary Clark Jr. cleans up with a solo reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Little Wing.” They’re truly the Texas triumvirate, and it’s a wonder we aren’t talking about the magnitude of this collaboration more as a culture. What’s better, it all takes place over a beat cooked up by Big K.R.I.T., whose beats have, in the wake of Pimp C’s death, given Bun’s delivery an unmatched comfort and ease. Put this one right up there with UGK’s own “One Day” in the canon of Southern rap eulogies.
Sama’an Ashrawi

Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired ByNo mere album can live up to the cultural impact of this extremely ambitious comic book movie, but it’s a great companion piece nonetheless.
— Carol Cooper

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A rundown of personal and social horrors that’s less frantic but also far less calculated than the 1975’s “Love It If We Made It,” Lil Peep’s Life Is Beautiful is far more devastating. “Tryin’ to keep your cool at your grandfather’s funeral/Finding out eventually the feeling wasn’t mutual/You were not invited ’cause you’re nothing like the usual” — damn, that’s bleak. And it cuts much harder than the “My girlfriend left me so I’m depressed and I’m gonna take lots of drugs to cope” lyrics Lil Peep specialized in, as sincere as they clearly were.
— Steve Erickson

Travis Scott’s world domination is more than just a crowning achievement for an artist who’s long been a critical darling, but it’s a clear statement that the South, and especially Houston, the nation’s most diverse city, has got something to say.

Drenched in Houston’s legend’s sweat, Astroworld is a referendum on hip-hop as a genre and an art form. The album is slowed down, tripped out, and bombastic, as Scott liberally references Houston’s past as a hip-hop hotbed while pushing it past its Screwston reputation. Astroworld feels both futuristic and classic at the same time, and that’s something only Kendrick Lamar has been able to accomplish in the last half-decade.

But there will be no Nobel Prize for Astroworld. No Taylor Swift collabs, no Marvel soundtracks. It’s all just too druggy. Too street. Too Southern. Too real. 

And maybe that’s how it should be. But, one thing is for sure, Travis Scott’s moment is now, and he’s going to run with it straight to the Super Bowl halftime show, and he’s going to keep running with it till someone comes to take it from him.
— Jaime-Paul Falcon

By my count, Kids See Ghosts is the seventh time Kanye has made the best album of the year. But it’s no accident that this isn’t the 2018 record he put his name on, or that he needed a co-host to pull it off, or that it’s impossible to remember a single word he says throughout  —  which, thank God.
Nick Farruggia

Drake, “In My Feelings”: Only in 2018 Atlanta could I drive crosstown from berating a Bush speechwriter in a Roman Catholic sanctuary to Aubrey & the Three Migos at State Farm Arena preaching a center-right message of Maya Angelou vibes featuring Future, Young Jeezy, and Trey Songz. Did it for the culture. But you can imagine compassionate conservative Michael Gerson kicking himself for not writing “I wanna thank God for working way harder than Satan.” Elevate.

The next morning I returned to work, where a sickle cell anemia patient almost hemolyzed to death. 2018!
— Maureen Miller

With Cardi B’s “Bickenhead,” nasty hos from across the globe finally get the anthem they so righteously deserve.
— Jessica Hopper

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The day Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” dropped was unforgettable. I listened as it rolled out on Funk Flex (the first major terrestrial radio event in a while!), and he kept stopping at every new bar, overwhelmed, and then he would replay it from the beginning. I remember wanting him to get through the whole song, but this approach made sense — it’s a lot to take in. An unbelievable achievement in diss tracks, and Pusha’s best work this year.
Evan Minsker

Childish Gambino, “This Is America”: Donald Glover’s incantatory recitation would work without visuals, but Hiro Murai’s video represents America in 2018 as acutely as the newsreel footage in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Utterly unnerving.
— Kathy Fennessy

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I like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” but Earl Sweatshirt’s “December 24” gets the Gil-Scott Heron “Winter in America” mood more right than anything else I came across this year. (Which, my annual disclaimer, amounts to 1 percent of 1 percent of whatever hip-hop was out there in 2018.) It must be my shortest number one ever at 1:46 — I wish it went on for another 7 or 8 minutes. At the risk of sounding white-guy stupid, where does the opening genuine-dialect quote come from? I’ve Googled it, looked up the album credits, nothing. The significance of December 24 escapes me, too, but it feels right: aspirations, a plan, something that came up just short. Quote I came across in a Goon Sax interview: “Sad music is made for a reason and maybe it’s to repurpose something you’ve gone through.”
— Phil Dellio

The Carters, “Apeshit”In perhaps pop culture’s Blackest year — Black Panther, Kendrick’s Pulitzer, and Beyoncé’s own history-making Coachella set, for starters — Black America’s reigning monarchs deliver a worthy soundtrack.
— Trevor Anderson

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Pazz & Jop: Welcome to the Cardi Party

Over Super Bowl weekend, Cardi B cheerfully eclipsed this year’s televised halftime show by appearing in Atlanta at a series of related events that only underscored her steadfast refusal to take the stage inside the stadium in protest of the NFL’s continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. Only Cardi B seems able to dominate a news cycle as much by what she doesn’t do as by what she does.

Online media celebrated Cardi performing a 45-minute set at Atlanta’s Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest on Saturday night, and the Hollywood Reporter showed her joined onstage by Patriots owner Robert Kraft — who danced — while she performed Saturday afternoon during the Fanatics party at the College Football Hall of Fame. Cardi B exceptionalism strikes again! Yes, her fame seems predicated on walking an extremely fine line between moral righteousness and scandal. Millions saw her G-rated cameo in a Pepsi commercial during the game, while nearly as many have watched more R-rated cameos in videos like Rita Ora’s “Girls” and the City Girls’ “Twerk.” Although deep in the throes of resolving marital problems and a bitter multimillion-dollar lawsuit launched last year by her former manager Klenord “Shaft” Raphael, Cardi soldiers on in a labor-intensive career that gets both hotter and more controversial as time goes on.

Although you can find lots of bemused critical commentary about the fact that Cardi B’s pop crossover success was largely driven by cameo appearances on a cable-television series, there are clearly other factors at work among the P&J voter pool who’ve voted big for this scrappy hip-hop diva from the boogie down two years in a row, following up last year’s love for “Bodak Yellow” (2017’s number one single) with “I Like It” (2018’s  number two single). Part of it is respect for her work ethic. Cardi stayed in the public eye through her pregnancy last year, appeared on Ellen and SNL, made top-quality music videos, and accepted a number of invitations to collaborate with other high-profile or rising artists on singles that also ended up on Pazz & Jop lists this year.

Yet, my own straw poll research reveals that different people like Cardi for different reasons. The “secret” to her success is that she is able to simultaneously be and represent different things to different people.

To her queer following, and to fifteen-year-old “urban” teens, Cardi B is a girl who beat an entire system of outdated stereotypes that limits what they can be. To twenty-year-old college girls, she is an oddly tantalizing symbol of the courage they still lack. To thirty-year-old career girls, she is living proof that identity is constructed, the future is unwritten, and that you can thrive in a world with no rules, and fewer certainties, as long as you are brave, funny, and focused. But perhaps most importantly, to all susceptible men she frames herself as La Belle Dame sans Merci: the visually compelling, elfin woman they desire but can’t control — and have been taught to fear. With a spontaneous sense of humor that veils a fierce intelligence, Cardi B comes across as the irresistible ballbusting femme fatale men hate to love.

Part of the intimidation factor is Cardi’s often brutally unsentimental entrepreneurial drive: She must be willing to take risks without the monetary safety nets inherited by female Hiltons and Kardashians. For all her cussing and playful self-deprecation, she can be as diplomatic as Ralph Bunche when she needs to be. Cardi also makes public mistakes, sometimes big ones, with more self-confidence than a career politician, even arriving for court appearances like visiting royalty. In her radio interviews and Instagram posts, Cardi B comes across as likably candid and “regular.” She’s the ultimate practical individualist (who nonetheless retains a ride-or-die streetwise posse and close connections with her extended family). When she gives people advice — as in the lyrics of “Be Careful” or on social media — her words are often confessional, slightly profane, and laden with the wry wisdom of personal experience.

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As the daughter of a Trinidadian mom and a Dominican dad, Belcalis Marlenis Almanzár grew up internalizing both Bronx and Caribbean family values — a mix of social habits and assumptions that don’t always correlate with conservative WASP expectations. A self-avowed capitalist only because cash rules everything around her, Cardi B could teach a master class in respectful etiquette, only she won’t teach from a textbook written by Emily Post. Cardi’s personal creed is way too pre-Columbian and Old Testament for that.

The rapper’s half-Latino, half–West Indian bloodlines make her potentially heir to two islands’ musical traditions: Trinidad’s calypso, kaiso, and chutney-soca; and the merengue, bachata, and bachatón of the Dominican Republic. In the 1990s, young producers of Caribbean extraction began mixing and matching digitized rhythms and instrumentation to create dance music aggressive and edgy enough to compete with techno and hip-hop. When crunk and reggaetón upped the nightclub ante, artists like Pitbull and Erick Morillo stepped up with creative new fusions aimed at the bilingual crossover market. But the most successful singles were those that blended sex and humor in witty, memorable ways. Little wonder that a sassy mouth with no emotional filter became Cardi B’s biggest marketing asset. Long before the degendered term Latinx usurped Latino/a in the mouths of academic intersectionality advocates, explicit lyrics advertising a fluid, aggressive, or even a transgressive sexuality could win attention on a dance floor.

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If you recall, the prototype for Cardi’s voice, feisty personality, and tiny stature is actually Rosie Perez, who was elevatated from In Living Color’s dance troupe to national stardom when Spike Lee cast her in 1989’s Do the Right Thing. It took thirty years of strategic multimedia representation of blacks and Latinos to pave the way for Cardi B. The political and crypto-feminist context of Do the Right Thing is relevant here because it ties into the political subtext of most of what Cardi B says and represents, both on record and in person. Born in 1992, she belongs to a generation that grew up being educated and entertained by a thematic synergy between the way American people of color were being portrayed on records, TV, and film. Call it empowerment pedagogy, but Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, Cardi B, and even their elder brother Lin-Manuel Miranda are its beneficiaries.

The ideal of a multicultural, mixed-race, Pan-American social movement is inherent to most salsa, boogaloo, jazz fusion, and reggaetón music. The intentional combination of the implicitly political and the explicitly sexy is also part of Cardi B’s persona. Let’s face it, the loud, outrageous, sexy Latin girl has been a marketing staple in American pop entertainment since Carmen Miranda, La Lupe, and Charo. Cardi B just seems to be taking the trope in a slightly different direction. It remains to be seen if that direction stays political.

The ongoing synergy between TV, film, social media, and music industry representations of proactive, politicized Latinos is important here because that seems to be the catalytic combination we are noticing most today. Artists from the labels Fania, Tico, and Alegre were huge in the 1970s, but they didn’t cross into mainstream consciousness quite as much as Cardi B has. Throughout the last twenty years there have been dozens of smooth crooners making sexy Latin pop music, but usually only one per year would break big in the United States. We might notice Nuyorican tyro Marc Anthony one year, Ricky Martin the next; then a sultry soccer anthem recorded by Brazilian Michel Teló would catch fire, then Puerto Rico’s Luis Fonsi, now perhaps Colombia’s J Balvin. But these days, what seems to give such contenders more crossover mileage is hybridization between the many reggae and rap subgenres that have emerged from Central, South, and Caribbean American countries with each new generation of aspirational youth.

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In the 1960s, Latin boogaloo was funk and soul blended with big band Afro-Cuban dance musics during the political tumult of the civil rights decade. Today, bachatón and reggaetón similarly fuse soul, salsa, reggae, and rap inspired by the revolutionary legacies of Simón Bolívar, Marcus Garvey, and Bob Marley. “I Like It,” voted the second-best single of the year by our P&J electorate, shows Cardi reworking a famous Latin boogaloo hit. By reformulating the tune around looped samples, Cardi, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin take advantage of a radio atmosphere in which (thanks to the global success of the Afro-Latino-soundtracked Fast and Furious films) bachata-flavored pop, Latin trap, and reggaetón singles have been infiltrating the global charts. European pop stars have been collaborating like mad with bachata and reggaetón acts since around the same time that Justin Bieber decided to hop on the “Despacito” bandwagon. In other words, critical mass for the multilingual crossover sound of “I Like It” has been building for a while.

Cardi B and her production crew may not have invented the loops and rhythms that make every track on Invasion of Privacy vibrate with dance floor potential, yet as a co-writer and performer, Cardi innovates within every art form she adopts. On that score, never accuse Pazz & Jop voters of being late to the Cardi party. If Invasion of Privacy (which beautifully blends so many hybridized trends and musical styles into one tight female-fronted package) wins Album of the Year at the Grammys this Sunday, will it be the triumph of personality, trend-mongering, or musical talent? In the current media moment, this question may be moot. But as the unofficial soundtrack of post-AOC America, such a win makes all such questions a bit beside the point.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Pazz & Jop: So, Are Women Here Yet?

This year, I spent more time listening to the radio than I have since high school, when the college station was still my primary method of music discovery outside of singles bins. I sensed that the tyranny of streaming services’ endless options was deadening my connection, so, here amid the hissing exurban lawns of Chicago, I kept the radio on. I drank deep from the bygone pleasure of no choice — the options being either “listen patiently and trust the DJ” or “turn it off.” WLUW (Loyola’s student/community station) and Vocalo (Chicago Public Radio’s urban alternative station) were my primary waves, occasionally supplemented by the low-wattage high school station near me for its mix of Soundcloud ultra-now and a previous generation’s Slint carts. It was a direct signal, literally and metaphorically: There was no mediating digital platform capitalizing on my listening habits — what I liked and didn’t was kept to the confines of my nucleus accumbens, and the confidences of whoever was riding shotgun in my car. I routinely found myself patiently parked at my destination awaiting a giddy, too-quiet back announcement of a six-song set, in hopes the DJ would sate my curiosity (most recent discoveries being Serengeti’s “West of Western,” Jean Deaux’s “Energy,” Pill’s “Midtown,” and KGB’s 1995 gem “Bless Ya Life”). While some of the comfort of this routine was fundamentally one of nostalgia, the sense of moderation it offered — wherein algorithmic personalization was impossible, wherein the contract of the music experience was without exploitation — was as thrillingly novel as it was revivifying. It was a world away.

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Many of the records crowded atop this year’s Pazz & Jop poll offer a similar feeling; they are albums that built discrete new worlds, or at least felt blessedly different from this one. They are albums that drafted liminal space. They transported. They immersed the listener deep in the maker’s vision. They gave us songs that recognize sexual, social, racial realities, and also imagined what might lie beyond chaos, strife, and dysfunction; these are albums that beckon their listeners forward. They mourn what is lost but they survive it. More than a collective “Thank U, Next,” the eight women-made albums of the Top 10 — Golden Hour, Dirty Computer, Invasion of Privacy, Be the Cowboy, Honey, Room 25, Historian, and the Mimi-murmurs within Low’s Double Negative — imbued potentiality into a year that felt bereft of it; we could trust their vision. These records asserted power that was nutritive, power that was symbiotic and psychically sustentative, amid a year defined by grievous abuses of power.

Perhaps this is part of the reason Golden Hour triumphed like it did this year. With the breezy dissolve of “Lonely Weekend” and the sweet, disco-y kiss-off of “High Horse,” it was a languorous album that offered a space to arrest your very necessary cynicism. In a different but similarly masterful way to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, and especially Robyn’s Honey, Golden Hour was a balm of transcendence and possibility. Perhaps, as Marissa Moss suggested, Golden Hour “presents a different breed of protest song: one where there’s protest in kindness, in the appreciation of beauty and a sense of being grateful about the world.” While no one is imagining a praxis of posi vibes in the face of the whipsaw horrors of America’s foreign and domestic policy, Golden Hour was 46 minutes of stony connection and the earth spinning at a reasonable pace. This year’s top three albums, most particularly, felt life-affirming: Monáe’s earthbound resistance-funk was brought into high relief for me as I watched young people holler, dance, and wipe away tears in the aisles of a Dirty Computer screening in Atlanta. And the pure joy of Cardi B, like Sylvia Plath’s imagined Lady Lazarus, rising elegant and powerful from the ash of the earth and eating men like air — may her reign never end.

This year is unprecedented in the history of the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll in the number of women that populate the Top 10, the fact that women make up the Top 5, and that they positively dominate the Top 35 — and, yet, they are hardly a uniform bloc. You don’t even start hitting clumps of cis-het white dudes until the bottom fifty. In the past few years, the Top 10 has crept toward this trend — notably, in 2015, the Top 5 was women-plus-Kendrick, the best showing since the high-water mark of a few PJ/Hole/Phair/Breeders triumphs in the mid-Nineties. It’s hard not to take this year’s results as a sure sign that Music Culture Has Changed, or that the paradigm has shifted and women have rushed the gates. While these are artists making ambitious albums too bold and exciting to be ignored, this momentous occasion cannot and should not be framed as folks being suddenly exceptional. To suggest women have arrived erases the fact that they have, in fact, always been here. As with any group marginalized within music culture, their being continually situated as breaking through has reinforced their exteriority to structural power, framing their successes as an illegitimate seizure of that power. Women have been making ambitious music too bold to be ignored as long as women have been making music (Hildegard of Bingen dropped Ordo Virtutum in 1151!), but that didn’t help them from being ignored and woefully misunderstood anyway. Apologies to L.L., but you can’t call it a comeback when they’ve been here for millennia.

As one of the writers who regularly gets called up when some jeremiad or pronouncement about women in music is needed (a living (sorta, still) that I am goddamned grateful for), I’m keen to note it is year 24, for me, of pounding my shoe on the table yelling, The time is now! In his 1993 P&J missive, Robert Christgau notes it’s the fifth (or sixth) “Year of the Woman” in the poll’s history, and that was a quarter-century ago. This summer, amid some research, I stumbled onto Women in Rock trend pieces and Women Finally Have Arrived pronouncements from as early as 1968. That’s a long-ass insurgency. Fifty years of perpetual arrival. If this was the Old Testament, we woulda been back in Canaan a decade ago. So, are women here yet?

If the poll’s results have any relationship to #MeToo, perhaps it is that they evidence a wizened deliberative body (lord, hear my prayer). The toll of music’s Great Men is known, and just who has been obscured by their long shadows is no longer going unexamined; all that has been ignored in the name of a Great Man, all that has been justified by saying the music industry is by nature a tough business (note: that was Kim Fowley’s wretched excuse) — it’s a weight the culture can no longer bear. All this reckoning, overdue and exhausting and triggering and enraging as it is, presents a challenge to anyone who truly gives a shit about music, and presumably, the nearly 400 folks (85 percent male respondents) that voted this year. For every Pazz & Jop poll, there is surely a shadow Top 10, comprising othered artists whose work didn’t fit the image prescribed, whose albums were the wrong kind of confrontational, or flamboyant, albums that were created to speak to or uphold a community which those critics were not part of, or that threatened their critical agenda. From #MeToo’s rupture of music’s mythologies, a phantom canon emerges.

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The other obvious factor, as my friend and colleague Laura Snapes suggested, is that “#MeToo has made it suspect to undyingly praise the male auteurs who would otherwise have populated the upper reaches of these charts.” Plus, in 2018 a bunch of revered dudes released albums that were vestigial at best. Despite claiming the top slot twice since 2010, and being tied with Bob Dylan for the most number ones in the poll’s history, Kanye only tied for 273rd place this year, with just three measly votes for Ye total. Drake’s at 82, Jeff Tweedy at 84, Jack White a squeaker, tied for 95th; the poll’s historically lauded artists David Byrne (tied at 69), Elvis Costello (at 45), and Paul McCartney (tied for 120) are left behind. The failure of male genius is often written off, and even celebrated as evidence of a calculated experiment from a risk-taking visionary, so, I am sure they all will be just fine despite their collective paucity of resonant ideas in 2018.

Robert Christgau rather keenly diagnosed the dominance of women in the 1993 poll, writing of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville and its distaff cohort, “The big story in 1993 was girls learning to play a boys’ game by boys’ rules, and play it to win,” and suggested that the critical body of voters were a bunch of rockists (true then, less true now, but c’mon, Parquet Courts?) who were just waiting, rather prescriptively, for women to “come on strong.” Later in the essay he shuts down some racist grousing in the critical ranks about certain artists not being black enough, but even so it’s another grim fucking reminder of the havoc that whiteness and patriarchal mores have wrought on both the canon and individual artist’s careers. What is the white heteropatriarchy if not the biggest algorithm of ’em all? 

Yet, what is “girls learning to play a boys’ game by boys’ rules” if not the game itself. Was there ever a time in the music industry and music journalism when those weren’t the terms? Music’s cruelest lie has always been the assertion that it’s a meritocracy. The idea that if you play by their rules, and are exceptional enough, the rules might change in order to allow you in; it’s an awful paradox, one that keeps people jumping and performing like trick poodles. And it’s a lie I certainly believed for, well, too long. When I was all of 22, I wished, in my Punk Planet column, for something like an all-girl Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which perhaps we have right now in the form of Boygenius (at 26) or Pistol Annies (at 15), but at the time I was hoping for an equalizer and not an analogue. What I wanted, really, was not liberation in the form a femme David Crosby, but something to remediate the sad ache I felt as a young woman at shows, or reading music history books and reviews sections. It was the feeling that the bands, big ideas, and people I valued in music were without consequence to those men. I thought that it was a matter of women being inscrutable, that it was on women to puncture and petition the boys’ club. It was a faulty reasoning that disregarded any hierarchy but theirs, disregarded the fact that women had been putting out works of virtuosic genius since the dawn of recorded music.

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It contorted my opinions and writing about music, warped my experience of it, my goals and allegiances, where I believed I belonged and what I had sanction to do. I was just looking for some magic key that would fit the lock. I spent a decade as a Sherpa for patriarchal bullshit before I realized that in playing a “boys’ game by boys’ rules,” there is no way to ever actually “win.” As Sasha Geffen writes in the forthcoming Glitter Up the Dark, “Patriarchy relies on the illusion of its own inevitability to survive.”

The first time I voted in this poll I was 18 years old. I am 42 now. As scholar Mary Beard writes in Women & Power, the cultural mechanisms that silence women are deeply embedded. Even in ourselves. Too often Pazz & Jop’s findings legitimated women’s exclusion in music, they gendered and racialized genius, designated music’s mythopoetics as white and male. The poll served many purposes and helped legitimize music criticism as a crucial form of cultural dialogue, but it also served to reinscribe patriarchy, prescribe heteronormativity, and center whiteness. Early on, Pazz & Jop celebrated work that reflected the identity of its voters — predominantly white, heterosexual, and male, the deliberative body was basically 25 guys and Ellen Willis. Typically, between two and five of the thirty slots went to women artists or bands with frontwomen, with Joni’s Court and Spark (1974) being the lone album by a woman to claim number one that decade; the total doesn’t crack double-digits until it hits 11 of 40 in 1981, though 1979 is a solid showing with Donna Summer, the Roches, and the Slits. (Also, how the actual fuck did Labelle escape making a single P&J appearance for the whole of the Seventies?) The results stay pretty seriously white until 1980, and diversify significantly after 1986 as hip-hop’s presence grows. This deliberative body, incomplete as it may be in 2019, are heirs to such malignancy.

The 45th (or 46th) Pazz & Jop poll — with its Top 35 that celebrates queer, nonbinary, and trans voices, womanist work, multiple albums steeped in Afrofuturism, one sung entirely in Spanish, an album by a teenage girl as well as two by women over 40, women delivering third-person character studies — might signal less a paradigm shift than, forgive me, conscious uncoupling. It’s an unmooring from some of music criticism’s faultiest frameworks and conventions, and its most painful omissions and enshrinements. It is a necessary move in order for music journalism to have any argument that it is (still) crucial to music’s community.

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There’s unquestionably been a progressive shift within music journalism in recent years, owing in part to a host of writers whose work is incandescent, and has drawn even more new talent in. Notably, there’s Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which has beckoned folks in with open arms, and the exceptional work of Doreen St. Félix, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Hazel Cills, Lindsay Zoladz, Jia Tolentino, Hua Hsu, Sasha Geffen, Carvell Wallace, the Pellys. Others have risen up through Remezcla, She Shreds, Bandcamp, or Rookie (RIP), drawn in by what those sites mirrored back to them. Some have arrived via the mentorship of Ann Powers, Greg Tate, Charles Aaron, Jeff Weiss, Kim Kelly; others through their professors Amanda Petrusich, Karen Tongson, Josh Kun, and more. In this moment, wherein music journalism feels strikingly akin to the final verse of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” it’s hard to get a handle on how music journalism sustains itself long enough to hand a generation of bright and enterprising young writers the reins. Music journalism has no bulwarks; unlike poetry, fiction, and investigative reporting, it has no formal institutions; there are no stalwart journals to endow-into-eternity like Ruth Lilly did Poetry magazine, no Sunday special sections dedicated to album reviews; unlike book critics, we do not have prestigious awards to honor the artists we revere. There are no dedicated grants or residencies for music journalism, no cash-prize honors. It’s glory-free, operates on net 90-day terms, and there’s hardly a toehold to be had. The upside: At least there’s plenty of room to build something.

And what could be next? So many music freelancers are subsidizing low word-rate assignments by doing un-bylined bios and blurbs for Big Algorithm or corpo #content; only a handful of paying, music-focused publications and sections still exist. Will the next Greg Tate get a come-up when there is no Village Voice? Does the Eve Babitz of 2019 miss her East Village Other stepping stone and just detour into teaching hot yoga instead? A decade ago, when shit went sideways for print and digital media, some folks that didn’t or couldn’t break into books or academia got by on in-flight magazine bylines, lifestyle pubs, B2B gigs, the ever-nebulous “editorial consulting.” Doing the scammy side hustle you have to in order to keep on doing the meaningful work elsewhere is old hat for many freelancers, but for that equation to work, there has to be an elsewhere. It all calls to mind Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell“To whom shall I hire myself out? What beast must I adore?” What happens when the only career opportunity left is entry-level Beast Adoration?

Journalism is one of many industries gripped in the gnashing maw of surveillance capitalism (call social media’s con by its true name), but there has to be a future beyond servitude to merciless info-mining Goliaths, one seemingly sustained only by the heroic enterprise of billionaires, and, uh, the wild ideas of the dude from Bustle. It’s grim, to be sure. Yet, still, there are folks in our midst who remember how to build a thing and tend a flame. I am heartened by the publication of the LAnd, the passion project of a bunch of former LA Weekly staffers. There’s also the incredible turnaround of my old country home, the Chicago Reader, despite just barely surviving successive perilous changes in ownership. The newsroom successfully unionized, and the paper has been righted by a dynamic consortium of four women who are veterans of local independent publishing; they are expanding and diversifying the paper’s coverage and reach to better serve the city, and they brought back comics. So maybe it’s time to pivot back to fanzine. Pivot to local underground newspaper. Pivot to supermarket circular. Pivot back to listservs and anonymous blogspots. Pivot to a publication for teenage girls that doesn’t die because it refused to be an app and a vehicle for selling things to an elusive and valuable market. Pivot to a publisher who doesn’t nuke the newsroom for unionizing. Pivot to a music journalism where the fate of young freelancers of color doesn’t depend on one white editor staying employed at a dying publication. Pivot to bartending or shifts at California Pizza Kitchen because weeklies still only pay 9 cents a word but at least they let you go off when a record sucks and you gotta make rent somehow. What the hell can you do but keep on swinging?

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop Uncategorized

Pazz & Jop: The Top 50 Singles of 2018

America’s critical establishment has spoken, naming Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” the top single of the yearAll told, this year’s Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll featured nearly 400  voters and over 1,400 songs. Listen to the Top 50 Singles on Spotify, and check out the year’s top albums HERE.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop Uncategorized

Pazz & Jop: The Top 100 Albums of 2018

For the 45th (or 46th) time since 1971, America’s critical establishment has spoken, with Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour narrowly beating out Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer for the number one spotAll told, this year’s Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll featured nearly 400 voters and over 1,200 albums, with all five top spots taken by female artists for the first time ever. Check out the year’s top 50 singles HERE.

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NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Bronx Is Blooming, but for Whom?

Like most native New Yorkers, I take a kind of special pride in being from the City. The City, for most, means Manhattan. For me, the City has almost always referred to what has been, until recently, one of New York’s least respected boroughs, the Bronx.

Most outsiders only know the Bronx as the birthplace of hip-hop and a symbol of the kind of urban decay that befalls a giant county when you blend Seventies-era arson, white flight, and large-scale state and federal disinvestment. My Bronx is a scruffy David to Manhattan’s Goliath: birthplace to Grace Paley, New York’s first designated state poet, and home to James Baldwin’s alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School.

I moved back to the Bronx last year based on my internal image of the Bronx, which is indelibly linked to my nostalgia for a place that’s been underestimated for most of my life. As long as being from here or living here has been a signifier meaning you were poor, it meant there has been nowhere to go but up.

What I didn’t expect to negotiate is what it would look like to move back as parts of the borough have started to thrive.

My current block features a new luxury condo building with a rooftop swimming pool. Nearby, the Mottley Kitchen serves avocado toast. The coffee shop previously known as Filtered Coffee has been rebranded in the past three months as Double Dutch Espresso. This year, three women of color from the Bronx graced the pages of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list — Cardi B, Tarana Burke, and Jennifer Lopez, about the last of whom Kerry Washington, another daughter of the Bronx, wrote, “She made me believe that you could come from where we came from and achieve whatever you imagine is possible.”

In the Fall 2015 issue of The Prospect magazine, longtime Bronx resident, city planner, and housing consultant Dart Westphal called the reconstruction of entire neighborhoods in the Bronx over the past three decades, “One of the greatest redevelopments in the nation’s history.”

I should have guessed this moment was coming. When the old Yankee Stadium, which I used to peer into when the 4 train passed by it, was demolished to make way for the mammoth, impenetrable one, it was a sign that a time would come when the Bronx Bombers weren’t the only symbols of a thriving Bronx. But I’ve never really been a baseball fan. I rooted for the Yankees because I grew up in the Bronx. You always root for the hometown team, even when you’ve been a homeless kid.

***

My mother and I came to New York City from Philly, arriving in Harlem in 1984, when I was six. Distant relatives of ours lived in a high rise for seniors near 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. There were lots of reasons we couldn’t stay with them, but the main one was that I was too young by a number of decades to legally live there.

Instead, my great aunt sent us to the Bronx. The now-condemned and closed Roberto Clemente shelter was our first address, then a subsidized housing apartment near Burnside Avenue. Back then, evicted tenants’ first stop was the Emergency Assistance Unit on East 151st Street — a way station of sorts where homeless families waited until cots opened up at shelters anywhere in the city, where they would wait again for an apartment to come open somewhere.

“Somewhere” was almost always in the Bronx, which still boasts one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city and is one of the reasons the borough has resisted (and some argue always will resist) large-scale gentrification. After Burnside, we lived near Fordham Road, then Southern Boulevard, on the other side of Little Italy just past the Bronx Zoo.

I never had time to imagine what thriving in the Bronx would look like, but I also never imagined living anywhere else. Most of the time, I just wasn’t confident I would survive my childhood.

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The public and community school system was broken. There were almost no white people in our neighborhoods. If anyone had a dog, it was a chihuahua that mainly stayed indoors like a cat. I was an adult when I learned that there had once been enclaves in the Bronx that were predominantly Jewish and white. That seemed to be completely relegated to before, a regal past, like luxury apartments, which then referred mainly to the beautiful, aging buildings lining the Grand Concourse erected before the reign of Robert Moses.

I grew up here with my mother for most of my youth until I was away at college in Poughkeepsie. I worked hard at school and I was lucky — I got out, first for Texas, eventually to the West Coast. When I left New York eighteen years ago, the racial and cultural makeup of the Bronx was the same as it is now: majority Latino, Black, and first- and second-generation immigrants.

When I moved back to the Bronx for the first time in nearly a generation, amidst what looks like and feels like a renaissance, I came to Mott Haven. To the Bronx natives who never left, I must look like any other newcomer and sometimes I feel like one, even though I wrote this place on my heart as a child and have carried it with me everywhere I’ve lived.

Charter schools complement the public schools now, bordered with community gardens in some places. More white people have arrived, some of them occupying the otherwise cavernous luxury condos around us. They have brought larger dogs, like German shepherds, which they walk around past galleries and pop-up shops that host parties featuring fewer people who look like me and more who look like them.

***

When I used to say I was from the Bronx, I would get a look of sympathy or pity. Now, eyebrows go up. Someone will say, “I hear there’s cheap real estate there,” the closest you get to a compliment in the City.

I supported the Bronx Book Festival Kickstarter, though I believed it to be more farfetched than it ended up being; the same thing is true for the Lit. Bar, the new brick-and-mortar bookstore scheduled to open this summer in my neighborhood. I’m not used to being from a place that’s cool and don’t know what it means to be from a place that is now, suddenly, inconceivably, becoming hip even while most of the Bronx remains unchanged, poor, and struggling.

Now that the Bronx is rising like a phoenix from the ashes, it has a lot of the amenities I’ve always wanted for my hometown. But as the ascent of my hometown continues, so does the gap between what the Bronx is becoming and the residents who have always been here, and who have made it what it was.

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Cardi B Is the Red Hot Boss Bitch of the Pop Moment

Around 10 p.m. at her release party Thursday night in New York’s meatpacking district, Cardi B inhabited her role as Boss Bitch of the Pop Moment with endearing sass and insouciant verve. Swinging a luxuriant blonde ponytail above a tailored white-lace dress jacket, the 25-year-old rapper, who only two years ago parlayed a notorious Instagram feed into a breakout role on Love & Hip Hop New York, introduced each of the new tracks from her major-label debut in between sly callouts to haters and shout-outs to fans. A blur of impromptu gesticulation, she flawlessly lip-synched her rhymes as they played, prompting protective label reps to stop audience members from recording her direct to YouTube.

One of the most eagerly anticipated major-label debuts in years, Invasion of Privacy was preceded by too many quality independent releases for anyone to believe it would be bad. Even before the pop chart–topping success of last year’s “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B’s work — online, on cable TV, on stage, and on record — had been too consistent for any but the most hardened or clueless cynics to underestimate her potential. Favorable early comparisons to Lil’ Kim ignored how she evoked other distaff pioneers, including the raw spunk of Sha-Rock, the succinct flippancy of Salt ’N Pepa, the hardness of MC Lyte, and the relaxed authority of Queen Latifah. When Atlantic released “Bodak Yellow” last June, Cardi B’s trajectory toward stardom was already in place, built on mixtapes, guest performances, online videos, and pure charisma. By October, she was up for nine BET Hip-Hop Awards and had the number one single on the Billboard Hot 100.  

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To her credit, Belcalis “Cardi B” Almanzar made an album she herself would want to buy, and as a result Invasion of Privacy abounds with equal parts true grit and potential hits. She admits that the material here slants more commercial in sound and subject matter than she might prefer, but is quick to assure you it’s all part of a bigger plan. Don’t let her cusswords fool you; Cardi is a brave, smart, determined, industrious tyro. A hood superhero. A drive-or-die bitch. If you already own Gangsta Bitch Music, Vols. 1 & 2 then you know all this. As she told you on “Sauce Boyz”, she never defrosts. “Bronx Season” (lead track on 2017’s Vol. 2) is the unapologetic autobiographical statement that vindicates every drop of love her larger-than-life personality extracts from her loyal followers.

A line like “How much times do I got to prove these niggas wrong,” might seem like a yen for external validation until you realize Cardi’s so confident she doesn’t really care what anybody else thinks. “Get Up 10,” the lead track on Invasion of Privacy, picks up where “Bronx Season” and “Bodak Yellow” leave off. It’s the continuation of the historical novel of Cardi’s life; a spooky psychological memoir that explains her determination to prove all doubters wrong while simultaneously laughing and popping off in their faces. The hook, “Knock me down nine times, but I get up ten” is no brag, just fact for all the tough urban strivers she represents. A frequent adolescent runaway with gang affiliations who nonetheless finished high school and briefly went to college between earning on a stripper pole, she’s not soft, she’s not stupid, fearful, or dependent on anyone but herself. Hers is the kind of female energy recent #MeToo warriors really want to channel but somehow can’t seem to own.

The genius of Cardi launching Invasion of Privacy after her 2016–2017 stint on VH-1’s Love & Hip Hop New York, is that she used her time with the show in the most strategic way possible. Zany onscreen antics helped immortalize her Instagram persona, but she used those two seasons of reality television to set up her mixtapes, pump up her social media following, and facilitate her indie-label’s fifteen-city tour. One might say that this 25-year-old ’round the way girl has improved upon the Paris Hilton and Kim K. methods of celebrity advancement. “I want a certain type of respect,” she confided on the Breakfast Club. And if the past three years of stellar collaborations, talk show appearances, and awards-show nods are any indication, she is willing to work her ass off to get it.

Shrewdly interpolating lines from Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” into the current single “Be Careful,” Cardi reminds us she not only drops bars but can also sing. Although it’s clear she alludes to Hill as a form of homage rather than demanding comparison, one can imagine Cardi B as a more Millie Jackson-ish version of Hill, fertilized by the cautionary tales of Amy Winehouse and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes. After collaborating in 2017 with the Migos on “MotorSport,” and performing alongside Bruno Mars on his remix of “Finesse,” Cardi B successfully bridged the two poles of hip-hop credibility and paved the way for the range of material on Invasion of Privacy.

From the aggressive bounce of “Get Up 10” to the sultry melancholy of “Ring,” Cardi migrates easily from classic trap and Fugees-style hip-pop, to bachata-meets-boogaloo hybrids. She rides with reggaeton greats Bad Bunny and J. Balvin on the Spanglish party record “I Like It,” and keeps pace with guest crooners like SZA and Kehlani on melodic downtempo tracks like “I Do” and “Ring.” The influence of genre-bending releases from Beyoncé and Solange make even moody odes to heartbreak want to percolate with polyrhythmic swing. While Chance the Rapper taps into Cardi’s lesser-known spiritual side by injecting Christian optimism into the song “Best Life,” it doesn’t stop her from bringing us sex and pornography with tracks like “She Bad” and “Bartier Cardi.”

People now talk about the rise of Latino trap as if crunk didn’t blend with reggaeton and dancehall way back when Lil Jon was working with Pitbull. If you draw lines of evolution between the subgenres of Miami bass, crunk, and trap music, you find one common denominator that particularly typifies Southern and Southeast corridor hip-hop: Each produces defiant party music rooted in a non-white cultural reality (simultaneously grim and glorious) that insists — with a militant rhythmic attitude — upon self-affirmation, no matter what. No matter how dark the lyrical content, all three styles command you to dance, offering an almost ritualized opportunity to liberate your ass with the hope that your mind will eventually follow. And as Cardi B, Ginuwine, and Luther Campbell can tell you, all three drew inspiration and commercial momentum from the world of strip clubs. “Bickenhead” is Cardi B’s salute to the Dirty South via allusions to the 2001 single “Chickenhead” by Memphis artist Project Pat. Fast and feisty, it’s a showcase for an artist willing and able to embrace all of rap’s regional histories. Judging by her eclectic taste and sense of humor, Cardi B seems to be a unifier by nature. She manages to avoid high-profile feuds with fellow female MCs by generalizing her disputes: Lyrics mostly accuse “them bitches” and “these hoes” without naming names. It’s enough for Cardi that the guilty know who they are.

Even Cardi’s detractors can’t deny the palpable strength of will that makes these tracks vibrate with personality. Cardi convincingly morphs from battle rapper to shrewd business woman to vengeful girlfriend. Her carefully slurred intonation and pronounced accent shifts implied meaning, which injects ambiguity and subtlety into lines about sex and violence that might otherwise be taken too literally (or not literally enough). She sells all of this not only because of what she says, but how she says it.

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In her multi-culti fluidity, Cardi comes across like a wonderfully bizarre amalgam of Lil’ Kim, La Lupe, and Keny Arkana — a pretty unexpected fusion that carves out ample territory in which to grow her talent without competing in any direct way with Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj, Princess Nokia, Ivy Queen, or the many other current, recurrent, and future rap divas. In fact, the most relevant comparison I can remember to Cardi B as a catalytic force in the music industry may be Roxanne Shanté, whose debut single “Roxanne’s Revenge” shook up the rap game in the mid-1980s. It was Shanté, along with Queen Latifah, who first overturned existing gender inequalities by becoming a female boss of her respective crew, as seen on the new Netflix biopic Roxanne Roxanne.

What I like to remember about Cardi B is that she was a professional entertainer — yes, a stripper — and a TV star long before Atlantic Records begged to sign her. In that 1990s Mickey Mouse Club sense of multimedia grooming, this petit entrepreneur of Trinidadian and Dominican extraction had more going for her as a debut recording artist than any random Orlando-bred Britney- or Justin-come-lately.

And let’s stop sneering at strippers, shall we? I can name successful rock stars, filmmakers, a former member of the Voice’s copy department, and the president of a groundbreaking record label who all did time in exotic dance clubs. Moving through that world (as Eve, Amber Rose, Channing Tatum, and Diablo Cody can attest) prepares those clever enough not to get old on the pole for — as Cardi might put it — bigger money moves. 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Pazz & Jop Comments: Protests and Escapes

Jesse Mayshark
I discovered my number one single totally by accident late at night listening to a New Orleans radio station over the internet. Shazamed it to no avail, but the DJ said it was “Floods of Fire” by the Gary Wrong Group. It’s six minutes of muted apocalypse over a motorik beat, with repeating doomsday imagery — “gnashing, ripping,” “volcanic ooze,” “trample-crushed bodies” — from Gary Wrong and an unnamed female co-conspirator. Then the beat stops and the final two minutes are pulses of bass and rippling guitar, fading to nothing. Exhausted and doomed and a little removed from caring, it was a perfect echo of 2017.

Gabe Vodicka
In need of comfort in 2017, we turned to the past. The shoegaze revival brought us reunion albums from Ride, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and — the steadiest and most seductive of the bunch — Slowdive, each offering escape into a realm of warm if artificial light.

Jason Gross
Maybe it’s bizarre to get so excited about something so mellow, but it was a great year for ambient, including old faves (Robert Rich, Gas, the Caretaker) and all shades of moods, including floaty (Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society), dreamy (Chuck Johnson), meditative/minimal (Oliver Alary), unadorned beauty (Bing & Ruth, Poppy Ackroyd), cinematic (Alessandro Cortini), ethereal (Christopher Willits), light but sad (Bibio), dark ambient (Alphaxone, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement), and new age-y (Suso Sáiz, Justin Walter). Maybe in the age of Trump, we need to chill more than ever.

Laurence Station
Convenient timing that Laura Marling’s all-things-feminine album Semper Femina just happens to land in the Year of Retribution Against Men Behaving Badly. Regardless of topical intersection, a timeless work by a master of her craft. Semper Marlinga!

Carol Cooper
Such a strange, odd year. Topical pop and protest music proliferated around the world, with all kinds of singers staying alert if not completely woke. Rock, house, hip-hop, reggaeton, and tropical hip-pop all impressed me with levels of social awareness beyond the usual moody sass and slackness. Migos and Cardi B may be guilty pleasures, but their cynical observations are too full of American realness to ignore.

Jaime Paul-Falcon
Hurray for the Riff Raff. The fury behind The Navigator’s epic standout track “Pa’lante” is entirely justified. As a sample of Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” is heard, the striking piano that buffeted the laments of the song’s first half fade away, and Alynda Segarra’s angered, forceful voice is backed by a frenzied guitar as she lays bare exactly what it is Hispanic and Latinx people cling to in a country that’s determined to vilify them.

Ted Leibowitz
In the face of the unprecedented attacks on the pillars of democracy, there were some great protest songs in 2017 worth noting including: Last Quokka, “Nazi Scum”; Shane Michael Vidaurri, “Alt-Right Fuck Off”; Juliana Hatfield, “When You’re a Star”; American Anymen, “Flag Burner”; Downtown Boys, “Promissory Note”; Prefab Messiahs, “The Man Who Killed Reality.”

Jeremy Shatan
There were a couple of choices this year: to run into the fire — to protest the horror of Trump’s insurgent “presidency” — or to seek escape from the havoc he was causing. Alternating the two seemed to be the best way to survive, and when it comes to the latter, the gorgeous album by the Clientele was the perfect soundtrack. So unexpected after a six-year hiatus, Music for the Age of Miracles featured all of the band’s virtues: literate, poetic lyrics; indelible melodies; sparkling music.

Saul Austerlitz
The song I listened to most this year, from the Women’s March in January to the passage of the tax-scam bill in December, was Run the Jewels’ “2100.” I’ve come to think of one particular line of El-P’s — “They could barely even see the dog/They don’t see the size of the fight” — as the motto of the burgeoning resistance to Trump. I pray every day that he’s right.

Dev Sherlock
From Eno’s Reflection, to Kendrick’s DAMN, to SZA’s CTRL, music this year was addressing a world very much in flux.

Sasha Geffen
Love exists and is real, hope is not the conviction that everything will be OK but the allowing of space for everything to be OK, everything is possible, music was good in 2017.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Pazz & Jop Comments: Top Albums and Singles

Kyle McGovern
Jay-Z, 4:44: The hip-hop Sinatra has finally made his September of My Years

Simon Vozick-Levinson
I hated [Selena Gomez’s] “Bad Liar” the first time I heard it, loved it the third time, and now believe it to be a canonically genius tribute to the timeless experience of going about one’s day with a Talking Heads song in your head. We’ve all been there!

Nelson George
Seeing the love SZA received at Afropunk this summer in Brooklyn was quite impressive. Felt like I was watching the current generation’s Mary J. Blige in action. 

Shannon Carlin
Charli XCX had me living in a teenage dream, and Jay-Z had me thinking about the pitfalls of monogamy. Of course, the person who got me thinking the most was Kendrick Lamar, who just can’t make a bad album. Seriously, just give him the damn Album of the Year this year.  

Rob Tannenbaum
Father John Misty’s a prophet and I think you ought to listen to what he can say to you, what you wanna do is follow for now.

Austin Brown
Cavernous, syncopated, and insecure, Lorde’s Melodrama might be an album about “the party and the after-party,” but musically, it’s an album about a love-hate relationship with transcendence, fantasy, and the pop that purports to offer it. Infinite love without fulfillment. 

Jaime-Paul Falcon
Carly Rae Jepsen left “Cut to the Feeling” — one of the best songs of 2017 — off of two separate albums, and then released this metric ton of synth-drunk bombast just for the hell of it. Jesus, we’re not even close to ready for the next album.  

Nick Farruggia
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit,Nashville Sound: This record is not a road map to solutions, nor is it a lucid history of what exactly brought forth the administration that now hovers over everyone like a monstrous storm cloud. Instead, it is more accurately a crystallization of the Small Town that helped bring the world this wretched, farcical moment.  

Ian Steaman
Let’s face it: Last year it was Cardi’s world, we were just living in it. 

Emerson Dameron
KelelaTake Me Apart: Psychologically rich sex jams with a of textures and waves of sadness and spiritual longing. The warmth of lounge pop, the chill of cold techno, and the ache of all timeless tunes about fleeting relationships.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Cardi B: In Control of Pazz & Jop Singles

On December 20, Cardi B appeared on The Tonight Show. She talked about her 2017 (“I have been proven”), her family (“Once you start making money, everybody wants you to be they kid’s godmother or something”), and her engagement to Offset of Migos (“It’s the right thing to do”). She trilled, drew shapes in the air, and let her nails sing. She was her own ringtone, New York’s storm alert, a pound and a half for the price of one. Jimmy Fallon, affectionate but lost, resorted to his Child Sees First Dump Truck routine and giggled as much as he talked. “I love you, man,” he concluded.

He is not alone. Two weeks into 2018, Cardi B is on six Hot 100 singles. She skates through the rebooted new jack swing of Bruno Mars’s “Finesse” remix, steals the remix of G-Eazy’s “No Limit” by rewriting G-Eazy’s hook (“Fuck him, then I get some money”), and calls herself the “trap Selena” on “MotorSport,” a posse cut with Migos and Nicki Minaj. “Bartier Cardi” is only Cardi’s second official single, disorientingly. Here, she swaps bars with 21 Savage and outshines him with rhymes linked by Offset namechecks. For Ozuna’s “La Modelo,” she sings in Spanish but raps in English.

If joy of delivery is a distinct variable, Cardi B has three clicks more of it per song. If you are excited, she is hype. If you are confident, she is already speaking to reporters. If you are an assassin, she is standing on your grave. Nobody on a track with Cardi B right now can do more than keep up.

Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” is number one on the Pazz & Jop singles list, with Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” at number two. “DNA” fighting it out with “Bodak Yellow” is like Monk trading fours with Cecil Taylor, opposing terminal ends of a genre, equally charged. Kendrick stacks up footage and dodges bullets until the beat trips the breaker. Cardi lays out the comfort of control, while reminding you not to take that comfort as your own. Kendrick sucks the air out of a stairwell while Cardi clears out the backyard. Renters or owners? Probably both.

Her 2017 peak still looms. “Bodak Yellow” — holding at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of January 13 — was the first song by a female rapper to go to number one since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. (Cardi held the number one spot for one week longer than Lauryn’s two.) “Doo Wop,” like the entire Miseducation album, is a 200 percent thing — both 100 percent soul and 100 percent hip-hop, a synthesis that set up the next twenty years of R&B. Where, say, new jack swing sounds like a lost cousin of the present, Lauryn Hill slots next to SZA and Solange and Frank without trouble.

Cardi B echoes Hill in more than stats. Both are women with roots in New York hip-hop (45 minutes separates Hill’s East Orange, New Jersey, from Cardi B’s South Bronx) who hit number one talking about their vision of independence. Hill found the crease where soul and hip-hop weren’t points in a linear smash-and-grab teleology, but adjacent systems that could nourish each other and live without triggering a zero-sum shoot-out. Cardi B’s synthesis isn’t that different. An Instagram star before “Love & Hip Hop,” before the mixtapes, and before the major label, Cardi B fuses the social media target length (less than ten seconds) and the strong hook (same). Cardi B doesn’t need to “graduate” from social media as if records are better or structurally opposed to the brief internet post — she makes them the same thing. Give her a few seconds and she will snatch your brain on the platform of your choice.

Cardi’s new synthesis slides back and forth through time as skillfully as Lauryn’s did. When Cardi dominated the summer with single words (“comfortable” is a three-syllable manifesto), she came across like another New York rapper. People loved Biggie for a hundred reasons, and one was that he could deliver a word in several planes at once. Before you knew what “Warning” was about, you knew that he had said the hell out of “predicament.” Pre-language, language, sound, effort, lack of effort — an MC can load one universe into one word, and Cardi knows this.

As there is no Cardi B without a childhood in the Bronx as Belcalis Almanzar, there is no “Bodak Yellow” without the South. Some of that is down to the Kodak Black song Cardi uses as a blueprint. More relevant is her reliance on voice and texture, one of the reasons hip-hop now sounds more like Atlanta than any other city. If “Doo Wop” blended disparate genres, “Bodak Yellow” melts hip-hop into itself and resolves regional differences into a single sound. The New Yorkest single of the year is one of the most Southerny, too. People like their flows slowed down and dragged out. It works with any accent. Cardi isn’t marrying an A$AP Mobster — she chose someone from Atlanta’s first-tier team. Love or hip-hop? Probably both.