Well, we’ve made it to the the halfway point. You gotta admit, it’s been a pretty good year. But there’s still plenty to come in the back half. If the songs nominated for this week’s 5 Best are any indication, it might even get better. Crazy, right? But hey, we’ll take it.
On Saturday night, I saw Daveed Diggs play Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton. On Sunday night, I saw Daveed Diggs win a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor In A Musical. And on Monday night, I heard Daveed Diggs spit the words “it’s Clipping., bitch” over a ferocious burst of industrial-strength noise. Diggs might be exponentially closer to a household name than when he first uttered those words over three years ago, but that doesn’t mean that he or the rest of Clipping. are ready to compromise. They’re still as dark and dangerous and confrontational as as ever, and “Wriggle” is definitive proof of that. Producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson twist a sample of Whitehouse’s power-electronics single “Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel” into a churning, squealing banger while Diggs delivers his signature skin-crawling machine-gun bars, repeatedly ratcheting up the tension without ever quite finding a release. The whole thing is thoroughly unnerving in the best possible way, and when it’s over you’re not quite sure if you should play it again or just go take a shower. –Peter
It’s hard not to hear “Crash” as a sequel to “Climax.” On that masterful 2012 single, Usher’s falsetto was a blowtorch guided meticulously across an ice sculpture built from programmed skitters and slow-motion synths, mirroring lyrics about one last burst of passion long after love has grown cold. Here we have more deft programming and another manipulated melodic surge, and yet again Usher sends his voice soaring to exhilarating heights. But this time the music is warmer, more sentimental, and so is the story: “Would you mind if I still loved you?” he asks, as if having second thoughts about whether he and his lover are really going nowhere fast. Eventually, he concludes, “It’s worth the fight.” Attached to genius production and a melody that could pass for Nostalgia, Ultra-era Frank Ocean, it’s enough to send tingles racing through your body. –Chris
I don’t know Danny Brown’s whole label situation right now, but “When It Rain,” his new single, is out on Warp, the same UK label that introduced cerebral electronic types like Aphex Twin to the world. It’s a perfect fit. For one thing, there is probably no currently-vital rapper more likely to have a favorite Squarepusher album. For another, Brown’s deranged-cartoon-hyena voice is a disruptive element, just like a sampled siren or a drum-skitter might’ve been on a mid-’90s EDM record. And just about everything on “When It Rain” goes left, from regular collaborator Paul White’s synth-foghorn beat to Brown’s breathless yammer of a delivery. We’re nearly halfway into the song before the drums even kick in, and when they do, they stagger and churn and hammer. Brown, meanwhile, is the sort of rapper who can name-check the Detroit techno classic “Percolator” immediately after rapping about anal sex and robbing your grandma. He’s operating on some other plane, but that doesn’t mean you should fuck with him. –Tom
I’ve been ambivalent about YG since he was on his early come-up. I grew up in gangland LA in the late ’80s and early ’90s and saw how Bloods and Crips could ravage an already damaged, impoverished community. But I also recognize there are a multitude of societal conditions that enable gangs to persist, and people should hear the vivid, violent, harrowing stories that come from that lifestyle or they would be conveniently swept under the streets that are beefed over. So I cringe initially when I see Blood culture propagating enough to transform Complex into Bomplex, and have fellow writers turn New York City into New York Bity. But I also see my peers delve deeper. Then I remind myself that every nook and cranny of the American black male experience must be available, detailed, and consumed to create a more three-dimensional picture of black men, and hope people don’t merely flatten YG’s identity and music to its cool factor.
On Still Brazy, YG doesn’t glorify being from the set. He offers a complete depiction of what the life of a Blood is like. Yes, he celebrates the money, women, and street cachet afforded to him for rapping about his lifestyle, but he also details the paranoia, PTSD, racism, etc. inherent in his daily existence. The drawbacks drive “Who Shot Me?,” “Gimmie Got Shot,” “Still Brazy,” “FDT,” and “Police Get Away Wit Murder,” and are sprinkled throughout the entire album. But his commentary is at its most astute and potent on “Blacks And Browns.” He breaks down the many reasons why “I’m a nigga and I can’t go outside,” and even gives space for Sad Boy to represent for Mexican Angelenos and their struggles. The classic West Coast aesthetic with whomping bass lines, sparse, dramatic piano chords, and drums with plenty of knock accentuate the experience of riding with YG through Compton streets. Sometimes it’s a smooth, calm-breeze-and-palm-trees type of ride. But it’s often a life with your head constantly on the swivel, lingering in positions that optimize the view over your shoulder — only occasionally replacing hard Cs with Bs. –Collin
Queer existence has always been mitigated by self-erasure. It’s an instinct ingrained in us since birth, as we consciously check ourselves to make sure we’re not too out, too loud, too proud, too anything. Is it safe to hold hands here? Am I walking weird? Is my voice too high, too low, too funny? Do they know? It’s all part of navigating a society that too often does not want us there at all. When 49 LGBTQ people were killed in Orlando this past weekend in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, it called into question the safe spaces we’ve carved out for ourselves. If we can’t even exist there, corralled away from the rest of the world, where are we allowed?
G.L.O.S.S. provide an alternative to a lifestyle of assimilation, a push forward against the self-preserving instinct to retreat back into the shadows. On the Olympia hardcore band’s second release, TRANS DAY OF REVENGE, Sadie Switchblade urges us to “give violence a chance,” inspires us to “fight for your life,” to “stand up and mask up and drive out their kind.” On “We Live,” an anthem for the very sort of sacred space that was attacked in Orlando, she encourages us to stand up and take action, to “live and die against the grain.” She says that we’ve only been made stronger by the traumas we’ve been forced to endure, and thus we live. It’s a powerful message, especially in the wake of so much unnecessary death, and G.L.O.S.S. are militarized and unforgiving, preaching survival and revenge as ferociously and loudly as society embraces our erasure. –James