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Photo Courtesy of twitter.com

Jeff Turner
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Kendrick Lamar hit the ground running in 2012 with his major studio debut, “good kid, M.A.A.D. city.” It was magnificent—a vivacious, dark narrative with immersive music. Beats were of top tier, and the emotion was clear. It would be hard not to think that Lamar has not participated in some form of a poetry slam or has had some other experience with the medium; because he has never been careless, even with his first album, which while good, pales in comparison to his studio work.

DAMN. is a seamless fusion of bouncy party rap and immersive narrative storytelling. It’s hard to compare it to “To Pimp a Butterfly” or “Good kid, M.A.A.D. city” as they all rank on par. This is not to say all three albums sound the same, but rather that Lamar has such a strong grasp on the medium that he is able to deliver greatness consistently.

The producers on DAMN. are star studded, including people who have worked with Adele, Jay-Z and Kanye West. Also, helping produce the album are singer James Blake and legendary hip-hop producer The Alchemist. The beats are strong throughout, with each almost certain to draw the attention and adoration of repeat listeners.

“DNA,” one of the stronger songs off the album, focuses on Lamar’s lashing out against those who see him as a cultural poison—people who will not show their hatred for his blackness, but it will remain sub-tle. The usage of samples from Fox News commentators was clever and incisive. Lamar doesn’t play with people trying to pick a fight. The song fundamentally addresses his background, talking about all the bad places he’s been and how even though that’s always going to be a part of him. That doesn’t mean he gets to be stepped upon and dubbed a “thug.”

Speaking of nobody ever getting to step on Lamar, there’s the lead single off DAMN, “Humble.” It is possibly intended as a diss towards Big Sean, with Kendrick sampling lines from Sean in the song. Big Sean, to refresh, is the guy responsible for “Ass.” That video. Him beefing with Kendrick? He’s going to need a bigger boat.

Another strong song off the album is “Lust,” which is about the lust for a breakthrough and an escape. Lamar does not offer an easy answer, instead getting into the eyes of a person stuck like this. Something interesting is how often Lamr goes after Trump. It wasn’t last week when Joey Bada$$ dropped his own political anthem, and now Lamar is getting vocal. It is obvious as this continues, that the truly talented hip-hop musicians are going to become more vocal about this. It’s an interesting turn in the tides, a movement like this has never truly grown in the medium. It’s likely to be to its benefit.

DAMN. is not a great surprise to those who had already been acquainted with Kendrick, and no surprise for people who had been listening to him since Section.80. Sometimes everyone agrees an artist is good because they are.

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Danielle Meadows
CONTRIBUTOR

After four long years, Frank Ocean fans can finally stop asking where the new album is. “Blonde” was released a little over a month ago—a 17-track record featuring impressive collaborations and perspective that could help redefine hip-hop culture.

Before Ocean’s debut album “Channel Orange” was released in 2012, he posted a letter on his Tumblr. Through poetic, nostalgic prose, Ocean told the story of meeting his first love years ago. He explained this love caused him heartache but he’s thankful it happened. The letter acted as a platform for Ocean to openly address his bisexuality—blatantly stating that this love was between him and another man.

In the world of hip-hop, songs are often cluttered with homophobic lyrics, overt masculinity and hypersexualization; making it incredibly daunting for any artist in the genre to admit they’re anything but heterosexual.

Frank Ocean was the first mainstream black hip-hop artist to ever come out—a courageous act that led to the support of thousands of fans and fellow musicians.

After the release of “Channel Orange,” Frank Ocean skyrocketed to success, eventually winning a Grammy for the album. The record is a beautiful blend of genres, each song filled with flowing, eloquent lyrics on addiction, love and heartbreak.

The album’s prominent tracks featured smooth, retrospective verses in “Thinkin’ Bout You”, highlighted Ocean’s issues with materialism in “Super Rich Kids” and put Ocean’s personal life on display in “Forrest Gump”—a track written from the perspective of a character from the film—but deeply rooted in metaphors that are speculated to be about Ocean’s sexuality.

In the four years between albums, Ocean collaborated with artists ranging from John Mayer to Beyoncé, proving his talent is diverse. Ocean began teasing his new record as early as 2013, getting fans all riled up following his critically acclaimed debut. The internet heard little from Ocean until he updated his website last year, hinting at new material.

Time went by with no record in sight. Ocean kept very quiet as rumors continued to spread regarding potential release dates. Fans started getting irritated because there seemed to be a constant cycle of excitement followed by disappointment. Many started to wonder: is there really even a new album at all?

On Aug 19, 2016, fans finally got something new from Ocean. He released “Endless”, a 45-minute-long visual album. The next day, Ocean advertised shops in major cities such as London and Los Angeles. The shops contained free magazines with CD’s included, limited to only one per person.

Later that day, Ocean’s sophomore album “Blonde” was finally released on Apple Music. Fans around the world rejoiced and people who weren’t fans were just happy people stopped complaining about the wait.

Following the release, many noticed variations on how the album title was spelled. Ocean is a master at hidden meanings, which clearly inspired the route he took with this album. People realized that the male version of the word “blonde” has no “e”. Ocean used the male version—“Blond”—on the album cover and the female version—“Blonde”—on the album listing, speculating a reference to his bisexuality and struggles with maintaining that hyped-up, masculine image that is so common in hip-hop.

The name of the record along with the lyrical content has sparked important conversations about homophobia in hip-hop and pop culture. Ocean’s successful role in a traditionally straight genre is important for representation, proving that people struggling with their identities have the potential to do great things.

“Blonde” is much like “Channel Orange” in the sense that it’s incredibly personal, weaving together stories about relationships, drug use and sexuality throughout. The album seems to stray even more from Ocean’s R&B roots, incorporating styles of different genres and constantly keeping the listener on their toes. The lyrics on this record are mysterious, symbolic and elegant. Ocean sings with distinct velvety vocals and raps with grace, never seeming to run out of sheer emotion.

“Blonde” is an album that will undoubtedly be discussed for a long time, not only because of its music, but for its spotlight on identity and the hardships that go into forming your sense of self. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.

By Zane Fletcher, Culture Editor

In the March 3 edition of The Gateway, I reviewed the first three singles from indie-pop duo Matt and Kim’s new album, “New Glow.” 

In that article, I called their endeavor a “risk,” but ultimately decided it was worthwhile. On April 7, Matt and Kim proved me very, very correct, and Rolling Stone very, very wrong.

In addition to their three pre-released singles, “Get It,” “Hey Now” and “Hoodie On,” the duo added seven high-tempo, happy tracks. The album has an interesting dichotomy—on one side are tracks that remind the listener of the old Matt and Kim—poppy piano, staccato drums and upbeat lyrics—on the other is the new Matt and Kim—electronic dance beats with repetitive, simplistic lyrics.

Joining their three singles under the dance category are songs like “Stirred Up” and “Not Alone.”

These songs, with their prede-cessors, signal the beginning of a change in Matt and Kim’s man-tra. Whereas their pop-influenced, indie-rock personas of the early 2000s remain present beneath the electronic veneer, it appears they are now willing to sacrifice lyricism and melody—to an extent—in favor of commercial appeal. 

This shift in attitude might be representative of Kim Schifino’s grow-ing influence in the band. Schifino is known to abandon her drum set entirely during live sets in order to energize the crowd—even dancing on the hands of her audience. It serves to reason that her favor lies in the dance-centric side of the album, and while the band has shown flashes of this ideal, “New Glow” is their first large-scale venture into the genre.

Matt&Kim courtesy Spin.Com
While Schifino’s musical direction controls a significant part of the album, Matt Johnson hasn’t dis-appeared. Tracks such as “Can You Blame Me,” “Make a Mess” and “Killin Me” bring true fans back to the duo’s first album, 2006’s self-titled “Matt and Kim.” Heavier on the lyrics and softer on the bass, they represent the softer side of their music.
The success of this album lies in the aforementioned dichotomy. “New Glow” transcends genre; it is able to pull the best parts of indie, rock, pop and electronica into one body of work. 
For a long time, Matt and Kim were pigeonholed into one specific subset of the industry; they fulfilled the role of cute, quirky nuisances who did not pose a real threat to any major artists or labels. With their latest release, they have launched themselves from musical little brother to a potential giant. 
It is especially gratifying to see the pair stay true to their roots during their exploratory period. This is a band that has flown under the ra-dar for long enough, but with this release (currently sitting in the top 50 of the iTunes charts and rising), Matt and Kim have proved their doubters, including music magnate Rolling Stone, wrong

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