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Why Urge Overkill's 'Saturation' May Be the Most Misunderstood Album of Its Generation

EditorialVincent BlackshadowComment

Urge Overkill’s Saturation may be the most-widely misunderstood album of its generation. The interweb backhanded it (“stadium rock by clever post-punkers” or “a perfect swaggering blend of arena rock and power pop”) with local Chicago critics similarly dissing it (Steve Albini called them “frat rock” in his retort to Bill Wyman including it in a top 10 list for 1993, while Jim DeRogatis compared the record to Weekend Warriors by Ted Nugent). Universally, the record has been dismissed as… Redd Kross. And I suppose if these armchair-rockers only listened to the first 30 seconds of the first song on every album they reviewed, they’d be right about this one.

Before we get into the musical genius of Saturation, I feel obligated to outline the Urge Overkill aesthetic that, after 30 years “together,” has been obscured by a lingering 90’s fog. It’s all clear now, though, and it’s easier to pinpoint the minuscule yet significant velvety nugget that Urge dropped on rock history. Consider this: Urge Overkill had the most punk-rock approach of any band in the post-Nevermind era.

Don’t believe it? I’m not surprised. The root of punk rock is non-conformity. Not political leanings, teenage angst or the chaotic or even systematic dismantling of various establishments. It’s all about refusing to do what everyone else is doing. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks… they bled this music not to be popular or even minimalist, but rather to give their middle finger to Journey and Led Zeppelin. The route was minimalism, yes - and the result was popularity. But the motive was always non-conformity.

"Everything don’t need to be the same…"

Fast-forward 15 years, where the genre derived from punk is now “alternative rock,” and the biggest bands sport self-conscious stubble, baggy shirts and torn jeans. They sing about disillusionment toward whatever is handy— the music industry, the opposite sex, stardom, their own mortality. Pretty shallow shit, generally, although some of it is just great music.

Saturation Catch-Phrases:

“Don’t melt away!”
“Dumb song, take nine.”
“I wish the Z-ball was the sun…”
“I’m playin’... did you even hit record?”
“Is he on the clock or off the clock?”
“Send in the butcher!”
“We’ve never recorded in the big leagues before…”
“Who played Judas?”
“You shoulda seen yo’ face!”

To put this in a light that even my musically-misguided peers will understand— you have your Cobains, your Vedders, Cornells & Corgans…and then there’s Nash F. Kato, Urge’s crooning, shade-wearin’, martini-swillin’ Iceman-slingin’ co-captain. If Nirvana and Pearl Jam were "modern rock," then Urge was "postmodern." From a purely aesthetic standpoint, they gave their (ringed) middle fingers to the guys that were giving their middle fingers to bigshots like Poison and Ticketmaster. Instead of writing them off as “Vegas revivalists,” critics might’ve considered them the hipster’s hipster, and farther into a punk rock personality than any Billie Joe Armstrong would ever be willing to venture.

"Come around to my way of thinkin'…"

Critics clued in on Urge’s tongue-in-cheek irony, of course. I’m not suggesting the band should have been taken seriously. At the same time, the DeRogatis’ and Wymans of Chicago failed to realize and perpetuate what was crucial about the band’s sense of fun. Even more damning, the greater critical community declined to validate Saturation as earnest alternative rock music.

So where does that leave Satch'?

There are a few Stonesy guitar lines, sure. There is that Doobie Brothers breakdown in “Erica Kane,” alright. And yes - it is fair to consider “Sister Havana” an anthem. A shouldabeenabonafide radio hit. But the songs owe just as much to Cheap Trick as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” owes the Pixies, or “Outshined” does Sabbath. “It’s a retro thing,” notes DeRogatis. What?! Listen to “Dropout,” or take a minute to find the bonus track, “Operation Kissinger.”

This record is 13 times as inventive as Ten or Siamese Dream. The atmosphere of Satch' owes a lot to the then-novel practice of pairing a directionless alt rock trio with a hip-hop production team. Phil and Joe Nicolo, professionally known as The Butcher Bros, make this album what it is. All of the sampling on the second side and the left-in mistakes throughout help Saturation transcend “rock album” status, emerging into “Warhol-esque pop spectacle” territory, as awol drummer Blackie Onassis once described it. It’s an art record, really-- and it’s a damn shame that few picked up on that...

What happened to Urge is bittersweet - though mostly bitter. It’s sad to think about a glum, dehydrated Nash Kato growing less sexy each year, as 1993 fades further into history and the Urge brand lives on through half-assed reunions and GenX nostalgia. But the attitude and music so impeccably and extravagantly displayed on Saturation are just as relevant now as they were when they were new. And if not, well, fuck. Still beats Weekend Warriors... 

Saturation: Song by Song

  • "Sister Havana": The best song of 1993, and one of the greatest of the entire decade. From hook-laden chorus to Pumpkins-esque sitar break… just a killer.
  • "Tequila Sundae": The brutal Hiwatt tone and flatulent bass synth give this one a very cool California feeling, but it’s actually one of the album’s weakest. It would make a pretty interesting Beck cover, however.
  • "Positive Bleeding": The Urge ethos. That slamming E chord in the second verse defines the song. Anyone who considers this similar to 70’s rock is either a fuckhead or knows some really good 70’s rock that we don’t.
  • "Back On Me": Many people’s favorite Satch' song. Sounds to me like a tame Nirvana impression.
  • "Woman 2 Woman": “Girl, what’s your sign? ‘Vagittarius,’ / But that’s not mine, so tell me you don’t want me no more.” A stage rush of hilarity, through the chaotic choruses and spoken-word sections. Brilliant
  • "Bottle of Fur": The album’s sexiest track, and also the most glam-rock. Complete with tubular bells and horn sections. Hubba hubba.
  • "Crackbabies": Just an absolutely wicked garage rock song. Note Kato and King Roeser’s studio mishap at the end - genuine or stilted, doesn’t much matter.
  • "The Stalker": One of the many inside references, addressed to a group of haters who terrorized Urge in their hometown, immortalized in this moshy, Bleach-esque sludger.
  • "Dropout": Yeah, this song is totally something off Highway to Hell. That is, if Highway to Hell had 90’s rap beats, a Bollywood soundscape, and beautiful lyrics and melodies from Onassis.
  • "Erica Kane": A manic punk slice of Husker Du-level aggressiveness and melody, followed by a great release in the loose bridge, which leads into a Mouldy reprise and then a snippet of… you guessed it, Hawaii Five-O!
  • "Nite and Grey": King’s finest contribution to the otherwise Nashier album, this song rocks in a catchy but very 90’s fashion. Track eventually fades into some memorable banter over the Mary Tyler Moore theme. Love is all around...
  • "Heaven 90210": A swoon-worthy, Strat-laden California poolside ballad. This song could be from 1971 or 2040 and no one would know the difference.
  • [Bonus Track] "Operation Kissinger": Good things come to those who wait (more than 20 minutes after “90210"). This extra adds yet another flavor to this rich cocktail of a record… the influence of The Butcher Bros. is evident and the piece matches the album cover perfectly. 

EDIT: We initially misattributed Steve Albini's "frat rock" comment (which was addressed to Bill Wyman) to Bill Wyman. Thanks for pointing that out, Bill.

The Emerging Place of Hip-Hop in the Culinary Sphere

EditorialEzra CarpenterComment
Eddie Huang - host of Viceland's  Huang's World  and owner of East Village restaurant BaoHaus. (Photo:  Huang's World  - Vice Media LLC)

Eddie Huang - host of Viceland's Huang's World and owner of East Village restaurant BaoHaus. (Photo: Huang's World - Vice Media LLC)

This past year, two unique television programs under the same network rocked food television with their immense popularity as Viceland’s Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious built upon the successful template established by the contemporary icon of food TV, Anthony Bourdain. The punk rock, culturally adventurous, and politically daring culinary bad-boy earned the Travel Channel degrees of edge and grit previously perceived as unattainable for the network, an especially notable feat for Bourdain’s No Reservations considering its adjacent air time to the program of lame-dad, defiler of the King’s English Andrew Zimmern. Eventually moving to CNN, who realized Bourdain’s ambitions to film more dangerous locations, Bourdain saw continued success as the host of Parts Unknown, winning four Emmys while redefining the palate for televised food and travel culture.

Both Eddie Huang of Huang's World and rapper Action Bronson of Fuck, That's Delicious have adopted Bourdain's persona as the anti-establishment host with tactful yet unembellished diction. What Huang and Bronson have revamped, to their advantage, is the aesthetic, exchanging Bourdain’s literary punk appeal for a hip-hop oriented experience with an accessible level of sophistication. This immigrant American, hip-hop devotional, and most of all, understated appeal is the primary difference between Bourdain and the two aforementioned personalities. Whereas Bourdain’s shows could easily rely on the chef’s French-style culinary training, Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious treat their hosts’ formal culinary backgrounds with subtle acknowledgement, presenting Huang and Bronson mostly as home-trained cooks/hip-hop fanatics instead.

Anthony Bourdain (Photo:  Parts Unknown -  CNN)

Anthony Bourdain (Photo: Parts Unknown - CNN)

Where Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson’s shows win with audiences lies in the authenticity of the hosts. Regardless of punk or hip-hop sensibilities, the congruency between hosts’ televised and real-life personalities has risen in value as a commodity in food television. It is this element of the true-to-form host that has won Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious Anthony Bourdain’s approval. Though Bourdain’s praise does not reference either host’s character as a hip-hop aficionado, the transitioning popularity from Bourdain’s punk-framed socio-political interrogation of cuisine to the new frontier of hip-hop contextualized cuisine/culture is a trend that is difficult to overlook. And yet, the hip-hop approach to cuisine and culture makes so much sense, as much, if not more sense, than Bourdain’s brand of punk.

As Americans of Albanian-Jewish (Bronson) and Taiwanese (Huang) heritage who embrace hip-hop, the two not only attest to the cultural intermingling which occurs within hip-hop, but manifest it in their shows, and do so shamelessly. Never is there an episode in which Huang isn’t walking the streets of a Eurocentric town dressed in an oversized jersey and Jordans. Similarly, cameras follow both Bronson and his Mr. Wonderful tour supporting posse: the Alchemist, Big Body Bes, and Meyhem Lauren – a multicultural collective who accompany Bronson at all times, even if they sometimes contribute absolutely nothing to the culinary conversation. Through their shows, these hosts advocate the embrace of cultural diversity as experienced through the enjoyment of food. Their outlook exploits the parallels between hip-hop’s transcendence of racial barriers and the expansion of cultural insight afforded by travel-dining. Understanding where these two shows have placed hip-hop in relation to cuisine is best accessed through Huang’s assimilation of the two – food, like hip-hop, is a culture for outsiders who inevitably find a commonality with the broader community.

Action Bronson - rapper and host of Viceland's  Fuck, That's Delicious . (Photo: VICE Eats - Vice Media LLC)

Action Bronson - rapper and host of Viceland's Fuck, That's Delicious. (Photo: VICE Eats - Vice Media LLC)

My own realization of the appropriateness of hip-hop as a platform for cultural exploration through food struck me, ironically enough, as I followed a destination-dining rabbit hole I discovered in the Montreal episode of Parts Unknown. Near the culmination of my tour de Montréal, I took a cab from the Gay Village to Little Burgundy for my second service reservation at Joe Beef, the highly esteemed feeding ground of choice for Montréalais omnivores, regarded as one of the one hundred best restaurants in the world. I read the dimly lit menu written in cursive French on the chalkboard spanning the entire left wall, extracting what the three years of French I had taken in college thus far allowed me to. I curated my choices with wild game and gluttonous excess in mind, invoking scenes of seared foie gras and copious helpings of black truffles on a table set before Anthony Bourdain and Joe Beef owners David McMillan and Fédéric Morin.

Awaiting my meal at the bar, the ambience of the bistro did its part in stimulating my anticipation. Deep cuts by Mos Def and the Roots played over table conversation, consistent with jazz-based instrumentals accented with boom bap percussion and intricate rhymes by Yasiin Bey and Black Thought. Theirs was the socially conscious and introspective lyrical matter which primed my appetite for true discovery, in this case, the best of French-Canadian cuisine as served by the most famous restaurant in Canada. The intended effect achieved, it was the best meal I’d ever had in my entire life thus far.

I began with oysters from Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. My waitress Sarah, a fun, helpful, mildly flirtatious Montréalaise girl, then served an expectation-exceeding homemade spinach pappardelle with a red wine ragù and escargot. The broad pappardelle noodle attained a perfect balance between the heartiness of the pasta and the richness of the escargot ragù. “Stop trying to hide it,” Sarah told me as I twirled speckled green noodles around the prongs of my fork, “your smile is from cheek to cheek.” Next I had a venison torte whose layers of venison, foie gras, onions, and a braised anna potato fanned atop the dish were succulent in each bite, melting in my mouth with savory excess.

Anthony Bourdain with Joe Beef owners Fred Morin (center) and Dave McMillan (right). (Photo:  Parts Unknown  - CNN)

Anthony Bourdain with Joe Beef owners Fred Morin (center) and Dave McMillan (right). (Photo: Parts Unknown - CNN)

Joe Beef had won me over with the pappardelle, but it was the venison torte which compelled me to commit to what was unraveling as the best meal I’d ever had. Fittingly, “Juicy” began to play on the speakers, imparting a celebratory sense of triumph that could only be experienced through Biggie’s boastful assertions and confident command of cadence on the song. With my bill already nearing 100 Canadian dollars, I ordered a panko-crusted head cheese croquette with a mustard seed dijon, because (in a matter-of-fact way of phrasing it and in homage to a rap legend of my native Bay Area) I was “feelin’ myself.”

I’ve expended all words that could possibly be used to describe the head cheese croquette, mainly because it is hard to describe the denouement of a meal when the last entry isn’t quite a dessert. “I always love a bit of head cheese for dessert” Sarah joked. Fuck it, I knew what I wanted and while I’m speaking bluntly, the head cheese was damn good and didn’t disappoint.

After the meal I had an over-the-bar conversation with the host that received me at the door on who was the best rapper currently active: Drake or Kendrick Lamar. I argued for my West Coast compatriot while my counterpart presented a case for Drizzy. I was surprised that anyone would try to match Drake’s lyricism to Kendrick Lamar’s rhetoric; however, in a testimony to hip-hop’s seamless cultural fusion, I had completely forgotten that I was speaking to a Canadian. Perhaps the ambiguity of national identification would not have been the same had I been speaking to a national of a country across waters, but French-Canada was a particularly striking cultural anomaly not only for Canada but for all of North America.

I learned many things from the meal. Where politics is in some cultures considered to be a topic unsuitable for dinner table conversation, hip-hop, more than other genres of music due to its inherent accommodation of debate, can serve well as a mealtime topic of conversation. To a larger degree, hip-hop has the potential to invite people into culinary exchange the same way it has ushered outsiders into a historically African-American culture. From a music perspective, my meal at Joe Beef demonstrated the ability of hip-hop to prepare an appetite and celebrate the universal satisfaction of a good meal. Whether or not hip-hop can establish a reputation as a genre fit for curating a fine meal is left to restaurateurs across the world to determine, but I know that its potential to establish a dining ambiance is not accidental, nor is it some unnaturally-forced experimentation. I know, from passing the kitchen hallway on my way out of Joe Beef and seeing the words “CD playing” on the soundsystem monitors.

See trailers for both Huang's World and Fuck, That's Delicious below



The Party Playlist as a Moral Obligation

EditorialAndrew MeriwetherComment
Image: Spotify

Image: Spotify

It’s 11 PM, and I’m at a party in a small apartment in Newport Beach, California. So far, the night is perfectly enjoyable: everyone has become socially lubricated, jokes are being cracked, the shindig is progressing without a hitch. That is, until I begin to hear what I am sure is the same song that played not 20 minutes ago. At first, I wasn’t sure if this had been intentional. Maybe someone felt the need to hear the track one more time because “This is my jam!” or just for good measure. This seemed unlikely, however, seeing as music was being streamed from a phone, which remained in the host’s pocket. More likely, he had put on Pandora or some Spotify playlist on shuffle and was letting it play, inevitably leading to repetition. Whatever the case, it was clear that this host had not and was not selecting the music.

What song I cannot for the life of me remember (the details of the night are a bit hazy). What I do remember is turning to my girlfriend and remarking “This song was played twice,” expecting some form of concurring nod or at least look in her eyes that said “I know, darling, what philistines.” Instead, she gave me that blank stare I often receive when I’m perturbed about something that no one else seems give a damn about in the slightest.

Luckily, I had the social sense not to make a big deal about it at the party. Nonetheless, this incident, along with a few similar musical faux pas, compelled me to type a few lines in promotion of the self-curated playlist.

Why does the party playlist matter?

When you’re getting ready for a party, what do you do? Assuming the people coming over are people you care about, you probably clean the apartment, empty the dish rack, and dust (if you’re like me, for the first time in months). Maybe you do some decorating — hang some old christmas lights or whatever. You think about food choices: is this a snack affair or a dinner party? Will we be making late night spaghetti? Will there be guac (that's rhetorical, obviously there should always be guac).

Why do you do these things? Well, because they set the stage for the party. You’re creating a space, hopefully, that is conducive to an enjoyable night. For me personally, the musical ambience of a party is perhaps the most critical aspect of any rendezvous. Music sets the tone and guides the trajectory the mood. It’s like the rudder of a skiff: you may not be explicitly aware of it, but it is always steering you one way or another.

Whether you are having club banger or dinner and game night, what music is underwriting the evening will nearly always be a significant factor in the success of the party. You have to get people moving, spark conversation, bring out nostalgia, etc. Anyone who has been to a party without a background music playlist, or worse yet, a terrible one, knows that it’s an awkward and unpleasant experience. The conversation dulls, people begin to look into their phones, it’s like a sail boat without wind — dead in the water (last nautical metaphor, I promise). You need music in order to demonstrate how people should feel and what they should do.

Sure, but does that mean I need to curate the playlist myself?

“Curated Playlists” are all the buzz right now. Spotify, Apple Music, 8Tracks all these services offer playlists to meet any number of situations or moods: “Pre-Party R&B Jams,” “Magical Wanderlust,” and, my personal favorite, “i don’t even know anymore” (yes, the “i” was intentionally done that way), just to name just a few. One wonders if we will ever have to pick another song ourselves again.

This is not the beginning of a rant about Spotify playlists. I listen to them all the time and have discovered lots of wonderful music through them (and we at Transverso even occasionally offer up our own). Instead, the point is that settling for one of those playlists for a party is low-hanging fruit. You can do better.

When you are going to have people over to your home, you ought to take the time to craft your musical ambience.
The reason is one of identity and investment. Whether you like it or not, your music choices represent who you are. This may seem like a rather grandiose statement, but I mean it with complete sincerity. Your music choices matter because they are representative of your taste, and in turn, your character. When I hear a playlist that someone has made, I feel like I’m gaining insight into who they are. They’re showing me what they like and what moves them, and you can’t really get more personal then that.

More importantly, curating your own playlist shows your investment in your friends. Selecting songs for a playlist takes immense love and care. You must studiously assess the goals for the evening (cerebral discourse, sloppy dance floor make-outs, spirit animal discovery, etc.) and the company who will be attending (e.g. can you get away with a deep cut from The Books or will that make everyone uncomfortable in a bad way?). When you hand select your songs, you’re doing it for the benefit of your friends. It shows that you understand them, that you remember what it is they like, and that you care about their happiness. It also gives you the opportunity to share a part yourself with your friends through the music you’ve been listening to. The playlist is an unspoken conversation between you and your guests. Make it articulate. Make it authentic.

This may feel like a lot of hard work and pressure to be putting one aspect of the evening, but your effort will always payoff. Trust me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as noticing one of your party guests looking over toward the speakers, tuning-in, and wandering over to the laptop to discover whose playing.

Should I feel bad about myself now?

Look, we’ve all been in a pinch where people are coming over unexpectedly and we need something quick. I’m as guilty as anyone. You shouldn’t feel like plebeian because you didn’t self-curate the playlist. My argument is simply that spending time self-selecting songs, especially in a culture where more and more is curated for us, can mean a great deal. So when you decide to throw a party in advance, invest the time to pick and sequence your songs. Your party and its guests will thank you for it.

Purple Reign: Remembering Prince's Final Performance

EditorialQuentin CompsonComment

What if you knew you were walking into the concert hall to hear a performer play his last notes to an audience?  Would you get to the show early?  Would you stay until the absolute last plastic cups and final kernels of popcorn had been retrieved by the clean-up crew?  That song that didn’t get played that you wanted to hear, would you sing it with your concert crew, as you filed out of the theater?

How would you feel if, later that night, the artist had to detour on the way home as a result of a health emergency?  Would you feel relieved when, the next day, he tweets “I am #transformed”?

What would you say when, less than a week after that show, you began to hear reports?  Sketchily-detailed reports?  Then confirmations?  What do you say?

What do you remember?  A favorite song?  Is a song too much to think about at this moment?  How about a poignant lyric? What remains?  The notes, the lyrics, the music?  Why do you feel the way you feel about the passing of someone you actually never met?

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Was it the arrangements of notes and words that made you feel that you were better able to get through this thing?  Maybe it was the uniqueness of the presentation? His flair?  His ground-breaking, influence-making, apology-forsaking, double-taking style? 

Why does it even matter?  Is it because of the feelings that came from the music?  Not just what it did to you, but what it did to other people, maybe even different than you? Did you like the music, or what it did for you, or to you, or for other people? Does it remind you of good times?

Life is just a party
But parties weren’t meant to last

Was it not even about you, but did you see and hear something that is just exceptional, that you may never see and hear again? Was this so special that nothing really compares 2 it?

What if you knew?

What if when, you first sat in your seat that night, that you knew?  What if when you clapped and clamored for an encore, you knew?  What if you knew that it really was One. More. Song.

I only want 2 see you laughing…

But, what if you had no idea? 

A world of never-ending happiness
You can always see the sun
Day or night

In memory of Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958-2016:  Innovator, Musician, Creator.

Closing Remarks of a Reformed Kanye Apologist

EditorialSean McHughComment

I have been an ardent Kanye apologist for quite some time.

I would assert that Kanye’s production prowess transcended the confines of genre – from the formative days of College Dropout to the unmercifully avant-garde Yeezus  - in absolute awe of Kanye’s “scorched earth” approach to his craft.

I maintained Kanye’s status as the All-Father of modern hip-hop, his discography a compendium of templates to guide those who choose to emulate the various iterations of Kanye’s career.

I blindly ascribed the successes of Chance the Rapper, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Travi$ Scott, Lupe Fiasco, Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, Big Sean, and Mr. Hudson to the omnipresent influence of Kanye West.

885.80 miles of America lie between Nashville and New York City, but I still managed to witness the live simulcast premiere of “Yeezy Season 3” at Madison Square Garden.

I considered him an indomitable ideologue that had eclipsed culture. While I have never even remotely considered purchasing any of the exorbitant pieces from his “Yeezy Season” trilogy (not out of sartorial revulsion, but out of financial prudence), I couldn’t help but applaud Kanye’s penchant for minimalism.

I was moonstruck by the impromptu nature of Kanye’s combination fashion show/album listening party for The Life of Pablo, and admired the magnanimous charity of Kanye whilst “passing the aux” to the likes of Young Thug and Vic Mensa in front of 20 million people.

I had unwavering faith that the release of The Life of Pablo would see Kanye silence his most ferocious critics, all the while summiting the zenith of the zeitgeist as the greatest popular artist of the new millennium.

I would treat Kanye’s exploits as supreme acts of a self-aware caricature; a master class so inscrutable, even the most astute of human behavior experts would remain confounded.

I was confident that upon the inevitable disclosure that Kanye’s much-maligned escapades were nothing more than performance art, his histrionics would become a bastion of artistic sovereignty

I was under the impression that those who bemoaned Kanye’s musings were simply out of touch and unfit for such brilliant satire.

It is because of the aforementioned defenses of Kanye that I write this article with a heavy heart, having come to terms with an objectionable truth – I must relinquish my title as a Kanye apologist.

The past month and a half of Kanye’s ubiquity has withered me to a troubling perspective of self-examination. The events surrounding The Life of Pablo have been an all-out media onslaught so pervasive that it has led me to falter in my continued support of Kanye.

I do my best to remain objective in most matters – maintaining an emphasis on universal understanding rather than blind faith – but Kanye’s recent behavior has led me to a fan’s introspective crises as opposed the usual eye roll and “I’m sure Kanye knows what he’s doing,” when he interrupts someone to perform a soliloquy at the VMAs, or when confronted with the realities of whom he chooses to share him name.

Now don't get me wrong, I am most certainly not about to come the defense of Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian – I am of the opinion that Taylor Swift has a scandal lying dormant to the public eye capable of reaching Peyton Manning-sized proportions; and Kim, well, I couldn’t tell you much about her, but neither could she – but what many consider to be two more incendiary moments in Kanye’s career, I merely regard as mischievous self-expression, along with most other dubious actions throughout the years.

Kanye was nothing more than the occasional superstar scamp in my mind, so I continued to defend his behavior, chastised for such a decision on only a handful of occasions.

Somewhere down the line, however – sometime around the beginning of 2016 -, my spirited Kanye fandom became combative amongst some of my contemporaries. Where my delight in all things Kanye had once been nothing more than an exercise of personal taste, it had suddenly become an affront to other people’s existence; as if to insinuate I share the same outlooks as a mercurial music superstar. Kanye had suddenly become a combative subject, even if the discourse was purely superficial. But nonetheless, groups of people inherently abhorred anyone who even remotely enjoyed any aspect of Kanye.

And it was in that moment I realized just how silly all of the controversy of Kanye really was. Granted, there were technical aspects surrounding The Life of Pablo that were less than stellar (looking at you, Tidal), but getting caught up in who Kanye thinks owes him their career?

Who cares?

It’s a song for crying out loud.

If there are songs on The Life of Pablo some might find detestable, then those who have such an inclination would be best served not listening. Why look for something to gripe about when we’re all better off focusing on things that have more personal appeal?

If Kanye’s behavior places such displeasure in your life, why bother spewing vitriolic epithets and the like when its so much easier to place your focus on someone or something else?

Ultimately, the World of Kanye is an exercise in futlity - whether you’re an avid disciple (such as myself) or one of his biggest detractors. Kanye is going to do what Kanye wants to do, and there’s no way around it. He is a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues to adapt and create, providing some with great joy, and others great irritation.

Its for these exact reasons that I rest my final defense of Kanye, and relegate myself from Kanye apologist to Kanye aficionado. 

But before I go, I just wanted people to recognize that Beyonce really did have the one of the best music videos of all time.

You can read our full The Life of Pablo album review here and "Kanye's Original The Life of Pablo Tracklist Analyzed in Three Acts by @NathanZed & @jonnysun" here.

Kanye's Original 'The Life of Pablo' Tracklist Analyzed in Three Acts by @NathanZed & @jonnysun

EditorialTransverso MediaComment

This is a guest post from @NathanZed and @jonnysun analyzing Kanye's original The Life of Pablo tracklist.


"LOW LIGHTS" (Added Track) - Starts off with “I want to tell you a testimony about my life." This album, The Life of Pablo, is the testimony. See this as the introduction framing the entire album as Kanye’s testimony about his life. 


ACT 1 is Kanye on a crazy high off his fame, with excessive sex, drugs, money, and big egos. All the tracks from "Famous" to "Highlights" are upbeat and mostly bangers, indicating that he’s having the time of his life.

"FAMOUS" - He shows off his braggadocio side on "Famous." The very first verse shows how petty he is when it comes to fame with the infamous Taylor Swift line, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous."
"FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS Pt. 1 / Pt. 2" - The line “I just wanna feel liberated” is mixed between lines describing excessive sex and drugs. Like that… ”bleached asshole” line…

"WAVES" - Lyrics describing his excessive ego, “Step up in this bitch like / I’m the one your bitch like / Yeah I’m the one your bitch like / And I be talkin' shit like / I ain’t scared to lose a fistfight / And she grabbin’ on my dick like / She wanna see if it’ll fit right / That’s just the wave”

"HIGHLIGHTS" - This is the highest point that Kanye is at, ending the song with “I need every bad bitch up in Equinox / I need to know right now if you a freak or not.”
"FEEDBACK" (Added Track) - The first track with a beat that sounds more distorted and less straight forward. Lyrics describe an obsession with money, “Wake up nigga wake up / We bout to get this paper," “I’ve been outta my mind, a long time." This transitions into Act 2.


ACT 2 is him coming down from the high and waking up, having a moment of clarity, and realizing for the first time what his life has become. 

"FREESTYLE 4" (Added Track) - Starts off with nightmarish production. This is the craziest that Kanye's high gets, and he’s mumbling through the track talking about sex. The end of the track you hear him “waking up."
"30 HOURS" - Kanye waking up from this nightmare / his high and having a moment of clarity. First lines are,
“I wake up assessin’ the damages / Checkin’ media takeout / Pictures of me drunk walkin’ out with a bitch / But it’s blurry enough to get the fakeout"

"NO MORE PARTIES IN LA" - He’s realizing for the first time what his life has become. He begs “please baby no more parties in LA”.
"FADE" - The lyrics speak from themselves, “Your love is fadin’ / I feel it’s fadin’ / When no one ain’t around / I feel it’s fadin' / I think I think too much / Ain’t nobody watchin'" Towards the end, the gospel song “I Get Lifted” is sampled, presenting more gospel themes.


ACT 3 is Kanye then renouncing this life, & turning to God and religion for redemption.

"FML (For My Lady)" - A story of the difficulties Kanye faces as he tries to control himself and stay truthful to his wife, Kim.
"REAL FRIENDS" - A look at Kanye’s relationship struggles with his friends and family, which he blames himself for in certain lyrics.
"WOLVES" - He compares himself and Kim to Mary and Joseph, presenting more biblical themes. Ends with Frank's verse, “Life is precious / We found out, we found out"
"ULTRALIGHT BEAM" - Kanye finally turns to God and religion for redemption. Kanye revealed in his tweets that the “Pablo” in the title is not Picasso or Escobar (or at least not only them), but rather “PAUL” from the bible.

According to his tweets,

Before Paul became who he was, he was “Saul”, a sinner and someone who was persecuting God. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” (Acts 9:1)

In "Ultralight Beam," Kanye becomes redeemed for his sins across the album.  Take “The addict’s moment of clarity and redemption” and mirror that as a contemporary modern day version of "Saul the sinner turning into Paul." The song then ends with a prayer from Kirk Franklin, perhaps for anyone who can relate to the struggle shown in this album.

You can read our full The Life of Pablo album review here and "Closing Remarks of a Reformed Kanye Apologist" here.

A Look Back: Uncle Kracker First Asked Us To Follow Him 15 Years Ago

EditorialJonathan KlingerComment

Anyone with ears can attest to the brilliance that is Matthew Shafer’s voice.

Shafer, or Uncle Kracker for you simpletons, was fresh and unknown until that day that will forever be remembered in history, the day on which he released what is now considered the greatest album to ever be heard. June 30th of the year 2000 marked the world’s first impression of Uncle Kracker with the instant classic, Double Wide.

Double Wide peaked at Number 7 on the Billboard Top 200, but will forever be remembered as Number 1 to his musical nieces and nephews. With a lineup consisting of no one that matters other than Kid Rock and our avuncular caucasian hero himself, they slowly rapped/rocked their way into our ears, and straight through to our hearts.

Uncle Kracker's music: so good its soundwaves are visible

Album highlight, “Follow Me,” was my idea of the ideal smooth-talker’s anthem. The song, which has undertones of excessive drug use and cheating on a spouse, was the big hit of the summer and was the first three tracks on my summer 2001 mixtape. Seven-year-old Jonathan learned every single word and would recite them upon request or any time he felt like it.

Follow me everything is alright,
I’ll be the one to tuck you in at night,
And if you want to leave I can guarantee,
You won’t find nobody else like me.

Beautiful. Just hearing it now gives me shivers. Cockiness with just the slightest tone of comfort. That is exactly how I wanted Michelle Duncan in my 3rd grade class to feel as I sat her down and stared into her eyes, mouthing along the words to the song. Was she uncomfortable? No, she loved it. Besides, all the weird undertones (or blatant tones) went right over our heads.

We all thought the song was comparable to things like “I Want it That Way” or other classic Backstreet Boys hits like, “I’ll Be the One” or “I Need You Tonight.” We didn’t want to know what types of drugs Kid Rock and Uncle K were lighting up to when they were recording it, all we cared about was that little three minutes and thirty-five seconds we could share while she sat on the swing at recess listening to the song through my portable CD player. (Remember those?) Luckily for her, once the song ended, she got to enjoy it two more times.

Michelle wasn’t the only one that got the “Follow Me” love. Rembold family, remember our American Idol night? Remember how I made it through four rounds singing the same song every time? The reason I get so specific with these examples is because I know everyone shares one thing in life: We all love Uncle Kracker, specifically “Follow Me.” The names and faces are different, but the experiences are universal.

Is he the strongest performer? Absolutely. Do his lyrics imply that he cheated on his wife (who was his childhood sweetheart) while he was probably coked out of his mind? Definitely. Does that mean we can’t enjoy this masterpiece that is the defining song of the 2000s? The biggest no. There isn’t a day that goes by without me humming along to the iconic guitar riff. Dun-dun dun dun dun dun dun dun, dun dun, dun-dun dun dun dun dun dun dun. duun dun. So great.

No, Tall People Are Not Obligated to Stand in the Back of the Crowd

EditorialWeston PaganoComment

As part of a series called The Good Listener, NPR recently ran a piece titled “Are Tall People Obligated To Stand In The Back At Concerts?” in response to a Facebook post by an individual (presumably of the shorter variety) who complained:

I was recently at a show of the unseated variety when, to my dismay, a very tall and wide chap with a head boasting the approximate dimensions of a cereal box stationed himself directly in front of me. I spent the whole (crowded) show craning to one side or another so that my view was not entirely obstructed. I wished this gentleman to be banned from concert-going forever, or at least to be forced to view the show from the back row of every venue. My question is: What obligation does the big/tall person have to his or her fellow concertgoers with regard to obstructing the view?

Cranium sizes comparable to breakfast food containers aside, tall people are not a rare species at musical performances and other cultural events in which many people are gathered together to look in one direction and view a single stage. Many of these concerts are general admission, meaning that the floor is open to standing room exclusively, and that space is filled on a first-come first-serve basis, regardless of physical stature. And that’s that.

The idea that everyone should be able to have equal and unobstructed lines of sight towards the front of the venue is a nice one, though ultimately utopian. While a short concert-goer wishing to relegate a fellow fan and peer to the back of the bus so-to-speak (or worse, have them “banned from concert-going forever") for a better view based on a characteristic they cannot control is at best idealistic, it’s at worst incredibly self-entitled and unfair. Shows aren’t an inherently oppressive economic system you need to right with compensatory measures; you do realize you can just show up earlier and wait in line like the rest of us, right?

I am about 6’4” and I enjoy being close to if not in the front row. I have been known to arrive to the venue long in advance to secure such a position. Anyone who does that earns their proximity to the action, and anyone who waltzes through the crowd halfway through the first song, feeling as if they deserve to be ahead of you because they never grew out of their high school height, does not. The only thing they should be at the front of is a list of the worst people ever.

I’m not trying to pass this generalization off as fact, it’s merely been my experience (and of course there are plenty of exceptions), but concert-goers of a smaller stature are almost always the most intolerably inconsiderate individuals in the crowd. Whether they are shoving themselves in between and in front of my friends and I, blowing smoke up into my face, repeatedly fist-pumping into my nose, standing directly on my feet for an extra lift for an extended period of time (when I asked her to move she pretended as if she hadn’t noticed she was literally climbing on top of my body), or even just subtly trying to make me feel guilty the entire time, the sense of cavalier entitlement coupled with a raging Napoleon complex is far more obstructive to one’s enjoyment of a night out than an eager fan who simply has to wear a longer size of pants.

And most of the time, short people do better in life than we do anyway: they fit in car and plane seats more comfortably, they can find clothes that fit them without much effort, and they're even likely to live longer than us. My head never even makes it in photos. Let us have this one.

"Don’t you have a heart?” you may be asking. “Why do you hate short people? They can’t help it!”

Well, yeah. If you’re nice to me I’ll probably just let you in front of me anyway by choice. Specifically, if you’re the adorable elderly woman who came to see Paul McCartney at Lollapalooza a couple of weeks ago, I was more than happy to hold your sign for you and help you get closer to our hero.

Everyone else? Come wait in line with me from the beginning, we'll stand together.

"Anaconda" Snub is Just the Tail End in a Long History of Racism in the Music Industry

EditorialNneka EwulonuComment
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Award shows tend to be polarizing and subjective; a song you hate may win "Song of the Year" and somehow, incredibly, Leonardo DeCaprio has yet to win an Oscar. Some of this can be chalked up to different opinions (although really, how has Leo not won an award yet?), but currents of racism and sexism are also present. The issue of racism in award ceremony has been brought up again in light of MTV Music Award nominations; "Anaconda" by Nicki Minaj, arguably a musical and cultural phenomenon, was not nominated for video of the year. Minaj took to twitter, claiming "if [she] was a different "kind" of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year..."  Unfortunately, she has a point. Music, arts, and pop-culture in general have a long history of ignoring or appropriating the creations of African-Americans.

Whether or not you agree that "Anaconda" should have been nominated, controversy surrounding white artists receiving accolades for music black artists are ignored for creating is nothing new. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is Elvis Presley. Elvis has gone down in history as an influential musician, often being heralded as the king, or even creator of Rock and Roll.  While he was undoubtedly a talented musician, many don't realize how much of his music and style were stolen from African American communities.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the advent of secular music amongst African Americans, and from blues to jazz to swing, these styles saw their birth and success in black venues and clubs. Rock and Roll is no exception to this trend. What Elvis did was not innovative or creative; he merely repackaged African American rock and roll and made it "acceptable" for white audiences to listen to. His second single, Good Rocking Tonight, was released in 1954 and was an explicit re-recording of a song by blues artist Roy Brown, who recorded it in 1947.

Theft is prevalent in even Elvis' most famous songs: "Hound Dog," arguably one of his most famous songs, is a remake of a track released four years earlier by blues artist Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorton called "That's All Right" and its year of release are used to mark the birth of rock and roll in Memphis. That, in turn, is a cover of a track blues artist Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup released 8 years earlier, not to mention the fact that "Rocket 88," a song by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats that was released three years before Elvis's cover of Crudup, is considered to be the first real birth of Rock and Roll itself.

Elvis was not the first to steal from black musicians, and he most certainly was not the last. Rap and R&B, genres with undoubtedly black origins, have become saturated with white musicians who overshadow their black counterparts. This is not the say that music should be segregated by race, but it's odd to see white musicians overtaking a genre that stems from west African musical and drumming traditions (especially those with almost a complete lack of authenticity). These genres have followed the path of rock and roll; they weren't mainstream until repackaged and popularized by white musicians.

In his song "White America", Eminem raps "let's do the math: if I was black, I woulda sold half." No one can deny Eminem's talent, but even he is aware that his fame stems more from his race than his talent. In 2014, Ed Sheeran was named the most important act in "Black and Urban Music. Let me repeat: a white, English musician was named the most important act in black and urban music. The irony speaks for itself.

Again, this is not an attempt to advocate for musical segregation, nor to dismiss the talent of white musicians. But in this day and age, there is no excuse for the continued denial of black contributions to music and art. "Anaconda" was certainly not the most original or innovative music video, but it was absolutely everywhere. Magazines wrote about it, Ellen covered it, and 1,000 Nicki Minaj cutouts from the video were placed on the steps of a cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. For MTV to deny this track the recognition it deserves in an award show that essentially rates music by popularity as the main standard just goes to show that, despite increased racial equality, the music industry has not changed much at all.