VERSUS Magazine – Summer 2014

Date: Summer 2014
Publication: Versus Magazine

Contributions:
– ‘Rap Is A Black Sport’  p11-12
– In Conversation: Movement p31-34
– Humble Beginnings: Action Bronson p35

 

Versus Magazine was my introduction to music journalism. Founded by my good friends Jonathon JB Bartlett and Konrad Ziemlewski, Versus was an independent publication with a unique vision to find common ground between cutting-edge design, and new music: Innovation being the underlying theme behind everything we looked for.

In the final issue of Versus, I was fortunate enough to be invited to contribute 3 articles. An opinion piece on white kids at rap shows (me included), an interview with Australian future-RnB trio Movement, and a rare piece of rap-fiction, as a look at Action Bronson’s humble beginnings as a shopping mall Santa Clause.

 

Opinon: What Frank Put Them Through

Publication: PUSH Magazine
Date: August 2016

With the dust still settling, the devastation of Frank Ocean’s marauding campaign of hate against his admirers is beginning to show. In a triple threat of vindication for his fans, ‘Endless’ was followed by ‘Blonde’ and the ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ zine. But does that years of neglect and emotional absence is all forgiven?

Many have likened him to an abusive lover; complicated, emotional and twisted. Treating those who love him like dirt, but giving them just enough to keep them holding on. “We can change him” his fans say as they tracked down the DIY studio from his ‘art-project’ stream of Apple Music endorsed tedium. Just a few weeks ago, there he was, tinkering away, avoiding their stare. “Why won’t you look at us?” they cried, “Where is it Frank?”, “Why are you doing this?” “We asked for an album, not a morose birdhouse.” They made a diss album, ‘Boys Do Cry’ as a final retort, a desperate plea for our Frank to burst into life and gratify their masochistic commitment. It seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Some were ready to give up and some did. Many looked to Travis Scott to release the gracefully titled ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’ just so they could get away from it all for a little while. But unable to shoulder the burden, he went and hid behind Zane Lowe at the Beats One studios, without so much as single comforting word. All this, and Frank continued in his absence. Something was coming, but no one would be fooled into thinking it would ever come; they would never get what Frank Ocean owed them.

But what really does he owe them? He never asked them to hang off his every word, analyse his every movement. He was just one of the more complicated spokes in the Odd Future wheel. Channel Orange was eloquent and poetic where his OF contemporaries preferred to lurk in the undertow, and if Tyler and the gang started out as 4Chan, then Frankie was Tumblr. He traversed tragedy identity with grace and aplomb; rarely hiding behind twisted metaphor; rarely pretending to be something he wasn’t.

Unintentionally, he became not just their Bowie, but a manifestation of all of them. They fell in love with a young man they hoped to meet. They feel in love with a young man they wanted to be.

After Channel Orange, Frank withdrew. His autobiographical songs touched more people than he could’ve imagined, carving out a place for him in RnB history with a double-edged sword. He sacrificed a private life for his poetry, like a martyr for a misunderstood generation.

“I got two versions. I got two versions.”

With all this in mind, can we still call Frank abusive? Channel ORANGE was not a call to follow to his listeners, it was a reclamation of his best work. An album that gave context and insight to the stunning songs he’d written for Beyonce, Kanye and John Legend among others. In 2012, Ocean became not only an innovative and interesting artist, but a necessary one that united modern conceptions of soul with antiquated RnB conceit. A second album was eagerly awaited pretty much straight away, and the hype train just seemed to gather pace as no one else managed to fill the Frank shaped-hole.

Four years is not that long for a follow-up album, at least not traditionally. Crafting art with longevity and perfectionism takes time. Coming up with a whole new concept, one which builds on a beautifully half-formed artistic direction, takes even longer. The majority of the sounds on both ‘Endless’ and ‘Blonde’ are live instrumentation, complex (and expensive) samples and redeuxs, or original material from some of the most in-demand musicians working today. James Blake, Sampha and Kendrick Lamar appear on the credits alongside The Beatles and Bowie. And in that sense, it’s like listening to his secret photo-blog. Inspiration brought to life, like in daydreams that spawn from whole days staring at Ziggy Stardust posters and Stevie Wonder vinyl sleeves.

So was it worth it?

Did Frank Ocean deliver on the promise that the fans made to themselves on his behalf? This isn’t an easy question to answer, especially when the question should be ‘What did they want?’

If it was Frank they were after, then it’s Frank they got. A demi-God they made in their adoration, who is free to put up two Tumblr posts in a year, cryptic library cards and an endless stream. 16 tracks, a 45-min visual album, and a magazine that most of us will never get to touch. He drowned out the noise and was given the power to be selective and selfish, something that Kanye West was trying to create for himself with the messy a misguided release of TLOP.

The pressure of a blank canvas is unsurmountable to most artists, and obviously something Frank has been dealing with for 4 whole years. Only he could decide when he was ready to pull back the satin curtain and reveal his next masterpiece. And when he did, the whole world watched.

His early supporters will wish they never kicked up such a fuss, because it was they who drew global attention to his delayed releases. People who were spurred on to explore his early works quickly found their mouths and tweets filled with the fashionable words of his unavoidably online following. – It’s been almost a decade since Portishead released Third, and even that came 11 years after their self titled sophomore. Frank just happened to become central to the plight of a demographic who choose to document everything.

Blonde is a masterpiece. It really is. The luscious soundscapes battle with terrifying electronic refrains. His distinct vocal is warped out of all recognition. His contributors work as contributors should; punctuating and elevating the artist at work, facilitating the realisation of his vision with selflessness and cohesion. Endless is a tough watch, since little happens visually. But again, it is a stunning exercise in the art of metaphor. The multiple Franks work together on their DIY project after a fortnight of lone tinkering that lead to nothing. Musically, it is arguably better than the sprawling monologues of Blonde, and there is a reason why it is unlikely to ever appear as a standalone album. If Endless was ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and there was no visual accompaniment, it would be just a bloody good and original RnB project that took four years to make, but as we watch his various manifestations working away, we see that he is building a staircase to a higher point.

 

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This entire saga which did at times feel, endless, probably isn’t over. But if it is, it is not likely to be forgotten any time soon. 2016 has been fraught culturally and politically, and it seems like tradition is dead and no one knows what they’re doing.

No one, except Frank Ocean. It’s cynical to think that this has all been the most stunningly executed PR campaign in history, but you have to commend the way in which Frank gave us just enough to let us know that he was still there, somewhere, in the distance. This weekend he crashed back in the public consciousness not as a long-term fan abuser, but as an artist, a musician, and a higher order of a modern spokesperson.

Nando’s, Coldplay, Special Cloth Alert: In Conversation with Kent Jones

Publication: Clash Magazine Online
Date: August 2016
Photo Credit: Vicky Grout

DJ Khaled’s protégé on why you have to work hard to play hard…

It’s an odd feeling, waiting to be connected with someone responsible for a song that has somehow become so firmly interpolated into your everyday life. In the past few months, rarely has an hour gone by without Kent Jones’ breakout single, ‘Don’t Mind’, popping into my head to disturb countless thoughts, conversation or most recently, the new Tarzan film.

With bona fide hitmakers Cool & Dre lending their ears to Jones’ original beat, and 2016’s eminent monolith DJ Khaled on hand to give proceedings his Midas touch, all the pieces were in place for ‘Don’t Mind’ to become a huge summer single. And yet, reading into the Miami native’s history, there was never any indication that he was on a path to pop stardom. He started out in the scene as a drummer, training in jazz and learning how to play keys and score music. He also suffered tragedy; his family went through a period of homelessness and his college music programme was closed after the death of a fellow student. Listening back to Tours, Jones’ debut mixtape from last year, released on Khaled’s We The Best label, ‘Don’t Mind’ sticks out like a pop imposter amongst songs that reflect his Fat Joe and Terror Squad influences. Yet somehow, ‘She said hola, konnichiwa’ is all I can hear in the dial tone.

As we ease into conversation, I tell him that my sister loves the viral dance routine that has spawned from ‘Dont Mind.’ “I’ve seen them, that’s dope,: he replies, somewhat nonchalantly. A compilation video of people doing the same routine has clocked up close to 17 million hits, but you can hear something in his voice which suggests an element of pride is missing. Perhaps a 22-year old, classically trained multi-instrumentalist never thought that his song would be a key presence in the Vine portfolio of a 13 year old from Kent. Perhaps he never wanted it to. One thing is for sure, Kent Jones isn’t cut from the same cloth as the one-hit-wonders of recent times and he for one, certainly feels he is from a calibre of cloth that is, well, more special…

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How does it feel to be in London?
I love it, the energy is great, the people are great. I’m about to get that Nandos which I love. You know, there are only three Nandos locations in the United States, and none of them are in Florida, so I had to go DC. But it tastes better here, this the real Nandos.

Glad to hear that you’re a fan of our international cuisine, but what’s your relationship like with UK music?
I’m actually over wrap up some collaborations and I actually told my manager earlier that I’m really looking forward to digging into music culture here. The fans over here are crazy and shit, and the music is twice as crazy. Let me find a band in the UK – that’s really what I’m looking for; guitarist, drummer, bassist. Get me some guys I can get in and record with.

Reading about your background, you started as a drummer, moved on to keys, and won awards as a jazz musician, but you blew up with a song that feels far removed from that. What direction are you moving in now?
My direction is different to the song. ‘Don’t Mind’ is a pop song. I didn’t realise it was a pop song when I produced and recorded it but you know, that’s what people call it. I make all kinds of different stuff, and that’s why I’m excited for the new wave of music I’m going to put out. I’m going to answer a lot of peoples unanswered questions. Give people more of an understanding about who I am as an artist and why the name Kent Jones is so heavy right now. It’s not just because of the song. We all love the song, but in the industry, the reason why I’m becoming more popular is because I put in work. For years, before I popped up with ‘Don’t Mind’. I mean, ‘Don’t Mind’ is like maybe my three-hundredth song.

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“The reason why I’m becoming more popular is because I put in work…”

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Listening back to your ‘Tours’ mixtape it’s difficult to identify a single sound that defines you, that you’re going to move forward with, why do you think that is?
You know why, my brother? Because I feel like people are going to catch on to the ‘Tours’ mixtape, but trying to predict where I’m going next is always going to be difficult for you, because I’m on a whole other level. I’m in a difference space now. We have the next records, but you know, it’s just a matter of time… you’re about to be hearing a load of new music from me. Notice how I said we have the new records, plural. I’m also about to be on Fat Joes new album, I’m on Khaled’s new album, Major Key, track 11 with Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Fabulous, Busta Rhymes.

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With a line-up of New York OG’s like that, was there a pressure to perform?
What I would say is that I want these guys to listen to track 11 of ‘Major Key’ before they listen to track one. Anyone that hasn’t heard it yet, anyone that talks about how Kent Jones copes with the pressure. I want them to listen to it.

Did you ever think, after one mix tape and with the sound that brought your current success, that you’d be standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a track with all these heavyweights?
I mean, I knew I had the ability to do so, but I didn’t expect to be on that song if I’m honest with you. But I got the call, that’s what I had to handle. I flew to LA, did what I had to do, and you just have to listen to it because I know it’s going to shock a lot of people.

Listening back to some old interviews, you’ve had to deal with a lot of shit, and yet you’ve persisted and continued to work hard and to grind. You came through a period of homelessness, you experienced the closure of your college music programme after the death of a student. So what’s your key to working through tough times?
Focus. And see, I love what I do so it’s never work. I took all the energy, all of the passionate energy that I would have put behind what’s going wrong in my life, and I put all of that into my passion – my music. Music never fails on me, turns its back on me. Music never switches on me, it’s constant. I might make disappointing music sometimes, but that’s on me, if I don’t work hard or in the right way. But music is constant, and I know that if I do put in time with it, I know it will always be rewarding. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. When you’re truly talented and you’re truly blessed with a gift.

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“Music never switches on me, it’s constant.”

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I can actually hear the sentiments of DJ Khaled coming through when you talk about your music and the way your talk about yourself. How have guys like Khaled and Fat Joe influenced your approach?
Fat Joe is my uncle, my family, I love him. He’s always been there since day one and believed in me. DJ Khaled is Terror Squad too, Cool and Dre are TS, and we’re all family. We’re one cloth. When you hear that cloth talk, know that it is the year of cloth talk.

We’re all excited to hear what comes next from Kent Jones. What would you love to be next for you as an artist?
Kent Jones wants to work with Coldplay. For real. Get me Coldplay. I want to do a song, with Coldplay! I’m going to help produce it, I want to write the music with them. Put that wherever it needs to go, speak to whoever you need to speak to. Make that shit happen, I want to do a full song, with Coldplay.

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In Conversation: Sango

Publication: Clash Magazine Online
Date: July 2016

Clash meets the Soulection star with Brazilian flair..

Back in 1999, David Bowie sat down with the BBC’s bastion for change, Jeremy Paxman, and meditated on how the emergence of the world wide web could change the musical landscape. Ever prophetic, Bowie could barely hide his excitement at the prospect of there being a direct line between artist and audience, a platform for dialogue and a solvent of vast cultural and geographical differences between scenes and movements – a single, global music community which, as Bowie put it, is ‘carrying the flag for rebellion.’ 16 years later, and the future of music as Bowie saw it is here: Self-aware, eclectic and defiant.

The cult of Soundcloud has birthed a thousand movements, the vanguard of which is California’s Soulection; a new model for creative innovation which is focused on unearthing, nurturing and use social media to connect with, adopt and develop promising artists who produce music outside of the confines of genre, whilst sat, more often than not, within the confines of their bedroom. Any roll call of ‘ones to watch’ in 2016 is likely to include numerous Soulection affiliates; some, like Kaytranada or Goldlink, with rapidly gaining attention from the mainstream. There is though, a revered member of the Soulection old guard, who seems to stands out from his contemporaries for his enigmatic production style and multi-lingual beats. He goes by the name of Sango, and by all accounts is a quiet, humble 24 year old graphic design graduate from Seattle, who just happens to be creating music for and of the entire planet.

Sonically speaking, Sango’s horizons are so wide that describing his in music in any specific terms is an almost impossible task. One moment he’ll release an EP of Brazilian-inspired beats, the next he’ll be popping up with production credits for a major label R&B star like Tinashe, Kehlani or Bryson Tiller. Unpredictable, versatile and fearless; Sango’s work epitomises the melting-pot potential of online platforms, sampling James Blake, Drake and Justin Timberlake alongside obscure sounds from rural scenes across the world.

When I meet Sango upstairs in The Steelyard, surely one of the capital’s most impressive new venues, set across three railway arches beneath Cannon Street station, and he is sat there wide eyed and less than phased. It’s a stretch to say that Sango is like a musical Indiana Jones, but he does have this uncanny awareness of the unique identities of each city he visits, and the ability to effortlessly succumb to their cultural quirks and musical nuances. “My parents were both in the navy, and they traveled the world” he explains, “we grew up on all kinds of music. You can’t hide from that kind of influence.” The globetrotting inheritance transcends and informs his music, as his fascination for language and travel feeds a collection of influences as vast as his sample library.

Sango doesn’t hide from influencing factors, he embraces and shares them, positive or not and instead of transposing life experiences into 140 characters or a series of pithy captions for a Tumblr blog, Sango finds ways to articulate them in his instrumental releases and remixes.

“We grew up on all kinds of music. You can’t hide from that kind of influence.”

At the end of last year he released the third and final of the ‘Da Rochina’ series: a trilogy of beat tapes which distil the vibrancy and energy of the favelas with such authenticity that even Brazilians were fooled. Only a week or so before the sold-out show at The Steelyard, Sango’s headline tour took him to the cities that inspired some of his most popular releases, and his personal adoration was reciprocated tenfold. “Rio De Janeiro was the best show ever,” he reflects, excitedly. “Some guy was like ‘Yo man, it took you four years to play in your city, why did it take so long?’”

This is because unlike even some of the most talented producers, Sango fully immerses himself in the culture he is trying to capture. His peers might borrow and sample from outside of the usual hip-hop lexicon, but not many can say that they learnt French from STWO and Kaytranada, Spanish from their spouse and Portuguese from a young Brazilian rapper they met on Twitter.

Back in 2002, thousands of young people all over this soccer-loving planet started to foster a particular affection for the Brazilian national football team who were just about to lift the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. A team that played samba football at its finest, with cocky flair and undeniable style. I can only imagine that Sango, 16 years and 3 full-length baile funk EPs later, was impressed more than most. Being a huge soccer fan himself, and only a couple of years my senior, you can practically hear the same awe inspiring tenants of Ronaldinho & Co.’s beautiful game running throughout the ‘Da Rochina’ tapes, and even earlier on his Bandcamp releases from 2011, when he was 19.

I steer the conversation towards the Brazilian connection, and Sango’s posture relaxes further, like it’s his favourite topic in the world – no matter how many times he has had to speak on it. For him, like football and faith, music is more than a hobby; it’s a personal exercise in optimism, and an exploration into the phenomenon of community spirit which helps to build new relationships, grow his sonic appreciation and enhance his cultural awareness:

 “I have an album on Bandcamp called ‘There’s Eugene’ [2011] and there’s a song on there called ‘The Differences’, with a sample I found on YouTube. It goes, ‘I am Jonathon of the new generation – Translated to Portuguese’ That’s a little rapper kid, it came from a Baile Funk album, on a track I heard by accident on Pandora. The kid is called Kojak who I just connected with on Twitter – we’re now good friends, he’s the reason I speak Portuguese, and I’m teaching him English.” A real sense of pride fills the room when he tells the story. Sat in his Brazilian-flag cap, always more than simply a fan.

While there’s no denying that music is Sango’s first love, it is graphic design that he has studied to degree level. “I got scared man,” he admits. “I felt like I needed money so I went to school for that. I don’t have a design job, but they teach you taste, four years and they teach you taste.” The skills he learned are still prevalent throughout his work, from designing artwork for Selection’s Beats 1 show, to paying attention to detail on the forthcoming vinyl re-issue of his ‘Da Rochina’ trilogy – which will be coloured with Brazil’s green, yellow and blue.

 With the trilogy complete, Sango intends to take a break from the influences of his beloved Rio and Sao Paulo, back to his place of birth, Seattle, with his forthcoming debut album ‘In The Comfort Of’ set for release at the end of the year. The LP is the culmination of his experiences in the last five years, and is about riding this whirlwind of change.

“It’s about a sense of self…”

“It’s about saying ‘I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m comfortable with my flaws,’” he reveals. “You know, the daily sins you go through, or the things you don’t like about yourself or the people you’re with. It’s about a sense of self.”

 To help him articulate these themes, Sango is currently working on enlisting a wealth of emerging vocal talent to feature on the record. Once again, with another display of the producer’s diverse tastes and global interests, he reveals that a dream line-up would feature existing collaborators SPZRKT, GoldLink, Chris McClenney and Bryson Tiller alongside the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Jesse Boykins III and Stormzy.

 “I’m experimenting with grime,” he admits, of the another culture he’s developed a love for from afar. “Taking the polyphonics and like I did with baile funk, I’m trying to translate it to an American audience – and American’s don’t like the harsh accents or the loud noises – So I’m sampling R&B, and garage and the same grime bounce and making it American. Crazy gospel sounds, 808s…”

As a point of disclaimer here, it is important to say that like with the culture of Brazil, Sango has been fully immersed in grime culture for a number of years, citing Ghetts Wiley and Kano, saying that he’s listened through the rise, fall and resurrection of the genre with keen ears.

Sango has a sense of place that not many producers possess; completely able to tune in to the unique frequency of wherever he finds himself – and translate the vibe into his production. His beats come from a laptop and headphones, made on planes, trains, green rooms, Starbucks; anywhere outside the sanctuary of his family home in Seattle. Soulection and their artists are preserving the future of music, and without even trying to, Sango is constantly breaking down spatial barriers and championing creativity, diversity and exploration through sound and design. For this reason, he is absolutely not to be slept on.