Ludacris’ “Vices” Single

He may have been the shiznit back in Elementary School when the clean version of Word of Mouf was permanently nested in my Walkman, but Ludacris and I have not had a relationship for many years now. The last Ludacris album I enjoyed was in 2008. The last Ludacris movie I enjoyed – besides none of them – was in 2011 (he had a minor role in No Strings Attached, a movie I sort of half-liked, mostly because it centered on Natalie Portman having sex).

And wackest of all was his selfish, hypocritical reaction to the Paul Walker jokes that were made at the Roast of Justin Bieber, especially considering there were several jokes made about 9/11 which, unlike one person driving too fast one time, was a national tragedy in which we lost nearly 3,000 of our citizens in the worst domestic attack the nation has ever seen. So we can joke about that but not Paul Walker. Sure. But, I digress.

This doesn’t mean I don’t still give the guy a chance. Underrated not only for his lyricism but also his unparalleled ability to jump on a Pop song and actually ADD to it (see: “Glamorous”, “Yeah!”, “Baby”, etc.), I’m always rooting for Luda. I thought he KILLED his verse on Future’s “Same Damn Time” remix, which might’ve been over five years ago now, but that’s the best reference I’ve got at the moment.

I was as surprised as I was intrigued when, pretty much out of the blue, Luda dropped his new single “Vices” last Wednesday. Its title gave it the initial appearance of a party track. I had to see if Christopher Bridges has any more gas left in the tank.

Right off the bat, I wasn’t too impressed with Luda’s opening rhyme scheme – that whole “bottles/shots/models/thots” thing? Yeah, that didn’t do it for me. Nor did the rest of his bars, where he talks about “skanks” and “dank” and dressing in expensive clothes. Super exciting.

I still think he has one of the illest flows, though. Whenever I hear Ludacris spitting, it always sounds like he is in complete control of the beat, almost as if he’s hovering above it, pulling the strings and dictating its pace. At any moment he could let out a flurry of double time rhymes. On “Vices” his quick tongue is notably restrained, but an air of anticipation still lurks around the corner of every bar, as if the dude could go off at any time. Even with the vapid subject matter at hand here, Luda still out-raps a large majority of Hip-Hop’s current generation, by a pretty wide margin.

The instrumental here is a solid, appropriately minimalistic choice – a steady stream of hazy eighth notes from a synth sit atop a laid back drum groove, with only an extra six-note keyboard loop to signal the song’s chorus. Luda’s message here, ultimately, is that we all have our indulgences, and not only is it perfectly ok to partake in them if we so choose, but it’s nobody’s place to pass judgment. At the end of the song, he urges listeners to “worry ‘bout your own fuckin’ life” and “stay the fuck up outta mine”. And you know what? Since drinking, smoking weed, and fucking girls isn’t all that interesting (especially when you’re forty years old), I have no issue complying.

RL Grime’s “Stay For It” Single

If for the past few months there was some game show host running around offering $5 million to whoever could name the best EDM song of 2017, I would’ve been shit out of luck had he happened upon me. That was, until this past Friday. If that hypothetical guy came up to me on the street and stuck a camera in my face on Friday or any day since then, ya boy would have somewhere around $2,483,124 of after-tax money sitting in a few well-diversified Vanguard index funds. And maybe a Ferrari or two.

What I’m trying to say here is, this new track from Trap powerhouse RL Grime is fucking awesome.

As I talked about here, Mr. Grime’s “Aurora” single was one of my favorite party songs of 2016…for reasons not too distant from why I love this brand new single “Stay for It”, which features a collaboration with big-time R & B crooner Miguel.

Like “Aurora”, “Stay for It” is structured around two enormous, scintillating drops. I can’t even begin to imagine the hard-hitting, dramatic impact they’re gonna have in the live setting. Jesus fucking Christ.

Unlike “Aurora”, “Stay for It” has one of the biggest singers in the world lending his pipes for the occasion. Miguel’s appearance adds a completely new dimension to what’s already a massive sound. This song, simply put, would NOT be the same without the LA native’s belting high notes right before the drop. It’s kinda like when a rollercoaster stops at the top of a big plunge and everyone screams.

Miguel’s reverbed-out vocals elevate the song through its brief verses and its spellbinding bridge too, the latter of which features this rapid-fire synth line that sounds like it’s headed to outer space and back. This section kicks off a magnificent 50-second build to the final drop – a build that’s executed at a perfect acceleration, with enough frenzied momentum to make the final destination climactic, but avoiding any excessive delay that would make it tantalizing or frustrating.

Interestingly enough, “Stay for It” would’ve been a big deal even if it wasn’t as great as it is. ‘Cause other than Pop-House institutions like David Guetta or Calvin Harris, EDM guest vocals rarely utilize the star power of someone like Miguel. In fact, EDM vocal appearances are often anonymous and uncredited. So to have Miguel singing over a Melodic Trap banger like this one is huge for the genre – hopefully it’ll help bring this style greater exposure and inspire similar partnerships in the future.

According to RL Grime’s YouTube description for this track, him and Miguel started working on it in the back of a tour bus two years ago. Well, I’m glad they took their time, because the payoff was worth it ten fucking times over. PLEASE, do yourself a favor and check this out.

And if you’ve already heard it, go listen to it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retrospective Review: Calvin Harris – Motion

Last month I had to face a cold, harsh truth: I’m past my Longboarding prime.

When I was seventeen, I picked up the hobby for like three months and I’m pretty sure I mildly impressed a few people. I even got those fancy Slide Gloves and learned to do a couple of legitimate tricks (I believe one was called a “Coleman”). Before I knew it, every girl in my high school wanted nothing more than to fuck my brains out. Just kidding, no one cared. But in all seriousness, as a lover of learning first and foremost, I had an absolute blast with the whole process – putting in the long hours and watching my rapid growth at this new hobby – just as I had done with guitar before that and sacrificing goats before that or whatever Fox News hosts think Metalheads do in our free time.

But as anybody past the age of eighteen is well aware, getting older means that your many interesting hobbies quickly narrow down to the two-or-three-things-you- kinda-just-do-to-avoid-blowing-your-brains-out-in between-grueling-work-hours. And as much as I love to Longboard – and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody I meet – my beautiful Landyatchz board has just been sitting in my garage for years and years.

So I finally pulled the trigger and sold it on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. I immediately took that hundred bucks (which was paid to me in a single crisp Franklin) and cleaned out the Dance Music section at my local soon-to-be-bankrupt FYE.

One of my purchases was a used copy of Calvin Harris’ wildly successful 2014 album Motion. And when I say the album was “wildly successful”, I mostly mean two songs: “Summer” and “Outside” (the latter of which features Ellie Goulding). Both were utterly inescapable that year, and I have fond memories of being drunk at many a college party while they throbbed in the background.

For the last year or so, my main musical “research project” has been Electronic Dance Music. I’ve been frantically consuming anything even remotely related to that world, from ‘70s Disco to ‘90s Gabber to whatever the fuck Kraftwerk is, working hard to better understand the genre. I’ve been falling in love with it all at an alarming pace, and my goal is to eventually have the necessary background and knowledge to start reviewing it on confidently . But more on that quest later.

So in the midst of this exploration, I figured Motion would be a great case study when it comes to modern EDM crossing over into the Pop mainstream.

Motion was Calvin Harris’ follow-up to his breakthrough 2012 album 18 Months, which featured smashes like “Feel So Close” and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and more. And like its predecessor, Motion’s track list takes a star-studded, radio-baiting approach, with only three feature-less tracks out of fifteen, and guests ranging from Gwen Stefani to Alesso to Big Sean to Ellie Goulding. What Calvin Harris did on 18 Months and Motion is a lot like what David Guetta did on Nothing But the Beat and Listen – tighten up house music to fit a compact Pop format, then pass off the hooks to A-listers. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that in retrospect, I’m surprised artists like Tiesto didn’t figure out a decade earlier (but then again, dance music wasn’t yet the full-blown phenomenon it would become).

Unfortunately – winning formula or not – collaborations need chemistry, and some of the collabs on Motion feel so shamelessly “pieced together”. One such instance is the Gwen Stefani-assisted “Together”, which has a lively drop and everything, but also has this cold, calculated-ness to it as Stefani sings some generic lovedrunk lyrics.

Speaking of guest appearances, Motion includes what I now recognize as one of the worst songs in recorded history – “Open Wide”, featuring Big Sean. It’s a complete piece of shit. I’m not sure what I despite about it most, the anti-climatic drop itself, Big Sean’s bars (he rhymes “blouses” with “trousers”), or his obnoxious, trashy refrain asking for…well, you can figure it out from the title. Let’s just say it makes Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth” look super fucking classy.

But other than a couple forced duets and a couple low-bro moments (I’d throw the heinous drop in “Overdrive” in the latter category along with “Open Wide”), Motion does deliver on its obvious M.O.. When it comes to lightweight, accessible, party-friendly dance songs, this album totally works. Couple that with the fact that most of its intended audience doesn’t give a shit about full albums (i.e. we can ignore a few duds), and it REALLY works.

Whether its Harris putting together a simple, uplifting tune on his own (“Faith”) or knocking a Swedish House Mafia-style banger out of the park (“Under Control” with Alesso), this is as non-threatening and approachable as dance music gets. It sounds tailor-made to soundtrack summer day drinks and club nights alike, and while it may feel cheap and easy at times, who am I to chastise the man for achieving his goal? Especially with standout tracks like “Outside,” which still launches my brain into a blissful party montage with every listen.

And while I may have been introduced to one of my least favorite songs I’ve ever heard, I also found a new favorite. When I first heard the HAIM-guesting “Pray to God”, my jaw hit the floor. No joke, I’ve listened to that song over fifty times since I got this CD. I am fucking furious with myself for missing the boat on it back when Motion dropped. Not only is the dance beat itself a mind-boggling, irresistible charge of adrenaline, but Danielle Haim’s soaring vocals make me wish she did more guest appearances. And the cherry on top is the uber-melodic guitar part that pops in as Harris hits the brakes for the song’s final 20 seconds. I can tell this one’s gonna stick with me for years to come.

Until I inevitably become an EDM snob somewhere down the line, albums like Motion are totally cool with me. Before writing this review I spent two weeks blasting this CD in my car with the windows down and had – aside from a couple completely intolerable songs – very little complaints. As long as people continue to party and continue to overlook shoddy deep cuts, the Motions of the world will never go out of style. That being said, though I’m sure Calvin Harris could easily keep pumping out albums like this for years to come (and I’ll probably dig a few tracks off of each one), I’m hoping that his latest smash single “Slide”, my second favorite song of the year so far, is a sign of greater things to come.

When contrasted with the material on Motion, “Slide” is so much more mature, multifaceted, and stylistically distinctive. And his two features, Frank Ocean and Migos, could not have been a more organic fit. Though Motion showcased Calvin Harris’ undeniable ear for hits, “Slide” has me psyched to hear this talent of his applied to a more unique, impactful project. ‘Til then, I guess my Longboard money went to good use.