Tyler the Creator and Jay-Z are now a part of rap’s LGBTQ moment

Hip-hop is having a moment.

When Jay-Z dedicates 4:44, his thirteenth album, and arguably one of his best works, to the women in his life, you know hip-hop is having a moment. The true takeaway from 4:44 is that Jay-Z has evolved, and it’s a nod to the changing tides in rap when Shawn Carter — rap’s Frank Lucas — is most concerned with the legacy and continued development of successful, black communities. Releases like Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy are indicators that mainstream rap and R&B aren’t tone-deaf to the current discourses of identity politics. What exactly does this mean for rap? More men in dresses like Young Thug’s highly publicized No, My Name is JEFFERY album cover? (Perhaps. Next up, A$AP Rocky in a Raf Simons’s shirtdress—please!)

No, My name is JEFFERY album coverCourtesy 300 Entertainment/ATL

In case you didn’t realize, big names in hip hop are rapping about other things outside of the hallmarks of braggadocio: jewels, women, cars, and more women; in fact, they’re starting to rap about their own fluid sexuality, their rejection of hyper masculinity, and their acceptance of gay and queer figures in their lives. The joys of testosterone-induced gangsta rap are sure to stay afloat in rap’s current queer moment, but the time has come for rap to transcend its heteronormative boundaries.

Flower Boy has been credited as Tyler’s coming-out album, despite the countless problematic think pieces that suggest Tyler is trolling his own sexuality. Give “Garden Shed” a few repeat listens, and any suspicion of the former Odd Future leader clowning his inner desires should dissipate. Besides, artists are allowed to be rude, sarcastic, and unserious right — even if they’re queer…those are human qualities anyone can display right? The day has come where black men and women can express their fluidity in the taboo arenas of sexuality and gender in music without providing a rainbow disclaimer. And guess what? It’s amazing! It’s a spectrum of love, humor, and acceptance in a genre that’s dominated by straight men and heterosexual rap puns.

CupcakKe at Nylon Music CelebrationPhoto by Johnny Nunez/WireImage

But let’s not forget the rappers who were woke from the beginning, the true MVPs of the queer movement in rap: CupcakKe, Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Princess Nokia, Cakes da Killa, Dai Burger, and Angel Haze. These artists are fearless when talking about their bodies, sexual preferences, and — gasp! — same-sex relationships. These aren’t queer rappers, just rappers, exploring where and how they fit into an art form that has historically mocked and rejected their narratives. CupcakKe raps on the aptly titled “LGBT:” “And shout out to the bi’s, you ain’t gotta pick a side/ And if you in the closet, shorty, you ain’t gonna hide.” Mykki Blanco’s debut album Mykki, is an honest account of her drug use and struggle with mental health in a culture determined to enforce self-imprisonment in identity shaming closets. And Cakes da Killa’s, Hedonism, wastes no time letting you know how he likes it and with whom he likes it.

The thing about legacy is that it’s a product for posterity. All the bling, cars, girls, drugs are for the moment — progressing an entire genre of music to accept all bodies and sexualities is something to preserve for the future. (C’mon, even Jay-Z is on board!) Whether it’s a moment, a movement, or some experimental phase your parents warned you about, queer narratives are now represented and celebrated in rap, and that’s something to brag about.

TWIN PEAKS | The Return is a love letter to music, not only David Lynch

“She’s filled with secrets. Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.”

The role music has played in the world of David Lynch’s
Twin Peaks is far greater than any other character. It’s through songs like Laura Palmer’s Theme or Audrey’s Dance, sonic encapsulations of these figments of imagination, that we have come to feel like we know them in the first place. The live bands featured before the end of every night’s episode, just before the credits roll, are as much as part of the story unfolding before us as everyone else. We had a hard time listening to Nine Inch Nail’s haunting rendition of “She’s Gone Away” on Part 8 without envisioning Laura somewhere in it’s words. “I can’t remember what she came here for / I can’t remember much of anything anymore/ She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone away….”

As someone who’s spent their entire life devoted to music, that very same thing is what drew me into the series. Lynch aims to absorb the characters in the music that surrounds them, in a way that’s surreally unlike any other series on television. Instead of songs coming in at the start of a new scene, they become part of a character’s environment – whether it’s blasting from a car driving past or the jukebox in the Roadhouse diner, it attempts to aid along a narrative set by the show’s creator himself.

Many beloved artists have made
appearances in The Return, like the Chromatics, Au Revoir Simone, and Sharon Van Etten. The Roadhouse and it’s performers, in the world of Twin Peaks, became a foundation for the underlying message of the night. Last Sunday’s episode saw a familiar face return to the stage – James Hurley, ever so cool, with a rendition of the very same song he crooned to Donna several seasons ago. However, James wasn’t the most interesting part of the scene, albeit the most heartbreaking. A young woman credited as Renee (played by Jessica Szohr) sat in the audience and, upon a minute into the performance, starts breaking down in tears. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been that woman before, enthralled in someone else’s sorrows that quickly became my own, that lended the moment a feeling of familiarity. Much like Phoenix’s Sofia Coppola-directed music video for “Chloroform“, the subject of a young female in hysterics over a song is not necessarily new or lost on anyone, much less Lynch. It’s hard for me to believe this sentiment of longing, the type we feel when we are moved beyond any reasonable wording by just a piece of music, could be reflected any better than through a lone Renee holding back tears between whispers of “just you and I.”

“Twin Peaks”, Showtime

How does the score become composed when it’s so closely intertwined with the story, anyway? Angelo Badalamenti is behind some of the more haunting compositions on Twin Peaks since the series’ inception. In a Variety interview with music director Dean Hurley, he gave us some insight into the whole process: “Historically [Lynch] has always done this: worked with Angelo next to him, playing piano or Fender Rhodes before, during, and after production. This time, they did so in a unique fashion through Skype and another ISDN-like program, where we linked Angelo’s New Jersey studio with our studio in Los Angeles. Broadcasting was done at high resolution so that David could work with Angelo in live time. They were seeing each other on Skype, talking back and forth, the same way they always worked, but now in a super-digital, futuristic way. Through this process, we built up a small library of new Angelo music, then we had a lot of the original Angelo music from the first series, then this archive of experiments David and I recorded over the years and stored. Eventually we wound up with all these paint colors so that, as you’re assembling a show, David could start reaching for things as he saw fit,” he said. “David described the scene in detail to Angelo via Skype and he started playing. As this was happening David was, like, “Now the car hits him,” and Angelo brings in atonal clusters. Then David told Angelo to bring in something beautiful and Angelo did – all in real-time. That cue existed verbatim. The score was laid in perfectly, even though they worked independently from each other.”

“Twin Peaks”, Showtime

Twin Peaks, if anything, is a story of loss – music happens to be the one thing that helps us cope when we’ve lost something, someone, and feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves too. It’s focus on making it’s music just as integral to it’s story as anything else is part of the reason why we’re still watching 25 years later – because through sounds and the memories they bring is where we find the ability to relate. The story of it’s intro theme song, Laura Palmer’s Theme, is as simple as it is revealing – Lynch told Badalamenti to imagine he was alone in the woods at night. The wind was blowing, an owl hooting. The keyboard slowly climbs up higher and higher melodies before falling back into the loneliness of the woods. It took about 20 minutes until Lynch replied, “Don’t change a single note. I see Twin Peaks.”

Twin Peaks airs on Showtime at 9/10c.

LISTEN to this playlist of all the show’s featured bands:

Is Kilo Kish is the most underrated singer of our time?

“An album is like a breeze that blows in…”

Kilo Kish is a singer from Orlando, Florida who has spent a lot of her life in Brooklyn. She makes some of the best music being made today; earnest, autobiographical, melding R&B vocals with dancefloors beats and a stylistically effervescent approach that makes each song feel like a small handwritten note scribbled quickly before leaving the scene. Her voice has the clarity of ice water, refreshing and overwhelming, resistant of murky metaphors, safe ambiguities. Her latest record, last year’s Reflections in Real Time, begins with her enunciating her name over a manic drum beat. It is a voice, needless to say, singular and always, lingering the background. Yet, in between her work as a designer, a painter and a textile artist, she has recorded some of this decade’s most introspective pop music, a discography that always feels like it is whispering in your ear.

“I felt I had more perspective to give than that of a cutesy rapper,” she told me when I asked her what exactly did she mean when she told Elle last year that she didn’t feel like she actually put herself into any of her music before then. Work being discounted would include K+, her debut mixtape that featured names like Childish Gambino, Vince Staples and A$AP Ferg way back in 2013, before any of them signified contemporary hip hop royalty. In the past year, Kish has netted a feature on Humanz and is on about half of Big Fish Theory, two of this year’s most anticipated hip hop records. Her voice, chilling, teasing, coy, gives rappers something to narratively work with, a foil that feels real. But these are also very much her songs, she has co-writing credits on much of Staples’ last record

(Andrew Karpan)

Yet it doesn’t feel like Kish’s game involves racking up high-profile features and trading them in for higher festival slots or brand endorsements. She resists the carefully publicity-choreographed pop music narratives, telling me that “some brands stick to their identity and play into their roles…I’d like to make what I want when I want without thinking twice about what’s been built previously.” Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t feel engaged by social media. She confesses that she doesn’t really listen to a lot of current music or keep up with the movies. “But somehow, I’m still able to exist in a music, art and fashion world that changes minute to minute…it’s fucking weird.”

When I see her live, she was carrying a copy of The New Yorker, holding it not like a prop but as if she had been genuinely been trying to keep up with the culture before the show began. She throws it to the ground, an affectation that could feel music theater but, somehow, does not. Throughout her show she picks up a rotary phone, a briefcase, throwing both to the ground as well. Willy Loman in a bright red overcoat. She moves around the stage with frantic urgency and none of this, remind myself now, feels like acting. The phrase ‘wrestling with demons’ comes to mind but I banish the timidity of the cliché.

“An album is like a breeze that blows in,” she tells me and it is true, her work feels effortless. She’s had her share of Odd Future collabs but no Tyler, the Creator threat has ever felt as unforced as Kish’s jilted lover sounds on “Julienne,” from 2012’s Homeschool, when she stammers: “I–I–tore you to pieces, when I heard the news”

The New York press had fallen in love with Kish shortly after her debut first hit, she made the cover of The Village Voice in 2012 and played before a packed crowd of the media class shortly she graduate from F.I.T. To quote Matthew Trammell, the name was appealing: hard alternating consonants, a combination more fierce than Marilyn Manson and the Scissor Sisters combined. But she left the press hungry and they moved on to her peers, more content to feed the needs of needing things to write about. When I talked to her, Kish was ambivalent about what that was supposed to mean, about the enterprise of popular success.

“When people get tired of cake and ice cream they want something salty or sour,” she told me, and it felt even more cryptic than it should. “I think we are nearing the end of this decade’s sweet tooth, its sad how predictable [that is].”

Reflections in Real Time is out now.

Follow Kilo Kish on Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Andrew Karpan is a roving free agent, full of wit. If you think he has a pithy personality, follow him on Twitter.

PROFILE | Madame Gandhi’s feminist hustle

“The second that women collaborate with other people, all of our credit is stripped from us. We seem to go to the bottom of the totem pole of who is responsible for the magic.”

Kiran Gandhi had to make a choice. Shortly after graduating with a M.B.A from Harvard, she was running the London Marathon, an event she had spent the past year training for. Her period had started the night before and, as she told Alli Maloney in a New York Times profile, the thought of having to run 26 miles wearing a tampon did not appeal to her. So, she didn’t. The image went viral and, suddenly, Gandhi was a spokesperson for menstrual stigma, an issue that was both a symbolic and practical concern for many in the feminist community. Gandhi had intended on having a career behind the scenes in the music industry but suddenly she discovered she was now an outsider, a protester demanding systemic change. What would she do next?

When I spoke to her, Gandhi had just played three shows in the past two days as Madame Gandhi, a music project that she has branded “electro-feminism.” She tells me she is exhausted, we are meeting early in the morning and people haven’t even eaten brunch yet. But she has another show, in another city, later this evening, so now will do. She is wearing a lightly decorated hoodie, sweatpants. This is not unlike her onstage attire, described in Vogue as a “bold orange waffled two-piece tracksuit with gold-accented sunglasses.” Onstage, she is also flanked by a troupe of backup dancers, all wearing a bright monochromatic yellow that Gandhi calls a “power color.”

(Andrew Karpan)

Madame Gandhi released its first EP last year, shortly before the election. Titled Voices, the record’s political charge included everything from a fist-pumping pro-Hillary anthem (titled “Her”) to a chillingly catchy anti-patriarchy drum-and-bass polemic titled “The Future is Female.” The title is appropriated from the slogan of a ’70s New York lesbian separatist bookstore that went viral a few years ago when Otherwild begun selling it on t-shirts that have been worn by St. Vincent and namechecked by Hillary Clinton during her most recent presidential campaign. The show is exuberant and, I’m sure, exhausting: she drums, she sings, she raps. Her team flanks her, carefully choreographed, but this is, undoubtedly, her show.

“I can barely sing but we all have to be brave in our own voice,” she tells me. She speaks in the register of inspirational rap songs, each story with a small moral. In college, she was the classic Lisa Simpson overachiever: majoring in mathematics, political science; a minor in women studies. Shortly after graduating, while working at Interscope, she saw an opportunity to work for one of the label’s most high-profile and controversial artists, M.I.A.. “She was about to put out this record, Mtangi, and I remember thinking, damn that would be an extraordinary project to be a part of.” Confident in her drumming abilities, she sent a video to M.I.A.’s team, explaining how she could augment her live show. The Anglo-Sri Lankan rapper invited her on tour.

Talking to Gandhi, I am impressed by the ceaselessness of her businesslike ethos, the kind of daily rigorousness where every event feels planned for maximum impact, her syntax floating into the majestic plural. “Anytime you want a job, want to date somebody, work with someone: instead of asking what can I take, ask what can I contribute,” she tells me, a Kennedy-esque nugget of wisdom. Her approach to music is similarly business-like; “I have my own show checklist,” she tells me, it begins with making sure she got paid and ends with adding fans to a database. She has given a TEDx Talk on something called “atomic living.” I wondered what her thoughts were on capitalism.

“I don’t support capitalism because it’s exploitative but I do support business which is the exchange of value between two parties.” She is not, she tells me, in favor of burning it all down. I bring up the band that followed her set-time at the festival, the D.C. band Priests, who were among those who crafted their voice out of the narrative of betrayal at the hands of neoliberalism, i.e. “Barack Obama killed something in me/And I’m gonna get him for it,” from “And Breeding.” Kiran Gandhi, on the other hand, begins “The Future is Female” by rapping: “I heard Amy Poehler speak at the White House, her words hit me hard like a light bulb.”

She isn’t angry, she tells me. She tells me that she tends not to listen to aggressive music. She is wary, even, of conscious rap, which she described as definitively unsexy. More Beyoncé than M.I.A., a mythos that extends to her professional dealings. “When you’re on a label, you have to rally people behind you,” she told me, when I brought up M.I.A.’s notorious issues with the music industry. “Of course, the music video gets a fraction of the views that it could have got had the label been working it.”

Currently, Madame Gandhi is unsigned. In an interview with FADER, she bemoaned the industry’s ‘feminization’ of the artist, forcing musicians to be dependent on their labels’ control of the purse strings. “So many music labels come in and exploit communities of color because they understand that so much music is made in such vulnerable parts of the world, in poverty,” she told me.

She brings up the common criticisms leveled against pop singers like Rihanna and, on her last album, Taylor Swift: that they don’t write their own material. “The second that women collaborate with other people, all of our credit is stripped from us. We seem to go to the bottom of the totem pole of who is responsible for the magic.” More saliently, she argues for a reconsideration of song artistry: “Of course they write their songs. To actually take your emotions and thoughts and rally it to a team of people to help them bring it to life is so difficult.”

She believes, earnestly, that the system, as it were, can be reformed, can meaningfully incorporate change from outside. “I grew up inside it, my life is so tied to it,” she tells me. Gandhi is the daughter of an investment banker who once headed Morgan Stanley’s operations in India; he currently sits on the faculty at the Harvard Business School, a place that she admitted to me is “the breeding ground of all the patriarchy and the capitalism that we have.”

(Madame Gandhi)

The other day, she told me, she was watching home videos of her family playing tennis and observed her younger self demanding to know why “hitting like a girl” was an insult. Later, while at Harvard, she felt disconcerted at how efficient the system was quieting rebellious voices or even expression, at how easy it was for her male peers to take credit for work she had done. She described her decision to leave the business world as a self-selection out, departing an organization that she felt like she could not relate to.

Gandhi’s narrative, in a way, inverts the traditional stories of privilege’s infinite corruptibility. She brought up an endorsement deal that she recently signed, with Adidas. She would wear their outfits but use their platform to talk about issues like menstrual stigma and trans rights. She was endorsing a product but she was calling the shots, putting her name on something millions of people would see. “I think working with brands, as long as it’s symbiotic, it’s wonderful,” she told me, “Any brand that wants to endorse a free-bleeding feminist musician is pretty fucking badass.” We can’t escape the mechanisms of privilege and industry but Gandhi seems to suggest a way to live inside of them, ears open to the voices outside.

At her shows, she reads from The Feminist Utopia Project, a collection of essays that its editor sent her shortly after the image of her at the London Marathon went viral. It appealed to her because “we have all these feminist conversations about what we’re mad about, no one’s writing about what the solution looks like.”

The future is, after all, female. You can buy the shirt here.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

Voices is out now. Check it out.

Follow Madame Gandhi on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Andrew Karpan is a roving free agent, full of wit. If you think he has a pithy personality, follow him on Twitter.

PREMIERE | South African electro pop star, Cara Frew, shows us how to “Dance”

Cara Frew just dropped the music video for “Dance,” one of the most fun and infectious songs of the summer. See it here first!

“It’s been a long journey to get to a sound that I finally feel represents me as an artist, but so worthwhile at the end of it all” – Cara Frew

On June 30th, South African born indie electro pop songstress Cara Frew debuted her latest single, “Dance,” (out on Sony Records) and now we have the badass visual to go with it! Colorful, engaging, and uplifting, the video proves just as potent and inspiring as the song itself. Cara has been taking the music industry by storm with her dynamic vocals set atop African infused beats. Her latest feature collaboration with U.S based DJ’s SNBRN & BLU J has garnered over 2 MILLION spins across all platforms, which subsequently lead to her guest appearance at SNBRN’s Coachella Festival Live Set this past April of 2017!

Since making the move out to Los Angeles, Cara has gained first-hand experience working in the studio with top writers and producers, including Lauren Christy and Andre Lindal, the creative duo behind Kelly Clarkson’s Grammy Award-winning Stronger. Listing Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey as some of her favorite artists, it was a dream come true to record a four-track EP with Daniel Heath, responsible for Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” and “Young and Beautiful” and co-write with Stefan Skarbek, who worked closely with the legendary and deeply missed, Amy Winehouse.

Want to learn more? Here is Cara talking about her album!

Back home in South Africa, Cara collaborated with world-renowned DJ and music producer – Black Coffee. “I’ll Find You” was the first release off Black Coffee’s 2015 album. The feature afforded Cara the opportunity to perform at Sonar Music Festival South Africa and Ultra Music Festival South Africa.

Color me impressed and totally ready to dance. Make sure to find Cara online and give her a shout out for the hot new video! Tell her Popdust sent you 😉

Follow CARA FREW on Official Website | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud

Brent Butler is a NYC-based rapper, producer, guitarist and co-frontman of The Cold Press. He is a regular contributor to Popdust and host of Popdust Presents. Follow Brent on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Soundcloud | and check out his latest single, “Vybrent ft. Crimdella.”