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Isn’t Emeli Sandé extraordinary? Her voice always injects the richest emotion into her music, regardless of the production and genre. More often than not she’s also demonstrated an incredible penmanship in her songwriting; but even when she opts for more straightforward lyricism, like in her newest single “Starlight,” the track is still an explosion of soul-pop bliss.
A far cry from her gorgeous and isolating post-divorce album Long Live the Angels, “Starlight” is a head rush of intoxicating adoration set over a thrumming deep house beat. It’s a song that’ll take you to the purest of memories, where love is sturdy, cozy, and warm.
For me? It takes me to a chilly August evening in a far away country, where a handsome man led me by hand through a bustling marketplace, the inaudible chattering of the glowing crowd floating in the background. He paused at a vendor stand, and a minute later pressed a cup of mulled wine into my hands, heating my frigid fingertips as the scents of cinnamon, brandy, and Malbec tickled my nostrils. I sipped the drink and exhaled softly, letting the flavors blossom across my tongue while warmth flooded through my body. I tried not to look completely spellbound by him and the world around me.
Ever since the music gods have blessed humanity with the gift of streaming, it seems like everyone and their mom is making music. Which, of course, is great — more fresh faces means more fodder for your Fall ’17 playlist, and more chances to evoke countless eye rolls by insisting that you “listened to them before they were cool”.
But in the ever-changing, constantly-inundated pop landscape, it’s far too easy for artists with true popstar potential to get lost or never be given a fair shot.
Enter Ashlyn Willson, otherwise known by far too few as Ashe. After quietly landing on the pop scene in 2016, the blonde bombshell has been featured on enough tracks to fill a debut album, and has voice sweeter than whatever crap cherry pie Katy Perry has been hawking. And yet, after nearly two years and despite her immense talent, the California cutie has just one song as a solo artist. ONE. DAMN. SONG. Unacceptable. Why is she chasing the spotlight when it should be illuminating her every step on the path to fame?
Which is exactly why we’re here today. Your Honor, I’d like to submit the following evidence as undeniable proof that the plaintiff is pop’s next big thing and should henceforth be regarded as such.
At the risk of sounding shallow: have you seen this chick? Homegirl is a stone cold fox and let’s be real, aside from talent, being a certified dime is a key ingredient to pop stardom. For some, it’s really the whole recipe. If looks could kill, Ashe would be the defendant in this trial and sentenced to life for slaying each and every one of you lesser humans. This Cali gurl has definitely melted her fair share of popsicles in her day. (Sorry for the second Perry reference.) No one has pulled off blonde hair and a beauty mark so well since Marilyn kicked the bucket.
*Side note – let’s all take a moment to appreciate her slam piece of a husband as well. Hot damn.
Remember that song I mentioned like five seconds ago? The one she was graciously allowed to release on her own, rather than as a featured artist? It’s an undeniable jam and deserves better.
“Used To It” is as infectious as it is understated and is the type of tune most singers only dream of creating. The beat bounces right into an effortlessly fun post-chorus breakdown that punches you right in the g-spot and leaves a craving for more. Summer weather may have finally come to an end, but this bright and breezy pop masterpiece will have you slathering on the SPF and dreaming about Venice Beach. Why is this song not in heavy rotation on the radio? Beats the hell out of me.
Despite what seems like a complete lack of funding being funneled into her solo career, Ashe has more than proved her worth by creating an impressive repertoire of music as a featured artist. Would she rather be belting out songs without “feat” slapped in front of her name like a scarlet letter? Sure. But for now, she has become a go-to for names like Louis the Child, Whethan and Louis Futon. They clearly see something there. If only her label had the same faith in her.
Verdict: Ashe should not only be acknowledged for her talent as a vocalist, but also regarded as a newcomer whose career has the potential to reach the longevity of A-listers currently dominating the game. Why obscene amounts of cash have not been invested in studio time and PR is beyond me, but it’s about time someone in charge came to their senses. Until then, here’s to you, babe.
If you’ve talked to me at all in the past two weeks or so, you’ve heard me talk about Demi Lovato’s new album, Tell Me You Love Me.
I have to say, I was never really a super huge fan of Lovato, her music being a little too radio for me. Don’t get me wrong, she’s always been a guilty pop pleasure, but nothing I would write home about.
Until now. Now I’m writing home, work, New York City, and reviving State in the Real to talk about Demi Lovato’s latest album.
Since it came out, I’ve been listening to it on repeat. While I get ready in the morning. On the train. At work. On the train. While I get ready for bed. You get the idea. Hear me when I say this album is one for the books.
This is all I need to say about it: Demi Lovato has a killer voice. We always knew she could sing, but DAMN. This girl full on belts it from “Sorry Not Sorry,” to “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore,” to “Ruin the Friendship,” to “Hitchhiker.” Each song has its own powerful moment where you’re like,
“Wait, who is this?”
“This is Demi Lovato?”
“Ugh, I love this song,” (all actual reaction quotes I’ve heard (ok the last one was an actual quote from me during just about every song)). Seriously though, Tell Me You Love Me gives you feels.
Ok so let’s start with the obvious, the first track, “Sorry Not Sorry.” Great party song, gets stuck in your head all day, and literally anyone and everyone will dance to it. Test it out. I’ve tried it with my coworkers and I catch them all singing it when they think no one is looking (gotcha ;P). Bop #1.
Now, let’s talk about my favorite track. I’ve been dying to get here. “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore,” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time. This ultimate breakup song will move you to tears even if you’ve been in a solid relationship for 3 years (hi). Demi takes you on this roller coaster of emotion with her rich, beautiful voice. Towards the end you’ll be full out rocking back and forth on the verge of screaming, “Yeah! What’d I ever see in that douche bag anyway?!!” Give it a listen, you’ll see what I mean. Everyone I’ve played it for stops in their tracks and is like “Oh, migod. Wow.” Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself listening to it on repeat again and again (also, hi). Bop #2.
Next up is “Daddy Issues,” and while I don’t necessarily love it there are a few people out there that have demanded I not skip it in their presence. And admittedly, I’m liking it more and more. See what you think.
“Ruin the Friendship,” is definitely Bop. Number. 3. This funky song is what we’ve all thought when someone has said to us, “I don’t want to risk losing you as a friend.” Lovato is straight up like, “Screw the friendship, let’s bang,” which is what we’re all thinking anyway. Also another song where Lovato’s vocal range is also supremely showcased. Bravo, Miss.
Picture this: You’re sitting in the dark corner of a bar and you hear this rustic sounding broken hearted love song that resonates with your soul, because your relationship has brought you to tears once again…the song you’re listening to is “Cry Baby,” Bop #4. This is one of the songs on the album that has you completely belting with Demi by the end of it in a full on sway. For anyone going through an emotional push and pull in their relationship, this one’s for you.
I feel inclined to talk about the guests on this album, as they are notable and worth mentioning. Lil Wayne pops up in “Lonely,” giving us a kind of sultry, intoxicating vibe that snarls “screw you for leaving me.” On the deluxe album we get Jax Jones and Cheat Codes songs featuring Demi which were already summer smash hits, “Instruction” and “No Promises.”
Listen. Bottom line is this album is amazing! But I’m sure you’re bored of reading at this point, and are so stoked to go listen to the album that you want me to wrap this up. So in short, believe me. Go to Apple Music (quick plug) and download the album. Feel free to totally disagree with me or come over and listen to the album with me all day. Either way, I got my fix and for that I’m all cheers for Little Miss Demi. Consider me hooked.
So 2016 was a pretty jam packed year in music, and also we lost a lot of amazing artists (R.I.P.). No I am only one person so it is really hard for me to listen to everything that is out there, and remember this is a list of personal opinion, so I avoided albums and there were just some albums that I did not listen to. I am not counting anything released after Christmas as 2016, aka Run the Jewels 3, and I have amended my usual rule of anything less than 10 songs is not considered for “Album of the Year” but Vince Staples had one of the best albums of the year. In case you were wondering how I judge what the ranking is, the majority is relistenablility. For me, the ability to go back to an album more than once is a key factor in deciding how good an album is. So without further ado, here is my list of the “Best Albums of 2016”
25) Drake – VIEWS
Not in recent memory has an album been so hyped up, but Drake’s Views is one of them. For the last three years or so the Canadian rapper has been teasing the album, originally thought to be called Views From the 6, but later shortened to VIEWS, Drake seems to have been all over the place with this one. There were some amazing standouts, but as a whole this album was boreville, broken up with some great songs. The album is more of Drake being Drake, it was good, but it did not live up to the hype.
24) The 1975 – I like it when sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Just when you thought they were out of the game, they came back. Seemingly done with music, The 1975 made a spectacular return to music. And this album is a great one. It was atmospheric at the right time, and it was poppy at others. The British group proved why they deserve your attention, with love ballads and some exceptional songs.
23) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Danny Brown, a man whose legend is almost overshadowing his musical ability. But it seems that the Detroit rapper found his groove in this record. He seems to be coming out of a dark place and plays off of this sound. Every track has an underlying sound of brooding. Brown has the majority of the spotlight, but he is always at his best when he bounces off his peers. This album is the most polished of Brown’s career.
22) Parquet Courts – Human Performance
For a band, that at one point released like four albums in one year, there was some time in between their last album and this one. Their sound hasn’t changed, which is a great thing, and it builds on what makes them great; angst. This album is everything that is great about nihilistic rock, they seem to not care, but really they care more than they let one.
21) Anderson .Paak – Malibu
A breakout of 2016, this soulful man exploded on the scene with one of the most summery albums of the year. .Paak even made the XXL Freshman of the Year list, and this album shows his muscles. Paak’s unique voice carries over every track and makes you feel the vibes. It doesn’t fall in any typical genre, but it shows where music is heading, a blending of all genres to make everyone happy, and if you don’t smile once in this album, you have no soul.
20) A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service
One of the legends that we lost in 2016 was the immortal Phife Dawg, and his lost impacted the rap world. So it seemed that A Tribe Called Quest would hang up their hats, and ride into the sunset. But unexpectedly they released this gem, a thank you to the late rapper, as well as a poignant commentary on the world currently.
19) Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
When Blood Orange transitioned from producer to solo artist, the result was amazing, and unforgettable. With little heard from Dev Hynes in the meantime, we got something so heartbreaking and beautiful that it couldn’t be overlooked. Every track seems to have Hynes soul poured into it. The album shows why we might have missed Blood Orange and I can’t wait to hear what comes next.
18) Kaytranada – 99.9%
Producer Kaytranada broke out in 2016, and his album flexed his muscles. The album is wavy, and I mean that in a great way. You hear the experience from a great producer and the guest tracks do not overshadow the beat at all. When you listen it fills your head with so many sounds, and blends it all together in a sonic richness that deserves attention.
17) James Blake – The Colour in Anything
The great James Blake returns in a big way, not as big as what we thought, considering he promised a Kanye and Frank Ocean collaboration. Now we did get a song written by Ocean on this album, there was no Kanye colab. What we got instead was Blake showing why he is the music industry’s favorite musician. The electronic beats, the warm and cold at the same time sounds. It all comes together in one pretty album.
16) A$AP Ferg – Always Strive and Prosper
To be honest, the member of the A$AP mob I like the most is not the former model, its the one that is flying more under the radar. Ferg showed his storytelling abilities in this album and also made some surefire hits. There are definitely standouts and it shows a true growth of an artist from his last album to his current one.
15) Bon Iver – 22, A Million
It has been awhile since Justin Vernon returned to the thing that made him a household name. Bon Iver changed their sound dramatically, and it did not disappoint. This album was amazing, although overshadowed by a very under the radar surprise released on the same day, this album proves why Bon Iver is one of the best alternative group in the planet. The growth of the group showed how good they are.
14) ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
TDE is a rap collective / label that seems to be very confusing. Kendrick Lamar is obviously the standout, and the rest of the crew seem to be all over the place Isaiah Rashad is great, but can’t make it into the mainstream, and SZA has not had that song that has made people see her potential. But ScHoolboy Q is the reason TDE needs to be taken more seriously, Q has broken out more from his previous album and this one is even better. There are some great tracks that are so well produced, and some amazing lyrics.
13) Young Thug – No, My Name is JEFFREY
Young Thug and Future seemed to be in a competition of who could release more albums in 2016, but Future seemed to get burned out by his DJ Esco tape, but Thug seemed to hit his stride after each album, and Young Thug showed why his weirdness is exactly what works well. This album, each track is dedicated to role models in the rapper’s life, and “Harambe” sums up the year of 2016 in pretty much the perfect way. Young Thug is not overshadowed by the guest stars on the record, instead he plays off them and shows why Thug is among the best in the game right now.
12) The Weeknd – Starboy
I missed the old Weeknd, snort up the nose Weeknd, cry bout the soul Weeknd, just the drugs and hoes Weeknd, I miss the old Weeknd. His last album was something to just get radio play, but this one he seemed to be more about his old style, The Weeknd returned to form and this album is fantastic, it has the Weeknd exposing himself, and where is had some more features than it probably should have, but it really was a return to the old Weeknd, and I have never been more ok with that.
11) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
There was a ton of musical surprises in 2016, but Car Seat Headrest might top them all. The album is fantastic, and shows exactly why Indie artists need to be more noticed. The album showed off great lyrics and some amazing musicianship. An album that, like fine wine, gets better with age and the more you listen to it. It is a great example of modern rock music and really shows how we have gotten back to simple music that lets the talent speak for itself.
10) Frank Ocean – Endless
There was a time where I legitimately thought Frank Ocean was never going to release an album. But in August, we got TWO. Two albums from Frank Ocean, and where the first one was a visual album, it showed us all why we missed Ocean so much. After the unforgettable channel ORANGE Ocean wanted to make an album (or two) that were perfect, with Endless he showed how visuals can help to accent an album and make it more than just a listening experience. Endless is atmospheric and haunting and real and Frank Ocean at his best. Where it is a very different feel from Blond it is something incredible in its own right.
9) Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Speaking of artists who I thought were never going to release an album again, where it hadn’t been as long as Frank Ocean, it had been awhile since we last heard from Donald Glover, and where this is a complete departure from his standard rap fair, this album is exactly what we needed at the end of the year. It is soulful and funky and raw, and Gambino really is a mastermind (see what I did there).
8) Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine
Easy Mac, with the cheesy raps, for so long that was Mac Miller, but now he is a fantastic rapper. This album is amazing and it is Mac Miller flexing hard. With the collaborations with Anderson .Paak and Ariana Grande (aww) he shows how his flow has matured over the years. His lyrics are great and the production is subtle. I kept finding myself coming back to it and each time I got more and more impressed. Miller has matured leaps and bounds and I am truly excited for what he has next.
7) Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
We seem to be getting more into artists releasing material scrapped from albums, since B-Sides are pretty much dead. With Drake unearthing this concept last year, Lamar proved why he is the king right now in rap. untitled unmastered is an album that shows why Lamar is a lyric wordsmith and this album is a true showing of those skills. With each song showing when it was recorded and a lack of a title, the verses are relevant to this day, and remind us why Lamar is the best in the business. For most this would easily be considered one of their best albums in their discography, this album is just a throw away for Lamar.
6) Solange – A Seat at the Table
Where I do say fairly ofter that Solange is the more talented Knowles sister, this album is a little reminder to her sister Queen B that one cannot rest on their laurels as the most talented in the family, A Seat at the Table is a statement of what it means to be a black woman living in 2016, now I have literally no room to talk from experience on that subject, I can say that Solange makes me feel for her. There is beauty in every song of hers, and also Sampha makes everything sound like it is coming from the soul. Standouts like “Cranes in the Sky” bring out the beauty in the mundane, and Solange’s voice…. is just wow.
5) Vince Staples – Prima Donna
I usually refrain from placing EPs in my end of the year list, but this is just wow. Like Staples went from being a fringe rapper who I enjoyed listening to, to one of my favorite rappers right now. This short, and it is way too short for me, album is a flex on each song. Staples comes out shooting, with a literal gun shot ringing in the first official song on the record. Even though his biggest guest star is A$AP Rocky, Rocky is so muted here that Staples demands the track. Where Staples might have gone viral for the wrong reasons, and off a song from his previous album, Prima Donna is a great reminder of why he is one of the most exciting young rapper in the game right now.
4) Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
So The Life of Pablo’s release was a tire fire, and that might be nice to tire fires. We were promised a return of G.O.O.D. Friday’s and more than 200 songs with Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug, West made an album that did not live up to the rappers high standards that he set for himself. I would not consider this to be “This generations Born in the U.S.A.” but I would easily consider this a “Best of” album for West. Each track brings in reminders of works from West’s past collections, and the tracks each has a sense of both freshness and nostalgia to them. It is been well documented that West kept fixing the album, even after it was officially released, the final product is definitely one to remember. To say that this isn’t one of West’s best albums, and yet finds its way easily in the top 10 of almost every list of the year is a true testament to how great West is as an artist.
3) Beyoncé – LEMONADE
Beyoncé teased us with a very interesting and surprising video. What it turned out to be was an HBO special, and where the visual of the album was unforgettable the album was even better. Beyoncé made an album that solidified why she is the Queen. Beyoncé wanted to do country, so she made an incredible country song (DADDY LESSONS). She wanted to make a rock song, so she made one of the best rock songs of the year (DON’T HURT YOURSELF). Beyoncé wanted to make a banger, so she made a banger (FORMATION). LEMONADE might go down as another album that Beyoncé released that changed the music industry.
2) Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
However you decide to spell it, Frank Ocean pulled a total surprise and released another classic. Where Blonde is a deviation from channel ORANGE it still proves how great Ocean is at making music. This album is so different, but each song is a story in itself, and each song proves how amazing Ocean is at story telling. The songs each flow in and out and create a subtle and demanding presence from Ocean. Where he controls the scene in the bulk of this record, the lack of guest features show how much of a craftsmen Ocean is.
1) Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
No album in 2016 had me returning to it like Coloring Book did, we had been spoiled with Chance over the last few years, and Surf was a break from his solo mission, but it helped him hone his craft, it made Chance the Rapper even better. With Coloring Book Chance matured from his Acid Rap druggie image to that of “A Christian rapper” and wow, just wow was it unforgettable. Chance commands attention, and each song has a big name guest feature and they all play off of each other in a way that makes you feel like they just had a ton of fun in the studio. I think that you can hear how much Chance loves his friends and each song shows that off better than anything else that was released last year. Where we have heard the Gospel influence on this album, this put the cap on the year the re-energized the gospel movement in rap. I still get goosebumps hearing “Blessings” and “How Great” made Jay Electronica immortal. Justin Bieber has almost never sounded more smooth and even Lil Yachty proved his strength. This was the year of Chance the Rapper and Coloring Book might have been the biggest coming out party for someone that still has not charged a single penny for his albums.
The hype for Kanye West’s show has been building up for months, since the news was released that Yeezus himself would be gracing Penn State with his presence once again.
I’ve never attended a Kanye show, but heard nothing but insane reviews of his performances. After seeing bits and pieces of his tours from the Kardashian’s and other celebrities’ Snapstories it was a no brainer that I had to attend a tour that was clearly making history.
I arrived at the BJC at 8 p.m. and it was mass chaos. Hundreds of students piled up at every single gate, many sporting very Yeezy like outfits with tall boots and dresses or the large oversized sweatshirts. Upon walking into the BJC crowds of people swarmed around the Merch booths, trying to get some hands on Kanye’s exclusive tour line.
Finally I was able to shuffle through the crowd and get to my seat, only to find an insane amount of people on the general floor section. At 9:15 p.m. on the dot, the BJC went black, and an ominous figure walked onto the platform on the far end of the floor on the BJC. The sides of the stage began to glow and Kanye was lifted above the floor spectators as the BJC erupted with applause and praise. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 began to blair and everyone broke out into song with Kanye as he began to float over everyone.
I heard rumors prior to the show that Kanye’s set list included 40 songs, but I thought there was no possible way he could even get close; I was absolutely wrong. He actually performed 32 songs in total, which is still a crazy impressive amount.
Not only did he hit a ton of the tracks off his new album “The Life of Pablo” but went back to his iconic tracks like “Stronger”, “Jesus Walks”, “Touch the Sky” and a ton more I can’t even begin to list. The crowd completely lost it when he did a covers including “Pop Style”, “N****s In Paris”, and “FourFiveSeconds.” Kanye’s interesting performance style made the show even more unforgettable. He stopped songs multiple times after starting them and said “eh no bring it back, bring it back,” and would restart the song.
The entire concert was more like a spiritual experience rather than a show. Everyone around me suddenly became some of my closest friends, yelling every word of each song. Kanye’s concert defying stage and lighting took the show above and beyond my wildest expectations. Each movement of the stage was set perfectly for each track, my personal favorite being when he performed “Only One.” The floor of spectators filled up with smoke and the stage began to glow with one single light on Kanye, which made him look like he was in heaven.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Kanye’s Saint Pablo Tour is easily one of the greatest tours that hit the BJC this year. Between the stage and set, his setlist, and Yeezus himself the show was an unforgettable experience that will have me blaring Kanye weeks after.
If you want to relive one of the greatest Penn State concerts this year, check out the playlist below.