Make It Better –
Anderson .Paak feat. Smokey Robinson
Anderson .Paak, the wide-grinned multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire continually stretching modern R&B in jazzier, funkier, soul-ier directions, drops his upcoming Ventura in a mere five days. Despite being right around the corner, .Paak seems too excited to wait for the 12th, releasing a second single this past Friday.
“Make It Better,” featuring R&B/soul icon Smokey Robinson, is a throwback groove as smooth and seductive as silk bed sheets. Between the lush strings, crisp guitars, and irresistible bassline, the instrumental could easily have actually come from the late ‘
But let’s get back to the Smokey Robinson feature. It’s a bit of a power move to reel in a feature of such timeless influence only for help with harmonies — I’m reminded of Frank Ocean featuring Beyonce on “Pink + White” only to do the same. On “Make It Better,” however, Robinson’s contributions are greater: During a recent interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, .Paak recounts how Robinson helped rework some of the track: “[Robinson] came and changed the whole thing up…he was like, ‘No baby, what in the hell?’” The song initially featured a more cavalier, modern rap tone, but with Robinson’s help, the final product became far more tender and loving.
There are now only five days until Ventura drops in full. Based on this track, as well as the funkier, more upbeat “King James,” the album promises to feature strong influences from the golden age of soul in the 60’s-70’s, of which Smokey Robinson was royalty. The rest of the features, including Andre 3000, Brandy, the late Nate Dogg, Jazmine Sullivan, and more, seem to support this expectation. It seems Anderson .Paak is only delving further into his musical influences of yesteryear. Based on what we’ve heard so far, this return to his roots is sure to take .Paak’s music and, well, make it better. I know I’m excited.
Friends – Omar Apollo
Heading in a completely different direction from his most recent single, “Ashamed,” Omar Apollo dropped “Friends,” as what is likely the last single before his upcoming album, Friends. The album is available for pre-order, and is listed as a seven-song, 23-minute album, also featuring earlier singles “Ashamed,” and “Trouble.”
“Friends,” plays more to the tune of “Trouble,” as Apollo sings about not being able to express how he feels for a partner, and not wanting to fall into just being friends. It’s not a track with much emotional depth, but Apollo’s consistently pleasing instrumentation and production keeps the track afloat, this time with a simple guitar section and an unexpected, short, twist of some poppy synths around the first chorus.
While “Friends,” won’t enthrall you with Apollo’s work, but it shows that he can completely slow the train down from hyperactive tracks like “Ashamed.” Although we’ve already heard half of the upcoming album, it’ll be interesting to see how Friends comes together as a cohesive (or not) piece.
Old Town Road Remix – Lil Nas X
If you’ve been on Twitter in the last few weeks, I’m sure you’ve seen meme videos with the new country/rap single “Old Town Town,” by SoundCloud rapper turned country star Lil Nas X. The newfound cowboy is an Atlanta based rapper that started making his own music on SoundCloud after gaining a following on Twitter through a Nicki Minaj fan account, “Nas Minaj.”
In December of 2018 he had released his Country crossover single, “Old Town Road,” which uses a modern rap beat and a killer hook that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all week. Nas was able to use a meme trend in the last few months in order to promote his song, and it finally blew up near the end of the month. He started making waves on Billboard charts, but was kicked off of the country leaderboard because the song didn’t contain enough elements of country music.
But now, we have the “Old Town Road” remix, featuring a new verse from Billy Ray Cyrus. Billy Ray’s verse is pretty similar to Nax X’s, spouting lines about Fendi sports bras and Maserati sports cars, and voila, the song is back on the country charts. Let’s hope it’s there to stay- just because a rapper made a song out of his normal genre doesn’t mean he should be excluded from an otherwise all-white billboard.
Song 32 – Noname
Noname continued her series of singles this weekend with “Song 32,” a political track backed by a chirping, classic drum-beat instrumental. Noname’s thoughtful, poignant lyrics are on full display on the single; “Y’all niggas got Diddy money, don’t push me, I’m atom bomb / I’m Obama pushing the button, in Libya, Pakistan.”
With this track, Noname carries on as one of the most thought-provoking rappers in the game. While her production isn’t quite anything special, like on “Song 32” it does well to keep the listener completely engaged with her wordplay without taking any attention away from what is clearly the main event here- her lyrics.
If this is the first you’ve heard of Noname, just know that there’s plenty more of this bitingly honest commentary spit with some of the most dexterous delivery you’ll get in 2019.