3 AM, slouching further into the pit of my office chair, which begins to feel more like a bag of rocks by hour 5 of my night shift. 3 more hours chatting with Indian “start-up” companies hawking chat button prices. I am the only soul in the office (well at least in my immediate area). Me-time and work-time are converging as I sift through identical blog re-posts, message board threads, and YouTube links for buried treasure. Then, something shines through the dirt, and sucks me into a trance in its glow.
You would not believe the unassuming Jew in my OkCupid profile and me at this point were one in the same, knocking over my chair as I jam, bouncing around the room. This soul that channels the earnest funk of Erykah with the youthful exuberance and flair of Rihanna, with a little something extra, something now. I’m sprung.
Now you might not have gotten down with the video above, but the sentiment still remains. How this new music can feel so familiar, take me further than I’ve ever been, and surprise me in doing so.
You know the vanguard of this attribute. Virtually every Kanye West album, with its promise to be a hodgepodge time capsule of Pop Art. There’s Fiona Apple, who weaves anthems in her own bubble of isolation and self inspired spontaneity. And Flying Lotus, who might be one of the most important doing it on his turf of post-Dilla beat making. The ability to have two feet in different plains, one familiar and one unfamiliar, traversing past border lines set by their predecessors.
You know them by the type of buzz that is generated before an album leaks. It’s not just a symptom of popularity and hype like any old album, it’s those times when critics and writers are stumbling over themselves to decipher meaning from clues, to predict futures, to grasp straws at where they’ll go. One need not peer further back than when this summer and the buzz campaign surrounding ‘Random Access Memories’. And that’s because it’s not just the anticipation of hearing the evolution of a musician, it’s for the oracle of where all the music surrounding it is evolving.
Certainly not all that’s new succeeds, and in fact most hyperbole about new music is drivel, predicated on a need for just that, news. Yet no matter how off base a blogger might be about Drake’s new album (on which my verdict is still out), his risks and successes will permeate throughout the hip hop stratosphere. “Started—“ is a radio staple now, but when it debuted in February, it was noted for its uniqueness among Drake’s catalog. And just like that, a drop of something new is added to the bubbling aftermath that is music.
New music (to me) is an amalgamation of the influences and experiences of the culture and its residing artists, transforming spontaneously. It’s as unpredictable as a hand stretching through the wardrobe to grasp something from a different realm, bringing it back for us to see. These new artists, in a world at fiber optic speeds, feel the urge to bring something fresh to stand out from the herd. And fans of new music, now take pride not just in their knowledge of history, but by their ability to sift through the rubble. To be the one to expand the minds of their social media followers, and gain some hipster brownie points on the side. (I’m guilty as anyone, see podcast). This does breed one negative symptom, a growing disposability of songs. But timeless music never tarnishes, even when its peers do, and even when fewer people are hearing it.
New artists are exciting not just because they are a new riddle to uncover for fans, and possibly a new sound to hear, but because the beginning stages of their careers are so formulate. Early adopters will serve as their core fan base, and their progression after they’ve been given a slice of spotlight will serve as a sign of their intention.
Recently, James Blake made some headlines for remixing his standout track, “Life Round Here” and featuring next to blow rapper Chance the Rapper on it. I was ecstatic, Not only was I not surprised when Chance described his fandom of Blake’s moody electro-epics before they even crossed paths, I felt that this song was already a hip hop track before a rapper graced it. That James Blake meant a great deal to the hip hop community despite being an average homeboy crafting his instrumentals like many others in the bedrooms of Britain and beyond. (See Jazz -Hop Trio’s BadBadNotGood‘s cover of Blake‘s “Limit to your Love“, and Big K.R.I.T‘s use of “Wilhelm Scream” for his “R.E.M“)
And that’s the beauty of new music to me. It’s surprise, its existence between realms, the fact that there are songs that are being recorded right now that even the most senior Pitchfork editor would look fucking stupid trying to categorize. Even amongst all the cookie-cutter, trend chasing, and predictable, there’s jewels, polished or not, that are to be found. And I’m building a mine.