J Cole

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Chris Rock once juxtaposed complimenting André 3000’s artistic calibre, to showering a beautiful women with bouquets for her exquisiteness. At times it seems as though artists such as 3 Stacks, Kwani Experience, Sade and even Frank Ocean play hard to get with their cult-like followers, who are subjected to waiting aeons for any release.

“Don’t play hard to get, but play hard to forget.” This corny line by Drake aids my understanding as to why the great aforementioned artists are lauded. It’s not the excitement of dangerously flirting with the possibility of losing ardent fans, nor playing hard to get but artists who don’t fickle to industry pressure have this in common- they respect time and the muscle of art.

“…they’ve been asking for it [a solo project] since our first Las Day Fam album in 2008. So a huge expectation is certainly out there,” rap artist LandmarQ tells me. Over a decade later LDF has released two albums, Eternal Effect (2012) and Dissent (2017). The clique won the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010, got a SAMA nomination at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) and won Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards in 2011.

THE MAN, THE MYTH THE LEGEND: LandmarQ finally standing solo. Photo by Clive Thibela
THE MAN, THE MYTH THE LEGEND: LandmarQ finally standing solo. Photo by Clive Thibela

But still, dololo a LandmarQ project. With no disrespect to Bonafide and Baggz, it’s an open secret that listeners fervently anticipate the LandmarQ verse on each LDF track. He has the sort of presence on a track, a mere punchline or clever wordplay can’t match. It’s not only in what LandmarQ says, or how he says it but shit sounds sick because it come from him- he has natural artistic integrity.

“It was inevitable that a time for a solo would come. I just never had a timeline/deadline for it. I also wanted it to be organic when it happens. I wanted it to be inspired and come from a good place. I believe creativity can’t be forced or pressured. It should be an outpouring of a natural process,” says LandmarQ.

Be that as it may, some artists shun going solo because of their discomfort of being the centre of attention preferring to “hide” within a group- there’s a plethora of reasons why some performers won’t pursue a solo career. “I am not uncomfortable about it. I just believe that there is a time and place for everything. In any show, the spot light moves to where it needs to, for the purpose of shining and highlighting the main performance act for that particular moment. So I’m happy to have the spotlight when it’s my time to perform.”

“IF THE MEDIA SAYS THERE’S A GENRE OF HIP HOP CALLED CHRISTIAN RAP, I’M NOT PART OF THAT GENRE. SIMILAR TO THE UNDERGROUND RAPPER TITLE…”- LandmarQ

Having pondered on it and even getting the nod from his LDF brothers, the spotlight is stationed on LandmarQ with the release of his debut solo project Envy and Avarice, a seven track mixtape which is first of a trilogy of mixtapes set to drop this year, inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.

JUDGE THE COVER:The artwork was inspired by the flaws of human nature and the turmoil and complexity of of being human.
JUDGE THE COVER:The artwork was inspired by the flaws of human nature and the turmoil and complexity of of being human.

He says the decision to release was taken in 2019 “I met and consulted with several producers to craft a sound for the album. I also made several beats for the project but then decided an album might not be entirely a good idea especially considering that I haven’t put out music before as a solo artist. So therefore a different approach was required.”

He took the old school route, hopping on other people’s instrumentals which he tweaked a bit. “So the producer in me still found expression on this project albeit a little less than usual. However the route to follow the traditional mixtape method was crucial for me to do because it’s important that music lovers and fans alike get to experience LandmarQ on a wide variety of instruments/beats. The key thing however was creating a sizeable body of work.”

The reason he chose the Seven Deadly Sins as the concept for his series of mixtapes, is to bring awareness to the condition of society in general, and specifically the condition of the Hip Hop culture. J. Cole did something similar last year with the Kids On Drugs album, focusing on narcotics. A concept about Greed, Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath directly questions the behaviour of the inner self.

“We are all confronted with varying degrees of extremes of the Se7en (remember the movie by this title with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman?) in our society at large and in Hip Hop. And the hip hop community is a lovely case in point i.e. tension between old and new cats, underground and commercial, this sound and that sound etc. And its manifestation in hip-hop is most notable because hip-hop as a form of expression is definitely brash/boisterous.”

The rap artist who hails from Tembisa comes from a group pigeonholed to Christian rap and with a solo project tackling a heavy topic such as the 7 Deadly Sins, there’s a likelihood of being trapped in that box as the preachy rapper. “I am not making a Christian statement with this mixtape series. I am making a statement on humanity, in the world at large and in hip hop culture,” LandmarQ says adamantly.

“The Seven Deadly Sins is not a Christian concept. After all, the seven deadly sins aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Its origins are nebulous and likely trace back to before Hellenistic Greece. Historically, and especially in the Philosophical disciplines, the 7 Deadly Sins have been society’s way of trying to formulate a universal theory of the pitfalls that human beings face.”

But LandmarQ isn’t oblivious to how the simple-minded might perceive his choice of topic to be conservative and limiting especially because the media has dubbed him a ‘Christian rapper’. “That isn’t how I would describe myself. If the media says there’s a genre of Hip Hop called Christian rap, I’m not part of that genre. Similar to the ‘Underground Rapper’ title. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underground rapper.”

NOT HERE TO PLAY GAMES: LandmarQ in picture. Photo by LandmarQ
NOT HERE TO PLAY GAMES: LandmarQ in picture. Photo by LandmarQ

He continues “In Hip Hop we rap about our way of life. And because I am a Christian, I have and will continue to touch on Christian themes from time to time. But that’s no different than any rappers that incorporate their reality in their music. Chuck D of Public Enemy said rappers are like journalists. I’m a rapper’s rapper and have rapped alongside the best rappers in the country and have been featured on numerous songs that aren’t Christian and aren’t underground. And my message is universal. If you love Hip Hop that stands for something, I’m your guy. I however am a rounded human being. Sometimes my music is about having fun with wordplay, with different flows and metaphors.”

The project is out today. Listen and download it here

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IN honouring Denzel Washington at the 47th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award Gala Tribute this year, actor Mahershala Ali said “…your influence, your reach transcends race without ever denying it…” Fitting words for a thespian who’ll go down as one of the best to ever do it. Rapsody’s latest album EVE, and her other previous work in fact, displays how much this black female’s art transcends gender, without denying it.

Something rappers who are female tend to get tripped by is the novelty of females in the rap game. You find sisters only rapping about being females who rap, which more often than not, comes off as a homily- not music. Like how the typical “underground” rapper would bog you down with how the mainstream is being manipulated by a secret society and that the biggest artists are actually aliens in human form-all of this without telling you their story and making actual music. But Rapsody has mastered the art of music making and storytelling. When listening to her music, what’s between her legs isn’t relevant and you’re there listening to a dope ass kat. But her sex is unquestionably significant to everything and very much unmissable.

Poignantly titled EVE, Rapsody’s third album is more special because she titled each of the songs with names of powerful black women. From Cleo (the character from the movie Set It Off played by Queen Latifah), Oprah Winfrey to Nina Simone. She paid homage to these women and all others in the globe in the best way she could.

Till this day I think her previous album Laila’s Wisdom is universally underrated. I couldn’t fathom her returning so quickly, with something so rich in sound, lyrics, and concept. Plainly put, I didn’t think home girl could top Laila’s Wisdom.

Ibtihaj is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, who was the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab while representing the US at the Olympics where she took silver in fencing. Rapsody gives nods to strong female emcees that came before her on the song, like Lady of Rage and Roxanne Shante- and taking a leaf from their book, she shows her bravado and says ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid. GZA’s verse has that nice old school feel, thanks to his flow…with D’Angelo vocals complementing both rappers.

There must be something about Rapsody’s chakras because whoever she features, the genuine chemistry is always palpable. Whether it’s  Sojourner with J.Cole, Oprah with Leileki47 or even Iman featuring J.I.D and SiR. In an interview with Sway, she said she wanted Cardi B to be on the track Whoopi. The bouncy beat produced by Khrysis would’ve suited Cardi’s energy. Rapsody’s beat and collaboration selection is like that of a producer; she’s quite decisive in that space.

The opening keys to Hatshepsut took me to church and even when the beat comes on, the warmth of the song remains. It would be wrong to say Rapsody got chowed on this joint because of all the love in the song, but hearing Queen Latifah rap is hella refreshing and inspiring. Her verse was on some Big Sis’ tip not only for Rapsody, but the youth.

Even living single we connected by the tribe
Was raised by a Queen, know how to be one
And love one and raise a King
When he’s older I’ll describe how to love ’em
Queens come in all shapes and colors
Though we sit on thrones we don’t look down on each other
I learned how to rule from my mother and my aunties
Got the blood of the Asante
I could be Cleo or Ghandi to protect mine
It’s peace of mind, word to Jersey
I’m a giant, a Queen’s pride stronger than the lions
Connected by alliance, sisterhood
The day you try to test me, look homie I wish you would
Open doors for the ladies as a Queen like I should
That’s why I’m Queen Latifah in every village, every hood
And I’m good, and every city worldwide
And why I been reigning for the last twenty five
So all hail the Queens and the next ones to arrive
Came out of Jersey with naughty dudes and hella drive
Just another day above ground working my thighs, we runnin’ it
Member the days me and ‘Pac, we had some fun with this
When I would bust you dead in your eye, that’s called humblin’
Been holding the torch, I don’t fumble it
I’m a child of God versus son of men, tellin’ ’em

I enjoyed Rapsody’s heartfelt letter to black folk, especially us black men on the track Afeni. It’s a timely song looking at the issue of Gender Based Violence in South Africa right now. The emcee drops knowledge about how men should learn to treat all women with the respect and love they would their mothers and sisters.

EVE cements her name as one of the best to ever do it. If we’re talking top emcees in the game right now in the mainstream, Rapsody’s name should be mentioned with the Coles and the Kendricks.

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Previous Return of The Dreamers instalments had the make-up of a mixtape, the soppiness of a demo and were lethargic as those preseason warm-up matches in sport. But Revenge of The Dreamers III is purely a case of third luck’s a charm for J.Cole and the Dreamville squad.

The first ROTD was released in 2014 with the follow-up coming in 2015.  The projects left one with a sense that Dreamville was just testing the waters. But this current shit here slaps, quite hard.

I’m only realising this as I write, that we were actually conditioned to expect more than we got from the previous projects, by the marketing gimmick Dreamville pulled earlier this year. They publicly invited artists they wanted to have on this project, on social media. I ain’t an artist and I’m not even in the US nogal. But those invitations didn’t only leave one excited, but just wana be in there…even nje just to witness the sickness. I can bet you my speakers that a shit load of artists, in the US were green with envy.

“Cole was like ‘man we should make invitations’ and then I was just like damn that’s actually kinda genius. We literally got it out to people the day we got here, we were supposed to do it ahead of time and then that day, we just stared seeing people posting, posting, posting,” said Ibrahim ‘Ib’  Hamad, President and co-founder of Dreamville speaking in a the documentary Dreamville Presents: REVENGE.

The album featured 34 artists and 27 producers, this is out of the 343 individuals invited to record it in 10 days.

“That shit worked out crazy like, people hit my phone, everybody wana come and everybody’s welcome at the same time, you know what I mean,” said Cole. “For me it was like, literally a golden ticket typa situation.”

Months flew and the excitement fizzled, but somehow, sporadically reignited by a J.Cole verse on other artists’ joints in the months leading up to now.  But the eagerness for ROTD III came back to us quicker than Babes did to Mampintsha, after watching the enticing Dreamville Presents: REVENGE.

Sonically, ROTD III is refreshing…looking at where Dreamville comes from as a label. They were, and are largely still seen as one of the torch bearers of the Boom-Bap sound and that real rap shit. This album has various sounds, but each song never veers off what Dreamville seems to represents, realness.

It’s symbolic that Dreamville hosted a slew of artists, and even in the web of sounds, no one forgot that these dreamers are tryna pay revenge.  The stable has grown in sound and artistry…the songs uniquely represented the folks at Dreamville. The seemingly organic chemistry they had with the outside artists, isn’t unusual for Dreamville because the stable has an assortment of artists, who hail from different parts of the country.

The weed joint, 1993 produced by Elite is so Wu-Tang. I’ve been listening to Buddy’s music for a year or two now, and his energy on shit is always palpable. He doesn’t rap on this track, but serves his purpose on the song. The blunt is seen as the microphone, and vice-versa to which Buddy is the conductor. Cole and JID complemented each other well with their verses, coming correct.

JID is Dreamville’s poster boy and he further proved why on this project. Ladies, Ladies, Ladies produced by Kal Banx has JID musing over past lovers alongside the big bro from ATL T.I. It’s a smooth ditty, delivered in an attempted to sound hard, but both kats come out sounding dope cute.

I would’ve liked to see Cole, Ib and Top Dawg’s reaction soon as they heard LamboTruck. I saw Reason as just a decent kat before this joint, but his cadence and pen game was above par. So was Cozz…and they both sounded deliberately humorous. The two West Coast kats’ comfortability with each other reminded me of the chemistry between East coast’s Method Man & Redmad. LamboTruck also represents the kindship between Top Dawg Entertainment and Dreamville, far more than just the business.

Ari Lennox, Dreamville’s empress, owned her space on the project. Self Love featuring Bas and Baby Rose is one of those songs that would sit well on an Ari project. She got swallowed up though, by Ty Dolla $ign on Got Me– if that beat was America, Ty Dolla $ign would be the white race. Omen hasn’t shrugged off sounding like Cole, but the Friday Night Lights/ The Warm Up Cole- nice, but still on the come up. The track is produced by Mdbeat, Deputy and OZ.

Bas can be a bit sluggish when solo, on his own shit but Abbas Hamad rapped out of his skin on Down Bad, rapping with stable mates JID, EARTHGANG, J.Cole and 21 Savage’s cousin Young Nudy.

Sacrifices, Wells Fargo, Oh Wow…Swerve are other songs worth mentioning that give the album more body and gravitas to even dare call it an album. There are songs the alum could’ve done without, like Swivel and Sleep Deprived .

It’s natural to wonder what will happen to the songs we heard in the documentary, which were recorded in the 10 days but didn’t make the 18 track cut. And I suppose it’s also natural to sit there and think why they didn’t invite so-and-so…because of the vast possibilities and expectations that come with putting together such a project. So it is what it is.

But Dreamville gave dreamers hope with this one, without being melodramatic about it.

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YOU remember how impeccable J.Cole’s 2014 Forest Hill’s Drive was. I think he was also shocked with how good that album came out. I think Solange Knowles felt the same way after making A Seat At The Table.

But the difference between the two artists, is that Cole tried by all means to steer away from anything remotely similar to like F.H.D when he made 4 Your Eyez Only. Beyoncé’s younger sister on the other hand, attempted to make another Seat At The Table-or at least a more esoteric version, with When I Get Home-but failed.

The album lands on the ear as an incomplete project because of the annoying number of interludes. As soon as I tried to engage with a track, it abruptly ended. It’s like she made the album based on research by scientists, about the short attention span of today’s youth. Over 10 tracks are less than three minutes, not to suggest a great song is defined by its duration, but one gets a sense that Solange didn’t have an idea of what to do. Instead, she horrendously used Seat At The Table as a template.

This album lacks direction and makes me wonder how much of a contribution she had in her previous album. The legendary Raphael Saadiq was the executive producer of the project, along other producers and musicians who’ve been in the game for decades.
When I Get Home seems like Solange’s way of being young and hip, to be more appealing to the youth. Some of this album’s producers include Metro Boomin, Dev Hynes and has contributions from Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.

Sonically this album isn’t far off Seat At The Table, but it’s short of a solid theme and cohesiveness. It’s the kinda project that makes the producer look bad. But having shat on the album, I admit there are some enjoyable ditties on the project like Way to The Show and Down with the Clique. True to its name, Dreamy was quite dreamy and airy, I didn’t mind repeating the song. These are tracks that didn’t hit me at first go, but with time, I got into their vibe-if the album was a stand-up comedy special, I’d have to watch it again for those few jokes I had to nit-pick for laughs.

Time (Is) is the only track that hit, from the word go. I enjoyed it, especially the switch of the beat later in the song, where Sampha’s backing vocals give it so much body.
Most artists have a bad album in their career, but I didn’t expect Solange to deliver it right after A Seat At The Table. That I’ve mentioned her previous album countless times on this review tells you that When I Get Home ain’t that ayoba.

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EVER found yourself genuinely delighted that someone is happy, despite your opinion of the reason for their happiness?

Like how an attractive damsel would be overjoyed by shedding some kilos, you’d obviously acknowledge her achievement of reaching a personal goal, but in the back of your head know that she doesn’t need the number on a scale to validate her beauty.

That’s how I felt Monday morning, watching highlights from the 91st Academy Awards. It was when legendary film director, producer and writer Spike Lee went to accept his first ever Oscar award for his recent film, BlacKkKlansman.

One of the best films ever to be made, Do The Right Thing, which Spike wrote, directed and produced in 1989 was snubbed by the Academy awards. Earlier this month, speaking to The Washington Post Spike was quoted saying “This is not in any way disrespectful to the Academy, but after Do The Right Thing, I just said ‘you know, whatever award it is, I’m not going to let myself be in a position where I feel I have to have my work validated.”

That quote alone lets us into the pain Spike felt from the 1990 Oscar Awards. On the other side of coin, his elation on Sunday night’s ceremony demonstrates how much the award means to him. And accepted the award with a moving speech.

I have not watched BlacKkKlansman, so I can’t say if Spike deserved the award for that particular movie. But on Tuesday morning I posted on Facebook that Spike is too great to be excited by an Oscar. Without trying to throw shade at the irrepressible director, the point I was merely trying to convey was that great artists don’t need to be certified by the academy institution to sanction their prominence. Especially black artists.

But what stood out for me, was how most of the young creatives on the social site, liked, agreed, loved and even shared the post.

I get why Spike was hurt by Do The Right Thing‘s loss, and why 30 years later, he jumped on Samuel Jackson’s arms like a lil kid, in accepting his award. Think about it, Spike was 32 years-old when the awards that celebrate cinematic excellence took place in 1990, and they had been taking place for more than 60 years. So you can imagine the clout, prestige and significance of a recognition from the Academy to a filmmaker born in the 1950s.

Not to suggest today’s young creatives don’t appreciate or yearn even, for industry recognition. There’s disinterest and distrust towards “honours” from industry gatekeepers. In music and film.

I was my mother’s one year-old sweetheart when Malcom X (also directed by Spike) was in cinemas. I watched the film years later and was astonished to find out that Denzel Washington, who played the US political activist, didn’t take the Best actor award in the 1993 Oscars. Why would I trust them, if they dismally failed to celebrate Denzel’s finest piece of acting?

Young artists don’t trust these institutions.  After winning his Grammy last month, Drake gave an acceptance speech that displayed the power that today’s artists have taken from these ceremonies. “We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual based sport. It’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding the trophy, because you made the right decision or won the games. Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows. You don’t need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”

Poignant words from the Canadian rapper on the Grammy stage, basically giving the prestigious music awards a polite middle-finger. And this by the way, is from an artist who a few years ago gave away his own Grammy awards on Instagram to artists who he thought were snubbed.

Social media has allowed artists direct access to their fans. Artists are continuously on the receiving end of affirmation from their followers, reminding them of the real impact their art has. Do The Right Thing grossed over $30 million in cinemas, with a budget of less than $10 million. I wonder how Spike would look at that snub, had the movie came out during the prevalence of social media. The validation that comes with seeing people from around the world, celebrating your work would have some effect on your view on awards. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, said he appreciated how 2018’s big movie was appreciated by the audience.

While celebrating the Grammy wins of Cardi B, Jay Rock and Anderson.Paak on Twitter, J.Cole mentioned how this moment for them, is bigger than the awards could say.

Of course there are senior citizens in Hollywood who’ve had this thinking long before, like Woody Allen who has never accepted awards from the Academy. “The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgement of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t,” said the dodge old man.

I personally don’t have an issue with awards per se, it’s people running these bodies that I have gripe with. Black creatives are always chasing to be recognised by Caucasian-led institutions.

Someone made a point on my post on Facebook that Spike was also celebrating the milestone because of the tireless work he’s done as an activist for the inclusion of black people in Hollywood. I honestly believe it’s through the work done by people such Spike, that Black Panther and even Jordan Peele’s Get Out won Oscars. It’s through the noise he’s been making.

That’s good and all, but do we still need to be making noise about not being appreciated by white people? why should we fight for inclusion into institutions created by Caucasians ? Our generation doesn’t want to live out its blackness through white norms.


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