Rap for a Reason: A Conversation with Shadower

Shadower is a Nashville-based rapper who released his single "Bully Me" last Tuesday.  All proceeds from the single will go to charity.
Shadower is a Nashville-based hip-hop artist who released his single “Bully Me” last Tuesday. All proceeds from the single will go to charity.

It’s safe to say that regardless of whether or not you think Kendrick Lamar got robbed at the Grammys, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis accounted for a significant shift in the scope of issues dealt with in mainstream rap music.  Into a culture dominated by the elegant hedonism of Kanye West and Jay-Z was infused a dose of reality–”fifty dollars for a t-shirt” (or, as famously offered by Yeezy, $120) is beyond the fiscal considerations of most Americans and shouldn’t be a standard to which ordinary folks are held.  The challenges that The Heist issued to the industry’s status quo opened up lines of dialogue that had been confined to the independent outskirts for much of the past decade, particularly regarding the materialistic, misogynistic, and heteronormative culture that has dominated mainstream rap.

In this rapidly changing paradigm, any social issue can be captured and crystallized into a song with the potential to move millions of affected listeners and inspire the unaffected to take corrective action.  With his new single “Bully Me,” Nashville hip-hop artist Shadower attempts to take the serious issue of childhood and adolescent bullying and preach empathy as the cure.

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Introducing…Your All-2000s Bad Music Squad!

Mathematicians call this the "empty set."
Mathematicians call this the “empty set.”

I spent the majority of my spring break plastering the walls of a cinderblock building in the Puerto Rican rain forest.  The only way to possibly get through a task as mind-numbing as plastering walls is to have an upbeat, driving playlist of music blasting from a decent set of speakers.  Luckily, for the most part, that was the situation; our work crew leader had impeccable and eclectic taste, and about 100,000 songs in his iTunes library.  One day, though, we made the call to switch it up.  My buddy Matt had concocted a playlist entitled “Ridiculous Rap,” mainly comprised of one-hit crunk wonders from the mid-2000s.  The first couple songs were hilarious and everybody sang along.  By song five, the high had disappeared and it dawned on us that we had been ingesting pure crap for the past fifteen or so minutes.

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The Case Against the Star-Spangled Banner

Why do singers mess up these words so frequently?
Why do singers mess up these words so frequently?

It’s Olympics time, and that means patriotism is at a relative high here in America.  So is the potential to wile away the hours in front of non-stop sports coverage.  It’s taking all my willpower to keep my eyes on my laptop as the American hockey team plays the Czechs on the television in front of me.

But there’s one thing about seeing the United States in international competition that bothers the hell out of me: our national anthem, when compared to those of other countries, just doesn’t cut it.

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Super Duped: The Decline of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Flea, your bass is unplugged...and since when did Chad Smith look like Bruno Mars instead of Will Ferrell?
Flea, your bass is unplugged…and since when did Chad Smith look like Bruno Mars instead of Will Ferrell?

If you grew up a rock music fan in the first decade of the 2000s, as I did, the Red Hot Chili Peppers likely provide much of the soundtrack of your formative years.  Songs like “Can’t Stop” and “Dani California” populated your early-generation iPods, and you familiarized yourself with the oldies that stood the test of time: “Give it Away,” “Under the Bridge,” etc.  Listening to these songs probably invokes a good deal of nostalgia.  They stand the test of time, too; listen through Californication again today, and relish in the tight, emotionally thick beauty of its fifteen tracks.

Given these assumptions, you were probably just as pumped as I was to hear that the Chili Peppers would be joining Bruno Mars for the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime performance.  By the time the teams headed to the locker rooms and Seattle had ensured that the game would be akin to watching a monster truck run over the same poor car for three hours, you were probably relieved that some good music would interrupt the tedium.  Bruno Mars, sure, cool, but the CHILI PEPPERS!!!  I was so excited, I had even set up a betting pool with my family, trying to pick the three songs they would play.

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Crafting the Contemporary Music Taste

A world without musical taste is chaos.
A world without musical taste is chaos.

Music is an inescapable fact of life.  It streams from our computers like a waterfall; it fills the empty space in our bars and restaurants; it augments the visual impact of television shows, movies, and advertisements.  On top of this universal presence of music, the democratization of the recording and distribution process has ensured that the variety of music available to the general public is vaster than ever before.  Yet it is precisely because of this deep and pervasive connection between music and human culture that it is necessary for you to make sense of this cacophony.  The person without a distinct musical taste risks being lost in the sonic forest, unable to converse about music with other people and unable to discern their own character.  In short, having a defined sense of what music you like is vital to becoming a contemporary man.  So, how do you develop a musical taste that keeps you both interested and interesting?  Read on to find out!

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Campy Music (and some other stuff)

None of the songs on this cover were written after 1971.
None of the songs on this cover were written after 1971.

Hey everybody,

It’s been one of those weekends that wasn’t any sort of break from the action of the week, but definitely in a good way.  Things got started with a bang when I scored free tickets to see Fitz and the Tantrums, Capital Cities, and Beat Club at Marathon Music Works on Thursday night.  All three bands started in Los Angeles, but each has a distinct sound within the broader category of indie pop-rock.  Beat Club has a very retro feel and their sound is very influenced by The Strokes, which makes sense because they are connected with Julian Casablancas.  Capital Cities is straightforward synth-pop and put on a very energetic show, closing with a fifteen minute rendition of “Safe and Sound” that turned into an electro-dance party.  Other than the last song, however, I didn’t find their music terribly engaging; all the songs sounded very similar but lacked the catchy hook of “Safe and Sound.”  This is only natural, though, since they have released just one LP.  The fact that they already have a Top 10 single at this point in their existence is very promising.  Unfortunately for Capital Cities, their performance was totally upstaged by that of Fitz and the Tantrums, whose neo-soul had a perfect dancing groove but didn’t feel superficial.  “Moneygrabber” was a highlight, leading off the encore and featuring a confetti explosion in the middle of the song.  Overall, the night of music was supremely satisfying, and there should be a lot of buzz about these three bands. Here’s some of the better songs that were played.

The real highlight of the weekend, however, was going home for a weekend of summer camp-related festivites: a bar mitzvah, an official camp reunion, and lots of running around to see as many friends as possible before heading back to school this morning.

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Between the Buried and Me at Cannery Ballroom: Out of this World

Between the Buried and Me, probably the best progressive metal band around today.
Between the Buried and Me, probably the best progressive metal band around today.

I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, and it shows when I think about my five favorite artists.  Four of those are Rush, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles and (the most recent addition) Kanye West.  All revered throughout their community of contemporaries and listeners, all well-known to the general public.

The fifth artist?  Between the Buried and Me.  Never heard of them?  Not surprising, seeing as their genre is progressive death metal.

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A Closer Look at Why We Hate Nickelback

But why?  ...Okay, that soul patch is pretty bad.
But why? …Okay, that soul patch is pretty bad.

This past weekend, I was having a GroupMe conversation with a few of my fraternity brothers and, somehow or other, Nicolas Cage popped up.  He always seems to do that in the strangest of places.  We threw around the idea of having Cage be the entertainment for our next party–”he probably needs the money,” quipped our social chair–when I brought up the possibility of a Nick-themed rager: Nicolas Cage PLUS Nickelback.  So bad it would be legendary.  “Cagelback: Because we hate you.”

We all had our laughs but then I remembered something: I used to like Nickelback.

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