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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Music and Memories

“Taxman” always makes me think of this. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Willis)

I’ve read over and over again that olfaction is the strongest sense at evoking memories. I think it has to do with the amygdala or something — hey, I’m not a neuroscience major. There are certain smells that bring up memories for me, some specific and some general; the smell of pine and sugar cookies makes me think of Christmas; the smell of “Midnight Pomegranate” hand soap, weirdly enough, makes me think of playing Call of Duty 4 back in 8th grade. Growing up in the plains of Northern Indiana, I always looked forward to the first day of summer — not June 21, but rather some Saturday in late April or May when I’d wake up, open the window, and smell the first faint, sweet, loamy scent of soil carried across the fields on the constant breeze. Every once in a while I’ll catch a brief whiff of it in Nashville and it still makes me excited.

Despite all this, one sense evokes more memories than scent for me: hearing. Specifically, hearing music; nothing else so vividly conjures up the events of my life as it does. [Read more...]

Irish Music Is Alive

24075_1167251239917_1787018830_318342_7210598_n copyDidn’t get enough Irish this St. Paddy’s Day?

Yes, I know, St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday. Believe me, I don’t think the holiday should be dragged out any longer (especially after the endless weekend of St. Fratty’s Day celebrations) buttttttt I do think the day after St. Patrick’s day, while the orange and green dust settles, is a great time to discuss Ireland’s impact on modern music.

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T-Bone Burnett and the Americana Film Soundtrack

On the Friday before spring break, I had the pleasure of seeing the Vanderbilt Core Choir perform their home concert that began their week long tour to Florida.  The front end of the program was a typical classical repertoire, featuring works from Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms.  Via short sets focusing on international pieces and original compositions by choir members and friends, there was a gradual transition into what I found to be an absolutely stunning performance of Americana songs at the tail end of the program.  There was a complete change in atmosphere of the concert, and it was in no way related to the quality of the music going up for some strange reason.  The performance level was stunning throughout; in the roots set, it was just like the music stopped being a performance and began to be a warm and welcoming conversation.  It focused strongly on spirituals, arrangements of songs by The Wailin’ Jennys to highlight some of the ensemble’s remarkable sopranos and altos, and a selection for the male vocalists to shine on that happens to be one of my current favorite songs.    This was an adapted arrangement of Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac’s recording of “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” for the 2013 Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis (you can listen to a recording of the choir’s men performing the selection above).  The film follows a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a fictional folk artist in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s struggling to make it by, providing a dreary reminder to the audience that for every Bob Dylan or Joan Baez success that came from this vibrant folk movement there were countless careers that failed to start.  Again and again in this dismal setting, the film’s music shines through, punctuated by performances from Oscar Isaac in his titular role.  The man that put that soundtrack together was T-Bone Burnett.

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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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