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Jumping Out the Gym: Topaz Jones

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 28-01-2014

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Outside of his apartment below Union Square, the sound of jackhammers, construction vehicles, and men at work rumbles on. But to call it an apartment wouldn’t feel right—it’s as close to a compound as one can attain on a student’s budget in Manhattan. With multiple levels connected by spiraling staircases, the compound houses Topaz Jones, along with other talented creatives—singers, producers, filmmakers—from New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.

Within, the sounds of men at work don’t rumble, but explode out of speakers, off the walls, and come to life. As the first track from Topaz’s latest album, The Honeymoon Suite, comes through the speakers, it’s clear that the Topaz Jones the world knows—the kid flowing over classic Thelonious Martin beats—is gone for now. By the last track, an incohesive but impressive splatter of prevailing popular sounds and rhythms has come out of Topaz’s work—nothing that anyone concerned with a more progressive take on hip-hop isn’t comfortable with. The Honeymoon Suite is as 2014 as a 2014 hip-hop can be with 2013 barely in the rearview mirror.

Within The Honeymoon Suite exists the paradox of wanting to show all the cards in terms of sonic range, but still remaining personally guarded for the benefit of future albums. Feelings about his parent’s divorce—a subject Topaz hadn’t touched on until now—came out on the melancholic “Nothing Lasts Forever,” but the album isn’t purely autobiographical. From a critical perspective, there are different takes in direction battling against each other to the detriment of the album as a whole, but not the individual tracks—each song represents another door, or “suite” to enter through and become immersed in. The Honeymoon Suite settles as more like a collection of songs rather than a true album, in the sense that albums are packaged and sequenced with a resolute—sometimes singular—thematic and sonic purpose in mind. Yet The Honeymoon Suite never attempted to fulfill that expectation in the first place.

After the album’s outro came to a close, Topaz sat down for a lengthy conversation to explain his beginnings, his growth over these past two years, and the approach and vision to his art.

Hit the jump to read on.

Topaz Jones — The Honeymoon Suite (Album Stream)

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 28-01-2014

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Up and coming artist and friend to the site Topaz Jones delivers his latest project, The Honeymoon Suite, a 16-track album, featuring a sick track produced by long time collaborator Thelonius Martin, and overall dope lyricism. Like we have come to expect from Topaz, this project is well-rounded with premium production and bars. Check out a stream of his latest offering below.

Topaz Jones—”Gasping For Breath” [Video]

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 14-01-2014

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If you think about “Gasping For Breath” in the context of Topaz’s upcoming album, this could be one of the cornerstone tracks. It lacks the aggressiveness and rawness of the previous “Coping Mechanism” or the heavier introspection and hook of “Livin’ A Lie,” but “Gasping For Breath” is just as important. Here, Topaz reminds us of his youth—not of childhood days, but the fact that shit, he’s still a college aged kid, and there’s plenty of value there. He goes through events that kids his age (myself included) sort through, from drinking 40s on couches with “friends” and chasing ethnic women to fucked up incidents (racially charged, in this case) that can ruin a good night out. With every leaked track in the lead-up to his album, we’ve seen Topaz become more aware of what his presence as a black youth in America entails, and what it actually means. Thankfully, his rapping is more mature than his age would suggest, and his train of thought is conscious without being corny. Oh, and his use of a Nirvana sample doesn’t suck like Hov’s did. Ha!

Added his camp on the song and accompanying video:

“Gasping For Breath” is the second visual release from New York based artist, Topaz Jones’ upcoming album. Relying on Robert Glasper’s rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit, Episode builds a haunting instrumental for Jones’. paranoid self-exploration. Directed by Simon Davis and Jason Filmore Sondock, “Gasping For Breath” continues where “Coping Mechanism” left off.

Topaz Jones—”Livin’ A Lie”

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 07-01-2014

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NYU’s Topaz Jones has blessed us with sharp rhymes over killer samples and guitar riffs in the past, but on “Livin’ A Lie,” he takes a more alternative sonic angle. On a mellow beat with a SCREAM THIS AT COACHELLA type of hook, Topaz vents on the rise he’s making on all fronts—as a rapper, as an artist whose reality can be disconnected from the topical content of his music, as someone who’s in-touch with what a popular up-and-coming rapper means for himself and his crew, and within his ever-expanding social sphere. The line, “They all claim that they feel you/Trouble is you wonder if they know the real you,” is a wonderfully honest quip at his own music. How transparent does Topaz want to be with the world? If anything, questions like that, which may be guarded in nature, are actually valid streams of consciousness when spoken aloud. Like with any rapper, we all know Topaz through his raps, and for much of his audience, only through his raps. It’s a dilemma that’s lived out and rapped out on “Livin’ A Lie.”

Added his camp on the song:

New York based hip-hop artist Topaz Jones’ third single Livin’ a Lie showcases a new side of Jones sonically. With production by Episode, this song combines inspiration from indie pop with Jones’ own vivid storytelling. His full length album, The Honeymoon Suite will be dropping at the end of this month.

Topaz Jones—”Coping Mechanism” (Music Video)

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 04-10-2013

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NYU’s own Topaz Jones is gearing up to release his album, The Honeymoon Suite, so he’s not bullshitting around. “Coping Mechanism” serves as the first cut from the album, and the visual above is pretty intense. Directed by Jones, Simon Davis, and Jason Sondock, it features him surrounded by a tribe in a fiery spiritual killing ceremony.

I said this before in my last post about Topaz, but I’ll say it again now: He’s made a huge leap as a rapper, not only from when I first heard his music in 2011, but even since his releases last year. He’s found his voice, has pushed his production further, and is rapping with more sophistication and confidence than ever. Watch now before he ends up on your favorite blog, although it may be too late for that.

 

What Does Kanye’s Yeezus Tour Mean for Kendrick Lamar?

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 06-09-2013

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Yeezus is rising again. This morning, Kanye West announced a 23-date fall tour—his first solo tour since the Glow In The Dark tour (Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D. and Nas joined him) back in 2008. Since then, he’s cancelled one tour with Lady GaGa, and embarked on another Jay-Z. Kanye West tours when he wants to, not necessarily because he has an album in stores—nothing came out of the releases of 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or Cruel Summer. Above that, when he does decide that he’s bothered enough to tour off of the strength of new music, he doesn’t bring along sideshow acts who the label throws on his bill. He brings out the best and brightest—legends, or legends-in-the-making in their own right.

Kanye isn’t the only member of the hip-hop ruling class who’s touring this fall. Jay-Z announced his own full North American Magna Carta Holy Grail tour shortly after Kanye did, even after spending the summer in bunk beds with Justin Timberlake. To back Nothing Was The Same, Drake is asking us “Would You Like A Tour?” and going ahead with one despite the hypothetical. But where’s Kendrick Lamar in all of this? The kid who’s released the only instant classic in this young decade? The King of New York. The man with “the verse.” Where’s his new album? His new tour?

He’s getting a new tour, but as Kanye’s opener. For 18 of the 23 Yeezus tour dates, Kendrick will be joining Kanye on the DONDA™ PJ™. Although hip-hop conspiracy theorists can speculate as to why Kendrick is going to be absent from the two New York legs of the tour, Kendrick’s decision to cozy up with Kanye as opposed to continuing his solo touring is momentous. It’s either a cop-out or a statement of intent for something much larger.

Kendrick is already commanding $70+ for headlining shows, is the unanimous Best Rapper Right Now, and could easily go out on his own, sell out 30 venues this fall, and continue to assert his status as the Leader of the New School while concurrently pushing the likes of Kanye, Jay, Eminem, and Lil Wayne out as elites in the mainstream hip-hop conscious. Those guys are either past their sell-by dates, more concerned with the marketability of their art than their own progression, or weirding out old fans. Hip-hop can’t collectively rally around any of the 2000s’ dominant artists anymore, but they can around Kendrick. For hip-hop heads, he’s the most talented and most accessible rapper out today, and unlike Drake, he doesn’t have any of the proverbial “soft” or “fake” tags.

So why the fuck would Kendrick—a rapper with a divergent fanbase (mostly youths and college kids/what Kanye had in the 2000s) to Kanye’s (anyone who grew up with him and took the plunge down his “Dark Twisted rabbit hole”)—decide to join the Yeezus tour? Wouldn’t it be better to propel his own brand—a message, lifestyle, and aesthetic which is so polar to Kanye’s that I wonder if he listened to “I’m In It” before agreeing to the tour—than to associate himself with Kanye’s monster? Mr. White Tees and Nike Cortez’s on tour with this guy just doesn’t add up.

If anything, it’s a power grab for both parties. Bundled with his appearance at Drake’s OVO Fest, Kanye once again proves that he’s got his finger on the pulse of hip-hop, even if his albums end up being 2-3 years ahead of their time in practice. That he can make whatever music he wants, fuck and settle down with the most infamous yet famous-for-what woman of the Internet age, say what he wants to whomever, and still make it out of the fire as hip-hop’s It guy. For Kendrick, this papal blessing of a tour gives him an even wider legitimacy—one that transcends hip-hop and touches on America’s celebrity culture—and shows that he’s worthy of having his name on the same tour poster as the biggest entertainer of his generation. You can’t reach Kanye’s levels without a co-sign from the man first. Simply put, real recognize real.

Being the best at rap can only take you so far. Kendrick has been digesting and capitalizing on Good Kid, m.A.A.D. City for almost a year now. Perhaps he sees that Drake has fast-tracked himself to claim Kanye’s crown, and doesn’t want to get left behind just because those two guys sing really nicely with auto-tune. We’ve all witnessed what Kanye West has  done with himself with his riches, women, status, and music, and what that’s all amounted to. Kendrick wants to follow the leader, but have his back-turned so he can AK-spray the rest of the game as they follow him. Kendrick didn’t name Kanye on “Control,” but he didn’t have to. Kanye wasn’t his competition then. Now he is.

A Survivor’s Account of Made In America 2013

Posted by Justantha | Posted in Justantha | Posted on 04-09-2013

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Photo by Tandy Cheng

Photo by Tandy Cheng

We did it. We survived Made In America 2013. That may not sound like an accomplishment, but for two rookie festival-goers, it was a life or death weekend. Totally devoid of nourishment but inversely sweaty, Made In America (MIA) was a two-day standing room battle, but a worthwhile one for the music. Or really just for Beyoncé. Ignoring the separate stage with the EDM freak show acts, we shuffled back and forth between MIA’s “Rocky” and “Freedom” stages, taking in as many acts as possible without dying of a non-Molly induced heat-stroke. Here’s our notebook dump recap of Made In America 2013:

A$AP Rocky owes me a Supreme box logo tee, or something. Unless Public Enemy and/or 2 Chainz are your rap deities, Rocky was the biggest rapper on the Saturday bill. I saw him perform with A$AP Mob last year, and the pure chaos of the set made for an incredible show. This time, however, Rocky (performing on the “Rocky” stage), was 20 minutes late for his set, half-assed four songs (not completing any), and got yanked off so that the remaining 8 hours of the festival could stay on-time. He had a 45 minute set time and maybe performed for 15 minutes. What should’ve been a bright spot for hip-hop at MIA ended up being a massive disappointment. Sidebar: Where the fuck was A$AP Ferg? Trap Lord is indeed in stores, and he didn’t make it onto the biggest stage of the weekend. Smh.

 

Macklemore’s set was the best time to beat the lines and get chicken fingers. End of.

Chicken Fingers are the best. While everyone was getting their shit rocked by the heat, sweat, dirt, dehydration, and the general nastiness of an outdoor music festival, the food vendors were getting overrun like the Alamo out there. They literally couldn’t fry up enough chicken tenders and fries to meet the malnourished and intoxicated demand of every festival-goer. I threw elbows, got into an argument with a marine over whether or not it was “respectful” to wear a camo bucket hat, and waited a grand total of one hour for a $9 basket of oh-so delicious fried chicken tenders.

Kendrick Lamar’s set was dull. All of TDE had 45 minutes of total set time, but none of them performed together—a bizarre bit of organization. Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q preceded Kendrick, but each only did a few songs. Kendrick was backed with a live-band, which did nothing to improve the quality of the set. I don’t need an electric guitar to add anything to “Backseat Freestyle.” How all of Black Hippy could be at the same event, share the same set time, but not all do a group performance is beyond me. Fucking Macklemore had Schoolboy Q as his guest, and Kendrick didn’t. Fail.

Hit the jump to read on about Beyonce, Miguel, Calvin Harris, and more.

Topaz Jones—”Black Dynamite”

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 26-08-2013

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BB has been rocking with Topaz Jones for nearly two years now, and I have to say, this one of Topaz’s more audibly progressive tracks. Not necessarily in terms of sound—long-time collaborator Thelonious Martin is on the beat here, and he provides another smooth beat, featuring interlaid guitar samples and a familiar bounce. The biggest difference is in Topaz’s flow, delivery, and voice. He sounds more mature, as you’d expect out of someone who’s halfway through his collegiate career at NYU. Everything comes together here in a bolder, more direct, more aggressive style, yet it’s got that classic laid-back retro feel that you’d expect out of the pair. “Black Dynamite” is as assured of song as you’ll hear from any set upcoming artists.

Give Topaz a follow on Twitter to stay up with him. Expecting big things from his camp in 2014.

Pusha T Speaks On His Upcoming Solo Album

Posted by Stefan | Posted in Stefan's Archive | Posted on 09-08-2013

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On Tuesday, I got a chance to sit down with Pusha T at the Fall 2013 Play Cloths launch event in NYC, where we discussed his highly anticipated solo debut, My Name Is My Name. Push went into detail about the production and features on MNIMN, as well as his struggles getting the album released.

This interview kicks off our upcoming “Brilliantly Shot” media venture, through which we will be dropping more interviews, event recaps, and much more. It’s a collaboration between all of us at BB, as well as J.D. of TheHipHopUpdate/JDotShots and filmmaker Nick Brown. Stay tuned.

Shad—”Stylin” (Music Video)

Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 30-07-2013

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It looks like #ShadBack. For those who are unfamiliar with the Canadian born Kenyan rapper, don’t fret. We gave him some shine on our Underrated Albums List in 2010. It’s been three years since we’ve heard solo work from Shad, but it looks like his next LP, Flying Colours, is indeed coming sometime in 2013. Over a rumbling scratchy guitar line, Shad gives “Stylin” his usual lyrical wit, but his delivery and bars sound refreshed, re-energized, and with a hint of good-hearted humor. It’s rappity-rap for those who necessarily don’t like raps for sake of rapping, as Shad’s sound is lighter and much less dense than his contemporaries. Try and listen closely to his 2nd and 3rd verses, as they’re sure to keep your head spinning. Good to hear from one of the most talented members of Canada’s underground hip-hop scene. 

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