Once a month, VMP turns over the blog to Andrew Winistorfer, its resident pizza expert, man about town, and music writer. In Storf Sounds Off, he writes about a few things he thinks you should pay attention to this month. That’s the theory at least.
1. The Weeknd’s sophomore LP, Beauty Behind the Madness, topped Billboard and sold 326,000 copies in its first week out, so it doesn’t really need my co-sign at this point. But still! It’s really good! Usually when “underground” artists go so nakedly mainstream it blows up in their face, but in this case, Weeknd “selling out” worked like gangbusters. If trying to appeal to the masses leads to singles like “Often” and “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It,” I embrace the Weeknd as our new R&B pop overlord. At least until Frank Ocean comes back.
2. If you had asked me at the end of last year, I would have bet money that Rick Ross was finished as a compelling, vital rapper. Both of his 2014 albums, Mastermind and Hood Billionaire felt mailed in, a swag-by-numbers approximation of what made Rozay one of this decade’s most enthralling MC’s (Teflon Don is still a stone cold classic). So God Forgive Me if I didn’t have any expectations for Black Dollar, Ross’ new mixtape. That lack of expectations turned out to be unfounded; this is Ross’ best album since Teflon, a boastful, Scarface-with-his-nose-in-the-blow banger, from boasts about air conditioning, to putting “Wing Stops on every corner” to songs called, no shit, “Knights Templar.” I put this on at my desk at my day job and got so turned up that I took my shirt off and ordered wings for the whole office. Download it here.
3. Even people who listen to “everything but country” know that there’s something of a scourge of country acts that fit under the “bro country” rubric; the hats, the tanks, the trucks and the brews, etc. Maddie & Tae’s 2014 semi-hit “Girl in a Country Song” was a welcome antidote to all that; it wondered what happened that women are suddenly the gold dookie chain of bro country acts—an accessory and nothing more. The duo’s debut album, Start Here—which they co-wrote the entirety of, a rarity in country these days-- is finally out this month, and while not every song bears the cross of trying to overthrow the bros, it does feature the current hit “Fly” and the so goofy it’s great “Shut Up and Fish.” The album debuted at number 7, but it deserves better; let’s not let their criticisms of country from the inside get bowled over by the status quo.
4. If I was surprised to find myself loving a Rick Ross mixtape after I thought it was better to leave him for dead, I was gobsmacked to 1. Find myself downloading a 2015 album by Jason “JA-SON DE-RULO” DeRulo on the recommendation of some critics I follow on Twitter and 2. Finding out that I actually like it. Everything Is 4 isn’t some kind of underrated classic, or a master of the genre, but it’s a fun, low stakes capital P Pop album that is basically a ‘80s New Wave album. It’s a 2015 Duran Duran that doesn’t suck. Plus he gets Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder on the same song, and that song totally rules. This came out in June, but it’s worth your time in September, trust me.
5. This is called Storf Sounds Off, not Storf Reads Off, but excuse me for recommending a pair of music-related books for y’all to read this month. The first is Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level, a book about the author and the weirdo Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx as they intersect throughout the last decade while Juiceboxxx struggles to be taken seriously as an artist and the author sells out to become a web journalist. It’s an interesting exploration about why people make art, and what it means to keep chasing an elusive measure of “fame” and how that measure always changes and may never present itself. Juiceboxxx feels weird to have turned into a prop for the book—he said as much in an interview with the Milwaukee Record’s podcast—so that made me feel icky after reading the book, but I still recommend it highly.
Julia Beverly’s masterful, perfect Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story, however, I can endorse unequivocally. At more than 700 pages, this is the most complete biography of anyone I’ve ever read. Self-published because it’s so long, it starts with the deceased half of UGK’s birth and ends with his death from a combination of sizzurp and sleep apnea in 2007, and in between tells the story of UGK, southern rap, Master P pistol whipping people, Pimp C’s fur coat in the “Big Pimpin’” video, and everything in between. This should be part of the curriculum in an American music class, ASAP. I basically became a monk for a week, using all my available spare time reading this. Best rap book I’ve ever read. If you heed no other advice from me this month, buy this book.
Plus, it gives me the excuse to post the best music video of all time, UGK and Outkast’s “Int’l Players Anthem”:
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced the VMP Anthology The Story of Vanguard. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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