by Paul Attard

by Paul Attard Current Music

Big Sean | I Decided.

February 17, 2017
big-sean

Big Sean wants you to realize how important I Decided. is: From the ominous intro of pouring rain to the voicemail interludes throughout, this project is presented as a grand personal opus, an album made in the mould of Drake’s Take Care. Sean makes every song feel large, utilizing expensive production, sing-rapping choruses that come off as calculatingly vulnerable, and indulging a six-minute track about the travails of fame. All of this worked for Drake, but Sean struggles under the heftiness of his vision. Continue Reading

by Paul Attard Features

2016 in Review — Young Thug | Jeffery

January 17, 2017
young thug

Through a career that’s spanned 16 mixtapes (four of them released commercially), three label deals (Cash Money Records, 1017 Records, and 300 Entertainment), and yet still no studio album, Young Thug has maintained a reputation as the most elusive rapper going; one really need only listen to his music to get a sense of his radically non-conforming style, which relies heavily on unpredictable, usually high-pitched vocal fluctuations. In a growing sphere of auto-tuned “mumble rap,” Thug stands out for his sound specifically. But that’s not all that’s worth attention here: The rapper’s radical views on gender and sexuality, his odd fashion sense, and his ability to co-exist within the gangster rap world while adhering to his own originality all add to Thug’s appeal.

A tipping point for Thug—for his artistry, his oddness, and his brilliance—came with the third project he released in 2016, one he simply titled Jeffery. Never one to release a project without some kind of controversy—he beefed with Lil Wayne on the titling of Barter 6 and orchestrated a funeral march through the streets of Austin to announce Slime Season 3—the rapper decided to change his stage name for this ‘retail mixtape,’ rebranding himself as “No, My Name Is Jeffery” (as in Jeffery Lamar Williams, the name he was given at birth). This went beyond a simple anticipation-building media ploy and crossed into full-blown career revision territory, which was a direction Thug had desperately been needing to go in anyway: his two previous projects, the aforementioned Slime Season 3 and its predecessor I’m Up, lacked the signature boundary pushing of his best work and felt more like stop-gaps for an already-announced (and yet still unreleased) studio album debut.

Young Thug’s radical views on gender and sexuality, his odd fashion sense, and his ability to co-exist within the gangster rap world while adhering to his own originality all add to his appeal.

On an episode of the CNBC show Follow the Leader—which shows two days in the life of successful business entrepreneurs—Lyor Cohen, a co-founder of Thug’s current label, 300, and also somewhat of a mentor for the rapper, didn’t shy away from suggesting that his own charge was slipping—in fact, Thug even acknowledged it himself. “This year, I want ten No.1 singles,” he declared in a boardroom conference, to which Cohen replied, “If you don’t freestyle, and work on the singles and record great choruses and develop your songs, yeah, you’ll get there.”

Thankfully, a (short-lived, as it turned out) name change wasn’t the only effort of reinvention Young Thug undertook for Jeffery: The cover art sports Thug in a powder blue Alessandro Trincone dress, his face obscured by a hat, an image that harkens back to the eye-catching imagery of Barter 6, for which Thug stood naked, with his head tilted down. But in many ways, Jeffery’s cover seems almost to be the antithesis of Barter 6‘s: Here, Thug no longer shrinks into the shadows, but rather there is a triumphant boldness to the bright white and purple color palette on display. And let’s just say that one Thug lyric (“Every time I dress myself, it go muthafuckin’ viral”) was afforded a true context thanks to Jeffery‘s art.

To add to the singularity of this set, each track on Jeffery is representative of one of Thug’s idols—Floyd Mayweather and Harambe among them. It’s actually touching, then, to find that the track “Guwop”—named after rapper Gucci Mane, who championed Thug—includes features from other up-and-coming Atlanta rap artists, namely Migos’ Offset and Quavo. (Gucci himself is also on Jeffery, but he features on the ‘Mayweather’ track.) These particular cuts go beyond just giving kudos to inspirations in Thug’s life by name alone; they provide a sonic corollary for their namesakes.

It’s clear as early as Jeffery’s opener, “Wyclef Jean,” that there’s a distinctively different vibe here than on other Thug projects. Rocksteady reggae guitars fade in as Thug’s vocals lock in with the beat to deliver the first, playful lyric: “Okay, my money way longer than a Nascar race.” The hook (“Play with my money, I’ma let them niggas do”) intensifies the song’s braggadocio, but the backing chorus (“I do mayne, I do”) begins to elevate ‘Wyclef’ from merely typical Thug swag-rap into a more personalized ode to the rapper’s Haitian idol, at least with regard to the music. It’s for this reason that “Wyclef Jean” feels like a kind of grand culmination—a veritable smorgasbord of vocal melodies and pitch-shifts. It feels like the most realized vision for a song Thug’s had in a while because it makes full use of the large assortment of style that he’s accumulated, from the gritty minimalism of Barter 6, to the more ambitious production of Slime Season.

Thug can transform seemingly banal lyrics into a sonic expression of his emotions, and his individuality. And by the end of Jeffery, it feels as if the rapper is largely without peer in this regard, that no one else out now could pull off such syllabic tongue twisters and inflated inflections.

Thug’s rapping also feels more accomplished in its delivery throughout Jeffery. On “Floyd Mayweather,” Thug lets his raps saunter through a slick piano melody; and on “Future Swag” he absolutely murders TM88’a high-BPM production, firing off breakneck bars like, “I’m dead fresh fuck her palm nigga/I’m on yo’ ass like some thongs, nigga.” But the wildest Thug gets is on “Harambe,” when he goes, well, ape shit, emphatically screaming, “I just wanna have sex/I just wanna have a baby by you, girl!” The largest complaint lobbed Thug’s way usually has to do with lack of depth in his lyrics, but many (especially J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar fans) forget that rap is about aesthetics as well as lyricism. Thug can transform seemingly banal lyrics into a sonic expression of his emotions, and his individuality. And by the end of Jeffery, it feels as if the rapper is largely without peer in this regard, that no one else out could quite pull off such syllabic tongue twisters and inflated inflections.

“RiRi” (named for Rihanna) is perhaps the track that proves this the most. The song’s hook sort even sort of quotes a Robyn Fenty smash: “Ah-ah-ah, work/Do the work baby do the work.” Thug holds on the pronunciation of the “r” in “work” to create a sense of desperation—and in the process of adding this emphasis, he builds up the passion he displays for the woman he’s referring to (assumedly his long-term finance, Jerrika Karlae). It’s not Thug’s first or his best romance track—and “Hey, I” remains his most beautiful, for its pure optimism—but “Riri” may be Thug’s most earnest song about love. The romance here doesn’t require any braggadocio—Thug gives his love through his voice. This is a side to the rapper that we rarely see, one that could easily be ignored in context of all the other attention-getting moments here. But that’s kind of the point: The Young Thug of Jeffery never lets himself be pinned to any one emotional expression, nor does he get stuck going in any one direction.

by Paul Attard Current Film

Manchester by the Sea | Kenneth Lonergan

December 28, 2016
manchester

What Kenneth Lonergan understands, probably better than any other writer-director working today, is how difficult it is to communicate grief in a convincing way on screen. With three feature films thus far, Lonergan’s acute exploration of coping mechanisms seems almost universal in scope, yet minimal in execution; with Manchester by the Sea, he’s crafted another incredibly Continue Reading

by Paul Attard Current Film

The Handmaiden | Park Chan-wook

December 28, 2016
the-handmaiden

Park Chan-wook’s career has largely been steeped in a particular fusion of twisty revenge narratives padded with philosophical implications. His latest, The Handmaiden, feels particularly lacking in the latter area. In a 1930s, Japanese-occupied Korea, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired by conman Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to assist in stealing the fortune of a Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee of Continue Reading

by Paul Attard Current Music

Soulja Boy & Bow Wow | Ignorant Shit

November 23, 2016
soulja-boy-bow-wow-ignorant-shit

It’s safe to assume that not many were all that ecstatic when Soulja Boy and Bow Wow announced their new project together, the mixtape Ignorant Shit. The Internet-era rappers are long past their prime—in fact, they’re barely even relevant anymore. Bow Wow announced his retirement from the rap game as recently as a couple months ago. The two rappers did collaborate once before, on the 2008 single “Marco Polo,” but afterward they beefed with each other (Soulja memorably challenged Bow Wow to a Lamborghini drag-race). Continue Reading

by Paul Attard Current Film

Under the Sun | Vitali Mansky

October 11, 2016
under-the-sun

From the opening credits, something seems off about Under the Sun, and the “truth” it projects. “My father says that Korea is the most beautiful country in the eastern part of the globe,” asserts eight-year-old Lee Zin-mi, staring directly into the camera. Director Vitali Mansky—given a script by the North Korean government—was tasked with shooting a documentary about this young girl and her average life with her family who live in the greatest country on earth Continue Reading

by Paul Attard Current Music

Rae Sremmurd | SremmLife 2

September 6, 2016
SremmLife 2

If there were a kingdom for party music, brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi of Rae Sremmurd would be its anointed princes. The two came out of nowhere when, last year, their debut album SremmLife went gold, fulfilling the promise of the two hits that preceded it, “No Flex Zone” and “No Type.” While the duo continued to dominate that airwaves that summer, it’s been surprising since to see this album cycle’s slew of singles go largely ignored. Not a one of these songs is bad, per say—they’re just nowhere near the sensations that those previous hits were. Two of them, “By Chance” and “Look Alive,” even come from long-time collaborator Mike Will Made-It, and possess his usual earworm choruses. But those tracks are also just painfully flaccid; they don’t have the same irrepressible energy of the trio’s past efforts. Both singles trade in the group’s exuberant nature to focus solely on the songs’ melodies, a limiting prospect that ends up plaguing much of SremmLife 2.

If SremmLife was a straight rager, with both the highs and lows that come with that kind of till-the-break-of-dawn blowout, the sequel is all afterparty.

So what happened? It might just be that the youngsters are turning down a bit. If SremmLife was a straight rager, with both the highs and lows that come with that kind of till-the-break-of-dawn blowout, the sequel is all afterparty. Kicking things off, “Start a Party” does its titular job exceptionally well, trading lines about bringing exotic women to the fray, and pausing to cuss out those who don’t partake in “smoking loud.” But virtually nothing else here from the duo hits with that intensity. Instead, high-profile guests like Juicy J (the king of the aforementioned Party Kingdom) and Lil John have to themselves effectively carry on the sound they ushered in. The stretch from “Came a Long Way” to “Do Yoga” (songs that feature no guests) sound particularly vapid, leaving behind Rae Sremmurd’s rap roots and venturing further into heedless R&B. This rings false coming from a group that proudly proclaimed there would be no available zone in which people could hate on them. In trying to broaden their horizons for new listeners, they’ve wound up betraying their core appeal.

by Paul Attard Retrospective Film

The Real Body | Sion Sono

August 12, 2016
The Real Body

Sion Sono’s eighth feature refined and nearly perfected his early, amateurish Dogme 95-esque aesthetic. Billed as a “film about the human body,” The Real Body is a totally singular hybrid of documentary and fiction. It examines the work of four artists—photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, buoh dancer Akaji Maro, fashion designer Shinichiro Arakawa, and Sono himself—each of whom use the human body, in different ways, to express lust, love, and desire. Sono also directs a film-within-the-film following a high school girl (Keiko Hamaguchi) who loves to run and falls for a restaurant worker (Takuji Suzuki). The two unnamed characters elope—after dragging a statue of Hachikō the dog (in Japan, a symbol of faithfulness) through the streets—and subsequently find a place to consummate their love. Most of the action in this section comes from the couple running down lengthy streets, Sono chasing behind, filming them with his handheld camera. The actors are non-professional, which gives sequences a more gritty, naturalistic feeling—despite an indulgence of absurd comedy.

More recommended for those familiar with Sono, who wish to see the oddball director’s still-developing skills.

Sono’s humor has always tended toward the whacky, and this film is no exception: line readings are screamed and panties are liberally displayed—it’s a Japanese style of comedy that understandably alienates some audiences. The distinction Sono is interested in exploring through this exaggerated behavior is that between a filled and an unfilled body. What exactly can fill a body? Have the two lovers in Sono’s film-within-the-film filled theirs? While we ponder these questions, individual scenes show us Sono at work writing his film’s screenplay, or having a roundtable read with his actors—even his assistant director’s divorce is touched on, a result of stress from working on this project. Paired with this study are the works of the other artists—most strikingly, Araki’s photography. In Araki’s work, naked bodies pile up next to each other, all hollow tools given meaning only by whatever position the artist wishes that they take. Sono, who was a poet before he became a director, has clearly taken on an ambitious project, one covering a lot of metaphysical territory in under two hours. There’s a freewheeling momentum that prevents him from being weighed down by his thesis, but newcomers may be put off by the purposefully grimy aesthetic and lack of structure. The Real Body is more recommended for those familiar with Sono, who wish to see the oddball director’s still-developing skills just before he made his biggest hit, Suicide Club.

Part of Sion Sono: Love Leaves Destruction in Its Wake.