New Artist Spotlight: Creepin’ N’ Lurkin’ With Bill $aber

Bill $aber is a budding rapper hailing from Buffalo, the city he derives his name from, with a frantically growing fanbase endearingly known as the “Animals.” In October of 2016, Pigeons & Planes posted an article featuring his horned visage alongside the likes of breakout artists such as XXXtentacion and Ski Mask The Slump God. “Creepin N Lurkin,” his biggest single to date, sits comfortably just under 300k views on both YouTube and SoundCloud, showing off his dark, yet somehow more reserved and smooth take on the rumbling lo-fi wave more commonly found in Florida than in New York. He is reportedly gearing up to drop both a full-length project titled Year of the Ram and an EP with Ronny J, the producer behind some of the hottest songs of the last few years, such as Denzel Curry’s breakout hit “Ultimate” and Lil Pump’s SoundCloud-chart-topping “Molly.” A few months back, we got a chance to discuss his newfound buzz and aspirations looking towards the future.

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Biting vs. Homage: The Curious Case of “Bodak Yellow”

Bodak Yellow” is in strong contention to be song of the summer, and as of this week it has landed a top 10 spot on the Billboard Charts. It’s the highest-charting solo single by a female rapper since 2014’s “Anaconda,” an impressive achievement for hip-hop newcomer and former Love & Hip Hop star, Cardi B. There is no doubt that this is a well-earned triumph for Cardi B: rather than being yet-another reality star who wants to lazily cash in on her name to push a mediocre single, it’s clear she has studied the craft closely and has worked on creating her own distinct style and sound. Looking at her raw, unfiltered personality and the seriousness she has taken to the genre, Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma seem to be clear influences, but Cardi could be well on her way to surpassing them and becoming the new queen of hip-hop. She has certainly become a fan favorite as was seen when Drake brought her out last week to perform the hit single at OVO Fest.

When looking at Cardi’s latest releases, it initially seemed like “Red Barz” and her Offset collaboration “Lick” had more hit-power, especially considering their radio friendliness and Offset’s sheer popularity at this moment in time. But “Bodak Yellow” had an organic popularity stemming from fans’ overwhelmingly positive reception to the song. The label quickly saw its potential and put forth the marketing dollars in order to morph this untapped potential into a smash hit.

What many immediately noticed about the song is that it pays direct homage to rapper Kodak Black. Cardi has spoken openly about this homage rather than denying it, and for good reason. It’s hard to deny that “Bodak Yellow” shares many similarities in the flow department with Kodak’s 2014 breakout song, “No Flockin.”

Borrowing flows and lines is nothing new in hip-hop and it’s great to see acknowledgement from Cardi about this. This “biting vs. homage” argument has been a source of contension and has led to many squabbles in the past over what artists perceive as stealing. Where do we draw the line between inspiration and straight-up jacking? In this situation, however, Kodak had no issues with the apparent flow-jacking and expressed that, although he wasn’t a fan of Cardi B at first, he liked the song.

When discussing the song’s popularity and massive success, many have brought up the “No Flockin” record as a way to diminish Cardi’s achievements. As previously mentioned, this is not a new phenomenon in hip-hop: anyone who has spent even a small amount of time listening to the genre should know that its foundation lies in sampling and reappropriating past works to create something new. More artists should take note of how smoothly this was handled by both Cardi and Kodak and give the proper credit rather than denying it altogether. By openly embracing Kodak and “No Flockin” as inspirations for the song, it seemed Kodak felt more like he was being honored than stolen from.

A recent example of how tensions have arisen over supposed flow-jacking has been over Drake’s “KMT” and XXXtentaction’s breakout hit, “Look At Me!” Xxx and his ever-loyal fanbase were unhappy at what he perceived as flow-jacking from Drake. He took to twitter to address his grievances:

On a Radio 1 interview, Drake then delivered his response to the entire situation:

“So I go and find what song they’re talking about, and I listen to it and I’m like okay, I see where people could draw this comparison off of the first two lines, whether it be cadence or the rhyme pattern or whatever… It’s crazy that people think that after all this time, after all I’ve been through, that I’m the type of person…to go and take that and make it my own. I’m not stupid, I’m not a shitty person like that.”

It’s ironic that the controversy of the supposed biting was what led to the two-year-old track gaining traction and entering the billboard charts. You can listen to the comparison for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But this wouldn’t be the first time that Drake has been accused of swagger-jacking. It’s something he has been called out for time and time again, perhaps most notably perhaps on the 2014 remix to Migos’ breakout hit “Versace” where he took advantage of the triplet flow and continued to use in future songs. He has also been accused of jacking the sound of D.R.A.M’s single “Cha Cha” for his #1 song “Hotline Bling” (which Xxx previously addressed in his tweets).

Travis Scott is another artist who has been dogged with “jacking” and “biting” claims throughout his career. He has even had to respond to a Deadspin article that labelled him as a “shameless biter.” These claims were perhaps most notable on his smash hit, “Antidote.” Many listeners immediately noted the song’s similarity to that of many Rae Sremmund songs, and in particular to Swae Lee’s cadence. The similarities exist to the point that Rae Sremmurd producer Mike WiLL Made It felt he had to speak out about this and went on an impromptu twitter rant about what he perceived to be artists biting from Rae Sremmund without giving their due credit. In the end, Antidote became a worldwide smash hit that pushed Travis Scott into a household name. Whether this has been achieved through swagger-jacking the juice of others is debatable and the ethics of his success shady to say the least.

When it comes down to it, no one can “own” a flow (even what is today known as the “Migos flow” can be traced back to early Three 6 Mafia). It’s impossible to know if a rapper or artist listened to a song and directly took the entire rhyme scheme and flow or if the idea was completely original to them. However, Cardi B has shown us the correct way to deal with “borrowing” another artist’s cadence to use on an original song and it has worked out extremely well for her. As long as you give credit where credit is due, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. It’s a bummer that Cardi will likely continue to be dogged by claims that she is an unoriginal artist who made a karaoke version of a Kodak Black song, but at the end of the day, “Bodak Yellow” will continue to get massive play all around the country despite its detractors.


The Fate of SoundCloud

UPDATE 10:08 AM PST: SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung and Chance the Rapper both tweet that SoundCloud is here to stay. Ljung announced that Kerry Trainor and Mike Weissman, previously of Vimeo, will be joining the service as CEO and COO, while Ljung will keep his role as chairman.

The clock is ticking on SoundCloud as it faces a hugely pivotal and defining week.

We’ve heard many rumors lately about the apparent termination of SoundCloud due to funding issues, as for many years the company has been running on an unsustainable revenue model and the bubble could be on the verge of bursting. This would be a huge shock to the music industry with many fans, DJs, and artists alike relying heavily on the streaming service. Premium paid service SoundCloud Go doesn’t seem to have had the traction and impact the owners hoped, but this is unsurprising when we look at the fierce competition in the market, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL. SoundCloud failed to amass as many subscribers to the premium service as they had hoped, thinking it would be able to help tackle their monetary woes. The struggling company has had to let go 40% of its staff and has shut down its London and San Francisco offices.

When rumors of SoundCloud’s demise first arose, we got an interesting response from hip-hop’s golden boy, Chance the Rapper. In a tweet, he offered support to SoundCloud and vowed to save the struggling streaming service, leading some to believe that an Apple Music-SoundCloud merger could possibly be in the cards due to the rapper’s affiliation with Apple. The next day, Chance announced that SoundCloud was “here to stay,” also dropping Young Thug collaboration “Big B’s” exclusively on the service. With Chance being able to do no wrong in the public’s eyes, he was hailed by many as the savior of SoundCloud—but it seems like those reports may have been off the mark.

Fast-forward to this week and events have gotten to a critical and defining period. According to a report from Axios, shareholders will be voting this week on a new reorganization plan for the company. The plan has been put forward due to a new investment of $170 million which values the company at $150 million overall. This valuation is significantly lower that it was just a year ago, when Bloomberg reported the company was mulling over a $1 billion deal. At that time, a situation like this seemed hugely farfetched.

The investment has been put forward by Raine Group, Temasek, and existing backers of the company, and the deal hinges upon existing backers accepting somewhat of a raw deal: the new investors would get first priority on funds should the company face liquidation. A “no” vote would leave the company in a huge mess and serious questions would undoubtedly be raised about its prospects (though reports that SoundCloud could face demise in a day seem a tad premature at this point). A joint statement has been put out which reads as follows:

“Financing of this size will enable to company [sic] to pay off its remaining debt, while ensuring a strong, independent future… In the event that the transaction does not close and in the event SoundCloud does not otherwise obtain additional funding, based on current cashflow forecasts, SoundCloud faces liquidity concerns in the near term.”

SoundCloud artists Lil Pump & Smokepurrp — Kyle Johnson / The New York Times

Somewhat ironically, the service’s woes seem to have started just months after we first began to see its first artists, such as Xxxtentacion, Lil Pump, and Smokepurrp, use the service to truly break into the mainstream. If anything, the SoundCloud story is a cautionary tale in regard to how solid business models should always be looked at rather than simply potential—the music scene is rapidly changing and SoundCloud only has to look at Napster to see how giants can fall.

Though it is too early to panic, SoundCloud artists should be backing up all music uploaded on the service in the event of a closure. SoundsPurple will keep you updated with the results of this latest vote that will prove pivotal to the future of the existence of the streaming service.

Review: Xxxtentacion – Revenge

For those not willing to scrounge SoundCloud and blog posts for haphazardly-released singles and snippets (AKA, the vast majority of people who listen to music), Revenge is probably their first taste of Xxxtentacion and his polarizing universe. Xxx embodies a type of angst that might be appealing to younger listeners—perhaps a version of this generation’s Odd Future or Eminem—but without the wit or pathos that made those two acts so much more endearing and appealing to fans. It’s hard to enjoy music when its main motif seems to be “abusing women,” especially if the artist was previously in jail for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Though it’s easy to appreciate Xxx’s willingness to think outside the box musically and foray into different genres, it cannot mask his shallow content.

Of course, Xxx is far from the only rapper to be criticized for misogynist lyrics, but a larger problem lies in the fact that there seems to be no meaning beyond the lyrics taken at face value. There’s no lesson to be learned, no indication that it’s self-aware or tongue-in-cheek. When Future opens his album with “Even if I hit you once you part of my collection,” it works because you’re supposed to be disgusted with him. You listen as he grapples with his demons throughout HNDRXX and ends up begging forgiveness its excellent closer, “Sorry.” There’s no “Sorry” on Revenge, no turning point. There seems only to be hatred for hatred’s sake. It’s a shame the lyrics are caustic to the point of hindrance, as the songs themselves could be creative, fascinating, even great if more was put into the writing, but Revenge mostly sounds like if Lil Uzi Vert had a younger brother who tried to make a Death Grips album after hearing Nirvana for the first time.

Breakout single “Look At Me!” is the most sonically dissimilar track on the album, likely tacked on as an intro for name recognition and to boost units “sold” via streaming. Its haunting beat (sampling dubstep artist Mala’s “Changes“) invokes the atmosphere of a Legend of Zelda dungeon, though its content, flow, and overall style is simply a more abrasive take on contemporary rap. It’s not until the B-Side of the album that Xxx begins to call back to this distorted, more lo-fi sound he toyed with on “Look At Me!” as songs like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore,” “Looking For A Star,” and “Valentine” take on contemporary R&B, the current Caribbean/dancehall trend seen on albums like More Life, and indie rock, respectively. “King” acts as a bridge, starting off softer like the previous three tracks, and then building into something more akin to metal. “YuNg BrAtZ” and “RIP Roach” fully commit to this blown-out sound, calling back more to roots of punk rock and grunge rather than Lil’s Uzi and Yachty.

Perhaps the most (only?) successful aspect of Revenge is the presentation, as Xxxtentacion’s bouts of aggression are best experienced in short bursts. At just 18 minutes long, even the tracks themselves are short, with every song but one being under three minutes, and three of the songs even being closer to the 1:30 mark. It acts almost like one of those snippet sampler mixtapes rappers used to put out in the early 2000s, transposing a collection of songs from his SoundCloud onto a commercial offering and allowing for Xxx to explore different sounds without turning off the listener by committing for a full album (or even full song). In that way, it’s the perfect bite-sized introduction to an artist whose catalog is expansive, inaccessible, and generally hard to navigate — even if it does so to mixed results.

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