Prem Recommends “Make My” by The Roots feat. Big K.R.I.T & Dice Raw

“Make My” is the song that made me fall in love with hip-hop.

This might sound like a momentous claim, one that can rarely be limited to a single song. But I can remember with perfect clarity the first time I heard “Make My”, purely by chance. The hypnotic, gentle keys, clean drums, and the beguiling sousaphone. The weight of K.R.I.T’s words. The meditative hook. The frustration in Black Thought’s voice. The crystal-clear mix. The entrancing musicality of it all.

As an Indian teenager with little exposure to American vernaculars and accents, however, the words were hard to grasp — among my peers, Eminem was the ‘cool’ rapper, and people could care less what he said. Nevertheless, the unassailable, stark beauty of “Make My” got me to keep listening. And I had to know what it all meant.

Thus began my journey of research and discovery. Something that hooked me so easily kept my curiosity. I dug into the meanings of individual words, fit it into the broader context of the verses, then the song, then the album — then the genre. I learned to be a student of the music, of the strength of lyrics. The sheer poetry of “Make My” unraveled itself to show me the gems that lay within.

When Big K.R.I.T opens the song with an almost conversational flow, the tone is set for a masterful existential reflection on the contradictions and consequences of his life’s choices — at the moment of the narrator’s death.

My heart’s so heavy that the ropes that hold my casket breaks
’Cause everything that wasn’t for me I had to chase

Dice Raw’s hook takes on an ethereal quality, despite its nihilism. The realization that at the end of one’s life, the end won’t justify the means, won’t “justify the dreams” is a powerful moral statement.

The final acceptance of death in Black Thought’s verse comes with perhaps the most damning epiphany of all — the narrator’s life was all for naught.

Unwritten and unraveled, it’s the dead man’s pedantic

In the end, he can’t find the stairway to heaven. The verse taps into a primal human fear — what if our lives have no grand epilogue after all? What if this is it — our choices on this earth are the only ones that matter?

As the song goes out with a dense instrumental that seeks to reflect the tuning out of death, these questions linger. The hope of an answer lies within us, and only us.

The individualist moral narrative of “Make My” stands strongly on its own two feet. But the power of hip-hop is its larger narrative. The sociopolitical experiences of a community I wasn’t part of, but the meditations on whose realities were so pertinent to the world at large took me more work to understand. When I did, is when I knew hip-hop to be a genre into whose depths I would dive. I have no reservations in stating that understanding its social consciousness, starting with “Make My,” set me on my own path of aligning myself with principles of social justice.

On “Make My,The Roots bring together everything that makes hip-hop so powerful, so unique in its cross-genre appeal. It was the song that introduced me to The Roots, who would go on to be one of my favourite bands. It was the song that introduced me to Big K.R.I.T, who would go on to be one of my favourite rappers. It was the song that introduced me to undun, which would go on to be one of my favourite albums ever.

Perhaps most importantly though, “Make My” introduced me to the transformative ability of music. My life has been better for it.

(Song recommendation by Prem Sylvester)

Emily Recommends: “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” by Ezra Furman

“Tell Em All to Go to Hell” is a classic fuck-you song, and as all fuck-you songs do, it riles. It breathes air into deflated lungs. It gets you pumped to go do…something. Anything. Even if you don’t end up actually telling anyone to go to hell, you feel, by the end of those two minutes and thirteen seconds, that you could if you wanted to. And sometimes just the act of listening and singing along feels defiant enough.

In a live performance of the song in 2016, Furman talks about that defiance, of challenging the “false authority” we’re all subject to; he dedicates the song to them when he says, “and to all you out there in TV land who don’t like what I wear, this one’s your special song.” “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” also seems to be about the defiance of being alive when maybe you don’t want to be, or when others treat you like you shouldn’t be: “And I’m too young to die/Or I’m too scared to try,” and “It’s a double-bind, baby, a catch-22/How nobody knows you until there’s no you.”

The song starts with a vampy ’50s sax, an instrument used in several of Furman’s songs, feeding into the early rock ’n’ roll feel. That feel, that vibe, that Chuck-Berry-rollicking, the idea that you’re at some sweaty sock hop –it’s punching in and doing work here. Like, God’s work. Like, ripping something from your chest and shoving it up your throat so you can say what you want to say.

Most especially in the live version, the song explodes towards the end into a rockabilly frenzy, and the whole thing’s got this mix, part “No Particular Place To Go,” part “Quarter to Three,” even part “Goody Two Shoes” maybe, and all of it’s combining into that fuck-you energy, and man, you just have to harness it. Let it keep going in your chest the way a drum at a live show reverberates there, keeping you alive, giving you musical courage. You’re gonna need it if you actually do tell anyone to go to hell.

(Song recommendation by Emily Costa)

Phoebe Recommends: “Ribs” by Lorde

You are seventeen years old.

Do you remember what it felt like being seventeen years old? Of course you do, no one forgets something that traumatizing.

You live in the suburbs.

It doesn’t matter if you actually live in the suburbs; you’re seventeen, so everywhere’s the suburbs. Nowhere will ever be enough. Every space you inhabit is too small, too orderly, too un-disruptable. Your whole body feels like a disruption.

Time marches forward. You can still remember when you didn’t feel like this. Very recently, in fact, you didn’t feel like this at all. The spaces that now feel too small to contain you were once comforting and cozy. The things you’ve just started to question were once absolutes. But you see through all of that now. When you’re seventeen, you are wise. When you’re seventeen, you are ancient.

Fading youth is hardly a new musical theme — even children get older, after all, and I, for one, am getting older too — but Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine, which came out at the tale-end of my own teen years, treads the knife’s edge of adolescence with the unparalleled precision and grace of Phillipe Petite crossing a high wire. Each song teems with languor and longing. Meandering late night drives, bad parties, low funds, boredom, gossip, growing pains.

The fourth track, “Ribs,” is the greatest distillation of these feelings. The aimless synthesizer of the opening builds, builds, builds, until the bass drum cuts through the mist, steady and relentless as time itself. The refrain is a mess of contradictions: the desperation to cling to the simple joys of the past, the disillusionment of the present, the combined threat and promise of the future. The hairpin lyrical turn from the joyous, childlike “My mom and dad let me stay home,” to the world-weary, “It drives you crazy getting old,” is a thing of wonder.

Lorde was only seventeen herself when she released the song. To hear someone so young sing “I want ’em back/Those minds we had,” has a bizarro kind of poignancy. Nostalgia eating its own tail.

(Song recommendation by Phoebe Cramer)

Juliette Recommends: “Part of Your World” by Jodi Benson

Image via Disney Wiki — Fandom

“Betcha on land
They understand,
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters…
Bright young women,
Sick o’ swimmin’,
Ready to stand….”

I never had much of a rebellious teenage phase, but I did go through the requisite “nobody understands me” era. Coincidentally enough, thanks to the age difference between me and my little sister (and my own love for Disney films & soundtracks), “Part of Your World” became a key soundtrack to my teenage angst — and a necessary contrast to Luke Bryan and Panic! at the Disco.

Was I a mermaid desperate to walk on land with a handsome prince? Well, no. Though I wouldn’t have turned down a handsome prince.

But like every other preteen to ever live, I felt like nobody really understood me. I’d always been mature for my age, which contrasted with being treated like a kid by default — I was sick o’ swimmin’. I wanted to experience all life had to offer and I couldn’t do that from my little rural small-town pond.

With The Little Mermaid all over the news and social media lately (for the record, I hadn’t heard of Halle Bailey before this casting but, from what I’ve seen, she’s a wonderful fit!), this song has been on my mind a lot. By extension, I’ve been thinking about that sense of not belonging, of being misunderstood.

And, quite frankly, I’m not sure I ever did grow out of it. Is that feeling of otherness and isolation a symptom of being human? I don’t know. But at least we’ve got “Part of Your World” to play in the background.

(Song recommendation by Juliette Sebock)

C. Recommends: “The Lotus Eater” by Opeth

You are stuck in a route of confusion
Changing and waiting and seeking the truth of it all

The balance between brutal and beautiful is the element that best defines Opeth. And perhaps, even us humans. Though the journey to find even ground often lies within miserable, unknown valleys. We must claw to climb out of the depths to see the sun.

The Lotus-eaters were written about by Homer as a tribe that lived off the narcotic-laced flowers of the lotus plant. When Odysseus’ men ate of it, they reveled in a rather apathetic state of existence. The same sort of existence in which I found myself, in the early 2000s, regarding music. I was burnt out and hoped to find something new to me, something to set ablaze those wooden rooms in my mind that remained cobwebbed and cold from being unnoticed, unremembered.

I bought Opeth’s record, Deliverance, on a whim thanks to a fantastic little review calling them the best metal band in the world. I put on my headphones, eased back against the foot of my bed, and I listened.

And then promptly freaked the fuck out.

It was at once terrifying and lovely, and at all times glorious. Now, for the uninitiated, Opeth records bounce between growl and clean vocals (though their latter releases focus solely on the clean). The growling style is something I never enjoyed, as it generally lacks any semblance of melody. The closest I ever got to enjoying that type of sound was the aggressive and throaty howls of Max Cavalera of Sepultura. But the music — oh, the music of Opeth!

Weaned on the American 80s thrash bands, I was used to fast playing, double-kick drums, lurching low-end bass. That sort of heavy metal band became very mainstream throughout the 90s, as the style of thrash turned more groove- and melodic-oriented. But I always knew of the underground: those bands that you knew spat blood on their audiences while kicking kittens and literally burning down churches. They were at the fringe of what I wanted to hear. The music, usually yes. The vocals, generally no.

But there was something about Opeth that night. They were heavy, riffing like madmen, with elements of progressive idealism. A song would change on a dime, from frenetic and ferocious to lush and lovely. It was as if Mozart wore a leather jacket and pissed vodka. The instrumental passages were complex, they challenged me. The contrast between the harsh vocals and the ones of elegance made for a philosophical listen. I saw two paths converge into one. I walked and came upon the Bodhi Tree. And it’s there I’ve sat ever since.

“The Lotus Eater” combines the heavy, the growl, the progressive, the gorgeous, the perfection. At times you dont know where you are, as if shot into space, with cosmic moments of jazz, blues, classical, even funk. But always metal. And then there are melodies that hum in those wooden rooms of mine, bursting them open!

I implore the adventurous to journey as I did: headphones, empty room, open mind. It’s a fantastic voyage into a new world.

(Song recommendation by C. Aloysius Mariotti)

Emery Recommends: “Don’t You Evah” by Spoon

What even is this song about? Who gives a shit*!

I have no idea why I love Spoon’s “Don’t You Evah.” I know every word but I have never bothered to wonder what the song is about. I put it on pretty much every playlist I make — it’s great for summer songs, it’s a good song for work playlists, it has to be on a road trip mix… you get the idea.

I found Spoon years ago thanks to The O.C., that early-00s teen drama with the kickass soundtrack, and was immediately hooked. Then the band released the brilliant Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga in 2007 and I haven’t quit listening to this song since.

(As a side note, for a long, long time I misheard the intro as “Jim, record the cockfight.” I still have no idea what talkback is or why the hell Jim won’t record it.)

Usually when I adore a song, there’s some deeper meaning, a lyric that just gets to me, an emotional thing that happened that will forever be remembered when a set of notes play. But “Don’t You Evah,” and actually pretty much every Spoon song I love, has the good fortune of just existing without a bunch of feelings weighing it down. It’s just a damn good song that goes great with any playlist, in any season. But especially in summer.

*Of course because I was writing this I had to do some internet sleuthing and accidentally learned more about the “meaning” of “Don’t You Evah,” namely that “it’s a song about commitment and the inescapable cold feet that linger close behind the concept of monogamy,” according to Consequence of Sound. It’s also a cover, which I did not know. I wish I did not learn the first bit — I preferred this song to be unattached to meaning, dammit — but I am now off to seek out the original.

(Song recommendation by Emery Ross)

Cory Recommends: “Bumble Boogie” by Jo Ann Castle

I have read that as much as 30% of a medium is lost in a format shift. My interest in vinyl records has much less to do with any audiophile illusions than it does with being unhindered by format. There is some interesting stuff out there that never made the digital jump and I want to hear it.

I’ve also got a soft spot for junk shops. Not antiques- junk. Garage sales. Charity shops. Goodwill. If it reminds you of a basement that a relative needs to clean out, that’s for me. If I happen across an album with a cover that tickles me in such retail situations AND the find is less than a fiver, the chance that my own basement will become more dense vastly increases. Anything “in Hi-Fi” especially has my attention. Given enough time and not enough supervision this mix of proclivities leads to a “collection” and is precisely how I came to be in possession of a record that continues to bring a smile to my face each time I look at it; “Accordion in Hi-Fi” by JoAnn Castle.

When I told my folks about this particular treasure they matter-of-factly said “Oh, yeah, she was on Lawrence Welk all the time…” and dear reader, they were right. Turns out she had quite a notable career not only on the squeezebox, but as a pianist too. This album is from roughly 1960 as she was hitting her stride.

As you may have guessed by the song title, this is a take off (Ha! My Dad-ness is showing) on the classic “Flight of the Bumblebee” but jazzed up and on accordion. This is one of those pieces of virtuosity where all you can do is whistle and shake your head while marveling at the technical prowess on display.

There is something wonderfully unironic and catchy about this track. Her incredible ability is undeniable. Even if this doesn’t make into your regular rotation, it’s worth a listen so that you can doff your cap to a forgotten master of the craft.

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Rosie Recommends: “Fear” by Blue October

Fear is one of those songs that sweeps you off your feet the first time you hear it. It plucks at all your heart strings and makes you swell inside with feeling. As someone who suffers from severe depression and anxiety, this song speaks to me in a way that few songs do. It echoes my sadness, distills my anxiety, and uplifts me with hope.

Blue October is a band on the front line of breaking down the stigma of mental health. I could name countless other songs by them that have touched me deeply, and I owe my life to this band, seriously. But I chose “Fear” because it is a song I never tire of hearing. Listen after listen, I close my eyes and sway to the lyrics; I float like helium and come crashing down as I am hit by the reality of the words: “Today, I don’t have to fall apart. I don’t have to be afraid…” I am awash with the reminder that although there may be greater forces conspiring against me, I can conquer them in my own time, with small steps.

There is more passion poured into this one song than you could imagine. And no matter, mental health warrior or not, there are lessons to be heard. There are expressions of pain, despair, empowerment, and hope. The lyrics tell my story: “The beauty is I’m learning how to face my beast. Starting now to find some peace, set myself free.”

This song reminds me, and those struggling, to “get back up.” These three words are powerful remembrances to face your fear and to overcome. If you are down or having a bad day, this song is a reliable friend you can lean on. And if you like this song, please do explore Blue October’s collection of music, as I have found there are a breadth of songs for every emotion.

(Song recommendation by Rosie Carter)

Stef Recommends: “Never Stop” by SafetySuit

The first time I heard this song I was in the middle of falling in love again. It was late spring in Dublin, the days slowly but steadily filling with the heat of summer, and I remember listening to it while walking through St. Stephen’s Green — marveling at all the people who were picnicking and lying shirtless in the grass, soaking up the sun after surviving the long, harsh winter.

The person I was falling for was a friend I’d known for years, even though in the months prior I’d been certain I was never going to feel that way about anyone ever again. My friend was back home in the Philippines, while I was literally half a world away, living off 70-cent hummus and crackers so I could afford poetry books, trying to assemble a dissertation portfolio out of chapters from a novel I didn’t know how to end. My friend was sweet; I was unprepared.

The two of us messaged, occasionally at first, then with increasing frequency — talking about semi-obscure movies we discovered we both liked, trading poem recs and funny selfies and new songs, keeping each other company on days when the world was too much for either of us to face alone. I got into the habit of keeping my phone in my hand when going out by myself, and I’d text my friend with a grin on my face while dodging lampposts on the sidewalk or crossing a busy street. The day I realized what all my warm feelings towards them might mean, I panicked. You can’t, I told myself. Not them; not this.

The very first lines of “Never Stop” are This is my love song to you / let every woman know I’m yours, sung above the clash of guitars and drums in almost a defiant roar — and when I first heard them, I was struck by how bold the statement was right out of the gate. As a writer and as a person, I’m rarely that straightforward in articulating what I mean or want. But this song resonated with me — because, in the deepest recesses of my heart, it was voicing everything I wasn’t allowing myself to admit, even to myself.

It’s a song that is entirely barefaced in its emotionality, and unafraid to be really fucking loud about it. My favorite part is the bridge: the line You still get my heart racing for you, but repeated so the ending of each line rushes right into the beginning of the next. You still get my heart racing, you still get my heart racing for you still get my heart racing. There’s a heady breathlessness to it that to me feels so precisely like tumbling headlong into a crush — a feeling that, these days, I’m trying to let myself embrace or at least be more patient with, instead of automatically trying to push it down and lock it away. Life, I think, is too short to keep being embarrassed by earnest emotion, or to keep denying your heart the space to feel.

I’ve since fallen mostly out of touch with my friend — somewhat ironic maybe, given that I’m back home now and the two of us are on the same side of the world again. I never told them how I felt, but that’s okay; maybe it’s just that we needed each other at that point in time the most. And if anything, it reminded me that it’s still possible for me to feel in this all-consuming, terrifyingly beautiful way — that whether I’m curled up in bed at night with my phone or walking alone through a city suffused with sunlight, I might be right around the corner from feeling dizzy with happiness about someone new. That part of me is standing at a crosswalk somewhere, just waiting for the light to change — earphones in, heart racing, this song blaring loud and clear.

(Song recommendation by Stef Tran)

K Recommends: “Innocence is Kinky” by Jenny Hval

I really like this song so here we go. Much of this is likely NSFW. The video and lyrics have some sexuality elements that may be perceived as inappropriate. But this is also why I absolutely crave this song’s points of view.

Listening to this track makes me feel like I am sitting with my jaw dropped and one shoe dangling from one toe just like my first encounter with it. I was on edge, verging on something beyond music. The video emphasizes certain sensual aspects of the lyrics. It challenges a viewer/listener to experience the human body in raw forms.

Visually we see one person’s body in nature, inside, clean, dirty, unshaven, shaving, intimate, exercising, sexual, needing, alluring, hesitant. We are challenged to discover what is sexy, distasteful, or fascinating about the body in varied contexts. Beauty and ugliness aren’t necessarily what we might typically perceive.

The video and song made me thrilled about freedom of bodily expression and how — as just one example — clothes can be cute, comfortable, but also show off cellulite or smeared makeup. As the actress in the video runs, she runs to OR from something; this is more than exercise. In another scene, she stares at the camera and smacks her bubblegum lips for more than sexual attention. She is all the forms her humanness allows her. She is in a dress in dingy shoes, a bathtub, a creek, touched, grasping earth…

The main phrase for me in this seductive, and adventurous song is: “like sex without the body.” We interact with ourselves and our surroundings in ways that defy obvious, spelled-out roles and connections. We can become intimate without flirtatious glances just as much as with them. We can have fantasies, explore, fall, fail, stand… we find throughout life that we have unique interests and relationships with our bodies as much as we do with others.

It’s an exciting vocal and execution of certain words that fumble strikingly through moments of finding ourselves, of trial and error, of living and learning.

(Song recommendation by K Weber)