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Meet Drelli, the LA prince of swag bop who’s just getting started

In the first five minutes of Insecure’s season four finale, the focus shifts to an LA barbershop. The editing creates a seamless transition, but nothing sets the tone more than the song playing in the background: We Don’t Sell Dope by Drelli.

I only needed 10 seconds to recognize a certifiable banger and ran the shit back while I pulled up Shazam.

I shoulda won an Oscar, my ni–a said I had a couple of offers

I cannot hang with imposters, these ni–as fuckin up all of my commas

Straight A’s lil baby, I graduated with some honors

Shawty wanna tip the waiter, I ain’t even eat the pasta

If you’re unfamiliar with Drelli (as I was) these four bars are delivered with a Swag Bop braggadocio that asks you to visualize someone much different at the other end of the mic.

Upon further inspection, you’ll find Drelli’s discography brimming with frivolous confidence that belies how hard this track goes. Imagine my surprise in seeing this same man spitting bars in a bucket hat with blank CDs randomly taped over his body for his music video, Sandbox.

Given that Drelli is only 22, I can’t imagine a more apt title for a single. While he was cruising the Slauson Mall, we spoke.

KH: I read an interview you did with DJ Booth two years ago where they asked if you knew your audience and you said you didn’t but that you were hoping to have a better idea after dropping Hey Drelli. Do you feel like you have that now?

Drelli: You know, my manager has been asking me that too. I honestly would just say kids in high school for the most part. Around 15, 16 years old. Up until about 23.

KH: So obviously I heard your song on Insecure. Can you share what that process was like in getting your music on?

Drelli: One of the [script] supervisors follows me online and we set up a meeting in November. And he told me he was working on that show at the time and I had this song then that I thought would be good for it.

I ended up dropping it in February and found out a month or two ago that they were going to use it, so it was pretty cool to hear that.

KH: Yeah, that must’ve been exciting—that show has such a huge following.

Drelli: Yeah, it was super cool. I love the show.

“It was definitely a moment I’ll remember.”

KH: With songs like The Internet and Chiquita, they’re more light-hearted. And then you have something like We Don’t Sell Dope which is more of a banger. You’re already pretty versatile and it also comes across in the direction of your music videos. How involved are you in the creative direction of them? I noticed you work with the same director, Gabe Hostetler, for a lot of them.

Drelli: I normally sketch out the ideas and what I want to happen. And I’ll bring it to him and we’ll talk about the themes. We’ll also draw inspiration from movies and how certain shots are captured. Like how they used certain angles and we’ll try to experiment with how it looks.

Do you have an example of something you borrowed?

Drelli: Yeah, for the Ice Cream video. Do you know that song Hollaback Girl? One of the parts when she’s inside grocery store inside the shopping cart, I thought that was really dope and had the kind of energy I like.


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** BTS * * thanks to everyone sharing “Ice Cream” 🍦🍦

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I normally will put my song over another video that I really like and mute it and follow along to see if it captures the same energy that that music video makes me feel.

KH: With the commercials and the movie trailers, is it usually people reaching out to you? Or do you seek out those opportunities to pitch people?

Drelli: My manager is great at knowing the companies that have a really good sync department. And it really is a mix of both.

KH: Is there a specific show you’d love to hear your music on?

Silicon Valley. But they’re done. Or Dave.

KH: I remember you were talking about how you got into music, it started just with you and your friends messing around, but I was curious if you could share a little bit more about who put the mic in your hand.

Drelli: I’ve always been pretty big on music. Do you remember the show MTV Jams? I used to watch that show a lot with my brother. BET, all of that. I’ve always loved music and my mom used to always listen to music.

“When I got to ninth grade I ended up getting a microphone on Christmas. And I really like the process of making music. I thought that was cool. I was like ‘oh dang, this is actually pretty fun.'”

Just messing around with my brother and not judging each other so it was like “whatever you come up with.” And I remember I just started taking it more seriously during my junior year of high school.

KH: Outside of music, where do you find yourself gravitating towards as an artist?

Drelli: I’d be down to make clothes and stuff like that. I’d want to act.

KH: Yeah, you called yourself rap’s Eddie Murphy right—so can you see yourself doing comedy?

Yeah, definitely. I think it would be super dope to do something like that. So hopefully sometime, you know?

KH: I think it would be interesting to write something based on your life, being this young up and coming rapper in LA during the quarantine. Especially because your music is fun and makes people want to dance but motherfuckers aren’t getting together to dance right now.

Drelli: That would be dope! I actually love that. That shit would be hard.


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triple checked up ✅✅✅

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KH: What’s something that people say about you that you wish you could change?

Drelli: I haven’t heard much! I don’t know anything that people think of me yet.

KH: You don’t read the YouTube comments?

Drelli: Yeah, I haven’t heard anything. Hopefully, it’s good, whatever they do say.

KH: People are always trolling.

“People definitely troll a lot. I like to troll too though, so I won’t get offended.”


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Drelli or art? 🖼 Art by: @papaambye

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KH: ’ve heard you say that you pride yourself on being unique and not adhering to a normal path of success. Is there anything you wish you could change about the industry?

Drelli: I would say… who knows? All I care about is making good music. And everything else? Just forget it. I feel like people get caught up in the “industry game” and want to change the industry, but they can’t.

“The only way you can really change the industry is by you making good music and choosing how to use your success.”

I was just thinking on that tip, instead of just changing the industry you can look at someone like Lil Yachty. He came up in such a cool way, which I definitely respect. And he changed the game.

Most people who play the industry game don’t win like that. You’re not gonna change the industry. You win by making good music.

KH: Do you have an album coming out soon?

Drelli: I’m thinking in the fall time, I will. Probably in September.

KH: Cool, is there anything you want to plug? Anything you want your fans to know?

“Just continue to be yourself and never let people get the best of you.”


How rapper Foogiano made good on his word and got rich in a year

Kwame Brown hops onto our call seeming apprehensive. It’s not that he’s shy — more that he’s not sure how much time he wants to spend on this interview. Because these days, Brown doesn’t have time to wait for anyone. Now he’s better known as Foogiano, the first rapper Gucci Mane signed to his new label.

Brown, 26, grew up in Greensboro, Georgia, a city with a population of less than 4,000, in the middle of a rambling family, five brothers and four sisters. The difference between him and them?  “I jumped in the streets and they didn’t,” Brown says. “That’s all it is.”

He pronounces “sheeeeit” like Clay Davis from The Wire and speaks with a Southern drawl that at times makes me ask him to repeat himself, but he hardly pauses to consider his answers. They simply roll off his tongue, staccato—a series of factual clauses. No filter.


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🗣 slimmm 😈Ⓜ️🎱🅱️🦍

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How old were you when you started getting into music?

15. I used to write poems and my little brother said: “let’s try to turn it into rap.” And I did. When I heard myself on the mic I fell in love with it.

Do you remember what you first rapped about?

Hell no.

Was there a particular day or moment you remember when you were like, “I want to do this professionally?”

When I got out of prison.

What did you go to prison for? How long were you in for?

Burglary and robbery. Three years.

Do you think going affected your music at all? Were you writing while you were there?

It made me who I am. I brought it with me to the studio.

“Call up Guwap and he gon’ pour up the lean. I got ripped for serving dope to the fiend Coca-cola, with the cola I’d beat the bowl. My mama kicked me out for cooking on the stove. Went auntie’s house and I slept on the sofa. Had the 40 on me, never had a holster.”

You mention in the clip from the song you posted today (TrapSpot ft. Guaptaratino) that your mom kicked you out for cooking on the stove—is that true?

Yup. My uncle taught me. My uncle came from prison and he taught me how to cook dope. I came home and my older sisters used to watch me because my mama worked so much. But my mama came home and, goddamn… they were gone! And I was just trying to do it by myself. And I almost burned the goddamn house down.

How old were you?

I was 13.

Damn, so you were a kind of a bad kid, huh?  I read you were in and out of juvie a lot? What’d you go in for?

I was bad as hell!  Yeah, I did 10 years in jail. All types of shit. Burglary, armed robbery. Everything.

And then you started making music right after that?



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#TBT 🗣Ⓜ️🎱🅱️🦍

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There are lulls in our conversation when I can hear a noise in the background. A smattering of murmurs, coughs, and inhales informs me that Foogiano is not alone. But he’s almost never alone — community is important to him.

How did you build your team of people?

It’s all family. We’re from a small city and it’s crazy because there’s no one outside our family. It’s all my cousins and my brothers. There’s probably a few that’s not my real blood family, but they might as well be blood.

“That’s why it’s so different because we’re actually family, people have a lot to give, people really be reppin… We really family.”

And I can’t get mad and be like “I don’t want to talk to someone” on some bullshit.

They’re my cousins! No matter what, if me and him get mad… I’m still gonna see him at my Auntie’s house. So we all strapped in where we can because we’re from here. We try to stay together because we’re small. And we stand out because we’re so different.

Did y’all listen to the same artists growing up? Who did you listen to the most?

Lil Wayne, Lil Boosie, and Gucci.


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Molly at 2 million views 🤯🤯

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So what’s it like signing with Gucci, since he’s one of your early idols?

Oh, Gucci the goat. Where I’m from Gucci is the goat, so that shit is a very big deal.

How did you end up with him?

Authentic Empire had a competition. Sheeeit, that was crazy bro. There were so many people that went. It was over 50 rounds. It took us hours. So I won the competition to be on Authentic Empire and Gucci just called me to be on 1017. I’m the only rapper in history to ever get a distribution deal and a record deal on the same day. I signed with Atlantic and 1017 the same day.

And you’re the first artist to sign to new 1017. I noticed you got like 80 thousand new followers in a week—what’s that been like?

Shit’s crazy! I had to turn my notifications off. I got two phones because when I won that competition in December I had only 1800 followers. Now I have 190,000. So goddamn, people act like they’re your fans on Instagram, but now they see me doing this and homies wanna kill a motherfucker.


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Believe it or not I’m really from the Block 👨🏾‍✈️🥶 #GlacierrrrBoyz

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Have you been partying a lot?

No, not unless I’m at a club and it’s a show. I work a lot.

What is something that people say about you that they’re wrong about, or that you wish you could change?

That I can’t take everybody with me. Just family.


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I said it didn’t it 🤷🏾‍♂️👨🏾‍✈️ NOTICE I SAID US NOT ( ME ) 😤 🗣Ⓜ️🎱🅱️

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What’s your dream?

Playing ball. I was a ballplayer. But I was getting in trouble like a motherfucker. I was just so good–the coaches used to go out of their way to be like, “come on man, you gotta get out of this and start doing this.” And I was smart as hell. I ain’t never failed. I was the youngest person in my class. I was 17 when I graduated. I wasn’t even grown. I was a young ni–a.

What did you play? Point guard?

Yeah, I played point guard–deadly. I’m going to the Celebrity All-Star Game soon.

Bet! So, let me ask you, is there anything that scares you about all the success and attention you’re getting now?

Not me, but for other people. Is it going to change them? Is my success going to change them? Because it’s not going to change me.

Is there anything you’d change about the industry?

All the fake shit going on. The industry is fake as hell. Ninety percent of the rappers that are lit, that say they about all that shit? They ain’t about that shit. Ni–as will try to write to you on Instagram saying they’re trying to rap… It’s just all about who’s hot.

“Ni–as ain’t genuine and you got to be real careful.”

Because you got to be able to pick out who really is genuine and who is trying to ride your wave just cause you hot.

So how do you tell the difference?

You gotta pay attention. And I can pay attention like a motherfucker.

Word. And you got this mixtape, Mayor Season, on the way. Anything you want to plug about it?

Sheeeit, like everything, bruh. I mean, we take it so seriously because we never thought we’d be doing anything. Like… what the fuck? We could be signed with Gucci? Like, I’m a very, very big deal where I’m from.

You know I walk through that door and I’m a very big deal—I’m the only person to ever do anything where I’m from that’s this serious. So… Sheeeit. Sometimes I don’t want to move like that, but I have to because I know I have to protect myself and I gotta be aware. But you know… I want to be repping. Ya feel me?

But my partner tells me, “bro, you can’t be. Even though you want to be, it’s just because you real like that. You want to be the same ni–a, but you can’t be. You gotta adapt to the same shit.” And I’ll be like, “it’s aight.” I don’t need all this. I got all these people sending me hugs and it feels good, but that ain’t like, how we get down about that shit.

That shit don’t… that ain’t what I do it for.

“I do it for the money. That’s what my goal is. If I could make the same amount of money and nobody knew me, I would.”


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🥶🥶🥶 @foogiano x @darealga #Kickdadoor 1017 Ⓜ️🎱🅱️🦍 æ

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The last ten minutes I spent talking to Foogiano I hear him brushing his teeth into the receiver of the phone. He’s got a hard stop at 4:30 pm because he has a music video shoot that I later learn consists heavily of him sitting on a throne.

This would feel appropriate if I thought being a figurehead mattered to him. The last bits of our conversation communicate the opposite. Whenever he speaks of his recent achievements and what they mean to him, I notice two trends.

Firstly, he says “we.” A lot. He and his family’s accomplishments are inextricable. More notably, I notice a detached fervor when speaking about his signing with the new 1017 and his forthcoming album.

At times it sounds like he’s speaking about someone else entirely; as if he’s admiring a newly famous painting recently elevated in the small city of Greensboro.

There’s no finer subject than family.

Make sure to tune and check out rapper Foogiano and all of his hits.

Who is Foogiano? The New 1017 trap rapper on the rise

Amid the continuous deluge of selfies, pranks, promotions, motivational videos, live painting, guided living, freestyling, fitness flexing, house of highlights, food pics, and the memes of that black guy with the massive dong that everyone keeps sending me, Instagram can occasionally be a rewarding place.

About once a month, the robots that track whatever I’ve liked will expose me to a new trap artist I’ve never heard of before. This past weekend it was Foogiano.

Unless you’re Young Thug, trap music videos, nowadays, are commonly directed in the same styles. Still, there’s a more interesting viewing experience being championed. There are the behind-the-scenes clips you see rappers posting on social media, which often feels like a music video of the music video.

Atlanta legend Gucci Mane posted one such clip yesterday of “Molly (Baby Mama),” one of two Foogiano hits that have put the Southern rapper on the map.


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1st artist on #TheNew1017 to get that deal EVA @foogiano 💰#WhoNext???

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What caught my attention wasn’t just that La Flare was giving his blessing—it’s the palpable enjoyment Foogiano’s crew is having.

It’s obvious he’s at this stage in his career where he’s still relatively unknown and is on the verge of popping off.


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That’s always the most fun time to be a part of a rapper’s entourage. Their commitment to dancing and rapping along to every lyric in the video is infectious. Having an inner set that conveys such fierce loyalty will always get you noticed.

But I must be one of the first to recognize this because as I researched Foogiano, there’s been almost nothing written about him.

There are only about six pages of him on Google and an overwhelming majority of those hits are links to one of these two singles. In fact, the only details about his life you can find are from his profile on Authentic Empire.

The bio states:

“As a reckless youngster in and out of the juvenile system, the Greensboro, GA native rightfully earned the nickname ‘fool,’ although his childhood friends shortened it to “foo.”

It continued to read, “The latter part of his moniker came about when he served time in prison and a cellmate jokingly added “giano” in reference to his exotic features. The name stuck.”

I can’t even tell you how old he is. What I can tell you is that his two singles go hard AF.

Gucci Mane recently launched the New 1017 music label with the intention of signing four of the hardest in the game, with each new artist getting $1 million in their signing.

Foogiano represents the first of the four and if you listen to “Trapper (Remix) ft. Lil Baby,” it’s not difficult to figure out why.

What makes this song work is a classic marriage of elements often seen on trap hits like high tempo snares and piano keys that create the perfect ambiance for driving, dancing or blaming.

A dash of aggressive and disrespectful lyrics juxtaposed with their presentation—Foogiano delivers every punchline with a melodic lilt reminiscent of Thugga, but without imitating him.


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Yeah, nigga, know I’m with the mob and you ain’t up to par, you ain’t make it. Boy, you too quick to cuff a ho, and we’ll never ever ever save ’em. Four pockets full every day, but nigga, you ain’t gotta call me Baby. Yeah, that’s why I fucked your lady. She sucked me ’til she got my babies, bitch.

Late in the day, I did find one potentially interesting hit from Foogiano. His first label, Authentic Empire, posted a YouTube video of them signing Foogiano.

Unfortunately, I needed a privately shared login to view the signing. Foiled again. For now, Foogiano remains one of the trap’s best-kept secrets, but not for long.

Are the Rockets revolutionizing basketball with their ‘little’ lineup?

“Where were you the night that Daryl Morey killed the Center position?”

That’s a text I received last night during the first quarter of Rockets-Lakers. After trading Clint Capela, their $90 million starting center, on Thursday the Rockets rolled out a starting five that had the shortest average height since 1963.

Not a single player was taller than 6’6. The Lakers of course had a starting frontcourt of LeBron James (6’8), Anthony Davis (6’10) and JaVale McGee (7’0). Given the Lakers record (38-11), last night would be the first true litmus test of Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni’s mad experiment: can dominant shooting/spacing overcome dominant size in today’s NBA?

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I felt like I was watching a collision of two different team practices: shooting drills versus a lay-up line. Though the first half was tied at 63 apiece, optically the Lakers had owned the Rockets — Davis might as well have been guarded by middle schoolers as he got into the paint at whim and LeBron finished the first half with 9 assists.

They made every bucket look easy and the announcers seemed to think that the Rockets had leaned a little too far into this whole “Small Ball thing.” Charles Barkley and Shaq made similar comments at the half (because of course they did) saying that this style wasn’t sustainable and that the Lakers big men would wear down the Rockets in the second half.

If you’ve watched a D’Antoni-coached team over the years you know that in addition to the 3-point shooting, spacing, and fast pace, there’s also the essential feature of having a premier pick-and-roll man who can set a solid screen for his point guard. His job is to roll hard to the rim as the point guard goes downhill and either a) shoots, b) passes to a perimeter player for a three or c) lobs it to the roll man for a dunk/lay-up.

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Amare Stoudemire was that roll man on D’Antoni’s Suns and Knicks teams, as was Dwight Howard for his Lakers team (who were garbage). Clint Capela had been that roll man for a Rockets team that won 65 games just two seasons ago and had also come the closest of any team to beating a fully healthy Warriors squad during their pseudo-dynasty.

In the lull of James Harden’s iso-heavy style of play, the most exciting breaks in monotony would often be an alley-oop from Harden to Capela — the recipient of the majority of Harden’s assists.

Then Harden broke basketball. For the last two seasons, he’s not only led the NBA in scoring, but he’s also done so in a fashion never before seen or imagined–by taking 20+ combined free throws and threes per game.

All of these offensive opportunities are set up by his footwork, but more importantly, by his stepback three. He became such a dominant isolation scorer, that having Capela set a screen for him became more of a luxury than a necessity. And this season, he found himself playing alongside another ball-dominant player in Russell Westbrook — a scoring guard who cannot shoot threes in the most prolific three-point shooting system in NBA history.

Russ cannot stretch the floor, but he takes up space — both physical and emotional. He is still one of the three scariest players in the open court following a rebound. In the half-court, he can still get to the cup at will, but if there is a center in the lane guarding the Rockets’ traditional center, it muddies what Russ is best at.

The combination of Harden’s historic isolation scoring and Westbrook’s need for space in the paint made it necessary to deal Capela and go all in on this Small Ball movement. According to “StatMuse”, Houston is 10-1 without Capela this season. As of last night, they are 11-1.

The second half of Rockets-Lakers featured a torrent of threes from the Rockets–they finished with 19 made threes to the Lakers’ 9, but had also taken 11 more. The larger oddity is that the Lakers only outrebounded them by 1. It should be noted that a significant portion of this run came when LeBron sat and if you’ve watched the Lakers at all this season, you know their offense craters when he sits. It’s also only one game.

Just one regular-season game — probably doesn’t mean anything! But. If you’re the Rockets, you have to play the math of the personnel you’re dealt with. I don’t believe it will hold up over a seven-game series against the best teams the West has to offer, but their ceiling is certainly frightening. As is their style to the future of the league.

Charles and Shaq, who had been so certain the Lakers’ size would crush the Rockets in the second half, were visibly dejected and mortified in the post-game analysis. And understandably so–they had just witnessed a team declare the position they spent their careers playing to be outmoded (Giannis is proof that it is not by the way–which is why they love him).

And NBA Twitter was popping off — Bill Simmons was losing his shit over the Rockets and how their three-point shootout style was what was responsible for the dip in television ratings this season. Amidst all the bellyaching of “the lost beauty of the game,” there was something truly enjoyable: when Kenny the Jet whimsically mentioned to no one in particular that he had played in the wrong era.

‘Samurai Jack’ fans, watch out… Genndy Tartakovsky comes for your skull with ‘Primal’

A few weeks ago, while stuck between stops on the N train (thanks, De Blasio) I used my smidge of cell reception to scroll. I came across an 8-second clip of a caveman waiting patiently to strike, which was followed by Genndy Tartakovsky’s PRIMAL.

Holy fucking shit. For those unfamiliar with Tartakovsky, he’s the creator of a show called Samurai Jack which from 2001-2004 aired on Cartoon Network. Wikipedia sums up its premise the best:

The series follows a young samurai who is cast into the future by the evil shape-shifting demon Aku mere moments before defeating the demon. He adopts the name Jack and continues his fight in the dystopian future ruled by Aku. Jack seeks to find a portal back to his time but is constantly thwarted by the demon’s forces. The series was left open-ended after the conclusion of the fourth season.

Open-ended indeed. It wasn’t until 13 years later that Tartakovsky decided to bless us with the fifth and final season of Jack, which was tonally also its darkest. As a 12-year-old watching Samurai Jack, I was always surprised by Cartoon Network making such a macabre choice in its programming.

The show used serenely hand-drawn landscapes and a vibrant color palette to disarm its audience and draw them into the closer and quieter moments with Jack that often dealt in very serious themes — death and isolation were its bread and butter.

Yet these topics and the environments they yielded are what made SJ’s brilliant action sequences possible, such as Jack versus the Shinobi. In Samurai Jack, Tartakovsky mastered keeping his audience off-balance.

Every episode he focused our attention on Jack walking the earth utterly alone. He made us feel this solitude via close-ups of his forlorn eyes and images of desolate landscapes, and just when we were adjusting to Jack’s isolation and despair, Tartakovsky would place him in a moment of peril. It worked like a charm every time. In Primal, he leans even further into this approach.

*Spoilers ahead*


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Patience. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal begins Oct 7.

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Nothing forges a common bond quite like shared tragedy and there’s very little tragedy more traumatic than seeing your children being eaten.

This is how Tartakovsky creates an unspoken pact between Spear, the caveman, and Fang, the Tyrannosaurus rex. I say unspoken because in the many various battle cries, howling, scratching and general sounds of survival heard in this prehistoric Mad Max hellscape, there is not one actual bit of dialogue.

But yeah, Spear and Fang both get jumped by a gang of dinosaurs who destroy their families and cause them to seek revenge. It’s an absurd narrative, but because the pacing is so sudden, you’re caught off guard in what would otherwise be a foreseeable plot point.

What really impressed me about the pilot was something more unpredictable — a short-lived scene that couldn’t have been more than 45 seconds. After his family is murdered, Spear lets out a roar and chases off the dino gang. He’s left in anguish and slowly begins to ascend a cliffside.

By the time he’s peering off the edge and contemplating casting himself into the abyss, I found myself considering… “at what point in human evolution did the development of our emotional capacity become powerful enough to completely abandon our survival instinct?”

Primal is a fantastical piece to be sure, but Tartovsky does such an effective job of seamlessly oscillating between Spear’s savagery and vulnerability that it can sneak up on you even in these quieter moments. As with Samurai Jack, one of Tartovsky’s most potent tools here is his use of eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were moments of violence so graphic they’d make Tarantino blush. Case in point: the moment when Spear crushes this dinosaur’s leg with a rock he randomly grabs. Complete with a robust bone-crushing and flesh-tearing sound production, Tartovsky makes you watch his newest venture between your fingers.

The first four episodes are available for critics, though thus far I’ve only seen the pilot. From what I’ve read, the first half of the season focuses on Spear and Fang surviving together and champions the importance of companionship in the face of intimidating odds. While there are no greater stakes than life and death (and in a show titled “Primal,” what were you expecting?), I can’t help but hope that the second half of the season introduces more nuance into Spear and Fang’s day-to-day.

While Samurai Jack was constantly under threat of death, the endgame was always the salvation of humanity. Jack helping the random unfortunate soul here and there served as microcosms of that idea, while not forcing their survival to be essential to his overall success.

This variance of stakes gave the audience room to breathe and for Jack to become a more fleshed-out character; one who was allowed to make a wrong decision without everything falling apart.

As characters who have already lost everything, Spear and Fang’s stakes seem solidified in one another’s survival and with little to no margin for error. I’m dubious of how invested an audience can remain on this single plot point for 10 episodes but thrilled to see Tartovsky try.

Odesza, the Grammy-nominated Seattle duo, is fostering success through community

I first heard of the metaphorical use of “layers” in 2001 when I saw Shrek. At 12, I inherently knew there were rarely straightforward explanations to the actions of people, or ideas, or events. But this is my first memory of a simplified term being used to describe complexity.

Shrek, the film’s misanthropic protagonist, is attempting to explain to Donkey, his sidekick, that he is a layered individual whose identity could not be summed up in mere appearance.

A few weeks ago I was describing Odesza to a friend and she quickly brushed the conversation off with “I don’t really listen to EDM.” This statement scraped at the back of my head for the next few hours, not because it was dismissive, but because I struggled to define Odesza’s sound as EDM. Much like their green ogre counterpart, their sound is too layered for that definition to be apt.

Nowadays using the term “EDM” to define a genre is about as useful as labeling something “alternative rock” – the term is too broad and all-encompassing to accurately define those who technically play within it.

Not every EDM artist sounds like Marshmello, though certainly many attempt to (looking at you Slushii, go be your own person!). There are also music critics, like an often misguided Pitchfork, who have tried to box Odesza into the “CDM” category (Chill Dance Music: chillstep, chilltrap, etc.), but this too is simplistic – especially with their album A Moment Apart’s recent ascent.

If I had to categorize the Seattle duo’s music, and especially A Moment Apart, I would describe it as Joie-de-Vivre-DM—it is a celebration of the spectrum of emotions that are constantly defined and redefined by our relationships with one another.

And though continuously shifting, no aspect is more magnificent than the other – they simply pronounce different nuances. This is why “Corners of the Earth” was the perfect bookend for A Moment Apart, and probably why it was chosen as the official song of the Winter Olympics.

Three years ago it might’ve been considered audacious to mention Odesza in the same breath as LCD Soundsystem and Bonobo, yet on Sunday they will be competing (perhaps as favorites) for accolades against those same artists in the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

A win on Sunday would put them on a shortlist of other Seattle-based artists to win the award: Macklemore, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews, jazz singer Diane Schuur, and fiddler Mark O’Connor. So when I spoke to Clayton Knight, one half of the Grammy-nominated duo (along with Harrison Mills) a few weeks ago, I asked him about the significance of their nominations:

“It’s setting in. When I found out, I had been hanging out with my cousin in New York (Sup, Brady!) and at the time I was just not ready for the news. I think what has been making it the most ‘real’ has been seeing my parents’ generation get into it and finally understand where we are as a band. It’s almost like ‘oh, now we’re legit.’ I think at times, from production to all of the time and energy we put into our tours, it was difficult for them to fathom why we were doing everything at this scale. But now that they’re ‘getting it,’ that’s been really cool.”

One key aspect to Odesza’s famously loyal fan base is that almost every live performance is different: they not only perform multiple iterations of the same song based on venue, crowd size, and ambience, but also often include Easter eggs of other songs they’re working on during these sets.

This was the case in their Spring 2016 tour when they regularly dropped snippets of then unreleased tracks “Boy” and “Line of Sight”. And there are still samples of other songs we’ve had glimpses of that have yet to be released. When working on this album, the duo began with 50 possible songs, which they eventually whittled down to 16. I asked Clayton about that process:

“Each track begins as an idea and we save every single idea. The paring down process is essentially that every idea needs to have a moment where we think it deserves to be on the album – where it conceptually ties into the theme of everything else we’re doing. But there are ideas that we’ve been working on since college that are still unfinished. Sean Kusanagi (their lead guitarist) definitely has moved into the role of our de-facto tiebreaker. If I like something that Harrison doesn’t, or vice-versa, we always ask Sean to weigh in—his feedback and opinion is invaluable to our process.”

Clayton went on to describe his most difficult omission thus far:

“As far as our toughest omission from an album goes… oh, that’s tough. I guess I’d have to say ‘Falls’. We had written the instrumental on that way before In Return came out – it was just never ready. We went through a lot of painstaking rewrites for that song before we were happy with it.”

I can usually tell I’m listening to an Odesza album by the first track – the signature openings for their debut album Summer’s Gone (2012) and last September’s A Moment Apart include voiceovers that set the table for the rest of the experience. I wanted to know where these choices originated:

“It’s usually whatever is connecting the whole album. So for A Moment Apart, it’s this quote from the film Another Earth. The whole premise here is that we were looking for something that reflected the notion of just stepping back and looking at things a little differently. We’d actually love to score the soundtrack for a film one day. I loved the soundtrack for Inception, so something like that would be really exciting. Or any project with Trent Reznor and Sci-Fi – sign me up.”

Two days after A Moment Apart’s release last September, Odesza visited Seattle’s KEXP (Where the Music Matters!) to perform what was one of their most personal and ethereal renditions to date. I had been following local DJ legend (and A&R extraordinaire) Cheryl Waters’ show for years and was familiar with her championing of local artists, including Odesza. I was eager to hear what it was like performing for her:

“[KEXP] does a great job of musical education and promotion for local artists – Cheryl and KEXP have been an incredible resource for me since the very first days and they’re just so in touch with Seattle and the Northwest and its musicians. It was both surreal and a privilege to be able to do that with them.”

Clayton also touched on designing and playing A Moment Apart in a more intimate, non-stadium setting at KEXP:

“‘Corners of the Earth’ is a great example of a song that would work well in that setting. Thematically, it’s very tame in comparison to the rest of the album. For large audiences, songs like that can kill the energy of the crowd, so to compete with that, we’ve had to bring out the drum line. For other songs with a similar intimacy, we’ve had to remix them. It’s all about the venue – it’s got to be the right place, where a more intimate show is expected and possible. Ideally I would love a place featuring a line of horns and string quartets.”

An aspect of Odesza’s music not mentioned often enough is the sense of unity it evokes among their audience. Having been to several of their shows, the feedback I’ve most commonly heard amongst their fanbase is “they get it – we’re all in this together.”

While that admittedly sounds like something your drunk-ass friend would shout in your ear at 3:00 AM, that doesn’t make the sentiment any less accurate. Life is experiential. We form memories and feelings based around those experiences, and sometimes those experiences are shared; other times, we are utterly and completely alone. But every one of these experiences is a gift and this series of gifts flows in and out of each other… not unlike organic instrumentation.

This emphasis on community extends beyond their fan base. I could hear it in Clayton’s voice when I asked him what it meant to have Waters’ support over the years, but it was especially apparent when I spoke to him about Odesza’s label, Foreign Family Collective. FFC boasts a lean house of 13 artists (Jai Wolf, Rufus Du Sol, and Chet Porter, to name a few) and they’d like to keep it that way:

“When we first started, Soundcloud was huge. Our label was supposed to give these artists a foothold. [I think he had more to say here?] When it comes to what we look for in new artists, I think the two most important factors is that the production needs to be there and it has to have a unique feel to it. Foreign Family is actually in a really exciting place – we’re doing singles now, looking towards full albums. We’re also working with younger kids who really don’t have much experience. We would like to incorporate more visual artists, as well. Really the goal is to curate and build an art house of sorts, where we have a marriage of A to V and collaboration across the mediums.”

Odesza, Big Wild, Chet Porter and Jai Wolf just… messin’ around!

I was able to keep my inner fanboy at bay for 40 of the 45 minutes Clayton and I chatted, but for 5 minutes I kind of lost professional control – I had to ask him about the rumors I had heard regarding Odesza’s interest in collaborating with arguably my favorite band, Tame Impala. I asked which songs Clayton was interested in remixing if a short partnership was in order:

“Wow, that’s a tough one. I think if I had to choose it would be ‘Cause I’m A Man.’ Getting to work with the vocals when Kevin Parker hits that high note – that high E, I believe? I just think could make for a really powerful and evocative. Either that, or ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ – that’s just such a jam too.

“As for our songs, I would love to see what those guys could do with the Leon Bridges feature in ‘Across the Room.’ In general, Kevin just has the 60’s sound so down-pat, I would love to see how he would approach a hip-hop style, or something with a heavy snare, or bass focus.”

Someone please tweet that quote at Kevin Parker.

Vandana Hart speaks on her Netflix series ‘We Speak Dance’ and the politics of dance

In the Fall of 2014, as I was exiting a Yoga to the People class in Williamsburg (where all millennial lead-ins begin), a fellow practitioner approached me with advice for how I could improve my practice. This friendly sage of yoga tips was a United Nations Advisor named Vandana Hart.

At the time Vandana was focused on her career with the UN, but had also begun exploring promoting human rights through dance and movement. Though she did not realize it at the time, those initial exploratory bursts of imagination and conversation would manifest themselves 3 years later as her Netflix series, We Speak Dance.

Vandana, along with director Chris Keener, traveled from Indonesia and Vietnam, to France, Nigeria, and Lebanon to uncover how dance is being used as a political weapon.

I attended a screening of We Speak Dance on Wednesday night, hosted by The Lightning Society in Bushwick. As a community of artists and changemakers, TLS’s mission is to:

“Engage with each other in immersive experiences designed to foster passionate individualism and collective expansion by hosting celebrations and thought leadership events throughout year and sharing the results of those collaborations with the world at large.”

This was certainly true of the event I attended last night.

From Alvin Ailey dancers to architects to UN advisors, the room boasted figures from all professional and creative walks of life. After a brief and humble introduction, during a screening of Episode 2, “Vietnam,” for the next 22 minutes you could hear a pin drop.

WE SPEAK DANCE Screening @ The Lightning Society, Bushwick

The rolling of “Vietnam’s” credits were accompanied by an uproar of applause followed by a Q&A session. I attempted to ask few questions, but was never called on—most likely because I had already peppered Vandana with questions for this piece. I sat down with her last week to discuss the origins, current state, and future hopes for We Speak Dance. Each episode explores a different aspect of value that dance provides to its local communities. Vandana shared how she built each narrative around this framework,

“We would follow the news cycle and the dance vibes. France, for example, had a recent close election between an extremist neo-Nazi party and a more forward-thinking globalist party. So we decided to ask the dance community how they felt about the French identity and how dance was a reflection of current affairs. That really resonated with people.”

Goku, Parisian Hip Hop Dancer (@goku_artist)

The more we spoke, the more I realized that Vandana must’ve drawn massive inspiration for the project from working for the UN while simultaneously being a judge for Kenya’s version of So You Think You Can Dance:

“Having these responsibilities occur at the same time allowed two worlds that were really important to me to exist at the same level, and it made me realize my work with dance was making the same, if not more, of an impact. At the UN I was working on Women’s Rights and I noticed there was often competition around which social issues got attention or funding. But the beauty about addressing global and local problems through art is that there isn’t competition. Art gets people excited; whatever the issue, time or place, people will want to connect with dance.”

We Speak Dance

This unique separation from the pack goes beyond inspiration. Beyond We Speak Dance, there is virtually zero coverage of dance politics in a TV format and the little that does exist is largely commercialized. Vandana believes showcasing the marriage of dance and politics has been a missed opportunity by the entertainment industry,

“There’s a void. I wanted to create something I hadn’t seen before. Dancers are the most marginalized artists on the planet—we are paid the least and have unhealthy relationships with the business because we are exploited. It’s been rewarding to have dancers talk about using their craft for a greater purpose. The dancers who don’t have experience in activism have really taken to this movement—it has opened up a space to connect their art with issues they care about. It’s a process of awakening when your realize that your body is not just for entertainment, but can be a literal and symbolic weapon for change.”

And for those of you with a creative vision who are looking for a potential partner, she has a recommendation:

“I see Netflix as more of a tech company than an entertainment company. With everything that’s being revealed regarding being a woman in the entertainment industry, it’s nice to have a partner that is a ‘newer kid on the block’ and has a huge global reach. With Netflix, its not about the boy’s club and who you know–it’s purely based on data and metrics. Literally, ‘who is watching? How many eyes are we getting on this content?’”

As for the dances themselves, it is clear from the footage that Vandana tried out every local move she came across and as adept as she is at picking up most dances, a few prove more difficult than others. She told me about the hardest style of dance:

“The Balinese dances, hands down. They spend their whole lives perfecting this and all of the poses are the opposite of ballet. In ballet the spine is aligned perfectly, but in Balinese dance it is completely arched back. The toes are flexed up, the hands are flexed back. And your toes are off the ground, which is also the opposite of classical ballet. I couldn’t get it at all!”

We Speak Dance

Oka Dalem, Balinese Dance Master

“Also, dance everywhere is not just about the technique, its also the energy and the intention behind the dance. It’s about the stories of the dance—in Bali, dance is a prayer and an offering to the gods.”

I also found myself wondering (as I’m sure the readership has as well) …Bali, Vietnam, Paris, Lagos, Beirut — who partied the hardest? Who was the most litty? Vandana said it was a tie,

“Oh man! They all partied super hard. This is tough, but I guess it’s a tie between Lagos and Beirut. I saw sunrises in both places. People take it really seriously [laughs].”

I had a variety of questions, but much like the dancer I was interviewing, I was most preoccupied with her next steps:

“Season 2, more dancers, more cities. Live We Speak Dance events and creating the ‘UN of Dance’ with local and international dancers teaching dance empowerment workshops in the most marginalized parts of the city, building creativity and hope for our next leaders.”

For those of you in the NYC area on Saturday night (1/13), if you’re interested in challenging the We Speak Dance creative team to some friendly battling you can find them at the East Coast Launch Party at Le Bain.

As you’re getting loose to Afrokinetic’s beats, just remember: you may end up catching a glimpse of yourself in Season 2.

All the feels: The Bronx’s Imjaehall captivates with ‘Wish We Felt Nothing’

I’m looking at mean muggin’, trill gestures, and an electric current pulsating through the 10-story loft of a Chelsea apartment. Everyone is lit.

Not in the traditionally intoxicated sense; here, everyone is drunk on potential and an artist they can claim as their own. Celebration is the common denominator throughout the space and the excitement for Imjaehall’s Wish We Felt Nothing is so palpable that I feel like I’m a part of the success by merely being present. This is my first time at an album listening party and it’s everything I hoped for.

The Bronx-based man of the hour is someone who I’ve already been introduced to 15 minutes prior, but either because I was too preoccupied looking for Henny, or because I simply had my head up my ass, I haven’t realized that we’ve met.

The only reason I’m even here is because the illustrious Scarlett Elizabeth, featured with Jae on the album cover, has invited me. So when I ask her which dude the artist is, you know I already fucked up. I reintroduce myself to Jae and there’s tranquility to his demeanor that juxtaposes the pure fire that Odalys is spinning in the background. (Odalys, follow me back on IG!!). Jae is soaking it all in—this is a defining moment for him and he couldn’t be more at peace.

Sold You Wishes , StiLL BLue 🌊⚡️ WWFN 🎈 Dec 1.

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Fast-forward to my finding of the Henny and various embarrassing photo ops that I’ll never post… Jae pauses the music to thank everyone for coming out. He keeps it short and one thing that sticks out is him saying, “If you like it, please let me know. And if you think its wack, still let me know!” So when the album dropped on Friday, I obviously took his heed seriously.

There’s a lot going on with Wish We Felt Nothing. Lyrically Imjaehall grapples with success, relationships, and all of the common tropes that we’re used to seeing in this realm, and it is a satisfying listen front to back.

But where I really appreciate his distinctive brand is towards the second half of the album, on the back-to-back songs of “Pain” and “Find Myself”. With the recent emergence of artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Brokencyde foraying into emo-based hip-hop, Imjaehall offers a refreshing take on similar struggles with identity, doubt, and self-narcotization as a coping method. Oh, and the production on “Pain” is fucking fuego.

You’re still same bitch who threw it all away,
I tell you what I’m thinking, hope you feel the pain

These lyrics on “Pain” encapsulate the entire break-up theme of WWFN and, try as I might, I find myself unable to separate their message and somber tone from the man I met who seemed anything but.

Similarly on “Find Myself”, the combination of subject material and patois that Imjaehall employs makes for an experience that takes you back to those angry and uncertain moments in your life—the ones where you wish you could’ve shouted how you felt, but didn’t because of social decorum. Imjaehall says it for you.

This album is therapeutic in that sense.

Got all these drugs in my system,
And shorty don’t even know the difference
Bout to land in LAX in a minute
Hat low, don’t need people in my business

Got me popping all these pills on vacation
My anxiety ain’t got no patience
I can’t even tell the difference
Just watch you fuck niggas from a distance

Having grown up in Fort Greene, hip-hop and R&B is a part of the very fabric of my soul. It is the single most versatile and consistent element in my life–I rely on it as a crutch, as motivation, as whatever my life is calling for at the moment.

But it wasn’t until attending this event that I recalled something I knew long ago and had forgotten: the most central reasoning behind this music’s value in my life is the community it builds. I felt 15 again blasting Bone Thugs on Myrtle Avenue.

That notion of community extends to my experience of this album. Imjaehall touches on his most intimate experiences—positive and negative—and allows himself to be vulnerable in a way that isn’t often seen in hip-hop.

Born in Fall , Shade Don’t Bother Me ⚡️🎈🌊• WWFN Dec 1.

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He doesn’t glamorize the numbing process, but rather portrays the angst that makes it necessary (and even exciting) to numb in the first place.

In my various social forays over the years, I’ve learned there is a very real contingency of artistically-inclined people whose art is both inspired and obstructed by an internal monologue—specifically one that is warped, and even mutilated, by societal constructs.

Some recognize it, but most do not; and even recognition doesn’t beget the ability to create a meaningful dialogue with one’s art around this issue.

Imjaehall’s work cuts to the root of this problem, and if you need proof, you need not look any further than the title of the album.

F*ck GoT—this Sunday is all about ‘Lit and Morty’… errm, ‘Rick and Morty’

What up my glip-glops,

On October 4th , 2015, Rick and Morty ended Season 2 with it’s protagonist–or antagonist, depending on your concern for Morty’s well-being–Rick Sanchez, incarcerated in a Galactic Federation prison.

The teaser following the credits featured fan favorite, Mr. Poopybutthole, predicting a timeline for about “a year to a year and a half” before Season 3 aired.

Due to the lack of the showrunners, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, having their shit together, ”a year to a year and a half” came and went and now, almost two years later, Rick and Morty returns on Sunday, July 30th for Season 3.

I could not be more hype for a season premiere. Lets take a look at what we have to look forward to. (And, as always, spoilers to come.)

Quick note for those new to the show: Rick is an alcoholic, super scientist (imagine if Doc from Back to the Future and Future, the artist, had a baby. That’s Rick.) and Morty is his herb-ass grandson. Cool? Cool.

New Family Dynamics

“I just took over the family, Morty!”

This past April Fool’s Day, Rick and Morty aired the 1st episode of Season 3 as a treat to their fan base—it was the perfect prank considering that the rest of the season would not air until 4 months later. But it did its job of satiating the fans, as there were several narratives and plot points established that will come to define the rest of the season.

Perhaps the most significant development is that Beth and Jerry are headed for a divorce, and to no one’s surprise, this was entirely instigated by Rick. The episode ends with Rick divulging to Morty that through a meticulously-calculated plan, he’s replaced Morty’s moron father, Jerry, as the “de facto patriarch of his family and his universe.” Oh, and Rick also murked an intergalactic government while doing so.

We may even see the re-introduction of another character we’ve already met–Paul Fleishman, a man Beth apparently remarries in some of the parallel universes where she’s already divorced Jerry.

The comedic potential of the impending divorce is high–Beth and Jerry have historically tried to one-up one another and I’m positive this will manifest in a rivalry of future romantic interests, as well as space adventuring.

Beth has mostly been left on the sidelines during R&M’s past adventures and Harmon has guaranteed she’ll be more involved in coming shenanigans.

Also, with the Galactic Federation now decimated, Jerry has lost his government job and is unemployed once again, much like the scrub he truly is.

Quick aside: Chris Parnell (Jerry’s voice actor who is also known for playing “Cyril Figgis” in Archer) described Jerry as the “saddest” and “most pathetic person he’s ever played.” So there’s that.

The Promise of a Darker Season

Let’s play “Two Truths and a Lie.” Which of these things hasn’t happened on R&M?

  • Rick attempts to commit suicide after being dumped by an ex-girlfriend (who also happens to be a collective hivemind that takes over cities, planets, and perhaps one day, the galaxy), but fails to do so because he was too drunk.
  • Rick turns everyone on Earth into deformed creatures and, instead of fixing his mess, takes Morty to an Earth in a different dimension where they casually take the place of their recently deceased selves and continue living with their parallel family.
  • Rick creates a miniature universe and enslaves a planet within that universe to create free electricity for the simple purpose of powering his car battery.

Trick question. ALL of these things have happened. Is it because Rick is a fucking G? Is it because he has a black hole where his moral compass should be? Are both of those things mutually exclusive?

One of the principal elements behind the show’s massive cult following is the series’ consistent use of dark humor, which is fueled by Rick’s IDGAF approach to life.

Rick promises Season 3 to be the darkest years of their adventures, and he also reveals his ultimate goal in life—getting McDonald’s to bring back the Szechuan sauce from the 1998 promotion of Disney’s Mulan. (I was 9 during that promotion, and the sauce was indeed lit.)

We’re in for MAD Homages

Rick and Morty is a sci-fi show by sci-fi goons, for sci-fi goons. And this is never more prevalent than in their homages to the all of the greatest characters and tropes in sci-fi canon.

Having personally scoured through the Season 3 trailer three dozen+ times, I can tell you that we can expect nods to Honey, I Blew Up the Kids, Mad Max and The Avengers.

There’s also possibly an homage to the sketchy neighbor from Home Improvement.

This Show is Nuanced AF

What makes Rick and Morty a great show isn’t just the homages, the dark humor, or the thought experiments that come with creating a show that takes place across the multiverse and multiple timelines—its also about those sobering moments when the show zooms in on the characters’ emotions on the other side of the spectrum; when we’re allowed to feel their despair, doubt, and insignificance in the grand scheme of things, in a very palpable way.

And this goes beyond the show’s use of the idea of “family,” though that is definitely one of their emotional vehicles.

Harmon and Roiland expertly utilize music cues to illustrate a tender emo shade over the show. They pull from various melodramatically-styled musicians such as Chaos Chaos, Nine Inch Nails, and Mazzy Star, when you least expect it.

What I’m consistently most impressed by is that this series understands and takes advantage of the relationship of Comedy and Tragedy better than most of the hot garbage on television—there’s a seamless transition between both.

Nothing Matters

Perhaps the most central tenet of Rick and Morty comes when Morty explains to his sister that “nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody’s going to die.”

The insistence that “nothing matters” has been a consistent hallmark of the show, and it almost makes you think Harmon and Roiland would be okay with the show flopping.

But this belief has guaranteed the opposite—it allows them the freedom to take the kinds of creative risks that continue to draw fans in. If “nothing matters” is at the heart of your show—not all dissimilar to the mantra that made Seinfeld such an epic success—this inherently removes the pressure of expectation and allows you to swing for the fences artistically; you’re playing with house money.

If the almost impressively delayed release date is any indication, we’re all in for another season of Harmon, Roiland and Rick not giving a fuck. I can’t wait.

Until then, enjoy some Human Music. Wubba lubba dub dub.