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Pusha T Announces Daytona Tour, Drops "If You Know You Know" Video
The rapper will hit the road across the U.S. in support of his recently released, Kanye West-produced album
Pusha T has officially announced dates for his 2018 Daytona Tour. The Former Clipse rapper will hit the road for a 22-date U.S. tour in support the Kanye West-produced album launching in Denver on July 21 and wrapping up in Oakland, Calif. on Oct. 13. In addition to the tour announcement, Pusha also dropped a video for the lead-off track from Daytona, "If You Know You Know," directed by Shomi Patwary.
The 2018 Daytona Tour will make stops in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and more. The Bronx-born rapper will bring along Valee and Sheck Wes as opening acts.
Daytona was released on May 25 as the first project of Kanye West's "Wyoming Sessions." Four of the album's songs have cracked the Billboard Hot 100 including "Infrared," "If You Know You Know," "The Games We Play," and "What Would Meek Do" featuring West. The album also debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
A full list of dates for the 2018 Daytona Tour, along with ticket information, can be found via LiveNation's website.
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Photo: Patrick O’Brien Smith
Kassa Overall Breaks The Mold And Embraces Absurdity On New Album 'Animals'
Kassa Overall was put on the map due to a reductive narrative equation: "jazz plus rap plus mental health equals me." On his new album, 'ANIMALS,' the unclassifiable artist simply asks listeners, "What does it sound like to you?"
Kassa Overall holds his phone aloft, and rolls his eyes back in his head.
He's playing the intro to his track "Going Up," featuring Lil B, Shabazz Palaces and Francis and the Lights, which had dropped that day. A cello drone gives way to a strange woodblock part; a chopped-up drum solo jaws at everything — then it's as if Ableton freezes. Flanked by synths and sequencers, Overall seizes in his chair, as if he's being sucked into a black hole.
"You know the part where Neo gets kicked out of the Matrix?" the GRAMMY-nominated rapper, drummer and producer tells GRAMMY.com via Zoom. "It's like that, but when you get spit out, you actually get spit out in the bush in Africa."
That 20-second intro took Overall a long time to get right, but it's one of his favorite moments on his new album, ANIMALS — which arrived May 26 on Overall's new home, Warp Records.
The conversation has turned to the concept of absurdity — a helpful lens through which to view Overall's art. It sure beats the one that hamstrung him in the past, when he did interview after interview after interview about the intersection of jazz and rap — with mental health thrown in for good measure.
"I've talked about this for two albums now," he told GRAMMY.com in 2021 with a hint of exhaustion. "I ran that cycle in my head. I'm not so much trying to prove the point anymore that these things can go together. I just want to make the dopest s—."
The joy of ANIMALS is not in that genre fusion, but Overall's swelling boldness and vividness as an artist — as well as its novel fusion of seemingly disparate collaborators. Try to find another record where you'll find jazz-adjacent pianists Vijay Iyer and Kris Davis next to singular rappers like Danny Brown and Lil B.
"The reason the jazz world feels a little bit dry and s— is because there's not really the space for absurdity," Overall says. "Somebody like Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie — a third of them was Lil B and Danny Brown energy. That's why it was fire."
On ANIMALS, Overall rose to the energetic occasion. The album is consumed with subjects like his uneasy relationship with ambition, and his relationship with his growing audience. On tracks like lead single "Ready to Ball," the Nick Hakim and Theo Croker-featuring "Make My Way Back Home," and the Vijay Iyer-assisted "The Score Was Made," Overall has bigger fish to fry — than where rap does or doesn't connect with jazz.
Read on for an interview with Overall about his latest career moves, bucking tired narratives and using collaborators as instruments — much like a certain embattled rap innovator.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I'd like to start by talking about your pandemic-era SHADES trilogy of mixtapes. How was the experience making those mixtapes significant to your creative journey?
I was just thinking about the SHADES series yesterday, actually. I was thinking about the process of making that versus making a solo record, and I realized they're actually a lot more connected than people might think.
When I make my own music, the process of it is still sample chopping — whether I'm chopping up original music, or chopping up some Nirvana, you know what I mean? Oftentimes, my original music includes collaging from other sources.
The SHADES thing was like me going, Let me actually deal with the sample practice. I missed the idea of taking some s— and flipping it. So, that was really a lot of fun.
I think SHADES 3, the third in the trilogy, was kind of a new direction for me, because I started actually using drum machines. The series started with more of me on the laptop, locked down in COVID, chopping up this and chopping of that. For this one, I had an actual studio behind me.
The lockdown is over, so I'm not so much in the headphones. So, if you listen to SHADES 3, it's more house tracks and s— like that. For me, it was just a good experiment. Although I made beats and used sample sequences, I never really got into step sequences, and those kinds of drum machines.
I'm a novice at that; I'm brand new at that. So, that's been a lot of fun.
The last time I interviewed you, you seemed to be trying to wrestle out of the reductive narrative around your music. You're dealing with more important subjects on ANIMALS. Where are you at in your career, through the lenses of public messaging and your signing to Warp?
Thank you for pointing that out first, because that'll allow me to not have to repeat things I'm tired of repeating.
Just to recap what you're saying, historically, jazz and rap often equals corny. I've never wanted to be corny, and I don't think I've ever been corny. It just happens to be the things that I say — where I come from. It's not so much like, I'm gonna do this.
And then the mental health s— is more like, I've just gotten comfortable talking about my life. Just like with any writer — you could be a writer for years, but it could become years until you become comfortable talking about your perspective and your ideas. If I'm just talking about the things that affect me a lot, that has to be a part of it. You can't not talk about it, but it was more like, I want to get past that.
I think that putting the album out on Warp is a bit of messaging in itself, because I've been making this music that I don't consider to be that weird. My music is not weird compared to Aphex Twin or Squarepusher, you know what I mean?
It's a fresh take on electronics and organics, you know what I mean? It's unique, but it's not that weird. I came up through the industry I came up in. So, I'm trying to get booked in jazz clubs and play jazz festivals, and they're looking at me like, "Not under my banner!"
If you listen to the state of jazz, or different playlists on the various streaming platforms, they sound a lot different than when I first started putting music out. People were like, "Whoa, what is this? Is this your pop product? This is your pop album, right? How's your pop s— going?"
That's what my homies used to say — my jazz friends. "He plays good — like, he's a killing drummer, but he's also got this pop s— he do."
Your work doesn't resemble any pop music I've ever heard.
Nah, nah, But there's a drum machine of sorts. There's a clap that's not organic. There's vocals. [Laughs.] It's pop!
The first time I noticed was when I did a guest mix for BBC, which came through Tom Ravenscroft. He got hip to the album through Bandcamp; he had no idea who I am or what I am.
That's how I started even doing the SHADES stuff — when I got the opportunity to do guest mixes, I would do remixes to kind of double down. It's like a double word score of like, Yo, he's doing some extra-different s—.
So, they were like, "Producer Kassa Overall does a guest mix." And I noticed that it's the way you present something; people are listening to it differently. If I present an album as a jazz drummer, then it's some pop s— where I'm trying to sing or something.
But then when it's presented as a producer thing, people are automatically like, "Oh, word. This is, like, electronic music. It's cool. We know where to put this."
My biggest influences are unique artists — unique people who made things that are kind of their own genre, whether it be Thom Yorke, Radiohead, Björk. Even Kanye; at a point, it was rebranding the whole idea. Like, "I'm a producer — no, I'm a rapper!" "You have a gangster image!" "No, I'm wearing skinny jeans and a pink polo!"
Then, even someone like John Coltrane, somebody like Bob Marley — obviously, these are the biggest artists in their fields, but they're also people [where] whatever they're making, you didn't really know what it was before it kind of popped in.
So, I would rather people hear my music and not think it's a jazz-rap collage. What if you don't relate it to anything else? What does it sound like to you?
The thing about the last album with Brownswood [Recordings, 2020's I THINK I'M GOOD]: I was like, "Bro, so many songs I'm making that y'all are considering to be B-sides would work well next to a Frank Ocean or James Blake record."
Maybe it's a little too poppy for Brownswood's audience, but f— Brownswood's audience, you know what I mean? But there's a million people over here that don't even know what a Nord or a Rhodes is, and they f— with what I'm doing.
So I think that's the frustration I've dealt with. I'm just a dude making songs about my life. That's all it is.
Kassa Overall. Photo: Patrick O'Brien Smith
Was it a difficult process to find a post-Brownswood home that was conducive to what you want to do?
No, it was very easy. And shouts to Brownswood; I'm not saying "F— Brownswood." That's the homies. [Label founder] Gilles Peterson is still a big supporter of what I'm doing. I'm just saying moreso my image and branding — if you want to make it seem like I'm this organic Afro-bop type, it's not gonna really sell. My s— is way too sad boy.
Somebody from Warp hit me up after I THINK I'M GOOD came out and asked me to make some beats for Danny Brown. Actually, they asked me if I had some beats. I was like, "Bro, give me two weeks," and I made three beats for Danny Brown; he picked two of them.
And then, that same A&R came back around and was like, "Yo, I think you should touch some other tracks on the album and 'Kass out' the whole album." So, I added all sorts of little drums and vocal throws — different things to give my little texture.
I ended up working on four joints total on Danny's next record — and fully producing one, which is one of the singles, but it sounds like a Kass kind of thing. So, that relationship started, and we chop it up on music stuff regularly.
When I started getting ready to shop for my next record, it was kind of like, "Y'all want to do it?" and [Warp] was like "Hell yeah."
I could have signed somewhere else and gotten more money, but the branding would be the same "What is this?" type of thing. I think Warp has the history of electronic music, and they have artists there now — it tells a story of what I'm doing, in a good way. I fit into the thing.
You came up in the jazz scene, and your relationship with ambition weighs heavily on ANIMALS. What is it about that world that lends itself to a hyper-competitive, rise-and-grind spirit?
I think it's the displacement of a cultural home. I understand what you're talking about — jazz, self-help, motivational. There's so many connector cables there, and I'm guilty of it all.
As a jazz musician, you have to learn how to practice. Like, I'm gonna practice all day, and the gigs are gonna come, and you're damn near doing, like, affirmations, and then you go sit in at Smalls. It's not like a doctor goes to school, and then applies, and it's an actual, visible track, The music thing is very pie-in-the-sky.
If you think about self-help as its own branding and industry, a lot of jazz musicians are susceptible to that kind of rhetoric. Because it's like, this person is huge, this person has nothing, and they're almost equally talented. One of them grinds his ass off; the other one drinks.
The other thing — this might be a little darker, a shadow thing — is one thing that happened with jazz is colleges. Once jazz became this academia thing, that's the student industry. That means you have jazz musicians turning to students as a means of sustainment.
That's not really the culture of the music. The music isn't really rise-and-grind. The culture is not even about success. People like Jimmy Heath expressed this to me: it wasn't popular.
It's popular now, or it looks like it. A Love Supreme is this huge thing, right? But if you listen to Elvin Jones interviews and stuff, he talks about playing in these clubs, and there's, like, six people there. Four of them are waiters, and people were not trying to hear that noise.
The idea is that you're going to choose this music that's not really designed for mass appeal, but the motivation is mass appeal. It's kind of a conflicting direction. That's not to say it can't work; there's a lot of people making it work.
But we're all screwed a little bit. It might not just be a jazz musician thing, and it might not just be a musician thing, but we're all kind of in this place of Work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, and who works the most wins.
I don't want to live like that, and I find myself in that position at times. I'm going like, Something's got to give eventually. It's supposed to be more of a spiritual thing — a practice.
Kassa Overall. Photo: Patrick O'Brien Smith
You mentioned Kanye; I love the way he seemed to use collaborators as instruments on Donda. I get that same feeling from ANIMALS.
It's funny you say this. When I started working on this record — we're talking about 2019, even, some of these joints — I always pick a couple of albums to compete with. That's kind of one of my secrets. The last record was <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/calvin-broadus/14274">[Snoop Dogg's] Doggystyle and <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/2pac/7233">[2Pac's] All Eyez on Me. And this record was Dark Twisted Fantasy.
I haven't said this much in interviews, because I don't want to be like, "Kassa Overall drops album dedicated to Kanye!" [Laughs hard] But he was a huge influence on my process.
You have these long-ass songs. It's an open-ended beat. And however many minutes [into Dark Twisted Fantasy], Rick Ross comes in. Or you have Paul McCartney working on the melody. That was the inspiration behind this. If you listen close to a lot of the sonics, you'll hear, Oh, this is in conversation with that production process.
A musician like Kris Davis, for example. An absolute weirdo. You sit down and talk with her — so stoic. Who she is in itself is an anomaly. And then the music she makes is so unique.
Somebody like her would never cross paths with Danny Brown, who's equally strange. Even just his voice; he was a weirdo in his world. He was signed to G-Unit. He came up in Detroit, street rap adjacent, but when he popped off by kind of busting out of that and embracing more of the weirdo myths of his art. He's a standout in his own space.
I look at those two artists as people that actually have more in common than you would think. They're similar because they're very different in their own spaces. I think the world that Danny Brown lives in is better with Kris Davis in it. And I think the world that Kris Davis and Vijay Iyer are in is better with Lil B in it.
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Five Hip-Hop Songs That Sample Steely Dan, In Celebration Of New Book 'Quantum Criminals'
A new book, 'Quantum Criminals,' maps how Steely Dan's cynical, visionary universe resonates in unexpected ways today. Their intrigue extends to the world of hip-hop sampling.
Among serious music fans, it's a common rite of passage to realize there's a lot more to Steely Dan than meets the eye. And a lot of that is biting, sardonic wit.
If you think Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's three-time GRAMMY-winning partnership is just the stuff of smoothed-over yacht rock, you could have a change of heart: Dan bangers from "Deacon Blues" to "Don't Take Me Alive" to "Hey Nineteen" are full of pitch-black character studies, acidic turns of phrase, and one-liners that may singe your eyebrows.
Sure, this component of the group is key to their conceptual essence. But in your dance with the Dan, take the next step: If you took away all the sarcasm, all the seediness, all the salt, Steely Dan would still be one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Because their musical sophistication was second to none.
For decades, connotations of soft-rock yuppiedom have calcified around Steely Dan; The Onion once summed it up with an article headlined "Donald Fagen Defends Steely Dan To Friends." But not only do they barely resemble yacht rock on any level; their compositions and playing were of a stunning level of sophistication. It's no accident that unquestionable musical godheads Wayne Shorter, Bernard Purdie and the Brecker brothers played with them.
Steely Dan is a tangled web indeed, and a new book illuminates every nook and cranny of their legend. Journalist Alex Pappademas and visual artist Joan LeMay's Quantum Criminals, arrived in May and pulls apart the Steely Dan myth like Russian nesting dolls.
"We're all looking out at the world with a Donald and Walter-ish kind of dismay. So they make a lot more sense now," Pappademas recently told Rolling Stone. What seemed cold and remote and jerky about them back in the day — now, that's just the way people talk. They're also also writing apocalyptically about their time, and our time now seems so unavoidably apocalyptic.
In the same interview, Pappademas cited the final album of their original run, 1980's Gaucho. "Gaucho is the ultimate one because it's the slickest," he said, mentioning an ultra-complex drum machine they built to remove any vestige of humanity. "Eventually, the solution is, 'We're going to invent sampling so that we can reduce the amount of human error.'"
Of course, Steely Dan didn't literally invent sampling. But the comment at least tacitly bridges two worlds few know are bridged: Steely Dan and hip-hop. As Pappademas put it in the book — albeit in the context of a contentious royalties agreement — “Even if nothing about Steely Dan was hip-hop, everything about them was hip-hop… they were about that cash.”
According to WhoSampled, the Dan have been sampled 152 times; in a number of cases, those samples were in rap songs. Pappademas acknowledges this component of the Dan's legacy in the chapter "Peter/Tariq/Daniel" in Quantum Criminals.
In tandem with Quantum Criminals, let the following list of Dan-sampling rap songs elucidate this misunderstood band for neophytes: they were not only gritty lyrically, but conducive to musical grit.
De La Soul - "Eye Know" (1989)
Smack in the middle of De La Soul's debut album, 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising, is "Eye Know," which samples the Mad Lads' "Make This Young Lady Mine," Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay," and Lee Dorsey's "Get Out of My Life, Woman."
Underpinning it all is the clavinet from key Steely Dan hit "Peg," a single from their 1977 masterpiece, Aja.
"Hip-hop love this is and don't mind when I quiz your involvements before the sun," Pos raps over the burbling chords. "But clear your court 'cause this is a one-man sport." Between verses, a sampled Fagen bleats, "I know I'll love you better!"
Ice Cube - "Don't Trust 'Em" (1992)
Get past the… er, interesting cover art, and 1976's The Royal Scam is a jewel in Steely Dan's crown — a revisitation of their rock roots as they hurtled into ironic smoothness.
"Green Earrings," about a remorseless jewel thief, is a highlight, and Ice Cube incorporated a sped-up sample of its keyboard part in "Don't Trust 'Em," from his 1992 album The Predator.
The crystalline-toned hook is woven into brutal storytelling, as the former N.W.A. MC details how a sexual encounter can get you hogtied in a trunk: "You can't trust a big butt and a smile," Cube sagely warns.
Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz - "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" (1997)
Aja's opener, "Black Cow," remains of one Steely Dan's all-time funkiest cuts, and it provides the engine for East Coast rap duo Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's debut single, "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)".
As Pappademas lays out in Quantum Criminals, Fagen and Becker would only clear the sample if they received 100 percent of the royalties. "People are under the impression that we put the record out and got sued," Gunz said, according to the book. "We didn't get sued. We got stuck up." "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)" turned out to be Tarique and Gunz's one and only hit song, from their one and only album.
MF DOOM - "Gas Drawls" (1999)
Other MCs clearly got the memo on "Black Cow": it shows up early on the late MF DOOM's "Gas Drawls," from his 1999 debut album Operation: Doomsday, and pops up repeatedly throughout the song.
"You were very high!" Fagen crows just before Dumile punches in, in media res: "By the way, I re-up on bad dreams, bag up screams in 50s/ Be up on mad schemes that heat shop like jiffy."
Kanye West - "Champion" (2007)
Like Ye's cartoon-bear mascot on the cover of 2007's Graduation, "Champion," a cut from that album, blasts into the air — buoyed by a vocal sample from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne."
"Did you realize/ That you were a champion in their eyes?" Fagen croons as the song's chorus, giving "Champion" its thrust as well as its title. At first, Fagen and Becker were reluctant to clear the sample; they relented after West sent Fagen a heartfelt, handwritten letter.
Today, the verse resonates in the rapper now called Ye's legacy — not only for this particular song, but because it seems to sum up his rise and fall. Clearly, Pappademas was right: Steely Dan has nothing to do with hip-hop. Steely Dan is hip-hop.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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