POSTS BY: JOHN NORRIS

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A Conversation with Omar Apollo, the Soul, Funk, Rock and Hip-Hop Showman Who’s One of the Most Refreshingly Real Rising Stars Around

By John Norris // 4 Jun 2019

Preternaturally gifted, singing, dancing artists with effortless charisma who seem destined for pop stardom simply do not just come around every day. And ones who don’t feel corny, canned or prepackaged? Ones who defy genres and deftly maneuver between R&B and hip-hop, funk and acoustic pop-rock? Ones who haven’t come up with the promotional force of a giant corporation (e.g. Disney) or a network talent competition behind them, but rather emerged organically through Soundcloud connections, from a truly hardscrabble, blue collar, midwestern, immigrant background? Well, now we’re talking about something that happens with the frequency of a total solar eclipse. But that’s all a fair description of what we’ve witnessed for the better part of two years in Omar Apollo, the first generation Mexican-American showman from small-town Indiana who through great, often remarkably vulnerable songs featuring irresistible melodies and earworm beats; electric live performances; affecting if largely modest videos and no-bullshit charm, has only seen his profile rise. The buzz began as far back as 2017, but with the April release of his second EP Friends and a sold-out tour to go along with it, it’s turned into a low roar.   By all rights, Omar should have canceled lunch …

Deem Spencer: Low-Key Taking the Legacy of Queens Hip-Hop Into Soulful, Vulnerable, Experimental Directions

By John Norris // 14 May 2019

Hip-hop is a big tent, with room for all kinds of voices, vibes, looks and personalities, right? Or at least, it ought to be. Too often though, as in other genres, one success story spawns scores of imitators, and A&R reps, managers and promoters—not generally known for seeking out the most unique and unconventional voices out there—scramble to find the next version of that person who blew up a few months back. Duplication is rewarded, and deviation from the commercially proven is viewed as suspect. Likewise, in a crowded landscape marked by a perpetual jockeying for attention on IG and Twitter, it’s often the loudest voices, the most colorful characters and outsize personalities that win the day and, of course, grab that money. Sometimes they’re little more than personality, but they know how to get noticed. So where does that leave a rapper with a subtler, less flashy, more low-key approach? Ask Deem Spencer. A product of south side Jamaica, Queens—a stone’s throw from JFK Airport—Spencer is a far cry from the noisy jets that populate his neighborhood, and not exactly a sonic descendant of Jamaica’s most celebrated musical idols, 50 Cent and G-Unit, though he’s a lifelong fan. With …

Delaware’s Free Spirit With the Wild Mane, Lil West, Talks Mining Relationships, Finding ‘Balance’ and More on the New Vex Part 1

By John Norris // 5 Apr 2019

It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of Americans, asked to name someone from Delaware off the top of their heads, could only come up with that of Joe Biden, the former vice president currently dragging out a will-he-or-won’t-he-run guessing game regarding the 2020 presidential race. But that doesn’t mean the nation’s “First State”—our second smallest in area—hasn’t produced other accomplished individuals, including, in the hip-hop world, one of the more quietly promising young talents to emerge in recent years: melodic genre-buster Lil West. The southern Delaware town of Bridgeville—population, 2000 and change—isn’t what you’d call a hip-hop mecca, but then 20-year-old West is hardly a conventional singer and rapper. The first thing I notice as West and I sit down in a booth at the midtown location of Manhattan favorite Blue Ribbon Sushi—is that his famously wild hair has been brought under control. If the artist has one signature visual trait that’s helped stand him out from the pack during his come-up, it’s a leonine mane that serves as a nice  visual signifier of his free spirit. The hair has been on full display in videos like last year’s “No More” and the recent “Somedays” – but this …

A Closer Look Into Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

By John Norris // 20 Mar 2019

On the Road Again, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal Talks the New Approach of Latest Project “Suffer On,” the Impact of Lil Peep’s Death, Major Label Wooing, and the Future of GothBoiClique For the first time ever on a headlining tour, Adam McIlwee, the Pennsylvania  electronic angst auteur who records as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, has gone out with a stage backdrop, and it’s impressive. But last week in Brooklyn, he didn’t use it. No need, really, as the artist was performing in front of one of the most dramatic views a New York venue has to offer: the elevated tracks of the J, M and Z trains, which rumble by periodically mid-set, just outside the beloved indie venue Market Hotel. It feels like a moment for Wicca Phase. Maybe not a splashy, look-at-me moment, but then, flexing is not really for McIlwee, who at 29 has already logged several notable chapters in an unlikely musical path, one that’s bridged punk, hip-hop, emo, and most recently evolved into singer-songwriter acoustics. He’s still based in his native Scranton, PA, where in the late 2000’s he fronted the indie outfit Tiger’s Jaw, until more electronic and experimental tendencies led him to split from …

Def Jam’s Young Gun TJ Porter Talks Representing for Harlem, Having a “Celebrity” Manager, His Sentimental New Single “Do You Care” and Upcoming Debut Album Voice Of the Trenches

By John Norris // 22 Feb 2019

Def Jam Records is in something of a youth revolution. The most iconic label in hip-hop history may be turning 35 this year, but it has its eyes newly fixed on the future, with some seventeen newly signed artists set to showcase on next month’s release of Undisputed, a compilation recorded over several days last November in Los Angeles. Front and center among the Undisputed lineup is Harlem, New York’s latest ambassador to the music world, 18 year old TJ Porter, who in only a couple of years in the game has begun to serve notice of his intention to follow in the formidable footsteps of the greats that put his neighborhood on the rap map, including Mase, Dipset and ASAP Mob. The young MC has versatility on his side: early singles, like 2017’s “Trust Issues”, “Quiet Storm” and “Can’t Wait” offered bar spitting life lessons; last fall’s Pregame, his release first with Def Jam, found TJ in melodic mode – celebratory on the breakout “Glowin’ Up” and boastful on “Tricky”; while his most recent EP, No Disturbance­, released only two weeks ago, goes dark on “The Don”, admits to relationship infidelity in “Cheated”, and claps back at doubters on …

Hip-Hop And The Grammys: It’s Complicated

By John Norris // 6 Feb 2019

On the Recording Academy’s Up-and-Down Relationship with Rap     The scent of weed wafting its way down the hall to my room from Andre3000’s neighboring after party cements the night in my mind like it was yesterday. Andre had reason to celebrate: it was 2004, and Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below had just won what is generally considered to be the top prize on “Music’s Biggest Night”—the Grammy Award for album of the year. I remember the night, and that smell of success, like it was yesterday. But it was hardly yesterday, was it? It’s the most oft-mentioned, ongoing streak of embarrassment for the Grammys, but it must be repeated annually until it’s broken: it has been fifteen years since that Outkast win, and no rap project since has reached the Grammy summit. Plenty of worthy LP’s have been nominated, but all have come up short, including exceptional  releases by Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay-Z and—three times each, Eminem, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. That’s fifteen years, mind you, in which hip-hop has only solidified its place as contemporary culture’s preeminent sound and style. What can you say? Fool me once…but fool me fifteen times? The 61st Grammy Awards will take …

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