freelance writer + assistant editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. words in Pitchfork, Ringer, Rolling Stone, The Cut, them., i-D, The FADER, ELLE, W., Highsnobiety, etc. jacksonsamuelhoward [at] gmail
Forty years ago, Earth, Wind & Fire’s final opus produced disco’s last great moment. A month later, the genre died in a Chicago baseball stadium. My dad was there for all of it.
They wouldn’t come close to reaching these heights again. But what’s left behind from the twilight of the band’s peak is an album that is, ironically, bigger than its time and more than the sum of its parts: It’s an album by some of the greatest musicians in America hoping that music will save them.
On August 31, 2018, a magenta-haired, fan-carrying Chaka Khan stepped onto the stage of Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple to honor her friend and mentor Aretha Franklin. I’ve watched the video of her performance a good 20 times, mainly because of how remarkable Chaka Khan’s transformation is, how powerful she grows.
I’d never used the rocket before because I’d never seen the point. Its inclusion in Grindr’s interface feels almost contradictory to Grindr’s best-known feature of quick, local fun: the ability to explore other cities, to chat with foreigners, to match their loneliness up with yours, disrupts everything Grindr is meant to do on a local scale. I didn’t have Grindr XTRA ($99.99 a year), so I couldn’t talk to anyone using the Explore feature. But I didn’t need to. All I needed was to be able to look.
If you remember, and I’m sure you do, “Blame It” is a ludicrously over-the-top and horribly catchy T-Pain collaboration that doesn’t exactly scream presidential; its most famous line, beyond the titular, croaking “Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol” is Foxx singing, “Fill another cup up / Feelin’ on your butt, what?” I imagine that Obama’s inauguration was a once-in-a-lifetime event where many people, moved by the significance of the moment, promised many other people many ridiculous things, but surely nothing more improbable was promised than Ron Howard agreeing to film this music video.
On Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah, an electric menorah flickered phosphorescently in the lobby of the Sixty LES hotel in New York. I was waiting for 21 Savage, who was upstairs in his room. A night after sitting front-row at the Alexander Wang show (next to Teyana Taylor and Sophia the robot), 21, arguably Atlanta’s most popular hip-hop export since Young Thug, was getting ready to sit front-row again, this time at Versace’s pre-fall show.
Stripped of the raw desperation that once made his rapping so gripping, Stay Dangerous, YG’s third studio album, spends most of its 15 tracks toasting success, repping for the gang, and picking apart women. It’s fun and flashy and club ready. But for YG, an artist we’ve come to expect the unexpected from, someone currently standing at a career-defining intersection, Stay Dangerous is an exercise in predictability.
“Why do we fall down with innocence?” Jorja Smith wonders on the opening title track of Lost & Found. The 20-year-old English singer’s deeply personal debut is full of impressionistic questions like this, yet she never demands easy answers. Her approach to seeking self-knowledge is compassionate and patient, demonstrative of a keen intellect and rich with precocious wisdom.
It’s a sticky July afternoon and I’m sitting in the air-conditioned lobby of the Crosby Hotel in Soho, waiting for the designer LaQuan Smith.
Across the street, a line of prepubescent kids snakes around the block for a clothing drop, their faces sweating in the midday sun. LaQuan struts in, and the first thing I notice is his confident stride, not unlike the models he casts in his shows. It’s a quiet assurance, a subtle radiance, a powerful sensuality.
For Lolo Zouaï, flexing is a matter of authenticity, not fronting. The 24-year old singer’s debut album, High Highs to Low Lows, is full of pop hooks and casual brags, yet Zouaï sounds most proud—and comfortable—when working with the real facts of her life, particularly when they lack glamour. “I can’t wait to really get paid, not just minimum wage,” she sings on the title track, which serves as a mission statement of sorts. “They think it’s all Gucci but it’s 99 cents/I swear.”
I was alone in an Australian hotel suite meant for a honeymooning couple. Restless, lonely, and desperate, I turned to Grindr and agreed to meet L., a toned, buzzcut-sporting townie living 20 km away from the hotel, at his house. I was a stranger in a foreign country, completely on my own, compelled by something I simply couldn’t ignore.
Ella Mai was back in New York, and she wanted a bagel. Specifically, she wanted one from a spot somewhere near Times Square, which, on a sweltering, humid afternoon, was the absolute last place I wanted to be. But her next press stop was located somewhere in Midtown anyway, so I got in the air-conditioned SUV for the ride.
“Got a bag and fixed my teeth, hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap”—"Bodak Yellow"
It’s not a boast you hear every day. And that’s what makes it one of the most memorable lines on Cardi’s B’s chart-shattering breakout hit, “Bodak Yellow.” On the one hand, it’s a typical rap flex: I have money and I’m using it. On the other, it’s an exceptionally vulnerable, even mundane admission of humanity—she’s bragging about dental surgery, not a car.
My brother’s name is Hayden. He’s the most beautiful, hilarious, and audacious person I know. We always “knew” he was gay, as much as anyone can “know” something about another person, while I grew up free from any and all suspicion, mostly on account of who Hayden was emerging to be.
Chicago MC Mick Jenkins has always been something of a rap hermit, emerging when he feels ready and dropping sprawling projects of baritone philosophy and freeform wordplay. When he broke out in 2014 with the contemplative mixtape The Water (S), Jenkins seemed to exist outside of the general rap universe.
Yet even for someone so accustomed to uprooting, Zouaï’s recent 22-city headlining tour–which she finished this past May–was a different beast entirely. From New York to Los Angeles, Vancouver to Chicago, the 24-year-old got her first real taste of life on the road: the highs of playing to sold out crowds screaming every word, the lows of missing a show (in Santa Ana, California) due to losing her voice.