freelance writer + associate 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
Listening to Smith fresh out of high school, it was as if a vortex had swallowed the pain of my coming out, rejection, and self-discovery, and spit it back in my face. Yet its impact dulled with each listen. The loneliness and self-pity of Smith’s music has never evolved beyond generalized mushiness, and as a result fails to truly capture the nuance and complication of adulthood and queerness, heartbreak and redemption. It’s one-size-fits-all musical masochism that, in attempting to touch the masses, really touches no one.
2001 nonetheless still has a hold on me, and I sometimes find myself believing the myths about Dre, and this album, that I obsessed over as a teenager. The fact remains that what he accomplished with 2001 was almost alchemy: Somehow, Dr. Dre, the man who had already shape-shifted into and out of the pioneering sounds and high-stakes dramas of N.W.A and Death Row, reinvented himself yet again, this time at 34 years old, and changed music in the process. He made people remember only what he wanted them to: a version of history that ignored his violent assaults of several women.
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.
For music that drips with adolescent, hormone-fueled infatuation, Omar Apollo’s songs are notably free of the melodrama of teenagehood. “And you said I was your soulmate, but that was just a lie,” he bemoans on “Useless”—a highlight from his latest project Apolonio—before pivoting with a shrug: “It’s alright, we’re too young to be giving out advice.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Trentavious White, better known as the rapper Bankroll Fresh, was murdered on March 4, 2016, at Atlanta’s Street Execs studio, modern hip-hop’s capital city lost one of its most innovative stylists and authentic storytellers. Even in a city where new talent seemed to emerge daily, Bankroll’s peak was short. “Hot Boy,” his breakout hit, dropped in fall 2014, only 18 months before his death.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”