Nicki Minaj's crazy week, Lil Nas X's album rollout and Isaiah Rashad

This week, the boys had some thoughts on Nicki Minaj's controversial week, Lil Nas X's amazing album rollout and how Isaiah Rashad is what southern rap needs.

Welcome back,

Now that we’re past the whirlwind two weeks in which Drake and Kanye discourse dominated most music conversations, it’s time to look ahead.

We have an interview with NxG, an exciting young rapper from Philadelphia on the podcast this week. Look out for that on Monday.

In the meantime:

Nnamdi wrote about the backlash to Nicki Minaj’s vaccine discourse.

Avery explains why Lil Nas X has had the best album rollout so far this year.

Noah thinks Isaiah Rashad is exactly what southern rap needs at the moment.

But first…

97 Demo Review: Drake, “Certified Lover Boy” - 6.7/10

Listen to the podcast!

Nicki Minaj has a point…

Nnamdi, @NnamEgwuon

This week, Nicki Minaj became a global story. Not for her music, but instead over a brief dialogue with her fans via Twitter. Nicki revealed she wasn’t vaccinated and skipped the Met Gala partially due to its mandate before sharing... well a harrowing story about her cousin’s friend...and his balls.

The backlash was swift. MSNBC’s Joy Reid brought the story to national prominence after criticizing Nicki for amplifying a falsehood that could possibly keep people from getting vaccinated. The Health Minister of Trinidad and Tobago refuted the existence of a testically-challenged Covid patient. Our favorite Brits Boris Johnson and Pierce Morgan weighed in. It was a lot. And it was wholly unnecessary.

Now, I am not a Nicki Minaj apologist nor am I a Barb.

I do, however, have two experiences that make me see this entire debacle through a unique lens: I have friends and family members who, despite my best efforts, refuse to get the vaccine and I work in the media. Here’s why that matters.

In the months I’ve spent trying to convince those close to me to get the vaccine, I’ve heard several unproven and unfounded theories: that the vaccine is really a microchip developed by Bill Gates, that the government developed the vaccine suspiciously fast as a ploy for some sinister act and that the long-term effects of the vaccine far outweigh the ailments caused by a COVID-19 infection. With evidence, I’ve been able to convince some people to ignore whatever Facebook post they read and get the shot. But for some others, there’s nothing I will say that will convince them to put Pfizer or Moderna’s offering in their body. It’s important to remember that distinction: vaccine-hesitant rather than anti-vax.

As a member of the news media, I’m keenly aware of and have covered, the devastation this virus has caused. Nearly 667,000 deaths so far. I’m also keenly aware of how many people have been fully vaccinated (180.1 million), and more importantly, the lengths the Biden Administration has gone to get more people vaccinated.

Biden’s administration invited Olivia Rodrigo to the White House to film promotional vaccine material. It offered people free rides to pharmacies. It partnered with barbershops to boost vaccination numbers. It got private companies to offer everything from beer to free baseball tickets. It supported state efforts to use federal pandemic money for vaccination lotteries. Yet, in the face of all of that effort 90 million American adults have still opted not to get the vaccine. Clearly, we’re not reaching some people who are still reluctant. And the focus now should be finding out why.

Which brings me back to Ms. Minaj-Petty.

Nicki Minaj’s concern about the vaccine, as ridiculous as it may have been, is not unique. Quite literally, thousands if not millions of people nationwide have inquired about the vaccine’s potential effect on fertility. A doctor in Missouri was quoted saying she gets the question so much that she now brings it up “proactively” with her patients.  A private school in Miami stopped employing vaccinated teachers over concerns that a woman’s fertility can be affected by *being in the same room as a vaccinated person.* No matter how silly you may think that claim is, real people in communities that you and I live in believe theories like this. And I think it’s better that people bring their unfounded and unproven claims to the public, so we can get them answers in hopes that they may consider getting vaccinated. 

Let me ask you a question: Over the last week, amid the rampant shaming, blaming and degrading of Nicki Minaj and her followers, do you think anyone who had concerns about the vaccine has gotten inoculated? I don’t think so. I think if anything they’re now even more hesitant, and even worse, they’ll just keep it to themselves instead of seeking answers. ‘Because you see how they did Nicki Minaj, right?’

We all would have been better served if Nicki Minaj had left the story of her cousin’s friend’s balls to herself. But she didn’t. And the response to her absurd, yet genuine belief shouldn’t have been public shaming on virtually every single news network. This shouldn’t have been used by Fox News and other conservatives as a way to one-up the “liberal” pundits on CNN and MSNBC. This could have been an opportunity to have one of the country’s most influential voices publicly start a dialogue about vaccines that could have resulted in more people getting the shot. Isn’t that the goal here? Not to mention, that dialogue would probably be geared toward her base, which largely includes Black people, who have been disproportionately infected, hospitalized and killed by COVID-19.

Nicki Minaj says the Biden administration invited her to the White House. White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki, says the administration offered a phone call with a doctor. I’m not sure I care who’s telling the truth. But I do think it would be a wasted opportunity if the White House didn’t utilize this opportunity to potentially reach thousands, if not millions of vaccine-reluctant Americans. So make it happen, courtesy of the world’s most famous female rapper.

Y’all hear about this?

Lil Nas X has the best album rollout of 2021

Avery, @AveryDalal

By the time this newsletter comes out, Lil Nas X’s debut album, Montero will be out. 

The way that Nas X has promoted this album should be a lesson for all artists in the year 2021. 

We’ve seen some cool rollouts this year, with Tyler, the Creator putting out little vignettes for songs on his album Call Me If You Get Lost. We’ve seen Drake put up billboards (which Nas X is also doing) around cities announcing features for Certified Lover Boy and we’ve seen Kanye West hold impromptu listening parties for Donda, each with more refined versions of every song if that’s your sort of thing. 

But what Lil Nas X is doing I can only describe as viral performance art. 

There are little things he did, like reveal his album cover art right after Drake revealed his interesting cover art, and of course, the same week as Kanye opted to put out his album with basically no cover art. 

The bigger part of all of this, however, is his “pregnancy”. 

For the last two weeks, Nas X has been posting pregnancy pictures. For an artist who has been in our public consciousness for over two years now, he’s treating this debut album as his baby. It’s something he’s been refining and nurturing for a while now. 

He’s been posting sonograms, TikToks and videos where no one shows up to his baby shower. 

He’s also posted a video of his “contractions” the morning of the album’s release. 

Nas X is so unique and boundary-pushing, and someone I am comfortable saying is the quintessential Gen Z artist. His online savvy and ability to manufacture widespread conversation is something that every artist should take note of. 

As Kid Cudi wrote this week in his beautiful two paragraphs for Lil Nas X as the latter was named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people: 

“To have a gay man in hip-hop doing his thing, crushing records—that is huge for us and for Black excellence. The way he’s unafraid to make people uncomfortable is so rock ’n’ roll. He’s a true rock star.”

A rock star!! The rock stars of old are influential, reluctant role models and people who did what no one else is doing, and Nas X certainly qualifies. 

These past two weeks have made me excited to listen to Montero, and I cannot wait to see what he has planned after this. I know whatever that is will be equally, if not more, creative than what we have already seen.

Now on the 97 Demo Mix:

Songs from: Ari Lennox, Yebba, Tems

Isaiah Rashad is the artist southern rap needs

Noah, @noahamcgee_

On Saturday, September 11th I went to an Isaiah Rashad show. Needless to say, it was incredible. He was on my bucket list of artists I would love to see live and he exceeded my expectations. 

Since going to that show I’ve been on a high listening to only Isaiah Rashad. It has got me thinking, why am I so enthralled with his music? Is it his voice? Content? Production? Lyrics? While all of those things are a part of it, there is something a little more that attracts me to his music. It’s his willingness to accept every element of southern rap, not just the popular ones. He goes beyond the trap beats, loud bass, and strip club references that have become synonymous with southern rap. And that’s why he’s the artist southern rap needs.

These days, when people think of “southern rap” what comes to mind? Trap? Atlanta? Texas? Memphis? Migos? Future?

We are fortunate to live in a time where there are many prominent, talented and diverse hip-hop acts from the Southern United States. Megan Thee Stallion, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, Killer Mike, 21 Savage, Big KRIT, Pooh Shiesty, Maxo Kream, JID, J. Cole just to name a few. All of these rappers rep where they are from to the fullest, and it pours into their music. When you hear it, you know exactly where they are from, whether it’s because of how they sound, the lyrics, the names of their songs or the production they use. Isaiah Rashad embodies all of those components and more.

Although Rashad is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, he expresses all of those southern elements in his music but not just concerning where he is from, but all around the south. He reps the ENTIRE south.

For example, if you look at the tracklist for Rashad’s debut project, Cilvia Demo, he has multiple tracks referencing southern rap figures. “Webbie Flow (U Like)” references Baton Rouge rapper Webbie, not a mainstream behemoth, but a legend in Louisiana. “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” is an ode to Master P’s late brother. “Brad Jordan” is the government name of Houston rap legend and member of the Geto Boys, Scarface. None of these rappers are from Chattanooga or Tennessee but they still influenced him. 

Rashad’s sophomore project The Sun’s Tirade continues to express his southern influences. “Silk Da Shocka” pays homage to No Limit rapper Silkk The Shocker and part of the third verse interpolates his track “If I Don’t Gotta.” On “Bday” Rashad says, “baby we was like Decatur, we was like Lithonia, elevated thinker.” If you are from Georgia you know those cities, not Chattanooga. On “A lot” Rashad says, “Project Pat was always like a father figure” which shows his affection for the Memphis rapper. 

Rashad continues this trend on The House Is Burning, his latest project. The production on “RIP Young” samples Project Pat’s “Cheese and Dope.” On “Chad” he borrows the line, “if I wasn’t rapping baby I would still be ridin’ Mercedes,” from late Houston rapper, Pimp C. 

All that to say that he puts his southern influences at the forefront of his music and shares a southern sound that this generation of listeners is not used to hearing. It’s what made me fall in love with his music and the music he was influenced by. 

In an interview with FLOOD Magazine Rashad says, “I think Chattanooga is like an hour and a half, maybe two hours from Atlanta. I grew up with that sound deeply embedded in my roots. Rico Wade and Sleepy Brown and the rest of the Dungeon Family—it’s timeless, everlasting. It’s like a soundscape that I always wanted to adapt and adopt.”

Growing up in Atlanta, I thought the rap sound was just trap. But listening to Isaiah Rashad, he introduced me to new southern sounds. Both new and old. Underground and mainstream. Trap and soulful. He embodies everything that makes southern rap awesome. This is why Isaiah Rashad is the artist southern rap needs and has been waiting for.

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