The Black Rock Renaissance, the Evolution of Earl Sweatshirt and Samia on Stage
The guys talk about the new wave of Black rock musicians, the sonic growth of an Odd Future alum and an amazing live show
It’s been an entire month since our last newsletter release, and boy do we have some catching up to do.
In January alone, we got four high-profile releases that seemed to be the talk of the timeline: The Weeknd’s Dawn FM, Gunna’s DS4EVER, FKA Twigs’ Caprisongs and Earl Sweatshirt’s SICK!.
The slew of releases inspired our first episode of the year - “January’s Review Roundup.” We reviewed the four albums in less than an hour — it’d made for a great fast-paced discussion. You can find that below.
But we couldn’t come back with just that — we hit y’all with the double drop!!
In the return of our “PROFILES” series, we interviewed a rising Black rock artist named Quinton Brock. He talked to us about the cultural roots of rock, his musical process, how he views his place in the industry and so much more.
Find that below as well.
In today’s newsletter,
Nnamdi writes about the ongoing “renaissance” of Black rock musicians
Noah on Earl Sweatshirt’s growth as an artist and person
Avery reflects on the Samia concert he attended last week
Ep. 75: January Review Round-up
Ep. 76: Interview with Quinton Brock
The Black Rock Renaissance
Don’t call it an emergence – call it a renaissance.
We’re currently in the midst of a new wave of young, incredibly talented Black rock musicians, all taking the genre by storm with an authenticity that speaks to its cultural roots.
For decades, Black acts have been typecast into hip-hop, rarely given the opportunity or creative freedom to lean into rock – both sonically and aesthetically. And though some artists have been able to fuse the two (Lil Uzi Vert a prime example), society-at-large for the most part has disconnected Black people from a genre that they spearheaded.
Rock, like most modern genres, has foundational ties to Black American history. In the advent of the genre back in the 1950s, its sound was wholly shaped by rhythm & blues, gospel and jazz.
The black pioneers of Rock music include Chuck Berry, whose lyricism, showmanship and guitar riffs slowly blended the lines between blues and rock n’ roll; Little Richard whose raspy vocals, tireless charisma and glamorous aesthetic shaped the look of the genre; and Sister Rosetta Thorpe, a self-taught guitarist who innovated the classic sound of rock n’ roll. The three have been described as the “father,” “architect” and “godmother” of rock respectively. Without them, you don’t have Elvis, the Beatles, or The Rolling Stones to name a few. You don’t have rock.
Now, the Black performers of today may not shoulder the weight of this history when creating their music. Most just create what feels authentic to them – nothing more than that. But for some, understanding the genre’s roots ensures they don’t feel out of place when performing at overwhelmingly-white festivals, in front of an overwhelmingly-white audience, in hopes of finding success in an overwhelmingly-white industry.
“Rock music and its essence is something that has been taken and bastardized throughout time, but I think that all that’s coming now is a reclamation of that through opportunity and ease of access,” said Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Quinton Brock.
Brock first found success as one-half of surf/blues-rock duo The Get Money Squad, alongside John Bap. The group released three projects, my personal favorite being 2017’s Ruff Buff, before heading their separate ways.
His latest releases mark a more refined, confident foray into rock – singles like the punk-rock “To the Moon” and the wildly-infectious “Touch” are good enough to make you question his limited exposure.
In an interview on the 97 Demo Podcast, Brock says that rock has always maintained its grip on the community – even if the wider industry failed to reflect that.
“Now the opportunity is here for you to be able to really see how many people really deal with rock music, and really love rock music, and want rock music within the black community,” Brock said. “It’s way overdue and has been here the whole time.”
Brock, whose tagline is “We’re changing rock music forever,” shares management with another 97 Demo favorite, Bartees Strange, whose 2020 album Live Forever, was considered one of the best indie-rock projects of the year.
During our interview with Strange, he highlight Yves Tumor, whose latest EP The Asymptotical World takes a deep dive into experimental and psychedelic rock, culminating in fantastic tracks like “Crushed Velvet” and “Jackie.”
There’s Joy Oladokun, whose folk-rock album In Defense of My Own Happiness, jumped out of a crowded field thanks to her infusion of social commentary into tracks like “I See America.”
There’s Willow, Meet Me at the Altar, Nnamdï and so many other acts I could point to as proof of the definitive rise of Black rock musicians, but I’ll instead end with this: Don’t attribute the wave as a one-off – for me, this renaissance represents a homecoming and a return to form.
Y’all hear about this?
The Curious Case of Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt’s introduction to the world was a fascinating one.
“I'm a hot and bothered astronaut crashing while jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating applesauce.”
Those are the first lines off of Earl’s self-titled track on his debut mixtape, Earl. Sounds like a kid that’s never going to mature. The mixtape was filled with goofiness, vulgarity and violence. He obviously had a talent for rapping, but it sounded like a kid who did not think he’d face consequences for his actions until he eventually did.
Earl disappeared. His mother, Cheryl Harris, a law professor at UCLA, sent her son to a boarding school in Samoa for at-risk teens for a year and a half. But when Earl, born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, returned, the unthinkable happened, he grew up.
Earl’s debut album, Doris, expressed his battles with depression, identity, loss, death and relationships. I mean, yeah, he still had his moments of fun on tracks like, “Sasquatch” and “Whoa.” But the kid who was screaming homophobic gestures just a year and a half ago had grown up and was facing his own insecurities.
Every project from there on out got darker and darker. His 2015 effort, I Don't Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, is as dark as it sounds. Earl sounds like a kid who’s having a hard time being social and as a kid who could be a little anti-social, I connected with it.
Some Rap Songs, Earl’s 2018 album, sounds like a project that’s full of throwaway tracks, but what he gave us is his most open and introspective version of himself. He came up with a new sound that blended the lines between avant-garde jazz and hip-hop, and it worked beautifully. But it also sounds like a person who’s in a difficult place emotionally. His father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, a famous South African poet, had just died. Earl was coming to grips with his own mortality, but also thankful for the people who raised him into the kind of man he is today. He’s obviously deep into drug use, just listen to what he’s saying on “December 24,” “bad acid did damage to my mental,” and it sounds like it did. Earl is slurring his words, he’s repeating lines and he doesn’t have a singular direction for this project, but that’s what makes it incredible. It’s raw, authentic and revealing.
Fast-forward to 2022 and Earl is back to sounding more confident and upbeat than ever on Sick!. Unlike in 2015, Earl actually finds himself going outside which is revealed on tracks like, “Old Friends. He’s discussing topics that are going on outside of his personal life such as the pandemic but also still keeping it personal. His rhymes sound more clear and he is more energetic in his delivery, contrary to what he was like on Some Rap Songs. And unlike on previous projects, it seems Earl is more ecstatic about living because he is now a father.
We have seen the immature boy grow into a man. Who would think the kid who was mixing drugs on camera, would become a reflective, emotional and meditative man. It’s one of the biggest joys of being a fan of an artist for almost a decade because as you see the artist grow, change and evolve, you are also doing the same thing. The new emotions Earl feels, I do also.
Now on the 97 Demo Mix:
Songs from: Quinton Brock, FKA Twigs, Earl Sweatshirt, Samia, and more
Last Friday (01/28), I saw Samia in concert at Webster Hall in NYC, and Annie DiRusso opened for her. For my NYC friends, yes, that was the start of the big winter storm, and this was also my first concert alone, but more on that later.
Samia is an artist whom I was lucky to stumble across on Spotify a few months ago, and since then have been hooked on her music. The catchy instrumentals combined with some of the most honest and incredibly existential lyrics I’ve heard have kept me hooked. I was so excited to see her live, even though her music is not always the most upbeat.
As I mentioned, DiRusso opened the show right on time, and she and her band were really good! The crowd was very into her songs, there was clearly a lot of overlap between Samia’s fans and DiRusso’s. Before every song, she gave context to where she was in her life when she wrote them, which was really fascinating. Like just being in a toxic relationship, later getting out of a toxic relationship, how she felt like she was going to flunk out of college, and one about her having an existential crisis about turning 20… which I found quite relatable. My favorite songs of hers were Coming Soon and Nine Months. She also spoke about how exciting it was for her to be playing at Webster Hall, which was very sweet.
Later Samia came out and opened her set with the opener of her album “The Baby.” She herself is from NYC and presumably grew up attending shows at Webster, because she was very emotional to start the show. To the point where she told the crowd to shut up because we were cheering her on so much that she was moved to tears. Again, all very sweet.
She then played two of my favorite songs Fit N Full and Big Wheel, the latter of which being her biggest hit thus far in her young career. In between her verses, she would dance to the music her band was playing and her voice sounds just as good live as it does on stage. I was wondering how she would carry a set considering the fact that she has a fairly limited discography, just an album and a short EP. She ended up playing her album in order, which I really loved, before moving onto her EP. About halfway through her set, she said that a member of her band wanted to sing a song. She left the stage and the other four band members stood together, while one talked about the versatility of the bucket hat that he was wearing (if you were wondering, it could be a fedora, detective hat, or a bucket hat). The four men dressed in all white, looking a lot like a boyband, continued to sing Forever Young by Alphaville, which the crowd happily partook in. The song echoes the themes of a lot of Samia’s music, growing older and not knowing how to grasp that.
While many of her songs sounded just as they did on the album, I found Triptych, Waverly and Is There Something in the Movies to sound particularly stirring live. At the end of her show, she invited DiRusso back on stage to sing Show Up together, and that was a lot of fun. The band also covered Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and all I’m going to say is I need Samia to release an official cover ASAP.
As I mentioned, Samia makes music about growing up and the inherent fear that goes along with it. As someone in my early 20’s, I connected with her music and so did every other young person in that audience, I’m sure. It was an interesting thing going alone. I found this to be a pretty lonely experience, particularly in the moments when no one was on stage. I was listening to lots of people’s conversations and just kind of existing, feeling a little invisible to everyone around me. It was really weird, I cannot lie. But during the sets, I found myself really being able to focus on the music that was being played, without having to really worry about anyone around me. That part was nice. I can see myself doing it again in the future, and probably being more comfortable with it.
Tweet of the week: