Quick Take: Music to Ease Your Mind During Exams

%22File%3A21+Savage+2018.jpg%22+by+Ralph+Arvesen+from+Round+Mountain%2C+Texas+is+licensed+under+CC+BY+2.0

“File:21 Savage 2018.jpg” by Ralph Arvesen from Round Mountain, Texas is licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Ryan Hardison, Senior Staff Writer

Midterm season is upon us, and though many students have already braved through the storm of exams, essays and Zoom lectures, there’s a lot of work left to be done.

With this increased stress on top of the already jam-packed school workload, students may look to escape through art, more specifically, music. 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep up with the newest releases and search for songs to take your mind off things, so we’ll do it for you.

Here are some projects to help distract from the scourge of never-ending assignments:

21 Savage and Metro Boomin “Savage Mode II” 

In 2016, 21 Savage, then relatively unknown outside of his native Atlanta, Georgia, had a breakout year for the ages. 

After being named one of the XXL Top Ten Freshmen a month prior, he released a spectacular EP with Metro Boomin, who was fresh off earth-shattering collaborations with Drake, Future, and Lil Uzi Vert. Together, they crafted a chilling masterpiece that catapulted Savage into stardom and added more platinum plaques to Boomin’s already illustrious collection. 

Four years later, the duo paired back up and released one of the best rap albums of the new decade, “Savage Mode II” on Oct. 2.

Major rap features on the album catch immediate attention, but one aspect which stands out is the various interludes – featuring narration from the extraordinary Morgan Freeman. As the go-to actor for “God” and other prominent voice-over roles, this is the first time Freeman has lent his voice on a studio album, and he adds a sophisticated presence rarely seen on any musical work.

From the get-go, Savage is eager to prove he’s back. Starting strong with “Runnin,” Savage knows he’s on top and uses this runtime to brag about terrorizing his rivals and how he walks down his block like he’s Omar from “The Wire.” 

On “Mr. Right Now” and “Rich N***a Sh*t,” he boasts about anything luxurious in his sight including brands such as Chanel, Goyard and Prada, to entice women into his lifestyle. Savage goes back and forth with Drake and Young Thug on these tracks respectively, showing off their chemistry and an abundance of charming rhymes. 

However, it doesn’t take long for him to tap back into his intimidating demeanor, in particular, on “Snitches and Rats.” 

On the skit preceding the song, Freeman intricately breaks down the difference between a snitch and a rat, creating one of the most intriguing segues in music history.

On the track itself, Savage and his cousin Young Nudy demonstrate their hatred for snitches and explain the importance of loyalty and trust in their cliques, or else face violent retribution. 

Though Savage likes to show his toughness, there are many times where he shares his greatest fears and regrets. Overall, his finest moments are on the album’s final two songs “RIP Luv” and “Said N Done.” 

On “RIP Luv” he’s reminiscing about an unknown person in his life who’s passed away, and even though he’s suffering on the inside and wants to give up on love, he’ll never be vulnerable in public.  

“Said N Done” is a smooth outro to sum up his picturesque story, retelling all the memories of crime and adventure with those closest to him over a hypnotic soul-infused beat from Boomin, wrapping everything up perfectly.

Two weeks after their album drop, Savage and Metro Boomin released a “Chop Not Slop” version of their project, paying homage to immortal Houston rap producer DJ Screw and his legendary chopped and screwed style of production. 

The technique’s slurred down approach makes this version sound like the works of Screw’s classic mixtapes and horrorcore rap group Three-6-Mafia’s influential ‘90s albums. 

Though it’s hard to choose one over the other, both versions are essential listens, cementing 21 Savage and Metro Boomin as a historic rap duo. 

Fleet Foxes “Shore” 

Picture yourself journeying through a forest of Redwoods or canvassing the quiet woodland towns of the Pacific Northwest. Take in the cloudy skies, inhale the crisp, frigid air and roam through the blinding fog. 

Now while you enjoy this luscious scenery, what is your soundtrack? 

When thinking of these scenic destinations, I instantly supplement these thoughts with the expansive, rustic sound of Fleet Foxes. 

Three years after the group’s most recent album and accompanied by an hour-long visual film, their fourth studio album “Shore” was released on Sept. 22. 

The Seattle folk band’s music is distinct, but always finds new ways to innovate and grow, helmed by the unique voice of lead singer Robin Pecknold.

“Shore” isn’t as fixated on personal experiences as the group’s previous albums but is centered on honoring and thanking those who are inspiring future generations. This message is carried out through subtle anthems centered on profound subjects such as political activism, perseverance and maturation. 

Pecknold told Rolling Stone he penned all fifteen songs in a month-long period during quarantine, finding inspiration from trips to the Catskill Mountains and participating in the BLM protests in New York. Also, he arranged and produced all the album’s tracks, making “Shore” his most intimate project.

The breathtaking introductory track “Wading in Waist-High Water” is one of the best songs of the year. Sung by vocalist Uwade Akhere, whom the band discovered on Instagram after seeing her cover their song ‘Mykonos,” the track is an emphatic introduction to the rolling tides of “Shore.” 

The opening chords start soft and slow with a driftless guitar. Akhere’s voice starts off solo to guide the way. After an intimate first verse and a gradual build-up, the song’s wall of sound chorus kicks in and a wave of upbeat production flows through, resulting in a resounding rush of ecstasy.

This emphatic feeling carries into “Sunblind,” an ode to fallen musicians and Pecknold’s greatest inspirations. 

Laden with references to the works of deceased artists, it’s a song about carrying on musical traditions long after their inventors have passed. After name-dropping legendary past musicians such as Richard Swift, David Berman, and Curtis Mayfield, the song finishes with a beautiful final tribute. 

“And in your rarified air I feel sunblind / I’m looking up at you there high in my mind / Only way that I made it for a long time / But I’m loud and alive, singing you all night, night.”

Combined with introspective lyrics and a focus on past musicians, plenty of other rock ballads on the album like “Young Man’s Game,” and “I’m Not My Season” feel welcoming, like a warm hug. 

These songs extend the overall atmosphere of gratitude on the album in an uplifting and fulfilling way.

Another highlight is the album’s climax, “Cradling Mother, Cradling Women,” which is a Beach Boys-esque chaotic masterpiece filled with horns, guitars and helps bring the project towards a satisfying conclusion.

“Shore” is Fleet Foxes’ most ambitious project yet while still keeping intact the qualities which make their music so tranquil and satisfying.

Benny the Butcher “Burden of Proof”

Benny the Butcher is as authentic as it gets. The East Buffalo, New York native is a 35-year-old rap veteran who’s seen a lifetime of crime and despair, molding him into the man he is today.

With his cousins, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, the trio form the heart and soul of Griselda Records. As performers, their hard-hitting rhymes and storytelling ability parallel legendary east coast rap group The Lox. With their raw, uncut anecdotes of the street, Griselda are one of the most intriguing crews in rap. 

Benny’s exhilarating 2019 EP “Plugs I Met” put him and his label on every devoted rap fan’s radar, but Benny’s second full-length album “Burden of Proof,” is his defining moment. 

Released on Oct. 16, the project was executive produced by Hit-Boy, who had a hand in creating two of the year’s most memorable rap albums already (Nas “King’s Disease” and Big Sean “Detroit 2”).  

Though the matchup of Hit-Boy and Benny originally looked a little iffy, as Hit-Boy deals with commercial rappers and Benny often partners with underground producers, the result is a match made in heaven.

Throughout, Benny carries himself like a made man, simultaneously untouchable and a target for the law and his enemies. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if his tales from the block are fables or fact. But at this point, Benny’s cadence is so convincing he could say he’d sold more drugs than Pablo Escobar and it’d be believable. 

On “Sly Green,” Benny’s smooth flow and eager presence on the mic prove he’s one of a kind. To begin the song, he raps “I’m a Christian Dior shirt rocker, two Glock wearer / Only rapper that would’ve thrived in the 2Pac era.”

Another standout track, “War Paint,” featuring the rest of his Griselda team, highlights Westside Gunn’s absurd adlibs along with Conway’s clever raps. Though each rapper makes the song memorable, Conway easily has the standout verse and tells a mesmerizing story about his come-up, including how he met Jay-Z and Beyonce after years of grinding for a label spot.

But the best song on the project is “Legend,” which features a captivating beat from Hit-Boy and inspiring commentary from Benny on all he’s done for Buffalo. It sounds timeless and meaningful, as he pours his heart out for the city he loves.

“Burden of Proof” is one of the year’s most appealing projects and is only further proof Benny is deserving of New York’s rap throne.

Additional Projects Worth Checking Out:

  • Beabadoobee – “Fake it Flowers”
  • Giveon – “When It’s All Said and Done” EP
  • Jay Electronica – “Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn)”
  • Spillage Village – “Spilligion”
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