As Beyoncé and Drake's big albums rule pop, Chicago rapper Sterling Hayes gets intimate | Bleader

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

As Beyoncé and Drake's big albums rule pop, Chicago rapper Sterling Hayes gets intimate

Posted By on 05.04.16 at 05:00 PM

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The pileup of massive releases from big-name artists over the past few months has an unfortunate side effect: the number of new high-profile albums becomes the story in and of itself, often overriding the narratives in the music. At times the proximity of Beyoncé's Lemonade and Drake's Views, to pick the two most recent, has caused their rollouts to come across like a volley of cannon shots between competing streaming services. Beyoncé held it down for Team Tidal, which had an exclusive stream upon the album's release on Saturday, April 23 (HBO premiered the "visual album" companion). Drake went with Apple, who'd given his OVO label an Internet radio show and gifted him with a fancy watch; Apple Music debuted Views exclusively on Friday, April 29.

Because many fans didn't think Drake's wobbly-legged new material could stand on its own, his release provoked score-keeping conversations about juking sales stats—because Views includes "Hotline Bling," previous streams of that runaway hit are boosting apparent sales of the album. Even Beyoncé's artistic triumphs on Lemonade are difficult to extricate from its connection to Tidal: the album's narrative about infidelity implicates Jay Z, and of course he also owns that less-than-popular streaming service.

I can't blame anyone for oversimplifying the rush of new material from superstars (and stars to be) in order to digest it. There's a lot of incentive for us to respond immediately to work that takes years to create, spitting out 140-character insights or clever GIFs. Sometimes that means we miss a lot, or even get the basic information incorrect: in an effort to fit Drake's Views into a story about unexpected releases, the Tribune's Greg Kot called it a surprise album, dropped "without any fanfare," though Drake had erected a Views billboard in Toronto in February, announced its release date in early April, and launched promotional pop-up clothing stores in NYC and LA. But the rush to say something right away can also take the pressure off, at least where other kinds of listening are concerned. Once people stampede on to the next big thing (Radiohead?), it's easier to take a breath and spend some quality time getting comfortable with the albums that echo in the back of your head for reasons you can't quite pin down.

There's a lot to experience now, especially in Chicago, which is gearing up for a busy rap season. Obviously the big release looming over the city is Chance the Rapper's third mixtape, whose artwork—Chance wearing a "3" baseball cap, his image tinted blue against an orange-and-red skyline—has popped up on posters in many major cities and yesterday started appearing on bus stops in the Loop. Chance performs on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon tomorrow night, and considering he's released music in conjunction with his previous two late-night TV appearances, we might hear at least one new song of his before Friday.

Regardless, there's plenty of other new Chicago rap worth hearing. Ty Money drops the sequel to last year's excellent Cinco de Money tomorrow, and yesterday Save Money rapper Sterling Hayes dropped Antidepressant, a 20-track debut that's been three years in the making. Hayes has told Noisey that the album's title was inspired by his history with depression—he went on antidepressants when he was in seventh grade, and used part of his prescription in the album art.

The hard-edged percussion and foggy synths on Antidepressant evoke claustrophobia and anxiety. Hayes uses his evocative instrumentals as a springboard for confessionals about snubbing those close to him ("Burden") and taking enough drugs to stock a small pharmacy ("Fuck U Mean"). But as dark as he gets, faint glimmers of brightness manage to peek through. "My City" kicks off with a dedication to Rodney Kyles Jr., aka In Rod We Lust, the Roosevelt University philosophy student and aspiring rapper who in 2011 was fatally stabbed in front of his close friend Chance the Rapper. Death and destruction hang over the song, but Hayes's fierce performance and steadfast dedication to his home city suggest that relief can come from within.
Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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