Best Albums of 2017… so far

Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief 

After releasing two mixtapes, one EP, and teaming up with Rihanna on Anti, Recording artist SZA has finally released her debut studio album Ctrl back in June which features guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott. Labeled as a R&B album, SZA delivers fourteen songs that are both raw and insightful, and should not be put in box. Exploring themes of love, heartbreak, and self-esteem, SZA has away of writing songs that are honest and relatable and comes close to filling the my personal music void since the passing of Amy Winehouse by craftily mixing genres, and letting the listener into her world while finding the balance of being vulnerable and bold.

Hoon, Managing Editor 

A part of me wants to take to these pages to shout out to a relatively lesser known artist of amazing talents who deserve more attention and love. I’m thinking of Your Old Droog and his second studio album, Packs, of which especially the third track, Bangladesh, should be more than enough to win over any doubters. Another part wants to pay respect to Prodigy, who passed away way too soon but not before dropping a 14-track banger of an album, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). But that’s just sentiments talking. In truth, the absolute best album of the year has to go to an already legend and still expanding Kendrick Lamar and his fourth studio album, DAMNAnd I don’t see whatever’s left of the year bringing in an album more worthy.

Adina Heisler, Contributer

Four years after the release of her first album, Pure HeroineLorde has returned with the concept album Melodrama. With this album, it’s clear that Lorde has matured both emotionally and musically and has branched out, bringing together multiple musical styles all within the loose themes of emotions, the highs and lows, of a night out on the town. While Lorde’s time gap between albums was for unknown reasons, we all know about the long-drawn legal battle between Kesha and “alleged” abuser Dr. Luke, which has kept her from releasing any new music for years. However, Kesha has finally been able to return with her upcoming album Rainbow. The album is a sharp turn away from her previous music, which featured autotune heavy singles about partying and drinking. Kesha is finally able to use her actual voice, which is on full display in the three singles that have been released thus far. With country inspired bangers like “Woman” and  breathtaking vocals survivor-empowerment themes on “Praying“, Rainbow is a welcome return for the singer-songwriter.

Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Upon the release of Gorillaz’s newest album, Humanz, I felt not only a dead fanbase rise from the grave, but a feeling inside myself I hadn’t had since early high school, the last time I head new music from them. Now, the British duo of musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett are back. Albarn mixes the tracks, Hewlett pens the famous four animated band members: 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs, and Noodles. Like their past albums, Gorillaz worked together with a number of collaborators, but this album has some particularly notable names: from newcomers Popcaan and artist Vince Staples to legends Grace Jones, and Carly Simon. Some of the best tracks to check out are “Saturnz Barz,” “Ascension,” “Let Me Out,” and “Andromeda.” Word is that Albarn and Hewlett asked contributing artists to imagine what the end of the world would be like and put that into the songs. Seems dramatically appropriate.

Kimberley Drapack, Contributor

Tyler, The Creator has come a long way. Back with the visuals of pastel hues and flowery fields we’ve grown to love comes his fourth studio album, Flower Boy. Upon its release, I was immediately grabbed his his single, Who Dat Boy, with A$AP Rocky, and his second release of, 911/Mr. Lonely with Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy. This without a doubt is Tyler’s best album to date. Although we are not quite finished with the year, don’t let Flower Boy slip through your fingers and remember to grant praise where praise is due.

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Toronto Gets New Dance Studio

From left to right: Aaron Aquino, Aaron Libfeld and Roy Urbanozo. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Voted the best in Toronto, The Underground’s dance classes are getting a new three-storey studio with a rooftop skylight this summer.

In just about two months, the new Underground Dance Centre will take the space above Yuk Yuk’s comedy club at 224 Richmond St. West, which is only two doors down from the original. Compared to the 3,700 square feet old studio with two rooms, the new space will be around 8,500 square feet with four rooms, including a rooftop with glass windows, which all the teachers are excited about.

“This is the floor I’m going to fight for,” said hip hop teacher Aaron Aquino. “I just want a sunny roof and fresh air coming through.”

Right now, the demolitions are complete and the team is collecting quotes from different contractors and deciding on who will build the new studio, said studio manager Roy Urbanozo.

The Underground Dance Centre gets a rooftop skylight studio this summer. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

The price for a single class increases from $15 to $17 starting May 1st, according to twenty-eight-year owner Aaron Libfeld. He added that still “a competitive price” around the city comes with new values. They are doubling the number of classes from 120 to 240, adding more hours for the teachers, and hiring more dancers to teach new styles. The old studio will continue to operate and customers will be able to use their passes at both locations. 

“Everyone is excited to see the new schedule,” said Libfeld. “There’s going to be a lot more of the popular styles, such as hip hop, dancehall, heels, Beyonce… We gonna have more k-pop and disco theme.”

Libfeld grew up as a competitive dancer, who took ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, and acro at Vlad’s Dance Centre in Richmond Hill. The first thing he is looking for when hiring teachers is their personality. Even though someone is the best dancer in the world and they come with a bad attitude, they are automatically disqualified,” he said.

Excellent dance experience, understanding of the style, and ability to teach are the other requirements.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Teachers are not the only ones who create the mood in the studio. There are 20 young volunteers, who help at the front desk and receive free classes in return. Urbanozo will hire about 20 more volunteers to create positive vibes and a loving atmosphere in the new studio. 

Another innovation, prerecorded classes by choreographers from New York and L.A. is coming to the old Underground in just about a week. It’s going to be a unique experience, different from a simple online class, said Libfeld. “Even though they are [following] prerecorded videos, they are in a dance studio, in a dance environment, with other people,” he said. “Online classes are kind of the Netflix, but we wanna be like the Cineplex.”

Technology and social media have been a huge part of The Underground since it opened in 2014. Libfeld, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and used to run a technology company at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), said he applied all those skills to run his dance studio.

It’s very focused on working on the idea, getting feedback on that and continually innovating it,” he said.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Videos of every class on its Instagram, which now has almost 80,000 followers, helped the studio attract most of the clients and won the title of the best dance classes in Toronto by blogTO and Yelp within the first six months of opening. The Underground hosted the space for celebrities like Nelly Furtado, who rehearsed at the studio twice during her visit to Toronto.

“It’s exciting to know that we are providing the great content and sharing our love of dance in the world,” said Libfeld.

Both, Libfeld and Urbanozo said they are happy to expand their business, but the new studio is not the end of their vision. They will keep working on the main concept: providing their customers with the best experience. “We do our best because we want them [the customers] to come back. We want them to feel exclusive,” said Urbanozo. “There’s still a lot to learn about the industry and how to treat our customers.”

“We’ll only stop when we have to stop,” said Libfeld. “We are obsessed with the customer experience. For us it’s the worst thing if anyone walks out unhappy. So we make sure that we only hire the best teachers, keep the beautiful facility with professional cleaners every single night. That creates the whole experience which I think is different than anyone else does.”

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Hot List Profile: Mötem

Motëm is a musical artist and new age romantic from Hamilton. Figuring him out isn’t an easy process, but it’s entertaining and strangely poetic.

Photo by Eric Slyfield
Photo by Eric Slyfield

His twitter, like a moleskin for the thoughts of a meandering visionary, is as good a place to start as any: “i’m just a vampire spending money”. If that doesn’t help, Motëm’s described what he does as “strong individualist music not adhering to any specific genre but with interests in electronic, rap, hip hop, funk; associated with many Scandinavian musical styles like skweee and the sad boys movement.” For those that don’t know, the sad boys movement is pioneered by Swedish rapper and producer, Yung Lean and skweee is a diverse mashup of electronic and more traditional musical styles. We’re a little closer now, but it’s best to experience the one and only Motëm for yourself. He’s already released two albums this year — Where the Wild Things Are EP and Songs in the Key of Mötem

Where the Wild Things Are is equal parts pensive and turnt, taking you on an absurd, yet sincere tour of Mötem’s psychological landscape. “Tubular” starts on a note of synth-laden rambunctiousness. Repetitive and hard hitting, the track bangs all the way through. And he pumps out sensational videos at an insane rate. Watch, listen and try not to get tubular.

Songs in the Key of Mötem is a bit more blown out, with a proclivity for hype psychedelics. It’s much longer than Where the Wild Things Are and, understandably, the album explores new sonic grounds. “Goths Love” captures Mötem at his most tender — and ridiculous. Emphatic or absolute parody? It’s a fine line, to be sure. “I’m a goth because I love so hard. Shower me with roses of various shades of grey.”

Understood or not, Mötem plays by his own rules. Follow the unabashed poet on twitter via @motem or visit his website here.



Novel Ideas: Author Dalton Higgins launches his sixth book of pop culture essays Rap N’ Roll

book cover (final 2)

Award-winning journalist, author, broadcaster and blogger Dalton Higgins’ sixth book Rap N’ Roll: Pop Culture, Darkly Stated, a collection of pop culture essays, launches on December 4th at A Different Booklist bookstore located in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood.

Coming on the heels of 2012’s Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake – carried in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame & Museum collection in Cleveland – which clinically sheds light on the Drake phenomenon, and 2009’s Hip Hop World – which is carried in Harvard University’s hip hop archive, and led to a 2010 Hip Hop Scholar of the Year award nomination courtesy of Washington DC’s WBLINC – Rap N’ Roll is Higgins’ first art house-styled collection of writings that cover a wide range of topics including music (reggae, punk, rap), race, technology, public transportation (TTC), Jamaican culture, skin bleaching, performance enhancing drugs and the publishing industry itself.

“I’ve been blogging and writing essays about popular culture in magazines since 1995 from the vantage point of someone who is a global citizen yet distinctly African Canadian,” says Higgins whose pioneering work in the area of music presentation and criticism has taken him across the United States, Denmark, France, Australia, Germany, Colombia, England, Spain and Cuba among other destinations. “The fact that I am equally versed in hip hop as I am in hockey tends to confound some readers, but it’s 2015 and my prose simply signifies the voice of a first Generation Canadian lending their distinct point of view on a plethora of things affecting contemporary culture. Honest discussions about race, culture, hip hop, athletics and technology is what needs to happen more and is what tends to wet my reading audiences whistle.”

Reggae. Punk. Race. Hip hop. Technology. Counterculture. Toronto. Rap N’ Roll: Pop Culture, Darkly Stated is all of these things. And then some. Available in both hardcover and softcover glossy full colour format, Rap N’ Roll is a theoretical culmination of some of the more provocative topics and subject matter that Higgins has written about in North American periodicals over the last 20 years. Is rap the new rock n’ roll? Is the traditional book publishing industry on its deathbed? If you live in Toronto, has the TTC acronym come to stand for Totally Terrible Crap? Are Iggy Azalea and Macklemore the future of hip hop, and is MAGIC! the future of reggae? How did Jamaica become so tallawah despite its small size? Was sprinter Ben Johnson a PED futurist given the Lance Armstronging and A-Rodization of professional sports? Higgins also tackles tough topics related to cultural appropriation and digital culture with the honesty and precision of a seasoned veteran. Rap N’ Roll makes the perfect pre-Holiday gift item and/or stocking stuffer for the free thinker in you (and your friends and family members too).