October 11, 2020

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate #3: Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral Masterpiece Album Review

Alternative and grunge rock were left for dead in the wake of Alice In Chains' punishing grunge-metal-hybrid album, Dirt, which we covered in our Masterpiece Crate #2. It was an album that ignited mainstream culture in a way that no other heavy metal act could do at the time, and there was almost no way another album could top the sheer aggressive tones and tonal density caught on tape and pressed into their sophomore record. However, another challenger approached, just two years later, and this time, it brought another genre with it into the worldwide spotlight. To call this album mainstream (despite its worldwide commercial success) would be a disservice to its ultimate goal, which was to peel back the skin of superficiality, but its overall effect on mainstream culture still reverberates to this day. This album shook the world with its naked honesty in its final track, while still showing the world how sexy, dirty, and seductive it feels getting closer to God. That album became known as The Downward Spiral, released in 1994 by studio mastermind, visionary, and musician, Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails.

If you've noticed a trend in this Masterpiece Crate series of articles, it's that up until this point, each group created their masterpiece record in their second albums: Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and now Nine Inch Nails used their first albums as testing grounds to find their sound and ended up crafting extraordinary works of art in the second go-around. Trent Reznor, a classically trained pianist who grew up in the rural Mercer, Pennsylvania, didn't have a particularly rough childhood. Growing up with his maternal grandparents after his parents divorced, he states that nothing was particularly affecting that might have influenced his musical output, other than the isolation and loneliness of small-town, USA. A big influence up to this point was all of Reznor's mainstream media: television and magazines that portrayed an American lifestyle of superficial vanity, all of which was alien to him at the time.

After a year of college, Reznor dropped out and moved to Cleveland, Ohio to become an assistant engineer and custodian at the Right Track recording studio. In his free time, he was allowed to record raw demos of music that he envisioned. From these demos spawned his classic, debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, but his refinement wasn't complete until The Downward Spiral, which was recorded in the infamous (and likely haunted) Manson murder house in California. Whether this ominous essence was somehow burned to tape is up for speculation, but it is undeniable that the overall themes throughout this concept album, which chronicle nihilism and self-destruction, is a chilling tale of loneliness and despair, and unlike the previous entries of this series, has so much insight to be gained by being the first concept album to be covered. Its series of tracks can be related to by all those who have felt down and out about society, and for that, it takes its place as a masterpiece of modern culture. Now finally, on to the music. 

The Downward Spiral Package Artwork

The opening track of the album, Mr. Self Destruct, opens up the album with the unmistakable and chilling sounds of a slow, beating drum, which sounds more like a pulverizing blow as a person in the mix moans in pleasure (or torture). As Pinhead of Hellraiser would say, "Ah, the suffering. The sweet, sweet suffering," and there is a definite motif in this album of sadomasochism that occurs from the act of self-harm or inflicting pain on others. Reznor comes in at the height of the drumbeat and speaks as the vices and temptations for the central character of the album, who for all intents and purposes will be referred to as the protagonist from henceforth. "I am the voice inside your head (and I control you), I am the lover in your bed (and I control you), I am the sex that you provide (and I control you), I am the hate you try to hide (and I control you)." It's a cryptically poetic set of lyrics that set the stage for the many themes of the album, and it cuts to the core of what pushes this tortured soul down the path to self-destruction. 

Piggy and March of the Pigs, two songs that reference an animal used for many themes, such as gluttony, unclean desires, greed, and probably even a reference to the verbiage used by the Manson family, are defined by their introductions to the other agents of the album that the protagonist sees as lesser beings and disgusting in their desires or motives. The protagonist's attempt to address the pigs is a theme that has recently been explored in mainstream culture with Joaquin Phoenix's mesmerizing turn as the DC Comic Books villain Joker, which is itself inspired by the 1976 Scorsese picture Taxi Driver. Both films dealt with a central character whose disgust for society and overall view of the city streets as a cesspool of disease, addiction, and prostitution, sought to remedy the ills by their own means, which led to violence and a self-righteous effort to justify their actions. Piggy is the protagonist's attempt to address those who have left him to rot, "Black and blue and broken bones you left me here I'm all alone" and "what am I supposed to do I lost my shit because of you." The semi-downtempo and jazzy number serves as an introduction to how the protagonist feels about being betrayed by other people in his life. It is the very first song in the NIN legacy that features the repeated line throughout multiple releases "Nothing can stop me now, because I don't care anymore." An interesting producer note about Piggy is its latter half drum solo, which was performed by Reznor himself and was meant as more of a studio soundcheck, except Reznor, liking its disjointed and chaotic style so much, decided to keep it for the song's final take. March of the Pigs is the protagonist's view of society, and how the pigs like to tear down the people of higher standing and watch their downfall "I want to break it up, I want to smash it up, I want to fuck it up, I want to watch it come down, maybe afraid of it, let's discredit it, let's pick away at it, I want to watch it come down." 

Heresy tackles another popular theme of The Downward Spiral, the problem with religion and belief systems that the protagonist feels has plagued the world. It is important to note how directly this song is a product of Nietzsche's popular rendition of the phrase "God is dead", originally written by German philosopher Philipp Mainländer. Nietzsche's reinterpretation claims that the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of scientific discovery gave way to the decline of religion or faith-based ideas and that the role of God and His significance was diminished as more people turned their trust to science and naturalism. Not only this theory, but the protagonist's view of religion as one of the leading causes of war and genocide are felt throughout the lyrics, "He tries to tell me what I put inside of me, He's got the answers to ease my curiosity, He dreamed a god up and called it Christianity," and "He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line, He made a virus that would kill off all the swine, His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering, and pain, demands devotion atrocities done in his name," is answered by the scathing declaration "Your God is dead, and no one cares, if there is a Hell, I will see you there."

Closer Heartbeat Music Video Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral

Closer, the worldwide phenomenon, is a sexy, albeit desperate attempt, by the protagonist to reconnect with humanity and spirituality through the act of sexual intercourse. As if any non-Nine Inch Nails fan didn't already know this obvious fact, that Closer was about "I wanna fuck you like an animal" and getting "closer to God", Closer was an industrial-disco hybrid track that ended up being a repeat hit on the rock radio airwaves and signaled that the 80s arena rock and 90s grunge rock were now relics of a more distant time, and the electronic-industrial-rock fusion that Nine Inch Nails offered was the new wave of even more dangerously satisfying music that was here to stay in pop culture. Nothing of the time could come close to Closer's pervasiveness and perversion of getting closer. Its opening industrial heartbeat, timid singing by Reznor, and scowling primal chorus define its sweaty dance vibes. It is the desperate plea by the protagonist to satisfy his most basic instincts, and hopefully, in the process, find something, or someone, to reconnect to, but ultimately this act isn't enough to save his soul, and he is pulled by his past memories into much, much darker territory, with the close follow-up song, Ruiner. 

Ruiner and The Becoming are both transitionary tracks for the protagonist in this story, and they both are dealing with entirely separate issues that some people who've dealt with trauma and addiction can relate to. Listen closely, as Ruiner is one of the most bone-chilling songs on the record, which is tough by The Downward Spiral's standards. "The Ruiner's got a lot to prove he's got nothing to lose and now he made you believe, the Ruiner's your only friend well he's the living end to the cattle he deceives, the raping of the innocent you know the Ruiner ruins everything he sees, now the only pure thing left in my fucking world is wearing your disease." Childhood trauma with a molester and abuser makes the almost unintelligible lines all the more shocking and haunting. "Maybe there will come a day when those that you keep blind will suddenly realize, maybe it's a part of me you took to a place I hoped it would never go, and maybe that fucked me up much more than you'll ever know." The protagonist can't get right with God or right with others if his life is plagued by the Ruiner, and Reznor's production work to make this song a vibrating well of sounds doesn't pull any punches either. After his lines "What you gave to me, my perfect ring of scars, you know I can see, what you really are," the drums break away momentarily, and the fuzzy atmosphere is greeted by a bit-crushed guitar solo performed by Reznor himself. Similar to the drum solo in Piggy, Reznor displays a special aptitude for each of these instruments, and both exude a dusty and jazz-like swing in their performances. They speak to the unique attributes and moments that really make The Downward Spiral shine. It isn't long before the industrial drums march to the tune while the protagonist repeats, "You didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me, you didn't hurt me, nothing can stop me now." The Becoming, the immediate follow-up, is the climactic metamorphosis track of the album and chronicles how the protagonist loses all humanity and allows the cold nihilism to take over his being. The character Annie, who the protagonist refers to, is a legitimate source of emotional pain for Reznor, a past heartbreak that allowed him to channel all the teeth-grinding hurt and rage that encapsulates The Becoming, "Annie, hold a little tighter I might just slip away." The beat that stampedes through this track afterward is full of organic and electronic noises, unlike any other song that's come before it, and it screeches and hollers as the protagonist loses all gound with what it means to be human. 

Trent Reznor 90s Era The Downward Spiral Performing Live
I Do Not Want This, the protagonist's quiet resolve to his fate is highlighted by the industrial drum loops and his vulnerability. "I'm losing ground, you know how this world can beat you down, I'm made of clay, I fear I'm the only one who thinks this way." The timid singing and subsequent whispers start to become buried in the suffocating mix, which almost gives the sensation of drowning in the noise. Eventually, the protagonist erupts in anger and rage, "Don't you tell me how I feel, don't you tell me how I feel, don't you tell me how I feel, you don't know just how I feel!" The buildup and contrast of the protagonist's self-doubt, heavy machine drum loops, and eventual screaming that he wants to "know everything", "be everywhere", "fuck everyone" and "do something that matters" crashes right into Big Man With A Gun,  and it peels off the skin of regret to become the ultimate example of madness and violent male toxicity. There's not much more that needs to be said for this aural assault on sensibility, other than it hits the hardest of all the preceding tracks. It is the epitome of the protagonist's rage, all wrapped into a song that marries the abuse of power and hatred of women into one. It's sudden, unapologetic, and brutal, but it is also Reznor's response to the misogyny in mainstream hip-hop and popular culture. As sudden as Big Man With A Gun blasts through the speakers is the sudden quietude of the instrumental self-reflective track A Warm Place. The only peaceful and tranquil song of the album, the damage has been done, and the protagonist hasn't had much room to breathe or understand the consequences of his actions. The few fleeting moments of clarity soon gives way to the slowly growing and buzzing reverberation of the industrial monolith, Eraser. 

Eraser is another big moment in The Downward Spiral's mythos, and it's distinct in its slow-burn, industrial place-setting. The protagonist of this story has to come to terms with the person that he damaged and abused, coming full circle with the cycle of abuse that cast him down this path of destruction. The protagonist says all he needs to say in the final moments of the song, "Need you, dream you, find you, taste you, fuck you, use you, scar you, break you, lose me, hate me, smash me, erase me, kill me." The protagonist now turns the hate unto himself, all set to heavy metal guitar riffs and growing distortion and abrasions in the mix. Reptile, a NIN concert favorite, defines the relationship of the protagonist with a past lover as one riddled with betrayal, infidelity, abuse, and impurity. The protagonist attempts to justify his actions through a scathing characterization of his lover. "Oh my beautiful liar, oh my precious whore, my disease my infection, I am so impure." There is a thread of truth as the protagonist acknowledges himself, and whether or not their relationship was as plagued as he claims is up to interpretation, but ultimately, it's this slow decline in self-referential hatred that leads the protagonist to his final act in The Downward Spiral, and his haunting epilogue, Hurt.  

Trent Reznor Barbed Wire The Downward Spiral Era Press Photo
The Downward Spiral is the protagonist's final thoughts, as he "couldn't believe how easy it was, he put the gun into his face, Bang! (So much blood for such a tiny little hole)." The narrator's perspective is half-omniscient, half from the protagonist himself, as he describes the act in a chilling, casual conversation-like tone. It refers back to the protagonist, most likely the afterthought of his soul leaving his body, "Everything's blue in this world, the deepest shade of mushroom blue, all fuzzy, spilling out of my head." A final echo of the pain and suffering that the protagonist has gone through resonates for the remainder of the track, before dissolving into Reznor's arguably most famous song. 

Hurt couldn't be any more painful than it already is, but Johnny Cash reinvented and took ownership of Reznor's song in a way that puts it in an entirely new perspective. Still, Cash's Hurt couldn't exist without Reznor's own masterful ode to despair and regret. It opens with a shockingly bare-bones approach, and the protagonist gives listeners a final word on the feelings of a person that has ended up so damaged by the end, and whether or not any of it was worth it. "I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real, the needle tears a hole, the old familiar sting, try to kill it all away, but I remember everything." The protagonist continues as he reminisces on what he has done and addresses a person he loves. The self-pity and depression in his reflections can relate to any person who experiences regret, and that's what makes this song so powerful and a concert mainstay whenever Nine Inch Nails performs live. The final chorus is an admission of defeat while promising if he ever got another chance to do it again, he would not go down The Downward Spiral of self-destruction. "You could have it all, my empire of dirt, I will let you down, I will make you hurt, if I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way."

Nine Inch Nails was propelled into worldwide stardom with The Downward Spiral. Its unapologetic and tragic story burned itself into the ears of fans as a cautionary tale, and its two radio sensations, Closer and Hurt, couldn't be more apart from mainstream music clichés. As the world was about to reel from the infamous and suspicious death of grunge rock heartthrob Kurt Cobain, Reznor introduced the world to an even dirtier and darker (than Alice In Chains' Dirt) form of rock, and brought industrial to the main stage of popular culture. The studio work was so unlike any other album at the time that it still feels modern over a quarter-century later and continues to be discovered by new generations. Reznor's legacy will ultimately be defined by both this album, and our upcoming entry in our Masterpiece series, his follow-up masterwork, 1999's double album The Fragile. 

Trent Reznor Nine Inch Nails

Recommended Tracks: Piggy, The Becoming, Reptile

September 30, 2020

Sunn O)))'s twin album releases, Life Metal and Pyroclasts (2019), are a fantastic entry point into drone metal - Album reviews

Two releases that have escaped me over the past year were from drone metal gods, Sunn O))) (pronounced just Sun, and aptly named after the popular Sunn amplifiers which ceased operation in 2002), with their half-improvised, half-composed twin albums, Life Metal, and Pyroclasts. For any newcomers to this genre of mammoth sounds and drastically slowed reverberations, these two (relatively) new releases cement this duo's legacy as drone metal pioneers and an awesome entry point for anyone interested in pulling back the veil of the eternal void.

Life Metal 

Sunn O))) Life Metal Album Artwork

Recorded alongside Pyroclasts and released six months earlier, Life Metal is a play on words and an inside joke between band members and collaborators, since they refer to life metal as the opposite of the genre term, death metal, and therefore anything that isn't "doom and gloom". For context, Sunn O))) duo Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have found themselves in a good place at this time in their lives over their 20+ year career, with one recently becoming a father. Thus, Life Metal is the sum of this personal contentment and Anderson's creative challenge to compose a drone album that is less dark in tone.

Consisting of only four tracks each, Sunn O)))'s wall of sound is devastating in its tonal envelope and metal riffs. By trading off between drone and riff-maker, Anderson and O'Malley, with the help of some frequent collaborates and the recording assistance of legendary producer Steve Albini, created two masterworks, and the first Sunn O))) albums that are recorded and mixed entirely in analog equipment. This ultimately recreates the exact tonal experience of seeing the group in a live performance setting.

Starting off with Between Sleipnir's Breaths, which is a Norse mythology reference to the eight-legged horse that the god Odin rides on, it is bookended by samples of Sleipnir whinnying and galloping through the cosmos. What's also noticeable as the album begins is Sunn O)))'s distinctly powerful and nimble riffage, which comes across swifter and less glacial in its pace when compared to previous releases. Between... is assisted by the otherworldly and ancient vocals of Icelandic singer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who also happens to be a classically trained cellist who contributes to this record. It is the only singing on the album. When the blustering eeriness subsides, Troubled Air takes over and is highlighted by Australian composer Anthony Pateras's pipe organ. Aurora is a meditation in feedback that pushes listeners to the edge of eternity before letting off the pressure and beginning again. Finally, Novæ, the longest song by far, clocking in at a behemoth quarter-hour, is the piece that briskly moves through heavy sustained riffs before descending into its guttural and subdued midsection. It's primal and deep in its chasms of meditation, but it inevitably builds into a walloping windstorm of power, climaxing, and piercing in its final 3 minutes of droning metal. 


Sunn O))) Pyroclasts Album Artwork

By definition, Pyroclasts refers to the catapulted pyroclastic volcanic rocks during a volcanic eruption. It is curious that Sunn O))) decided to name these four improvisational tracks after something so explosive. While their sound remains rock steady, its sustained tones generate almost like a falling avalanche or erupting volcano. Frost (C) is the first cut that was produced by the band, and these four 11 minute tracks were improvised drone jams, more or less, at the beginning or end of the day while recording for Life Metal. Frost (C) can only be described as unforgiving, as its drone, feedback, and dark and heavy riffs, feel exactly like a hurricane blizzard. The second track, Kingdoms (G), starts off a bit quieter (if you can even call it that), and it continues the tradition in an aurally satisfying way. It crescendos by the halfway mark and gestates and vibrates there for a while before distorting itself the rest of the way to the end. Ampliphædies (E), which sounds like the ancient god of amplifiers, quivers, and strums, with energy that always feels like it tops the previous entry. Just how can a rock group keep sounding louder? However improbable it may seem, Sunn O))) does just that. The riffs and almost angelic-like chorus playing out in the corners of the chaos of tonal assault, create an atmosphere unlike any other. Last is Ascension (A), and it turns on as if right at that exact moment, the band just picks up and goes for it. It's a purely transportive drone that wraps up the 44-minute release. 

Sunn O))) have defined a genre, and haven't let up after all these years. What they have composed in these two sprawling releases is a catharsis of heady and meditative metal drones and riffs that can be played at any volume, but will always produce in listeners the same effect of a massive, yet ethereal calm. For those who are ready and willing to experience drone metal, Life Metal is the definitive entry point into this genre. 

Life Metal - 8.25/10

Pyroclasts - 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Between Sleipnir's Breaths, Troubled Air, Frost (C)

September 27, 2020

Sufjan Stevens releases his 8th mainline studio album, the lush, electronic, and heartfelt The Ascension - Album Review

As an accomplished and fan-favorite indie musician marching to the beat of his own drum, Sufjan (pronounced SOOF-yahn) Stevens has mastered nearly every corner of electronic and indie rock productions, often recording either bare-bones recordings that put his breathy vocals and a single instrument in the forefront, or creating a lush atmosphere of electronic orchestrations. The Ascension takes all of this growth over the past 20 years of his career and places it affirmatively into a seminal album full of love and hope. 

Starting with a catchy syncopated rhythm reminiscent of a Radiohead or Thom Yorke beat, angelic vocals sweep into the mix, showcasing Sufjan's God-given vocal cords. Full of spiritual and religious imagery, Sufjan's music is often steeped in love, an almost religious experience is aurally produced in much of his music of previous releases, and Make Me an Offer I Cannot Refuse fits this mold gorgeously. Run Away With Me is a call to a lover to make a new life together, which is complemented by a soft piano and a cathedral-like reverb echoing through the track. Die Happy has an eerie, dreamy build as Sufjan's existential request is repeated like a mantra, and it plateaus at half of its runtime into a fantastical amalgym of electro dream pop. Ativan gives off more Yorke electronic sensibilities in its beat as Sufjan asks what life is worth, questioning the meaning of the divine plan. 

The following tracks also permeate this same spiritual ethos. Ursa Major, for example, stands out as Sufjan's most distinct track of the album for its rare fusion of eastern music influence in its electronic beat, while Sufjan builds to the falsetto chorus "I wanna love you!" It's an injection of bliss in the middle of the album and is closely followed by the sonically pleasing Landslide, which asks listeners to "take a walk in the circle of life". What becomes clear through the listening of this album is that Sufjan has developed an electronic sound all his own, and instead of the typical mainstream electronic, hip-hop, or pop tracks that rely on autotuned technology to give credence to other artists, Sufjan's ability to instill his own heart and soul (with a real talent for singing) makes his music all the more precious, genuine, and sincere. 

One of The Ascension's singles, Sugar, appears within the final trio of tracks, and its playthrough is certainly a journey, much like the final song America, and both contain memorable buildups and ambient landings that are soft and excellent palate cleansers for an album full of various electronic orchestration and experimentation. The most memorable message of The Ascension is Sufjan's final parting words in America, "don't do to me what you did to America" as Sufjan's call and concern for our country's troubles and tensions "dove flew to me like a vision of paranoia" and "don't look at me like I'm acting hysterical" reverberate with a hefty weight that should motivate anyone listening to take their individual action to try and help to fix the country. It's a timely and resounding message that is appropriate for the present day. 

The Ascension propels Sufjan and any willing listener to heights of grandeur. The only real criticism of this album is that it does seem like too much of a good thing (if that's even possible). If Sufjan were to nominate a single track for the cutting room floor or even cut a little bit of the slow rise and fall from a couple of songs, then this album's runtime would ultimately be served for the better. Still, this is hardly a problem, since too much of a good thing is exactly what this world is in dire need of at the present moment. 

The Ascension - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Ursa Major, Landslide, America

September 23, 2020

The Flaming Lips latest LP expertly crafts sonic psychedelia, detailing pastime youth, family, drugs, and death, but in the present year, does anybody care? American Head Album Review

For a band as determined to explore all of the inner space that can possibly be explored, The Flaming Lips have done it yet again, but for all the sadness they seem to drudge up from either the past or their own lingering thoughts, there doesn't seem to be much new ground to be made. 

After their fantastical triumph Oczy Mlody and then their wacky but stale King's Mouth, The Flaming Lips want fans to know that even though the world has drastically changed for better or worse, they have not by even the slightest bit. 

The album opens with Will You Return / When You Come Down, a classic sing-songy and wind chimey song for Wayne to introduce us to the feeling of alienation, drug addiction, and death. It's a sobering reminder that life isn't all it's cracked up to be, despite the escape we all try to seek. "Here it's sad, now all your friends are dead." Oof... seems a little too depressing nowadays as the country crosses the 200k death threshold of the worldwide pandemic. And this is only just the first song...

Watching The Lightbugs glow continues the melancholy attitude in a beautifully slow instrumental piece that features vocal hums by Kacey Musgraves. Flowers of Neptune 6 works as a part two as Wayne chimes in, weaving space imagery and past memories that are nostalgic and sad at the same time. The following set of tracks keep the same low pace and hazy psychedelia, but it hardly uplifts or feels hopeful. Mother I've Taken LSD, a situation that would feel like the most unpleasant scenario for almost anyone, is another depressing trip down memory lane. 

The album doesn't start to really pick up or do anything more interesting than this until Brother Eye, a syncopated synth ditty that uses Wayne's full talent as a vocalist as he sings to his older brother, pleading with him not to die. The album art, after all, is Wayne's older brother, who was constantly in and out of the house, racing on his motorcycle. It's a deeply personal track that hits harder than any song before it. You N Me Sellin' Weed, which follows directly after, drops back into the tongue-in-cheek and fantastical pastimes of selling drugs and being in love as an Oklahoma youth. Mother Please Don't Be Sad is a hypothetical situation that Wayne felt after a real-life robbery situation that happened in a store he used to work in and it is symphonic, if not brilliant and leads into the rightfully genius psychedelic rock track When We Die When We're High; it wisely leaves Wayne's singing on the sidelines for the majority of its runtime as multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd pulls off a wickedly cool drum beat. 

The final three tracks, Assassins of Youth, God and The Policeman, and My Religion is You redeem an album that has already veered too far into nostalgia territory and fails to address anything that anyone is currently living through today, let alone the 21st century. It is the equivalent of trying to understand a person that can't stop living in the past, and the handful of hit tracks seem to stall the ultimate downturn of American Head from landing on its own head. Psychedelic, yes. Fun... not so much. 

Call me an old man, ignorant, jaded, whathaveyou for not falling in line with the general consensus of reviewers, but what The Lips offer here is another release of more of the same, highly refined, and interesting sounds, full of self-indulgent life memories reminiscent of drugs and death. Unfortunately though, in the present year, it’s hard to care with so many huge problems society is facing as a species. The result is probably the most polished, but irrelevant, Lips record of their career.

American Head - 7/10

Recommended Tracks: Will You Return / When You Come Down, Brother Eye, When We Die When We're High

April 24, 2020

Interview: D Tha Don

AirdriftSignals: Hi D Tha Don, what’s good?!

D Tha Don: Just working on the music man. I gotta single coming tomorrow and another video shoot next week.

AirSig: That's awesome to hear! I see you are based out of Pittsburgh. Has the city presented a lot of opportunities artistically?

D Tha Don: Yes, and I would have to say the city did not provide many opportunities early on, however, I live in a city and country where if you work hard to put GOD first, you can create your own opportunities! As time went on support started to come from different sources.

AirSig: And the labels you manage, can you tell us all a little more about that?

D Tha Don: I currently manage 3 labels. I’m the president of Banditfide, manage Queenie Moët, and also a manager for her label QME. I also currently have my own company Phenomenally Dope Ent.

AirSig: In the social media age, what do you think it takes to market and take your team to the next level?

D Tha Don: Consistency and marketing.

AirSig: Is there anything that you’d like to share with us about your recent mixtape from November?

D Tha Don: Yes I dropped a joint project with Ruzee Ru called Banditfide Sh*t, one of the hottest albums to come out the city in a while.

AirSig: I see you’ve also recently released a new music video, America, along with several others. This one honors Black History Month and features socially conscious lyrics. How do you feel about using your voice and your talent as a platform for socially conscious messages and change?

D Tha Don: If GOD gives me the power to reach somebody through music or if He lets my music change life for the better of the people socially or historically then that would be one of my greatest accomplishments in life.

AirSig: And your other videos, Murder That, and In This World, is there anything you'd like to share about the messages you're trying to put forward? 

D Tha Don: Yes, in the Murda That video, I’m simply conveying if you love woman, been in love with before, or currently, you know what I’m saying if you listen to the song, I’m basically saying make love to your woman wholeheartedly in my own way! lol

And In this World I created because of my kids I have a teenager and she is very smart and talented she be teaching me stuff, I tell her and her brother “you can be anything in this world” every day because they can! With GOD anything is possible!

AirSig: Speaking of In This World, your video shows you wearing a face mask, and our interview and your music's timing is now reflecting a new post-COVID-19 world. How do you think it's going to change the business in the months and years to come?

D Tha Don: Yes in the In this World video I wore a mask because of what’s going on with COVID-19 in poor minority communities throughout the world. Like everyone else in the world I’m concerned about the virus I don’t think things will be the same, but rather they will be or not I don't fear about things that kill can the body, I fear who can kill the body and soul! I keep my faith in GOD and try to strive to be a better person I come from a rough past but now I see a brighter future!

AirSig: Could you name some artists who have specifically inspired you growing up?

D Tha Don: Nas, Tupac, Biggie, etc.

AirSig: Have you got anything else from you or your team coming out in the near future that you would like to share with us?

D Tha Don: Yes another album, Banditfide 2. Then I'm dropping an EP this year called Struggles. Be on the lookout for the EP and video coming soon!

AirSig: What would you give for advice to those who are looking to make a rewarding career in the music business?

D Tha Don: Make sure your paperwork is right, only work with people working hard like you, stay consistent, and lastly don’t give up!

D Tha Don can be heard on all music streaming platforms. Check out his latest stream of singles and check out his last LP Banditfide Sh*t with his group Banditfide as well! You can read our full review of his latest LP here.

Banditfide - Banditfide Album Review

Tryna Get It Entertainment presents Banditfide Sh*t, the latest LP from Pittsburgh hip-hop group, Banditfide, which stars D Tha Don, Ruzee Ru Sbz, and Queenie Moët.

The debut album is a promise of greatness and unending drive that doesn't pull any punches, and while each member has their own careers ahead of them, Banditfide Sh*t displays strength and prominence of the Pittsburgh trio as they come together.

Banditfide On Me Tee is the opening track, and it enters with dreamy nursery-rhyme style chimes that are quickly joined by trap hi-hats, bass, and a snare while the group chants their brand they represent. Their way of life is to rep Banditfide on their chests and trample over anyone who doesn't sport their mark with loyalty and strength. It's a powerful intro to an album that tells their respective stories of life in the city and the struggles they've overcome. Hores, featuring Ray Rocka takes a swerve into a dirty and trap-infused track about "hores", which is as tongue-in-cheek as it is bangin'. The wordplay is amusing, shocking, and humorous, but it nevertheless still pulls the listener in and elicits a curiosity at what they've got in store for this album.

Walk-Ins breaks up the tempo of the previous track and D Tha Don leads with his signature style of dark, tremolo-vocals with a front-facing message of how it's not about the tools you're given, but how you put them to use. The 808s, snare, and trap hats all make an atmosphere and headspace that is addicting as D The Don flows effortlessly with the knowledge he's gained. Camo continues this slow and dangerous drawl that crawls through the urban jungle while the militant gangster rap by Ruzee Ru Sbz forms an aggressive mantra that is chest-thumping and dangerous in vibe and lyrics. D The Don also takes a stab with a murderous verse.

Everything Banditifide creates an eerie whistle of a beat while D Tha Don focuses the track and raps about everything that Banditfide identifies with. It's a statement of life and death and the neverending promise to stay true and stay Banditfide. They Talk About Me is another angle to Banditfide's dynamic aura and while the trio addresses the talkers and naysayers, they set themselves up as the go-getters of the industry. They acknowledge that they've experienced the resistance of some through the years, their goals and passion remain unchanged. Different is the song that pulls the focus back and turns it toward the women. It's one of a couple of tracks that feature love interests, and this one gets an addicting club vibe rolling as it easily applies to their significant others while they make their promise to take care of and treat their women right.

Funeral, featuring Wave Prophet, gives D The Don the mic again with his observations about death being one of the only times people care and show their love, a sad truth for some who are in the crosshairs of those who hate. Its production mixes with Eastern flute melodies, which makes it a slow and unfurling beauty to behold. This beautiful mix of gangsterfied zen that D The Don fluidly builds is one of the many facets of Banditfide. Strap On Me feels like the next logical progression from Funeral, as it is the group's way to avoid a premature obituary. Rock & Roll, featuring Mil, is a play on the words, while D Tha Don repeats, "you know how we rock, you know how we roll." It's another bout of thug-life storytelling that D and Ruzee take turns to lay down hard truths that crush weak minds and break brittle bones. It's dark and a reality check for those who don't live in their city.

Really features Jaii Locc for more hardcore blasting the nonstop sh*t-talking that haters tend to do. Glo is a self-proclamation that these members will continue to shine despite the obstacles, while Wat It Do unveils a beautifully coated beat for Banditfide to roll to that proves both sultry and catchy. Live Life features another day in the life of Banditfide Sh*t. Break You Off strums with a creative and fluttering beat. Taboo Friday and Infrared grind the final moments of Banditfide Sh*t hard and doesn't stop for any weak-minded fools.

Banditfide Sh*t is the new testament this Pittsburgh hip-hop group lives by. Any hip-hop head who's into that deeper, hardcore vibe will dig Banditfide's flood of 808s, addictive synths, and real-world swagger. At the end of the day, it's a promising debut that shows that Banditfide has a lot of passion and stories to share with the world, and it's a chapter that will lead to even greater things in the future. You can read our exclusive interview with member D Tha Don here.

Recommended Tracks: Camo, Funeral, Rock & Roll