MATERNAL INSTINCTS (Vintage 1990s Romance)

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No sex, only kissing. No bad behavior, no cursing and certainly no politics. The five members of Pentatonix, though, represent a rainbow coalition of historically marginalized groups. One of the male lead singers, Mitch Grassi, is openly gay. Despite looking like a United Colors of Benetton ad styled by the Kardashians, the members of Pentatonix sound like the jukebox at a heavily chaperoned sock hop; through them, Cracker Barrel can dip its toes in the waters of inclusion without fearing any backlash. Could it be that five choir nerds hold the secret to bridging a divided nation?

Of course they did it. That moment made New York rap iconoclasm — and A Tribe Called Quest — matter again in one epic, epochal heartbeat: Who else are you gonna call when the dirty work of radical-oppositional boom-bap needs to be done, live and direct, in irony-redolent rhyme? We need not hold our breath waiting, though. Its lyrics name and gather together all the targeted — Mexicanfolk, Muslimfolk, gayfolk, womenfolk, BlackLivesMatterfolk — under one force field.

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And under one intersectional, Queens-bred guerrilla meal plan:. There are two different ways you can keep up with pop. The first is by drifting along with the current, bobbing immersed in the changing of the charts — so lost from any point of reference on the shore that minor fluctuations the downfall of an air horn, the outflow of a sound hardly register. You, most likely, are in high school, or college, or somewhere that music flows like water all around. Pop, in such places, is understood by osmosis. The rest of us — less lucky — must accept the second system.

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The beat on the track was the inverse of a banger — tinny and thin, compulsively looping, like something churned out with a really cool toy. In a voice that was somehow both droning and singsong, the year-old Atlantan wanly shrugged off commitment. Catchy like a backing track in a commercial, it was sticky for all the texture it lacked. I listened on repeat with car-crash infatuation. The hip-hop establishment had little to offer.

In Nautica shirts and plastic-beaded braids, he was an ungraceful hybrid of your grandpa and your niece. As old-schoolers and gatekeepers scratched their heads and wept, Yachty continued to rise through the ranks, buoyed by fans who had no trouble understanding. His come-up was something straight outta LinkedIn, an origin uncaring toward the rap plot as we know it.


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What begins as Yachty on a yacht with three women quickly descends into maritime madness — jump-cuts from hammerhead sharks and harpoons, to dress-up in wet suits and other nautical garb, to glitch-art graphics of slow-swimming fish, calling to mind the early days of home computers.

Yachty had to do his research, just like the rest of us.


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  6. T he year-old musician Kelela favors the kind of fashion aesthetic that science-fiction films sometimes use to signify characters from the future: gravity-defying materials in iridescent or metallic colors. For a recent rainy night in Strasbourg, the small city in the northeastern corner of France, she strode onstage dressed like a lieutenant in an anime cartoon, in an oversize gray bomber jacket, matching shorts and heels made from white fabric that stretched above her knees.

    She raised her hands and gave a hard stare to the crowd. It has influenced every genre, pretty much, so anyone who thinks it is basic or rudimentary has another thing coming. There were no whoops, claps or even smiles. The audience remained passive. But tonight, the scene was homogeneous in a very European way: Women favored striped boatnecks, red lips and messy topknots; the men, zipped-up pullovers and spotless white trainers.

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    Kelela nodded at her D. True to her word, amid the switchbacks of her feathery falsetto voice, there was no mistaking the roots of classic R. At one point, her face and body were illuminated by an electric shade of cyan, while the background remained shaded in dark azure.

    The effect made Kelela look as ethereal and spectral as the music radiating from the speakers. Her music can keep the lovesick company in bed just as easily as it can shepherd a party past sunrise. But that night the concertgoers remained inscrutable. Some 4, miles away, they seemed more excited than the people physically present in the concert hall.

    The audience, charmed at last, succumbed to the irresistible beat and danced along. The moment was buoyant but short-lived: It was her last number. She thanked the crowd and then bounded offstage. When she was back in her dressing room, the composure Kelela had projected to the audience quickly dissipated. She stood with her hands on her hips, chewing on her lip.

    Her boyfriend — a filmmaker named Cieron Magat, with whom she shares an apartment in London — murmured words of reassurance and handed her a cup of homemade ginger tea. Magat told her not to worry, but Kelela wanted to deconstruct the performance. The music of these women is aimed squarely at the heart chakra of young black women; it legitimizes as much as it asserts the value of being yourself — even if that self is thought to be a little off-center. Kelela, in particular, explodes the notion that blackness is monolithic, a single Pantone square instead of untold variations.

    Her music is geared to a generation that lives for juxtapositions and unexpected arrangements, sonically and visually. She asked for a demo and gave the song to Solange, who asked Kelela to come on tour with her later that year, introducing Kelela to an audience who could appreciate her innovations in R. At the time, Kelela wanted to see how far she could push herself as an artist and play with the boundaries of R. Pitchfork gave the collection a rare 8. It felt like a sonic relic of the past unearthed years in the future. Since then, fans have been waiting for her first full-length album, which Kelela expects to release this year.

    In her dressing room, Kelela folded herself into a pretzel on the couch next to me. A candle burned in the background. She knew it had been an off night, but because she loves performing so much, she was still buzzing from the energy. Kelela Mizanekristos was born in to Mizanekristos Yohannes and Neghist Girma, students who escaped war-torn Ethopia and immigrated separately to the United States.

    She was raised in Gaithersburg, Md. He often took Kelela with him, and she fell in love with the culture of music.

    You can still catch the influence in her voice — the way she turns sounds into sacred geometry, almost unconsciously stairstepping through the vowels and consonants. In her early to mid 20s, she would go to a Washington bar called 18th Street Lounge for its Sunday-night house sessions. Her first boyfriend, Kris Funn, whom she met when she was 19, played the upright bass, and she sat in bars for hours, watching him and his friends play.

    Eventually the couple broke up, but Funn encouraged Kelela to trust her instincts and not be intimidated by her lack of formal music training. By that time, Kelela was a student at American University, studying international studies and sociology. In my head, I am supposed to be a college graduate. I wanted to finish. But I was not motivated to sit there and do that paper. I had a lot of resistance. She dropped out. This was in , and synthpop, epitomized by bands like the Knife, was trending. She began recording in a punk house in Washington, a city with a hard-core lineage that included acts like Fugazi and Bad Brains.

    She thrived in an environment devoid of rules. Just try. She spent hours on MySpace, scrolling through pages of music and listening to instrumentals.

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    She recorded herself singing over sounds she liked. Then she would send the artist her sample, along with an invitation to collaborate. Two notable electronic producers agreed, including Daedelus, who featured her on a track. At the same time, a friend introduced her to the electro duo Teengirl Fantasy, and they created a song. By then, Kelela was living in Los Angeles, and Boston brought her a thumb drive of sounds from the label and its British counterpart, Night Slugs. Kelela spent the next several days poring over the files, improvising lyrics over the sounds she liked, turning them into songs.

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    She loved the otherworldliness of the instrumentals — staccato mixes that used sound effects like tinkling glass and guns reloading over drum machines. The music complemented the gossamer scales she likes to sing in. Two of the songs she produced during this time were on the mixtape she released in Electronica, Sushon told me, is referential in the same way that R. Because of the internet, he explained, musicians can share references more easily than they did in the past. Google, YouTube and SoundCloud make it easy. I watched Kelela and her D. Here, suddenly, was the thrilling flicker of a decade-old hit that had almost entirely faded from popular culture, tucked into her own noir love song.

    After the show , back at her Strasbourg Airbnb, Kelela changed into oversize gray sweatpants and a black button-down crop top, and padded into the kitchen in white slippers. She plugged in an electric kettle and made another cup of ginger tea as our conversation turned to her debut album.

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