OLD ESSAY// Hello, Stranger: Not For You’s Lindsey Sherman

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This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, April 2015.

Lindsey Sherman was waiting for Not For You. Native to the Northwest suburbs, she’s been generating music that pushes at the barriers of the mind and heart for years. It’s never clicked for G-Shermo like it has with NFU though.

“What’s it like playing with other people?”
It’s really strange.

LS started playing music in junior high, fumbling around like the rest of us with saxophones, etc. before realizing that, actually, she wanted a guitar. A shoegaze outfit in high school was a lot of fun – and activated a love of sound design that permeates Li’s work today –  but couldn’t survive outside of the studio. Lindsey subsequently developed her solo voice as Cool Mom, producing oodles of “spooky, ethereal” songs that, in the end, she never felt cut it either.

A selection of those songs, dating as far back as two or three years, make up most of Not For You’s debut Canary in the Mine, which Lil Sherm also mixed. The band only started playing this year but their easy chemistry and belief in each other propels the three-piece forward to progressively resonant heights.

I got the chance to catch young NFU at the DIY venue Hostel Earphoria a couple weeks ago, a bill that included + favs DAYMAKER. Not For You straight up fucking blew people’s minds through Sherman’s powerful modulated vocals and compositions that mix a deep, emotive core with steely textures and explosive songwriting. Since then, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the preview of …the Mine that’s been up on the group’s official Bandcamp.

Update, 2016: This week Lindsey  & co. released a little thingie called I Dream of Sludge. Check out the pair of songs above!

“Do you feel a specific chemistry with [these] players?”
 Definitely.

FEATURE// sL-2God: war and peace

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Cover by Nat Iosbaker

What’s different about this new mixtape?

The first sL-wGod tape was full of pop songs. It was very bright, and even though things were changing and I was using a lot of effects throughout the tape, it was relatively simple to follow. Here’s a cool pop song slowed down, here’s another cool pop song slowed down, here’s a spacy collage portion that still feels really good overall.

This project is more conceptual in some ways. A lot noisier in some parts, incoherent in some parts, it’s what happens after things get more complicated.

Like, war is not just getting from A to B – it’s a whole thingie. I don’t want to say too much and tell you what you’re supposed to think, but I want you to know there is rest at the end of this sculpture, and little invisible things to absorb and keep with you from the conflict.

Read an interview about the first sL-wGod mixtape.

 

OLD ESSAY// Noname Gypsy, Real Human Being

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This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, October 2014.

Noname Gypsy sits across from me in a Hyde Park Native Foods. “I wonder why everybody’s world when it comes to rap is the same. My world, I feel like, is different from Saba’s world, and Saba’s world is different from Chance’s world, but when we’re talking about people who are on the radio all of their worlds are damn near the same.” She throws out the names of current hot boys Migos and Travis $cott, but for Noname, born Fatimah Warner, it’s not a dismissal, pedantic or otherwise (Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo is her favorite shit out right now).  Instead, it’s a thoughtful, well-meaning observation about potential friends.  If hoes can bring everyone in the rap game from Nicki Minaj to Kid Cudi to Too $hort together, Noname Gypsy inevitably ends up in the corner with the Cherrypie Blues. “I don’t pull hella niggas so I can’t rap about that. I don’t pull…,” she laughs,“hella bitches so I can’t rap about that.”  It’s not that Warner is female that makes her stand out, it’s that the desires and observations that Noname Gypsy blends into her sweet, poetic molasses are so innocent that they seem truly obscene (“offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency)” in the obscenity-obsessed world of modern rap. “I’ve been rapping a lot about having a husband and kids recently. I really want to be married with kids, I don’t know if that’s a rap thing to want,” she jokes.

One thing Noname has in common with a few of her most special peers is a missing album. Not delayed,missing. As in the fans think it should be here now and their almighty creator hasn’t delivered (See: Jay Electronica, Chance the Rapper). Noname says at least three people ask her about her highly anticipated Telefone project a day. On Mick Jenkins’s recent jam “Comfortable” Noname actually raps ‘Telefone never coming out.’ When I ask her if she would consider the project “Zero percent complete,” she laughs and says “Yeah.”

She’s been writing with Saba- the two send each other a new piece a day to keep the creative juices flowing. Well, Saba’s been sending her verses. True to form, Noname has been writing but second-guesses everything too much to show it off. If you start to type “Noname Gypsy” into a Youtube search, her song “Paradise” will be the first entry. Except Noname took the music video for “Paradise” down; it’s her biggest solo song and she hates it. “It’s not like I haven’t been making music and don’t have raps, they’re just not at the level I would like them to be. I’m not at the place where I feel comfortable releasing music.”

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For Noname, having that level of discretion is essential. “Taking shit down when I want to and being able to control my image is kinda what keeps me sane.” It brings her back to her oft-spoken appreciation of Jay Electronica, a role model for her patience and desire to remain down-to-earth and experimental. “Dizzy,” the piece Noname dropped this week is a hot bomb. Her style is fresh as ever and only becoming sharper, the song recalls the new FlyLo/Kendrick joint if they decided to just chill out. Noname Gypsy spins around the track describing sunsets, blurring timelines and never allowing her grin to become inaudible. As always she imbues intimate vulnerability with a grand serenity throughout, spitting ‘Lotion on my skin got me feeling super smooth, like I could save a life…’. The juxtapositions in the song are telling of the contradictory impulses Noname experiences – she wants to be a legend. On her own time; without videos, interviews, or television. Just music. “And I think there’s a way I can do it,” she says. A smile isn’t far off.

Telefone never coming out. Follow Noname Gypsy on Twitter

ESSAY // “Beyoncé is not an actual artist.” – A Response to Radical Faggot

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There’s a phrase coined by Sigmund Freud, “the narcissism of small differences.” – “the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.” I felt challenged and enriched by reading Radical Faggot‘s piece on Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, and by responding to it I hope to add to a complex, perpetually relevant discussion, rather than detract from dialogue by attempting to destroy or ignore the points I am struggling the most with.

I didn’t type that sentence in passive-aggression, but I do want to start by saying I think this response is necessary because I feel that Rad Fag, in their piece, is minimizing and ignoring parts of Beyoncé’s work and identity in ways that are unfair and sadly ironic. It genuinely makes me sad because people dehumanize* artists all the time, and it’s ironic because it’s happening in response to a piece of work that’s specifically about the dissonance Beyoncé Knowles feels as a black woman who is struggling on-and-off-camera to be seen as a full, real (Black, female) human.

Oh, yes, you besta believe it

1.  Big Freedia is not a trans woman. This leads to my disagreement with the points in general on cis, female pop stars “appropriating” queer and trans culture. It’s a sometimes ambiguous, but overwhelmingly symbiotic relationship. When Madonna or FKA twigs seemingly co-opt vogue in the middle of successful professional careers, they are already undeniably in a conversation with a large queer and trans audience who is supporting them and adopting their mannerisms, language, and iconography, too. Not to mention their collaborators, staff, and friends. Of course, not every cis-female entertainer is known to be especially beloved in the queer and trans community, but Bey is. Her using language like “slay” or sampling the voice and images of queer people is, at the very least, showing love and giving visibility to people who adore, mimic, and exalt her expression as a cis female.

Furthermore, what is the operative difference between Big Freedia (positively described by Rad Fag as “a force”) and Beyoncé? Freedia is a black, feminine, Southern entrepreneur and entertainer with hyper-sexualized (and empowerment-themed) music, corporate sponsors, and big-name producers and collaborators. Beyoncé operates at a larger scale than Freedia but if you put their actual work side-by-side they do the same thing. If Big Freedia puts out a Black Lives Matter-themed video, is she also responsible for deflecting the attention away from the racist mayor of Chicago, the people of Flint, and the police state, too? Or is Freedia not famous enough (yet)?

2. Beyoncé has a black child, a black husband, a black mother, father, sister. Beyoncé is black. No amount of money erases that, and the idea that it ever could, or that having a lot of money makes someone able to un-feel or express their blackness does not sit right with me. A little boy roughly her daughter’s age is still facing down a line of police, and her Southern family (“Momma Lousiana;”) are still suffering from Katrina – are we assuming Beyoncé has no loved ones in New Orleans?  As stated earlier, this is what “Formation” and its video are explicitly in response to. Beyoncé is wearing modern “sexy” clothing like a rich pop star and she’s dressed like a classic Southern Belle and she’s wearing a “modest” dress that covers up everything and yet she still drowns. She uses the mechanics of a pop video to draw a line through time, space, and class.  Which brings me to the subject of #3:

Bitch, I’m back by popular demand

3. RF‘s first point expresses sincere frustration at constantly being asked to respond to the “Formation” video. Without attempting to invalidate, I object to the implication that people are primarily talking about “Formation” because Beyoncé is popular or they’re being somehow fooled; people are talking about it because they believe it is an exceptional piece of work, first and foremost. People talk incessantly about Beyoncé because we believe she is an exceptional artist. Not always. But very often, whether she’s singing acapella in a dressing room, making a song about the joy of having a daughter or one about going down on her famous husband in a limousine.

4.  There’s a JAY Z line, “Heard niggas saying they made Hov, made Hov say ‘OK, make another HOV.'” If a corporation “making” Beyoncé or any pop star was as easy and effortless as it is made to seem, every pop star would be Beyoncé, you know? But they’re not. Taylor Swift isn’t, Britney Spears wasn’t, even Rihanna isn’t. Justin Timberlake, her closest pop peer, clearly pales in esteem as well.  Outside of the pop landscape, I, and we, truly believe that Beyoncé is a uniquely powerful creator – she’s a once-in-a-lifetime creative genius and “Formation” carries any To Pimp A Butterfly, “Missippi Goddam” I could name. Beyoncé is in conversation with bell hooks, not to be talked down to, is to be celebrated and studied alongside Hurston, Brooks, & Angelou.

5. I am an anarchist. I believe that capitalism fucks up this world in a bad way. I do not idolize Bill Gates (or Steve Jobs or Beyoncé) as capitalists. We have political differences; Beyoncé believes that participating in capitalism in the way she does, at the scale she does, results in a net benefit enough to keep doing it. So does my mom. To treat an ideological difference as a chance to minimize someone’s struggles is not any less destructive when someone has a lot of money.

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

6. I also believe that no matter where you are in this system, you are going to suffer, consciously or unconsciously. I do not believe that Beyoncé or any rich artist is happier than I am just because they are “successful.” In fact, most celebrities, most rich people, will tell you all the time about the tolls being rich and famous takes on them. A lot of large scale art is explicitly about that. JAY Z’s most recent album Magna Carta Holy Grail is about that; in fact, all JAY Z is about that. Bey and JAY’s On the Run tour was about that. That “Formation” projects superhuman confidence, and that because of our current condition this confidence is both what endears Yoncé and her peers to their audience and enrages onlookers is one of the central tragedies of the piece. Making explicit the parallels to and, roots in, black, queer, & class struggles (with a swag rap cadence) is one of the deft, masterful things about the work. And then she gave it to the biggest audience on Earth.

*7. I used the word “dehumanizing” earlier: “Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.” I stand by my use of the word.

I encourage you, if you are reading this piece, to read Radical Faggot‘s piece, multiple times. It is full of important information and your eyes and mind will do a better job of processing its value than I ever could as I am writing in “opposition” to it. I am grateful for it.

Always stay gracious