The Midnight Hour – Questions (feat. CeeLo Green)

Although In My Ear’s concept and design is centered around songs (a new one posted each week-ish to inspire, not overwhelm; share and celebrate, not rush to debut or announce), I personally applaud “the album.” That species of music-making endangered by click-rates and selective streaming and competition for the public’s precious little attention. Am I guilty of cherry-picking songs instead of demanding — as a consumer and music appreciator — cohesive albums? Yes.

But, not today. Today, I honor a true album. A comprehensive, sweeping musical expression that is made up of great, individual songs, but that truly moves the audience and delivers when listened to as a whole. A sum that is greater than its parts.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of Tribe Called Quest) & Adrian Younge The Midnight Hour

Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) and Adrian Younge (musician, composer, arranger, and producer) are two of the most respected composers in hip hop. After years of time-limited, one-off collaborations, they formed The Midnight Hour this year and released their self-titled debut album The Midnight Hour in June.

The Midnight Hour is Black excellence: an ode to the cultural sophistication that the Harlem Renaissance established for its people.

~The Midnight Hour artist page, Bandcamp

Questions was the lead single off the record and it remains my favorite track. Mostly because I had already heard it and loved it two years ago when Kendrick Lamar sampled an unfinished demo version of the song on his 2016 album untitled unmastered. as the track untitled 06 | 06.30.2014.

Vibe on this song, sure, but do yourself a favor and take the time/create the space to sit with the entire Midnight Hour record. Younge has a deft touch on the keys; Shaheed Muhammed is (unbeknownst to me) a killer bassist; and their composer/arranger chops, as well as their chemistry, just make the album a remarkable listen. Orchestral and cinematic, while still feeling intimate, it combines jazz and jazz fusion, soul, and hip hop into a sumptuous 20-track set — recalling smokey clubs and your parents’/grandparents’/favorite uncle’s jazz and soul records spinning on a beloved turntable.

Mac Miller — 2009

Mac Miller died of an apparent drug overdose earlier this month, September 7. A month earlier on August 3rd, he released his latest album Swimming. On August 6, he played a fun, intimate, engaging set for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. He was prepping for a North American tour on the new album. And, then he was gone.

Reports are that since Mac Miller’s passing, streaming numbers of his music have shot up 970% and seven of his past albums have entered (or re-entered) the Billboard 200 list. I am one of those contributing to the late Mac Miller’s skyrocketing streaming numbers.

I didn’t know about him until I heard he had died. Didn’t listen to his music; didn’t register the name. But, I started listening as I read tribute-after-tribute to him from artists I do know and that I respect. Black Thought; Childish Gambino; Kendrick Lamar; Anderson.Paak; Solange; Chance the Rapper; Vince Staples; Thundercat. They credited him for his clever, nimble wordplay. For his unconventional, but moving, singing voice. For his production and beat-making skills. For his authenticity and candor. And, to-a-person, for his kindness and sweetness — something I rarely hear so publicly and universally honored and applauded (in hip-hop, in music in general, or, frankly, in modern society).

The Meadows Music and Arts Festival, New York, USA - 02 Oct 2016

And, here’s the thing. I learned there is a reason I didn’t know about Miller or his career: he started out making music I did not — and still do not — like. Frivolous, frat-boy party rap. He released his first EP at age 15, his first LP in 2011 at age 19, came to fame in an MTV reality series following him as he tried to make it in LA, became involved in a well-publicized relationship and subsequent break-up with pop superstar Ariana Grande, and had well-documented (mostly by him) issues with sobriety and substance abuse.

All the while, over a 10-year career in music at a very young age, he matured in the spotlight — shedding that frat-boy rap that launched his career to make increasingly mature, introspective, artistically diverse records.

Those are the records that resonate for me and that he was making leading up to September 7 this year, none more so than his latest Swimming. It’s a sometimes joyful, mostly haunting record that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It continues to document his ongoing struggles with substance abuse. There is suffering mixed with optimism; funky, bouncing Thundercat-driven bass lines followed by Mac singing and rapping solo in a strained, fractured voice over spare, halting beats.

There are many standout tracks and you will be rewarded for listening (try Hurt Feelings and What’s the Use? to start) but I chose 2009 because it is a quiet depth-charge of a track where you can feel how real the struggle is/was for Miller.

I’d like to think that I would have stumbled at some point onto track, this record, and onto Mac Miller. But, would this song or his latest record sound the same or hit as hard were he still alive? Hard to know. Sad that all of us had to find out.