The day after this interview, Hope Tala is graduating from the University of Bristol in England. There, the 21-year-old has spent the past few years indulging in the greatest works of literature, immersing herself in the romance of prose and poetry. Her passion is obvious; it comes through in her work. Fittingly, her new EP is called Sensitive Soul. It’s an exploration of vulnerability, which, growing up, Tala was safe to explore
Openness and joy was something instilled in Tala from early on. As a kid, her liberal household was filled with fun, eclectic music that her Jamaican father and British and Irish mother would play. “Happiness was always the most important thing to my family,” says Tala. In her music, she shares that sense of freedom with the world—freedom to express who she is, and freedom to blend styles and sounds into her own version of modern, melodic pop. The West London based singer-songwriter’s music is bossa nova soul meets indie pop, and it’s all about love.
Hope Tala has an incredibly bright future ahead of her, whichever path she chooses, and a new EP, Sensitive Soul, out today. Here, the emerging artist opens up about discovering music through the classics, the hopeful upbringing that inspired her, and her ongoing journey of self-discovery.
Napoleon Gold – Love Don’t Cut Me Down (feat. Haiva ru)
Napoleon Gold (real name Antoine Honorez) grew up in Luxembourg City, the capital of one of Europe’s smallest countries.
Yet he’s always been a wandering spirit, always eager to escape, to travel, and to explore; perhaps that’s what took him to New York, developing a partnership with labels 13 Audio and Cinematic Music Group.
Fusing his delicious electronics to film scores, trip hop, and R&B, Napoleon Gold impressed with 2018’s fantastic ‘A New Colour’ EP, boasting a guest spot from T-Pain.
Returning with temperatures soaring, Napoleon Gold is on course to become the biggest musical export Luxembourg has seen this century.
New single ‘Love Don’t Cut Me Down’ has this twinkling late night feel, with his dappled electronics interweaving with vocals from Allie Merrill of Santa Barbara-based indie rock band Haiva Ru.
Sitting somewhere between hazy house and yacht pop, it’s informed by the producer’s life-long struggles with insomnia.
“During my first years in Brussels for university, my insomnia became more and more frequent. I remember staying awake night after night, making music, watching the sunrise from my music desk – it had this beautiful orange and golden colour. I knew seeing this colour meant I had once again failed to sleep, but it also symbolised a new day, a new beginning. I decided to name that colour ‘Napoleon Gold’.”
The sound of Bon Iver’s last album, 2016’s pioneering 22, A Million, was a monument to the strengths of singer-songwriter Justin Vernon: orchestral folk fed into an old motherboard, unwieldy lyrics sourced from the well of his subconscious, old-timey terms for smoking weed. It pulled from every corner of his career, from the cafe-acoustic sound of his debut to the lush and chiming elegies of his 2011 self-titled album. The newest single, “Hey Ma” pulls a little weaker. It’s less of a step forward and more of an amalgam of everything Vernon has done with this project since its inception, one that highlights the strength of his song- and melody-making, even if it’s the most MOR thing the band has done. But he sings, “I was toking on dope” so he’s still got that going for him.
22 A Million producer BJ Burton returns to color the track with flittering alien textures, and Vernon sings in his earnest, untreated voice about childhood memories, bathtime (maybe?), calling your mom, and closes the chorus with a typically impressionistic line: “You’re back and forth with light.” The song doesn’t quite tower and crash like the best of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and it doesn’t really lead you to places unknown, but it places you firmly in the increasingly defined world of Bon Iver: sensitive and dreamy, warm synths and a few saxophones, capturing the feeling of escaping the present for an idyllic past. No surprises, no Ace Hotels, no production flourishes that steal the spotlight, just a small landmark on big map of Bon Iver.
The Houston rapper Maxo Kream had every reason to be in a triumphant mood last month. Sitting on the roof of a yet-to-open Williamsburg restaurant, his own music was blaring from the house speakers as he passed around mini lobster rolls. He and some friends were basking in the sun and a new record deal. A critical favorite and buzzing underground star, Maxo had slipped the development into a new song, “Still,” in May: “Still making deals, just signed me a deal, signed to RCA, $1.5 mil.”
“I’m not Superman or nothing [now], I’m not leaping off no building,” Maxo said in an interview that day.
On Friday, Maxo will release his major-label debut Brandon Banks—as promised, on RCA Records. At 29 years old, the arrangement should bring to his talent a new level of resources and attention (if also some red tape). If nothing else, it’s a kind of recognition, and a check.
The theme of “Still,” though, is right in the title. The line that follows the RCA mention is: “still selling dope, label like I need to chill.” Maxo’s strongest reaction to this new phase of his career has been his insistence that it wouldn’t change anything about him or his work. “Man, just everything I do is authentic,” he said. “I want [listeners] to know I’m still going to be me, I’m still going to be Maxo Kream. I might grow, and develop, and mature, but I’m not switching up.”
As a rapper, Maxo’s intricate syllabic barrages lean on images and metaphors, and he speaks in them too. “You know Grand Theft Auto V?” he asked, continuing his discussion of the impact of his record deal. “All right, you know how you beat the story mode…and then you go online and there are more missions, more to unlock? I’m just online now. It’s just another chapter.”
Starting in 2012 and culminating with his celebrated 2018 release, Punken, Maxo has developed a reputation for consistency and sturdiness. He’s a supple and silky storyteller, with a thick, booming voice that he nimbly contorts into entrancing internal rhymes. Even his hooks sound like verses. He looks to his hometown, his family, and the trauma they’ve endured for his lyrics. “From the streets to the block, she done been through a lot” is the opening description of one song’s title character “Brenda,” and Maxo spends the rest of the track bouncing off the sound of her name in order to detail the circumstances that have shaped and limited her life.
Brandon Banks is named after Maxo’s father and sometimes functions as a letter to him; his words of support and advice to his son are spliced throughout the album. But his father’s birth name is Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah (Maxo’s too). When Biosah immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, he found little in the way of job opportunities. Banks is the alias he adopted in pursuing other forms of income—Maxo described his father as a “scammer,” and a great parent, when the album was announced—and the name used in the federal fraud case that eventually kept him imprisoned while his son was growing up.
The album opens with a solemn statement on “Meet Again,” a song that documents the cruelties of the criminal justice system: “I’d rather be carried by 6 before I’m judged by 12.” “I know this rap shit look real sweet,” Maxo raps, “but my real life it ain’t no fun.” His unhurried voice belies the tragedy of the situation he’s describing: “let me tell you ‘bout your daughter, yesterday she tried to walk,” he tells an incarcerated friend.