Scene’s Selections: Anthems
In the wake of controversy surrounding many NFL players’ decision to protest racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, rapper Vince Staples tweeted “The national anthem don’t even slap.” The comedic response directly defies the many pundits — and President Trump himself — who’ve criticized the players for ostensibly disrespecting the anthem, and the nation by extension. In response to Staples’ disappointed comment, our Scene writers have selected a handful of tracks containing the word “anthem” that most definitely “slap.”
“Tiny Anthem” by The M Machine — Adrian Mark Lore
Formerly signed to Skrillex’s forward-looking independent record label OWSLA, The M Machine was one among few EDM acts that retained my attention in the early ’10s — just before the whole scene imploded through sheer mediocrity. The duo’s two-part “Metropolis” concept record was promising in its uncharacteristic ambition, namely its fusion of contemporary dance trends with sophisticated production techniques and quality sound design. The record transcended the genre’s affinity for “the drop” and instead built tracks around a melancholy science-fiction narrative with all the color of a Ray Bradbury novella.
Among my favorite of the duo’s tracks is easily “Tiny Anthem,” taken from the aforementioned record’s second half — the “Metropolis, Pt. 2” EP, released in 2013. “Tiny Anthem” collects everything to love about The M Machine in one single, humble four-minute statement: frank and bittersweet vocals, gorgeously layered synth work and — for lack of a better expression — simply great vibes.
The word “anthem” never appears in the track, and aside from a vaguely brass-like synth there is no resemblance to an anthem in the political sense. Rather, the word points to the track’s expression of shared experience. But the lyrical message is neither grandiose nor pretentious; it’s humble, even tiny.
“Begging me to stay here / But I can’t stop the rain from coming in.” Now that’s something to which we can all sing along.
“ATOM ANTHEM” by D. Prosper (ft. Jay Electronica) — Adam Ramos
Featuring a horn sample that recalls the grandeur of many national anthems, D. Prosper and Jay Electronica’s “ATOM ANTHEM,” offers a rambunctious take on the staple anthem. While largely unknown in the greater rap community, rapper and longtime slam poet D. Prosper shines on the track with witty wordplay, boasting weighty bars like, “Move like royalty / Selassie I the majesty / Brightest of the hundred billion / Stars in the galaxy.” These pensive but classically robust lines help D. Prosper recall MF Doom in his prime form. Each line D. Prosper spits feels like a pointed barb, with each successive line sharper than the last. When the track’s energy finally reaches its apex, D. Prosper hands it off to the man, myth and legend, Jay Electronica.
Despite never actually dropping an album of his own, Jay Electronica has garnered considerable fame thanks to his very limited — albeit renowned — singles and guest verses. On “ATOM ANTHEM,” the proof is in the pudding, with Electronica lyrically back-flipping on lines like, “No Ramadan, Qur’an, Hanukkah, yarmulke / Could save me the way that the DJ did.” While our national anthem may feature some savvy bars of its own, in that department Francis Scott Key simply can’t compete with the wordsmiths on this fire track.
“No. 1 Party Anthem” by Arctic Monkeys — Mike Donovan
It was indeed a rager (the 1814 Battle of Baltimore) that inspired Francis Scott Key’s certified banger, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Even now, despite declining incidences of oppression, Napoleonic fallout and naval bombardment, we still bump to his eternal jam.
Alex Turner has neither experienced naval bombardment nor practiced law. I know what you’re thinking. In fact, I can hear your mind screaming, “This man has no business writing anthems!” from the comfort of the dining hall chair where you sit, gnawing on a cold piece of chicken, utterly alone. You’re probably right. He has no business writing anthems, at least not for sovereign nations.
Nay, he writes anthems for you — the lone chicken eater who occasionally fancies a night in town (or in an unreasonably sweaty dorm room). He celebrates the “light on the floors and sweat on the walls” that backdrop your premeditated gallivanting. “You call[ed] off the search for your soul, or put it on hold again” for this little shindig, and Turner supports every misstep on the way. Tonight, after all, isn’t about acceptable living conditions or self-actualization. It’s about the “certified mind blower” at the other end of the dance floor. It’s about you sauntering over, “collar popped like Cantonna,” so you can “suggest there’s somewhere from which [you] might know her / Just to get the ball to roll.” It’s about the warm smile and polite conversation she offers you in return, as she rips out your heart and tosses it out the window.
“National Anthem” by Lana Del Rey — by Matthew Munhall
“It’s a love story for the new age […] Blurring the lines between real and the fake,” Lana Del Rey coos. The love story she narrates on “National Anthem” exists in this hazy dream state, but isn’t, in fact, new at all. It’s a familiar tale: A young striver falls for a wealthy man and is indoctrinated into upper class mores. The familiar imagery — the Hamptons, party dresses and diamonds — evokes an entire century of American myths, from Gatsby to Camelot.
Del Rey’s disaffected tone, however, punctures the fantasy, calling attention to the artifice of these signifiers. Despite her newfound wealth, the narrator is still unhappy: “Dark and lonely, I need somebody to hold me,” she pleads. As Don Draper once asked on “Mad Men,” “But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” “National Anthem” is at once an aspirational tale and a cautionary tale about the American Dream.