Scene’s Year in Review 2018: Honorable mentions
Snowflakes gently falling, a cold breeze cutting through South Quad, Sufjan Stevens on the record player — there’s only one thing it could all mean: It’s time to rank stuff. Welcome to Scene’s Year in Review, a week when Scene Writers take stock as the calendar year creeps to a close. On Tuesday, Scene Writers select the year’s standout television seasons — new and returning — and on Wednesday, they examine 2018 through the lens of movies. And on Thursday, prepare yourselves for the piece de resistance: the Top-20 albums of the year, as determined by Scene’s super-not-very-scientific ranking system. Today, treat yourself to the honorable mentions, the B-side of the cultural highlight tape, the odds and ends that didn’t quite make the cut for the next three days. Happy reading.
– Nora McGreevy, Scene Editor
The Year of “Mo Bamba”
By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer
The best song of 2018 didn’t even come out this calendar year. “Mo Bamba,” the incendiary underground club anthem by 20-year-old Harlem model-turned-rapper Sheck Wes, was released in June of last year and took the long way to the top of playlists around the country. Now, a full year and a half after the song was dropped on Soundcloud, “Mo Bamba” is inescapable. Once you look past the memes and the celebrity endorsements and that Instagram video of a dance floor literally collapsing under a crowd losing their collective minds to the song, you’re still left with a grimy earworm of a track. Musically speaking, “Mo Bamba” is little more than a simple drum pattern and a piano loop that sounds like the theme from “Halloween” remixed for a hypebeast Christmas party. The real wonder here is Wes, who rides the beat as far it will take him and then abandons it; the song’s instantly iconic burst of profanity at the halfway point was improvised in the studio when the computer playing the track froze. Sheck Wes may end up only being a one-hit wonder, but if he does, what a wonderful hit he made.
Best Rap Feud: Drake and Pusha T
By Ryan Israel, Scene Writer
First, let’s set the scene. It was the summer of 2018. Drake’s stock was as hot as ever, with his two singles “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” dominating the charts, and their accompanying music videos gaining him good-guy points. Pusha T was returning to the rap scene after a three-year hiatus with “Daytona,” an impressive record that demonstrated the industry veteran’s skill. On the last track from that album, “Infrared,” Pusha reignited a long-standing beef with Drake by referencing ghostwriting allegations.
Drake, no stranger to a rap beef, responded quickly with “Duppy Freestyle,” a track questioning Pusha’s background and calling out his G.O.O.D. music associates. For a few days, it seemed as though the beef might be over, but then, four days after Drake’s response, Pusha delivered “The Story of Adidon,” the final nail in the coffin. From top to bottom, the song was an unrelenting and scathing attack on Drake’s character. Pusha dissed Drake’s family and friends, and — most notably — stated that Drake was an absentee father, hiding a child.
The pressure was on Drake to respond, but he never did. In a smart move, Drake went quiet. By the time he released “Scorpion,” his chart-topping double album, late in the summer, most had forgotten the beef altogether.
Most-Discussed Music Video: “This Is America” by Childish Gambino
By Ryan Israel, Scene Writer
In early May, Donald Glover proved that a music video can still make an impact. Under his musical alias Childish Gambino, the do-it-all Glover debuted his single “This Is America” on an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” The song itself is gripping, juxtaposing breezy, harmonic melodies against hard-hitting trap beats and mixing a flurry of ad-libs from the likes of 21 Savage, Young Thug and Quavo.
Yet without its accompanying music video, “This Is America” might have gotten lost in the mix. The video, directed by Glover’s “Atlanta” collaborator Hiro Murai, features Glover roaming a warehouse, at times busting dance moves like “The Shoot” and at times gunning people down. The video was analyzed and picked apart for days as people examined its political and cultural message, and, for a moment in time, a music video was the most talked-about thing in music.
Best Use of the Louvre: “Apes**t” by The Carters
By Nora McGreevy, Scene Editor
Remember when the Carters rented out the Louvre? Yeah, they did that. When Beyoncé and Jay Z dropped the music video for “Apesh**t,” a single off their 2018 album “Everything is Love,” it resonated in the arts and music worlds like a thunderclap. As Jason Farago of the New York Times has pointed out, renting out the famed Paris museum isn’t actually that expensive — but of course, by normal-person standards, it’s unthinkable. And the striking visual power of the “Apesh**t” music video, directed by Ricky Saiz, surpasses any price tag. Essays can and have been written about single frames: A woman combs her companion’s hair with an afro pick in front of the “Mona Lisa,” an intimate and specific act of black love acted out in front of an archetype of white beauty; Beyoncé, clad in a structural white gown, places an elegant bare foot on the marble staircase in front of the Nike of Samothrace; Queen B and her dancers swirl their hips in breathtaking synchronization in front of Jacque-Louis David’s “The Coronation of Napoleon”; the Carters, clad in complementary seafoam and blush suits, hold hands in front of La Gioconda, three self-assured smiles lighting up the screen.
“I can’t believe we made it,” Beyoncé sings, and her video leaves no doubt that she and her husband have arrived. Saiz’s camera guides viewers through the historic museum, down empty galleries and the Louvre’s basement, in a 6-minute-long gallery tour that centers portrayals of black people — especially Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s hotly-debated “Portrait of a Black Woman” — and lays bare the Western canon’s close ties to state power and colonialism. In the video’s immediate aftermath, critics jumped at the chance to identify the video’s visual quotes — especially the photographs of Deana Lawson, which seem to inform many of the video’s most critical shots — and to parse their complex meanings. As Kimberly Drew, then the social media editor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, asked on Twitter, “what does it mean to host a black cultural moment in a traditionally white space?” A proliferation of articles and takes used the Carters’ video to unpack that critical question.
Best Mention of Ruben Studdard in an Album: “Queen” by Nicki Minaj
By Martin Kennedy, Scene Writer
“How many of ’em could of did it with finesse?” This question, in Nicki Minaj’s “Chun-Li,” sums up the quality of Minaj’s album “Queen” that was released in August. This album, which Minaj described as being possibly her best album yet, sums up the essence of Minaj and her music: exciting, confident and fierce. The best song on the album is “Barbie Dreams,” in which Minaj discusses all the men that cannot get with her, including Drake, Odell Beckham and Future. The song is equipped with its best line, “No, I ain’t stuttered, and no, I ain’t Ruben.” Other fantastic songs on this album include “Rich Sex,” “LLC,” “Good Form,” and “Chun-Li,” all combining to make this album Minaj’s finest one yet. Whether you need a nice study break or you just aced your philosophy final, “Queen” provides a great backdrop for a time of power and strength.
R.I.P. Mac Miller, 1992-2018
By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer
Mac Miller never stopped changing. The Pittsburgh rapper blew up at the same time as fellow Yinzer Wiz Khalifa, but where Wiz seemingly regressed from his early-2010s heyday, Miller always challenged himself to be better. Miller’s biggest album is his artistic nadir; the frat-rap debauchery of 2011’s “Blue Slide Park” was dated the minute it came out. Since that album, however, Miller released a series of introspective and daring LPs that cemented him as a “rapper’s rapper” while still showcasing the humor and hometown pride — “Capicola sandwiches are tasty from Primanti’s / I’m a 5’7’’ giant, Brandon Jacobs, Eli Manning” went a line from 2012’s “Aliens Fighting Robots” — that made him a star in Pittsburgh and beyond. Miller’s influences belied his musical bonafides; he was an accomplished pianist, and his first posthumous release was a heartbreaking cover of Billy Preston’s “Nothing from Nothing.” In recent years, Miller’s output was overshadowed by his tabloid romance with Ariana Grande, even as he created his best album. “Swimming,” a warm mix of rap, jazz and funk reminiscent of Outkast, was released in May of 2018. Miller was dead from an overdose four months later. He was 26 years old.