Hip hop dies, Wambop rises: A review of five 31 March music releases

Hip hop is dying. A new genre, ‘wambop’, is being born from the fusion of hip hop, pop, and regional musical forms such as ‘K-Pop’ and Latin music (one need look no further than Young Miko’s excellent recent work). Today, on March 31st, five albums dropped. I would like to echo Pitchfork in giving them all a provisional mark out of ten and reviewing briefly their merits and drawbacks. The five artists who lead these records — Chlöe, Melanie Martinez, Tyler the Creator, Macklemore, and JISOO from BLACKPINK — are extraordinary inspirations of mine. Their music is a source of my joy today, and — before going into more detail — I would like to thank each of them for their valiant efforts and compelling results. This is Wambop: The Future begins here.

Four out of five.

1. ‘In Pieces’ by Chlöe (7.2)

NME calls out Chlöe for collaborating with Chris Brown, while Pitchfork says Chlöe’s artistic crime is not ‘controversy’ but ‘banality.’ This speaks to both the virtue and vice of this record. Chlöe, as everyone in the industry by know nows, is heralded as the new Beyoncé — although some see there are competitors for the crown (introducing the role of BLACKPINK as a background to the evolution of wambop in hip hop-grounded America, compared with hip hop-influenced South Korea). The album is fine — and that should be enough. I likes the pre-release singles ‘Have Mercy’ and ‘Treat Me’ — unlike critics, I prefer these singles to the songs on this album. But the Future collaboration works, as Apple music’s ‘new music’ playlist notices, as do the production and Chlöe’s extremely competent vocals throughout the record. This album is fine.

2. ‘PORTALS’ by Melanie Martinez (8.4)

Like ‘In Pieces,’ ‘PORTALS’ is immaculately produced, harmonically interesting music. But unlike ‘In Pieces,’ ‘PORTALS’ actually has a message: I am free. Martinez is ‘hatching’ from the ‘womb’ of musical evolution. But what if she gets lost along the way, under the blinding media spotlight? Tyler has some advice.

3. ‘CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: The Estate Sale’ by Tyler the Creator (8.8)

‘HEAVEN TO ME’ by Tyler the Creator is produced, as he declares on Instagram, by Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West. Tyler raps like Jay-Z did over Kanye’s beat for ‘Lucifer’ back from The Black Album (2003). It is good to know, even as wambop as a genre surpasses hip hop, the classics remain as compelling as ever. In this new beginning, it is tempting to look back to the last one — as Ye does on last year’s Instagram-released ‘Censori Overload,’ sampling ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free,’ harking back to Kanye’a very first solo single ‘Through The Wire’ (sampling another soul classic, ‘Through The Fire’). Hip hop followed on soul — as well as jazz, R&B, gospel, and rock ‘n roll — and wambop similarly follows on hip hop. Sometimes, wambop falls too far into pop’s grasp. But Tyler knows how to make wambop still anchored in hip hop. It’s a safe option. But it works well.

4. ‘BEN’ by Macklemore (7.1)

‘I Need’ sounds like ‘Thrift Shop’ meets BLACKPINK. This is one of the best songs I have heard this year. Apart from this enthralling hip hop-grounded track, much of the rest of the album is forgettable pop. ‘LOST’ is suitably compelling and relaxing, complaining, ‘We are obsessed with our public image.’ Well, yeah. What’s next? It takes a member of BLACKPINK to make good on the promise of wambop as a real synthesis of pop and hip hop. Welcome to ‘ME’.

5. ‘ME’ by JISOO (9.0)

I could talk about BLACKPINK and their four members — Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and (perhaps above all, first among equals) Lisa, or Lalisa Manobal — and how their solo careers are progressing alongside their collective music endeavours. Unlike Lisa, who swerves towards hip hop on her double release ‘LALISA’ and ‘MONEY’, Jisoo focuses on pop like Rosé (‘On the Ground,’ ‘Gone’) and Jennie (‘Solo,’ ‘You and Me (Moonlight)’ — unreleased). But the background influence of hip hop is palpable. The melodic flow, rhythmical beat, and harmonic intrigue all contribute to an at once intricate and palpably heartfelt ‘Flower.’ The B-side song ‘All Eyes On Me’ is extraodinary. This is obviously conceived as an electropop dance track — but manages to supply musical and lyrical depth to this genre. While Lisa brings hip hop into the pop mainstream, Jisoo sees things from the other way, infusing pop with some of the depth of hip hop. I remain convinced that Lisa — not Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, or hip hop artists like Chlöe or Pinkpantheress — is the Beyoncé of our time, destined to leave the Destiny’s Child of BLACKPINK and found a solo career to last a generation. But for what it’s worth, Jisoo has done a great job on this debut — the last solo debut of a BLACKPINK member. I can’t wait to see what she, and her fellow band members, does next. ‘ME’ will keep me going for the time being.

Lyrically, JISOO combines the messages of Melanie Martinez (breaking free), Macklemore (surpassing lyrical banality), Tyler (finding heaven in love), and Chlöe (being a total boss). Musically, this double single has some of the jazz elements of ‘In Pieces,’ the hip hop beats of ‘Call Me When You Get Lost,’ the immaculate composition of ‘PORTALS,’ and the thoughtful playfulness of ‘BEN.’ I am compelled by ‘ME’ as a double single release, even if it doesn’t live up to the dizzying heights of Lisa’s solo release — and is comparable to Jennie and Rosé in pure pop power. But this single is too good to dismiss on the grounds of not reviving hip hop as Lisa’s ‘Money’ did, or infusing worldwide wambop with newfound energy as ‘Lalisa’ did. For now, this is just fine — and more than deserving of nine out of ten.

‘Flower’ is a special song. Releasing this first was wise. Echoing Jennie’s ‘Solo’ in declaring a new start after an evidently toxic relationship, ‘Flower’ is an apt title for a new beginning. The lyrics are equally compelling. The lyrics of ‘All Eyes On Me’ are even more compelling: Make me feel alive / Don’t fill it up with meaningless words / Focus on me now / So that I can know your mysterious heart.’ If Flower follows a daring escape from love, All Eyes On Me is a triumphant return. As Jisoo truthfully proclaims: ‘All eyes on me.’

The one missing piece of this puzzle is the darker wambop prelude laid by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell on ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’ (capitalized, 2019). This hip hop-influenced new classic has much despair that is missing in 2023 artistically — as despair has returned to politics (if it ever left). I like happy music. But sad music matters too. BLACKPINK always impressed me in treading a fine line between the two. There is a bittersweet taste to their music — as if hidden demons are bursting to break free, while the better angels are struggling to stay in the lead. Depression is not inevitable in art — and truly happy music comes from confronting the darkness within. Melanie Martinez’s musical rebirth follows just such a depressive era. Jisoo succeeds in showing without saying on ‘Me’ how she is emerging from internal turmoil — a theme that has preoccupied BLACKPINK since ‘Playing With Fire.’ The return to the turmoil is an issue for hip hop records like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Billie Eilish’s 2019-era dark alt-pop. Jisoo could not go this far on a solo debut — and opted for happiness instead. But the shadow of sadness still looms and animates this record, just as hip hop underpins this pop masterpiece. Lisa is more open about the hip hop influence, and for this reason is more likely to be a founding influence on wambop than any of the artists here — perhaps except Tyler the Creator, whose influence on Billie Eilish is something widely acknowledged, and no more than Billie herself.

On ‘Me,’ Jisoo remains shrouded in mystery. Billie Eilish’s tour struck me as ‘hiding in the spotlight.’ Jisoo is hiding in the wings, waiting her turn to break free — as all her fellow members are — from the collective binds of BLACKPINK. Maybe she is now spreading her wings and flying free. But as Billie found, wings can drown you in the dirt when they fail to keep you in the air. Lisa is closer to this risk, declaring as Billie does on ‘you should see me in a crown’ that she is the ‘greatest of all time’ on ‘LALISA,’ and echoing Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle’ and Kanye West’s ‘Power’ on the stunning ‘MONEY’, a declaration of her power in a competitive industry. Jisoo is not competing, but introspecting. This is a lesson for the industry. Sometimes you don’t have to be full of sadness of bravado, both Ye-like qualities, to make good music. The shadow of Michael Jackson certainly looks over Jisoo’s solo release, just as the influence of Kanye West can be felt on Lisa’s release. Rosé and Jennie go some way to combining the two influences — from the leaders of pop and hip hop in times gone by. I remain convinced Lisa has the future in her grasp — but the other BLACKPINK members have something important to contribute.

Jisoo is overlooked. It is time the world recognised her talents, even if they remain shrouded in a certain mystique. I can’t wait for what she and BLACKPINK do next — and for when she, and her fellow members, finally break free and go their own way, with solo and exclusive record deals of their own, ones that benefit them rather than exploiting them. For now, this is more than fine. This is just great.

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?


4 thoughts on “Hip hop dies, Wambop rises: A review of five 31 March music releases

  1. I think Flower can’t be as good as PORTALS and CMIYGL, but that may be just my opinion. Glad you enjoy Jisoo’s debut as a solo singer! Flower is good tho, but it still feels formulaic and safe.


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