As the lights dimmed in Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater, James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” played overhead and members of Kamasi Washington’s band walked on stage and received a warm welcome from the audience.
Once Kamasi stepped on stage, we were all transfixed by his presence – immense, towering, powerful. The audience yelled and hollered and even I, being relatively new to his music, felt I was in the presence of a real demigod. In fact, Washington has been referred to as the “savior of jazz,” but he’s always been too humble to accept the accolade.
FlyLo and Thundercat have made a name for themselves as more electronic musicians, but Washington doesn’t feel the need to stray too far from traditional jazz. He’s emulated and expanded upon the music of his jazz heroes and proved that he can do it bigger and better than perhaps any other jazz musician at the moment.
I was blown away by the power and energy that Washington packed into his performance. I was expecting a relatively mellow night, but Washington and his band delivered super funky bass jams, an epic drum-off between his two drummers, and soaring vocals from his vocalist Patrice Quinn that got the entire theater dancing.
After a few songs, he introduced Quinn by saying “Patrice is one of the best singers I know. You can tell some people are good by the way they talk, but Patrice, she sounds amazing even when she’s cursing at you.”
After Washington introduced Quinn, she launched into the most powerful song of the set: “Malcolm’s Theme,” from Washington’s debut album, The Epic. The songs lyrics come directly from Ossie Davis’ eulogy for civil rights icon Malcolm X. The moving lyrics, paired with Quinn’s emotional, powerful, and beautiful delivery gave everyone goosebumps.
My favorite part of the set was when Washington’s stand-up bass player, Miles Mosley, played his incredible funk epic “Abraham.” I was blown away by Mosley’s ability to create such otherworldly and groovy sounds. Here is a link to a performance of Mosley’s playing “Abraham” that I suggest you all watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c73NCDr5ACo (skip to 3:30 if you’re limited for time).
After being mesmerized by Washington for almost two hours of free-jazz digressions and thoughtful, intricate pieces, I felt like I’d been to a different universe and back. Just like the legendary Pharaoh Sanders who I had the chance to see earlier this year, Washington’s music transcended all of us to another realm of experiencing. Washington confirmed that jazz can be as lively, engaging, and fascinating as any other genre, if not more so.
My old Kentucky home is the land of many of the world’s superlatives. The world’s greatest horse racing, the world’s best bourbon, the world’s most influential boxer, the world’s largest baseball bat, and also the World’s Best American Band, White Reaper. Both White Reaper and I hail from the same city, Louisville, unknowingly frequenting the same restaurants and music venues for years before I discovered them. They put out their first EP in 2014, three years before I would first register hearing their music, and four before I would meet them and grow to be a huge fan. I must admit that I have not been a fan of White Reaper’s for long, but nonetheless, their music has grown to become a significant part of my life.
My relationship with White Reaper’s music started on Record Store Day a year ago, when I was lucky enough to stumble upon a DJ set by the Wilkerson brothers, twins Sam and Nick, who make up the rhythmic section of the band. They play bass and drums, respectively and amazingly. That day I also met Tony Esposito, lead vocals and guitar, and Ryan Hater, who rocks harder than any other keyboard player I’ve seen live. (This experience left out Hunter Thompson, an incredibly talented guitarist who ironically has the same name as a Louisville icon though he is the only band member who is not from Louisville). At the record store I remember picking up one of their records from the “W” artist section, looking at the picture of the band on the sleeve, holding the record up to my face right next to the band members in real life, and doing a double-take. Within five minutes the record was purchased, I already had their signatures, and was engaged in conversation with the boys. From multiple interactions with the band members it is with ease and certainty that I can say they are some of the most genuine guys I’ve met in the music scene today. I acknowledge my bias as a fellow Louisvillian, but their onstage charm translates offstage as well. Their fan base is so dedicated partly because of how personable they are. They’re cool guys making cool music.
“The World’s Best…” is a title I would readily give them if they hadn’t already given it to themselves. Their second studio album, The World’s Best American Band, cements their self-fulfilling prophecy as one of the new, upcoming “greats” with tracks that rock, and don’t stop. Listening to the album I was immediately seduced by “Judy French,” as all other listeners are. Soon my favorite off their sophomore album became “Daises,” and before I had exhausted The World’s Best… I was already deep into their earlier tracks: first album “White Reaper Does It Again” (funny, right?) and self-titled EP. Fast forward a few weeks from the day I met them and all my “Spotify heavy rotation” tracks belonged to White Reaper—some personal favorites are still “Alone Tonight,” “I Don’t Think She Cares,” and “Tell Me.” Go a couple more weeks into the future and I’m getting whiplash in the front row at their concert.
Headbanging and moshing to White Reaper’s music is easy with their catchy guitar riffs, strong rhythm, and especially Esposito’s piercing and unique vocals. You can listen to any White Reaper track once and then be able to pick out Esposito’s voice again, that’s how unique and profound in a strange, ambiguous way he sounds. In combination with their recognizable sound, their stage-presence as some sort of self-proclaimed rock gods also entices and draws in a dedicated audience and fan base. Their energy is pure and contagious. They easily bring everyone to their feet—with songs like “The Stack” it’s impossible not to dance. In this song Esposito sings the truth, “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with them,” but White Reaper doesn’t need to make people move because the audience is already dancing. The songs on White Reaper Does It Again, though the production can sound fuzzy at times (something I think adds to the character of some of the more eccentric tracks, like “Friday the 13th”), end as strong as they start. Listening all the way from their first EP to The World’s Best… it’s fun to watch the band grow, gain members, and develop a sound that has potential to fluctuate, develop, and continue to excite. Saying I’m excited to hear new tracks from them in the future would be an understatement—their music makes me feel at home.
Strangely enough, of all the things to be proud of about my city and state, White Reaper is at the top of my list. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them live in Louisville—how genuinely proud I was to be a fan of their music, proud of the great Louisville music scene they’re helping to develop, and proud of them being great, compassionate people. From my new, small room in Colorado Springs, listening to White Reaper takes me back to Kentucky in the fall. While blasting White Reaper I’m driving fast around Louisville at night, hanging out with my friends, and feeling like I’m strong, opinionated, and on top of the world.
You can listen to White Reaper’s discography on this handy playlist I’ve made of all their songs on Spotify:
Khalid’s rise to fame has been slow and steady. His smooth sound and relatable lyrics make for versatile, chill music for a variety of settings. But apart from being solid background music, his most recent album, Suncity, shares some words of wisdom about his journey to stardom as well as the unpredictability of life that we can all relate to.
Unlike his first album, American Teen, which centered on Khalid’s relationships and teenage experiences with catchy but simple songs like “Saved” and “Young, Dumb and Broke,” Suncity’s abstract feel is more of a focus on instrumentals. Apart from “Saturday Nights,” with the chorus “all the things that I know, that your parents don’t” which echoes the angsty teen of Khalid’s previous album, Suncity tackles life’s obstacles in a way that all age groups can relate to.
Suncity begins with “9.13,” a short instrumental which concludes in Khalid being given the key to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, or as he calls it in American Teen, the city of the 915. In “Vertigo,” Khalid reflects on his rise to prominence in the music industry among other accomplishments in a whimsical, dubious way. After going back to his roots with the somber, moody teen passion in “Saturday Nights,” he returns to a more reflective vibe with “Salem’s Interlude.” “Salem’s Interlude” revolves around life’s obstacles that we all face as well as the struggle of which path to take. Through the interlude, Khalid invites listeners to step back and contemplate their direction and goals in the craziness that is life. “Motion,” my personal favorite song on the album, is the most unique and has a dreamlike quality. The album ends with a note of pop in both “Better” and “Suncity,” definitely the most radio friendly of the album. “Better” is catchy, romantic and overall average. “Suncity,” featuring Empress Of, expresses Khalid’s tie to El Paso and the community he grew up in, ending back where he began in an upbeat, refreshing tone.
All in all, “Suncity” is both a continuation of Khalid’s style and an example of his progression into a variety of lyrical and instrumental genres. After being featured in songs with artists from Halsey to H.E.R., I was pleasantly surprised to see Khalid’s old style and growth reflected in Suncity.