Music News: Grandmaster Flash wins Polar Music Prize

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Grandmaster Flash performs in New York, 2018.
Grandmaster Flash performs in New York, 2018. (Brian Ach/Getty Images for YouTube)
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Hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash has been named one of three laureates for this year's Polar Music Prize. It's one of the music world's most unusual awards, and unlike many, it actually comes with some cold hard cash. Flash will collect one million Swedish kroner, which is worth just over $100,000. The prize was founded by ABBA's manager in 1989, and it's actually presented in person by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. That sounds like a pretty fun trip.

Grandmaster Flash is a hip-hop pioneer, and the fact that he's still only 61 is a reminder of how young the genre still is. Among his achievements are perfecting and popularizing the technique of scratching, as well as a trick called "backspin" where you play a section of one record while tracking back to the same section on a second turntable. As long as you can keep it going, backspin lets you extend a sample — for example, an instrumental break — indefinitely. In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and his group the Furious Five became the first hip-hop artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This year's Polar Music Prize laureates also include the organization Playing for Change, a nonprofit promoting music and peace around the world; and Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the world's most acclaimed classical violinists. Mutter told Billboard that she didn't know much about Flash before being informed that she'd be meeting the king of Sweden with him. The German violinist said, "I have been learning about him, watching his videos. He really is the grand master of enhancing music in a very creative way."

For the benefit of Anne-Sophie Mutter and anyone else who's curious, here's Grandmaster Flash's best-known song, "The Message." The 1982 track was the first hip-hop hit to foreground social issues.

'80s one-hit wonders team up for tour

What do A Flock of Seagulls, the Escape Club, Missing Persons, the Motels, John Parr, and the Vapors have in common? They were all popular in the '80s, and you could call them all one-hit wonders — even if that's not entirely fair, because let's not forget A Flock of Seagulls had three top 40 hits. They're also all heading out on tour together. The Love '80s Live Tour kicks off Aug. 2 on Coney Island, then runs for a dozen more dates, some of which will also feature Bow Wow Wow and Wang Chung. It's safe to say, everybody will have fun. (Rolling Stone)

Drake's breakthrough mixtape to get digital release

The mixtape that launched Drake's rap career will be released Feb. 14 on streaming services as a Valentine's Day gift to his fans. Pitchfork calls the mixtape, titled So Far Gone, "one of the most important hip-hop releases of the 21st century." In an interview when the mixtape was originally released in 2009, Drake said the mixtape tells a story about a destructive relationship and the confusion he was experiencing as he pivoted from acting to music. (Rolling Stone)

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages parties...@ovo40 a decade ago you were scared to share your beats...@oliverelkhatib a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s product...@boi1da a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity loops...@ovoniko a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club nights...@realbriamyles a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly Centre...@nebzilla a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday together...@bunb a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that forever...@benballer a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my career...@treysongz a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a co-sign...@omarion a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from Canada...@darkiemade a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life forever....@kingjames a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence alone...@kanyewest a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas forever...@jas.prince a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to Wayne...@liltunechi a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

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Black Star's coming back

Yasiin Bey — previously known as Mos Def — says that he's teaming up with Talib Kweli for a second collaborative album as Black Star. The first Black Star album, released in 1998, was critically acclaimed; although the duo have occasionally worked together in the years since, fans have now been waiting over two decades for a follow-up. Yasiin Bey made the announcement during a DJ set by Madlib, who's also working on the album. He says the new LP is "coming soon." (Hip-Hop DX)

Here's a classic Black Star track, "Definition."

Why are the charts so weird these days?

As Noisey delicately puts it, "the U.K. charts are a mess right now." For those of us on the left side of the Pond, the U.K. music charts have always been a little odd, but in this Noisey's Rosie Hewitson is identifying a phenomenon that's also affecting the U.S. charts. Basically, in 2019 any one chart that tries to create some kind of math to balance the relative impacts of sales and streams is going to look kind of crazy.

What the U.K. album chart looks like right now is this: ska veterans the Specials have their first-ever number one album with Encore, which we talked about on the podcast last month. Then at number two, we have Busted: a pop-punk band who never made it big in America but who were huge in the U.K. in the early 2000s. They launched a comeback in 2016; the second album to come out of that reunion is selling a lot of copies right now.

Then there's the Greatest Showman soundtrack — yes, the soundtrack to a movie that came out in 2017 — at number three. At number four is a solo album by Ian Brown of the Stone Roses, or as Noisey puts it, "your da's favorite." At number five is hot young rapper Fredo.

The variety will make your head spin, but it reflects a landscape where millions of streams get weighed against thousands of record sales, in many cases by legacy acts who bundle albums with concert tickets. Do charts like that actually mean anything? Is there any real sense in which Busted is bigger than Fredo right now in the U.K.? Bigger than Ariana Grande, who has the most-streamed song in the U.K. right now with "7 Rings"? It's basically impossible to say, which is why the charts are, yep, kind of a mess.

Anyway, here's a single from what may or may not be the second-biggest album in the United Kingdom right now. It's Busted with "Nineties."

Viral clip: Carly Rae Jepsen teases new song in Queer Eye trailer

You may have noticed people online getting excited about indie-pop star Carly Rae Jepsen and the TV show Queer Eye...simultaneously. What's that about? It's today's viral clip, a trailer for the third Netflix season of the heartwarming show. The trailer, which features references to self-care, Valentine's Day, and the eggplant emoji, is soundtracked by a preview of what Queer Eye aptly calls Carly Rae's "new bop," a song called "Now That I Found You." It will likely appear on her new album, which the Canadian singer-songwriter says will be coming out later this year. (Pitchfork)


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
Instrumental Hoodz: "Instrumental 18 Urban Backing Beats"
BoxCat Games: "Against The Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
Wang Chung: "Everybody Have Fun"
Drake: "Lust for Life"
The Spin Academy: "DJ Tutorial: 4 Essential Transitions"
Anne-Sophie Mutter: Dvořák Violin Concerto
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: "The Message"
The Specials: "Embarrassed By You"
The Greatest Showman Cast: "A Million Dreams"
The Stone Roses: "Fools Gold"
Fredo: "Survival of the Fittest"
Busted: "Nineties"
Carly Rae Jepsen: "Now That I Found You"


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