Best Things That Happened This Year In Pop Culture

by Osi Aken’ova

1. Kendrick Lamar: Even without having an album out Kendrick was still able to achieve MVP status on features and that AMAZING “Control” verse; he is just that good. I’m still listening to “Good Kid m.A.A.d City,” a year after it was released. In an industry that encourages dominance and bravado, Kendrick brings humility, humanity and honesty to his lyrics while still maintaining dignity unlike other rappers trying to appeal to anyone that buys their records. It’s a hard line to walk and while I’m sure he’ll stumble a few times, I’m positive he’ll get back up and probably rap about the process. Kendrick isn’t the guy to beat as a rapper; he’s created his own lane leaving room for anyone to do the same by being original and honest with their feeling which in turn will lead to better music. Competing for the elusive number one spot isn’t the point anymore but being you. Apparently it wasn’t “realness” that was missing in rap, just Kendrick.


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2. “Type of Way” by Rich Homie Quan: I love songs about jealousy and envy. “Jolene”, “How Come”, “Jesse’s Girl”, “Kim” and others that delve into that rotten feeling we get at the thought of our better’s success. Jealousy is a tricky emotion that is hard to get right but its bastardization is easily exploited in pop music. Rawness is replaced with brutality as the jealous ones—almost always the song writer—lash out unpredictably at their perceived competition. “I’m going to steal your man/girl.”, “You don’t have money!”, “She/He can’t treat you like I do”, “Why can’t I get what I want?” These songs are about how the jealous party-mostly women-has to deal with this strange state of being and while they might be true-as a shotgun is sometimes accurate-they are one sided. What Rich Homie Quan offers us is insight into how he, the victim of jealousy, handles himself. The phrase “some type of way” is perfect for describing the emotional cocktail of envy; the anger, confusion, sadness, insecurity, it’s all in there. Quan begins with the stress that comes with hustling and throughout the song mixes images of excess luxury ubiquitous in rap, and sprinkles those little forgotten moments and thoughts that cause side-eyed jealousy to grow. “Drop you off late, know he feel some type of way”, “I probably make more money in six months than what’s in your papa’s safe”. In last year’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” Kendrick Lamar addressed the frustration of people changing as one rises to success. Whereas on this track, Quan welcomes and revels in it as some sort of perk of success.


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3. Merriam-Webster “Ask the Editor” series: No one like’s smugness, unless of course, they are the ones being smug, then that’s fine. With grammar, there is a lot of smugness involved mostly the educated scoffing and looking down on others pedestrian use of language with their noses up a la New Yorker mascot. I wish I could blame this solely on my insecurity but we all know it’s true, the feeling you get when you correct someone’s mispronunciation of “Malapropism” as they are in the middle of explaining the significance of Ensign Beverly in the play,”The Rivals”. It’s a warming and victorious feeling but like all petty feelings of dominance they end up being insignificant and pathetic when you actually think about it. That’s where Merriam-Webster’s “Ask the Editor” comes in. The editors address all kinds of word problems with thorough research that doesn’t seem intimidating and in a way that’s easy to understand. My favorite video is on the controversial word “Literally”, which can be found on their Youtube channel. They give examples of accomplished authors-Charles Dickens, Alexander Pope, Charlotte Bronte, David Foster Wallace,etc- using the word differently from its intended meaning, then satisfying the snobs with explanation of how this could be confusing for others. It’s a great channel and resource to have that makes learning more accessible for us savages mouthbreathers who can’t tell the difference between a salad fork and a used Q-tip. So maybe I’m a little insecure.


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4. LeBron and the Heat winning a championship twice in a row: I’m one of those people that cheered for LeBron and the Heat winning the 2012 championship because I’m loyal to the player. Sue me. People thought he couldn’t do it again against a seasoned team and he did fortifying his position as a great player after years of disappointments. Now that that’s over I can go back to rooting for the Thunder. YAY!!!


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5. Drake,”Hold On We’re Going Home”: Say what you will about Drake–and it’s probably true–but you have to admit that he’s settled into himself on this new album. He’s done trying to be a tough guy that “catches bodies” on the reg, or a hoodie wearing 40oz drinking, gun tattoo having pseudo-thug and embraced his sensitive persona fully. While it has gotten monotonous to some, it’s made him a better artist and also brings much needed sensitivity to Hip-Hop/Rap. “Hold on We’re Going Home” is my shit. It’s Drake comfortable with his sensitivity, along with that beat and the echo that comes between lines. Sexy.


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6. Pomegranates: Is it was worth going through all that trouble peeling them open and picking the seeds out? I still don’t know —you could eat three apples with the time it took to peel one open—but right now I have a lot of time so, meh, it’s ok I guess.


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7. The Goldbergs: Nostalgia, how I hate you. You are cheap and are used to market everything I’m supposed to like now that I’ve aged out of the coveted age group that buys shiny crap. That’s where The “Goldbergs” comes in. It’s not an average family sitcom that only has its 80’s setting and Patton Oswald narrating to the style of “The Wonder Years ” going for it. That’s about it. If you were born in time to experience a bit of the 80s and are tired of Buzzfeed remember this list, this is the show for you, if not, change the channel, read a Zine or do a line of coke to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.


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8. Modern Family: Or as I like to call it Arrested Development lite. It was never a bad but felt like the writers were pulling punches to make it a family show, hitting all demographics and it worked. The writers have gotten comfortable this season and this is a good thing. It might be syndication, the Emmys or just wanting to see how far they can push the envelope but it’s hilarious. Example, in the season opener whenever the subject of gay marriage is brought up, the baby vomits. It’s simple, crass, in bad taste but hilarious. I had to hit pause on my computer to laugh the second time it happened. The season has been like this so far and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.


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9. Oddfuture: Horrorcore. That’s how I closed the book on Oddfuture two years ago after they broke out. After going to a concert last year, watching interviews with Tyler, the crew’s leader, and actually listening to their music, I support the group. They make original music and videos without falling into trends, they’re influences are diverse regardless of whether they’re mainstream or underground and although it might seem like they rely on shock tactics to in their music, to some extent they’re just being themselves in a very punk way. Attacking new establishments that we haven’t bothered noticing are becoming sacred cows in a knee jerk fashion without following the societal standard so of course they’re going to butt some heads. That said, I didn’t see anything wrong with Tyler’s Mountain Dew commercials until, people started observing the racism in them and while I could see why they would be offended, I didn’t mind them.


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10. Nosetalgia by Pusha-T feat. Kendrick Lamar: After Malice took a hiatus from The Clipse to find Jesus, Pusha-T said, “No, thank you,” by still making even more ignorant coke rap music. It’s like Dragon Ball Z after Goku took off his weights and you knew shit was about to go down. The personification of the group’s conscience took a long vacation and Pusha has been harder than ever since then. The monochrome video of Push bouncing down an abandoned street joyously reminiscing on his days of poisoning the black community with his unapologetic coke dealing. Then Kendrick joining in on the second verse comparing his dad’s former drug lord past to his record selling potential in one of my favorite verses of the year deserving of your applause. It calls back the awesome dichotomy of “Till the Casket Drops” where Pusha-T was all coke raps and Malice was inching towards the bible with a little more boldness and aggression. Great beat, verses and one of the best rap videos this year. All hail King PUSH.


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11. Kanye West: Yeezus was not the best album of the year no matter what magazine puts on top of its list. It was definitely the most talked about but when you remove all the hype and bullshit surrounding it, it wasn’t bad, just ok. The most significant thing about it was Kanye criticizing a part of the establishment we’re not used to seeing put under scrutiny. How the hell can you be a rich black person and still have to deal with racism? Is ‘Ye not able to deal with the publicity he’s responsible for bringing on himself or are his complaints actually valid? Is this all insecure ego or is there more depth to this? The only certain thing about Mr. West is that he was entertaining this year and we can’t wait to see where it ends up. Will his ego destroy him or will he continue to evolve to Tetsuo levels destroying everyone around him in the process?


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12. Dr. Jidlaph G. Kamoche, Chinua Achebe and Nelson Mandela: In any country there are heroes the next generation inherits unquestionably. Their accomplishments are simplified in order for the masses to understand without complication and through the process we tend to forget why they are important but accept that they simply are. I took an African History class in the fall 2009 to learn about my “roots” and one of the first things Dr. Jidlaph “Jid” Kamoche did was publicly display his disappointment in me for not reading the Nigerian classic “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achibe. I had known what happened at the end and didn’t see the point of reading a book that had been spoilt many times over. But there are few things that are embarrassing for a person than questioning their genuineness especially when it comes to race, at least for me. I read the book not only because it was necessary for the class but because I was shamed and I am happy I did so. In the book Mr. Achibe was able to describe emotions I couldn’t put into words; criticizing African male pride while highlighting its usefulness and allure, the confusing feeling I get when a foreigner criticizes me for criticizing my country and other Nigerians take their side, the feeling of seeing change you know in your heart is wrong but are unable to articulate or fear your peers will not understand you, and the feeling of hopelessness against an enemy you’re not used to fighting and simply outsmarts and outguns you. These coupled with Dr. Kamoche’s lessons on colonialism and emphasis on how Africans were not and are not different from any of the ruling class but rather victims of cruel circumstance and a ruthless dehumanizing enemy. While there wasn’t a lot of stress on Nelson Mandela, Kamoche was able to let us why he was a significant figure in the South Africa. He wasn’t one to dwell on Mandela’s unscrupulous activities or any African heroes for that matter but he let us know about them. So, whenever the thought of Nelson Mandela’s or Chinua Achibe’s deaths come up, I do not instantly remember how great they were or what they did but I remember Dr. Jidlaph G. Kamoche as the man that taught me why they were relevant and deserve respect.


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13. Totally Biased with Kamau Bell: I never was a fan of the show or even watched a full episode but I saw a few choice clips and it was a show that represented a group of people on television that weren’t quite represented. While the show was obviously liberally biased, it gave everyone a chance to state their opinions. The debate between feminist blogger Lindy West and comedian Jim Norton was the highlight and while there was no clear “winner”, they both got their points across. Props to Jim Norton for defending his right to say whatever he wanted on stage in front of an audience that was ready to rip him to shreds. Sadly, the show has been cancelled.


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14. Orange is The New Black: Let’s forget about all the things the show did with gender, race, the prison system and just appreciate it for being a show with human beings. The characters were vulnerable, made mistakes, forgave each other, held grudges and were just looking for some love in a harsh environment. That made it great television, the rest is great too but once you respect your characters, everything falls into place.


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15. Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: I stopped listening to most of my favorite podcasts this year because I grew bored of the same cycle most of them go through and their predictability—especially This American Life–after years of listening. I jettisoned all but one,”Bullseye with Jesse Thorn”. This pop culture podcast does a wonderful job of interviewing sometimes mainstream, mostly fringe celebrities without the heavy handed celeb journalism one would catch on E! Eclectic and dapper host, Jesse Thorn is completely interested in the work of the interviewees and asking questions that no one else seems to which in turn get him answers that humanize and lead to a great understanding of subjects. That coupled with his “Outshot” where he recommends a piece of popular culture that is close to his heart at the end of the show. That voice too…


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16. Junot Diaz: I finally read “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and “This is How You Lose Her”, listened to his “Bullseye with Jesse Thorn” interview and have to say I enjoy not only his body of work but appreciate who he is as a person. Diaz immigrated into this country as a child and worked his way to being a professor at MIT and it shows not only in his writing but in interviews as well. He’s eloquent in a style that doesn’t feel forced or pretentious and his characters speak the way they’re supposed to given their cultural background but have distinct everyday characteristics that make them real.


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17. The Needledrop: With Pitchfork being the Internet’s go to site for music reviews, it’s hard to find another opinion. That’s where Anthony Fantano comes in. His claim to be the “Internet’s busiest music nerd” holds true. He reviews everything that’s interesting or at least relevant armed with a strong knowledge of music and a belief in his own opinions; his reviews are unique because you never taste the influence of any of the big reviewers in his vlogs. You can find his channel on youtube or the site of the same name.


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18. Stand-Up Comedy: This is my second year doing open-mic comedy and it’s not bad so far. Everything you’ve heard about doing comedy is probably negative and true, especially when starting out. The horrible crowds or lack thereof; the failure of material you felt was tried and true; the emotional time and energy you put into writing that fails. There’s a lot of failure involved in comedy and I’ve come to accept it. That said, there are a lot of great things about comedy: like when a joke you’ve been working on finally lands, when you learn how to read an audience, controlling the crowd after doing crowd work, learning how to comeback from a joke that bombed and my favorite, other comedians. When you make friends with people in the same situation you’re in or have learned to laugh at their own failures, you can talk about anything without shame or fear of being judged. As someone that’s stuck in the open-mic circuit, so far friendship is the best thing about doing comedy.


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19. Awful reviews for Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail: This is not for all the negative reviews MCHG got but for the ones that attacked Jay Z’s personality as the greatest rapper alive for releasing a mediocre album. Magna Carta, like “Yeezus” was not a bad album nor was it great and honestly, I haven’t actually listened to it in its entirety because I got bored ¾ in. It was similar to the same flag waving chest bumping music we got on “Watch the Throne” and “The Blueprint 3” with less hits. It actually reminded me of “The Blueprint 2” because not only did I not listen to the album in its entirety but it was also the same self-aggrandizing on MCHG. Of course Jay Z can’t rap as well as he used to because he’s focused on climbing to the top of success regardless of who he has to sacrifice—remember Roc-A-Fella Records and the Barney’s incident?—but as most hip-hop fans notice, he raps his age. He’s a 44 year old rapper that raps like a 44 year old in an industry focused on the young and naively bold. Jay still retained that business mentality he’s had since “Reasonable Doubt” while he managed to inject his sentiments in pop heavy tracks which is something most reviewers-I will not name any names-failed to spotlight. MCHG wasn’t my favorite album this year but it wasn’t as bad as reviewers made it out to be. Jay is still the same guy that can “move in a room full of vultures” and Che Guevara with bling on; complex.


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20. Beyonce: Most of the negativity Beyonce gets is from haters and YES, I am a Beyonce fan. Not that I’ve ever bought an album or even listened to one in its entirety, except maybe, “Dangerously in Love” but I love her singles and she is great at playing the “Publicity Game”. Can anyone actually remember Beyonce having an opinion on anything? I’m not talking about supporting Obama but concrete Bey views on the something? Not saying she’s a simpleton but she knows to keep her mouth shut while working hard with a great support system around her. Look where it’s taken her. Remember “No,no,no”? An average single from one of the many young all black female R’n’B groups around that time, I didn’t expect Beyonce to fly out of the ashes of another “Blaque” or “3LW” but she did by keeping quiet and letting her work do the talking. After this year’s Super Bowl Performance, it finally hit me that Beyonce is as big as Madonna and Diana Ross was at their peak and with the release of her new album she’s cemented herself in our minds as the DIVA of this generation. Props Queen Beyonce.


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