Lil Nas X & NBA YoungBoy | “Late To Da Party (F*CK BET)”
As far as justified beefs go, this is one we can sink our teeth into — especially when said beefs are served up on a skewer as sharp (and funny) as this glorious pastiche of Shutterstock images, haphazard greenscreens and early PowerPoint presentation slide effects.
As you’ve probably surmised from the title: In his latest single, ever-talented and bold 23-year-old Lil Nas X is airing out his fraught relationship with BET, shortly after he was completely shut out of their awards this year. The lack of nominations was odd, given that it’s been a banner year for the Atlanta-born megastar. Last year, he released the red hot debut album Montero, which dominated the airwaves with its two chart-topping, Grammy-nominated singles — “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Industry Baby.”
However, Lil Nas X and BET’s rocky dynamic didn’t begin with, or hinge on, the snub alone. As the performer explained to Rolling Stone, “My relationship with BET has been painful and strained for quite some time . . . They did let me perform on their show last year, but only after [I gave] assurances that I was not a satanist or devil worshiper and that my performance would be appropriate for their audience.”
Lil Nas X has played a crucial role in bringing greater, bolder LGBTQ+ visibility to pop music, frequently taking homophobia on head-on, demonstrating savvy on social media in particular, with a patented mix of courage, humor and style. He wrote on Twitter that, “i just feel like black gay ppl have to fight to be seen in this world and even when we make it to the top mfs try to pretend we are invisible.”
On June 28, Eve M. May, a trans teenager, wrote a letter in Teen Vogue expressing gratitude for Lil Nas X and the example he’s setting for young people: “Even if I were the only kid to be changed by your music and you just being you, it still makes a huge difference. But the fact that you do that for hundreds of thousands of kids, and probably millions of young adults as well, makes what you’re doing even more important,” May wrote.
Bathe Alone | “Animals & Trees”
This latest movie soundtrack-like dream pop tune harkens back to what Joni Mitchell sang about so many decades ago: they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. In its surreal video accompaniment directed by Nic Huey, singer and multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass) Bailey Crone, aka Bathe Alone, silently makes her way through recognizable Atlanta cityscapes, clad in an animal mask.
The imagery and sequence of events call to mind how people have increasingly encroached upon and depleted the natural ecosystems that form wild habitats. And hey, animals taking public transportation like MARTA is actually not that far-fetched a concept — simply Google “coyotes take the El in Chicago.”
This single clips on the heels of two earlier releases meant to tease out Crone’s still-forthcoming sophomore album, Fall With the Lights Down, set for release at a still-TBD date this summer on the Kansas City-based label The Record Machine. Those prior outings were “Decades & Dreams” (featured in Atlanta Soundtrack in March) and “Waste It.” Crone’s debut album, Last Looks, came out just last year.
Mary Lou Williams | “The Man I Love”
Watching Mary Lou Williams’ fingers fly across the keys on this well-loved Gershwin number — our Vintage Track of the Week — is like watching Gene Kelly or Gregory Hines glide across the dance floor or watching Nathan Chen slice across an ice rink. Born in Atlanta in 1910, the First Lady of Jazz moved with her family to Pittsburgh when she was little. A piano prodigy with perfect pitch, she was already tickling the ivories by the time she could walk, then performing professionally by age 6.
But music wasn’t solely a calling to the stage; it could be a means of survival through harrowing times. An NPR profile of the musician details the moment Williams realized her talents could be harnessed to convince her racist White neighbors “to stop throwing bricks into her family’s house by giving them private concerts.”
Shortly before she reached age 20, Williams had not only secured a spot as a star performer with Kansas City “big band” Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, but she was also submitting innovative arrangements for them to play. These creative and surprising song constructions would become a staple of her distinguished career. Indeed, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong were just a couple of colleagues in the business seeking out her brilliant work. She also mentored fellow (though sadly far more widely known) jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
Other highlights: She composed the Zodiac Suite, a 12-piece composition about each astrological sign. She penned a whole liturgical piece for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, known as Mary Lou’s Mass. She founded her own record label before that was even a thing (especially for women). No surprise, then, that the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., holds its annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in honor of her late ladyship.
So, when the world gets chaotic and mean, as it often does these days, take the time to watch this artist — well into the latter portion of her lengthy career when this concert was filmed — deftly showcasing a pure mastery of her craft. And take heart the wonderment of someone being able to simply down in front of an inanimate object and proceed to elicit magic from it.