Good music is startling music. Good music grips you and makes you gasp in new ways, it brings you to a new and unexpected place. Good music has an element of surprise and shock—that's the high we chase from release to release.
With a quarter of the year gone, we asked DJBooth's Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Writer Yoh to name the last albums to truly shock them.
Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
yoh [11:00 AM]
Hi, Donna. Happy Thursday my dear friend. How are you today?
donnacwrites [11:02 AM]
Good morning Yohsipher, I am well. I finished re-reading my favorite poetry book this morning so everything is grand. Since we're a quarter of the way into the year, I wanted to ask you about albums that shock you. One of the best things music can do is surprise us and catch us unaware.
So, I'll ask you: What was the last album that truly shocked you, and how?
yoh [11:10 AM]
Lovely question. At this moment, I can recall two 2018 albums that caught me completely off guard: Saba's CARE FOR ME and 21 Savage's I Am > I Was. Both are albums I went into blind and was astounded by what they offered. I wasn't ready for Saba to be so emotionally riveting. He caused chills to cover my body as if I had the chicken pox. With Savage, I was impressed by his growth. He evolved. It was everything I wanted from a sophomore album and many things I didn't expect. CARE FOR ME and I Am > I Was are still in constant rotation.
What about you? What is the last album/albums that caught you off guard?
donnacwrites [11:14 AM]
The last album that caught me off guard was Dave's Psychodrama. I heard it once and was immediately taken aback by how bare and aggressive it was. The intensity of the record was a glowing and powerful thing. I felt myself falling into the album and just grabbing onto each and every bar during my descent. I never wanted the dive to end. And "Lesley," especially, caught me off-guard. The 11-minute track is full of twists and when the big reveal came during my first listen through, I was shocked at the betrayal but also shocked by the emotion Dave was able to pull out of me in such a relatively short span considering 11 minutes is not long enough at all to traditionally care about someone.
I see a connection between CARE FOR ME and Psychodrama, mostly that we were both shocked by the emotion of the records. Do you think that emotionally charged albums are innately more shocking, or is it just that we are so used to husbanding our feelings that once the time comes to be bare, it is immediately novel?
yoh [11:28 AM]
It's a little bit of both. Emotions, especially in rap, are carefully distributed. More often than not, there are one or two songs placed on an album dedicated to unveiling raw, uncut feelings. Whenever there's a release that spends more time exploring the depths of the artist's emotions, they tend to strike us differently. If you listen back to Saba's debut album, Bucket List Project, the music isn't visceral. It's a good album, but it doesn't cut through the skin and touch the spirit. It's one thing to have a song do that, but an entire album, there's a natural reaction of shock. I can't believe you are able to stir these emotions within me by unveiling so much of yourself.
Do you believe the more an artist is willing to confess, the closer you feel to them? I think, to a degree, transparency can be a surprise. It's like someone suddenly removing a band-aid and showing their bloody scab. You have to react even if you know we all have bloody scabs.
donnacwrites [11:31 AM]
Yes, of course. The reason I love Mac Miller is that he was so confessional, and he refuses to meet me halfway. He is in a mode and he brings you into that mode and makes you sit in it. Dave does that on Psychodrama, forcing us to sit in his psyche for an hour while he works through his pain. There are highs and there are lows, but there's a line of suffering that is so human.
My favorite thing about art is when it humanizes us; when it feels communal. Forcing us to sit in a feeling, to be taken aback for an hour's length of time, is a reminder that we are just people. My favorite paintings are of people just bustling through their lives, and my favorite albums are the same. The shock isn't the bustle, really, but the truth of it. We are so insular, we often forget that experiences tend to be more universal than not.
yoh [11:37 AM]
I love that sentiment. Please send me some of your favorite paintings. The humanizing aspect of art really is why it helps us feel more connected. Artists are the middlemen who remind us no matter how alone we may feel, we aren't alone. Would you say, if every recording artist were transparent about their lives and feelings, we wouldn't be shocked by emotionally charged albums? Is there an alternative universe where everyone is so open about their truth that the shocking albums are the ones focused on partying and having a good time? lol
donnacwrites [11:40 AM]
Social stigma would have to change before we stopped being shocked by emotionally charged works. Stigma is what makes albums novel; what makes them statement pieces. I am down for the alternate reality where everyone is as emotional and direct about it as we are, that sounds like the ideal place—where emotional music is banal and aimless party music is truly striking.
Before we end, tell me this: In 2019, what would an artist have to do on wax to shock Yoh?
yoh [11:45 AM]
Make me see you in a new light. We feel so close to artists now as if we know them almost on a personal level. Anyone able to break that idea; to unveil sides of themselves that aren't consistent with their "brand" or "image." We as people are walking universes, there's always more to us than what reaches the timeline. Show me a side of you that hasn't been documented.