The Final Sketch // An Inflection Point — 4:44

I. Why write about someone else’s art?

Criticism about music criticism is common.

Those who argue that it’s deserved because critics aren’t building sculptures themselves, but tearing down sculptures built by others must contend with this: just as much criticism is levied against critics who are also musicians themselves.

For instance, when was the last time an artist’s honest appraisal of another artist’s work was not seen as a dig?

Also, in some ways, at least, isn’t a critic also a sculptor?

And the critic of a critic too?

Why must music criticism exist?

I will parse through art-school explanations — they are academic — to arrive at the reason I want to believe is most true.

One. Listener-readers went to know what to listen to next.

Two.They want the appraisal of someone who has put in more effort than they have to glean meaning from a work of art.

Maybe a critic can help them articulate why they liked or disliked an album.

Or maybe the critic can predict what they might like in future based on what they have liked or disliked in the past.

Or maybe a critic can deepen their liking for a work of art by revealing depth they didn’t know it had.

Three. I suspect it’s because of our desire to relate — not only with the critic, but also with the artist.

An artist’s perspective of his/ her art is subjective.

A critic’s perspective helps the audience connect better.

As with any interface with other people — business, interaction design, conversation — a critic is engaged in a battle between two desires. One, to push his own agenda. Two, to address someone else’s need.

This is where seeing music criticism as an art similar to either music or fiction-writing is dangerous.

When it come to criticism, the balance between these two desires lies closer to the audience.

That is, a critic is more in service of his audience than a musician or fiction-writer needs to be.

II. 4:44

When Beyonce released Lemonade, the music press was buzzing with news about Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity.

The music press is now buzzing with news about Jay-Z’s response to the buzz about his alleged infidelity.

The liberal news outlets I follow were quick to celebrate Beyonce’s courage, and just as quick to deride the world’s willingness to give Jay-Z an equal shot.

This is an opportunity afforded only to powerful men, they said.

If Jay-Z’s infidelity was the only factor in play, there would be no need for two albums addressing it.

Some might say it isn’t my place to question the ulterior financial motivations of two billionaires fanning gossip-flames with multi-platinum selling albums.

But I would argue that Lemonade and 4:44 have granted me the right.

Plus, I’m making a larger point.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jay-Z’s 4:44 is at least partially a ploy to monetise infidelity.

It’s happened before, it will happen again. We are suckers for gossip. I know I am.

I would be kinder if Jay-Z himself didn’t keep glorifying the need to make money through whatever means necessary in 4:44.

For instance, he brings up selling dope to make money in The Story of OJ.

And in Marcy Me.

And in most other songs in his discography.

I will not comment on race. I will not comment on his alleged anti-semitism. Not because I don’t believe I’m entitled to an opinion about these issues, but because, as an Indian in a racially more-or-less homogeneous society, I do not believe I have the required context.

I will, however, comment about Jay-Z’s lyrics about relationships and money.

My crib with Jay-Z’s music has always been that he’s been about money, cash, hoes, and not much else.

The same cannot be said for Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, or other nineties hip-hop. They often had more substance.

In 4:44, however, Jay-Z lays digging deeper than ever to tell us why women and money are really that important to him.

Financial freedom is his only hope.

He can’t wait to give his money to all of his children.

He doesn’t want to lose the world’s baddest woman because he couldn’t be faithful.

But it just isn’t deep enough.

For example, his final point is undermined by his demonising Halle Berry’s ex-husband not for cheating on her, but for ‘losing’ Halle Berry.

With that attitude, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t look at relationships as acquisitions.

Another example, the hammy LGBT+ support song, Smile, which sounds quite forced, to be honest.

Most of 4:44 can be summed up in a single regressive viewpoint —

Get rich quick. Marry well. Leave as much as you can to your kids. Everyone else be damned.

There’s some merit to that viewpoint, but not much depth. I could have got that from any of many stern lectures.

But then again, this is the same Jay-Z who bragged about calculating how poorly he should rap in Moment of Clarity

If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be
Lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did 5 mil’, I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.

So maybe he’s okay with that criticism.

Maybe it isn’t about rhyming.

Or regret about his infidelity.

Or any of that mush.

Maybe it’s just about the topline.

III. Why I write, why I make music.

There’s a voice in my head. It says:

Maybe you’re no good, and will wallow in obscurity.

Maybe you’re no good at self-promotion, and will wallow in obscurity.

Maybe you should’ve taken the first zeppo out of here to the promised land like everyone else.

While you were sitting on your desk, the party outside your window was winding down.

Nobody reads anymore. Why should anyone write?

When was the last time you heard an Indian artist’s album?

You, the music nerd.

Okay, you’re a bad example, brown-white-boy.

I need to demand more from those I know.

The question should no longer by why I write. It should be why others don’t read.

Why does anybody write?

Writing is better than drinking.

Most things are.

I’ve never been writing and stopped to think: I’d rather be drinking.

Back in my drinking days, I would’ve often rather been writing than drinking.

I’m terrified my drinking days might return.

I’m terrified I’ll never make a new friend again unless I start drinking like that again.

Who am I kidding; ‘friend’?

I’m afraid I’ll never meet another girl again unless I start drinking like that again.

There’s solace in seeing it written.

Or hope —

Maybe I’m the not the only one.

Ultimately, I’m engaged in a battle against my mind.

I win, every time I express myself — even if approximately.

IV. 4:44, or why I listen to music.

So…

Should I keep listening to 4:44?

The beats are great.

The lyrics are okay.

Honestly, I’m addicted to the flow in OJ.

But all of this thinking has put me in a tight spot.

Should I just enjoy the music?

Would I just enjoy the music if I didn’t think so much?

Or do the negative aspects of this appraisal paint a truer picture of how I would feel.

I think it’s like what I wrote earlier about music criticism.

I’m just trying to articulate the discomfort I have felt with 4:44 right from the get-go.

And now that I know what it is, I’ll find it harder to enjoy it.

And I probably would have anyway.

But now, I also get to cherish other works of art that aren’t as cynical.

There’s no shortage of good 2017 hip-hop out there.

I’d much rather listen to Vince Staples.

Sketches — Lost Time // Brutalism

It’s customary for us sky-dwellers to bring a narrator along for our journeys to the ground, and put our stories up for sale underground.

When I say ‘underground’, I mean like the samizdat of the sky.

I’m sure you’re wondering what samizdat means.

It’s what underground literature was called in Soviet Russia. Most of our literature in the sky-world has been pushed underground.

It’s not by law or anything. The underground is the only place populated by people who care about out stories.

Sky-dwellers don’t care.

Ground-dwellers would have better things to read in a randomly selected archive or library.

So we’re consigned to an above-ground underground.

You’ve probably been wondering how I, Ms. Peacock, know you’re watching me.

First of all, it’s Akara. Ms. Peacock is what Grully called me.

Secondly, you followed me here.

I know you don’t remember, but you did.

I’m sorry things got a little out of hand, and I had to boot Grully.

You’re happy he’s gone. You don’t remember why, but trust me.

You can’t speak to me.

Let me rephrase… You could, but I wouldn’t be able to hear you. That’s not how this ‘time’ thing works.

YOU CAN’T BROADSMIT ON THE SAMIZDAT LINE WITHOUT A NARRATOR, <MS. PEACOCK>, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED ABOUT THIS BEFORE. THIS IS YOUR SECOND VIOLATION. DEAR VIEWER, <MS. PEACOCK> IS A REPEAT OFFENDER AND THIS PORTION OF HER ‘SMIT HAS BEEN DELIBERATELY REMOVED TO DISSUADE REPEATED RULE-BREAKING.

Ms. Peacock, I did tell you I need to be here with you.

Yes, Grully.

We will be monitored henceforth. So please do not interact with me for the rest of our journey. Pretend I’m not here.If you break the rules again, you will be reported to the Party Police, and I wouldn’t like that. I like you, Ms. Peacock. I wouldn’t like to see you dealing with the likes of the Party Police.

(…)

Ms. Peacock?

I thought I was to pretend you didn’t exist?

Yes.

Hi, dear reader. I apologise for the confusion.

Let’s start afresh.

Sketches — Iteration // Mister Mellow // Thickfreakness

You’re judging him for making a Com Truise album?

What did you expect?

Of course he made a Com Truise album.

He’s Com Truise.

The rules on the ground are simple, she says, facing you, zipping up as she makes her way around the back of her Aztec. If he’s wrong… she opens her door and steps in.

Slam.

…then fine, you win. But if he’s right, then what does that make you?

Ignition on.

It makes you wrong. But does it make you happy or does it make you sad?

If it makes you sad, you’re saying he’d rather be wrong. And as you yourself noted, his being wrong is a big deal. It’s a matter of life and death for us all, right?

If he’s wrong, we’re all done-fur, according to you. So shouldn’t you be praying he’s right and he wins?

If you don’t, don’t you then, by extension hate this country?

Just think about it.

She steps on the accelerator. There’s no-one else in sight. She’s lucky to have picked a good spot to stop.

You won’t always be so lucky, homes.

The marauders here are twomb-slacked. If my memory serves me right, I’ve seen them gruggle myself. With my own two eyes, I’ve seen them —

Shut up, Grully.

Sorry Ms. Peacock.

You’ll need to pardon him. He forgets I can hear him every time he pictures me naked. All he has to do is never picture me naked, and he’ll go back to just being your ‘humble’ narrator. You’d think he would keep that in mind. But no.

Don’t listen to her. Let’s get back to what (— I think he understands what —) think something about the marauders. I’ve seen them gruggle the spirit with my own two eyes. (— but I don’t think —) Hey. Don’t listen to her.

In the thirties, when they vacated the ground-world, only a person of a certain type would have had any interest in staying back in old Mumbai. All the old property-hoarders, squatters, protesters, these were the ones who stayed behind. This motley crew of the most-educated and least-educated. And somehow they manage to be almost half of the population.

What does that say about the ground-world, she asks.

Don’t listen to her.

It says the ground-world is a dangerous place. A place of scummy scamsters and supporters of scummy scamsters. Of course her mother doesn’t want to go. What mother would?

I can’t hear him anymore, thank goodness for that too. Here’s the thing you need to know. Grully has a penchant for exaggerating. I wouldn’t trust him and his story entirely, if I were you. Grully is right about one thing. There aren’t nearly as many ‘ground-dwellers’, I think called them, anywhere else on earth as there are in India. And Mumbai is where they dream. Can you just dismiss them all as no-good. Fifty percent of your own blood.

This is Washed Out.

Not Com Truise.

Oh sorry.

It’s ok.

Anyway, I’m Shruti, hi guys.

Arun.

Arjun.

Has Rahil told you all about me?

Yes, yes, of course.

(I don’t even know her name!! Laughtrack!!)

(She’s into me, I’m sure she’s into me.)

So as I was saying… Arjun.

Yeah Arun, sorry.

So the book I was telling you about? Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk.

Yeah, what about it?

My friend illustrated it, you should chat with him. He’ll be able to guide you through getting a book out.

Sure man, that would be great.

Rahul and Shruti tonight, huh?

Probably da. Like bunnies.

Sketches — Big Fish Theory // AM

Hello all,

Thanks for coming in today. I know you didn’t have to come to this session. So we’re glad you could make it. Today’s Liberals’ Handbook chapter is about cultural appropriation, how to spot it, how to avoid it, and how a liberal consumer can ensure a commensurate response to cultural appropriation.

We’ll start with an example in modern advertising.

“I’m here to tell you the good news about the latest Shüs.”

“I was up ‘late-night ballin’ with the hunnys’ when this idea struck. This concept. Half dark-arts, half light-farts. All inspiration. Presenting the latest in shoe-tech.:

Shü — Rack Stack Edition.

Simple as simple can be. A dimple for your feet. A treat for your eyes. Sky-high thinking for the sky-high generation.

Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth

Journal entry no: 3

Reader count: 8

“If you really are at peace with your station in life, if you really have achieved ‘existential equilibrium’, as you call it, there’s no way to tell through your writing,” Akara said today, rather dismissively.

Well fuck you too, Akara. I have no patience for condescension.

I’ve seen the worst minds of my generation revel in the failure of others, waiting for them to fail so they can whisper dirt in their direction.

My new-found misanthropy ends in resurrection. I can feel it coming, in the air tonight, on a flight of stairs, a fright.

But first, a crucifixion.

How fitting that the atheist with a messiah complex, and nothing to save but his fragile ego, has himself killed, only to return a changed man. I can see it already:

> A montage

> Girls ruing their poor choices in soulmates

> Me punching sheep carcasses in a barn in the Tundra

> Me thrashing a racist white American in the ring

> And the heavyweight champion of the worldddddddddddd…….

The progression of Arctic Monkeys’ career parallels my relationship with self-obsession:

Become more LA, somehow more obsessed with yourself than you were in 2006. Somehow more obsessed with yourself than women, which is really saying something. But somehow still be capable of pulling off something like No. 1 Party Anthem when you give someone else even as little as close to a percent of the mindspace you devote to yourself.

In writing as in the bedroom, things start getting troublesome when your brain overtakes your fingers.

How will this end, your brain asks.

As Akara says so sarcastically, “how do you think this will end?”

Bitch.

xoxo

So…

I’m giving you a take home assignment, optional of course, but it would be great if you could do it. “When is it appropriate to call a woman a bitch?” Think about it, and we’ll have a conversation about your perspectives next week.

Thanks for attending the Liberals’ Handbook. I hope to see you all next week. As always, you can use our app to give us thorough and honest feedback. I encourage you to do so.

 

Sketches — Reflections of a Floating World // Agharta

Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth

Journal entry no: 2

Reader count: 3

Most people associate spiritual awakenings with wild swerves; mine has been a gentle realignment. This body is too old to do swerves.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about Miles Davis.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned discipline?

xoxo

When she found Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth at Crawford Market, she was intrigued enough to shell out a bunch of rupees she probably should have saved. Turns out it was a good investment, this obscure e-vel, a relic of the ‘digital age’. She’s really enjoyed this lunatic’s ramblings. It’s help her put things in perspective — this lunatic, if alive, is probably as old as her mother is today. And is what the-opposite-of-her-mother would sound like. It puts things into perspective. For a yuppie afraid of turning into her mother, the fear of turning unhinged is a good counterweight.

Within a week of buying Sketches, she had read its hundred thousand words from start to finish. Twice. Even now, more than a year later, she returns to it every now and again. It’s the second best thing to being back in Old Mumbai. A window into another world. A rawer world.

The second best thing

Driving through the desert on a full moon night being the first. This is so much better than a floating world. There’s nowhere I would rather be than here: alone, in the Aztec, in the desert.

I don’t ever want to stop

Hope there are no marauders here, she says to herself, looking out of the window. 

Shrugs.

Screeches her Aztec to a halt.

Stumbles out of the car. Looks left, looks right, fixes her flannel top. Rounds the back of the car, keeping an eye out. Laughs.  What good is that going to do? Kill them with a stare?

It’s a full moon night. A great night for marauding.

Crouches. Wees.

Sketches — Enema of the State // Trumpeting Ecstasy

Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth

Journal entry no: 1

Reader count: 0

“As a kid I rubbed my W O O H O O   W H E N   I   F E E L   H E A V Y   M E T A L ! ! against all the furniture in the house because it felt good, and I had no idea why.”

Ex machina must be a tempting thought for a deus

Nobody deserves happiness. Fix this plague like the sinner you hope to be.

Nihilism is for winners, all the cool kids are Nietzschean

As a kid, I’d listen to Blink-182 with the volume turned up to eleven. You think they hate you when you’re twenty-three? Try being twenty-seven. There’s music for when you’re young, and there’s music for when you’re old, and everyone acts like you’re just supposed to listen to hopped-up yuppie music or club-bangers about molesting women when you’re in your twenties.

Why?

It’s the same with philosophies of life. Get on the conveyer belt is all. Start philosophically illiterate until you’re twelve. The philosophy of self until fifteen.

School to college. Big Boi pants. Camus. More Camus. More Camus. Life is absurd, maaaaaaaaan. Like, life is, like meaningless, maaaaaaan. Or Sartre. Long words long words long words. Everything is meaningless. Or Nietzsche. Air of superiority and a pack-a-day cigarette habit. I don’t drink, man. Drinking is for the uncultured.

Be depressed through college. All sentimental. Your first big heartbreak makes you more American than you’d admit; no longer a fan of the mainland European philosophies you thought would protect you from this very sinking feeling, you propel yourself further away from home, across the Atlantic Ocean to America, land in a bale of post-modernism. Shrug your way past graduation.

Get a job.

Become a practical hedonist. Rediscover love. Rediscover drugs.

Abandon drugs.

Remain in love. Remain in light.

Find philosophy on the sleeve of a book about managing mid-size teams.

This is where you’re supposed to be at this age:

W  H  I  T  E      L  I  G  H  T        /        W  H  I  T  E      H  E  A  T

Wait, but why?

Wait, but why find yourself amazed at waitbutwhy just because you’re in your twenties and find yourself resting easy on a bed sheathed in vanilla ice-cream day in and day out?

Why not try some dressing? 

Or something completely different?

Get a job.

Become an impractical romantic. Rediscover love. Rediscover drugs.

Abandon drugs.

Abandon love.

Rediscover hate. Secretly seethe with rage.

Rediscover Nietzsche.

Rediscover metal.

Learn new things about yourself and the world.

Go to the supermarket.

Buy a pack of chips.

Put them all on one shoulder.

I’ve had a spiritual reawakening in my months away from serious writing.

xoxo

Sketches — The Red Album // Semper Femina

In 2037, the bottom-dwellers of Old Mumbai, unlike those of NAT, refused to sign the entirely reasonable Grand Barter with the Aerial Government. The airwaves were filled with speculation of bureaucrats and politicians buying time, trying to reach a better deal. Even if such a deal existed, it evaporated with the completion of the Final Thrust Upward.

India was the fastest country to migrate skyward, building the world’s first skyharbour in 2030. Despite this, it continues to have a greater proportion of bottom-dwellers than most countries. The world’s largest democracy has always been too slow for the world’s fastest executive branch.

She races into the dark.

Down there, you’re never safe.

Her mother, like most responsible mothers, would often warn her not to race, or drive her Aztec at all, or mingle with the bottom-dwellers. Why must you go down there, asked her when she first brought up the idea of racing in her free time.

Because it’s there.

She was too old to be stopped, but not too old to be advised or chastised, she would never be to old for that, she surmised. So she just didn’t respond to mum, or even tell her she was going. But she was scared. Of racing, of driving her Aztec, of the bottom-dwellers. The hundreds of miles of dark road until Old Mumbai were particularly terrifying. There were rumours of marauding hordes, white-sari ghostinas, rumours of all things unholy. It was veteran racers who started most of these old-drives’ tales. Bored bottom-dwellers, as old during the Final Thrust Upward as she is now, a motley crew of rats, quiet-rioters, poisons, cinderellas, and warrant-fiends. Scaring newbs like her served as entertainment, she thought.

But there was more to it than that. She ignored the element of truth in their stories. These badlands were always unsafe, even in the heyday of the twenties, especially for a young woman like her. Today, they’re likely to be far worse.

You have no business being here.

Tomorrow’s would be her third race ever, and her first start. In her first couple of trips to Old Mumbai, she wandered, lost, asking strangers ‘where the races were’. They laughed at her, asked her if she was a bot, told her to shell out her precious skyrupees, darling, and I’ll show you where. Several thousands of rupees later, she gave up.

Nevertheless, the trips weren’t a total bust. Her second trip ended with a conman-dressed-as-a-taxi-guy dropping her off at Crawford Market, directing her to what she expected to be a racecourse. She now knows how idiotic it was for her to expect there to be actual designated ‘racecourses’. As she wandered through lanes and bylanes, following his instructions to a T, she got lost. There was no racecourse at the end of the sojourn, but there was an internet archive.

Until then, she had only heard of these libraries of the unregulated internet of old. But once she finally found herself in one of them, she spent hours rifling through old pornography, vlogs, webcomics, zaps, and memes. She found most of it stupid, but all of it fascinating. When she finally walked out of that library, she did so with an archived e-vel — Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth — and a sense of profound hatred toward the world in the sky.

At least here the world is dog-eat-dog, unsanitised, the way the world upstairs is, but without fake broad smiles. This is where people are real.

Sketches — A Love Supreme // AZD

Fields of barley zip past her window at about a hundred miles an hour. The girl looks into the rear-view mirror of her Aztec to make sure there’s no-one tailing her. A train — or rather a relic of one — stands stationery on the tracks along the road. Her car radio’s playing an eighties song reimagined for listeners of the noughties. Naughty listeners, a man’s voice pierces through the wall of synthesisers that forms the song’s outro, the next song is for you. This is X22RME, by fellow British DJ, Actress. She turns the volume knob, a digital display appears, 10, 11, 12. 13. The road’s bathed in indigo. In her rear-view mirror, she sees street-lights flickering to life in the distance. Here among the fields of barley, there are no street-lights.

Once, not too long ago, all six-hundred miles of the Future Corridor — it was a thousand kilometres back then, before the Reclassification Act of 2038 — were lined with solar-powered street lights. It was a sign of a soaring India. A highway from coast to coast, a link between Old Mumbai and New Amaravathi, a bridge to tomorrow, from the concrete and mud of old India to the dizzying lights and heights of new India.

The wheels of the bus go round and round. Round and round. Around and around.

Not too long ago ago, New Amaravathi was a different place, filled with colour, not derelict and concrete like it is today. In the two years since, India has soared past New Amaravathi into the sky, leaving the city behind to be infested by bottom-dwellers. In that way, New Amaravathi is no different today from Old Mumbai.

Welcome to Old Mumbai. The last place for humans to stay being

In many other ways, it is.

New Amaravathi, and the erstwhile district of which it serves as the de facto capital, the New Amaravathi Territory (or NAT) is still civilised. It remains governed by the laws of India. Old Mumbai, on the other hand, is the wild west unfolding in reverse — a once civilised land in the middle of a deliberate and desperate descent into barbarism. A land of sex, drugs, and violence not unlike the one imagined in so many cyberpunk classics.

But it was one of the few places to drive an MV like the Aztec in peace.

Your friends don’t drive, and if they don’t drive, then they ain’t no friends of mine.

Thank you for visiting NAT, a signboard flies past. She’s visibly relieved. Thank B, she says. I’m finally free. She turns the headlights of her Aztec on.

Safe. Finally.