Toby Flenderson, HR, Scranton Strangler

The Scranton Strangler was a long-running and ultimately unfulfilling background story on The Office during the latter seasons. His identity was revealed to be George Howard Skub, mentioned frequently in HR Rep Toby Flenderson’s random and poorly timed speeches regarding the trial. It was all a lie. Toby Flenderson was and is the real Scranton Strangler. Those who know me know I don’t believe this to be a conspiracy theory, in my world, this is as much canon as Jim and Pam’s marriage. The evidence is stacked up against the human snail that was Toby Flenderson. Here’s my case *Law and Order beat drop*:

First the obvious facts:

  1. Toby is a middle-aged, balding, single, white, male divorcee with none of the charisma necessary to start a new relationship (as we see with his Season 2-4 crush on Pam). He is by all evidence an incel* which recent news indicates is damn near a requirement to be a mass murderer. In 2018, he would be an active women-bashing Reddit user.
  2. Toby’s relationship with his young daughter Sasha is mediocre at best. She is rarely mentioned and never shows her father any affection in the one episode in which she appears (Season 2, Episode 18, in which she also befriends Toby’s greatest enemy, his boss Michael Scott). At one point in Season 5, Toby, on the verge of tears, pays $400 for a doll to give his daughter desperately trying to score a win with her for Christmas (still botching the chance, as he overpaid for a black doll, rather than a white one, and accepts it to not appear racist). He rarely has her and can’t break through to her because he is extremely boring.
  3. Toby’s work life (the main place he interacts with people by his own admission in Season 8, episode 18) is miserable. In an office filled with relationships, affairs, friendships and general human interaction, he sits in the office annex, mainly isolated from his coworkers, never dates or befriends anyone and rarely  flirts/jokes successfully. He appears most often to stop inappropriate but otherwise fun activities by his coworkers, most often his boss, Michael Scott. He is also frequently berated by his boss in front of his coworkers, including but not limited to:
  • having “no” screamed at him when he came back to work after a half season hiatus (see section 2, point 2)
  • having his lunch pushed off the table in the corporate cafeteria
  • having a caprese salad planted in his bag so he could be accused of drug possession
  • being asked “Why are you the way that you are?” followed by “I hate so much about the things you choose to be.” because he protested having Boy Scouts at the Office’s Casino Night
  • being told that if he were in a room with Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler and an armed Michael Scott with only 2 bullets, Michael would shoot Toby twice

So now, we know Toby’s life is generally miserable, but that does not make a Strangler. However, the connections run deeper. Here’s the trail:

  1. In season 3, episode 7, Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton Branch was set to be shut down. Toby stated in a confessional that he would use the severance money to move down to Costa Rica, his dream retirement. This move has been the one thing he has to look forward to that MIGHT make his miserable and lonely life and career worthwhile. The branch did not shut down and he was stuck in said miserable life.
  2. Toby does eventually move to Costa Rica. After retiring early due to the sheer embarrassment of touching the knee of his crush (and coworker’s girlfriend) in front of his remaining coworkers after a successful joke. Followed by the most dramatic going away party of all time**, he leaves to Costa Rica. He spends the first few months of season 5 living his dream retirement (and presumably leaving his daughter behind in Scranton). However see an update from Toby’s retirement early in season 5. Toby is in the hospital in a full body cast after breaking his back in a zip lining accident on only his third day in Costa Rica.  The singular glimmer of hope keeping Toby’s spirit alive has gone terribly, so terribly in fact that he returns to Scranton to his miserable job only 9 episodes into the season, presumably less than 6 months after leaving, with nothing left to look forward to in his life besides watching his daughter grow further apart from him and his former crush fall deeper in love (she is now engaged).

We now know Toby Flenderson’s life is miserable and lonely, and now hopeless and empty. These are all indisputable facts. He is the perfect candidate for a man ready to snap and become a serial killer. Here’s the remainder of the case:

  1. The Scranton Strangler is first mentioned in season 6, episode 18. In the episode prior, Pam (Toby’s longtime crush) goes into labor with her now husband Jim Halpert’s baby. Salesman Andy Bernard framed a newspaper from the day as a gift to Jim and Pam, but her labor lasted through the night leading him to replace it with a newspaper from the following day. The headline of that new newspaper was “Scranton Strangler Strikes Again”. Pam went into labor at the office and was quickly ushered to the hospital. Toby, being present at the office, saw Pam go into labor and in a fit of rage, continued his streak of stranglings that night leading to the headline. He is also mysteriously absent as the entire staff of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch awaits Jim and Pam’s baby at the hospital.
  2. The Season 7, episode 8 introduction showed the entire staff of Dunder Mifflin surrounding a television, not working, watching a standoff and then car chase between the police and the Scranton Strangler. Toby was mysteriously absent. I don’t believe he was the man being chased, as he was caught. However I believe he was busy completing his framing of George Howard Skub that led to the standoff and chase.
  3. Toby, once described as a sad snail by Michael, was summoned for jury duty for the Scranton Strangler trial. He of course could not finesse that summoning, but his excruciating blandness enabled him to be a part of the jury. He not only broke the law by FREQUENTLY discussing the trial, he seemed fairly confident at the time that they convicted the right man and used it as a conversation piece to seem more interesting to his coworkers. This does not align with his attitude regarding the trial down the road.
  4. In later seasons, Toby is OBSESSED with the possible innocence of George Howard Skub, due to the overwhelming guilt of framing and being allowed to help convict an innocent man. Throughout seasons 7, 8 and 9, Toby frequently and publicly denounces the guilty verdict and espouses Skub’s innocence. His own conscience could not let go of the frame job he succeeded in pulling off (see OJ Simpson’s tell-all book about if he would have done it).
  5. In Season 9, episode 16, Toby is forced by his coworker to stop talking about Skub’s presumed innocence and goes to confront him in prison. He returns with a neck brace on, presumably from being strangled. This is used as evidence that Toby was wrong and Skub was truly guilty. However, I see it differently. Toby’s visit to the prison was not recorded by the documentary crew thus we do not know what he said to Skub. Why would a serial killer assault a man who came to say he believes he is innocent and wants to help him? I believe Toby confessed both his true guilt and plot to frame Skub and, being enraged empty-handed, Skub attacks Toby and eventually strangles him. Toby never mentions the Strangler again, and with a cleared conscience, eventually moves to NY to be write crime-mystery novels.
  6. The writers of The Office stated they intended to make the Strangler an employee of Dunder Mifflin but felt it would be too dark and abandoned the plan. George Howard Skub is never seen on The Office, has no connection to any of the characters (except jury member and true Strangler, Toby) and was never mentioned before Toby’s return from trial. In season 5, Michael called Toby “the silent killer” in response to a suggestion that the Office have its air quality checked to which Toby eerily replied “You’ll see.” That moment, a season before the Strangler arc, seemed like foreshadowing for a plan that would later be abandoned. I believe, like Toby, Skub was a placeholder, framed as the Scranton Strangler to absolve Toby of bearing the guilt of his actions.

Toby Flenderson IS the Scranton Strangler. I’ve seen cases made for Creed (too easy, he was out committing much more complex crimes involving military-grade LSD, cults as both a leader and a follower, heroin from Al-Qaeda etc.) and Robert California (who did not come to Scranton until after the Scranton Strangler trial). I’ve even seen cases made for Dwight or his creepy silent cousin Mose. However all of these choices seem cheap and obvious. Toby Flenderson, the emotionless HR representative who was harboring years of disappointment, frustration and most importantly loneliness, exploded in fits of rage resulting in a one year terrorizing of the small city of Scranton, PA. Case. Closed.

*incel is short for involuntarily celibate, Google it at your own risk

**orchestrated by his boss to once again insult him by celebrating his departure “as if the devil were to explode and all evil was gone from the world” (see goodbye song below)

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A Sultry Smino Noir

“Noir…what a beautiful name. Black. Statuesque, you know? Strong. Sweet. That’s what I think when I think of Noir. That’s what I think when I think of Noir.”

-The sultry voiced Jean Deaux, Smino’s main thing, opening the album

If our fathers played the Isley Brothers and Al Green to woo shorties in their time, Smino is solidifying the discography to be the millennial version. His newest album, Noir, is the soundtrack to a lusty night of brown liquor, thick swishers* and risky decisions. Smino Grigiot’s St. Louis accent allows his verses to flow with the melodic nature of much of today’s rap but with a unique smoothness. His penchant for food-based anatomical metaphors is also unparalleled.

“Sh-sh-she taste like some papaya, oh. Fruits of my labor getting riper, oh. Backwoods and white tees on my rider. Friday night headliner from Chicago to China, oh” -SPINZ

This ain’t just fucking music, it’s that passionate shit. Now Smino is no one-trick pony, across the 58 minute trip that is Noir,  he often changes paces. As much as tracks like SPINZ, LOW DOWN DERRTY BLUES, and HOOPTI will lead ya’ll to the bedroom to be reckless, songs like L.M.F., KLINK, KRUSHED ICE and SKEDOS bring the speed and energy that get you up out the bed and back to the kitchen to pour up more drinks and dance as ya’ll linger between finally going out or staying in. From song to song Smino switches from serenading the listeners to the familiar quick Midwestern flow featuring his St. Louis accent that challenges you to keep up with every word. His flow is always smooth, but the combination of speed and accent turns certain tracks into a sprint. Those lyrics are as important as that luring flow.

Smino transitions from an intro that starts off with Jean Deaux’s dripping with lust description of Noir to a track like L.M.F. that’s only meant to be danced to.

“The Mary got me merry, now I’m singing like Mary Mary, the coupe going stupid call it Coupid, its February” -L.M.F.

The first and second track’s dramatic differences is indicative of the rest of the album. Smino is here to provide variety. While I personally find 18 tracks to be a little long in today’s musical climate, Smino’s varied styles and speeds leads you through each song without a hitch. It’s an album with a clear start and finish, but so much variety it can also be played on shuffle without confusion. Similar to his debut album Blkswn, Smino effortlessly transitions from lyrics about eating pussy to passive commentary on race to describing wild nights with the crew and back to irresponsible sexual decisions. It all connects like an album written in cursive with only adlibs to break up the bars.

One of my favorite things about Smino’s music, particularly among the current rap landscape where rap is increasingly pop, is how much it doesn’t try to explain itself, particularly to the white audiences that are increasingly consuming rap, buying merch and filling concerts. Smino raps about the world from the perspective of a St. Louis nigga in his most honest way. It’s white tees, Air Forces and gold grills. It’s silk pillowcases because you know your shorty might have forgotten her bonnet or scarf. Its specifically fenty beauty that she got all over your crisp white tee. It’s braids, bantu knots and twistouts. It’s fenty slides for her birthday and a lowtop Air Force One birthday cake for his**. At the first concert of his I attended, he passed out wide-toothed combs and has always been sure to shoutout his durag. He’s a nigga. The women he features on his albums, whether as fellow rappers or singers, characters in skits or as the subjects of his sexual escapades or relationships, are niggas. Smino didn’t just make a soundtrack to anybody’s relationship, he’s orchestrating the background music for young black love.

“If I could, I’d settle down in yo cellulite. Fresh oil from Jamaica clean. No incense ‘dem make me sneeze. Twist my wood, burn smell just like tangerine. I was jus in the Bay I got some shit, so loud it sound like a parade.” -LOW DOWN DERRTY BLUES

*or backwoods***

**yes he really did this

***argue amongst yourselves

Rising Above Social Anxiety

So I recently did something I told myself I would never do (a recurring theme in my “finding out life is actually hard as shit” early 20’s). I bought a “self-help” book. Now, I’ll preface by saying it was not a “think good thoughts” ass book and it wasn’t a 48 laws of sociopathy ass book either. I bought a book called How to be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. On the surface it sounds like a corny think good thoughts ass book (at least that’s what I thought at first), however it was a book written by a psychologist addressing a specific condition which I had to accept that I had, called social anxiety. To quickly summarize, social anxiety is basically anxiety triggered by unfamiliar social situations. My friends will likely all go “ahh that makes sense” as many of them have seen me anxiously shut down in clubs/bars, refuse to touch a dance floor at an event or have noticed I don’t often make new friends if I’m sent somewhere without friends I’m already comfortable with (such as class or work). Many of my most embarrassing moments have come at the hands of social anxiety which left me both stuck in my head fighting off a panic attack during a social situation and feeling overwhelming embarrassment and regret after said social situation. So, I sought out help because I was tired of those moments and did not want to live an unfulfilling life of avoidance.

Now on to the book itself. Dr. Ellen Hendriksen provides a very helpful, step-by-step process to dealing with varying types and degrees of social anxiety. Reading the book felt like what I imagine therapy to feel like. As all socially anxious people know, being told “just put yourself out there” and “be yourself” is the most exhausting, useless, Disney-channel original movie ass advice possible and Dr. Hendriksen addresses the useless nature of that advice. That alone made me feel understood and seen early because I knew I was not about to receive the same cookie cutter advice that people around me have offered since grade school. Before addressing my problem, she gave stories and information that helped me to understand it’s source and the ways in which it actually benefits me. I learned that the opposite of social anxiety is not a normal functioning person, but a sociopath, as a sociopath does not care at all what others think/feel and a socially anxious person at worst, is hyper-aware of everything others think/feel about them and their actions. As she puts it, the socially anxious person has a fire alarm that goes off far too often and the sociopath has a fire alarm that never goes off, one is a minor inconvenience and the other is life-threatening. I did not need a complete 180 personality shift, but to unlearn the social anxiety-rooted behaviors that have become my default reaction to social situations. She brought to light that most of our behaviors are learned and then rehearsed. So if I’ve spent most of my life training myself to panic and retreat at social interaction, the way out would be to train myself to relax and lean in to social interaction. Chapter by chapter she broke down what I believed to be wrong with me (and how it wasn’t actually that wrong) and provided tools to unlearn said behaviors fit with reassuring examples of patients she’s had who overcame varying levels of social anxiety.

Now beyond the tips, tricks and reassuring stories, Dr. Hendriksen also flooded me with information. How to be Yourself was not just a series of positive affirmations and cute quotes, it was a psychological help book. I learned new things not only about myself, but about the general functioning of people all around me and the psychology of my anxiety in other arenas of my life beyond social interactions. The subtitle is probably the most important part of the book, not just How to be Yourself, but Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. Quieting my inner critic has been major not just in regards to social anxiety but with my anxiety and happiness in general, as “critical” is both the best and worst characteristic about me. That critical nature makes me a great critical thinker and a good judge of character, but also leads me to nitpick at others and most importantly myself and judge others and myself far too harshly. It was not a problem unknown to me, but how it impacted my life specifically was eye-opening.

I write all this to say, if you deal with any level of social anxiety (which a growing number of my fellow social media generation does), I highly recommend this book. The first step is knowing you have a problem (which if you have social anxiety, nobody is more aware you have a problem than you and your hyper aware brain), the second is seeking out help. For less time and money than any therapy session, the help is available. Now I’m not magically fixed. That would be too easy and any adult knows life is never that easy. However, I’ve got a list of behaviors to avoid in myself, steps to train my brain to not panic in my triggering social situations and a process to start working on myself. Like any mental health problem, it will likely never fully go away, but if my mind and body are trained to conquer the problem, it will shrink to a likely unnoticeable size and leave me with a more fulfilling experience throughout this life. 

Vince Just Wanna Have Fun

The crilliant crippin’ curmudgeon Vince Staples has blessed us again. This time with his 22 minute work, FM!. FM! is both cohesive and staggered with the entire album playing like the listener is tuned into Los Angeles radio show Big Boy’s Neighborhood. It’s fit with Big Boy’s signature cowbells, radio caller games (Vanessa Williams, Vin Diesel, Van Jones, Vince Wilfork, Viola Davis, Vince Staples, Vanessa Hudgens) and previews for new songs from other West Coast artists Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga functioning as interludes.

Sonically, Vince left the EDM elements heard on his last album, Big Fish Theory, and came through with diverse and disconnected West Coast sounds from LA and the Bay Area. Per usual, he also came through with the bars. Dichotomous lines like “my black is beautiful but I’ll still shoot at you” and “don’t run, I’m gonna chase you, point blank, that’s how Yanks do. Brand new shrink, had a breakthrough.” that summarize the experience of Vince Staples, a woke, philosophical, pro-black nigga who’s simultaneously Crippin and promoting therapy. As usual he takes us on a ride through Ramona Park with his unique perspective as our tour guide*. Vince is by far one of the most interesting young niggas to ever grace the hip hop scene and FM! continues his run as one of its best artists as well.

*see the video for F.U.N. below for your own trip

Try finessin’ my way into Heaven, might hit that gate, might fall from grace, splat. On the concrete, real street runner. First month still feel like summer. Cold weather won’t stop no gunner; wrong hat, wrong day, I’d kill my brother.”

-Vince Staples, Feels Like Summer

An Existential Spiral

Folks who don’t know me personally, such as y’all who only know me from this blog, are often shocked to find out that I was extremely religious less than 5 years ago. From age 14-21 I was a DEVOUT conservative Christian. It’s full of hilarious stories, beliefs, encounters and a weird ass Christian college stint. I could write a book about it.

Which is why that’s not what I’m writing about today. I have to organize those thoughts better first. However, that context is important for what I am going to write about today.

Since turning 25 and graduating from college, I’ve struggled with one thing above all else: what the hell is the point of life? Now this isn’t another post about depression and it’s certainly not some suicidal misanthropic tirade on the meaning of life because that’s what my twitter is for. I just have had some scary moments since leaving Christianity, and theism in general, where I’ve had to wonder what the hell is this human existence I’m living day to day and what happens when it’s over, and should I be afraid of that time? It doesn’t plague me daily by any means, but it is a problem I’ve faced in the last 4 years and even more so since I graduated college and ended that phase of life.

In the words of my favorite hyper-meta observer, Abed from the hit sitcom Community* (see Hulu if you don’t know about it), what’s important are not ages, but ranges of ages. I’ve viewed life that way for some time, but after graduation it bit me in the ass as I realized the “18-24 college student” range had concluded, and the “25-? something or other” range had begun. I’m…old. In a sense. Old enough for new (see:young) rap music to no longer target me, old enough for “so when are you thinking about marriage and kids?” to be a more than valid question and old enough for the random aches and pains to make me seriously assess my diet and exercise habits so I don’t have to tap out of this life by 47. Getting older doesn’t scare me too much. Dying still kind of does. However the stereotypical slow sad march towards monotony and death has me wondering more and more about a more important question: what the hell life is about? Every once in a while I freak out at the notion that someday I’ll die and this present journey of discovery will end and at best, a new one begins after. At worst, my existence just ceases. A million philosophies, religious texts and cults will tell you a million different things about death, and I’m sure each of them has some nuggets of truth among the crazy. However, I’ve come up with my own answer. I doubt it’s right. It feels pretty on brand for what a 25 year old would say, so I’m mostly writing it down so I can check back at 30 or 35 and see if I feel similarly.

Do dope shit with dope people and have dope memories to look back on in those brief and random moments of reflection. That’s it. That’s all I’ve come up with in my 25 years of living. Deep right? That and try to learn all you can (with as much empathy as possible) are the things that keep me going each day. Doesn’t seem like much but it’s what I’ve got to keep the existential crisis monster away.

I’ve been told a few times this year that I have amazing friends and a great family by observers and onlookers. It made me feel good because that doesn’t seem to be true of everybody. I’ve finished 1/3 of the game already. Now, it’s just on to doing more dope shit and making more dope memories so we have stories to retell 25 years from now.

*got that season 6, still waiting on the movie #sixseasonsandamovie

A Way Out

I’ve had anxiety as far back as I can remember. I didn’t know it was called anxiety for a long time, I thought I was just a shy overthinker. I remember freaking out because a bill collector called the house and asked “are your parents home?” and I had seen on TV that kidnappers might call and ask that to see if they could break in. I was about 7 lol. That weird anecdote to say, I’ve been anxious for a LONG time. I’ve  known many other anxious people, and with that heard a million tips, from the physical to the mental to pharmaceutical, on how to handle my anxiety. The older I’ve gotten the less valuable many of those tips have proven (and I don’t trust pharmaceuticals enough to even venture down that road). However I recently saw the simplest advice from a random twitter account and applying it has absolutely changed my anxious moments. It was two words, two words as powerful as anything Ye, Mos Def and Freeway ever said, two very powerful words:

“Be present.”

The concept of being and remaining present has fundamentally changed how I handle anxiety. It’s very hard to be in your head (a phrase any anxious person has used)  when you’re involved in the moment. Exit your head. Just walk out and involve yourself fully in the moment in front of you. You can’t trip off how a conversation may go poorly if you’re outside your head actively engaged in the conversation. Freaking out about what bad things may happen today is a difficult task when you’re busy living today. It’s hard for a random pain in your chest to spiral into an existential crisis about how you might die when you aren’t in your head with the thoughts running wild. Just exit your brain.

That might’ve  sounded really easy or really hard depending on who you are. It was hard for me. I’ve never been to therapy nor am I even close to a mental health professional, although I did take Psych 101 in high school so you can consider me one if you want (please don’t). I don’t know more technical terms to describe the sensation of being stuck in your head, but if you’ve dealt with it, you understand. That zoning out you’re doing is likely a habit you’ve created, and any habit can be changed. Learning to not zone out like that and live in the day to day won’t be easy. Given that I’m not a mental health professional, I also don’t know all the healthiest methods to assure you’re being present. For me it usually looks like speaking out loud to someone, or even myself, singing along to a song, dancing, or writing something down physically. When those things aren’t available to me, it looks like concentrating on things I can see, hear or feel wherever I am (a technique I learned through meditation). Anything that requires my immediate attention more than the world of worry I’ve created in my head often saves me from my head.

The late Mac Miller opened his final album, Swimming, with the solemn slow sung hook “I’ll do anything for a way…out…of my head”. That phrase has stuck with me since I heard it and even more since I dove into the album and wrote my review a few months ago. It’s horribly relatable for many of us. “Anything for a way out of my head” gets darker when you realize Mac’s life was lost to a drug overdose, a common plan escape from one’s head. I’m terrified of the feeling of being so deeply entrenched in my own head that I feel like I’m drowning (also known as an anxiety attack). It’s an experience I don’t wish on anyone. “Be present” has offered me a simple escape, just walk out. Be involved in the present moment, don’t miss out on the conversation’s flow by zoning out, don’t think about the song you’re listening to, just sing along and feel it, force yourself to stop analyzing every moment as it happens, save that for a reflective time of your choosing later on (personally I try to save it for my 3 or 4 journal sessions each week). It sounds hella simple. And it’s not that simple. I know  because I haven’t rid myself of anxiety entirely, but it’s advice that’s proven invaluable to somebody 25 years deep in anxious mental habits. It’s given me some method of finding peace, which is more than I can say for the breathing techniques and pills that have been offered to me thus far.

“My regrets look just like texts I shouldn’t send. And I got neighbors, they’re more like strangers, we could be friends. I just need a way out of my head. I’ll do anything for a way out of my head.”

-Mac Miller, Come Back to Earth

Noname Takes Us Into Room 25

Noname is back. After a 2 quiet years and, relative to the social media era, relative media silence, Noname dropped her debut album Room 25 last Friday. If you haven’t heard it yet, close this blog, go listen and come back. Or shit read this first and see what you’ve been missing.

In another era, Noname would be a poet, likely penning notebooks full of feelings and musings on the world around her only to die poor and have her art discovered posthumously as she’s labeled one of the great observers and minds of her time. Instead, she’s the young lady who brought her poetic flow to the cypher and had the boys laughing at her clever bars and announcing “ohh shit shorty can spit”. With a flow that damn near makes you feel good inside, Noname gives us those feelings and musings on the world around her over mostly relaxing beats. She opens the album with “Self” which establishes 2 important things about Noname in it’s 95 seconds.

“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car. When you driving home late at night. Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.”

“Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music. My pussy teachin ninth-grade English. My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism in conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus. And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?”

1. Room 25 will be best served for those quiet moments when you’re reflecting, thinking and processing your life, your world and your feelings.

2. Noname ain’t come to play with you niggas. Since Telefone her confidence has grown and her content has matured. Not only is Noname now more willing to talk about her relationships, sex and the quality of her pussy, but she’s flexing on us with it. “My pussy teachin ninth-grade English” is probably the best bar about quality pussy this decade.

Noname sets the tone, albeit gently, and doesn’t let up throughout the remaining 10 songs. She expands her rapping chops on the next 2 tracks, “Blaxploitation” and “Prayer Song” by upping the tempo and spitting bars with the speed of her Chicago predecessors. As per usual Noname doesn’t let up on the political thoughts but with the special quality coming from the Midwest right now, it never sounds forced. Across those 2 tracks she calls out Hillary Clinton, the police, niggas who have left their neighborhoods to go play black with the hipsters and muses on the general state of black people, and at no point does Noname give off the vibe that she was trying to make “conscious” songs or put people on to some knowledge only she has. She’s just a conscious woman rapping about what she sees and those observations involve shades of consciousness.

After telling us how she feels on the world, Noname redirects the album back to self and a new topic for her, sex and relationships. On Telefone we got very vague references, if any, to Noname’s romantic/sexual partners. She approached discussing love and sex with the hesitance of a young person unsure of what to share but knowing they don’t want to overshare. However, on Room 25 she speaks quite candidly about both with the comfort and maturity of a woman in her mid-20s with nothing to lose in owning her heart and her sexuality. On “Window” and “Montego Bae” we’re given the highs and lows of self-aware sex without love and the freedom of sex and intimacy without consequence, a unique sound and hook from fellow Chicago woman on the rise Ravyn Lenae and most importantly, a great dichotomy of bars between Window:

“So you really don’t think about me? And you really don’t miss me? The way I lullaby your brokenness, believe me I’m Ripley The way you struggling to love yourself, believe me that’s karma. You want a nasty bitch, psychiatrist that cook like your mama. And all you got was me-me-me. But I love you even though we’re not meant to be, I still love you”

and Montego Bae:

“Reading Toni Morrison in a nigga canoe. Cause a bitch really bout her freedom, cause a bitch suckin dick in the new Adidas. And yes and yes, I’m problematic too. And yes and yes, I lick ’em up, oh yes I really do.”

From “Ace”, my personal favorite song (because Noname+Smino+Saba is the greatest hip hop combo of the last 5 years, see the following songs for evidence: Amphetamine, Shadow Man, World in My Hands and Church/Liquor Store) through “With You” Noname continues flexing her skills and friendships with an assortment of features from Hip Hop’s newest cool kids (the young artists from the Midwest’s Zero Fatigue and Chicago’s hip hop scene like Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae and Phoelix) and bars ranging from those woke reflections on the United States to the quality of vegan food to the state of hip hop and the influence of labels on the art. She brings the album to a close with “no name”, a brief verse over a slow beat, riding her thin line between spoken word piece and rap song featuring an almost gospel-esque outro from Yaw and Adam Ness true to Noname’s roots. She only raps for about 75-80 seconds of the 4 minute song but in that we’re given a glimpse at why she goes by the moniker, Noname. Like the intro it’s slow and reflective, with a beat that falls right in line with the theme of “something you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night really questioning…”. As the beat fades out instrument by instrument (voices included), the album feels appropriately done.

Across the entirety of the album, Noname always raps like she’s enjoying what she does, even when she raps about darker topics or her own pain, a unique characteristic that makes her flow not only quality, but a pleasure to hear. You can physically hear her smile, and in some cases a laugh, as she finishes some verses because, in the words of her Chicago hip hop comrade Chance, she’s just having fun with it. Noname is an artist in the purest sense. She’s not just a rapper or a hip hop act making money in a career, but an artist who, if hip hop never existed, would still be expressing the deepest confines of her mind with her words and a pen. The best summary of her career comes from her own lips on “Ace”:

“Labels got these niggas just doing it for the clout, I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out”

Noname has continued to grow as an artist and her content has matured with her. Whether a casual remark about her pussy or capitalism, nothing ever feels forced. Noname isn’t marketing sex or consciousness, she’s marketing the authenticity of Fatimah Warner. Room 25 is part 2 of what will hopefully be a long career for Noname, and a discography that is setting up to go down as all time, not only among female emcees (which she has mentioned she hates as a qualifier) but among emcees of all sorts from the millennial era and most importantly among the Midwest’s poetic crop of young kids following in the footsteps of the *old* Kanye. Noname stands firmly in the upper echelon of whatever subgroup of hip hop you decide to place her in.

And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?

 

 

*Fun fact: I waxed eloquent about her last summer during the first round of Cardi v. Nicki because I believe her to be the real heir to the throne of queen of rap (read here: https://turtlewithapen.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/the-noname-you-need-to-know/). In an act of pure coincidence Room 25 dropped about a week after Cardi v. Nicki round 2 and the infamous flying shoe.*

RIP to the kid Mac Miller

I had plans to write something else this weekend. Then, tragedy struck, and I write when my feelings are too much to process in my head. I’ve never hurt over a celebrity before but this drew real tears from me.

Mac Miller was my favorite white rapper. It wasn’t a secret. I frequently tweeted that he was the best white rapper to ever live. And beyond that, he stood up for his black peers, challenging white privilege and the myth of reverse racism. He was everything I needed from a white boy in hip hop: full of bars, respectful, loud, a little crazy and most importantly, original. That nigga was an original.

He got me through a lot. I cried to his music. Laughed to his music. Vibed with my homies to his music. And I always saw that my favorite figures in hip hop respected him. He had collabs with Odd Future, TDE, Anderson .Paak etc. He produced beats as Larry Fisherman for artists across the spectrum. And I’ll never forget when Jay Z was on Twitter shouting out a ton of black musicians and then tweeted “black people really magic . Mac Miller nice too though”. What a fucking tweet to be included in. So goddamn important that Mac had it FRAMED. He was in tune with the culture in a way that he also knew how important that tweet was. That’s how much respect Mac had among his peers. He wasn’t a token or some white rapper radio commodity. He was a part of hip hop culture. He was a respected member, and one who paid his dues and acknowledged what whiteness did for him. He knew it was just special to be white and be counted among OUR shit. And never violated.

It feels weird that he’s gone. There won’t be another Mac Miller album to get me through a bout with depression. Swimming held me down THIS YEAR, literally one month ago, as I was going through it hard. The Divine Feminine will forever make me think of the love of my life (she knows who she is). GO:OD AM and Watching Movies With The Sound Off carried me through weird existential days while I wondered what the fuck being alive means. Blue Slide Park and Best Day Ever we’re soundtracks to some of my favorite days riding around watching the sunset and trying to capture all the good feelings I could. Mac is gone. It fucking hurts.. But he left us with enough art, not just music but art, to appreciate til our own times come and to be the theme music to the fights Mac ain’t here to fight anymore.

That’s all I got. Here’s to him no longer having to fight those demons. Shoutout to the kid, Mac Miller. Forreal. I’ll be crying and spinning Watching Movies With the Sound Off and Swimming til further notice.

No lyrics this time. Just go play Swimming on repeat for me. 2009 specifically.

Another Day

This is my third personal blog. This is also my third time writing about the bout with depression I had this past summer. I’m hoping it’ll be the last time for a while. The calendar has turned to September (cue Earth, Wind and Fire) and my grind to get my life back together has gone well for the most part. I don’t even want to dive into the depression itself, not again. I want to talk about something I learned from trying to maintain a relationship throughout my depression. Which will probably involve some diving into the depression itself I guess. 

Dating while depressed is fucking hard. Dating another depressed person while you’re depressed is REALLY fucking hard.

That’s it. That’s the lesson. That’s what I learned this summer. I learned that love isn’t always enough. That the dark and low portions of the individual roads two people walk sometimes cross in ugly ways. That doesn’t mean we were ever meant to each other. We never took our individual struggles out on each other. There was no lashing out or harsh words exchanged. It was quite the opposite in fact. We held each other down as best as two people with the same demon could. However, even two people with the vulnerability required to make a relationship effective can become exhausted.

The harsh reality of vulnerability and depression is, you hide your struggle from most of the people around you, trying not to be peppered with questions about if you’re okay and judged with assumptions about what your individual depression looks like, because not everybody battling depression is suicidal or sitting in dark corners. Sometimes it just looks like not writing for months because the passion isn’t there. Sometimes it’s napping instead of socializing because you can’t muster the strength to leave the bed. However, most of the people around you manage to get the little bit of energy you do have, if only to avoid conversations about why you’ve been so down and distant. Those things are just the nature of the battle. The downside to a vulnerable and open relationship while dealing with depression is that person with whom you’re most vulnerable and open takes the brunt of the negative feelings you’re holding inside. They see depressed you. They have to cancel plans when you can’t get out of the bed, because they understand. They have to try and enjoy your company despite the emptiness and frustrations you’re having vent to them. They see unenthused you. They deal with dissatisfied you. While your friends and family may see glimpses, the nature of vulnerability is your partner sees the full effect depression is having on you, and they have to not only love you anyway, but feel that pain you’re feeling because they love and empathize with you. It’s hard when most of your time together is the rough shit. The energy to be fun and passionate you had months ago just isn’t there, and not for lack of desire. It’s exhausting and, in some ways, damaging to the love you share.

People have asked me a million times about my breakup and if breaking up because the mutual depression was too hard is quitting. I don’t know to be honest. Maybe it was. However I liken it more to submitting/tapping out then quitting. Tapping out (for my never engaged with any form of wrestling, fighting etc. readers) is what you do when the pain is too great and withstanding it any longer will result in a serious injury, like being in a chokehold and tapping out before your brain does it for you by blacking out from a lack of oxygen. We tapped out because months or years more of trying to hold each other down the way we were would’ve permanently injured the love we have. It was hard as fuck to do. Pride and passion tell you to fight through it, but that’s how you end up broken and resentful. So we tapped out. For now. Today’s fight was a loss, but there’s other days. In the words of everybody’s favorite black tv/movie father, “you win some, you lose some, but you live, you live to fight another day”. 

win some lose some

That isn’t exactly the context the quote comes from but I think the principle applies here. Not every fight is life and death, nor does every fight have to be. Sometimes you just lose for now. And that’s a hard fucking lesson to learn.

***Oh and if you’ve never seen Friday (the movie where the quote and gif above stem from), don’t read any more of my blogs til you go find a bootleg or pirated version somewhere and enjoy a black cinematic masterpiece***

“I fucked things up, I see it in this cup, I didn’t mean to suck, I’m stuck. Sometimes I’m just too honest, admitting that it’s common, I should’ve used my common sense, so now I gots to vent.”

-Amine, Together

Mac’s Swimming in the Deep Waters

I’m gonna let ya’ll in on my deep dark reverse racism secret.

*whispers* I don’t trust or really listen to white rappers. Eminem seems like his goal was to be the school shooter soundtrack, Macklemore is the white guilt artist of the decade and Post Malone looks like what I pull from my drain when I finally decide to clean my hair out of it. There is one exception though. Mac Miller. Through a handful of mixtapes, features and albums (and a few tweets about how reverse racism isn’t real and how black lives do matter that got his fellow pale people VERY UPSET) he’s proven he belongs in the hip hop community, and not just as the token white boy in the cypher who raps excessively fast to sound like Em.

Mac Miller’s most recent project, Swimming, is his second in a row that doesn’t just flex his rapping chops, but takes us on an emotional journey as a complete artistic body of work. The Divine Feminine made me feel good as Mac waxed eloquent about the beautiful love he found in a woman. However, Swimming made me feel seen. Mac took us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions from self-loathing to authentic rejoicing and back down to a hard to grasp peace. The album essentially runs in 2 halves. The first 5 songs make up a sporadic and scared first half and the final 8 songs making up the more focussed and determined second half. The 2 halves come together with a clear message, the kid Mac Miller is going through it. Depression is the theme throughout the album, but not in a dark Earl Sweatshirt kind of way. It never sounds like Mac Miller wants to kill himself or others (looks at you Eminem). It does however feel like he’s swirling in a whirlpool of emotions and fighting to keep his head above the water with both unhealthy (first half) and healthy (second half) habits and coping mechanisms.

The first half of Swimming goes up and down for 5 tracks. Mac opens with the intro “Come Back to Earth” wherein he slowly croons “my regrets feel just like texts I should have sent” and “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head”. He sets the tone early that he’s drowning in his depression but is looking for a way out, no matter what it looks like, which is a feeling any person who’s gone toe to toe with depression can understand. Even on the first half’s lighter track, the immensely funky “What’s the Use which features the G-Funk OG Snoop Dogg, Mac sings lyrics like “What’s the use? Never superficial you don’t know it when it hit you. Get a little sentimental when I’m off the juice”. The song is fun and makes me want to get up and 2 step like I’m at a skating rink or a 90s house party, but the lyrics are more reminiscent of being drunk and doing that 2 step knowing when you get home from having fun, the demons are coming back, because you can’t be drunk at the party forever and it hasn’t fixed the pain inside. After  the funky 2 step that is “What’s the Use” is the come down in “Perfecto” then the relatively quick and panicked “Self-Care”, a song of 2 halves. The first half sounds like running through dark thoughts then finding peace in the drugs as the beat switches to a much lighter tone, while the lyrics still match the depression, with bars like “Let’s go back to my crib and play some 45’s. It’s safer there, I know there’s still a war outside. We spend our nights all liquored up, our mornings high. Can you feel it now?” and “it’s a beautiful feeling in oblivion”. Mac sounds less sad but not less depressed, like he’s just hit the blunt after the club so he can fall asleep peacefully and push his demons back for a few more hours. However after this somber nap in oblivion comes what essentialy acts as a second intro, introducing us to the part of the war where our hero Mac Miller accrues some victories.

“Wings” opens with a very slow and empty beat, mainly scattered snares before building up to other instruments. Mac raps “I got a bone to pick like roses (roses), I ain’t feelin’ broken no more” over those snares setting the tone for the second half. Depression isn’t a feeling that comes and goes, but it is a battle that ebbs and flows with the tides of life and Mac is about to start gaining some control in the water, swimming instead of being pulled around. He sings softly “The sun is shinin, I can look at the horizon. The walls keep getting wider, I just hope I never find ’em, no, no”. A dramatic shift from the first intro’s “I just need a way out of my head”. The walls have reversed course and are giving Mac the space he didn’t feel a few songs ago.

Over the next 7 tracks Mac’s tempo and tone still goes up and down with the waves, but the lyrics showcase a more hopeful Mac Miller. “Ladders” brings back the funky energy of “What’s the Use” but with optimism and a faster flowing Mac. Mac concludes that 2nd verse with “Just might slip into the sea, Fuck it all if it all ain’t me. Maybe we inside the maze. Somehow we gotta find a way, okay”. I want to post the entire second verse and hook of this song to show how much more optimistic the lyrics become, but it would be a disservice to ya’ll, so you should play it yourself. The album slows back down through “Small Worlds”, “Conversation Pt. 1” and “Dunno” but they’re slow in a self-reflective way rather than a somber one. To me they feel like writing in my journal, encouraging myself to acknowledge my depression, but to also count my victories, make real attempts at my dreams and  to find peace in the healthy relationships in my life. The tone may not be glowing optimism, but that also isn’t the end goal of a stint with depression, Mac evokes steadiness, peace and contentment, which often prove to be much more stable feelings.

He picks up the pace one last time on “Jet Fuel”, my personal favorite track. The tone is still somber, but the feeling it evokes isn’t dark. It sounds like high-functioning depression in music form, like a fight scene that you know the hero won’t lose. After 3 tracks full of victories and somber optimism, it sounds like the depression from the first half of the album has returned, but Mac isn’t submitting to it, or in his own words “Like 25 years I’ve been high and no less. Shit, I know, I don’t guess. Rather glow, I won’t stress.
Better say that shit with your chest.” Mac still muses about getting faded and feeling isolated, one of the most biting products of depression, but he isn’t drowning. The water has gotten rough again, but he’s swimming his hardest til it slows back down. I love Jet Fuel because it’s a reminder that all the positive energy and musings of the previous 3 tracks aren’t the end of the story for the depressed person. There will come another battle, but the lessons from the victories you’ve already achieved, and even from the losses you took, will help you do better the next time. The water will continue to change, but *cliche alert* what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and when the waves come back you’ll be a better swimmer. Mac follows up the war that is “Jet Fuel” with the first truly positive song, “2009”. It actually feels happy. Not hype or high, but happy. Over snaps and a peaceful piano Mac raps like he’s performing a spoken word piece. Similar to “Ladders” the entire second verse is worth quoting, but you’ve got to listen to it for yourself. The final lines of it summarize the message clearly though, “Now when it gets hard, I don’t panic, I don’t sound the alarm.” Anybody who has spent time in water they couldn’t handle will tell you panicking makes the situation infinitely worse. Mac knows the water will get choppy again, that’s a given, but he has become a wiser swimmer. When the waves crash, he now knows he can survive, so he will swim and continue swimming until the water calms itself again rather than lashing out in a panic that could ultimately drown him.

Now that would be a beautiful ending to an album about depression, but there’s one more track. Less positive than “2009” but still fairly light, the outro is “So It Goes”. The general tone of the beat and lyrics is still optimistic, but it’s a come down from the happiness of 2009. It’s incredibly fitting because the end of a battle with depression isn’t overwhelming positivity and glee, emotions we all know to be fleeting, but the peace and contentment of a victory well-earned, knowing you’ve lived, not to go be unstoppably happy forever, but to fight another day when that next wave comes. It’s real. It isn’t the storybook ending, but the real one, the one that the listener can see themselves in. Mac has taken us on a journey, throughout Swimming and the journey concludes not with the sunset, but the sunrise, and the start of the next journey on a new day.

“Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind
And she don’t cry no more
She tell me that I get her high ’cause an angel’s s’posed to fly, and…
I ain’t askin’ “Why?” no more
Oh, no, I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the lines
It ain’t 2009 no more
Yeah, I know what’s behind that door”

-Mac Miller, “2009”

“They sayin’ I been gone too long
I could just tell ’em fuck you, but that come on too strong
My god, it go on and on
Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from”

-Mac Miller, So It Goes”