Shades of Cool

Lana Del Rey’s new single “Shades of Cool” is the perfect antidote to summer heat. It captures the moments typical of summer that aren’t present in the bold, primary-color advertisements for sunscreen or drinks or Memorial Day sales. These types of picture perfect and playful moments seem to be better suited to an upbeat Michael Jackson song such as “Love Never Felt So Good” or the ever-popular “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates. “Shades of Cool” captures somewhat different sensations: the colors of languid dusks and evenings, of nighttime driving on winding roads to secluded beaches, and of watching storybook moons become bright and clear as the heat fades away into cooler air and endless space. These are the moments when some of the best conversations are held, the best books are read, and the best skies are viewed. These are some of the most enjoyable moments of summer.


There’s a number of factors that lets Del Rey encapsulate this type of atmosphere. One of them is her ability to traverse both lower and higher pitch registers. This enables her to create two basic modes for this song: her verses are in mostly an E-flat minor key area with lower register pitches and are backed by minimal guitar and bass lines, simple drum fill, and possibly a celeste or marimba. This creates a mysterious, smoky atmosphere that can invoke uncertainty, sadness, and regret within the listener. Her chorus, on the other hand, is in a G-flat major mode and contains more upper register notes, which incite happiness and positivity in listeners. Part of the reason this song is so rewarding to listen to is because of the contrast between verse and chorus. We as listeners wait out the minor verses and are rewarded with the major chorus—some listeners even liken the rewarding feeling they get when hitting the transition into the chorus with flying or soaring sensations.

Shades of Cool” is part of the soundtrack to this summer’s wicked times.


Top Ten Straight Dope Old School Jams

 Contributing Writer: Renee Simpson


My first cassette – yes, I said cassette – was “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.” As a young Writer, I was drawn to rap artists, and to me Slick Rick was the illest of the ill. He was also a walking 14kt jewelry store, a stilo that said, in the contemporary words of Jay Z and Rick Ross, fuck with me you know I got it. You couldn’t roll with that much loochie ’round your neck if you weren’t a bad ass motherf***a with mad back, so even aesthetically Slick Rick was lettin’ us know.   I don’t know how he lost an eye, but he clearly has never cared about losing another one.



And it goes a little somethin’ like this:

Ten:       “Ain’t No Half Steppin” (1988) Big Daddy Kane

Nine:     “Bam Bam” (1982) Sister Nancy

Eight:    “Around the Way Girl” (1990) L.L. Cool J

Seven:   “Push It” (1986) Salt-N-Pepa

Six:         “Passin Me By” (1993) Pharcyde

Five:       “All for One” (1990) Brand Nubian

Four:      “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” (1991) Nice & Smooth

Three:   “The Choice is Yours” (1991) Black Sheep

Two:       “Top Billin” (1988) Audio Two

One:        “Mona Lisa” (1988) Slick Rick

Whenever I get nostalgic like this, I’m reminded of Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle, who bought a time machine on ebay because he wanted to go back in time and become the town football hero. Now I’m not trying to go back in time and be one of the bouncing asses in a hip hop video, but if I did, here’s what I’d rock from the shop, head to toe, and I’d be chillin:


Though the song didn’t make the short list, for the best female hip hop video with swimsuits and gold links galore here’s “Why Did it Have to Be Me” (1988) Sweet Tee:






Kimberly Jones, aka Lil Kim

Shall I proceed?  Yes, indeed.

lilkim6                        lilkim5

Talking about Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, or Brooke Candy without mentioning The Queen Bee would be disrespectful and quite frankly pitiful.  Since before these leading ladies were leading ladies, it was first Lil Kim rolling with The Biggie entourage that brought us large lyrics in a little package.  Dominating the female rap game, stomping ’round the stage in bikinis and heels while pushing her vulgar language, among other things, into the public’s face, she earned a top spot and even stole some shows.  The public was not shocked, but rather delighted to see the game change.  A force to be reckoned with is not sufficient; she knew she was hot from day one and was just waiting for the world to recognize it for themselves.

lilkim3lilkim2  lilkim9

Brought up in Brooklyn, Lil Kim decided that struggling was not for her after her parents spilt; quickly, she joined the forces, like many power-hungry and independently successful ladies, of dangerous leagues of gentlemen.  She spun into the arms of Biggie who was certain that she would be his next bitch.  And she was.   Spreading her legs, rocking wigs for all occasions, flaunting body parts in a self-empowering way Lil Kim was changing, and has changed, the way females evaluate themselves and how they see themselves in media.


So to keep it real, next time you give props to some of these females who are in the game now, first you must pay your respects to Lil Kim who took the reigns and charged towards the public like a battalion.  Her “can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude is what has won fans and kept her name in the mouths of the public.  Being explicit, verbally and physically, has opened doors for her and females that followed.  A big ups to rap game’s baddest bitch.


old skool Lil Kim:

new skool Lil Kim:

“Elle”: Four Letters of Lesser-Known Greatness


Elle at the 2012 BET Awards – Press Room, Shrine Auditorium
Los Angeles, CA, USA 07/01/2012
© Koi Sojer / PR Photos


In a world of musical sellouts and careers based on strategic advertising and aggressive business models rather than real musical talent, singer-songwriter Elle Varner shines out as a beacon of integrity and innovation in the hip hop and soul communities.

You may only know her from her famed singles, “Only Wanna Give it to You” featuring J. Cole and her own “Refill”, but these actually originate from an album that dropped in 2012 titled Perfectly Imperfect. Earlier that year, she dropped a mixtape entitled Conversational Lush. And currently, she’s working on her sophomore album called Four Letter Word. Two of its singles have already been released at the time of this writing: “Rover” ft. Wale and “Cold Case”.

Miss Varner’s honest artistic qualities can be traced back to her musically rich upbringing. As the child of two songwriters, she probably grew up knowing the ins and outs of the industry. In 2008 she graduated from NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, a highly selective program.

Varner’s vocal talent is apparent at first listen. Although her usual range contains octaves that are well-traversed by singers in all genres (C4 to C6), the natural timbre of her voice can produce a semi-rasping quality that is pleasing, ear-catching, and evocative of sultriness. This is coupled well with Varner’s musical knowledge: she definitely knows what kind of sound she wants to create even before stepping into the studio. It’s completely apparent in her attention to nuances such as her subtle pitch-bending, her attention to harmony, and her use of head register versus chest register.


Did I mention she’s got all kinds of style?

In this author’s opinion, it’s only a matter of time before every Varner show will be sold-out! I encourage you to check out Perfectly Imperfect, and to keep an eye out for Four Letter Word!