Summer is a season synonymous with song. And with its official conclusion, and fall in full swing, it prompted reflection on my part on what this previous summer had meant to me, and the musical associations I had formed during it. This time of year is traditionally a period of spontaneous adventures and uncertain plans, but with guaranteed music to soundtrack the experiences. With this freedom comes the ability to make lifelong associations with these tunes. As much as we appreciate the ease of living in the moment, our summers are largely about cementing relationships with music. And as someone who did a lot of listening over the summer—on trains, cars, elevators, etc.—I wanted to share some of the albums that shaped this season, and possibly ones that provided soundtracks for other people, too, or maybe the summers to come.
June: “Honestly Nevermind” by Drake
On Thursday, June 16 at about 6 p.m., Drake revealed on Twitter that he would be releasing a new album that same night, a stark difference to his recent discography additions. No album rollout, no singles, no leaks circulating—nothing to shed light on what exactly was to come. And so, when Drake released “Honestly Nevermind,” a house album, at midnight, people were surprised (to put it kindly), and outright disappointed (more accurately). I myself initially fell into the latter group. I was projecting my hopes for a new, classic release onto this album, rather than enjoying it for what it was. To me and other doubters alike, Drake had the message: “It’s all good if you don’t get it.”
I’m not here to attempt to objectively determine whether this album is “good” or not. What I will say with more certainty is that a genuinely open-minded approach will lead to a far more positive experience. Comparing projects and projecting expectations consistently detract from our enjoyment of albums that have real quality in them, instead papering over them with generalities like “this is their worst album” or “their other projects were so much better.” For this album specifically, sure, it wasn’t Drizzy rapping hard-hitting verses over trap beats. Rather, it was far more bare, stripped back and atmospheric. It almost feels like “Honestly, Nevermind” was made to provide a backing soundtrack for other experiences. Its somber, nocturnal notes on songs such as “Flights Booked” or “A Keeper” cry out for late night car rides or evening strolls. “Texts Go Green” is the sad, crooning music that Drake seems to have mastered, but now with a bouncier kind of beat—one that is perfect for dancing or winding down to after a long day. If “Honestly, Nevermind” is truly doomed to be passive music, then it does so with the best intentions—namely by serving as the perfect soundtrack for those long summer nights. Oh, and Drake also threw in the silky-smooth “Jimmy Cooks” with 21 Savage as the concluding track to remind us all that he can still spit with the best of them.
July: “Wasteland” by Brent Faiyaz
By this point in the season, one’s routine, or lack thereof, has usually been solidified. We feel less like a sea of possibility and more like a river with a defined path. Or, perhaps, like a rolling stone—coincidentally also the name of one of the very best tracks on R&B star Brent Faiyaz’ latest release, “Wasteland.” The epitome of cool, Brent calmly declares, “I’m a rolling stone / I’m too wild for you to own,” the perfect sentiment for a spontaneous adventure. “Gravity” is a beautifully warm, cozy track played best in the presence of loved ones, appreciating all of our great friends and family. On the introspective “Dead Man Walking,” Faiyaz details what a typical summer night may entail for him. While on the surface this means a night out in Vegas, he encourages all of us, singing: “You can do what you wanna / Live how you wanna / Spend what you wanna / Be who you wanna be.” What better attitude than being unapologetically you?
Brent thinks out loud in “Wasteland,” emitting a stream of consciousness that unveils his innermost thoughts and ideas, for better or for worse. We get to see the full picture of an artist whose smooth demeanor and lyrics may invoke a feeling of infallibility. The song proves Brent to be quite the contrary, though: he takes us through his past mistakes and regrets, as well as the reasons behind his faulty decisions. However, we also see someone who is growing and learning, someone not to look up to as a flawless celebrity, but rather as a person like you and me, also trying to find their way in life.
August: “Cheat Codes” by Danger Mouse and Black Thought
August is a month of myriad emotions: sadness at the incoming conclusion of the season; nostalgia for the positive experiences shared with others; excitement for what is to come. I consider myself extremely lucky to attend a school that I can always look forward to returning to. And while I can claim to have held all of these varied sentiments throughout the entirety of the season, August was overwhelmingly about accepting and preparing. Summer, more so than any other season, carries a finiteness that cannot be avoided, even as far back in our minds as we keep this creeping thought. It’s what makes each one special—the fact that we have no choice but to live for each moment, the forces of staleness and boredom never able to catch up to the joy felt in every experience.
And so, I wanted an album with the grit and determination to get amped for a brand new semester with the promise of countless new, fun and formative experiences—rapper Black Thought and producer Danger Mouse obliged, with their collaborative album “Cheat Codes.” The former being integral to one of the most prolific and innovative rap groups ever, The Roots, any Black Thought-involved project comes guaranteed with lyricism of the highest quality. On the personal “Saltwater,” the rapper spits, reflectively, “You so cliché, the nouveau riche / That come up hard as a youth and knew no peace / You hit that lick and switched to a new motif / In a whip with two low seats and new gold teeth,” detailing his come-up from nothing. On the similarly hustle-oriented “Strangers,” Black Thought, along with an excellent guest verse from A$ap Rocky, embraces the effort he needed to put in to get where he is today. Danger Mouse supplies the absurdly hard-hitting, grimy beats to songs such as these. However, like I said, August is also about reminiscing on the past three months, with the more dreamy-nostalgic sounds of “Sometimes” or “Because,” providing ample material for fond trips down memory lane, too.
Being ready for anything new entails processing what came before, and to have music provide the bookend for one of my favorite summers is something I am very grateful to have. To me, songs have always been ways of preserving moments in time, encapsulating the emotions that come with them—and for a summer filled with so many meaningful memories, these albums provided the perfect soundtrack for the season.