19 March 2024

"Carvinal" by ¥$ ft. Rich the Kid & Playboi Carti (2024)

Even if you aren't fond of Kanye West as a person, you have to give him props for being a prolific musician, as he's now been hard in the game for over two decades.  Yeezy is currently approaching 47 years of age, which is considered to be pretty old as far as rappers are concerned.  But you don't notice it with him as much as other aged emcees, because Ye makes more headlines for what he does outside of music.  Also, in recent times he has come to regularly work with younger artists, as he did throughout Donda (2021).

The cover art to Carnival (2024), the first song Kanye West
has dropped 
since 2011 to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 .

That said, I was a bit shocked upon first hearing that Kanye intended to drop an entire album with Ty Dolla Sign (with the pair being collectively monikered ¥$).  One reason was because, even though Ty isn't that much younger than Ye, they do come from two different generations of rap.  Besides that, heading into this decade, it was as if West had more or less transitioned into a gospel hip-hop, with isn't Dolla Sign's forte.

I studied most of the songs on Donda pretty extensively and, all things considered, was never convinced that Ye had truly dedicated his life to Jesus.  But what I did respect him for was actually having enough clout to get a bunch of gangsta rappers to participate on what was, to a large degree, a gospel album.  I doubt if there's anyone else in the music industry who could've pulled that feat off.

In all honesty, I wasn't really expecting Vultures 1 (2024) to do well.  For a spell there, I didn't even think that Kanye would get around to finishing it.  But not only did he complete and release the project.  It instantly proved to be a major streaming success, "despite [being] independently produced and... initially unavailable on Spotify and YouTube" and with limited support from Apple. It also proceeded to secure first place upon debuting on the Billboard 200.  So by the time all is said and done, Vultures 1 may even end up outperforming Donda commercially.


Another reason you may forget Kanye's age, that he's nearly 50 years old, is because some of his raps of late, such as those apparently found throughout Vultures 1, sport the same type motifs and terminology that younger industry rappers rely on.  On Donda, due to the nature of the album and the fact that Yeezus was hosting it, it was as if the rappers he featured were challenged with dropping lyrics that were more meaningful than their braggadocious norm.  But more recently, it appears that West has rather opted to stoop down to their level, so to speak.

I believe that Kanye's divorce from Kim Kardashian forced him over the edge.  I know how emotionally devastating, world-shattering and embarrassing it is to be dumped by someone you actually love.  So imagine how Yeezy must've felt when that happened to him in front of the entire world.  Circa the Donda era, when it appeared that the marriage may still be salvageable, he was dropping songs about family and being a good husband and things of the sort.  But now, post-divorce and with tracks like Carnival, it's as if Ye has totally flipped the switch.


The nature of this song is what I like to refer to as lyrical pornography, even though the wording of Carnival is not as graphic as some of other raps which fall into that category.   Perhaps the fact that the rappers aren't, relatively speaking, going crazy with the sexual references is due to the Yeezus factor.  For instance in his verse, Kanye does make a profound observation in noting that "they served us the porn since the day we was born".  But he doesn't proceed to expound on the effects of that type of socialization, such as how it has led to a proliferation of songs such as Carnival which are replete with NSFW sexual references.

The title of the track is derived from a line found in the chorus which reads "she'll ride my d*ck like carnival".  That's a blatant sexual metaphor, albeit one which requires a bit of imagination to decipher.

My initial theory, since Playboi Carti and co. use the term "like carnival" instead of 'like a carnival', was that they're referring to the carnival celebrations held in places like the West Indies and Latin America.  To us horny dudes, those events are known for featuring scantily-clad women who basically twerk in public.  There's also this prevailing stereotype that the likes of West Indian women are better at 'whining' than their American counterparts.

That understanding of the title has been buttressed by Genius scholars, though they more so speculate that the rappers are be referring to 'a carnival', in the sense of the rides that are found in amusement parks.  And that may well be the case, since at the beginning of the second verse Dolla Sign notes that "she ride it like Six Flags", with Six Flags being a chain of amusement parks found in the United States.

From the intro, which is held down by a choir composed of European soccer fans backed by Playboi Carti, it is firmly established that this is an adult-oriented song, highlighted by metaphors pointing to gratifying sexual experiences.  There are other topics that are also explored along the way.  For instance, in the first verse, Rich the Kid drops a reference to cocaine, as well as the rapper alluding to himself being a gunslinger.  The second verse, as rendered by Ty Dolla Sign, focuses largely on the vocalist's wealth and fame.  But the permeating theme throughout the track centers on the sexual exploitation of women, not in a rapey sort of way, but rather how the emcees takes advantage of their groupies, if you will.  And it's Playboi Carti who manages to best stick to that topic during the fourth verse.

Even though Yeezy has more or less decided to take the gangsta route, his verse is still quite different - let's say more intellectual - than the rest.  Yes, he does make a couple of references to being the recipient of fellatio, while also alluding to his wherewithal to practice anal sex.  But the bulk of West's verse revolves around the troubled A-lister comparing himself to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Diddy and Chris Brown.

The interesting thing about Yeezy likening himself to Kells, the Cos and Puff is that all three of them have experienced or are currently facing a downfall due to, most simply put, being sexual deviants.  Meanwhile, Kanye himself has engaged in many questionable acts, but I can't say that I ever heard of any woman accusing him of sexual assault, as with those individuals.  So he sorta references the "Me Too" movement out of the context.

But in also namedropping Breezy, who's rather faced cancel culture more along the lines of being an impenitent gangsta, it becomes more obvious that what West is doing is likewise presenting himself as a famous Blackman, a once well-received celebrity whom the system has decided to persecute, i.e. blackball or what have you.  For example, according to MediaTakeOut, Kanye was recently banned from performing a free concert in Brazil due to "controversial statements he made about Adolf Hitler and Jesus".  Also to note, an earlier version of Carnival featured a sample of a Black Sabbath track.  But the band's frontman, Ozzy Osbourne, shut that down due to Yeezy having developed the reputation of being an antisemite (though he still got away with using the sample indirectly).

But again, unlike the celebrities he mentions in the verse, West isn't catching hell due to the way he treats women or as a result of criminal behavior.  To the contrary, when Kanye was married, he appeared to be a pretty faithful husband, especially for someone of his standing.  And he has never been arrested for anything really serious or sexual.  West has developed the tendency to rather face criticism for things he intentionally says or does in full view of the public.  But judging by the success of Vultures 1 and Carnival, he may well be "uncancellable", as some have argued.


One compelling observation concerning this track is that its cover art "depicts a closeup of a screaming and bloodied skinhead".  And the reason that's intriguing is because the song itself doesn't appear to have anything whatsoever to do with skinheads nor fighting per se.

The cover art is actually an image derived from the music video to Carnival, as assembled by a Jon Rafman, a Canadian artist and generated using artificial intelligence.  For the most part, the clip depicts what appears to be skinheads and rabid soccer fans, the overwhelming majority of whom are Caucasian, engaged in rioting.  Contrastingly, the rappers themselves are all Black, and the lyrics center primarily on the concept of sexual gratification.  So it's difficult, if not impossible to make a connection between what's being said on the track and what's being displayed in the video. 


Carnival has been singled out as one of the standout tracks on Vultures 1.  The instrumental, with the chanting in the background, is pretty unique.  Also, I would say the lyrical flow of the first two verses, as respectively held down by Rich the Kid and Ty Dolla Sign, is damn near perfect.  But as for Kanye's vocal contribution, even though his verse is the most-compelling lyrically, it sounds almost as if he's trying to imitate the rappers who preceded him.  In fact, if I didn't know beforehand that it was West rapping, I never would have figured that out based on the way he actually sounds.

Meanwhile, Playboi Carti's verse is more along the lines of what some people refer to as mumble rap.  That means for individuals such as myself, I wouldn't be able to make out all that he's saying without reading the lyrics. 


Some rappers evolve over time.  This is often necessary in the name of prolonging their relevancy in a musical genre where trends change perhaps more regularly than any other.  Relatedly, on this track Kanye doesn't sound like his usual self.  And whereas Carnival does have its moments, it isn't nearly as impressive or memorable as the hit songs from West's heyday.

01 February 2024

Black Models Are Breaking Barriers

Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me in the fashion magazines my friends and I read.  Even the so-called "diverse" models were often just light-skinned women with straight hair, not dark skin and natural hair.  I never felt like I could be part of the fashion world, because it didn't seem to have space for someone like me, and I know I wasn't the only one who felt that way.  Many women spoke about the lack of representation in the fashion industry.  And when it finally attempted to include models of color, those efforts often fell short, with only one or two in a campaign or show.  But when I look at the industry today, I see huge progress being made.

Popular Instagram model Nyakim Gatwech, aka the "Queen of the Dark",
has dealt with negativity and offensive suggestions due to the color of his skin.

One of the biggest barriers that Black models faced was lack of representation in major fashion magazines, which revolved around a very narrow definition of beauty.  But now, we are seeing more of them on the covers of these publications, not as token representations but centerpieces of large photoshoots.  And as time progresses, more brands and designers are including Black models.

Winnie Harlow @ 2023 Milan Fashion Week

These models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the world of fashion . For example, take Winnie Harlow, who was born with a skin disease called vitiligo.  She has become an inspiration to many people with that disorder.

Winnie Harlow modeling for Desigual in 2015.

Winnie rose to fame on America's Top Model and has since been featured in major campaigns for brands like Diesel (2015), Nike (2017) and FENDI (2023). She's also been a brand ambassador for prominent fashion companies, like Desigual.  Harlow is not only redefining beauty standards but also showing that people with skin conditions can be brave and successful in the fashion industry.

Halima Aden, the first hijab wearer to earn the distinction
of becoming an IMG Model.

And what about Somali-American Halima Aden?  She made history as the first model who wears a hijab to become a signee of IMG Models, one of the top agencies of its type in the world.  In 2017, Aden also became the first veiled model to be featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia, and she headlined the publication again in 2019 and 2023.  Halima is demonstrating that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.

Naomi Campbell recounted how when she began her career, 
"there would be stylists who didn't have any experience working with Black models".

And it doesn't end there. There's Naomi Campbell (the queen of Black models), Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman, Adut Akech and many others who are doing incredibly well and changing the narrative.                                             


Black models are breaking barriers and redefining what it means to be beautiful in the fashion industry.  They are not just changing the way we see beauty, but also using their platforms to speak out about important issues.  Their influence is having a positive impact on the world of fashion, and their success is inspiring the next generation of models.  I hope the industry will continue to embrace diversity and that more Black models will be given the opportunities they deserve.

11 January 2024

Is Aisha Ayensu "Christie Brown"?

Aisha Ayensu ranks amongst the most-notable fashion designers
from Africa, having basically forced herself into the profession.

I came across a piece last year while scrolling through the 'net and really loved it.  Although I didn't know the designer, I saved the picture, hoping to recreate the dress for a Christmas party we were having at my grandmother's house.  I wanted to look my best.

Did I forget about the outfit?  No.  But I couldn't get anyone to sew it for me, because none of the designers I met and presented the style could replicate that particular design.  And they were very honest about it.  The last designer I conferred with was the reason I changed my mind about the outfit.

The Christie Brown piece that I wanted.
She bluntly pointed out that the pattern could not be easily recreated, and I asked why.  She said because it was "a Christie Brown".  That's how unique Aisha Ayensu's designs are.  I didn't understand at first, until she started showing me more outfits from the brand, and it was then and there that I knew I was biting more than I could chew. 

Aisha Ayensu is the face behind the Christie Brown label.  She was born in Ghana but spent her childhood moving between GH and the UK.  Ayensu's family has a distinct history in Ghana.  Her great-grandfather was a chief, and her grandfather was a renowned doctor and a surgeon.

Aisha was exposed to traditional African textiles from an early age and wanted to bring these beautiful designs to a wider audience, so she studied fashion design at Accra's Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design.  She honed her skills by working for renowned designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de la Renta.

Another of Aisha Ayenu's celebrated pieces.

Aisha soon felt the need to create her own brand.  So in 2008, at only 21 years old, she launched "Christie Brown".  Apparently, that moniker is not meant to be a reference to the designer.  Christie Brown is rather the name of Ayensu's grandmother, who herself was a humble seamstress and inspired the creation of Aisha's brand.

From the very beginning, Ayensu's designs were a hit.  She quickly established a reputation for creating clothes that were sophisticated, feminine and modern, while still retaining a strong connection to her African heritage (one of the things I love about her style).  It wasn't long before Aisha's creations were being worn by celebrities including BeyoncĂ© and her dancers during The Mrs. Carter Show tour, Alicia Keys, Jackie Appiah and Black Panther actress Danai Gurira, to mention but a few.

Outfits worn by BeyoncĂ©'s dancers that were inspired by Christie Brown.

Aisha's designs have earned her numerous accolades.  She was named Glitz Style Awards "African Designer of the Year" in 2018 and 2019.  In 2009, at the Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, she was crowned "Emerging Designer of the Year".  She was ranked amongst the 2016 "Forbes 30 Most Promising Entrepreneurs in Africa" and was dubbed "Best Fashion Designer" at the Africa Prestigious Awards in 2018.