On Thursday, the Slope Day Programming Board announced the concert lineup, with two openers, BrassTracks and S’natra, followed by two headliners, Big Gigantic and MisterWives. Together, these four artists and bands represent a wide range of genres and notoriety. Tom Marin ’17, the Programming Board’s selection director described the lineup as “high energy.”
You can listen to a playlist of songs representative of each of the artists’ styles here:
Big Gigantic is arguably the most well-known artist duo coming to Slope Day. They’ve performed at festivals such as Coachella, Ultra Miami, Lollapalooza, Governors Ball and are well known in the EDM community. Their music combines a fairly unusual mix of genres, from EDM to jazz, and occasionally samples hip hop beats. The trademark of their performances appears to be live saxophone, which is played by Dominic Lalli. A Los Angeles Times review of Big Gigantic’s project “Nocturnal,” praised the duo’s efforts for giving “a refreshing face to the improv style of electro known as ‘jamtronica’.”
A New York City based 5-person band, led by singer Mandy Lee, MisterWives was formed in 2012 and have since released one EP, Reflections, and one full length studio album, Our Own House. The singles of the same names have a combined 129 million plays on Spotify. MisterWives recently put out a new single, “Machine,” ahead of the release of their second studio album Connect the Dots, slated for May 19, 2017. They are currently touring with and opening for Panic! At the Disco on their “Death of a Bachelor” tour.
Their introspective tunes are charismatic and easy to listen to, and they gained some notoriety when their song “Vagabond” was featured in the opening credits of MTV’s Finding Carter. Their music has a wide range of themes and tones and relies heavily on brass instruments and piano, as well as traditional rock instruments.
Although they don’t seem to be widely known, their style of music seems to lend itself well to live performances. They have established themselves opening for acts like Twenty One Pilots and Panic! At The Disco, quickly engaging and energizing even crowds who don’t know their music. Their debut album, classified as indie pop, is filled with upbeat, feel-good tracks with a sprinkling of slower, swaying songs. “Our Own House” is a buoyant track about building something special with a person you love, while “Coffins” is completely different, with a sorrowful account of a bygone relationship. “Machine” is much bolder than any of the songs off their first album, perhaps indicating a change in energy for the band moving forward.
S’natra is a Harlem based rapper, whose recent work has been produced by Ivan Jackson of Brasstracks, JNTHN STEIN and Alexander Lewis. S’natra has eschewed many of the current trends in mainstream hip hop. Instead, his music seems to be rooted in lyricism and storytelling. Similar to Kendrick Lamar and TDE counterpart, Ab Soul, S’natra’s talent lies in his meaningful lyrics and storytelling ability. His soft beat selection juxtaposes the catchy beats currently on the radio, as they aim to reinforce his lyrics, not overpower them. Hailing from the hip hop hotbed of Harlem, much of his music blends the old-school New York sounds with the more progressive and exciting melodies heard today.
New age hip-hop has been dominated by a new sound — a new culture — of producing “hype” music. Some argue that this subcategory of hip-hop disregards the basic elements on which the genre was created, instead relying almost solely on its beat. In the midst of this trend and the surge of artists that reinforce it, rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have been fighting to keep lyricism, one of hip-hop’s oldest roots, alive. One of the main disputes in the world of hip hop is whether the term “rapper” should be applied to new age artists, given that many claim they fail to represent what the label entails. S’natra appears to be one of the up-and-coming artists devoted to the old, “conscious” culture of hip hop.
Live sounds are unheard of in contemporary hip-hop tracks, where a sampled hook and recycled bridge flow are the boilerplate for a hit. Where duo Ivan Jackson and Conor Rayne, known as Brasstracks, have created a niche for themselves is in their live instrumentation behind popular rap collaborations. Their sound is a bridge between jazz, grunge (Conor’s favorite band has always been Nirvana) and reggae — completely cross-genre and organically harmonious with almost any artist. Last month, Brasstracks were part of the Grammy winning production of Chance The Rapper’s viral and anti-commercial “No Problem.” In an interview for XXL Magazine, Brasstracks said that the collaboration happened by coincidence, when Chance retweeted and later sent them a message via Twitter, saying “‘Yo let’s work, I’m in Chicago but I’ll be in L.A. soon.’” The duo continued to gain popularity through word-of-mouth PR by Anderson .Paak, POMO and Patrick Stump, as well as Brasstracks’ own (and growing) Twitter fanbase. Ivan Jackson also contributed to Grammy nominated albums Malibu by Anderson .Paak and Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper.
In the same XXL interview, Jackson was asked about future collaborations with rappers, to which he responded: “I’m really stoked about all the S’natra stuff. We’re helping develop this Harlem-born rapper who’s really dope.” This likely played a role in the Programming Board’s decision to host S’natra as a co-opener with Brasstracks. Several of S’natra’s tracks were produced by Brasstracks’ Ivan Jackson.
In fact, a student at Cornell, Charlie Kramer ’17, works with Brasstracks and S’natra. He is the day-to-day manager for S’natra and the assistant tour manager for Brasstracks. We reached out to him for an interview:
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Sun: Could you tell me about yourself and you got involved with Brasstracks and S’natra?
Charlie Kramer (CK): I’m an ILR major, interested in talent management. I’m graduating in May and I’m already working full time with S’natra and Brasstracks, so I’m just going to continue that.
This summer , Ivan [from Brasstracks] was handling most of the management for S’natra, but Brasstracks was on tour in Europe when I stepped in to help out S’natra. When they finished tour, S’natra introduced me to Ivan in their studio in Brooklyn, and we talked and they asked if I would be down to get involved and help out. And then our first show with me working was the Pretty Lights Live show, which was the first time I’d ever even seen Brasstracks live and I was blown away.
The Sun: How did S’natra come along?
CK: S’natra was a rapper known before Brasstracks, but when he met Ivan and then everything clicked. They started making music. They worked together on S’natra’s “Subject to Change,” a new project that will be released sometime this year, produced by Ivan from Brasstracks.
The Sun: What kind of rapper is S’natra, in your opinion?
CK: Comparable artist to S’natra, in terms of lyrics and style, are Kendrick, J. Cole and others.
He is a storyteller and that’s something I think is missing from new rappers. S’natra is trying to fill the space with grace and manipulation of the language and style with a whole album production — like with J. Cole and Kendrick.
The Sun: Were you part of the Slope Day programming board or did they reach out to you?
CK: I pitched them [Brasstracks and S’natra] to Slope Day because they will be the least disputed act ever, because they will encompass every genre: hip hop, jazz, electronic, pop, tons of songs that everyone in the crowd know. And even with the music they don’t know, people will be looking them up on Spotify after the concert. I think they will be the least disputed.
The Sun: Did you participate in the decision-making process?
CK: No, I did not. I pitched them because I really wanted to get them involved, so I asked friends about how Slope Day is organized and Thomas Marin took it on from there to the high levels. I was not a part of the actual decision.
The Sun: What do you think about the initial reactions from the student body about the lineup?
CK: I completely understand the initial reaction from the student body. It’s a disappointing reaction because I want them to go into it with an open mind. I think that… the lineup wasn’t built for the announcement, it was built for the concert. I just want to get the idea across that these artists will have something for everyone and that they’ll make the slope a party.
While the initial reactions to the announcement were mixed with a heavy dose of disappointment, it seems that the four artists are dedicated to their craft and put substantial effort into live performances. Since Kanye’s appearance in 2004, Slope Day had a fair share of hip hop, and the rumors of Rae Sremmurd coming this year certainly played a role in people’s reception of this year’s artists. It is worth noting, though, that in 2004 Kanye only just released College Dropout and Chance the Rapper did not gain mainstream popularity until the end of 2015, the year when he performed at Cornell. Of course, a similar argument can be made for the other side, considering Kanye was already affiliated with Jay Z and released The College Dropout before he came to Slope Day, and Chance’s Acid Rap was praised by Pitchfork, Billboard, Dazed and dozens of rap critics.
Nonetheless, the lineup for this year’s Slope Day is certainly full of young and unconventional talent. S’natra is a promising lyricist with a focus on conscious rap and sophisticated beats. His recent collaborations with Ivan Jackson of Brasstracks, who was part of a Grammy winning production team, have already improved his flow and sound mixing. Brasstracks is also an up-and-coming duo and their production for “No Problem” was a definitive success. Conor Rayne is only 23 years old, while Ivan Jackson is only a year older. Big Gigantic is an established duo in EDM circles, having performed at such high profile events as Coachella, Ultra Festival in Miami and Lollapalooza. Their live saxophone is something to look forward to. Misterwives is an indie band, and like with any indie band, some level of obscurity is almost a necessity. However, a band’s popularity does not necessarily reflect the quality of their music or how a live performance will turn out. In the past, MisterWives have been openers for Walk the Moon, who performed at Slope Day last year. It is worth to give MisterWives—and all other acts in the lineup—a chance.
Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted Charlie Kramer on the expected release time of S’natra’s upcoming project.
Brandon Lozano, a student at USC, and Pablo Reyes, content editor at ArtHouse Studios, contributed reporting. Chris Stanton and Viri Garcia contributed research.