The Main Attraction? and No Passion, All Technique
The Main Attraction?
Allow me to take on the form of a mossed individual for a moment and wax lifted, blown, and English-degree’d.
To both evoke, jack, and bastardize Shakespeare: What is in a name? (Full disclosure: I did not initially know that this was a quote from the bard himself—shame on me.) It is a complex dance of decisions between what we call ourselves and what others call us. Take me for example. Whether it’s as the little brother (Jimmy), the homie (Jim), the HBIC (Mr. Wilson), or the voice of reason and all things good (Mr. Say That Shit with Impunity and Finesse), what others call me determines how they view me, and it holds a lot of weight, especially in the public sphere.
Which brings us to our objective: Sideshows.
As a word, a “sideshow” is not the cream of the crop—it’s the captivating-enough yet instantly forgettable accompaniment to the main event. These freaks are, of course, crucial to any function—they get the people excited. Sideshows include, but are not limited to, opening bands/artists at concerts, auxiliary homies, your friend’s pet, undercard fights, and actual circus sideshows (like the fire-breathers or that mf who sleeps on the bed of nails). We enjoy them, but they aren’t an essential part of our lives.
All this said, as a rapper, Washington D.C.’s Sideshow is the main event. At only 25 years old, he has a low-key yet commanding style that burrows directly into your brain the instant his music hits your eardrums; he rarely relies on guest features to lighten his artistic load; and he’s just dropped his fifth full length release. In layman’s terms, Sideshow is calm, cool, and does it all by himself. He deftly combines his back alley aptitude with an increasingly dexterous pen in a way that few non-90s rappers can.
On top of everything, though, is his ability to take left turns like they’re the norm by doing exactly what he wants, like when he dropped a South Florida-style fast track (“Sneeky Steps”). Or when he laid it uniquely down over a Michigan beat from none other than BeatsBySav (“Salt Kills Snails”). Or (and most frequently) when he lost consciousness and spat an entire credo in a simple 16 (“King of Different Things”). I could go on, but suffice to say, Sideshow can be a true blue, dyed-in-the-wool spectacle, and he has all the tools necessary to surpass his chosen moniker and take on the big show.
And if all of that doesn’t sway you, look no further than “TV Dinners.” Underground overlord The Alchemist pairs Sideshow with Detroit’s legend-in-the-making Boldy James (i.e. the stoic archetype for Sideshow’s lane of music), and Sideshow takes charge, efficiently certifying his ability and swagger. The Alchemist gifted him the lead-off spot, and he did his thing, handily setting the tone, forcing Boldy to spit his finest. Sideshow confidently displays everything that makes him unique, blending succinct tough talk with insular reflection and sprinkling it all with a touch of Ethiopian vernacular, leaving behind a mark that only he could stamp.
At times, though, Sideshow can be a bit too chill and lose his command over listeners. And when he has have features, their big names (MIKE, MAVI, and sighs Na-kel Smith) tend to overshadow his slightly smaller one. Still, Sideshow always manages to be the most assured rapper on the track, even if he doesn’t have the biggest presence. His shit is good, and he knows it. He has no need for one-upmanship. Most damning, though, is that this mf is tough to find! Inquiring minds must be ultra-specific with their search terms in order to track this fool down.
Anyway, that’s all a long-winded, headass way to set up a totally-not-trite query: can Sideshow transcend his name’s connotation and take shit over with his brand-spanking-new album, DON’T JUST STAND THERE?
As stated, DON’T JUST STAND THERE is Sideshow’s fifth full-length effort, and it was dropped on Tuesday, February 21. When a budding artist releases a project in the middle of the week, the product isn’t quite mainstream enough to run with the big dogs that drop on Fridays, but it’s still probably a heater. The album’s singles, masterful and painstaking, surely suggested that. “NOWHERE 2 HIDE” and “S.H.O.W. ENT” are both bite-sized tracks that perfectly capture Sideshow’s soulful, creative control and rhythm of life. They’re warm and familiar, full of opaque, polychromatic couplets like, “What you want to know? / I can’t do interviews, just listen to my songs,” and true-to-himself non-sequiturs like, “When skinny touch down, we gon’ leave the club flooded / Like these gray clouds above us, make sure you smile when you suffer / Only thing ‘round here stutterin’ is the big nine I’m clutchin’.” If anything, the singles are more of Sideshow’s typical fare—pleasant and real, albeit a skosh mossed. It’s never a bad thing, but Sideshow needs to let his freak flag fly.
At his best, Sideshow zags just when you expect him to zig, and based on the course set by the advance singles, DON’T JUST STAND THERE is nothing but zags. From the jump, “2UNCHI MUSIC “ and “JIH LIKE MORANT” shake the dust off Sideshow’s typical production and add gentle synth blasts that perfectly accompany his tight-lipped revelations, instantly proving that he’s through with fucking around.
“WHITE FANS” provides more of the same sonically, but Sideshow decides to completely freak it and employ a meandering, cyclical flow that charms listeners into his world based on a titular extended double entendre. Most notable about this track, though, is Sideshow’s self-awareness. Early in the song, he raps, “I know n***** like me don’t shine too often (A GOTDAMN SHAME) / So imma shine as much as I can.” In this moment, Sideshow, realizing that he has finally captured what so many men like him want, is going to prove that he’s not some run-of-the-mill undercard rapper. He has seized his opportunity, and he’s going to cement himself in the scene and confirm that he’s the real deal
Most surprisingly, though, is “LOCKED DOORS.” It slots in at the three-hole and promises a hit from the go. As soon as the producer tag drops, courtesy of the ascendant Popstar Benny, it’s obvious that this track is different. Benny (who just dropped his excellent University! earlier this year) is most known for his chameleonic plugg/“weird” Atlanta-style beats and his cutesy tag drops, but he’s taken a darker turn as of late. As a result, his new style speaks directly to the spirit of Sideshow, and the result is an odd-couple match made in a rap heaven. Sideshow brings his best as well, clearly in his bag as he raps, “Racecar, R-T-R P-O-P, ooh-wee / Who that n**** rappin’ on the beat from Popstar Benny? Who? Me.” What makes these lines noteworthy is the confidence in Sideshow’s raps, as if you’re a fool if you thought he wouldn’t link with Benny and drop a heater. Forget about the rest of this review; in this one song alone, Sideshow proves his headliner-worthiness.
Even when Sideshow isn’t actively rapping, DON’T JUST STAND THERE remains massively entertaining. At the ends of his songs, he occasionally chooses to let the instrumental breathe, giving his producers Alexander Spit, AYOCHILLMAN, SEXAFTERCHURCH, Omari Lyseight, and Benny their due. The interludes and track intros/outros add to the bright yet brooding atmosphere. At times, they are even hilarious, especially “TT,” in which an associate discusses a woman’s figure in sophomoric detail.
The only time the album feels sluggish is the stretch from “2MM” into “THICK LIQ.” To nit-pick a little, the back-to-back tracks are together too long, straying from the brevity of the rest of the album. “2MM,” which features the blunted GOOD Music product Valee as Sideshow’s hype man, is nearly three minutes, an eternity when every other song barely hits two. “THICK LIQ” drags out the sluggish vibe even longer as it plugs along at a snail’s pace. If Valee had a true verse to break things up, this all would be different. Again, this is a minor gripe, as Sideshow still does his thing, and he quickly makes up for his misgivings with the closing run from “SHELL IN A GHOST” to ender “CHEZ FRANCIS.”
At the end of the day, a name really is just a name, and Sideshow isn’t actually held in low regard because of his. It’s a great rap moniker, and it’s clearly tongue in cheek. Sideshow already has a lasting legacy, and he’s only just getting started. But, for the sake of my hard work and ego, I’ll say this—in my heart, DON’T JUST STAND THERE proves he’s finally outgrown his chosen title. Sideshow may not be out of the woods entirely, but he’s definitely made it from the thick to the thin. With a couple of supporting tours (and maybe a headlining one to be safe), another album, and a few more show-stopping guest spots under his belt, Sideshow will make it, and his name will be mentioned amongst the MAVIs, the Pink Siifus, the Maxos, and the MIKE of the rap world. Trust.
No Passion, All Technique
Rest in to peace to the “Talk your shit!” buttons. That shit ruled. Maybe I’ll to resurrect it. Maybe not.
A Worldwide Clique by Clique
I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it a million more if need be: Clique is the best band making music. In any scene. They have the best (and not to mention the driest) drums, the best guitars, the best bass, the best vocals, the best lyrics, the best merch, and the best ambiance. The band as a whole is fucking pissed, and they destroyed the entire scene with just two tracks. That takes talent. Good.
“Dj” and “Old Place” by Jim Legxacy
A kid that makes music that’s been described as a combination of hyperpop, Midwest emo, garage, and UK drill goes by the name of “JIM.” That’s tough living. I respect it. These songs are hard! Though they do take a couple of listens to get the hang of, both are good.
Maxo’s On the Radar Freestyle
Some piece of shit subhuman troglodyte on Reddit said that Maxo made them uncomfortable. Go to hell if this shit isn’t for you! Maxo’s speaking from the deep within. A man cannot control hismelf when he’s in that state. This is music for the truest. Good. Not to mention, his album Even God Has A Sense Of Humor is incredible. Tap in.
“Silver Lining” by Jesus Piece
This shit makes me want to curl up on a bed of nails, pour myself a concrete comforter, and just cry. So sweet, so perfect, so good.
“Apple Story” by Teejayx6
Teejayx6 is…back? Remains to be seen, but “Apple Story,” a tale of boosting iPads and MacBooks, covering Backwoods stench with cologne, playing the part, flirting with cashiers, and having “nervous stomach feelings,” is a step in the right direction. Fuck, who am I kidding–this is terrible. It’s funny as hell, but it sucks. Not so good, but worth a listen.
“Wasted” by Diplo featuring Kodak Black and Koe Wetzel
There is a rich history of rap songs titled “Wasted.” It started with Gucci Mane and Plies, continued with tracks from Juice WRLD, Coi Leray, and Don Toliver, and now has made another stop at Diplo’s “Wasted,” featuring none other than Kodak Black and Koe Wetzel, a truly illogical pairing. Is this “Wasted” any good? No. Have I been listening to this song daily since I first watched its music video a month ago? Yes, but that’s beside the point. It’s not very good, though it is addictive. Besides, it proves that Florida-product Diplo really is about that southern living!
“New Money” by OT7 Quanny and GT
This song crawls by like a crippled slug, and I wish they dropped the tempo even lower. Quanny and GT are at their best when they move at a glacial pace, and they let it fly (slowly) on “New Money.” Good.
“GS1” by CONNIE and Zelooperz
Out of control shit that’s perfectly managed by rapper Zelooperz and producer CONNIE—that’s that shit I like. I’m in. Good.
“Fly to You” by Caroline Polachek featuring Grimes and Dido
I have a secret, and it’s dark. Like, really, really dark. No trace of light particles dark… I like Caroline Polachek. You’re probably sitting at your miserable job, thinking, “But Jim! How is that in your nature?” It just is, I’m sorry to say. Polachek’s late, corn-free work with Chairlift was transcendent, and my seventeen-year-old brain knew it. Her older output is cool enough, but her new album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, really is something. The crown jewel is, of course, the girl-power ballad “Fly to You,” which spans three generations of alt-pop icons, most prominently Dido. This is required listening. Good.