“Milelong Mixtapes”: Ep. #4

“Mile-Long Mixtapes”: Ep. #4

Happy Birthday CHIKA’s “Industry Games” & Also… the Pandemic? 

by Kellie M. Beck

 

The Friday after the University shut down classes for the remainder of the Winter 2020 semester, recently acclaimed rapper CHIKA released her debut album. My roommate and I listen to this album relentlessly– no one skips CHIKA in my house. 

 

Her Industry Games EP is a pure, ultra-concentrated dose of her finest work yet. “Intro”, the minute-long prologue to the piece, introduces soaring piano and string sections, and tells listeners “I hope this music makes you think,” only after a tight and dense verse with near-Grecian level drama. But the sentimentality is quickly tossed aside for the EP’s titular track to take center stage. 

 

CHIKA reveals to her audience over the course of the EP her struggle with her recent flux of fame. In “Industry Games”, CHIKA identifies herself as the literal “antithesis” of the rap industry, claiming that other top rappers aren’t invested in their work the way she is.The song segways neatly into “Songs About You”, a four-minute legacy track– arguably her finest song on the EP. “Songs About You” turns to criticizing haters, and both says and shows that CHIKA is hitting her prime, and on the way to becoming a household name. Even though CHIKA does her fair share of bragging about her (rather evident) skills, an underlying current of dissatisfaction runs through her lyrics– it begs the question, “if I’m already miles ahead of everyone else, what’s next?”

 

Over an angelic chorus of her backup singers singing “talk”, CHIKA rips the Band-Aid off in her track, “Balencies”. What’s the point of all this success, if the money and fame don’t bring me anything other than more problems? A church organ drops at the end of the second verse, the overwhelming pressure of the audio weighing down on the listener, only for it to drop into the sugary sweet intro of “Designer”. What’s the point of all this success, if she has to enjoy it alone? “On My Own” attempts to address the balance between love, and a relationship, with her fame with soft, velvety vocals, and her repeated promise: “I’m on my way.”

 

It’s CHIKA’s finale track, “Crown”, that contextualizes the album for me. CHIKA opens her story up to her audience, and asks them to connect with her story and her strife– “chasing the impossible takes some courage”, she tells listeners. Gospel vocals and rich layers of harmonizing vocals sing in pure joy– CHIKA chooses to celebrate strife as something that defines us. To survive, is to thrive. 

 

The pandemic is almost a year old. But on the horizon, is a promise of its end, while the sun begins to shine and the earth begins to thaw in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Listening to CHIKA’s Industry Games, I think we might owe ourselves a celebration of epic proportions someday soon. 

Do songs have to rhyme?

One thing I think I’ve grown at during my songwriting career is my appreciation for the different forms lyrics can take. Lyrics are in many ways just poems set to music, and when most people think of poems, they think of structures ending in rhyming parts. These parts are pleasing to the ears, but are not required to write a successful poem–or in that case, a successful song.

When I wrote my first song I was eight years old. It was called “Sun is Shining,” and was pretty much what you would expect an 8-year-old to write. It went:

“Sun is shining,
trees are swaying
wind is blowing
flowers waving”

etc. I was so proud of myself for the way the lines sounded when sung together since they all ended in the ‘ing’ format. To 8-year-old me, lyrics could be written in one way, and one way only.

As I grew up, my lyrics got a little more complicated than talking about what I could see in the prairie outside my living room window. In middle school I wrote “Juliet in Me,” a song which my mother swears will never be replaced as her favorite piece of mine.

It began:

“Sitting in the darkness
in a princess dress
I felt like a girl people would fight for
but how am I supposed to act my part
when the only love I’m in is through Juliet’s heart
and my Romeo doesn’t even know my name”

Based on my musical theatre endeavors, this song was a venture into the world of lyrics where not EVERY line had to rhyme. I also employed rhymes/similar sounds within single lines of text for the first time: I.e. RomeO doesn’t even KNOW my name.

In college I got into the groove of using near rhymes–words that weren’t identical in their patterns, but exhibited the same vowel sounds and therefore sounded like they did rhyme when sung. One of the latest songs I wrote uses this technique in its chorus:

“I am a kid again
chasing fairytales and booking flights to places I’ve never been
Because life Isn’t long and we don’t know when it will end
and sometimes you can’t wait around for your prince to step in
oh I am a kid again”

Every word at the end of a line in this chorus is a near rhyme. AgAIN, bEEN, ENd, IN, and agAIN. If you spoke this chorus aloud, odds are you would catch the discrepancies in sound, but when sung over a background of musical instruments, it’s less obvious. This is due to the fact that vocalists tend to linger on vowels instead of consonants while singing, Since the vowel sounds in all of these words are very similar, as the vocalist lingers on them, the vowel becomes the most important part of each of these words and the rhyme scheme works.

This is the same technique I use in the song I am currently writing. It is a duet–featuring a male voice speak/singing a part over the bridge. Part of his lyrics go:

“I thought I saw you last night
Across the bar with some other guy
True, you were never mine
But when he held you tight
I said “I’m fine”; I lied
Can’t you see I’m crying”

This goes even one step further than the song about being a kid again. Not only does it use the same vowel sound at the end of every line, but it also sneaks it into the middle of lines here and there. In this case the sound I was looking for was the long “I” sound.

I thought I saw you last night
Across the bar with some other guy
True, you were never mine
But when he held you tight
I said “I’m fine”; I lied
Can’t you see I’m crying”

So, do songs HAVE to rhyme? No, of course they don’t. Is rhyme a good tool to use to make your lyrics easy to remember? For sure! However, there’s no ONE way to use rhyme. You can go the simple way with perfect rhymes, or dive into something a little more complex. To each their own!

Songwriting Resources

Hello, all! This week I figured I would share a few of my favorite websites/resources that have helped me with my music throughout my own artistic journey. Hopefully they’ll be able to inspire/instruct a few people just as they inspired and instructed me.

The big one: Ultimate Guitar. This is the place I find the majority of my chord sheets for different songs I cover. Users are able to upload and edit chords and tabs, and each sheet is able to be rated by other users so you can see what kind of quality the particular version is.
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/

Chordify is another cool site. It takes youtube videos and mp3 files and turns the audio into chords on the spot. It’s not always 100% accurate or reliable, but it’s definitely a cool idea, and I’d say it’s worth checking out.
https://chordify.net/

For anyone who does any Christian religious music, SongSelect is my website of choice. This is a database of worship songs and other religious material which works great for printing out materials for church bands/worship nights/etc.
https://songselect.ccli.com/

Musescore is a great resource but you do have to have an account to gain access to its full features. This is a database of PDFs and sheet music available to purchase or download. It also allows you to create your own sheet music. I don’t have a lot of experience with this particular resource, but I have friends who swear by it.
https://musescore.org/en

If you write music note by note on a staff, Noteflight is the place for you. I’ve used it mostly for arranging for a cappella ensembles in the past, but I know people who arrange/write for choirs, piano, orchestras, bands, etc. on this site. It’s easy to use for the most part, and really allows for you to create whatever you can possibly think up: an A+ resource in my opinion.
https://www.noteflight.com/

OTHER TOOLS:

If you need an online guitar tuner, Fender has your back! I often forget my tuner when I bring one of my guitars somewhere, and this online tool has really helped me.
https://www.fender.com/online-guitar-tuner

The Ultimate Guitar mobile app also has a built in chromatic tuner, brain tuner, metronome, chord library, chord progression database, and much more. Honestly just download it right now. I use it almost every day.

RhymeZone is another big one for me. When I’m writing lyrics I often find myself stuck in a situation where I have one super strong line and nothing to pair it with. RhymeZone allows you to search for perfect rhymes, near rhymes, synonyms, descriptive phrases, and much more, It also displays single word results and entire phrases that may match your rhyme scheme as well.
https://www.rhymezone.com/

Bits and Pieces

I’ve had a rough week or so in terms of writing anything good enough to deem worthy of finishing. So instead of posting a full song this week, I’ve decided to post a few bits and pieces I’ve written down in the last few months.

Some are sad, some are happy. The styles are all different, and I’m not sure exactly what the tune to some of them are yet. But there is a certain beauty in an unfinished song. They’re in their ‘poetry’ stages. So, here you go:

 

#1: (a song for the seasons)

Wake up blanketed in white
stars like tiny twinkling lights
and I’m finally home
porch is dusty striped with snow
air is biting bitter cold
and I’m finally home

And I open shutters wide
should I run, should I hide
Is it finally time

It’s another barely merry Christmas

 

#2: (a song for fading feelings)

What do I say when the feelings all fade
But I promised you my forever
What do I do when I said I’d stay true
But in all my dreams I’m not tethered
You’re all I have, and I know that
What my heart wants, is what it once had
How do I stay when I feel I must stray
Is my only choice now or never

Every new night I add to my lies
And I weave a new stupid pattern
With every word sent and every word meant
My bond to you has but shattered
You’re who I’ve got I want whom you’re not
I need to hold on but everything’s wrong
What do I say when it all fades to gray
And everything’s gone that once mattered

 

#3: (A song for the towns we call home)

Small town small minds
Not too many passersby
Crazy girls simple lives
Its home
Big fields bigger dreams
Everything is as it seems
Stuck there till seventeen
That’s home
Then we leave and we see what the real world says
About us small town home grown women and men

You tell em where you’re from just by naming a state
All they’ll nod like they know but they don’t what to say
And everywhere you go everything is strange
Like what are you doing here?
You try your very best to be a part of this place
But in the end you’re 2000 miles away
And deep inside a part wishes you’d stayed
Home home.

 

#4: (a song for MY town I call home)

I was born in a town
where the greatest place around
was the Culvers on the side of highway sixty
And our idea of a getaway
Was a 40 minute drive away
To the shores of the Great Lake out in Milwaukee

 

#5: (religious, but my attempt at a song of lament)

Oh Father how I feel like old Jerusalem
Once full of people and the vibrant lives they shared
Now like that silent city I will weep away my sorrows
and it’s more than one small single soul can bear

The tears are streaming faster as I count the names of friends who’ve turned their backs as they have carried on their ways
Now like the silent city I will find no rest tonight
for my mortal heart is once again betrayed

A Song for a Step Forward

A song I wrote for election week and some of the emotions I’ve observed in the past few days:

 

Verse

Weatherman said the forecast was looking cloudy
and I think it’d be safe to say that that’s been true
every word said had we the people doubting
if this was a week which we could all get through

Verse

All got out of bed on Tuesday with a purpose
then the waiting began to see who’d win and lose
each woman, man, other identifying person
was holding their breath their eyes fixed to the news

Pre-Chorus

and it took a few more days than we’d have liked
had our fingers crossed that things would turn out right

Chorus

This is a song for a step forward
a song for brand new days
I know not everyone’s happy
with the decision that’s been made
but this is it, this is now
we’ve got a woman in the white house
history is being made in front of our eyes
what crazy times for us to be alive

Verse

for now the united states still stands pretty divided
but the president elect isn’t only just for blue
to stand for all America, he’s decided
red, blue, him, her, we, them, me, or you

Pre-Chorus

and it took a few more days than we’d have liked
to learn what we hoped to know last Tuesday night

Chorus

But this is a song for a step forward
a song for brand new days
I know not everyone’s happy
with the decision that’s been made
but this is it, this is now
we’ve got a woman in the white house
history is being made in front of our eyes
what crazy times for us to be alive

Bridge

we the people of this country
face the end of a 4 year age
it’s been educational
but we’re turning the page
raise the flag

Half-Chorus

This is a song for a step forward
a song for brand new days
I know not everyone’s happy
but the decision has been made

Chorus

This is a song for a step forward
a song for brand new days
I know not everyone’s happy
with the decision that’s been made
but this is it, this is now
we’ve got a woman in the white house
history is being made in front of our eyes
what crazy times for us to be alive

Outro

what crazy times for us to be alive

 

Can’t say it? Sing it. (#1)

Hello, world. Or hello, Michigan. Really just hello to whomever happens to be reading this. My name is Josie, I’m a current senior at UMich studying English and Spanish with a minor in music, and this is a weekly glimpse into the chaos of my mind.

As to why I am writing on arts, ink:

For as long as I can remember I have been most easily able to express myself through written words. I’ve been anavid reader and writer since I was about six years old, and have taken my passion for writing in many directions since then. Poetry, prose, forensics, stage, and screen acting are all avenues I’ve pursued in some way, shape, or form throughout the last fifteen years or so of my life. However, from very early on, one particular way of expressing myself fought its way to the top of my list of passions.

Songwriting.

I first picked up a guitar at age 8 after 4 years of piano lessons. Within a few months, I wrote my first song–a simple 3-chord children’s song I called “Sun is Shining.” (My mom still whistles it while she does house work and such sometimes). From that moment on, I was hooked. I was never a diary kid. I didn’t see the point in writing all my feelings down on a page that no one would ever read except me. So instead, my guitar became my notebook, and my lyrics became my diary. I wrote about what moved me, the things which made me feel emotions strong enough to need to sing about, and people I met along the road of life who helped to change me in some significant way.

 (9-year-old me)

When I was feeling lost in middle school, I wrote a song called “The Road to Nowhere.” When I was facing challenges in high school I wrote a song called “Wings” whose chorus read “I will take my wings / and I will learn to fly / so if I ever fall / I’ll fall knowing that I tried.”

(The picture below is from a small concert I gave at a local sub station where I played a few of my original songs for the first time. It was one of the moments I can remember which solidified in my mind that music was the one thing which could make me truly happy.)

I wouldn’t be an angsty young adult if I hadn’t written some sappy young love songs too. My relationships have forever been immortalized in the words of an embarrassingly long Word document of songs on my computer.

But why is music so important to me?

In the words of the introduction to the book I wrote on musical role-modeling in high school, “Music has gotten me through the good times, the bad times, the horrible times, and all the times in-between. It’s been something I can fall back on when life gets hard, and it’s led me to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I’ll ever know. It’s created opportunities for me of which I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and has always managed to put a smile on my face. It’s a part of me I wouldn’t trade for the world. Music nurtures, it teaches, and it grows inside a person until it’s an irremovable part of you. It allows you to believe more firmly in yourself, and helps explain so many situations of which you otherwise couldn’t explain. It’s a feeling you get deep inside—a joy of sorts that reassures you no matter how bad things may seem—how sad the song—those things will resolve. They’ll end on a happy note.”

My biggest role model growing up was my choir director in high school, Mr. Brusubardis. He was famous in our Wisconsin small town for saying really deep, intelligent things to his students. In fact, somewhere I still have a poster my friends and I made my senior year of our favorite quotes of his. But the one thing I remember him saying constantly was that music is a universal language. You can sing in English, Spanish, Greek, Yiddish, or complete nonsense syllables, and people will be able to understand what you’re trying to tell them through the emotion you put into the performance. In many cases, you don’t have to know which are the ‘right’ words to sing when you perform a song. You don’t have to spend hours painstakingly picking out the perfect words; you can just let go, be in the moment, and share what you feel inside with other people. Even if they cannot literally understand you, they will emotionally.

Because of this fact, I would like to welcome you to my 2020/2021 arts, ink blog: Can’t say it? Sing it. 

I’ll be posting about the songwriting process, sharing some of my own work, perhaps featuring other writers I know, and doing my best to relay meaningful information about music I’ve had the pleasure of learning in the last few years of my life.

I had the opportunity to work and learn within SMTD as a voice major my freshman year before switching to a music minor, have done workshops and masterclasses with relatively well-known musicians, and have spent over 12 years now crafting my own personal songwriting style. I also have participated in choral groups, 20+ musical theatre productions, and Michigan A Cappella for 4 years now. I’d be happy to answer any questions about any of my experiences!

Thanks for taking the time to read my slightly-long-winded introduction, and I look forward to posting in the weeks to come!