This post is written by Michael "Farley" McFarland - founder of Second Street LLC. Farley has worked at several recording studios in Chicago, has produced & engineered several works of both his own and others' music.
In today's music industry, it seems there's been a clear increase in the number of people who are able to "do it all." While it is important to hone several skills to boost your own value as a collaborator, I've found that at times, this mentality can isolate somebody from their peers. It's an interesting thought experiment: if somebody can play instruments, write lyrics, sing, rap, produce a record, and mix/master it, why would they even "need" anybody else at all?
As time passes, I've learned that this attitude, while it seems logical, might be detrimental. Being an "independent" artist means finding success without relying on the infrastructure of a corporate-backed major label... not necessarily doing it all on your own as one single person. After all, humans are social creatures, thriving off one another's various energies and perspectives. We have diverse communities, cultures, and social circles to share our expressions with, ultimately creating something larger than the sum of its parts -- isn't that sort of the point of creating art, anyways?
This is why I'm so pleased to find an artist like King Melik, who unabashedly brings along dozens of different creatives to play a part in his new smash-hit album Sanctuary. The project's tracklist is chock-full of features, from heavy hitters in the Chicago scene like Supa Bwe and SONNY (fka Hatesonny), to rising stars like Senite and Gayun Cannon, and many more. King Melik plays his live shows with a full band of musicians, which is somewhat rare for his particular beat-based style of music. He credits a total of twenty-five different people for production or session work on Sanctuary via a thoughtful Instagram post, where he places a special emphasis on giving gratitude to the black women who made it all happen.
With all this buildup, let's take a dive into the work to see how the young King Melik (or "Kizzy" for short) was able to accomplish such a successful team effort on his second LP.
What Does It Sound Like?
Listeners don't have to go much further than the intro to get an idea for the sound of this project: a maximalist, no-holds-barred, Hail Mary pass called "Broken Promises Are Lies," with the longest runtime on the project. Haunting vocals and a gigantic Reese bass open up space for Melik to introduce himself with a vocal performance reminiscent of House of Balloons era The Weeknd. With a ripping guitar solo, cinematic SFX risers, and a choral arrangement, the entire track is spacious, impactful, and almost religious in feel. Tracks like"I hope you had fun last night" and the second half of "Romeo // Juliet" feel equally grandiose. The production does not shy away from slow-building, arpeggiating synth breakdowns (see: every Mike Dean song ever), making for a very patient, pensive listen.
The other side of King Melik's musical style leans towards that of a bona fide pop-rap star. Over catchy guitar or synth loops and jaunty 808's, he effortlessly lays infectious hooks that we might hear over the radio or perhaps sped-up on TikTok (a la Bryson Tiller or iann dior). The two stand-outs in this style are "Mocha" and "Calabasas II." When these tracks are bolstered with live instrumentation like bass guitar, orchestral-style percussion, or even violin (Melik is classically trained), it's game over. The arrangements and lyricism both serve to build something that is larger and more substantial than a simple pop tune.
Experimental delays on the vocals (mixed by Melik himself) make his words hang around like tiny crystals, bouncing from ear-to-ear as they sparkle away. This keeps the whole project feeling fast-paced and nimble, but also, importantly, interesting to the listener's ear -- one perfect bit of satisfying sonics comes on "Angels" at around the 1:20 mark. I won't spoil it, but it's a crazy onomatopoeia sound that made me immediately rewind to hear it again.
What Does It Feel Like?
What's most interesting to me is a comment that the artist made regarding the term "sanctuary" in preparation to his LP release. Although the word itself has a connotation of holiness, Kizzy was clear that sanctuaries do not have to be based in religious faith: "it's a place of refuge...a safe haven designed to provide comfort whenever the universe decides to rein in on the temporary happiness that it provides... by dawn, even the heartless predator eventually subsides to its den."
Upon listening, I imagined this album's sanctuary to be some sort of antique mansion in the hills with large brass chandeliers and cavernous glass rooms that echo when you walk through them. Up the spiral staircase is an ornate room with a king-sized bed, in which a young male swipes on his phone checking his stories and planning his day at 12pm. There is a certain sense of modernity in this music (ambient noises of a car, sound effects of a phone ringing, lyrics about social media, etc.), but also, as I mentioned, sacredness. It takes the familiar story of a rich jet-setting player, but infuses it with depth by giving us a peek into the dark psyche behind it. Sort of like Childish Gambino's Because The Internet, but with a musical flavor completely of its own.
Some of these tracks feel like nights when our protagonist goes out and parties. "No Kizzy" is a complete masterclass in writing, littered with endless, effortless punchlines by King Melik. SONNY does his thing per usual and matches the energy, before Bianca Shaw jumps into a double-time flow that had me looking that like that GIF of Jay-Z bobbing his head. "Zoo" is a booming banger with bars about a luxury lifestyle, and Supa Bwe continues to push bounds of how his altered, unorthodox vocal melody lines can sound (hint: really good).
It takes a village to raise a career... I think that's what they say? But it takes a talented, trustworthy leader for people to buy into a vision. With a project as cohesive and collaborative as Sanctuary, King Melik has proven his mettle at just 21 years old. With a crossover style between moody R&B and pop-rap, he has been traveling and performing all year. As 2022 comes to a close, keep a close watch on what's next for this emerging figure.
Did you give Sanctuary a listen? Let us know what you think about this one.
On The Block...
"Hot Girls Hate Money" - Carliane Tamera
A highly-danceable hit blending a Latin rhythm, tight guitars, and a lovely vocal line. Along with this track comes a fun video (directed and edited by Diego Leon) featuring Tamera spending a day with all her aforementioned girls. She's headed on tour in 2023!
"TAMEKA" - BANDLAND ZZ
After dropping EP's FOE LUCY'S VOL 3 and 4 in February and July, this phenom continues to apply pressure at a dizzying pace by dropping VOL 5 this week. I can't get enough of the drawl and swagger in his voice. Shoutout to Daniel Vargas on the faders!
"FINALS WEEK" - Cldwaterr
Lateef Bridgewater is a talented musician and a photographer at the same damn time. As a part of mega-group Mp3dotcom, Cld brings some posse members along to cut up a loungey jazzy sample. His November EP Pas.time is short, eclectic, and promising.