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J. Cole releases Michael Brown tribute 'Be Free'

Rapper J. Cole is best known for writing songs about lightweight subjects like girls and how tough it is to be a popular and successful rapper, but he’s also proven himself capable of handling heavier topics. On Friday, he became the first major artist to release a song in response to the Michael Brown shooting. “Be Free,” which he posted to SoundCloud early this morning, is a solemn meditation on violence directed at young black men, driven by a looping electric piano figure and a compellingly raw vocal performance that weaves between melodic rapping and straight-up singing.

“Tired of seeing black boys killed,” he wrote in an email to his publicist that she included in her own email about the song. “Tired of seeing black men killed. No more being numb to it. Made this yesterday. Not gonna wait for the album to put it out. It’s now. peace[.]“


This week in Diplo: Banning Kandi, new Jack U and the Mad Decent Block Party rolls on

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Before we get to the wheres and the hows, let’s answer the age-old question: What is a Diplo?

Diplo is a DJ (playing upwards of 300 shows per year), producer (working with Usher, Snoop Lion, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, No Doubt, Beyonce, Madonna, Pharrell, plus more), rapper, songwriter, one half of Jack U (the other half being Skrillex), previously one half (the other half having been Switch) but now one-third of Major Lazer (the other two-thirds being DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire), spokesman (Blackberry), Mad Decent label founder (artists include Dillon Francis, Flosstradamus, Baauer, plus many more), the inspiration behind an Adult Swim cartoon on Cartoon Network (well, alright, it’s a Major Lazer cartoon), entrepreneur, and sometimes model (hello, Alexander Wang campaign). And the list goes on. It has, most likely, expanded since I began typing this.

(Almost two years ago in a GQ interview Diplo, born Thomas Wesley Pentz, called himself “a cultural distributor.” I could have stuck with that.)

To keep track of it all, each week, we’re going to amuse ourselves recounting his various cultural distributions.

Heading into last weekend, Diplo banned kandi from his Mad Decent Block Party tour. (His most recent statement can be found here.) Some people got pretty mad, but Diplo apologized:

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He then pointed out an alternative to those most upset and got on with playing four kandi-free and completely sold-out sets in three days.

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He spent Friday with his favorite Philadelphia ravers,

Saturday with a few of his nearest and dearest New Yorkers out on Coney Island,

and Saturday 2.0 at the MDBP after-party at Webster Hall. Katy Perry was there.

Sunday, the MDBP crew rolled over to Boston, where the venue was less than ideal but the party pressed on.

On the non-live music front: BBC1 Radio broadcast a recent set from Diplo’s residency at XS Nightclub at the Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas, and what did listeners hear at the 29:50 mark? A new Jack U track. He’d discussed the duo’s new mix-tape during a recent Reddit session, and if this tune is any indication of what’s in store, we’re all in for a seriously  good time.

Somehow, he also found time to get to the studio with this group…

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and this one…

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And then curated a SoundCloud “Random White Dude Be On Kiis FM” mix (it’s awesome) in his free time. Feel free to start your weekend early, stream it here.

The Mad Decent Block Party continues this weekend with stops in Toronto, Detroit and Las Vegas. A full list of tour dates and locations can be found here.

'Billboard' Hot 100 recap: Vine stars and a new European import

Vine is beginning to follow in YouTube’s footsteps as an unlikely social-media launchpad for musical talent. Last month, Shawn Mendes—who got his first real break when a six-second clip of him singing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” went viral on the video-sharing platform—debuted his first single, “Life of the Party,” at number 24 on the Hot 100. Mendes had virtually no radio support or traditional marketing, but he does have 3 million followers on Vine, and the single sold 148,000 copies in its first week.

The latest Vine celebrities to land a song on the Hot 100 are Jack and Jack, a pair of recent high school graduates from Omaha, Nebraska who currently have 4.3 million followers on their shared Vine account. Their fan base skews young and female—a profile in their high school newspaper says it “consists almost entirely of 12- to 17-year-old girls,” and in the piece they claim to tailor the content they produce for that demographic. READ FULL STORY

Ladies in white bow to the sun in The Black Keys' 'Weight of Love' video

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The Black Keys’ video for “Fever” featured frontman Dan Auerbach as a televangelist who inspires a, well, fever among his audience members. That televangelist is back in the band’s new video for “Weight of Love”—but this time, he’s on the television screen in a cult’s house. READ FULL STORY

Sam Smith denies Bond theme rumors, talks second album

Rumors have been circulating that Sam Smith is in line to record the next Bond theme, following fellow British retro-soul singer Adele’s turn as the voice of Skyfall. But in a new NME interview he says it’s not happening.

“No, I have no idea what that was about,” he says, “and I know as much as you do. You probably know more than me.” Smith calls recording a Bond theme “something that everyone would love to do,” and adds that Jack White and Alicia Keys’s contribution to Quantum of Solace is his favorite song from the long-running franchise. READ FULL STORY

Kanye West and DJ Million Dollar Mano part ways

Kanye West and his longtime touring DJ Million Dollar Mano have parted ways, according to Mano. READ FULL STORY

Paintings come to life in Arcade Fire's 'You Already Know' video

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Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler was too busy directing the music video for “You Already Know” to actually sing, so he got some help for his parts—from paintings with moving mouths and neon pink tape covering their eyes.

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Chris Walla quits Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla has left the group after 17 years. Yesterday the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger published a brief statement from Walla breaking the news of his departure and providing a brief explanation. “I think I long for the unknown,” he writes. “It might be that simple.”

The band recently wrapped the recording of their eighth album, the first that Walla didn’t produce. He’s also produced albums for Tegan and Sara, the Decemberists, and the Thermals, among others. He released a solo album, Field Manual, in 2008.

“Moving forward,” Walla writes, “my plans are simply to continue making music, producing records, and erring on the side of benevolence and beauty whenever possible. Darkness may find me, but I shall never choose it.”

In their own statement posted to the Death Cab website the band writes, “We’ve had an incredible 17 years of making music with Chris. We are very proud of what we’ve accomplished together, including our 8th studio album which we have just put the finishing touches on. We will miss Chris and wish him all the best in the next chapter of his career. We are excited about sharing new music, and seeing all of you very soon.”

Walla will play his final show with the group Sept. 13 at the Rifflandia Festival in Victoria, British Columbia.

Hear the Afghan Whigs cover 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic'

Over the years the Afghan Whigs have applied their trademark dark and caustic soul-rock sound to a variety of cover songs, from Jesus Christ Superstar‘s “The Temple” to Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes.” During the recording of their latest LP, Do to the Beast, they messed around with the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” but it didn’t make the final cut. “We sort of made a demo of the song and forgot about it,” says frontman Greg Dulli. “And then when I was mixing the album the engineer said, ‘Hey what is this “Every Little Thing” on here?’ He played it for me and I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’ He was like, ‘Did you want to keep that vocal? You could probably sing that vocal better.’ So I re-sang it in December and then forgot about it again.”

“I’m definitely a fan of [that song],” Dulli says, “and I’m a fan of that album in particular. I remember I was driving in the desert with Mark McGuire, who’s a guitar player friend of mind. He’s a young guy and I mentioned something about the Police and he was like, ‘I’ve never heard the Police.’ So I played him Ghost in the Machine and he loved it. I think that probably was the moment, because I played ‘Every Little Thing’ several times, as I’ll do if I’m in the car and have control of the music. I think it’s just a really well-written song that’s always had this kind of spooky melancholic undercurrent to it that I’m a fan of.”

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'Guardians of the Galaxy' soundtrack tops Billboard 200

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Star-Lord would be proud: Guardians of the Galaxy’s soundtrack is currently the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s most prized possession is a mixtape titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1featuring previously recorded songs by the Jackson 5, David Bowie, and the Runaways. This alone makes the soundtrack’s spot on the top of the charts notable—all previous No. 1 soundtracks have featured at least some music recorded just for that film, but all of the Guardians’ tracks were recorded in the ’70s.

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