September Staff Picks: French Rap, Queer Historical Fiction, and Superheroes

Chase Bailey

The past few weeks I’ve been big into French rap, especially an album—Amina—by Lomepal. I’d already been a fan of another one of his albums but decided to try out this one out. I ended up listening to the album on repeat (again and again and again and . . .) while working on a puzzle (re: waiting for a COVID-19 test). There’s a story of a quarantine puzzle scandal for another time, but just know that I spent hours that turned into days listening to this same album.

However, those hours I spent subconsciously soaking in those words did make me realize I was getting better at picking out certain words and lyrics. It was a feel-good moment of “Now see, that minor wasn’t for nothing,” and it gave me a little jolt of renewed interest in studying French post-college.

My favorite on the album, by far, is “Flash” (it’s very calming to me), but some other honorable mentions are “Trop beau” (instrumental version!), “Montfermeil,” “200,” and “Ma Cousin” (live acoustic version!!!––important!).

I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention High Highs to Low Lows by Lolo Zouaï and Nuova Genesi by GAIA as two language-inspired albums I’ve recently etched into my eardrums.

If you have recommendations for me, tweet me (@ChaseBailey1). I will NOT engage in Spotify/Apple Music discourse, but I will graciously and thankfully accept links to either platform.

Carolyn Janecek

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg is a magnificent queering of historical fiction, right down to the harmony between form, content, and characters. The author’s use of footnotes? Divine. Confessions of the Fox make up the fictional memoirs of Jack Sheppard, famed thief and jailbreaker of eighteenth-century London. Dr. Voth is the professor who discovers the lost memoirs and transcribes them. In the footnotes, we begin with just the historical context, move into cheeky remarks, and eventually piece together Dr. Voth’s own struggles in love, academia, his resolution to protect Jack Sheppard’s story, and his connection to Jack as a trans man. Jack’s journey through indentured servitude, falling in love, transitioning . . . made it so difficult to put the book down.

I also have to mention Bess, who is so much more than just a love interest of Jack’s. She is a survivor, a sex worker, a philosopher, and an activist who dreams of reclaiming her indigenous way of life in the midst of Britain’s colonization. Rosenberg encourages his readers to interrogate what authenticity means, what it means to respect a manuscript, and a person’s life behind it. Maybe no story remains completely unaltered, but sometimes, that could be for the best.

Emily Brill-Holland

I am so behind the ball on this one, but I’m loving The Umbrella Academy. Based on the comic series of the same name, written by Gerard Way the lead singer and lyricist of My Chemical Romance. I slept hard on this Netflix series and am slowly working through it. I’m on Season 2 now! (I can’t Google it to give you any further information because I will not cope if I accidentally read a spoiler; I’m already struggling with the angst and tension and not spoiling it for myself). Basically, it combines orphans, superpowers, and a dead dad who both raised the adopted siblings yet also broke them at the same time. Oh, and the apocalypse. You know—those pesky little things.

Thomas Chisholm

I’ve been listening to the new Brockhampton mixtape, Technical Difficulties. At the end of April, the boys started a series of weekly live streams. They ended up releasing nine new songs, which make up the mixtape, as well as previewing a huge swath of unreleased material that will presumably make up the band’s (imminent) sixth studio album. The material released here was made mostly on the fly while the group was under a self-induced quarantine. It’s real rough around the edges, yet it’s the most fun-sounding music the boys have put out since the Saturation days. I have to shout out Matt Champion for upping his game on these new songs. He stole most of the tracks he’s featured on. My favorite songs are probably “Downside” and “Chain On/Hold Me” featuring JPEGmafia. There are samples on some of these songs that aren’t cleared, so don’t expect to see any of them on Spotify.

I’ve also been stuck on the Navy Blue album Àdá Irin from earlier this year. I checked him out because of his features on the last two Earl Sweatshirt projects. If you were a fan of Earl’s 2018 album, Some Rap Songs, than you’ll likely love Àdá Irin too. It features a similar jazzy aesthetic with chopped up samples and a healthy aversion to hooks. The sLUms collective and Navy Blue actually developed this sound that Earl’s record popularized. Àdá Irin features a lot of horns, which really gives the album its own sound. My favorite song is either “Ode2MyLove” or “To Give Praise!” for the aforementioned horns.

Jaclyn Morken

Roseanne A. Brown’s incredible debut, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, is right at the top of my “recommended” list. It’s everything I want from a YA fantasy and then some. In the great city of Ziran, on the eve of a massive festival, we find Malik and Karina. The former is an Eshran refugee risking everything to find work in a city that hates and oppresses his people. The latter is the rebellious princess, stubbornly dreaming of escaping the city walls, but still reeling from a trauma that destroyed her family years before.

Ancient magic, political intrigue, gladiator fights, meddling spirits, deadly pacts—this book has it all. But what really drew me in were these two main characters prepared to give everything to save the people they love. This book does not shy from the debilitating consequences of trauma, prejudice, and widespread injustice, and its central conflicts are so effectively layered and woven together. And at the heart of this novel are characters who feel so real, who draw on their own strengths to struggle through the obstacles—both internal and external—before them. “Abraa! Abraa! Come and gather—a story is about to begin!” I mean, how could I not love a book that opens like that?

Artwork is the album cover for Àdá Irin by Navy Blue.