Apple Music launched three months ago today with a tagline – “always on” – that rightly made a big deal of its status as the first ever truly global 24/7 radio station. While we in the UK knew exactly what to expect from the ever enthusiastic Zane Lowe and Rinse FM favourite Julie Adenuga, we had no idea who are what to expect from Beats’ promised array of superstar musician guest presenters. We haven’t been disappointed though – not even close. Dr Dre, Drake, Elton John, St Vincent, Run the Jewels, Josh Homme, Disclosure, Pharrell and Vampire Weekend man Ezra Koeing are just some of the names to have hosted shows on Beats 1, making for some seriously compelling and starry radio. Keonig’s show has focused on straight-up pop hits, favouring the likes of ABBA, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Hot Chocolate. Pharrell’s show OTHERtone has been inevitably slick, with some big name guests including Justin Timberlake and Cara Delevingne. So honourable shout-outs to those guys. But whose show has been the best? Here’s our top five musician presenters so far…
5. Dr Dre – The Pharmacy
Of all of these shows perhaps Dr Dre’s has been arguably the most anticipated. Those expecting to get a glimpse of the man who has largely lurked in the musical shadows since 1999’s colossal ‘2001’ – producing for Eminem and Kendrick Lamar among others and setting up the headphone brand from which Beats 1 grew – might feel let down. The Pharmacy is no intensely personal musical trip into the mind of a rap mastermind but instead a party with friends – it’s loud and busy and full of hip-hop both old and new (Kendrick, 2Pac, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky, Nas and more) and whilst there’s a little bit of direct Dre time it’s minimal and doesn’t contain any great deal of intimacy. But hey – when the tunes are this good, who cares?
4. Josh Homme – Alligator Hour
If you’re looking for a little more one-on-one, getting to know the artist via a show, then Josh Homme’s Alligator Hour could be more for you. Homme speaks slowly and thoughtfully, yet zealously, about a range of music he loves, which so far has included everything from ZZ Top to Metronomy and Can to Outkast. He’s also had Portlandia star Fred Armison as a guest which opened him up even more as the pair shared musical loves and Homme gushed about the “beauty, danger and brutality” of his favourite ever rock band the Stooges. A more recent guest has also included his friend, collaborator and Arctic Monkey’s frontman Alex Turner, who turned in an incredibly deadpan performance discussing deranged notes left in their phones late at night. An eclectic and insightful show and one that will appease die-hard Homme fans greatly as they get to peer into his musical mind.
3. Run The Jewels – WRTJ
Run the Jewells’ WRTJ show relies heavily on the banter-like interplay between Killer Mike and EL-P but in-between these segments is a strong musical radio show, filled with classic and contemporary hip-hop as well as a variety other of genres that have so far taken in tracks from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bjork, Portishead and The Doors. There’s been pretty great exclusives too – our first glimpses at cat remix album Meow The Jewels as well El’s Phillip Glass-influenced track for upcoming Marvel movie Fantastic Four. But it’s the pair’s winning charisma and chemistry that makes WRTJ an essential listen.
Drake’s OVOSOUND’show has been wall-to-wall smooth grooves so far – a haven for fans of the artist, giving us great exclusives and premieres. So far we’ve had his first collaboration with Skepta, a diss track aimed at Meek Mill and plays of a decent blend of homegrown and world talent from Nigerian hip-hop unknown Wizkid to Drizzy’s fellow Toronto native Ramriddlz, whose ‘Sweeterman’ has had an outing or two on OVOSOUND. One of Beats’ biggest name draws – there’s a reason why it was Drake who was chosen by Apple to introduce Apple Music to the world – the ‘Take Care’ rapper is a natural on the airwaves.
The undisputed champ of Beats 1 so far has to be St Vincent and her Mixtape Delivery Service in which members of the public have written to Annie Clark asking for a mixtape. She then selects one each week and hand-picks a suitable playlist. Not only is the show great because of Clark’s fantastically eclectic music taste – Big Black, PJ Harvey, Joy Division, Robert Wyatt, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Brian Eno, Magnetic Fields, Metallica, Smog – but her sincerity and humility as a personality combined with her musical passion make for a great host. Also, Beats 1 so far does feel like a bit of a playground for the rich and famous and Clark is so far the only person to add a bit of normality to the shows by putting the focus on the listeners (so far this has included everything from an 11 year old girl to a woman going on a road trip with her truck driving grandma).
Beats 1 is still in its infancy and likely to expand as time goes on but it’s first month has been an auspicious one, providing some genuinely great radio from a range of interesting artists. The Hip-hop and pop side of the shows is already likely to be creating devoted fans but in the alternative/indie world it still has some spreading out to do if it is to match the vastness of what say BBC Radio 6 offers in terms of variety and quality. But for those wondering if Beats 1 was going to be some fleeting folly for Apple, their first month certainly suggests otherwise.