Oblivion Genre: Hip-Hop; Released: 2014

Madison Stewart ’10


In the music video for “Who Knows,” a standout track from his debut album Oblivion, Madison Stewart walks into an empty club to the melancholy chords of a jazz piano. He wastes no time jumping up onto a table, and with the snap of his fingers the beat drops in. From that point on, it’s hard to turn away. Madison (who performs under the stage name Madison LST) raps with a flow that is paced and poised. His voice has gravelly lows but rises with the rhythm and tempo of the beat. He raps with the eloquence that one would expect from a Reed English major, but if it is sometimes cerebral, it is never nerdy. The result is a positive, uplifting album that walks the razor’s edge between confidence and arrogance.

“I try to share a narrative of a whole-hearted belief in your passion in the face of what I feel can be harsh realities,” said Madison, who wrote his thesis on The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Prof. Pancho Savery [English 1995–]. 

Oblivion demonstrates impressive range, from the alarm-clock vibrancy of “Coming Up” to the introspective questioning of “RainCheck,” but is devoid of the violence and misogyny that has come to characterize so much hip-hop. “I pick my words carefully, and I know that I have an opportunity to speak to a lot of people,” said Madison. “People internalize songs, the words and the message, and I want to say something that’s worth memorizing.”

Madison wrote “Who Knows,” which taps into the universal feeling of being lost, over a long period of time, crafting a message that he knew he himself needed to hear:

Realize that you’re done with dejection
don’t maintain a connection
to the thing that’s got you stressing.
Let the music soothe you and remove you
from the situation that your grief got you glued to.

The “LST” of his stage name stands for “light skin trouble”— a reference to his identity struggles as a mixed youth growing up in Los Angeles, where he was told both that he was too black and too light. Based on this album, it seems fair to say that his critics will pale by comparison.

—Ben Williams ’14