Sunday, November 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Well the cover was hot...

Some odds and ends:

  • Alabaman Paper Route Records' long awaited Diplo-anchored mixtape, Fear and Loathing in HuntsVegas, is actually a bit of a disappointment for folks like me who thought off the strength of shit like 'Wood Grain' that they were some kind of new-school Three 6 Mafia, but it's insanely well-produced, so be sure to pick that up if you haven't yet or never heard of them until now (unlikely given that anyone who reads me is a rap blog nut, but who knows). Plus, I'm advised that the cast of characters in '07 standouts like 'Rollin' and the aforementioned 'Wood Grain' aren't actually on most of this mixtape, so if this is really just their JV, that changes things. G-Side's new album, Starshipz and Rocketz, though (G-Side being yet another act under the Paper Route umbrella), is kind of a disappointment - again, great production, but it's all very space age and the two rappers are mostly occupied with talking about how they've never seen astronauts in their hood (me neither guys), so as kids they looked up to the nigga with the fattest knot (here our childhoods diverge) - is this supposed to set up some kind of poignant, outer space dreams/all too terrestrial lifestyle contrast, as the cover would suggest? Maybe, but I'm afraid it's not that well thought out, and our heroes are just rapping what they know - namely, moderately tricked out cars, poverty, etc. - over lush beats that totally don't match the subject matter. Plus they're just not very interesting rappers.
  • Kanye's album sucks, you know this. Putting what a poor singer he is to the side (and no Breihan, it's not like Ron Browz at all, Pop Champagne is a fantastic joke record, this is some sanging from the heart we're meant to take seriously, apples and oranges), he can't write songs, write lyrics, write hooks, write bridges, figure out how to avoid coming off like a male version of Lindsey Lohan having a temper tantrum, etc. Oh, and the production on this isn't amazing or anything. It really is like he just walked into the studio and freestyled some shit, finetuned the beats a little, and called it an album. But nice 2003 Neptunes homage on 'Paranoid.' Lord knows we miss the 2003 Neptunes.
  • Freeway announces a month of madness!
  • Jada and Wayne's Death Wish, which samples, I think, Master P's 1997 reissue bonus track, 'Always Look A Man In The Eyes (Before You Kill Him)', is great. Hopefully this will spark off a trend of people rapping over old No Limit shit on mixtapes. Jada's fantastic as always, and Weezy raps like he gives a fuck. Maybe he recorded it before his latest autotune-fueled sizzurp binge (or should that be sizzurp-fueled autotune binge?).
  • Rick Ross freestyles over 'Pop Champagne,' thinks he's so cool that he can get away with calling himself Ricky Rose (accent on the e) and repeating himself 50 times. Might be right.
  • If you haven't read We Eat So Many Shrimp's post on Soulja Boy's shockingly good mixtape work with Gucci Mane, you really should. At least two of these songs are better than anything on the Kanye album.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rick Ross: Better Than Kanye

Dude even dresses better too.

This is how I like my Kanye autotune crapola.

Kanye West f. Rick Ross - Heartless (Unofficial Remix)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Luda Should Retire

"Shouldn't you save up whatever scraps of dignity you have left and RESIGN???"

You know, I don't really have much to say about this. I just want to point out that, while it's widely acknowledged that Luda never made an album befitting of his pretty huge talents, he was at one point one of the best singles artists in rap and a guy capable of going off over any beat and hanging with any rapper. Now I shudder when his shit comes on the radio. Even my kid sister said the other day that 'What Them Girls Like' could use a guest verse or something to break up the Luda monotony. That never would've happened five years ago. As far as turning into a corporate emptied-out shell of himself, only Busta and Jay can compete.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Let's Dissect Poor Soulja Boy Some More

So just when I attack Soulja Boy for leading the rap of placelessness movement (well, not really attack, point out that that's where we're headed and he's out in front of that shit), what does Soulja do? He releases a video and song that's his most rooted in place yet. An attempt to appeal to people who aren't into all that pop shit? You bet. What do we see a mere three seconds into the video? Soulja's... Georgia license plates! On his Georgia registered black Hummer! For those of you who think that Soulja's some pop artist, let's compare his work to Britney Spears, etc., note how many uniquely hip-hop tropes get ticked off in the first minute of this song. License plates, of course, are huge in rap. See Jeezy's classic:

Minus the bullshit, life's great
Just got a camera in the PEACH in my license plate*

Or Prodigy's recent 'New York Shit' where he goes:

E'ry hoe wanna know, who the New York kid?

With the New York plates, on the bulletproof truck
Better chill or get kil't by a New Yorker**

What it is, of course, is a way to rep where you're from while at the same time saying, I'm rich, I drive expensive shit. Rap's full of all these little funny things that you don't think about that other types of music just don't have. I mean, who knows, maybe the idiots who made 'Sweet Home Alabama' talked about their Alabama plates. But I doubt it. So anyway, Soulja's pulling out the plates.

The next thing worth noticing is he's got a little crew backing him up on the dance moves. We'll come back to that. Then he's outdoors out on this weird lawn space in the autumn light that's graced so many southern rap videos of the recent past (think 'It's Goin Down,' Yung Wun's classic 'Tear It Up,' Ying Yang's justly forgotten 'What's Happenin,' Project's 'Good Googly Moogly'). What is it that southern rappers love so much about autumn light? Maybe it's just me, but I'd say because it's warm and fuzzy and summons up feelings of community. Note that all these autumn light videos feature A LOT OF PEOPLE, often including cute little children, usually supposed to represent folks from the rapper's hood. Soulja doesn't have that option, having openly shitted on his hood and exchanged it for the lavishes of Atlanta, but he's still got all these kids in the video. But, since they can't be a bunch of local Atlantans, because Soulja's not from there, they're... fans running to see a Soulja Boy show. Fans who spontaneously burst out into Soulja Boy's dance in highly organized fashion. Out on a lawn. I mean, the tensions between the "rapper in his hood surrounded by adoring neighbors proud to see a guy from their hood made it" model and the limitations of what Soulja, as a McMansion-residing transplant can actually do with any kind of honesty are just bursting at the seams.

Then Soulja starts rapping, and he starts rapping about... the different ways people in different states address him! New Yorkers tell him what's good son. Chicagoans ask him what's up joe. In Dallas they say what's up bro. In Memphis they say what's up mayne. Where have we heard this before??? Try, I'm blanking, tell me in the comments, but the idea of cataloguing the different salutations dudes in different cities and countries use to say whatup to the rapper has to have been done a hundred times. (50 liked to do this a lot.) And then, most interestingly, we learn what people say to him when he goes back to Mississippi. What is this all about? Telling you, the listener, that all hoods respect and salute Soulja Boy, and more importantly, respect him in their authentic, unique ways. (Including his home state that he just shitted on. It was just a joke.) Not all cities, all hoods. Important difference. We're not talking about, you know, white people here. The whole concert thread, by the way, has been dropped completely by this point.

We've got a political message! "VOTE NOW" t-shirts. Again, sort of a concession to the more traditional hip-hop audience. In September, when this video was shot, voting was, you know, a big deal in the black community. (This year Lil Flip could never have gotten away with the one good line he had on this '06 mixtape called I'm A Baller - namely "while y'all was talkin about Vote Or Die [Flip's voice drips with contempt as he says Vote Or Die]/I was chillin in my mansion, smokin lye." Poor John Kerry.)

Now Soulja Boy and his crew (which has grown in size from 3 to about 15 in the last minute) are playing football. Girls are cheering. A couple fleeting closeups of models but not too many to mess-up the neighborhood-but-it's-not-a-neighborhood vibe. Note that whenever a rapper does one of these football videos, it's always set up as a sandlot/high school game. More community and togetherness. Soulja promises that if we cross S.O.D. - that's the name of his crew - "we gonna knock your lights out." There's a ton of "we" going on in this video.

Now it's getting dark. Soulja's "throwing out money like your boy got a frisbee." Got that one from Chamillionaire. Also note that he's "our" boy. He's still in the stadium. Spelling his name. Says he's "for the kids like Disney." Also like Wu-Tang, if ODB is to be believed. Hundreds if not thousands of fans in the stands, all on their feet, dancing.

You can download 'Bird Walk' here.

* Stop sleeping on Jeezy's lyrics, by the way. They're good. It's cliched to say, but don't be giving Common and Kanye passes for their wack punchlines and beat up on Jeezy for his. (Today's Common and today's Jeezy - way more similarities than meet the eye. Think about it.)
** I hate Prodigy for the non-rhyming mess he's become, but that was really one of his best non-rhyming moments the past few years. Like it's one thing to be like, New York this, New York that, but saying you're a "New Yorker" - that's a whole different level of repping. Seriously. And the way he puts the emphasis on 'Yorker' makes the line what it is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Hopped Out Of Bed...

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Soulja Boy lately. I'm not sure what else is to be be said that hasn't been said already in Weiss's incisive essay on the subject, but bear with me. Consider Soulja's video for his latest shelved single, "Turn My Swag On," sort of a way dumber version of T.I.'s "What You Know" (not that "What You Know" was ever much more than a great beat, a great hook, and some just-okay-enough-to-not-ruin-the-record verses). There are a few things about this video and song that really interest me.

First, note the back then/look at me now contrast set up at the 0:16 mark. This is a staple of rap music videos and rap lyrics in general; in fact, the whole treatment of this video is a pretty blatant ripoff of the video for Mike Jones's "Back Then". But there's a novel twist. When Soulja Boy's portrayed in his bummy broke days in drab black and white, there's some text on the screen. It reads, "MISSISSIPPI 2006." Flash forward, and we're in a way plusher house in "ATLANTA 2008." Now, rappers do videos about moving to nicer neighborhoods all the time, from the hood to the suburbs neighboring that hood. Other rappers have lied about their origins, pretended to be from here when they were really from there. Still others have moved far away from where they came from while continuing to rep their old hometown. But - and I could be wrong - we've never had a rapper shit on his home state like Soulja Boy does here. Dude shits on it so much he doesn't even say what town in Mississippi he came from. It's just "MISSISSIPPI," and that says all you need to know about how much his life sucked before the deal. As for Atlanta, it's not like he's repping the place, proud to be an Atlantan - Atlanta in the video is just another marker of his success, like the diamonds he pours out of his cereal box. It's a town where "rich niggas" like Soulja Boy go to live when they're wealthy enough to escape from whatever squalid corner of the South they came from. It might as well be Miami, might as well be New York, might as well be LA.

So what does this all mean? That in 2008, we're starting to move past the "rep yo hood" mentality of 99.99% of the last 20 years of rap. Even DJ Khaled, Mr. "We Global," is intensely rooted in Miami, however vague and purely notional Khaled's Miami has increasingly become. Soulja Boy has no home, no hood to rep. He's a citizen of the Internet, a product of cheap production software and social networking sites far more than he's a product of "his environment," and he's not ashamed at all to tell you how little he cared for his old digs. In a way it's refreshingly honest, better than hearing some dude tell you how he bleeds Marcy (or Queensbridge or the Nolia or Holygrove or Bankhead or Compton or Southside Queens) when he hasn't been there in years, but it's also a little disturbing. If we're headed towards a world where rap is no longer grounded in place, what will rap be about?


In a way you can't blame Soulja Boy. How would you act if you were catapulted from obscurity to international celebrity and obscene riches, all on the back of a 3:42 dance record it took you a few minutes to make? Muse on the absurdity of life? Read Camus' The Stranger? (One of the main characters, after all, is called 'The Arab.')


I got a question, why they hatin on me
I got a question, why they hatin on me
Ain't did nothin to 'em, but count this money
And put my team on, now my whole clique stuntin -
Soulja Boy

It's an excellent question. To which Soulja Boy's haters would reply, "you're destroying hip-hop," or something a little more nuanced but in the same vein. But here's the thing: in the post-lyrical rap world that Soulja Boy inhabits, there is no such thing as crossing over or faking the funk. There isn't really a funk to fake. If there were, it would probably have to do with lying about how much money you have or wearing a fake chain (or fake Bapes!). When Diddy railed against haters, he was talking to guys like Jeru*, but he was mainly just talking about jealous dudes at the club. Soulja's not talking to them. He's talking to you. He acknowledges all the people who say he's fucking up hip-hop and basically says, "so what? How does that hurt you financially? This lyrical bullshit - why is that worth preserving? If you say your real hip-hop's all about the people, and what the people want is me, doesn't that dead your argument?" Even Dem Franchize Boyz got more defensive than this. Yes, it's a post-lyrical world, and I'm sure we'll hear some great post-lyrical works before the next movement comes around, but please believe something important's being lost in the transition.

Finally, the slavery shit. In a rap world where the ever-ambiguous but extremely powerful organizing principle of Realness is rapidly being replaced by How Much You Are Worth and How Much You Sell** (it's worth noting that the foremost "political" rap record of the year isn't about police brutality, crazy incarceration rates, or what have you, but the recession***), what Soulja Boy said frankly makes a ton of sense from his extremely myopic perspective. For the few descendants of the slaves as fortunate as Soulja Boy, slavery worked out pretty well. Not only is he rich (shit, if you want to get scientific, not only would he not exist if not for the Middle Passage), he's gotten rich off of playing off a lot of the racist stereotypes that slavery engendered in the first place. Soulja Boy's comments, like Dipset's strange fascination with Al-Qaeda, are just the tip of an increasingly depoliticized rap iceberg.

* Of course, Big went at Jeru on "Kick In The Door" too. Besides, Jeru was wrong.
** This is a bit of a sweeping statement. But what I mean is this. In, say, 1995, if you asked a bunch of rappers what was the most important thing for a rapper to be, their answers by and large would be "real." Whatever that meant. See KRS's "it's not about a salary, it's all about reality," approvingly sampled by Dre (two artists you'd think don't have much in common) on 'Gangsta Gangsta.' Today, I think you'd get very different answers. KRS's line has been flipped. When Khaled and his crew claim that "we the best," what more are they even saying than "we sell a lot of records and ringtones"? When Soulja Boy told MTV that in his opinion he should've been ranked #1 on their stupid "Hottest MC's In The Game" list - MC's, not urban radio artists, MC's - how'd he justify that claim? "
He said he is the best-selling online, highest-ranking on the Web and the most publicized rapper worldwide right now."**** Even back in '04, we were getting a ton of this shit with 50's "fuck who's the nicer rapper, I sell millions more records than you" approach to dissing everyone in New York. Compare that to Jay's attacks on Nas just three years earlier. He didn't say, Nastradamus didn't sell, check out the Soundscans - he said, that garbage did sell, but it was garbage. The standards by which rappers define themselves have changed.
*** Although Jeezy's politics are so muddled that it's not clear he even distinguishes between this stuff, or realizes that Bush didn't just decide one day to have a recession to screw over black people. (Not to say that Bush has been a great steward of our economy or anything.)
**** Also note, in this regard, Soulja's legitimately cringe-worthy claim on this very song that "when I was 9 years old, I put this in my head/ear [I can't tell which] that I'm a die for this gold."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gangsta Boogie

See, shit like this is what's missing from today's attempts at boom-bap revivalism. Sing-along shouted hooks with the crew. Warmth. Dope bass. Totally unironic quests for gangsta bitches. Sentiment that isn't too emo-tionally sentimental. I went to see what the Termanology obligatory female song sounded like, just for comparison, and it's this gross "I don't make stacks when I'm in the sack," gotta leave you and go on my lame indy rap tour so I can get you out the hood and buy you a tacky Mcmansion shit, that owes way more to crap like Trey Songz' second single 'Gotta Go' and scenes from Lil Flip music videos than it does to anything in the tradition he's supposedly reviving. How did that whole lame subgenre ever get off the ground? Probably because (a) some rappers don't know how to rap about anything but "making stacks" these days, it's just their most comfortable subject, so even their "songz for the ladeez" turn into money talk, and (b) it's this obnoxious way to fool you, the gullible male listener, into thinking the rapper's really getting some cuz look, this bitch is begging him to stay and dude is so sexually satisfied that he's turning her down. Also an opportunity for the rapper to gratuitiously brag about how great his anorexic boom-bap ass is at sex.

You can listen to Termanology's garbage-ass "Please Don't Go" here. If you're into production, it does have a pretty sample maybe you could retool for better purposes.

Shark Singa

I guess Akon is just biting Kells wholesale now? He's really got it nailed, from the ridiculously corny metaphors to the phrasing to the distinctly Kellsian melody to the background vocals on the high notes ["dress (dress)"]. But there's still something missing... it's too controlled, somehow. You can tell Akon knows it's all a corny joke. Whereas with Kells you're never entirely sure. That happens, I guess, when you're a total lunatic.

Download 'MP3 Me & U' here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blame The Teachers' Unions For Making Him Into A Monster


*That's a link, by the way.

A Non-Rap Related Survey About Race and Politics

So I have a thorny point in a law review article I'm writing, and would appreciate your input. After the funny-looking picture, I give some explanation of what these questions are relevant to.

1. Suppose someone told you that in any election, there is a candidate whom 70% of your race supports. Would you find that statement offensive? (Not just factually inaccurate, offensive.)

Suppose someone told you that in any election, there is a candidate whom 85% of your race supports. Would you find that statement offensive?

If the answers to 1 and 2 are no, how high a number do you have to fill in the blank to make this statement offensive: ___% of your race all vote for the same candidates. Or does no number, even 100, make it an offensive statement?

4. If any version of the statement offends you (i.e. "99% of blacks vote Democratic" - false statement, of course), why?

Above is the famous 12th District of North Carolina, as it existed in 1992. A few facts about the 12th District:

  • It was 57% black.
  • It was one of two new majority-black districts the NC State Legislature drew in 1990.
  • Between the post-Civil War years and 1992, North Carolina had no black Congressmen.
  • North Carolina was, in 1990, about 20% black.
  • In 1992, this and the 1st District elected NC's first black Congressmen in over a century.
  • The district was designed to be a majority-black district.
  • It was designed to elect a "candidate of choice" of the black community.
  • It's so funny-looking because, in part, black population in North Carolina is relatively dispersed, so in order to make two majority-black districts, they really had to work at it.
  • The Supreme Court found it unconstitutional, and did so in part because:
It reinforces the perception that members of the same racial group--regardless of their age, education, economic status, or the community in which the live--think alike, share the same political interests, and will prefer the same candidates at the polls. (Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. at 649.)

Now, as you'll notice, our judicial overlords were pretty vague about the "perceptions" this district reinforced. How alike is alike? How same is the same? My contention is that this district clearly sends the message that blacks and whites generally prefer different candidates, but that (a) that is not an offensive message (partly because in North Carolina it's true), and that what would be an offensive message - that 100% of blacks or whites support the same candidate, or even that 99% of blacks and whites support the same candidate - is clearly a message this district didn't send.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Theses

Before Jeezy was stuntin on Martin Luther, Martin Luther was stuntin on dem popes.

I think there's a lack of clarity as to my general aims, intent, and beliefs about this rap shit, so I thought I'd clarify. Martin Luther style.

1. The canon's about right.

1.1. DJ Premier, not Timbaland, Mannie Fresh or even Dr. Dre, is the greatest rap producer. Ever.

1.2. Something like The Infamous or Illmatic is probably the greatest rap album ever, though admittedly it's pretty nonsensical to speak of the greatest rapper or rap album of all time.

1.3. Though canon revisionism is helpful in that there is some truly classic material that's traditionally been underrated from overlooked regions like the South and Midwest, and hated on labels like Cash Money, post-Biggie Bad Boy, and yes, No Limit Records, the canon's the canon for a reason, and there really is a difference in quality between something like 400 Degreez and Ready To Die, as great as 400 Degreez is.

2. Rap ain't what it used to be.

2.1. So for instance, though Wayne probably is the best rapper alive (or Z-Ro if you prefer - I'd throw Ghostface in here too but it's tough to argue for him after the exercise in comfortable mediocrity that was Big Doe Rehab), it's the height of folly to argue that Wayne is in any way comparable to the great rappers of the past. The situation we're in now is like if, five years ago, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, McGrady, LeBron, Webber, Dirk, and about 20 other guys died in a plane crash, leaving Steve Francis as the best basketball player alive. Or, take a real-life example. For those of you who are serious about movies, do you think there's a single director in America, currently doing good work and not just resting on his 70s laurels, who people will really care about 50 years from now? It's the same with rap.

2.1.1. The dumbest shit is when certain famous bloggers, in their attempts to defend Wayne and the like, go rewrite history and say that in their opinion, the best rappers of the early-mid 90s weren't Nas or Prodigy, but rather guys like Kool Keith and Grand Puba and Snoop and ODB, and Wayne's just carrying on that tradition. He is, yes (though they were substantially better), but Grand Puba simply wasn't as good as some of his peers. If you just listen to rap for the goofy post-lyrical types with kooky flows, you're really missing out on the bigger picture.

2.2. On the other hand, it's also the height of folly when people, in their attempts to prove that real hip-hop is still alive and well, say that Wayne or guys of his ilk are not the best rappers alive, but rather Immortal Technique or Aesop Rock or Lupe or even someone a little more mainstream like post-Stillmatic Nas or post-retirement Jay is. (There are people over on Nah Right who do the latter. Crazy, I know.) You've got to be insane to think that someone rapping for an audience of 200,000 white nerds is the best rapper out, or that there isn't a huge, obscene, qualitative dropoff between old Nas or old Jay and today's Nas or today's Jay. It's like loyal fans of some aging athlete who refuse to admit he's on the downswing and insist on pointing to his occasional great games, which increasingly become fewer and farther between.

3. It's probably not coming back either.

4. History, in the short term at least, is a one way street.

5. Though many, if not most, of the truly great works of rap fall squarely within the Purist East Coast Sample Based Boom-Bappy Goodness Tradition, it is paradoxically this tradition that today bears the least fruit. The worst rap is the rap that tries to bring the Golden Age (whichever Age that was for you) back, musically (this includes the kind of flow you use, flow's ultimately a musical element), lyrically, or thematically.

5.1. Like any rule, there are exceptions. Black Milk really isn't one (sorry); Ghostface, though, definitely is. (So are Styles's horribly slept-on mixtapes, on which a post is forthcoming.) Of course, this doesn't show you that the Boom-Bappy Moment hasn't passed so much as just that Ghostface is still living and capable of doing good work. We made the switchover from Impressionism to Modern Art around 1900, but there were still some very accomplished Impressionists who kept doing great stuff past that point. Monet himself lived and worked up to 1926. Didn't mean the movement hadn't moved on.

5.2. It is not just a freak coincidence or a sign of what dicks A&R's are these days that the self-appointed saviors of East Coast rap have been getting their albums pushed back for the past four years, but rather, a sign of how exhausted the style they represent is. Consider how bad the first singles off these eternally pushed-back projects were. "Fitted Hat Low," "Bang It Out," "Gettin Gwap," "Gangsta Party" (feat. Nate Dogg), "Pain In My Life"... "C'mon Baby" was alright, but more because of the beat than anything else. And think about how bad the excuses for these crappy songs were. "Oh, the label made me do a song with Nate Dogg. About partying. It couldn't help but suck." Gee, Snoop seemed to do alright given those constraints. Guru made party records. Show and AG made party records. KRS made party records. What kind of emcee are you if you're incapable of making a single or getting spins in the club?

6. Even though rap's a shadow of what it used to be and doesn't promise to improve much, it's still worth listening to. However limited a Wayne, Jeezy, Z-Ro, Beans, or whoever may be, it still beats the emasculating shit that passes for rock these days. Or Kanye.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ace Hood: Gutta: Album Review

Ace Hood, Gutta (Def Jam?! You signed this guy??? 2008)

Let me say, first of all, READ THE POST BEFORE THIS ONE. It's kinda interesting, and I didn't want to step on it but I had to get this out of the way. I'm not gonna lie; I barely listened to this album. You can see why they signed him; he's like a way more skilled version of Plies (high praise, I know) with a way higher-pitched voice. He killed the Make It Rain remix. [Or maybe that was Ace Mac??? Who can tell the difference these days?] But he's really good-natured and uncharismatic and boring and can't match the ignorance of these supremely ignorant beats. Leading the whole thing to sound like a really bad DJ Khaled album. As a huge Port of Miami fan, I hoped this would work along similar lines, but Ace just can't bring the ignorance like Rawws. I know that sounds like it doesn't make sense, but imagine, say, a Runners-produced Nas album and I think you'll see the problem. You need to bring a certain something to the table to work over these sorts of beats, and Ace doesn't have it.


The melodramatic intro that every southern album of this sort's gotta have. This is like really bad Shawty Redd. Ace is competent. Eminently skippable.


Just what you'd expect from an Ace Hood, Akon-featuring, Runners-produced song. Nothing more, nothing less. Especially nothing more. Like a way less inspired version of 'Out Here Grindin' (which is so infinitely superior to 'We Takin Over,' but another post for another day, my friends).


Drumma Boy's great, he drops a pleasant enough, upbeat little beat here. What's really, really weird though is that Ace plays this song as a tribute to 'Put On'. Not only does he do a perfect bite of Jeezy's flow, he recycles half his lyrics, subbing in different words here and there. Seriously, it's like a 'Put On' cover. I'm not sure what he was thinking; I thought we all agreed that Jeezy's not even very good on that song. (Well, jesus shuttlesworth and I agree, anyway.)


What a lame Gold Ru$h must be. Not only is he called Gold Ru$h, he sampled Turn The Beat Around for this shit. Didn't even flip it, just added some Khaled-bap drums. This song is really sad. Trick Daddy, formerly a great rapper, is used as Ace's hypeman/sing-along partner. It literally almost brought tears to my eyes to hear Trick moan "I'm making money" after Ace goes "I'm making money," and "oh what a feelin" after Ace goes "oh what a feelin." Reminds me of that story about Ronald Reagan's acting career drying up and having to sing and dance in some shitty Vegas vaudeville show to pay the bills. (Yeah, that really happened. See here at the 9:10 mark.) He does a little verse too, and it's a relief to hear him rapping at first after Ace's mediocrity, but then he basically just jacks 8Ball's verse/flow from 'Don't Want No Drama.' T-Double, I hate to hear you like this. Get well.


Cheap synthy beat. What else is new. R. City is apparently a reggae singer from the Virgin Islands. He wrote Sean Kingston's "Take You There." His hook on this is aight. Ace is still using Jeezy's 'Put On' flow. So strange. You keep waiting for Ace to say something funny or ignorant or clever but he won't. All he does is competently rap about getting money and the haters and how Gutta is his religion. Whatever.


You know it's bad when you're happy to hear Khaled. Ace switches it up on here a little. The Runners do their best to provide thrills. T-Pain's likeable enough. Ross is great. Dude's a real team player, he devotes half of his verse to talking about how gutta Ace is and shit. But make no mistake, this is no 'Hustlin,' or even a 'The Boss' (to say nothing of POM's 'Boss' - what a fun song).


The Inkredibles aren't incredible, but they're pretty good. They've got the Paula DeAnda's first single synths going in here. This song had huge potential. Could have been a Yung Bergian pop-rap fest. But does every big label southern album need a Trey Songz-featuring chick song? This shits on Jeezy's version, but Ace doesn't bring anything to the table. Let me break that down, actually. There are a couple routes you can go on a big label southern chick song. You can go nasty. Think T.I.'s 'Let's Get Away.' Ace refuses to do that, the most he'll say is "I never cuddle, I keep it gutta in those sheets." You can brag about how expensive the girl's bags are; Ross did this brilliantly on 'Money Make Me Come.' Ace doesn't go there. You can go all sentimental and real detailed and narrative. Ross has done this successfully on a ton of shit, most recently 'Here I Am.' Ace refuses to do that too. All we get are generalities; he'll be the Clyde to her Bonnie, the Jay to her Beyonce, etc. Failure.


Interesting vocal sample here from the guy who brought you TS's 'Take Me Home.' I'm not sure who this is, but it's some sort of angsty late 50s, early 60s oldies shit. Cool idea. Although the words don't match up at all with the song (the guy keeps crooning, "good for himmmmm, he's got her"). Ace tries to do the whole defiant, "the Feds won't catch me" shit, but he's too nice a guy.


Acoustic guitar beats always win. Plies kills this. Seriously. Just an extended hook, but he kills. Occasionally he's not total garbage like that. Ace bitches about how he got a girl pregnant and various other stressful situations. He should've just given the whole song to Plies, the way Kanye wisely gave a track to Common on Late Registration.


Again, the Inkredibles are pretty good. They've got some weird sounds on here, sound like a cross between computer beeps and flutes. Ace - well he's got money ova here.


This had to come from the budget Shawty Redd line. You never would've known this wasn't by one of the many sucky producers on the disc. Ace is so rich/driving so fast he can't see y'all. Or you can't see him. Whatever whatever.


Again, The Inkredibles - they're aight! Don't come around Ace's way talking all that shit. He'll GET YOU. Coming out of Ace's mouth, it sounds like an offer to play a game of Frisbee Golf.


The Inkredibles - they're versatile! Lloyd's stock keeps rising. 'Girls All Around The World' owned the summer. He's okay here. Ace tries to go nasty. Offers to beat it from the back in his jeans and Timb boots until the object of his affections feels like fruit juice (whaaa?). I didn't know Floridians dressed that way. What do I know.


How Dre gets to date Milian I have no idea. I guess she knows he won't cheat on her. Anyway... Ace is from the ghetto! He tries the repeating his name trick here ("Ace, Ace, Ace, Ace"). Even that isn't amusing when he does it. Nothing Ace Hood does is amusing.


DJ Infamous made 'Mr. Carter' and 'La La' (the good one). This should be good. And it is! Bouncy piano line, organs, some cute Hard Knock Life sing-along kids on the hook, and Ace gets personal. Talking about how he made it and got signed. Thanks Khaled for putting him on. I love how after 15 songs of talking about how he sells dope when he's not busy rapping, he admits that he quit a promising basketball career to become a rapper. Dude, no wonder your drug dealing raps are so boring. You never lived that life and you're not creative enough to imagine what it would've been like if you had. See how much better you get when you stick to the truth? I wouldn't say this is great, but it's fairly touching. Especially after all the crap that came before it.


Rappers with personalities! The Inkredibles are so thorough they even changed their beat up a little for the remix. (Although adding these gothic synth lines to the verses like there's this big sense of URGENCY when it's a chick song makes very little sense, but points for switching things up at least.) They're easily the best thing about the album, and they're not even all that good. Juelz does one of those verses where you can't tell whether he's rapping about a woman or a gun. I think he gives it away at the end, but it's too close to call.

Best songs: Cash Flow, Top Of The World. Strangest song: Get Em Up. Saddest song: Gutta. iPod worthy songs: Probably none, but if you're a huge connoisseur of the "I'm here, I made it!" genre, purchase Top Of The World from your local mp3 dealer. And if you're really, really into staying up on emerging southern producers, check out The Inkredibles' work on here, it's pretty decent. [Edit: I change my mind. Cash Flow is iPod worthy. I wasn't in the greatest mood when I wrote this, and I'm a sucker for big stupid bangers like that. Still, the song would be 10 times better if Ace wasn't on it.]

No Rapper Left Behind, or, The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Check out the shameless use of Billy the Black Boy.

People tend to forget that back when Bush was on the stump in 2000, education reform, tax cuts, and a less interventionist foreign policy were his biggest issues - in that order. Obviously the latter didn't quite pan out the way he promised, the former was anywhere between mildly effective to a disaster, depending on which education wonk you trust, and the tax cuts kinda blew us up fiscally. And yes, I'm still a Republican (albeit an Obama voter). But anyway, back in 2000, one of Bush's more appealing rhetorical tropes was the soft bigotry of low expectations (though it was always agonizing to hear him stumble over those big words). The idea being that, instead of just saying, look, inner-city/low-income rural boys and girls can't be held to very exacting standards, let's just pass them through and get them diplomas as best we can (you see where this got Sarah Palin), there should be some thresholds in the system for going from one grade to the next, and that low expectations in this regard were a sort of softcore bigotry, however benignly intended said low expectations were. Well, No Child Left Behind probably hasn't worked out so well, but the idea, at least, that it's wrong, and in some ways bigoted, to tacitly have a different set of standards for kids in low-income neighborhoods than the standards kids are held to in high-income neighborhoods is still a compelling one to me anyway. Though I can certainly see the counterarguments.

So what's the connection to rap? Well, the other day I was talking to a blogger type, and this blogger was defending their unironic appreciaton of Three 6 Mafia. And I was like, how can you appreciate them on a completely unironic level? Crunchy Black shows every sign of being retarded. Like if you met Crunchy Black, would you not laugh at him? A little? Isn't part of the entertainment value of Three 6 just how nuts and stereotypically ghetto CB is? And blogger type is like, no not at all, in fact, maybe he's faking it. So okay, I can't argue with someone who thinks a guy who once said he's getting bigger like a fucking picture was doing it as some sort of performance art joke. So the conversation turns to Nas, and blogger type mentions that Nas is really sort of dumb. Now, let me be the first to say, I couldn't agree more. Nas was and to an extent still is a brilliant writer, but, like a lot of great writers, often has no clue what he's talking about, is constantly contradicting himself, or just isn't even sure what he thinks about anything. See the Untitled fiasco. And anyone who goes on CNN and says that blacks will lose their right to vote when certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act expire in 23 years (the ones that really matter are permanent) deserves to be sent back to high school. But here and elsewhere, I sense a double standard in how people evaluate rappers. If a rapper explicitly claims to be bright, a lyricist, conscious, or political, or if people do it for him, he's held to a ton of scrutiny and often dismissed as just plain stupid. If a rapper does not do these things, doesn't have critics singing his intellectual praises, or is just simply from da souf, it's not cool to call him out for being dumb, paranoid, ignorant, or what have you. Because what more should you expect from a rapper, who, after all, probably grew up in an environment less than conducive to higher learning - and besides, couldn't it be seen as, perish the thought, racist if you went after some of these dudes? That's the thesis; let's take up some examples.

Common. Oh, Common. Common is so hated on for his granola politics that hating on Common's politics has become a microcottage industry. You've all seen the posts, the essays, the reviews; I don't need links for this shit. Now, I'm on board with the rap 1000%, it's just that we're not holding other rappers to the same standard. In fact, at this point, let me tell you my personal Common's stupid politics story. Here at Duke, you might have heard, a stripper accused some lacrosse players of raping her. Turned out there wasn't much evidence for that, though she still says it happened, and it got thrown out. Now, Common was on stage somewhere during all this and freestyled, "you know I never get lost, yo fuck them damn niggas from Duke Lacrosse." A year later, he comes to perform on Last Day Of Classes. By then the players were exonerated and the DA who ran the case was facing disbarment for ethics charges. So a fair amount of the students were angry that Common was even coming to perform, and he knew he had to make some sort of apology. So, with everybody drunk, Common goes, "yo, I just want to say, that I believe in what's right - and I DON'T believe in what's WRONG. I believe the guilty should be punished - and the innocent should go FREE!!!" And then he went into a rousing performance of Testify. And that's the vacuity of Common's politics in a nutshell.

Plies. Now I know you'll all say, "but Tray, no one defends Plies," but this is not true! Plies's "100 Years" was ranked by no less than the n, the o, the z as the thirteenth best song of 2007 and got plenty of love elsewhere. Me myself, I can name fourteen
Freeway songs better than "100 Years" that came out in 2007. "100 Years," as you may recall, is a song about how pussy-ass crackers give niggas a hundred years in prison, or as Plies puts it, pooseyahhcraakas gihaniggaahunniyeaaa. Putting aside the fact that the first two lines of the song rhyme fihteen (how many years Plies's friend got) with se'enteen (how old he was at the time), that the next couple lines rhyme thang with thang, that the first verse alone mentions crackas and niggas no less than 13 times, a mark Birdman himself would be proud of, that Plies seems to go out of his way to rap in an incomprehensible accent when he doesn't sound that way at all in interviews, AND that the video is full of these downright racist shots of cracka prosecutors cheesing over seeing some kid getting sent to jail - putting aside, that is, that even if Plies had a really great point here, his song would still be the least eloquent case for that point imaginable - the concept of the song, that America is not only a nation that overincarcerates (true), but that crackers are in league to throw Plies and everyone he knows in jail for centuries ("crackers owe each other favors, they'll swap ya out") is inflammatory, wrong, and blithely ignores the fact that there are a ton of white people in jail and a ton of black prosecutors, judges, police, and lawmakers these days too in order to make out this Manichean evil sentencing cracker vs. virtuous lawbreaking nigga dichotomy (it's cute how all the crimes mentioned in the song that get these draconian penalties are supposed to be petty and minor, but really aren't, like shooting someone in the leg, or selling 4 kilos of coke, or "breakin in a bitch house"). At the very least, it's a little halfbaked, a la Nasir; at worst it's pretty bigoted. But people are reluctant to point this out, or to point out that Plies, seemingly voluntarily, chooses to rap like he has Down's Syndrome. (Bragging that you'll never buy a Rolls Royce because you can't fit huge tires on it that only make you look retarded, as he did on 'I'm So Hood,' isn't so great either.)

Jeezy. Now I know I wrote an epically long post a few months ago defending My President Is Black for being way more profound than it looked, and we all know whose song won out in the Obama suckoff race, so I'm looking pretty good on that one. (Nas lost.) But still. The Recession was garbage, and Weiss was virtually the only one to take that shit to task. (And Doc too, in this "he's a trickle-down economist!" way, but frankly I didn't understand what the fuck Doc was saying, and Prefixmag shitted on it, but took him to task for just the wrong reasons - "idle materialism" on the best song on the record! Politics = materialism people! Get in the game!) Otherwise, it got sucked off in some really unexpected quarters - unexpected to me only because the thing sucked musically and usually these guys don't put up with mediocre beats. Village Voice said Jeezy was "the master of populism," not entirely ironically; good old Breihan enthuses that it's "so... thorough and realized." Sure (not), but what the fuck was he saying? Anything? Nothing? Basically, the world is crazy, too much incarceration, Bush is trying to send a message to each and every one of us, and we're in a recession. And everybody's broke. And yet we were told by countless bloggers and critics that Jeezy was getting real political on this album. Well sure, if political means randomly throwing shots at whoever's in charge and noting that the economy doesn't look so hot right now. By that standard my insane uncle's a politically insightful rapper. By that standard, we're all politically insightful rappers. Even Untitled was a little more substantive than this (to say nothing of the much-maligned Hip Hop is Dead). The soft bigotry of low expectations strikes again.

The whole Free Pimp C Movement. Probably cosigned at one point or another by every blogger of note but Bol. Sorry, but why? Are we all not safer when people who carry guns with them to the mall are locked up or at least taught that there are consequences for pulling out guns at the mall, that we don't become folk heroes for pulling guns out at the mall (oh wait, that's just what happened)? There are little kids at malls. Consider Styles P's response in a similar situation:

Lox member Styles P surrendered to authorities yesterday (Nov. 26), to start his 8 month bid at the Valhalla Correctional Facility in upstate New York. P is serving the time for stabbing a man in the buttocks.

"Somebody got me aggravated [and] I did somethin'," Styles told "Now I gotta pay the consequences and repercussions. I wish it wouldn’t have happened. I hope the shorties out there know you gotta pay your consequences and repercussions when shit happens."

Exactly. Let me repeat: exactly. Why is it always the Pimp C's and Tony Yayos and T.I.'s and Lil Kims and Freeky Zeekys who get these crazy Free Rapper X campaigns, always featuring the most ridiculous excuses ("he was forced to equip himself with an arsenal of semiautomatic weapons, someone must've been after him, malls are dangerous these days, best to pack heat when you're at Macy's, snitching is wrong"), while the less, shall we say, IGNORANT types, the Capones, Cormegas, Shynes, Styles Ps, and Z-Ros, the rappers who don't get fifty plastic surgeries and don't do crazy interviews talking about which city's got coke at which price and which city features the most dick-in-the-booty-ass-niggas, don't get such campaigns? Could it be because we have one standard for the rappers who've displayed evidence of being sane over their careers, and another for the ones who just don't know no better? I think so.

Soulja Boy, AKA, Soulja Boy, you are a donk. You know, Crank That was a great record in its way, and I'm totally down with the "dudes used to make stupid dance songs in the 80s too" argument. But things got pretty problematic when, on the same album, Donk implored his teacher to throw some D's on his report card (before his success, he did need to graduate from school, after all) and complained that "a lot of teachers give me tests but they be super hard." Atttitudes like this are why we got NCLB in the first place. But most people avoided the D-word (dumb) or the I-word (ignorant), much less the R-word (functionally retarded), and preferred to talk about how his shit was full of vitality and youthful brashfulness - until, of course, he shouted out the slavemasters for bringing his ancestors over from Africa. And now the axe has kinda come down, because, as loath as rap bloggers are to call a rapper stupid if he isn't a rapper who has pretensions of intellect, you really can't be shouting out the slavemasters like that. Seeing that most rap bloggers' whole political angle on hip-hop is structural racism, and that starts with slavery. It just goes against everything the rap blog world believes in. But there are still defenders! Let's hand the mic over to James Montgomery: (who may be spoofing the trend I'm writing about here, but if so, that just goes to show you how deeply embedded this crap is in our rap criticism that you can't be sure):

Imagine if everything you knew about Soulja Boy Tell'em was wrong. That he was not a hyperactive, cash-craving demon hell-bent on destroying hip-hop. That his songs were not shameless stabs at ringtone royalties, his lyrics not indecipherable and lightweight, his image not clownish and gaudy. Imagine if he were secretly more brilliant than you could ever imagine, that his entire career has been one deceptively subtle bit of social commentary, and that you are just not smart enough to be in on the joke.

I ask you to consider all this, because I am fairly sure that it is all true. Soulja Boy gets a bad rap (pardon the pun). He is not a pariah. He is not, as some of his hip-hop forefathers have claimed, "garbage." He is simply the greatest performance artist of our generation, a genius whose body of work — be it his songs, his persona, his merchandise or his endless parade of YouTube musings — is solely committed to satirizing hip-hop culture.


Late last month, Soulja did an interview with respected cultural critic Touré, in which he submitted to a form of the Proust Questionnaire. When asked, "What historical figure do you most hate?," Soulja was apparently stumped, to which Touré prompted: "Others have said Hitler, bin Laden, the slave masters ... "

"Oh, wait! Hold up! Shout-out to the slave masters!" Soulja replied "Without them, we'd still be in Africa. ... We wouldn't be here to get this ice and tattoos."

Now, keep in mind that Soulja — or, as I'm convinced, his alter ego, 18-year-old DeAndre Way — claimed that his comment was blown out of proportion because he was being "sarcastic," but I'd like to think this was the final master stroke: a hip-hop artist making a comment so mind-blowingly ignorant and insensitive that even the most fervent supporters of the genre would be forced to throw their hands up in the air and say "You know what? There really is no hope."

Of course, you are probably thinking there is no way Soulja Boy is that smart, that he is just a money-hungry kid with no respect and no talent and a blight to the entire genre. And you might be completely right. But that probably also means that you're not in on the joke, and therefore, you're also missing the point. Soulja Boy isn't real; he's a character created out of the public's misconceptions, a brilliant bit of social commentary sprung from one of the most brilliant performance artists of our time.

As Plies might say, I've got no words for this cracker. And I'm out.

Argento Is Not The Word To Play

Saw the last 10 minutes of Suspiria on teevee tonight. I have really mixed feelings on Argento (for those of you who don't know, Argento was/is a wackjob Italian horror director; his movies are kinda like the experience of going to a really scary haunted house when you're 5 years old - no plot - though, like some haunted houses that have that sign outside the door like, Captain McGee was killed by Captain Pookie, now he haunts his old house and seeks revenge, there's a bullshit semblance of one - but what, when you're 5, seems like insane amounts of random shit popping from behind corners at you) , but for better or worse, he did not fuck around or half-ass anything (except for his ridiculously bad dialogue, incoherent plots, and you know, everything that's traditionally supposed to go into making a movie). He 800% assed. Where other directors might use a gallon of fake blood, he'd use 20. Where other directors might fuck around a little with expressionist color schemes, he just randomly makes rooms magically change color 50 times in 10 seconds, and they're colors you never even knew existed because before he made his movies, they were just in some psychotic corner of his mind. His movies are like the trip on some potentially fatal hallucinogen you're too responsible to have. Thanks to Argento, you don't have to bother with that shit; you can just watch his movies. The ending of the movie I just saw happens to be on youtube (along with the rest of it); it's in this horrible distorted ratio, and the crazy colors are all washed out, but watch it anyway. There is no spoiler; Suspiria doesn't have enough of a plot to have spoilers. It's just nonstop psychotropic carnage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some Relatively New Boom-Bappy Realness That Doesn't Suck (As Improbable As That Might Seem)

It's hard to believe that The Ownerz, Gang Starr's sixth and final album, came out the same year as Get Rich or Die Tryin, so far removed the former seems from the latter. In fact, the Gang Starr album is the younger of the two by four months. At the time, it was sharply criticized by some for making commercial concessions (Snoop on a Gang Starr album? Really?) and more importantly, for just being plain stale. When you start sampling DMX for your obligatory scratched hooks, as Premo did on Zonin, it's fair to wonder whether your formula's been used up. Looking back, though, the album looks like the last great gasp of the boom bap tradition. The Ownerz begins on a rather pessimistic note, as Guru and his weedcarriers cryptically complain that "niggas are wandering in've got mass confusion, motherfuckers like rats in a maze and shit." The rest of the album can be read as Guru's attempt to dispel this darkness. Each song contains a lesson. Put Up Or Shut Up teaches rappers to quit fronting. Deadly Habits teaches listeners to (a) pay Guru their debts, (b) not get dangerously wasted, and (c) not to shoot up clubs. There's even a little message about American foreign policy. Sabotage, of course, teaches you not to betray your friends. Nice Girl, Wrong Place teaches nice girls to stay out of the wrong places. And so on. If it sounds a little didactic, it is, but there's a lot more to be said for this sort of thing than the vague political gesturings of the so-called conscious rappers (Common and Untitled Nas, I see you), and inasmuch as The Ownerz is another salvo in the "real hip-hop" wars (most explicitly expressed when Premo grabs the mic on 'Peace of Mine' to rant "what the FUCK is this shit that y'all are listenin to nowadays on the radio man? You call that shit hip-hop? THAT'S SOME FAGGOT BITCH SHIT Y'ALL ARE LISTENIN TO!", but implicit in every line of the album), the argument for the continued relevance of boom bap is a lot more convincing when it's yoked to some sort of politics or ethic than when it's simply put forth as an aesthetic preference for scratched hooks over what Guru calls "Tinkerbell beats."*

Unfortunately, Guru's case for his brand of hip-hop - that, through its emphasis on workmanlike storytelling over showy punchlines, scratched hooks over danceable synthetic pizazz, boom bap was of moral use to a troubled community - didn't really get picked up on, as your average backpacker's argument against what gets play nowadays often doesn't boil down to much more than Premo's "'THAT'S SOME FAGGOT BITCH SHIT YALL ARE LISTENIN TO." Too often backpackers sound like my sister did on a family trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, noting that she could've easily painted everything post-1950 in the whole museum. ("An all white canvas? You call that art?" = "You mean you don't spend days writing your lyrics before you get in the studio? You make your beats in fruity loops in ten minutes?** You call that hip-hop?") Or like me when I was 8, bragging on my mental math skills. Or like people in the mid-90s, fretting that "hypertext" would profoundly alter for the worse the way everybody thought. (Sven Birkerts in 1994: "Words read from a screen or written onto a screen–words which appear and disappear, even if they can be retrieved and fixed into place with a keystroke–have a different status and affect us differently from words held immobile on the accessible space of a page....I stare at the textual field on my friend's screen and I am unpersuaded. Indeed, this glimpse of the future has me clinging all the more tightly to my books, the very idea of them." DJ Premier: "Most of today’s producers do not sample and that’s okay, but if they are gonna play instruments to make Hip Hop tracks, make ‘em fonky, you see how I spelled it? That’s the way it’s supposed to sound. Hip Hop is a sound, and if you can’t create it to sound like the culture, don’t call it Hip Hop just because someone is rapping on it. All you’re doing is confusing people." DocZeus: "I know this firmly entrenches me as an insufferable, Mos Def hugging, Illmatic loving elitist but a mixtape by its very nature is a completely different artistic medium than an album." True, but so what?) So it's no wonder that Guru's brand of rap has died out, when the only argument its proponents seem willing to make for it is that (a) it takes more work to make than that fake shit, (b) it's the way it was always done (always meaning a decade or so), and (c) the other guys are dumb, or worse yet, minstrels.

Which finally brings us to the relatively new boom-bappy realness that doesn't suck I promised in the title. Relatively new meaning a year old. It comes by way of Big Shug. Big Shug isn't even the most diehard Premo fan's idea of a good rapper. He's a little like a backpacker's Mike Jones, if Mike Jones didn't have an underrated flow and didn't have a southern accent and didn't do funny things like repeating his telephone number and had a way deeper voice and stumbled over big words. Some might say that's a little unfair, but this is a guy who's rapped:

You want the raw, it's pure and unCUT
Me and my cats, we're pure and unCUT

and when he said raw, he wasn't even talking drugs, just the pure and uncut-ness of his raps. Anyway, Big Shug, a longtime member of the Gang Starr Foundation (Premo's charitable foundation for dudes who can't rap but always dreamt as children of getting namedropped by Tim Westwood), put out an album last year, and of course it wasn't anything special. But the single, "Play It," was genius. Over an absolutely gorgeous Premo-produced bed of strings and chimes and something that sounds like it could be (gasp!)*** a synth, Shug does something very novel. He doesn't rap about how real his raps are, or how not real other rappers' raps are, or pretend to rap about politics - he raps about begging DJ's to play his records. And it's the most poignant and honest rap record you'll ever hear, because in 2007, DJ's just aren't playing a Big Shug's records, Premo cosign or not. Shug doesn't bitch and say the DJ's are wrong to play the more poppy stuff and ignore his superior work (okay, he does send a little shot at "coward cats who hide behind they raps and flashy Cadillacs," but the notion of wack rappers hiding in their flashy Cadillacs is so old-school that it only adds to the charms of the song), he simply asks the DJ's to "play all of the music," just to keep some "balance in the game." Shug isn't saying that the DJ's are missing out on something particularly good or worthwhile; at most, he thinks they're missing out on some musical diversity, that boom-bap still deserves a seat at the table just for inclusion's sake. "Give the fans a chance to hear the fly shit I say," he pleads, and though he eventually gets to threatening violence against DJ's who don't play his music, the overall tone is plaintive and a little elegaic, as if deep down he knows that his brand of rap is finished. Ironically, it's only in the act of begging DJ's to play his records that he makes something worth playing. Just as the only line from Godfather III (a work of an exhausted art form if there ever was one) that anyone remembers is the one that expressed its creator's true feelings about the project - "just when I thought I was out [of making more Godfather movies], they [Paramount] pull me back in," the only song in Big Shug's body of work that really rings true is the one that gives away what a dead end that body of work is.

Big Shug - Play It.

* Clearly Guru was hinting at the Neptunes there.
** This is okay, of course, if you're 9th Wonder. Though some heads feel 9th Wonder could be even more hip-hop if he spent some time crate-digging for some better drums.
*** Just kidding, even I know that Premo was sampling synth records back in '91.