Wednesday, December 3, 2008

KRS Proven Right By Events

You already know who he's better than.*

You all may recall when the G.O.A.T., KRS-One**, caused a little kerfuffle by announcing that - gasp - he preferred Curtis to Graduation. Curtis over Graduation, everyone said?*** How could he? One was a brilliant swirl of French house and rave and Steely Dan and all these wonderful progressive influences, while the other was, um, an ordinary rap record. And somehow making ordinary rap records had become a bad thing for a rapper to do. Or maybe it was that it was too formulaic and did all the obvious shit artists craven for sales do these days, like going to JT and Timbo and Robin Thicke for feature work. KRS, however, was the lone voice in the wilderness who pointed out that it took a lot of balls in 2007 for a charts- topping rapper to put out a RAP RECORD (see here at 1:20):

In the Teacha's words, "50 Cent put out a rap album this year. He's rapping. Kanye, he's... he's rapping." KRS went on to mock "Flashing Lights" and question whether Graduation and white shades were really hip-hop. (And then he wrote a muddled editorial where he tried to clarify and take it all back. We know what you meant Kris.) Compelling a bunch of angry bloggers to mash furiously away at their iBooks in attempts to explain why Kanye's excruciatingly lazy, so slow you could take a shit in between the time it takes him to move on from one line to the next flow, coupled with lyrics that were so dumb that some folks had to invent the term "post-lyrical" to talk about them, really were hip-hop. And why 50's album wasn't, because, yeah, it did kinda stick to the traditions of rap and stuff, but... 50 Cent? Isn't he, like, all commercial and shit? (Isn't Kanye, like, even more commercial and shit?)

So whaddayaknow? The Louis Vuitton Con has flown the hip-hop coop altogether (but the drums are still hip-hop, say you, and he's still got his rapper's swag!), while Fiddy, who's only worth, what, over half a billion,**** still finds time in his busy schedule to drop hard-as-fuck street records and songs that shit on Kanye's use of autotune (the former of the last two, in particular, is one of the best things he ever did). And yeah, he's not the rapper he used to be. But you know what: Kanye never even was that a good rapper in the first place like Fifty once was, and now he's not rapping at all. All so he can "make the whole album like a sing-along" that international crowds can recite the words to. Who the fuck do you think you are, Raffi? You trying to remake Singable Songs For The Very Young? Shit goes great with a peanut butter sandwich, or so I've heard. KRS was right.

* Slept on subliminal from an unfairly shitted-on song. Believe it or not, I like all the random New York collabos with Lil Jon. The Mobb Deep song, the one Styles and Jada did, etc. Of course, if Nas went straight from Illmatic to that shit, people would have reason to complain, but he didn't, he gradually fell off over a long period of time, and him doing work with Lil Jon was a perfectly legit move for him by 2003.
** That's right, the GOAT. Even though he never made an album that I can listen to all the way through, even though Rakim was more talented in certan obvious respects.

*** There were others besides Brandon, obviously, that's just who I remember bitching about it the most.
**** 'Supa Ugly' is another unfairly shitted-on song.


Trey Stone said...

it's not that 50's album wasn't progressive enough, too commercial or anything, more that it just sucked save "Ayo Technology," which itself isn't that good.

tray said...

It did suck, of course, but (a) I take the lonely position that Graduation sucked too, and (b) I Get Money, Smile (far more interesting, lyrically, than anything Kanye's said in, I don't know, two years), and even Fire are all better than Ayo Technology. Which, no, isn't that good. Basically I just think that it's hard to maintain any kind of hunger or craft when you're that wealthy. As we've seen with Jay, Pharrell, LL, Master P (okay, maybe he just fell off), Kanye himself, etc.

Trey Stone said...

i dunno, i seem to be the only blog citizen who thought "I Get Money" was headache-inducing. same reaction to "Straight Outta Southside," though that's a little better.

tray said...

Yeah, yeah, we all know how you feel about anything that sounds vaguely like it could've been made in the late 80s or even early 90s, AKA The Golden Age and The Golden Age Pt. 2. Not everything good is some Pharrell and Timbo club shit, RZA, Premo and Large Professor all shit on them both, etc. etc. I don't know. I think soon I'll do a post on how I'm the Hegelian synthesis of Breihan/you and the dude at Like seriously, there's a whole vital center that gets neglected in rap blogging, everybody's gotta be one or the other.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

"Basically I just think that it's hard to maintain any kind of hunger or craft when you're that wealthy."

given your examples, i agree with this statement. but what about the idea that once full respect is attained (which seems to be the goal of most rappers, strictly out for prop), there's nothing left to reach for? the roots since the release of "things fall apart" or devin with "landing gear" seem like appropriate examples.

tray said...

This is true too, although you could argue in the cases of those guys that they just ran out of ideas.

And I really like my Raffi comparison. I mean, seriously, I don't understand what he's after when he talks about this sing-along crap. Before this album, he was making sing-along stadium raps. Now I guess he's so craven for sing-alongability that he's willing to quit rapping altogether. Like even if he's just a pop star who happens to rap, I don't think the great pop artists' goal is to make shit people can sing along with. Maybe hum along with, but that's different. It seems like such an ass-backwards approach to the songwriting process.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

abt your raffi and kanye-elated rant: I don't see how making tracks more like sing alongs is an "ass-backwards approach to the songwriting process." Isn't pop music all about that? Isn't making catchy music for audiences a decent pursuit? You can't possibly say that songwriting's all about adding complexity

Not that he doesnt mean them, but I get the impression that he makes these statements to sound shockingly populist, and to openly contradict what people's conception of artistic pretensions are. Like when he says stuff like MC Hammer was one of favourite artists growing up.

I only have a problem when he goes overboard in his obsession. like when he says stuff like: i had all these great lyrics in gold digger, but global audiences didnt always get it, so now I'm gonna make all my songs go something like "O-K, OK OK you will never stop me nooowwww" Its good if you're aiming for statium-ready choruses and hooks, but to dilute all your ideas into simplistic lullabies isnt a good look. I mean, simple is good; god knows we dont want papoose verses on the radio. But to intentionally dismiss and censor interesting ideas you might have, in favour of pleasing global audiences with easily palatable pop tarts seems a little dangerous.

tray said...

I mean, try singing along with Kells on I'm a Flirt. Or the Supremes on anything. It's way harder than you might think. Like, sure, catchy hooks, but the goal of great pop isn't to be some kind of sing-along fest.

Badmon3333 said...

"Flashing... liiights..? I want boom BAP. We're not all on the white shades and the Versace and the Gucci and alla that... sorry, not workin'." - KRS

I gotta call the Blastmaster on his own BS here. Biggie was making all-time classic boom-bap hip-hop, name-checking all types of shit and rockin' massive shades, even as early as the first videos off the 'Ready to D.I.E.' album.

But his boom-bap argument a couple minutes later in the interview is kind of the same as mine. It seems like a lot of people think boom-bap hip-hop is passé because "its era is past," or because it doesn't move mad units (does anyone know what the best-selling boom-bap album of all time is? Wasn't 'Moment of Truth' Gangstarr's first gold record?), but good music is good music. The Sixties (rock's 'Golden Era') have been over for almost a quarter-century, but modern groups that harken back to heyday classic rock (Black Keys) or even the folk era (Iron & Wine) are still making really, really good music in a current context.

In that same way, I don't understand why a great album like P Brothers' 'The Gas' gets relegated to the "Well, it's good, but it's just throwback boom-bap that happens to not suck" pile.

Anonymous said...

"I mean, try singing along with Kells on I'm a Flirt. Or the Supremes on anything. It's way harder than you might think. Like, sure, catchy hooks, but the goal of great pop isn't to be some kind of sing-along fest."

I feel you. But don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to glorify the charm of simplicity & amateurishness (although I am a huge fan of it), and dissing the whole idea of technical skills.

I love the idea of pop art, but just because I can't sing along to a song, doesn't mean it automatically gets relegated to sub standard status

Kells,insanely talented genius no doubt - but I can sing along to "I'm a Flirt" - Mine's a pretty blood-curdling rendition but atleast I feel like I can make an attempt to be a part of the moment when he belts that tune. As opposed if i was watching Pavarotti bellow a classic. and that I'm talking about with regards to the pursuit of pop art being a respectable goal. Its about engaging the audience, and about cultivating a communal feel to the whole event, as opposed to just letting them bask in the glory of your technical skill. When Ye cranks out "Can't Tell Me Nothing" on stage, everything from the swag, to the message, to the delivery can be personalized by each and every single audience member to fit their agenda. Maybe its a superficial connection, but they're one with the superstar at that moment - which is a cool democratic part of rap and pop music in general.

Contrast that with say Jay-Z's hyper kinetic delivery of say "Nigga Who, Nigga What" - This is also a display of art; one thats based on impressive technical skill. Its a spectacle to be behold for sure, but imo you're watching it as opposed to being totally immersed in it.

The whole field of pop art and for the lack of a better, traditionally-recognized technical skill are two different arenas of art, and I think there's room to appreciate and enjoy both.

basically, its pretty great to go "when i say hey, you say ho". as opposed to "when i say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,you go ? "

tray said...

Wait, so you can follow him line for line on the

"Now If U Walk Up In The Club
Wit A Bad Chick
And She Lookin At Me
Then I'm Gon Hit
Man Jackin For Chicks
I Tried To Quit
But I'm a Playa Homie
So I Had To Hit it"


Anonymous said...

WHY MUST YOU BE SO DISMISSIVE OF MY STUNNING SANGING ABILITY?? RECOGNIZE. *clears throat* "don't ask me what my naaame iss, stupid bitch I'm famousss"

i think we just have this minor disagreement regarding what constitutes catchy sing alongs. I feel like I can for the most part, sing with someone like kellz, as opposed to speed rapping. Its a overly simplistic statement, but i think thats the type of thinking kanye goes through when he chooses to sing as opposed to rap, to achieve his stadium sing along ambitions. Melody, hummability, hooks etc etc.

I feel like I can atleast try as opposed to not even attempting it. And sure not everybody is a tragically slept-on shower sanger like i am. but as bad as everyone's r kelly rendition might be, it just seems more accessible than lots of rap. i think 'post lyricism' and/or the ever-increasing commercial ambitions of rappers has recognized this, which is why there a lot more melodies in both rap production and lyrical delivery these days. Which i enjoy as a listener (the abortion of 'whatever you like' & co. notwithstanding)

My statements are obviously disregarding finer points, such as the fact that rapping can be just as an enjoyable listening experience as singing, singing isn't always child's play, not everyone is a genuinely great singer, and that you can be a virtuoso in subtle ways like kellz is - like you mentioned, its harder than it looks.

I think I'm rambling now. I quit. Back to recording my kellz covers demo.

"She be callin me daddy, and i be callin her mommy /She be callin u kelly, when yo name is tommy"