Friday, January 30, 2009

Rick Ross Is A Funny Dude

Most overweight boss that you've seen thus far.

Here at Pay Tray me and my two readers are way too smart to care about things like the Rick Ross/50 beef (though I've got to say, maybe 50 should just retire, this is embarrassing), but I do have to put out this bizarre interview Officer Ricky gave on the subject. Along with that video-of-the-year Wayne/Couric preview ("I'm a gangsta. Gangstas don't axe questions"), I think this really makes the case that gangsta rap has become an insane baroque parody of himself. Listen to what Rick has to say when he's asked why he dissed 50:

Rick: Well really, it's nothing that could be really personal, you understand? It's like a UFO, you understand? He was a nigga that I had actually seen at the BET Awards, and I had different intentions for him. [Different intentions?] When I went backstage and I bumped into him, he made an expression on his face that disappointed me, being a real nigga. So I gave him a pass, you know what I'm sayin, and we just kept it movin, but at the same token, it was time to let niggas know what the real was.

Interviewer (baffled): So, it's all because of an expression... on his face??? Like what kind of expression?

Rick: Hey, it's deeper than rap, baby! It's deeper than rap. But that's - you know - that was just one of the things that, that, that, that - when I finally had the opportunity to bump into him, I actually had intended on having words with him. But he kinda disappointed me, so I kept it movin, you know what I'm sayin, but it's all love, it's all love, you know.

Let me put it this way, if I didn't know better, I would think that Rick Ross was a crazy white performance artist from the suburbs in a fat suit. Basically it sounds like Rick was all excited to "finally have the opportunity to bump into"/hit on his idol and 50 made a mean face and hurt his feelings. The funny thing about the interview is how he attempts to cloak this ridiculously gay episode in cliche gangstaisms, i.e. "it's deeper than rap," "he made an expression...that disappointed me, being a real nigga," "I kept it movin," etc. It's like, yeah, I'm admitting to being stung because a guy gave me a nasty look, but hey, at least I kept it movin! He owed me respect because I'm a real nigga! This shit is deeper than rap! Then later he's asked why he had his baby's mother's car repossessed and he offers up this gem:

Really, really, that's just, like, we telling her it's time for her to go get a better job, I got nothing but love for you baby but it's time for you to be independent, but really, she ain't got nowhere else to turn. So I'm basically managing her too. I'm her manager. I'm sending her looking for book deals. Since G-Unit ain't putting out records maybe you could get her a book deal or somethin. He [50] bought his baby mama [inaudible], I'm gonna to share mine. I'm a hustler for real. I'm gonna take the money, she gonna bring me back half. It's the BOSS.

First of all, what is his baby momma going to write a book about? The Life and Times of Rick Ross's Baby Mama? Second, note how he tries to turn the squalid details of his personal life into evidence of his BOSSness and hustler for REALness.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gee, The WSJ Sure Is Cold

This seemed like a pretty gratuitous shot at a guy who just killed himself four months ago:

"Way back in 1997, the novelist David Foster Wallace publicly gloated over the senescence and impending demise of John Updike, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth -- "the Great Male Narcissists who've dominated postwar fiction," pre-eminent chroniclers of "probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV." Panning Updike's latest novel, "Toward the End of Time," Wallace castigated the grand old man as a "Champion Literary Phallocrat" and asked whether this could finally be the end for the magnificent narcissists.

Mr. Wallace was speaking too soon, as the subsequent decade was to prove. He himself, a suicide in 2008, would predecease both Messrs. Roth and Updike. Mr. Mailer died in 2007, hailed as a national treasure despite his lousy last novel. Mr. Roth continues to turn out excellent work at regular intervals and has been accorded the unique honor of having his collected works published by the Library of America during his lifetime..."

(Kay Slay Voice): Damn! Seriously though, their argument is that Wallace was wrong in panning Updike because before Updike got around to dying, Wallace hung himself? Classy! And really stupid.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Worst Person In The World!

Besides this douchebag.

So I was looking up Beyonce's 'Diva,' a song with which I have a complicated love-hate relationship (hate everything about it, love how bad and forced it is), and I came upon this story:

Beyonce: I'm not a diva.

Beyonce is just a normal girl, according to the singer herself.

The Crazy In Love hitmaker doesn't think her Diva reputation is fair and says she enjoys life more when she is out of the spotlight.

Beyonce explained: "I'm not this round the clock diva looking for attention.

"I'm way more comfortable out of the spotlight and just chilling out with my family.

"I'm very quiet. I love to paint. I love to watch TV though it seems I never get to do it. I love a lot old television shows. I still love the Cosbys. I also love the Fresh Prince."

Apparently Beyonce gave this "I'm-no-diva" scoop to the Sun in efforts to defuse a Daily News item to the effect that, in a fit of diva-ness, she got the Secret Service to let her chauffeur through a closed D.C. street at the inauguration because she couldn't bear to walk four blocks. That aside, and also putting aside the question of how loving the Cosbys is in any way relevant to whether she is or is not a diva, I'm sure you see the problem here. Here's this woman insisting she's "not this round the clock diva" like the concept is new to her when the hook of her latest single goes:
I'm a, a diva, hey
I'm a, I'm a, a diva, hey I'm a, I'm a, a diva, hey I'm a, I'm a, a diva I'm a, I'm a, a diva, hey I'm a, I'm a, a diva I'm a, I'm a, a diva, hey I'm a, I'm a (diva).

Am I being too literal here? Well according to Beyonce, I am, because that was Sasha Fierce who said that. You know, Beyonce's "sensual, aggressive alter ego" who only exists on stage, and presumably in the studio when she's recording this crap. This little episode really gets at the heart of what's so disgusting about Beyonce. It isn't enough, apparently, to foist her loathsomely materialistic, whorish, gender-regressive crap on the public. It isn't enough that her idea of a love song is a list of luxury apparel items that she'll buy for her significant other so he'll look good in "them big meetings for the mills," or that her current hit is about how she's "gettin [more] money" than other r&b singers. On top of that, she wants to evade any responsibility for this crap. Rather than either going all bland balladeer on us and losing the half of her audience that gets turned on by her singing about having video phone sex with "them hustlas [who] like the way I'm walkin," or at least having the decency to own that bullshit, she decides to spin it all off as the work of this alter ego who bears no relationship to her homebody, Fresh Prince-watching self. It's like if Curtis Jackson, in an effort to broaden his branding appeal, came out and said that everything he's ever recorded is the work of this violent playboy alter ego he's got by the name of 50 Cent, whereas he himself is this mild-mannered peace-loving fellow with a spotless record who sits at home with a steady girlfriend eating Chinese takeout. And then he started performing at inaugural balls and appearing on Sesame Street. In a way this sort of thing is far more pernicious than the Officer Ross kerfuffle, or Prodigy rapping like the toughest guy in the world and constantly getting robbed. No, not in a way, it just is. At least Ross is only telling one lie, and really he isn't even telling the one; I think we all knew when he said that Noriega owed him a hundred favors that his lyrics weren't scrupulously accurate autobiography. If that type of shit bothers you, you're an idiot. What really creeps me out is this effort to have it both ways, to be as slutty on wax as you want to be and then turn around and say that's just this character you made up in an attempt to keep up your appeal with the more conservative members of your audience. It's the epitome of market-tested fakeness.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Italy? Sicily? Tell Me, Girl, Dis-i-ney World?

Have you ever noticed that Ludacris's 'Nasty Girl' (casting call of which is below) features the very same melody as Cam'ron's classic, 'Daydreaming'? Also, have you ever noticed that Luda can no longer rap? This is a Prodigy-size falloff. Mainly, though, I just wanted to post the 'Daydreaming' video. What a wide array of mean mugs and deeply contemplative gazes into the camera. Also note his remarkable inability to feign even the slightest bit of affection for his leading lady, and that ridiculous baby blue outfit he has on on the beach. One day we're going to look back on the 2001-2003 era with the same amount of nostalgia that we do with the 90s. Shit, I do already.

Nasty Girl Casting from DTP TV on Vimeo.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Year's First (And Undoubtedly Only) Great Mobb Deep Record/NORE is Insane

Juliano Creator of The Creators (some UK producer duo I never heard of) is responsible for this surprisingly good new Mobb Deep record. It's called 'Heat.' His upcoming producer album is full of appearances from bums like Evidence, Joell Ortiz, Little Brother, and many other tragically useless artists, but this bangs in a sort of demented comic book movie soundtrack way, and Prodigy's verse is about as good as you can expect given the dessicated shell of himself he's become. So enjoy. And in other Queensbridge news, NORE finally explains the meaning of his immortal first two lines on 'Superthug' to HipHopGame:

I have a lot of Biz Mark in me. I want people to have fun and laugh and not be that serious but I also have that G Rap in me where I want to spit them lyrics and I want people to decipher my lyrics. When I said "I light a candle and run laps around the English Channel/Neptunes have got a cocker spaniel," people just thought I was trying to make words match. People didn't know what the English Channel was. People didn't know that when a person dies you light a candle because you're so stressed and the name of the record was 'Superthug.' I said "I light a candle and run laps around the English Channel, Neptunes have got a cocker spaniel," not meaning that they got a dog but that I got the gun cocked. A lot of people took that as "oh, okay, it's just gibberish" or "it's just lyrics put together" but I thought that was genius. People want to decipher my lyrics today and they realize that this dude was spitting some shit but you know what? I don't ever get recognized for nothing and if I get recognized for it now it might just be, like, heartbreaking because I've done so much things for rap and for so many communities and cultures... so maybe I'm just going to be the guy who has the talent and the motivation and the drive but people just don't recognize me. God bless, I would love to be recognized for the great accomplishments I do and the great lyricism I have now but, you know, maybe later in life they will...

You know, if I were into reading into shit and always trying to ascribe intentionality to rappers that just isn't there like some bloggers, I'd say NORE was spoofing Kanye here. But I think we all know that NORE is really just this dumb. My favorite parts about this answer:

1. "If I get recognized for it now it might just be, like, heartbreaking." Maybe he really was spoofing Kanye. He had to be.

2. "Neptunes have got a cocker spaniel" somehow = "I got the gun cocked." Maybe NORE is trying to tell us that he and Chad Hugo are one and the same. Dr. Asian Loner Superproducer and Mr. Nuyorican Absurdist Rapping Goofball.

3. "People didn't know what the English Channel was." Ah, that explains it.

4. Later in the interview NORE said this:

N: DMX dropped two albums in one year. I'm gonna drop two albums in two seasons. March, which is, what is that? Is it still considered winter or late fall?

Interviewer: Spring comes in late march.

N: Okay. Well I'm gonna drop an album in spring and an album in the summertime. The first artist ever.

Can't you just hear him going 'okay' without missing a beat? It's too bad his rapping is nowhere near his interviews anymore.

Feminism Sure Is Making Real Strides

I think it's just great that a female artist who's both as hideous and as untalented as this bewigged freak can get a major label record deal. And two hit singles. Just a few years ago, your female pop stars who couldn't sing or write were at least great video models. But as bad as 'Let's Dance' was, objectively speaking, it's kinda grown on me and I enjoyed this the first time I heard it. Interestingly, Wikipedia says that this is or was the #1 single in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Finland and Sweden. Scandinavia must be quite the corny house-lover's paradise.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

'Prom Queen' - Who Cares?

Ah, growing up in the 90s.

So besides the usual platitudes about how our finest rappers should spend their prime rapping and not making rock albums (though Wayne records so much material and frankly has rapped terribly of late, so I don't see that this matters even in that regard), I have no complaints with 'Prom Queen.' I know absolutely nothing about rock, so I'm not too qualified to assess this thing, but the instrumental sounds pretty damn boilerplate, Wayne obviously isn't a singer, and I don't know how much T-Wayne a man can take, especially when he's as heavily manipulated as he is here. But otherwise, it's a decent song - he's got a solid hook here, a little bridge, the lyrics are okay - of course it isn't terribly funny or playful in the way that a Wayne rock song would probably have to be to be a success, but oh well. At least it isn't a total disaster and there are a couple moments you can laugh at or sing along with if you're stuck in traffic with this on the radio. Basically I have no problems with artists attempting to work with genres they're no good at, so long as they don't do so in a pretentious way and admit that, in an objective "is this good rock/r&b/rap" sense, their efforts suck. For instance, if, say, Beck had made a rap album, that would've been cool with me - his attempts at rapping were usually fun enough - so long as he didn't sell it as the work of some genre-crossing genius and gave you the impression that he knew he was just fooling around. I think you know where I'm going here so I won't even go there, but suffice it to say that when a certain artist debuted his first single off his latest album on MTV, I was just as cool with it as I was with this, until it became clear that the project was intended to be taken Very Seriously, and of course it doesn't bear that weight, not at all.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some Good New Rap You've Already Heard Everywhere Else!

This Royce/Phonte/Stat Quo 'Homage To Premier' is the type of thing that Premo used to do back when he was still a great producer. Seriously, first great scratched hook in a while. Rae, Jay, Nas, Lupe (he's surprisingly tolerable in 2-second excerpts), 50 from 'In Da Club,' Big - real ecumenical! And how about that weird looped noise that kinda sounds like a rainstick? Phonte's verse sucks, as should be expected from Phonte (he actually complains that "young'ns [have] no sense of history" and think that "that nigga from Coldplay" did the beat when they see 'C. Martin' in the credits - haha, very funny, and way to sound like a 50s grumpy grandmother), but Royce and Stat are the solid rappers they are, if not quite the most brilliant slept-on rappers in the world some people think they are, or rather think Royce is. Best of all though, the guy who produced this brilliant Premo imitation is Focus, who previously brought you bad Game and Tony Yayo album tracks like 'Where I'm From,'* 'Eastside Westside,' and 'Project Princess.' Yep, a D-List G-Unit producer can do Premo better than Premo can nowadays. Oh well, at least somebody can still do that sound well. On the other hand, I'm not feeling this well-reviewed Rick Ross single, 'Mafia Music' (though surely this is just the "street single," not the real first single, right?). It's quite lyrical for Rick, takes some random shots at 50, but the beat is forgettable, boring imitation Runners, there's no hook, it's just Rick's surprisingly okay attempt to black out over a track for four minutes, and you know, I don't think that anybody listens to Rick Ross for lyrical workouts. We listen for the goofy sense of humor, the bullshit bravado, the colossal beats, the surprisingly tender girl talk, the ignorance... all of which is in short supply here. But if the only standard by which you judge rappers is their big word count, you may be pleasantly surprised by this track.

* Actually, 'Where I'm From' is pretty good imitation Dre, the only problem with that track is that Game's retarded.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

You Know Rap Sucks When...

You download a new mixtape that's supposed to be good and the only song you really like on it is 11 years old. You see, I was listening to the new Mack Maine tape in hopes that maybe if I dug around enough I'd find out that some good music has come out this month. It's called This Is Not a Mixtape, and reasonably enough so, a lot of what's there is album-quality rap, whatever that means. Mack Maine's a talented rapper, he's sort of like a way better version of all those punchline-happy dudes in New York who've been pushing back their first album release dates for the past five years. When he's on a track with Wayne, four of them on this tape, he easily outshines WFB. (See here for example.) Which may not be saying much these days, Weezyologists (of which I'm not one) generally seem to agree that Wayne right now is at the nadir of his post-500 Degreez career, but maybe it's also just that after Wayne's verses it's a relief to hear someone who isn't rapping into a tube and takes a pretty straight-line approach to his craft. But as proficient as Mack Maine's raps are, I don't really have any desire to listen to this tape again. Nothing that he's doing here hasn't been done before, and it's all a little boring. All except for this one endlessly replayable track... that came out in 1998 and doesn't even feature Mack Maine. You see, in tribute to Soulja Slim, Don Cannon, who hosted this tape, thought it would be nice to just randomly throw a Soulja Slim No Limit album track on the tape. Now the song features Mystikal and one Tre-Nitty, but when you download the mixtape it just says "Ride With Me (f. Soulja Slim and Mystikal)," and lists the main artist as Mack Maine. So naturally when I heard the song I thought the second verse was Mack Maine's, and I was quite impressed by how skillfully he matched his flow to the melodic bounce-influenced steez that was popular in N.O. at the time. Easily the best thing he did on the tape, I thought, managing to get on an old track with Soulja Slim and Mystikal and not sound totally outclassed. But then I looked up the original... and it was the same song. Here I was, so impressed by Mack Maine's imitation of Soulja Slim, and it was some dude named Tre-Nitty. Oh well. At least Mack exposed me to a classic. In other news, maybe I'm biased by the strippers in this thing, but this seems to me like a surprisingly successful marriage of a classic West Coast sound and the Mobb Deep weedcarrier aesthetic. 40 Glocc, 'Finer Thangz,' yall.

Soulja Slim f. Mystikal and Tre-Nitty (and Don Cannon talking a little), 'Get High With Me.'

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Lazy Post On My New Overarching Theory Of What Ails Rap

It's that deep.

I'll elaborate on this more sometime, but I was reading T.R.O.Y. and I saw this very interesting point:

Even rappers that dabble in contemplative or surrealist poetics deliver their messages with conviction. Rakim’s deadpanned intergalactic voyages on 1988’s
“Follow The Leader” foreshadow a generation of rappers who portray themselves as street level metaphysicians. It’s a peculiar, compelling performance exemplified by Nas’ impassioned declaration that he “represents the thinkers” with a stream of consciousness freestyle that’s “floating like I’m on the North 95 Interstate” on 1994’s “One Time 4 Ya Mind.”

Of course, you could come up with 20 million examples of this aspect of 90s rap, not just these two; my favorite would probably be when Rae boasted on 'Incarcerated Scarfaces' that "Wu, we got the collars, scholars, word life, peace to power." You just imagine hordes of scholars in Wu-Wear bunked up in the Wu-Mansion studying the Five Percenter Bible (actually, isn't that Poppa Wu's real life?). But it got me to thinking - where are the street level metaphysicians of today? It struck me that you have two types of rappers now - the street-level, and the metaphysicians. And then you have a third type, like a Kanye or a post-retirement Jay that isn't interested in saying anything metaphysical (or anything interesting), but isn't street-level either. And by street-level, I don't mean something stupid like whether a rapper's actually in the streets, I mean whether he pretends to be, which is what matters. And by streets, I'm including all kinds of streets, mean streets and ones that aren't so mean, just so long as a rapper spends time talking about wherever he's from in a real way. For instance, if Jay talked about wherever he lives (a high-rise in Manhattan? a super-posh suburb in Jersey?) instead of just dealing in jet-setting abstractions, he'd be street-level in my sense of the term. Although maybe that's a bit of a stretch - but wouldn't that be interesting?

Anyway, here's why this matters so much. Take the Clipse. The Clipse will never be Mobb Deep because P and Hav dealt in metaphysics and they don't. There's a lot of abstract shit going on in a Mobb Deep record, talk about reality and foulness and trife life and bastardized Darwin that takes what would otherwise be just a really good tales of life in Queensbridge record to another level. Without those deeper themes, the Clipse are just a couple of really talented crack rappers. On the other hand, Lupe will never be Nas because he's all metaphysics and no street-level, and without a street-level correlate to all his metaphysical abstractions, they don't really mean anything. So on the one hand we've got gangsta rappers who are entertaining but hopelessly limited, and on the other metaphysical rappers who sound like they're saying something deep but are just deeply vacuous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I never, ever watch Fox News, but the New York Times was kind enough to do it for me, and they seem to have nailed Obama's address. It's unfortunate that only a rabidly partisan network was willing to give an honest assessment of what was a decidedly mediocre effort.

Reviews from Fox | 1:26 p.m.
On Fox News, President Obama garnered rave reviews for his “marvelously eloquent” delivery of the inaugural address. [Tray: I wasn't even impressed by that. The delivery was remarkably one-note, and the note wasn't even that good, this toned-down version of his inspirational uplift cadence. It's like he couldn't do what he really does best, exort and shout and sermonize, because of the dignity of the occasion, so failing that he was left with this pallid, humdrum imitation of himself.] On its content, however, opinion was less enthusiastic.

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, said: “The surprising thing about this speech, however, was that in this extraordinary moment, the speech was actually quite ordinary from a literary perspective. There were too many ‘raging storms’ and ‘gathering clouds’ and other things that any writer would consider cliché. [In fairness, Gerson gave Bush a lot of cliches and needlessly flowery phrases too.] And I don’t understand given Obama’s literary ear in so many past speeches how some of these things got through into an inaugural address. I think it’s a mystery.”

Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor, agreed. “I have to say I do agree with you,” he said. “I kept looking for the line that I thought was going to be engraved in granite, and other than ‘The price and the promise of citizenship,’ and I’m not sure how immortal that line is, I found precious little in here that I thought – you know, there was not an ‘Ask not…’ moment or ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Diddy Interviewing Obama Back in '04

Interesting, though certain aspects of this interview bother me just a little; perhaps you can guess what they are. Obviously I didn't quite agree when he said that "there are a lot of brothers and sisters who are doing well, but aren't thinking about the folks left behind. And if you can't reach back, and pull some folks up with you, then you shouldn't be in the position you're in now." Yeah, my sense of social (or racial?) responsibility definitely doesn't run that deep.

An Instance Where Blogs Can Be Proven (Almost) To Have (Very Slightly) Damaged Hip-Hop

A molehill.

Bloggers often argue over whether other bloggers are responsible for the crappy state of affairs in hip-hop. Brandon took on Eskay for blowing up Asher Roth (though it's far from clear to me that Asher Roth getting blown up is such a bad thing), Dukes hyperbolically claimed that blogging has destroyed hip-hop in 2009, saddling us with such mediocrities as Charles Hamilton, B.O.B., and Ace Hood (again, all rappers with whom I can live - well, maybe not Ace Hood but every age has its bad rappers, and it's not like he's terribly popular or anything), and I'm sure there are countless other examples I could come up with if I cared to. Of course, it's impossible to prove that blogs are to blame for these rappers "blowing up," or for, say, Wayne's overratedness, and as Brandon wisely pointed out in his infamous Eskay-baiting post, before we had Nah Right, we had magazines that mattered, and radio DJ's that really mattered, and way more powerful record labels, and mountain-climbing A&R's, and they made their mistakes too, so why can't we just accept that at any moment in time you're going to have one sort of medium or another that from time to time exerts a negative influence on what gets listened to and what doesn't. A great point indeed, and one that would save compulsive rap blog readers like me from sifting through a lot of tiresome twaddle. But I did want to point out one instance where bloggers and blog commenters were responsible for a bad song that never needed to happen.

You will recall Peter Rosenberg's interview with DJ Premier. Far from the best Premo interview I've heard (that would be the time when he went on Westwood and talked about how he got his start in Texas as a computer geek), but it got a ton of buzz. The only real news out of it, of course, was when Premo announced that he'd given 50 a beat and 50 rejected it. Well after this announcement, there was a lot of "how could 50 reject a Premo beat" on some of the, sorry, dumber blogs out there, even though no one had ever heard the track, and Premo fanned the flames when he commented on the non-situation some more with XXL, claiming that the beat was really great and could've helped 50 "bring it back to the pure essence" and get him "on the right track for a street record." Occasioning more "see, this is the problem with hip-hop these days, 50 Cent turning down washed-up-Premo tracks" bullshit. So after weeks of the Internets complaining, 50 puts out a song over a Premo track, the eminently forgettable 'Shut Your Bloodclot Mouth,' and though at first some thought Premo had given 50 a new, slightly less mediocre track over which to bore us to death, it turns out it was the same track that 50 turned down. As Premo kindly explained on his radio show, 50 backed down once he saw all the blog flak he was getting. Of course, 50 was right in the first place; the beat's horribly dry paint-by-numbers Premo.

Now, this little episode is troubling and worth talking about for a few reasons. First of all, you just don't want fans telling rappers which beats to take. For example, we now know that before Nas recorded the versions of 'Represent' and 'Memory Lane' we know and love, Premo gave him inferior beats for both that Nas rejected. Of course, they're 1993 Premo so they're still pretty great beats, but imagine if word had gotten around that Nas turned down Premo's beats and fans pressured him to take the originals. (In particular, the original 'Memory Lane' would easily be the worst song on the album if Nas had taken it.) Rappers make their own mistakes too and some could probably stand to improve if they listened a little more to what blogs had to say about their beat selection (like today's Nas), but they definitely know what they're doing better than a fan who's never even heard the track about which he's bloviating. More importantly, though, it's the conservative tenor of the fans' criticisms that bothers me. 50's a pretty bad rapper nowadays (though Curtis has a compelling moment or two), and I'm not sure who could possibly shake him out of his stupor. But the last thing he needs to do is hire legendary producers off the strength of the work they did 10-15 years ago (by the same token, he shouldn't be working with Dre) and put out some back to the 90s record. Not that a good back to the 90s record would necessarily be a terrible move from him, but more that it's really tough to make a good one, and absolutely impossible if you just call the producers who were hot in 1995 and rap over their awful imitations of how they used to sound. There's a very good reason that Jay, Nas, and up till now 50 stopped taking Premo's calls after 2001. (Seriously, think about the millions of times in the past 7 years that Jay or Nas were supposed to do a track or entire album with Premo and then things "fell through.") What 50 needs is to be cutting-edge again, and to realize that you can be grimy and "take things back to the pure essence," or streets, without relying on past generations' ideas of what the pure essence or streets were supposed to sound like. A great rapper should challenge listeners, not be moved by listeners' antiquarian demands - which their demands will inevitably be, because as listeners and non-artists, we don't have any idea of what the future sounds like. We just know the past, and clamor for it. Finally, as much as we hear about how blogs push rappers away from whatever the pure essence is and towards doing songs with Asher Roth or Santogold, it's interesting to me that in this one instance where we know, as a matter of fact, that bloggers pushed a rapper to make a certain musical choice, that choice was actually a very conservative one - even though it's 2009, when Premo gives you a beat, no matter how bad, you must take it.

Bleh Pt. 2

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural address is one of the most anticipated speeches in decades, with many expecting his words to be chiseled into marble some day.

Obama aides said that the speech will last 18 to 20 minutes and that Obama will emphasize that America is entering a new area of responsibility.

He will say that America has been hurt by a "me first" mentality that has contributed to the current economic crisis, aides say, and call on individuals -- as well as corporations and businesses -- to take responsibility for their actions."

2 thoughts. One, Obama's speech isn't getting chiseled into marble some day. Like a Jay, his delivery >>>>>>> what he's saying. If you don't believe me, read his convention speech, his victory speech, his Iowa victory speech (the zany hubris of which can't be overemphasized), or his race speech - none of them are that special on paper. Not at all. Not that it won't sound like a classic, but it sure won't read like one. More importantly, though, a "me first mentality" has contributed to the current economic crisis?? What? Yes, the reason unemployment is on the rise and retailers just had the shittiest Christmas season since the days of Hoover (slight exaggeration here) is because people put themselves first. We can community service ourselves out of this mess. Yeah, we've seen some spectacular cases of economically destructive misbehavior in the past eight years (Madoff, Enron, dishonest lending), but that's still the dumbest shit I've ever heard. When we get out of this recession, it'll be precisely because of individuals, families, small businesses and corporations putting themselves first. That's just how economies work. In other depressing news, Paterson's apparently going to pick the Democratic answer to Sarah Palin for Hillary's spot after all. The woman said "you know" 138 times in a 15-minute interview.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Beef or chicken?

I'm really fed up with rap these days. So fed up that instead of attempting to write about good rap, I might turn this into a bad rap blog, the place where you go to get the latest U-God and Common and Plies. Not really, but in that spirit, there's a video I think you should see. You may remember the Teriyaki Boyz. In 2006, the Japanese dude who owns Bathing Ape, pictured above (he's the one who looks like a shrewd businessman even in spite of his ridiculous hoodie) and four talentless Japanese rappers formed a group. Off the strength of their footwear connections, they got the sickest production lineup on their album since Large Pro, Premo and Pete Rock inexplicably lent their talents to Non-Phixion. The Neptunes, Daft Punk, Premo, Just Blaze, Dan the Automator, DJ Shadow, and perhaps most memorably, Michael Watts all put in work for what might best be described as a Japanese version of The Bravehearts - if Nas were replaced by Marc Ecko. That said, at least with a lineup like that you knew their hearts were in the right place. Seems for this album though that they're moving on to a more pop sound in insane hopes of going platinum and clocking mad green. (Apparently this album is actually being released on Star Trak - in America.) In fact, they're already on their second crappy Pharrell-featuring single. The latest one, though, 'Work It' featuring Pharrell and Chris Brown, stoops to new lows. The video features the four flattest-assed video girls I've ever seen, and they're not even on the set, presumably for fear of contact with the Japanese rappers. So Pharrell and these wildly dorky Japanese folks in ties and blazers are standing in front of a giant green screen of these pancake-assed, American Appareled out girls, imploring them to "work that, work that, work that, work that," leading the proceedings to take on quite a masturbatory/flagrino air. CB, wisely, skipped the shoot; I'm not sure he's established enough to sustain the damage a thing like this could do to his career.


Music Sucks, Listen To Rockwell Instead

I have a cute dog.

DJ Mike Nice's much-awaited Brooklyn Bullshit tape dropped today. It's chock-full of 5-second snippets of Biggie's baby talk and newly unearthed demo cuts of Jay rapping like the Fu-Schnickens. Really exciting. A Nas prod. by Kanye track came out; it's head and shoulders above most of Untitled but that's saying nothing. Eskay's hyping up the Budden vs. Saigon kerfuffle. (In one corner, Mr. Jumpoff, in the other, the guy whose first single off his never-released album was a conshuz Trey Songz feature about vaginal pain.) The tracklist for Jada's new album looks troubling. No Styles, features from Pharrell, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, Avery Storm, Jeezy, Barrington Levy, Faith Evans, Wayne, and song titles like 'Money and Jewelry,' 'Things I've Been Through,' and 'Time's Up'... when that was the first single off his last album. And Jeezy apparently is debuting his 'My President Is Black' video with ABC News. It features John Lewis, sucks, and is so doofy and cheerful, with all the kids waving around 'SOULJA SLIM' banners, like they were at some political convention where dead rappers could be nominated, that I'm reminded of this famous 1952 commercial for Eisenhower. So until music picks up, I'm just posting Rockwell. Rockwell, by the way, was Berry Gordy's son, although it's said that his signing to Motown - the label Gordy founded - wasn't facilitated by his connections. Hard to believe when he was such a bad singer, but whatever. Here's 'Foreign Country,' in which Rockwell gets ridiculously agitated over the fact that people speak a different language and listen to different music in the unspecified foreign country where he currently finds himself. You'll notice that Rockwell's ridiculously agitated over some triviality on all his songs, giving his robo-backup singers opportunities to super-seriously intone random-ass shit on the hooks like "FOREIGN. COUNTRY" or "you must become accustomed to the new atmosphe-ee-ere!" And here's Rockwell's surprisingly effective, very 80s remake of The Beatles' 'Taxman.'

Rockwell - Foreign Country.
Rockwell - Taxman.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Query

Could someone explain to me why the 80s featured so many paranoid Halloween/haunted house songs and why this fantastic genre has totally dried up in our own time?

Rockwell f. Michael Jackson - Somebody's Watching Me.
Beatfreakz - Somebody's Watching Me (Hi-Tack Remix).
TRU - I Always Feel Like...
And unrelated bonus - Rockwell - Obscene Phone Caller. 'If Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, would he want the telephone used this way?"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Songs That Would've Been Event Records Many Years Ago

You get the point.

1. Nas, 'Fear of The Black Man's Dick.' Has Nas become irrelevant? Kinda feels that way. I actually had high hopes for this song when I read about it in the pre-release buzz. Seemed like an interesting topic to which Nas could bring some solid insights to bear. Guess I should've thought harder about that. The song's in the same incoherent, loopy, sensationalist, half-baked, paranoid, deeply stupid mode as pretty much everything he said on the rest of the album. (Nigger, to me, was the first album where I felt like I was hearing Nas, the high-school dropout who babbles gibberish in most any interview he's ever done because he's always high and usually has no clue what he's talking about, as opposed to Nas, the genius rapper.) The beat does a great job of fitting that vibe, which is to say it sucks. I wish I could say the song's unintentionally funny, at least, but it's not, although if you're intoxicated enough you could probably get a decent laugh out of Nas yelling, "the fear of the black man's PENIS... the fear of the black man's DICK!" I especially liked how he started in telling some confusing story about a white girl who married a black factory-worker and how both blacks and whites looked at her funny (side note: how much have Nas's storytelling skills declined since, say, God's Son?), and for a second you think he's going to get serious and say something about the stigma interracial couples still face in this country, not least from blacks themselves, and then he goes, "so liberal, she screams in ecstasy, because sexually she needs the staff of Jesse Lee." And that's the end of the story. What was the point of that?

2. 50 Cent, 'Shut Ur Bloodclot Mouth' (Prod. By DJ Premier). The collaboration the world was waiting for 6-7 years ago. (If you want to hear a decent approximation of what a good 50/Premo collabo would've sounded like, listen to 'Fuck You.' So Premo-esque it's often listed on bad Premo discographies. I believe it's actually Clark Kent.) Lazy 50, very lazy Premier. I guess there isn't much more to say about it than that, other than that 50's become really, really irrelevant. 5 years ago if he and Premo did a collabo, even one as bad as this, it would've gotten acres of press.

3. Lil Wayne, 'Louisianimal.' This isn't new (although apparently the No DJ version is). Maybe it's just my imagination, but I feel like a few years ago it was a much bigger deal when a 50 dissed Jadakiss or a Cam dissed Jay... now, Wayne says something about 50, who cares. Which is as it should be, because practically every beef post-Nas/Jay has sucked. Here, Wayne recycles an old Jay line about 50 (Jay said "I'm about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 cent," Wayne says "all about a dollar, fuck two quarters") and generally bears out the hypothesis that Wayne is too nice a guy and too unfocused and free associative to really diss anybody well. When he says "fuck two quarters," there's no animus or anger there, it's just another throwaway bar in his ramble. I did, for some reason, enjoy this (0:57-1:05):

Teardrops in my face like it's my party
And if it's my party, I can cry if I want to
Split your fucking body up in half if I want to

Something about the fussy way he pronounces 'to.'

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Take It All Back...

Santogold shouldn't be allowed to ruin a perfectly good Project Pat verse. Also, hearing DJ Paul say "our girl Santogold!" makes me cringe.

Santogold and Project Pat - Shuvit.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reflections On Hearing College Dropout Again After 5 Years

I remember seeing these in the liner notes and wanting one.

So I was running some J.Crew returns and picking up 55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays today (all but 2 or 3 suck, it's quite reassuring), and I thought I'd reacquaint myself with The College Dropout. Dropout dropped at a sort of rough juncture in my life - second semester of freshman year at Duke, during which I became pretty depressed and was ultimately forced to drop out of college myself for a time, and, like Kanye on 'Spaceship,' take up a pretty humiliating job at a mall just to gain readmission. Kanye also performed on the Last Day of Classes that year (I was so drunk that I remember insisting it wasn't Kanye, but rather a body double), the album was a big topic of conversation among me and my friends (who were, oddly enough, largely in those days players on the women's basketball team), and perhaps the album's association, both temporally and content-wise, with a tough time in my life has something to do with my not having listened to the album in so long. So here are a confirmed Kanye-hater's thoughts on Kanye's best album after hearing it again after 5 years.

First of all, it's a great album, one that might even be a little underrated. I'm not one of those people who believes in major and minor classics - to me an album's either up there with Cuban Linx, Dah Shinin, etc., or it's not a classic. (I make an exception for Ice Cream Man.) So I can't call it a classic because it's just not as good as the stuff that's indisputably in the canon. Realistically speaking, there's probably just one song on here nearly as good as, say, 'Trife Life,' a song off an album with a dozen songs just as good. That's my idea of a classic. So no, Dropout's no classic. But there probably hasn't been a better rap album since. It's not that Dropout does anything terribly original; as Kanye explicitly acknowledges on 'Last Call,' we've seen this mix of goofy playfulness, autobiography, and never-preachy social commentary somewhere before ("though the fans want the feeling of a Tribe Called Quest/all they've got left is this guy called West"). But the fact is, between Tribe's breakup and Dropout, there weren't a lot of guys carrying that mantle, and more importantly, since Dropout, there's hardly been anyone since. So when you go back to Dropout, you still feel like you're hearing something utterly fresh because, as much as people produced for a while like Kanye, or may have been swayed fashion-wise by some of his less openly homo getups, try naming some rappers whom he influenced. (And don't say Lupe, it's not true.) It's pretty hard, and that's a shame because Kanye was really onto something on this album.

Building on that point, before I come back to this album, one real canard among Kanye defenders that I want to strenuously dispute is that, basically, Kanye made his classic traditional rap album, couldn't really advance the genre any further, so then he branched out into post-lyrical rapping and more orchestral/house/mock-80s modes of production, and yeah, some of it's worked and some of it hasn't, but it's all a flight from the restrictive constraints of a traditional sound and what Brandon's called the Nas formula and towards something new, different, and, at the least, not so stale. Quite the contrary, I say, at least so far as the rapping goes. What actually happened is that, after having, as he a little extravagantly puts it on 'Family Business,' discovered "a creative way to rhyme without using knives and guns," or as I would put it, dusted off the Native Tongues - that is, rediscovered a Third Way to rap that was neither gangsta nor obsessed with throwing its real hip-hop credentials in your face, Kanye basically decided that he would be another Jay-Z. And granted, this Jay would do things a little differently than the old one, he wouldn't claim to have sold drugs once or talk about shooting people, that simply would've been too ridiculous given what we knew about Kanye, that he was a preppy middle-class kid whose mascot was a teddy bear, but Kanye would attempt to display the same immense ego, sexual prowess, wealth, and lyrical skills that characterized the God MC. So we'd get a Kanye who'd say things like "since Pac passed away/most of you rappers don't deserve a track from me," or "your girl don't like me, how long has she been gay" - in the same verse of the same awful song. A Kanye who rapped about getting head on private planes - and thought he was doing so cleverly because of an awful punchline that people won't even understand 5 years from now. A Kanye who wants to pose naked. Unfortunately, braggadoccio doesn't become Kanye, nor do his insipid punchlines, but with a cadre of indie-rock critics poised to praise his every move the more and more his music started to sound like stuff that they were used to listening to, that message never got through to him, and the guy goes to sleep at night honestly believing he's put out four great albums, even though he's lost every bit of what made him a refreshing artist. What I want to emphasize though is that Late Registration and Graduation aren't failed experiments; they're failed exercises in cliche, just as surely as 50's last two albums were. The difference being that 50, at least, personifies the cliches with which he works, while Kanye couldn't have picked a less convincing or more grating persona to assume.

So it's such a surprise to come back 5 years later to the old Kanye, a humble, shy Kanye,* one who acknowledges his shortcomings as a rapper (one of the funnier lines of the album, on Slow Jamz - "I don't think I can do it that fast, but I know someone who can..."), instead of the Kanye who spent two albums desperately trying to mask his massive insecurities in inconvincing displays of ego - and then, worse yet, finally vented them in an autotuned work of schlock that's more worthy of being compared to a teenage girl's diary than Tears for Fears or Cameo (or more bizarrely yet, Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Wow, Tom Breihan. Just wow). You listen to 'Through The Wire' and you hear symptoms of the bad punchline disease that would end his career as a respectable rapper just one year later, shit like "The doctor said I had blood clots/but I ain't Jamaican, man/story on MTV, but I ain't tryin to make the band." But it isn't a quarter as annoying as similar duds on the next album, because here when he says a stupid punchline, you don't get the sense that he thinks he's saying something that clever; rather, you forgive them, smile at them even, because you're swept away by the novelty of this guy rapping through wire in his jaw about his car crash. Novel in a lot of respects; most rappers don't rap about car crashes, they prefer to rap about getting shot at in their Lambos. This was a guy rapping about quotidian, suburban experiences that just weren't rapped about on non-underground records. The rapping through the wire, a moving devotion to his art in which questions as to whether he was really any good at it were inevitably subsumed. A clever choice of a first single, if you look at it that way. (50 vs. Kanye was billed as a clash between the brilliant marketer/businessman and the artist, but Kanye's always been the better marketer.) The storytelling, the details, the famous boost and ensure and sipping the sizzurp on the pancakes. On this album, the guy's almost endearing.

Similarly, on 'Spaceship' there are hints of Kanye's soon-to-be-famous ego ("I deserve to do these numbers, the kid who made that, deserves that Maybach"). But here you can't help but agree, because instead of just stating, say, "I feel like there's still bitches that owe me sex" and coming off like the delusional idiot he's become, he puts his extravagant claims for what he deserves in some context. He talks about the time in his life before he was famous, something which he's pushed under the rug since, for the most part, and he talks about the grind it took to get there. By the end of his verse, you feel that he's earned that Maybach. And of course, enough can't be said about the beat. It's the one indisputably classic song on the album, probably the one indisputable classic in Kanye's discography, and really the most out-of-the-box thing he's ever done as a rapper. If you'd never heard the album, would you believe, or ever guess, that he recorded a classic rap ballad about race and working at the Gap?

Of course, Dropout has its share of slipups. I think everyone agrees that 'New Workout Plan' was a mistake; more controversially, I've always felt that Kanye bit off way more than he could chew, technically and topically, on 'Jesus Walks.' But if those are your missteps... well. And the skits - I appreciate the intent, but surely he could've found a better way to tie the album together than recording a bunch of not-so-funny skits that just expose his resentments against higher education. Really, I've never quite gotten what the anti-education theme has to do with anything on the album, although there is a loose connection, in Kanye's mind at least, between the label execs who wouldn't sign him because he was too preppy and the people who looked askance at his dropping out of college. At least, though, they're not as bad as the skits on Late Registration, which started to give me the distinct impression that Kanye was kicked out of a frat for acting, um, queerly. (Remember the skits mocking Broke Phi Broke for insisting that Kanye stop rocking Gucci loafers? Yeah... I think there was more to it than that.) Like I said, though, if your only slipups are trying a little too hard to make the next De La Soul Is Dead (I'm referring to the skits and 'New Workout Plan' here), and making an earnest, at times moving, but ultimately seriously flawed song on a subject that's hardly ever seriously discussed in rap,** that's a pretty great album.

* In a way it's a lot like seeing Tom Cruise in Risky Business before dude's ego exploded and he transformed into an incredibly successful douchebag. There's a great essay on Slate on just this topic; if you're interested in this sort of thing, read it.
** Another instance of Kanye's brilliant marketing is the reverse psychology he used on radio programmers in the second verse. Not that it'd be a great record without that, but the blatant manipulation and bullshit content with letting the song take away from his spins/ends takes it down another notch for me.

Compare and Contrast Monday, Or Why It Doesn't Matter If You Sample Santogold or MC Lyte

"MC Lyte: Creating music and lyrics that people can relate to, and identify with."

Lately in rap blog land, there's been a fair amount of fuss over the so-called "hipster hop crossover" and what this minitrend means. Noz complains that rappers are chasing hipster cool, and that Jay just shouldn't take "cues from art school dropouts" (what about these two famous art school graduates?), which seems a little arbitrary at best, and kinda icky at worst - you know, in a "can't let the noble savages get tainted by the corrupting influences of art school" way. Particularly in Jay's case, I think he's just a little too rich at this point to hope that he could somehow maintain his So Ghetto-osity. Suggesting that he take cues from Young Chris instead is nice, but can Jay even put himself in the mindset of a Young Chris anymore? One's a half-billionaire, the other, if I'm not mistaken, moved back to North Philly a few years ago after he spent all the money off his one hit single. Then we have Brandon, who says it's "much deeper and sadder" than rappers chasing hipster cool, but typically, isn't clear on what that much deeper and sadder consists of, although apparently it has something to do with this "really ugly," "grotesque," "ugly [again?] media support system/takeover" wherein Pitchfork and FADER drive these "oh my god, rapper x sampled hipster singer y" songs that only industry types care about so as to synergistically cake off our misery. Or something like that. It all kinda reminds me of the time Mos bitched about a tall Israeli rapeover, except in this paranoid takeover fantasy Jews have been replaced by Pitchfork writers. (Random aside: it has to suck working for Pitchfork. You provide the Internet music community with a valuable service, review all this shit in lucid prose, and in return, people just straight dump on you for the two or three things you get wrong.)

So to counter all this hysteria, I thought I would compare two Brooklyn anthems, one a classic, Gang Starr's 'The Place Where We Dwell,' and one that's not so classic, 'Brooklyn Go Hard.'* And to point out the obvious - that only a fool could think that the reason the one goes wrong where the other went right is that it sampled/featured Santogold instead of MC Lyte. Let's start with Brooklyn Go Hard and its most obvious flaws. First, the awful patois. Generally, I'm not a fan of rappers borrowing other accents than their own, it creates major authenticity problems. Wasn't a huge fan of Lil Kim's 'Lighters Up' for this reason. Although that felt way more genuine than this. Here, you've got a guy who's priced himself way, way out of his old digs, choosing to rap not only as if he were still a 'Brooklyn boy' in the present tense, but also as if he were Jamaican. Then there are the lyrics... "this is black hoody rap." Show us that, don't just say so, and if you're going to write such a lazy line, don't deliver it in a patois falsetto. The other point I would make about the lyrics, which aren't without some halfway-clever wordplay ("I jack, I rob, I sin, ah man, I'm Jackie Robinson, except when I run base, I dodge the pen"), is that they're not about Brooklyn. Which is typical in this era of rappers who can't stay on topic and can't seem to rap about a place to save their lives (remember the time Game did a song about "Where I'm From" and it devolved into this tale of how when he visits Eve in Philly, he sees people wearing Timbs, and when he sees Young Buck in Nashville, people wear Air Forces, and when he sees 50 in New York, people wear... Timbs, and none of it was about where Game was from?). The whole song's about him with little references to Brooklyn sprinkled throughout. How are Brooklyners supposed to take your song as their anthem when you're rapping about how you can afford to buy the Nets? Oh, hurray, our borough raised an entrepreneur! He's such a hometown boy, he's bringing us an NBA team! We're so grateful for your charity, Jay! Maybe Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Eagles, could do a song with the Roots next. (And needless to say, Jay's flow is as awkward as it's ever been in the past couple years.) Finally, though, is the 'Brooklyn Go Hard' beat good? In one sense, yes; as Brandon enthuses, it's got some pretty cool "dying battery synths and determined drums." But on the other hand, it's more typically maximalist, not-giving-the-rapper-any-room-to-breathe Kanye that has more in common with the overorchestrated aesthetic of a Coldplay than anything we've typically looked at as hip-hop. It's certainly not what I think of when I hear the phrase "black hoody rap." Amidst all these things going wrong, the Santogold sample's literally the only thing right (her verse, though, is a disaster). Is Santogold one of those dreaded hipsters, a terrible artist, a faddish dipshit? Maybe, probably; I don't spend enough time listening to M.I.A. and her knockoffs to know. But whatever Santa's failings, the sample's hot, insanely catchy, quite anthemic, and to complain that Jay's chasing hipster cool by the mere act of working with her or sampling M.I.A. misses what's really wrong with the 'Brooklyn Go Hard/S.L.U. combo.

Now take 'The Place Where We Dwell.' Famously, Premo's beat is just a sample from a drum solo and a two, three-second loop of some dudes shouting "BROOKLYN, BROOKLYN, BROOKLYN," the sort of thing that we've never really heard from Kanye and never will. Doesn't get much more black hoody rap than that. Premo scratches in some vocal from MC Lyte's 'I Cram To Understand' on the hook ("those who live in Brooklyn know just what I'm talkin"), and that's it. Note Guru's single-minded focus on Brooklyn, the ostensible subject matter of Jay's song. At times the brags about BK get a little corny, though in 1992 it probably wasn't too dorky to say things like "on the subject of blackness, well let me share this/Brooklyn is the home for cultural awareness," but when it comes to bigging up your borough I don't think anyone's ever done it as simply and eloquently as Guru did when he monotonically intoned this:

Peace to boston, philly, connecticut,** dc

All the east coast cities are fly to me
Peace to everybody down south and out west
But for me, brooklyn, new york is the best

Now, does MC Lyte add some authentic Brooklyn flavor that Santogold, Wesleyan '97, doesn't? Of course. But post-retirement Jay and Mr. "Coldplay, Rihanna and I constitute a new regime of living legends" West are going to suck with or without Santogold; she's just the cherry on top of this fruitcake of grandiose bullshit, and even with her rotten verse, she's still a net plus. On the other hand, Premo circa 91-99, with the right rapper (maybe Jay himself), could have made a classic out of that Santosample. Hipsters, I would conclude, aren't the problem with the hipster-hop trendlet; the problem is simply that the artists working with the hipsters suck.

MC Lyte - I Cram To Understand U. Please download this, I ripped Lyte's whole debut album just to get it for you, and besides, it's an amazing song and of historic interest as it's Lyte's first single, put out in '86 when she was just 15,*** and had a pretty obvious influence on Slick Rick.

* I could and probably should have compared 'Brooklyn Go Hard' and that amazing new NORE song instead, a comparison which would demonstrate even better that it doesn't matter who you sample so long as you (a) do it well, (b) can still kinda rap, and (c) don't come off like a gentrified fugazi.
** Did this inspire Rae's "Peace Connecticut"?
*** Crazy Wikipedia-derived piece of trivia that says a lot about the short shelf life of the average rapper: Lyte is just 5 years older than Santogold.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Midnight Snack of Champions

Whole breast meat pieces!

This isn't a food blog, but in keeping with my habit of condescendingly stereotyping my readers, I figure most of y'all aren't rich (in my limited experience of Pitchfork conspiracy theorists, most people who have time to speculate on whether the Pitchfork/Fader partnership is some kind of nefarious plot to synergistically push M.I.A. down our throats don't have much of a professional life), so I wanted to fill you in a delicious, filling and cost-effective alternative to whatever crappy fast food outlet is open late in your local cul-de-sac. I've always been a little suspicious of Whole Foods (the only store that stocks these amazin'** nuggets) since I read that ?uestlove shops there, but Bell and Evans Air Chilled Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets are too good to miss out on over anti-okayplayer loyalties. To quote some folks from a gluten allergy message board who were talking about the gluten-free variety (and this really says it all because if they liked the gluten-free this much, just imagine the ones with nice warm gluten*):

WOW.... If I knew how delicious these were I think I'd have bought a whole case!!!!

they are made with real, juicy white meat

I would truly buy and eat these even if I didn't have celiac disease!!!

I was so pleasantly surprised by these. Made my night!

Oh happy day!

I had these for the first time this weekend and oh my gosh are they good! My sister and I sat there eating them together (we both have celiac disease) and kept saying "wow" and "yum" throughout the meal!

Best of all, theyre priced at a pricey $6.49 price point, so you don't have to feel like you're bringing anything too cheap into your lovely home - and, lest I forget, these chicken nuggets are made from chickens that were "free to roam" - that is, not quite free-range, but fear not, chicken lover, that's in the chickens' best interests. You see, Ma Bell and Pa Evans don't want to expose their little chickadees to "bad weather or diseases." This way they're safe in their spacious chicken condos. (Yes, chicken condos.) So eat up on Bell and Evans Air-Chilled Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets. Anything less would be wack.

* Yeah, I have no clue what gluten is either.
** How did people think that was a good album??

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Go Rent/Buy/Steal This Movie









I'm not a film critic, I just criticize ones who were crackheads in a past life, so I don't have much to say about this movie other than to urge you to go and see it. If you squint a little, you should be able to see that Andrew Sarris, one of our non-crackhead critics (in fact, one of the best this country's ever had, though these days at the ripe old age of 80 he's taken to giving dap to some pretty bad movies), once said that this was the greatest film of all time. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I can tell you that I've never seen a movie that I could say was clearly better than it, and that a lot of the movies that get talked about as contenders for the top spot, like a Citizen Kane or Godfather, definitely aren't seeing this, not at all. The subject matter is not, I suspect, that alluring to the average rap blog reader, even ones of such sensitive sensibilities as you folks are, but as I'm always insisting about rap, and the same goes for film, it's not what you say, it's how you say it, and this is just a supremely, confoundingly, awesomely well-acted and directed movie, so good that at points I, aghast at what a genius the director must have been, had to rewind several minutes because I'd missed what was said in jaw-dropped stupor at the brilliance of it all. The New Yorker critic said when the movie was rerelased on American screens that the only excuse to miss the showing was death, and that seems about right. (If you insist on knowing what the thing's about, though, it's a costume period romance in 19th century France involving a love triangle between a married couple and a ludicrously good-looking Italian diplomat. No homo.) As an added benefit, if you rent the thing on DVD, you get the pleasure of seeing what an idiot the director of There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson, really is, as he "introduces" the film and has nothing to say for fifteen minutes besides speculate on whether the two lovers engaged in some off-camera "naughty business" and talk about what a great grip the director must have had to do such good tracking shots. What did our generation do to deserve such bad movies?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Our First Sorely Disappointing Track Of The Year

Wildly sloppy, but you get the point.

So Wayne and Pharrell put out a track today called 'Yes' over a Neptunes beat. (Thank you, New Music Cartel, for being the FIRST to share this crap with us.) Basically the same melody-less beat that Pharrell's been peddling since Chad reportedly quit collaborating with him, this kind of caterpillar bass (see 'Can I Have It Like That,' Gwen's 'Wind It Up,' 'Mr. Me Too') and not much else. Pharrell imitates Wayne's flow and voice on 'A Milli,' with little hints of Pusha's inflection sprinkled in. Pharrell can be quite a dullard when he isn't being his own goofy self. (He can also be as entertaining a rapper we've got when he is; see his mixtape with DJ Drama.) He also talks about Ace of Spades a lot. Look, just because Jay cut an endorsement deal with them doesn't mean you have to push it too. Wayne lazily mumbles into the autotune and laughs at his own jokes, none of which are funny ("I asked her do she want to fuck, before I asked twice she said - [Sample]: 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' [Wayne:] hahahahahahaha"). He also says that the 'F' in Weezy F Baby stands for 'phenomenal.' He has a few typically random lines - I think this song may make him the first rapper to boast that he keeps his hands sanitized - but somehow the effect is overwhelmingly boring. The sad thing is, you kinda get the sense from the minimalism of the beat, the repeated screwed vocal sample ('yes, yes, yes, yes'), Pharrell's blatant bite of Wayne's 'Milli' flow, and Wayne's semi-recycling of same on his own part that this song is intended to be Pharrell's answer to 'A Milli.' And not that I even liked 'A Milli' that much, but this song is about 1% as good as that was. What a snoozer.

In completely unrelated news, I was looking at to see if there were any comic nuggets in their recent interviews I missed, and Prodigy had this to say about the relative merits of fiction and non-fiction:

I just read everything that has something to do with black history and s**t to do with this planet earth that we live on. Just factual information you know what I'm saying? I'm not really into fiction and all that s**t know what I'm saying, I'm really not with that. I'm gonna use my brainpower and time and energy to read big thick ass books. I want it to be something that I’ma learn some information that's factual that I can do something with you know what I mean.... I got a lot of books man. They’re all factual, just real good information; that's what I'm about.

Prodigy - using his brainpower and time and energy to read big thick ass books.
He also found time to scoff at those who get writers' block:

Nah, I don't never have a creative blocs, I don't never have writer’s block. I don't even know what that means. People say, "I got writer's block," I look at them like they crazy because that's just a personal problem that they have to learn how to overcome.

Of course, it isn't hard to avoid getting writers' block when your lyrics have devolved into shit like "Yo P, I can rhyme/50 Cent did it, I can do this shit too/But you not 50, he an individual." Or this enthralling, albeit somewhat disjointed depiction of a stay in the hospital:

I remember laying up fucked up in the hospital
Troy and Bags would visit; Troy had Sickle-cell
Me and him use to kick it and Bags' baby moms died giving birth
'Cause of Sickle-cell problems
And Shamik from Lefrak would bring me Red Lobster.

Smooth transition from the trials and tribulations of Bags' baby moms to the Red Lobster.

A Stupid Moment

He's actually not a terrible producer.

So I got the family copy of Time in the mail, and this week's edition of their idiotic feature, 10 Questions, where Time readers ask celebrities 10 stupid questions and get 10 stupid and/or evasive answers (Question: What do you think about gangsta rap and its message? Answer: Modern-day gangsta rap is cool. Some stuff I like. Some I don't) is with Oh goodie. You know, I remember him doing this insanely retarded interview after the "Yes We Can" video dropped, but I didn't know the guy was this stupid. Pay attention.

"What does the future hold for the Black Eyed Peas?
Nikko Carlson
Chapel Hill, N.C. Better question: What does the future hold for music as a whole? If I tell my 7-year-old cousin when she's older," Hey, do you know Virgin?" She'll be like, "Yeah, I'm still a virgin." She's not going to know that at one point in time Virgin was a record store, because everything is changing.

Let me repeat that.

Hey, do you know Virgin?

(William's cousin): Yeah, I'm still a virgin.

Like, aside from the fact that, you know, why would you randomly ask your cousin if they know about a record store that went out of business before they were old enough to know about it, does this cousin have some kind of mental deficiency he's not telling us about? Maybe the same one has? Because her hypothetical response just makes no sense as a matter of basic grammar. Questions of the "do you know _____" format aren't supposed to get "I'm still a ____" answers. And besides, what adolescent girl randomly volunteers to her middle-aged male cousin that she's a virgin? This is like if in 2018, Juicy Couture has gone out of business, and, curious about how women's fashion is going and unaware that Juicy is dead, says to his cousin, "hey, do you know Juicy" and the cousin, instead of saying "What's Juicy" like every non-retarded person would, goes, "um, I have a juicy ass." Like what the fuck. I think it's profoundly telling that a guy who clearly suffers from some kind of mental disability produced the title track on Hip Hop Is Dead.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fight The Swagger!

Some real hip-hop heads fighting the swagger.

This is sorta sad. Sticky Fingaz is or at least was a great and influential rapper who's kinda been forgotten about by rap historians who forget that Bacdafucup preceded Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers by nine months. All That We Got Iz Us compares favorably to many of the classics of 94-95. Echos of his style can be heard in rappers as different as Pastor Troy and DMX. He's easily as important a figure as Raekwon or Buckshot or other lesser legends in that general tier. So it's a pity to hear dude wheezing in the booth about the evils of swag and Phantoms and girls at your video dancing. Although it isn't even as clear-cut as that, because the weedcarriers on the hook can't quite seem to figure out whether to be mocking swag or just claiming that "yall" don't have swag like their boss does, and therefore need said Phantoms, girls at yall's video dancing, etc. As I said before, the problem with swag isn't that it's a stupid idea, it's just that it's been left so undefined that guys like Sticky get the mistaken impression (perhaps from reading Jim Jones's Complex interviews) that rap's been overrun by a bunch of idiots who think draping designer scarves over their heads = swag = rapping greatness. Or as The Realest Rapper Alive, Styles said, "ain't nothing wrong with having style and swag and all that but I think all the guys are starting to be focused so much on the look and the way they are so much, that it almost make them like girls." Yes, perhaps rappers are way more fashion-conscious these days (although I don't see that at all, it's just that the styles have changed) , but that's not what swag means, or at least it's not what I mean by swag. Swag is when Sticky said in "Walk In New York" that "for what it's worth, we the triflest motherfuckers on the face of the earth" and for a moment makes you believe that it's literally true in a way that only a few rappers could. (For instance, Jay in his prime couldn't pull that line off; Havoc, on the other hand, probably could, but not quite as well.) Now swag, as I didn't clearly explain before, comes in all shapes and sizes and by all sorts of names; what's trill to you might sound country to me, what's grimy to me might sound spastic and cartoonish to you. (Basically I'm stealing this whole take on swag from FreeDarko.) But all types of swag have this in common, that they're one or another sort of charisma/conviction in what the rapper's saying. Swag doesn't have to be tough or gangsta; Talib has a nerdy sort of swag on 'Definition,' especially when he dismisses rappers who spit the epitome of stupidity. Large Professor has an indignant purist's swag on 'Fakin The Funk.' Chubb Rock had a magisterial, brassy baritone swag on 'Return of The Crooklyn Dodgers,' talking about postwar American history and the origins of crack. MF Doom has all kinds of swag.

Now, some rappers lack swag; Lupe, for instance, comes off to me on most of his songs as an annoying, pretentious, obnoxious individual. Luda's swag has mostly evaporated. Kanye tries very hard to pull off a defiant, arrogant sort of swag on 'Can't Tell Me Nothin,' but miserably fails, especially when he encourages haters to eschew fixing their lips like collagen and then say something when they gon' end up apologin. And not because that's a horrible line, although it is, but because when he says it he sounds like some pissed-off gay guy who's just been told that his jeans are too tight. You give that line to Diddy, it'd still be a stupid line but he'd make it funny at least; that's because Diddy's only mildly annoyed by the people he sees as his haters, not, like Kanye, obsessed with them. Again, swag's a horribly vague concept in need of a ton of clarification, and in the cases of guys like Jim Jones and Rocko and Shawty Lo and at times Gucci Mane, rappers who think they can get over just by finding a crappy ad-lib to repeat, that is, doing bad imitations of Jeezy circa 2005-6, it's led to some atrocious music. But it's not a bad thing.