Friday, June 5, 2009

A (Not So) Desultory Post on Desultory Crap


  • Every song on the radio sucks right now. (With the exception of 'Turn My Swag On.') The worst offender, though, by far is Keri Hilson's 'Knock You Down.' As grating as she is when enumerating her list of pick-up tactics that turn her imitation Mya ass awwwff, she's ten times worse when pretending to be in love (that faux-swept-off-her-feet tone she affects when she talks about thinking about getting a "house and kids, yeahhhhh" - ughh). And why is it that when love knocks you down you're supposed to get back up? I thought the whole song was about how great it is to fall in love? Did she just say that because once Aaliyah instructed listeners to dust themselves off and try again? That made sense. This doesn't. It's one thing to be a bad writer, but when your shit is so boilerplate that you're regurgitating cliches that don't even make any fucking sense in the context of what you're saying, you have problems. Ne-Yo steps in to make allusions to 'Miss Independent' (is the rest of his competent but boring career going to be Miss Independent remixes?), and Kanye provides the only dose of human interest on the record, albeit in a verse strewn with typically retarded punchlines that are not, I repeat, not, intentionally bad. He's just that dumb. But the O-M-G/woe is me bit is cute. Bad vocalists singing along with their guest rappers, however, is not.
  • Jazmine Sullivan's 'Lions, Tigers, and Bears,' however, is a great song, though a little mannered and fussy and accompanied by a really crappy video. It's weird how Salaam Remi produces killer R&B and such bad rap.
  • Jeezy's new mixtape is quite unremarkable, though rarely as flat-out awful as most of The Recession. Far cry from classic shit like this, off the underrated I Am The Street Dream. Breihan once wrote that The Inspiration was "straight uninterrupted epic evilness," a description which really only applies to the first four tracks, but epic evilness (sic) is definitely an apt description of shit like the above, especially the sneeringly malevolent that's riiiight's on the hook, and the moment (2:52) where Jeezy goes, "they say they can't believe what comes out my mouth/'cause I talk about the shit I keep in my stash-house," and sing-songs the stashhouse in this curiously ashamed way, like only an irredeemable human being could reveal the details of what he keeps in his stashhouse. To me, moments like these separate Jeezy from the rest of the trap-a-rappers (and even, dare I say, the post Lord Willin Clipse). Unfortunately, I doubt that Jeezy is ever coming back.
  • Speaking of unremarkable rap and Young Jeezy, how about that awful Cam album? Pitchfork is unusually spot-on on it, noting quite correctly that Cam would've been much wiser to go the Mickey Rourke in Wrestler route, or even the Prodigy on Return of the Mac route, instead of this Purple Haze on a really tiny budget and no more flow route. Perhaps most shameful among the album's many lowlights is 'Where I Know You From,' where Cam lays down some sleep-inducing raps over Jeezy's 'Get Your Mind Right' beat, only banged out on his cheap label's cheap Koch keyboard. Who could've imagined, 5 years ago, a scenario where you wouldn't take Cam's remake of a Jeezy song over the original? Not I. The sad thing is that, unlike Jay or Prodigy, who not only forgot how to rap but also how to write, Cam's lyrics are still pretty top notch. (Though it's true that Cam's persona derived a lot from his role as the leader/"don" of Dipset, and it's really weird to hear a Cam album without shout-outs to Juelz, Jim, and the Writer of Writers.) He just can't quite rap anymore. Time after time he drags out the ends of lines in the most annoying, momentum-killing way because he's just lost his crisp flow. (I may do a post on obscurities from Cam's prime to illustrate the difference.) He also doesn't sound very interested in rapping. 'Spend The Night,' to my mind, is the only song where he manages, Prodigy-style, to take advantage of what a dessicated shell of himself he's become, painting a pretty brilliant picture of the lame sex life of an over-the-hill aging rapper. Even the obnoxiously elongated syllables help to emphasize (3:04) the pathetic creepiness of his come-on lines ("wanna shoot it and cock it/not the blammer, baby girl, I'm talkin somethin' elsssssssse..."). The somehow seedy house-ish beat, far from being an annoying obligatory experiment as some folks have claimed, perfectly complements what Cam's doing here. And in an oblique iconoclastic way, I think the opening lines are Cam's cleverest Jay dis yet: "Some girls say that I'm the cutest/some say that I'm the rudest/meditate, like a Buddhist/expose them like a nudist." The meditate like a Buddhist, of course, is a quote from Jay's 'Can I Live.' Only Cam would quote from Reasonable Doubt (a criminally overrated record) in such a frivolous context.
  • Speaking of unremarkable mixtapes, I wonder if our friend the remix killer's schtick is getting a little thin. One expects much, much more of Kells remixes of 'Birthday Sex,' 'Turn My Swag On,' and 'Turning Me On.' I mean, the originals of these songs are better than his remixes! Inconceivable from a man who crooned a year ago on the 'You're A Customer' remix that "if you're thirsty, I've got some good good lemonade/12 Play 4th Quarter gonna make you want to scrape the plate!" Dude openly bragged about pissing on women and then pivots to a shameless plug for his shit album. Masterful. (Another great '08 Kells remix moment came on 'Touch My Body,' when, after opening his verse with the untoppable couplet, "it's the remix killer, and I think she want me to feel her," sang, "if there some honies up in here who want me to touch their bodies, say I do," and, hearing no reply from Mariah or even a background female vocalist, sings, in his imitation of a woman's voice, 'I do.' That 'I do' > Ne-Yo's career.)
  • The Dream alternates, in his guest work, between sounding like a bleating autotuned sheep ('Throw It In The Bag') and being a ridiculously charming loverman ('All I Really Want'). Hopefully the latter song will be a hit soon. Rick's raps don't really compare to some of his past for-the-ladies highlights (remember "look at me, I cook for her, then I make her cook for me/She make me cook her lobster tails/then I make her go cook a keyyyyy"?), but they're still better than what 99% of the game has to say on the subject. Oh, and could Fab retire some time soon? Maybe go into acting? I know some people think he was good on Rockin That Shit, and he was, but he's still just such a waste of potential. All he has going for him anymore is his haughty disdain for everyone and everything, which I enjoy actually in a "wouldn't it be cool if snobby white pricks like myself could rap" sense - he kind of reps for the spoiled suburban state of mind in a strange way ("Neiman Marcus on me!") - but that only goes so far.
  • Quik and Kurrupt sounds fantastic. Too bad two hoary old vets probably can't bring rap back.
  • Soulja Boy is doing interesting work right now. Seriously. Check out this bizarre attempt at storytelling (kinda feels like a teenbop take on early Pastor Troy), or this autotuned, superior to anything Wayne's done in eons, and clearly recorded-while-intoxicated freestyle about how he has so much swagger it don't make no motherfucking sense. Which he shortly followed up with a track the hook of which goes "motherfuck a swag (fuck swag!), bitch I got mojo." Which is retarded as all Soulja Boy stuff is, but also pretty sharp in a way, because isn't swag getting pretty played out? Soulja Boy: turning his back on the swag movement he helped create.
  • I'm never really going to come all the way around on Gucci, but tracks like these are awfully good. What's interesting here to me is Gucci's flow. Most rappers who start out a song in this kind of rapid-fire DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh pattern are usually going somewhere; Jay, for instance, would often, on his more serious stuff, build a conflict, so to speak, with his flow, and then close on a coda of transcendence. (A classic example would be his verse on 'Diamonds,' or the Dynasty Intro.) So as a listener, when you hear a flow like this you're conditioned to expect a certain release. But Gucci just goes into a throwaway hook and then picks right up where he left off the next verse. There is a bit of a resolution at the 'don't try me with that sissy stuff' line at the end of verse 2, but it's the weakest thing on the song and as it turns out, he can't leave it there and uses just the same flow on verse 3. His verse on 'Shopping Spree' is similar - where another rapper would ease back into something more relaxed after the virtuosic display on the first few bars, Gucci keeps coming. For a formalist like me, it's this sense of denied release, of irresolved conflict, this disposition to keep treating a beat like a punching back after he's already shredded it to bits and the listener is waiting for him to step back and strike a pose of satisfaction, that makes Gucci an interesting rapper. In a quiet way it's a sort of shattering of the medium's formal and narrative conventions.
  • In movies, I got around to seeing Sugar, the movie about a Dominican pitcher who comes to America that was hailed by A.O. Scott as some kind of neo-neo-realist triumph, and I hated it. Of course, maybe this is because I don't much care for neo-realism in the first place (seminal snoozy neo-realist works include The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D,) so neo-neo-realism is bound to disappoint me. But really, 80% of the film is indifferently shot montage of the kid looking out bus windows, or throwing pitches and pumping his fist, or running around on the field... it's not storytelling and it's not really character study either. It's just a dull realist inventory of Shit That Happens In A Dominican Pitching Prospect's Life. (For ex., Miguel goes to Iowan club. Miguel sees blondes dancing to Cassie's 'Me and You.' Miguel dances with one. The director never turns the volume down on the Cassie because it's a Very Realistic Movie. Then blonde's boyfriend shows up and wants to fight. But they don't fight and Miguel just walks out with his pitching arm unscathed. And then he goes and eats some French toast. Because that's all he can order in English. Very realist and very why do I care.)
  • Another half-assed movie that's gotten way too smooth a ride from critics is Adventureland. It works on a throwaway 80s nostalgia trip level, but a few things doom this movie. One, the star can't act. It's completely out of this kid's range (the kid in question being Jesse Eisenberg) to act upset when he discovers that his girlfriend, the first love of his life, has been sleeping with the amusement park maintenance man. (Stupid puppydog faces, of course, are very within this kid's range.) Two, the pathetic superficiality of Eisenberg's performance is matched by the superficiality of the direction. Ultimately, the film doesn't take itself very seriously. The story deals with serious subjects - first love, abusive stepmothers from hell - and everytime these issues come to boil, the camera runs away. There's this awful moment where Kristen Stewart, who's pretty decent here, rips off her stepmother's wig after the stepmother called her a selfish little bitch, and it should be a pretty great cathartic scene, but instead of playing it out, Kristen darts off to her room, the camera darts away with her, and that's that. It's as if the director (Greg Mottola, Superbad) decided that the movie was just, after all, a light coming-of-age comedy and resolutely determined to keep it tethered to the shallow end of the pool he thinks such fare demands. Fortunately, we already have one great American movie this year, namely Two Lovers, which is more than you can say about much of the rest of the past decade.

9 comments:

bding7 said...

"The sad thing is that, unlike Jay or Prodigy, who not only forgot how to rap but also how to write, Cam's lyrics are still pretty top notch."

yea, DOA is maybe the worst song i've heard this year. he's just stumbling all over himself ruining a great beat.

tray said...

DOA?

bding7 said...

the new jay song, "Death of Autotune." sorry i wasn't clear about that at all.

tray said...

Oh... yeah, I'm not at all up to date on the big event NahRight type of stuff.

Badmon3333 said...

The only bad thing about BlaQKout is it's about eight years too late. Otherwise, it's just another reason why Quik is really actually better and far more consistent than Dre.

tray said...

Certainly far more consistent, and while Dre was definitely responsible for a few great tracks from 1999-2003, I don't really find that super-clean sound too interesting. That said, I suppose that Efil4zaggin is a bigger accomplishment than anything on Quik's resume.

Badmon3333 said...

Dre is much more into the beat-you-over-the-head type of style (from the clustered funk of "Efil4zaggin" to his beats on Em's new disc, with a few notable exceptions on the original 'Chronic'), where Quik has what I would say is a much more casual West Coast style that doesn't use P-Funk as a jumping-off point so much as an inspiration for totally new grooves.

tray said...

That's all true, but I guess I prefer the staggering brilliance of something like 'Real Niggaz Don't Die' to the sort of quiet ho-hum professionalism of most Quik stuff. Probably why I don't much like UGK. And actually, now that I actually have listened to the whole album, a lot of it's mediocre to occasionally very nearly unlistenable. Quik's ideas of what passes for a hook in 2009 are very odd.

Badmon3333 said...

'Rhythm-al-ism' was definitely his best hour.