Thursday, September 3, 2009

Godfather 3 Syndrome

I should really just get a Twitter and make all you follow me because my observations on shit are pretty brief these days, but on the big leaks of the week, let me just say this. I'm not listening to Blueprint 3 because I know I won't like it. I'm eventually listening to OB4CL2 because I'm sure it'll be a decent album, No Said Date with an actually good rapper at the helm, or something like that. But look. Whether you're the type of person who reflexively loves anything a Wu-Tang member puts out (like the people who loved Big Doe Rehab even though it wasn't particularly good), whether you're a Jay stan or Jay apologist or just someone who finds the sound of Sean Carter's voice a soothing balm in the, uh, midst of your harried existence (which is alright), you have to admit this. This being, there's a problem when the event records of the year are sequels of 8-to-14-year-old classics or albums that undeservedly have classic status. That is as sure an indication as there can be of a genre spinning its wheels. Either that or (a) a genre bizarrely obsessed with history or (b) a genre with a lot of savvy operators who understand the marketing upside of trotting out a beloved brand, like 'Blueprint' or 'Cuban Linx.' But even if it's just (a), or (b), I still think you have a problem. Rock stars aren't marketing idiots and I don't recall Bob Dylan putting out Highway 61 Revisited - Again. The fact that there is a market for this shit in rap and not so much elsewhere means something.

To just start a paragraph without any sort of transition, when Nas first did this with Stillmatic, at least he wasn't promising a straight re-run - the idea was some kind of synthesis between the purity and ambition of Illmatic and whoever he had become circa 2001. This ended up not being the most sustainable of artistic directions, but there are few bars recorded this decade that deserve the enconium of classic and canonical more than:

Ayo, the brother is Stillmatic
I crawled up out of that grave, wiping the dirt, cleaning my shirt
They thought I'd make another
But it's always forward I'm moving
Never backwards stupid here's another classic

So at least that project started out well. Here, there's not that promise of forward movement. What we're seeing here, just in the way these projects have been billed, is more along the lines of 'Do It Again' (here I won't be some allusive schmuck and assume you know what I'm talking about - 'Do It Again,' an "okay, we'll go back to just being surfers" song the Beach Boys recorded in 1968 after their crazy genius leader's experimentation met with poor commercial reception):

So whether you're one of the Armond Whites of the world who think Sofia Coppola was amazing in Godfather III, or whether, unlike Armond, you are sane and realize what a misguided clusterfuck that movie was, you should still acknowledge that the rehashing of old classics is not a great forward direction for a medium to take and that that film's release signaled something about the downward spiral American cinema would take through the 90s and 00s. And that is the real issue here, not whether these albums are really worthy of their expectation-raising titles. Even if they are, we still have a problem.


Trey Stone said...

you've made variations on this same point about a million times now. it's not that i necessarily disagree, just that i think anyone who's read your comments got it a while ago.

tray said...

Yeah, quite so, it's just a little screamingly apparent right now, thought it merited comment. People get caught up in the local issue of how much Jay sucks or how great some of these Rae revival moments are that they lose sight of the broader "what the fuck is happening in rap right now" issue. Soon De La will put out Stakes Is High-er. Get Rich Or Die Tryin 2 seems almost inevitable.

Trey Stone said...

but i mean, it's entirely possible to find merit in either of these albums while still acknowledging that rap isn't in the best spot. i don't think you're arguing otherwise, and if you end up not finding either album that great that's your prerogative obviously. it's just it seems like you tend to automatically write off a bunch of new stuff out of hand because it fits your whole rap in decline narrative.

tray said...

Oh, totally possible that these are good albums. I'm reasonably sure one is. But it surely says something when the most hyped-up album of the year, the most hyped-up album of the past 5 or so years next to Detox (also a quasi-sequel) is a sequel to an album that came out 14 years ago.... because we're seriously in a place in rap where we think, "okay, the best thing that could possibly happen in the rap world is if this fairly washed-up guy were to somehow replicate this great album we all love from '95, at this point that's the most we can really hope for, a great retread." Which is true, if the thing at all lives up to its name, it would have to be, by definition, at least my 2nd or 3rd favorite album of the decade.