Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another Annoying Tray Complaint About Rap (See 3rd Paragraph)

I'm (obviously) abandoning my Larry King wrapups, as I don't find them too entertaining, and I really don't care too much about rap right now, and I don't really have anything interesting to say about the weird Pill/Gibbs flare-up on the blogs a couple weeks back, other than that, yes, Pill and Gibbs, pretty great rappers, but admittedly, it is a little weird that these somewhat limited talents are the most ballyhooed rappers in the rap blog world right now, and there is something a little - I don't want to say retro about their work, because I don't particularly hear any kind of blatant Outkast imitation going on the way you did with the Knux or Da Backwudz - but a little "cinema of quality" to their output. Cinema of quality being a term of derision a group of young French film critics (who ultimately became great young French directors) in the late 50s used to throw up at the very competent and finely crafted, but a touch lifeless and certainly not at all innovative, movies made by their elders. And that's kind of how I feel about Pill, though he's not one bit lifeless, but I do feel that we've perhaps progressed beyond finely polished rapping of the sort he has to offer being the gold standard anymore, and that it's just a bit of an artistic dead end in the very large scheme of things. In the not so large scheme of things, it's just a relief to hear some very good rapping these days, and it's not like it's thematically barren stuff either.

Anyway, I've become a partial Gucci Mane convert, and listened to about half of his new mixtapes (skipping Brrussia and Great Brrrrtain) with a fair amount of approval, though all the songs do seem to blend into one big ad-lib, aside from interesting changes in flow (I love the Jeezy imitation on 'Dope Boys,' since Jeezy is no longer very interested in being himself, and the slurry mumbly mess that isn't actually a mess at all that's 'Trap Goin Crazy') and some stupid-funny jokes that help to distinguish tracks from each other. But the album cuts, so far, have not been so wonderful. For a mixture of reasons. With 'Heavy,' Gucci's reaching the point of diminishing returns in his fun "my whole life can be reduced to one word that expresses its awesomeness" subgenre. Why he can't just put 'Wonderful' or 'Awesome' or 'Gorgeous,' or maybe my favorite, 'Disaster' on the album, I don't understand; in the great old material vs. the exciting new material that's not nearly as good as the old, I always come down on the great old material side. That way, you might actually have an album worthy of reissue ten years from now, at which point no one will remember how new the material was. Then there are songs like 'Bad Bad Bad,' where the guest appearance (Keyshia Cole) actively detracts from the quality of the song. Gucci Mane's the kind of artist who needs his own Blue Raspberry to fit into his insular world of mealy-mouthed vocals and Brrrr's, not some top-of-the-line chanteuse. But it's an album and record labels seem to think that big names help move records, in addition to which rappers seem to genuinely like working with big names. So okay, excusable pitfall of the medium.

But then you have something like 'Stupid Wild,' of which I can only conclude that no one involved gave a shit. 'Stupid Wild,' you know, if done right, could actually have been a pretty important song for this generation, the way 'Black Republicans' was supposed to be for people old enough to care about Jay or Nas, the way 'Mr. Carter' kind of maybe actually was, the way, I don't know, the Flava In Your Ear remix was. Think about it - the three critical darlings of the decade, each one of whom was or is a pretty huge cult figure outside of critical circles, all on one track. Produced by Bangladesh! What could go wrong? Well apparently everything. First, Bangladesh decided to refurbish 'You Don't Want Drama.' What is that about? Maybe it's not on him and Gucci particularly wanted to rap over that track? Well if so, that was a mistake, because he sounds suffocated by it (note how he just gets off one muffled 'Brrr' and one 'Well damn!'). Wayne reuses the same forgettable verse he had on previous Gucci/Wayne collabo, 'Bitches Wanna' - although perhaps that was a leaked incomplete version of this track, but given that no one liked 'Bitches Wanna' much, shouldn't this have been a signal to go back and actually record a good verse, instead of this collection of throwaway lines like "Mr. Coach Carter, or Mr. Go Harder" and "and if you wanna fight, come on, you can fight my guns"? And then there's Cam, who just can't much rap anymore. "Started getting on my nerves so I hit her with a BRRRRR" is about as embarrasing as any of Jay's recent exercises on overemphasis and punched-in adlibs. (It's also very typical of rap these days that no one thought to partially redeem this lame idea by having Gucci complete Cam's line, which would at least create an illusion of chemistry and shared studio time that your average 90s rap posse track thrived on.) Who to put Cam's verse on is hard to say; it's between Cam, who is capable of working around his deficits for a 30-second spurt or so (see 'Popeye's'), and Gucci, who didn't have the gumption to say the verse wasn't good enough to make the record. You know, the way rappers used to do when a guest appearance sucked.

If this were just one disappointing song, it wouldn't be worth taking a break from studying contracts to write about, but the thing is, virtually every big collaboration or remix is like this these days. One generally gets the sense that today a rapper decides to do a song with someone, sends him the instrumental, gets a recording of his verse back, and puts the verse on the song regardless of whether it's any good. If it's good, we get lucky and get a good song, and if it's bad we're unlucky and don't. What was the last time you heard of a verse being shot down? You do hear about it occasionally, but usually in the context of replacing one rapper with another with a bigger name - more for the sake of marketing than quality. Compare this to some of the old XXL write-ups about the making of Cuban Linx or what have you, where you read about artists rejecting bad verses, listening to different verses - in the case of 'Verbal Intercourse,' for example, telling Nas that the legendary verse that made the record was the one he should use, when he apparently wanted to go with another - and you can see one major reason for why today's album rap is rarely better than mediocre. A reason, I might add, that really isn't on the label so much as it is on artists not giving a shit. It goes beyond that though - one doesn't get the sense, with today's big collabos, that the featured artists get up for them the way they undeniably did in the past. Wayne's verse on this song, or Gucci's or Cam's, definitely can't be their idea of a great verse. They're just passable at best, and they have to know that. Maybe this is the fault of mixtapes - anything but your lead single, a torch-passing collaboration with Jay, or the intro to your album is just another song out of millions, so why bother trying to make something unusually good - but even if that is the cause, it's no excuse.

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