Friday, March 12, 2010

I Still Have A Few Thoughts On Music (And Healthcare!)

So I [was] home for spring break and [was] listening to new music for the first time in two months (I don't drive down here; if I did I'd constantly be tempted to drive away). The most striking thing about pop radio at the moment, from a rap-centric perspective, is how little rap there is on it. Aside from 'Bedrock,' 'How Low,' 'Say Something,' and 'Nothin On You,' and I don't even know if I would categorize those as rap songs so much as pop songs with something that sounds like rapping on them, there's really no rap out there. And even on rap stations, there's incredibly little rapping. I've heard 'Women Lie Men Lie,' 'Lemonade,' and 'O Let's Do It' a total of three times, the above-mentioned pseudo-rap songs about a hundred times, and then the rest is Rihanna and all these Chris Brown imitators. Perhaps surprisingly, I don't see this as a bad thing at all. Instead of looking this in the old stupid terms of, "the only rappers who sell these days are the ones who sing into autotune, and that's why all my favorite rappers either have no career anymore or are being forced to make these terrible pop concessions," I think this is an opportunity for rap. With the genre as unpopular as it is, trend-chasing becomes futile for all but a mostly undeserving few that still manages to move large amounts of product, freeing rappers up to make their own artistic choices in an attempt to at least hold on to their core fans. You see this with projects like Cuban Linx 2 and The Stimulus Project, not that I liked The Stimulus Project much. Of course, the risk is that rap will become a little too traditionalist and everybody will start to sound like a bad imitation of themselves (see The Stimulus Project). But that's better than the old superproducer potpourri approach to making an album. So for the first time in a while I'm kind of optimstic about rap's future, although I don't really hear any actual music bearing that optimism out and it is a little scary when you can spend a week in Philadelphia and the only verses you hear on the rado from a rapper born above the Mason-Dixon line (and below the U.S./Canada border) are Jae Millz's on 'Bedrock' and Nicki Minaj's countless crappy guest spots. (Oh, and one kind of solid Cassidy comeback attempt, and that awful song with Lloyd Banks and Juelz.)

So on to some actual songs. I really do enjoy 'Bedrock,' Drake's verse notwithstanding. My Drake-hatred currently centers around the line, "I love your sushi roll, hotter than wasaaaaaaabi," but truthfully that line, while dumb, wouldn't bother me at all if put in the mouth of Gudda Gudda. The issue is more that Drake just exudes "this guy has no business being a rapper"-ness every time he speaks. Does he sound too suburban, too privileged, too Canadian? All of the above, I guess. What it comes down to is that I believe that rap is really about the poor to lower-middle-class American black experience and people who sound like Will Smith's nerdy brother from Fresh Prince should not be rappers. Unless you want to honestly rap about your background and how that makes you different from other rappers. But you can't just sneak in to the genre and pretend that no one notices you don't belong. It'd be like if one of Obama's daughters joined the 2020 equivalent of Crime Mob ten years from now. I would also append my comment on somanyshrimp's excellent post on Drake's sucky rapping:

I think you could find some equally embarrassing punchlines from some much-beloved 90s rappers, to say nothing of people like Jeezy or Wayne before, not after, your opinion of him soured. So I wouldn’t say the real problem with Drake is how lyrically deficient he is, as someone else could pull that crap off. (Though maybe no one can pull off two thumbs up, ebert and roeper.) I think it’s actually more the laser-guided delivery that Dombal praises that, like you say, hangs them out there for the picking in this really self-impressed, self-congratulatory way. I only heard the song we’re talking about once, but I’m sure he pauses between two thumbs up and Ebert and Roeper for half a beat in a “wait for it, it’s really good, here the punchline comes… Ebert and ROEPER, wow, I killed that!!!” way. While Wayne can say he’s in the building like the audience (bad example, but he did much worse even in his prime) and it’s okay because it’s just a part of his train of thought, not this pseudo-aha moment.

But back to 'Bedrock,' a few things. Lloyd is head and shoulders above all the other r&b singing young men and I wish he would put out more music. When he first came out, I was like, who is this clown who sounds like the black sixth member of the Beegees, but then he made 'Get It Shawty' and 'Girls All Around The World' and now I'm a huge fan. The rapping... I mean, the rapping isn't really rapping. They're all basically singing along with the melody of the beat. You hear a lot of this day in pop-rap, these super gimmicky only for one song flows. But that said, it works here and if you think of this as a pop ditty rather than worrying about whether any of these people can rap the song works much better. Nicki's the only one who tries to get outside the box a bit and that fails. I don't get why she randomly changes her voice 3 times a verse. Like what's with the "me on my LOW STARCH" part? She's really just becoming the same collection of the same three gimmicks on everything she does. Gudda Gudda, on the other hand, gets more fun to listen to the worse he raps. And I enjoy Jae Millz's almost Bob Dylan-esque emphasis on everything ("Miss Indepennnnnnndent, and yeah she got her ownnnnnnn").

'Nothin On You' is kind of indistinguishable from a Drake song; the only thing that gives it any personality is B.O.B.'s accent and the fact that he raps a lot like one of the guys in Field Mob, I forget which. There's a sincerity there. But lyrically it's extremely autopilot. A few details about this girl whom all the beautiful girls all over the world have nothing on would be appreciated. Otherwise why is one supposed to listen? For the awful hook from the guy who sounds like Matthew Santos?

'Women Lie Men Lie' is a fantastic song. There's a reason Yo Gotti is one of the last five or so rappers standing who can actually get his shit on the radio; he's a really good rapper.

'Tik Tok,' 'Blah Blah,' etc. If you took one of the girls off Jersey Shore and locked her in a room with some okay house producers, do you really suppose the results would be any worse than this? I can't be down with someone this talentless and dumb.

'Do You Remember' is a solid 'Forever' remake. Good to hear Lil Jon on the airwaves.

I'm a huge fan of the last two Rihanna singles. As I've said in the past, I used to feel that Rihanna was a video model/softcore stripper who sang, and up until and including 'Run This Town' that was still very much my assessment. What the fuck is she talking about on 'Run This Town,' she sounds like one of those girls you sit next to in class whose life consists of looking at facebook pictures of herself taken the night before. Like oh my god, I was sooooo the 823rd hottest girl in that club. I really ran the town last night. Such vapidity is just objectively uninteresting to hear about when put into song. But with 'Hard' and 'Rude Boy' I feel she's taken a huge step forward towards having a personality and a non-detestable one at that, sort of a Terminatrix of pop look. To the point where her singing about sex has become this "I'm bored, can't you get it up already" shit, as opposed to the skankiness of Rihannas past.

Timbaland has obviously run out of gas for the moment, but you already know this.

I'm starting to become reconciled to the dribs and drabs of Blueprint 3 I hear as this sort of rap starter kit for rich white children who know nothing about rap to get into rap. I just see too many Facebook photo albums from friends at Columbia Law or wherever who know absolutely nothing about music but are really really pumped to go to a Jay-Z concert and caption all their photos with lines from 'Young Forever.' Yeah, it's really terrible rapping, but maybe we can forgive him that because (a) he's not trying anymore and is basically creating some kind of new pseudo-rap over Coldplay-esque beats genre, (b) because he is actually saying something in his dim, bloated exec, 50,000 feet above Earth way.

Finally, on healthcare, I have no idea if that crap will actually work or not, there are bajillions of ways the whole thing could blow up, but I do think it's really admirable that the Democrats went ahead and did it, many of them risking their jobs. It's reassuring to see that it's still possible to pass major legislation, and frankly I felt almost a little patriotic for a couple days after it got passed. Of course the whole thing is a grand bargain between insurers and drug companies and doctors so it's a little hard to see it as a shining idealistic moment for American democracy, but in a way it is, and I was actually pretty thrilled to see the House Democrats prove me wrong and pretty dismayed to see how hopelessly retarded the critique of this thing from most conservative quarters has been. Though to be sure if you look around there are some really bright conservative economists who can tell you why the bill may be a disaster, but their arguments aren't what you're hearing, whereas "it's socialist" or "the founding fathers [the fucking founding fathers!] would have disapproved" are. Pathetic. The worst to me, as a philosophy major, is when I hear that there's no right to healthcare, ergo we shouldn't be doing this, or at least, ergo there's no moral argument for this. Yeah, no shit people don't have some kind of natural right to live till they're 80 instead of 60, much less get procedures paid for which may or may not effectuate that outcome. But since fucking when are things only good things to do if they guarantee people some right that they have? I don't know that dogs have a right to be treated kindly, but I sure think that it's wrong to beat a dog and good to treat a dog well. Not all theories of ethics are rights-based. Somehow people seem to not realize this.


MF said...

D'ya really get the skanky/stripper vibe from Rihanna? I always had her down more of a boring girl-next-door from Barbados who Def Jam moulded into a fresh-off-the-banana boat post-D.C Beyonce (Pon De Replay days) before they hired her a better stylist, dispensed of any foreign infuence in her music and turned her into a "Terminatrix" who's essentially still a boring girl-next-door from Barbados, just with stranger hair, better clothes and more high-budget production.

Since i'm really not interested in the personality nuances of female r&b singers and find her attempts at being overtly tough and sexy on Rude Boy as laughable as a wet, clumsy Canadian soap star called Aubrey trying to channel Findum, Fuckum And Flee and a classic Screw tape into this, S.O.S is her best song for me because it's basically Tainted Love by Soft Cell, but without the nuisance of a creepy gay guy singing on it.

Drake is basically Wayne on The Carter 3 without any of the interesting bits, and there were scarse few interesting bits in that incarnation of Wayne.

tray said...

Now the creepy gay guy singing on 'Tainted Love' makes the whole song. I think it really captures the whole, gay guy wishing he were Diana Ross thing. I mean, I'm straight and I frequently go through periods where I wish I could sing like Diana Ross. I also really hate the way Rihanna sings tossin and turnin.

MF said...

You're dead inside if you can listen to Love Hangover and not want to sing like Diana, but here in the UK we know all the sordid rumours about Marc Almond (the creepy gay guy) and so it's nigh on impossible to hear the Soft Cell version of Tainted Love now and not have questions like "did dude really get his stomach pumped due to all the semen in it?" and "did he really have to have rectal reconstruction surgery after he took his penchant for being buggered by hulking German men a little too far?" popping up in your head, which kinda ruins the fragile, longing vibe of the song.

tray said...

I don't know, I mean, rectal reconstruction surgery to me suggests a guy who's (a) fragile and (b) afflicted by serious longings. Thereby not detracting from the vibe. It certainly wouldn't be half the song it is if a more hetero guy did it.

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