Tuesday, June 29, 2010


So I was sitting in court today right in front of my life-appointed judge and between falling asleep 5 times, unconsciously I randomly started mouthing the lyrics to Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard In Da Paint." Fortunately she can't read lips. Would've been awkward. Anyway, I have some brief thoughts on music. Like, really brief thoughts.

'Airplanes' is very unfortunate. We truly seem to be headed for an era of emo-rap. The hook epitomizes everything I hate about Music By White People With Guitars. I don't know if there's something objectively gross about that type of "I could really use a wish right NOWWWWWWWW" type of angst or if I just can't relate. I incline towards the former. I mean, it's not like I'm a tough guy, I drive around constantly singing along with the Supremes and shit, but there's a difference between genuine misery and feeling like you want to cut yourself with tiny blades and wear really dark eye shadow. But the rapping's even worse. I mean, the guy's possibly the hugest sellout in the recent history of the genre and he spends his last verse bemoaning label politics - the same, you know, politics that are foisting this awful song on us. He makes Ke$ha feel uncalculated and authentic. Not to mention the shit with the planes and shooting stars. Look, wishing on a shooting star is already bullshit, therefore, you can wish on anything you want to. A fart if you like. Don't act like there's this wish-code that requires you to entreaty the fucking heavens to turn planes into shooting stars so you can have something to stick your little emo wishes to. Like I really thought that we abandoned insanely trite conceits in pop lyricism like that one back in the days of Sinatra.

Forever Young is interestingly bad in theory but not in actuality. In theory because (a) you've got this man rapping/talking/murmuring like he's dying, yet he's babbling about how eternally young he is, (b) the third verse where his flow totally breaks down and he just keeps saying "hold up, hold up", (c) redundantly explaining that "if you love me this is how you let me know/don't ever let me go/that's how you let me know," which is the sort of thing that could've come off as all cool and dadaist, as the lazy critics used to say, in the mouth of the 2004 J.R. Writer, but from Jay sounds more like, "oh my god, let's get this man some help, he's coming down with Alzheimer's", and (d) when he asks if we got the picture yet, because he's painting us a portrait of himself, even though he has done no such thing at any point in the song, so his insistence that there's this picture that we're not getting just seems really delusional. But in actuality it's just a bad song, not spellbindingly awful rapping or anything.

Usher, OMG(osh??). This is a song that I would be sort of cool with, sans will.i.am. verse, if Usher weren't the one singing it. But Usher is actually a real singer, not, like, fucking La Bouche. Or The Dream. His job isn't humming a few bars of crap over an electro beat and calling it a day. So he turns out to be really bad at humming a few bars of crap over an electro beat and calling it a day. Who knew that was a skill? In any event, there's absolutely no sense of desire or sex here. And the whole thing ends up sounding like one of those awkward attempts some of the more conservative 60s bands would make to do something psychedelic post-Sergeant Pepper. All those, "here, we've got a weird spacy synthesizer, we're hippies now" songs. Can you actually imagine Usher performing this thing? What would he do during all the dead space? Everytime I hear the song I imagine Usher on some 1968 episode of the Ed Sullivan show, in some crazy multi-colored getup, awkwardly staring at will.i.am, his keyboardist, being all like, "see, I can do house-influenced pop too."

Ne-Yo, Champagne Life. Have you heard this? Hilarious. I guess he had to move past Miss Independent sooner or later. It seems that his new artistic direction is imitation-crappy-1995-r&b. At one point he promises female listeners "nice meal and a good wine, definition of a good time." Definition of a good time? I hate it when singers explain that so and so is the "definition of a dimepiece," when rappers explain that they're the definition of a g, etc., but this really takes the take. What kind of good time is it going to be? The DEFINITION of a good time. Well that's descriptive. A good time kind of a good time.

Ludacris, Sex Room. This might actually be Luda's first good single since, um.... well before #1 Spot. His party shit has just become boring as fuck, his flow as predictable as a Law and Order episode, but he can still rap about sex alright. I especially love the beat, which reminds me a lot of Master P's lost track (the sample clearance monsters ate it) 'Smokin Green' (which by the way is a top ten weed-smoking rap song of all time - I should know because I've never smoked anything in my life and generally can't stand people who do, so for a weed song to speak to me it has to be really good since I can't relate at all). And then the hook reminds me a lot of C-Murder's 'Torcher Chamber.'

I was obsessively listening to Lil B for a week but I've come to feel that he has a long way to go. The Lil B concept is great, sometimes it all comes together, but he can be shockingly reliant on Drake-like punchlines that I don't think any of his fans would be able to tolerate if they weren't coming from Lil B. And then a lot of his shit just doesn't come off. Like most of I'm Thraxx.

Rick Ross f. Styles P, that song where he goes, I think I'm Big Meech, Larry Hoover. Ricky really seems to be coming along as a rapper. And unlike Jeezy, when he does rap well, I don't think he sacrifices much entertainment value. Whereas with Jeezy there was a huge trade of charisma and ad-libs for a little technical competence. (Then again, maybe Jeezy is reaching a bit of an equilibrium. I need to listen to his new mixtape more carefully.) Anyway, Ricky and Styles P are a terrible pairing, Ricky being more from the blockbuster action movie school of rap and Styles being just the grimiest and grittiest rapper out. But it's always nice to hear Styles on the radio. Even when he says things like "the money's like a chair, I'm sitting on it," he says it in such a way, particularly the word 'chair,' that not only does it sound like a good line, it sounds really hard.

I'll comment more on music tomorrow perhaps, but I just wanted to call attention to this comment from Camille Paglia, famed scholar of nothing in particular, in the New York Times. Paglia says the white middle class has lost its sex drive, and offers this as proof:

"A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class."

How did this make it past the editor? First of all, even the richest malls I go to have a ton of "multiracial" patrons. Once you're past the malls that are 80% Louis Vuitton stores, my mall experience is that mall customers are half multiracial. Maybe that's just Philadelphia; all our malls are stops on bus routes. But I just find it incredible that a New York Times op-ed suggests that to the extent black people come to malls, it's just for the Victoria's Secret. Second, I would next point out that (a) gazillions of white women wear Victoria's Secret, (b) gazillions of white women wear those obnoxious Victoria's Secret Pink sweatpants, sweatshirts, sweateverything, (c) basically all their models are white or Brazilian so how the fuck is Victoria's Secret this indicator of minority sexual energy? Obviously if they were this minority niche brand they'd market themselves more like it. Third and lastly, outside of a sexually repressive culture, which it's clear we don't live in outside of our insane overreactions to the misbehavior of black golfers, is it really even possible for a whole race to suffer from, to quote the piece, "sexual apathy"? I tend to think that people, like dogs, are born with about the same desires and levels of desire through the centuries and millennia and that something like, to cite one of the supposed causes of this pseudo-phenomenon, "the lack of genuine eroticism" in much of our pop music isn't going to have any effect on that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fresh Out The Federal, Cases I Got Several

So I got a job this summer working for a judge whom shall go unnamed on a certain Court of Appeals that shall also go unnamed. For my British readers, and uninformed American readers, the thirteen Courts of Appeal, or Circuit Courts, are second in stature only to the Supreme Court. That is, only the Supreme Court can overturn our decisions, whereas we can overturn everybody else's. In the vast, vast majority of cases, the Courts of Appeal have the last say. Although I am just an unpaid intern and a first-year law school student, my work is quite serious; I am assigned a case, given the parties' briefs, the record (which is sometimes thousands of pages long), and am asked to write a memo recommending how the Judge decides. Who knows, as of yet (I've just started), how seriously these recommendations are taken, or how much of my analysis the Judge will find persuasive, but I have already seen cases where the initial bench memo, as they're called, with a few edits, is turned into the opinion of the court. Of course, I can't say anything about the cases on which I'm working, other than to note that, though one might think that the work of a Court of Appeal is quite momentous (and in fact, tomorrow we are hearing a couple of important free speech cases, so some interesting things get done here), for the most part our caseload is composed of appeals from denials of disability benefits, appeals from sentences of imprisonment, and appeals from decisions of the Immigration Board. All of which, legally at least, is quite run-of-the-mill stuff. What I thought my readers might find interesting is that, as I work on my cases, some of which, I think I'm allowed to say, involve conflicting testimony between police officers and young black felons, people getting caught with guns in dangerous housing projects, stop-and-frisks, arguments about the fairness of sentences, I find myself, a little surprisingly, tending to feel a bias towards the criminals and against the government. And not knowing what else to attribute it to - it certainly has nothing to do with my experiences, or my politics - I'm starting to think it's because of rap. I happened on an old copy of It's All On You Vol. 2 last week, and I've been listening to it every day on the way to work. It's not the greatest album, Mannie being caught somewhere between his earlier bounce sound and his cheap keyboard 400 Degreez sound, and as a result relying, rather uncharacteristically, on a lot of boring little samples, and the repetitive hooks on every song are a major detriment, and it's hard to point to a song on it that B.G. just kills (Juvie has some amazing guest spots, though, and Wayne has some amusing prepubescent ones), but overall it's quite solid. In some ways it's a lot like a Cash Money version of Lifestylez Ov da Poor & Dangerous. Anyway, being that I'm currently listening every morning to this menacing 17-year-old-kid cackle in his syrupy voice about killing fellow residents of ultra-low-income-housing with his ever-ready chopper, it's kind of hard, when I get into work, to not feel a little sympathetic for the guy who goes to jail for a few years because he got caught with a gun and had a prior conviction. In my experience there aren't a ton of lawyers, even my age, who are seriously listening to rap, and the more apolitical it gets the less it will even matter, but one does wonder what effect a generation that grew up on 50 Cent and Jay and OutKast will have on the law.