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Spin: Heems – Nehru Jackets


Reviewed Heems’ ridiculously great, Queens rap-indebted mixtape for SPIN. It was given the “essential” tag, which it totally deserves. There are a few words about Kool A.D.’s The Palm Wine Drinkard in there as well. Dunno, I feel like people are really underrating Nehru Jackets. Go back to it if you thought it was “too long” or whatever…

If you discovered hip-hop during the so-called Golden Age of the late-’80s/early-’90s, Queens still holds an almost mythic quality to this day. Which applies to both the rappers — bigger-than-life rogues like Nas, Mobb Deep, Kool G. Rap, Pharoahe Monch, and Capone-N-Noreaga — and the locale itself, which, if judged by the rhymes about stick-up kids and videos full of dudes standing around fire-belching trash cans, always seemed idyllic in its awful-ness.

The general definition of “Queens rap” came from that sort of thing, which means Nehru Jackets, an eccentric boom-bap mixtape from Queens residents Heems (a.k.a., Himanshu Suri of Das Racist) and producer Mike Finito, probably fails to qualify under such a strict rubric. But that’s a good thing. The off-the-cuff confidence of this free offering — presented by Queens-based nonprofit SEVA NY in support of their campaign against gerrymandering and redistricting — feels like a bleary-eyed character actor strolling through a big-budget crime flick, mucking up all that once-poignant, now-rote “authenticity.” It’s a reminder of what was actually charming about classic Queens rap: Behind the rugged-and-raw signifying, there were weird personalities and a palpable sense of community…

Written by Brandon

February 3rd, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Spin

January Picks.

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  • Heems, Nehru Jackets: Dusted, busted, boom-bap soundtracks our seemingly forever-fucked post-9/11 nervousness. Mike Finito makes 90s producer worship thrilling. Heems has Resurrection-era Common’s “I may not get there with you” spirit.
  • Evan Voytas, Feel Me: FlyLo live guitarist and jazzy-wazzy insider channels chillwave, brings his compositional chops, and sings his annoying little heart out. One song sounds like Polow’s “Glamourous” beat. A plucky headphone record cool with being uncool.
  • Homeboy Sandman, Subject: Matter: Quirky Queens word nerd joins Stones Throw, gets mad lyrical, violates GZA’s “half short, twice strong” aphorism, but doesn’t forget to have fun. Outsider art-rap. Even at 6 songs this is overwhelming (that’s a compliment).
  • G-Mane, Mark Of The Beast: A harsh, soulful slab of fire and brimstone-invoking, intelligent hoodlum-esque political rap. Resists cynicism thanks to an uplifting final act of Pimp C real talk and a William DeVaughn update. Album cover of the year.
  • Zack Browning, Secret Pulse: Fancy pants modern classical pick. Imagine the sunny, unpretentious American avant-garde laced with art-damaged Atari blips. One or two more sounds and this would scan as “cool,” one or two less and it’d score a Fincher flick.

Written by Brandon

February 2nd, 2012 at 5:52 am

Posted in 2012

Fiend – “Aqua Flow”


Here’s Fiend rapping over Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around,” which makes no sense, and a little too much sense. Important things mentioned on “Aqua Flow”: Ocean Drive, Zach Galifianakis, potions, valiums (on the beach), pyramids. Also worth noting: Those rushing water sounds before the beat drops were not added for ambiance, they come straight from this video for that song from Portlandia, which means Fiend just queued this up on YouTube, clicked “record” on whatever cheapo program he’s got on his computer, tapped into the sensuous-ness of this chillwave classic (no, really!), and purred out some spliff-inspired sweet somethings. And chillwave owes a great deal to hip-hop anyways. On this song, Ernest Greene, who has some Dilla and Pete Rock in his sound, pretty much just slopped-and-screwed Gary Low’s “I Want You.” And chillwave and chilled-out rap pretty much started up at the same exact time, so let International Jones go jackin’ for beats over top some Gorilla vs. Bear fare. “Aqua Flow” isn’t as accomplished as his freestyle over the Specials’ “Ghost Town,” but I’m just as happy this one exists.

Written by Brandon

January 30th, 2012 at 3:21 am

Spin: ‘Pariah,’ Finding Love and Loving Hip-Hop

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This week’s column is about Dee Rees’ movie Pariah, which is totally not Oscar-bait! The movie also has some smart things to say about rap music and hip-hop culture. I try to explain what it’s saying. Deleted thought: Rees cuts up and refashions black cinema with the same respect/disrespect that a beatmaker brings to a soul sample. Belly’s referenced, and Precious director Lee Daniels’ greasy hyper-realism’s there in the cinematography even as Pariah rejects that film’s sense that black living is at best, a beautiful hell. The nearly forgotten stirrings of the early 90s African American film renaissance are present thanks to Spike Lee as executive producer and it has the homespun sincerity of post-civil rights cinema like Ossie Davis’ Black Girl and others. Alike’s father seems plucked from Charles Burnett’s Compton neo-realist classic Killer Of Sheep. Go see it!

After only hearing about Pariah, Dee Rees’ smart, heartbreaking film of a young black lesbian growing up in Brooklyn, a friend of mine compared it to Boys Don’t Cry. Meaning: It’s obviously another one of those feel-good-about-feeling-bad, issue-heavy melodramas that pop up on the indie film landscape every few years. Pariah however, goes to great lengths to confuse and confound its potentially in-built audience of civic-minded, liberal cinema-goers.

Pariah begins in a strip club. Gritty, hyper-stylized shots of grinding dancers and dollar bills floating around are set to Khia’s raunchy early-2000s hit “My Neck, My Back (Lick It).” It looks like a scene out of Hype Williams’ high-contrast 1998 rap classic Belly. The club is girls-only, though, so here’s a strip club full of women enjoying themselves, joyfully objectifying one another, and acting as obnoxious as men. And the film seems fine with that, reserving judgment even as it gradually introduces Alike (Adepero Oduye), whose concern is her curfew, not grabbing as many girls’ phone numbers as possible…

Written by Brandon

January 28th, 2012 at 12:03 am

Posted in Spin, Spin column, film

Spin: Tyga’s “Rack City” Is the Best Song on the Radio Right Now, Here Are 10 Reasons Why

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On “Rack City” as well as snap music, Rick Rubin, Newt Gingrich’s brain in a jar, teenage prick kids on YouTube, Grip Plyaz, Drexciya, music video auteur Chris Robinson, and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch. Rack City, bitch, Rack Rack City, bitch…

Written by Brandon

January 20th, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

G-Mane – “Thankful”


Holy fuck, this G-Mane mixtape. If you’re like me, you probably follow quite a few #occupy types, and they can be equal parts informative and idiotic. One thing that seems to come up quite a bit (way too much really), is a certain distaste for rappers’ spending (as if the money of one moderately wealthy aspirational black man has anything to do with our country’s problems) and the typical grumbling about needing more “conscious” or “political hip-hop” to soundtrack the movement. Dunno, kinda think this was what Jay-Z was getting at with those “Occupy All Streets” shirts, but anyways: Hip-hop is political by nature dummy, and there is this whole New Underground thing, which in both its business model (dogged D.I.Y.-ness, use of the majors rather than the other way around) and content (low-stakes regular guy-ness) addresses the state of the nation quite well.

But okay, fair enough, save for Killer Mike, there isn’t a lot of effective, revolutionary rhetoric and old fashioned street knowledge running around right now and so, something like Mark Of The Beast from G-Side buddy G-Mane fills that void. “Thankful,” an interpolation of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You Got” (“9 in my lap, pop-back top, pull up on the scene blowing hydro-green”) comes right after “Think,” one of the best and most quotable rap songs of last year (“you got a new whip man, that’s tight, go and pick up your soon”). “Think” is recycled for this short EP, which feels like Willie D’s I’m Goin’ Out Like A Soldier, Behold A Pale Horse by way of Pimp C, Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, and the collected works of Clarence 13X all mixed together and then given hooks by Nate Dogg.

Written by Brandon

January 19th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

My 2011 Pazz & Jop Ballot

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  • 1. G-Side, The One…Cohesive
  • 2. Holy Ghost!, Holy Ghost!
  • 3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  • 4. Cities Aviv, Digital Lows
  • 5. Clams Casino, Instrumental Mixtape
  • 6. Danny Brown, XXX
  • 7. Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica
  • 8. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch The Throne
  • 9. Ponytail, Do Whatever You Want All The Time
  • 10. Don Trip & Starlio, Step Brothers


  • 1. Real Estate, “It’s Real”
  • 2. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, “Zan With That Lean”
  • 3. Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”
  • 4. Patrick Stump, “Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)”
  • 5. DJ Khaled ft. Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne, “I’m On One”
  • 6. Future Islands, “Balance”
  • 7. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
  • 8. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, “I’ll Take Care Of U”
  • 9. Miguel, “Sure Thing”
  • 10. Nite Jewel, “It Goes Through Your Head”

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2012 at 3:45 am

Posted in 2011, Village Voice

Antwon – “Handsome”

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Antwon is a San Jose MC who sounds a little bit like Biggie. Not just because he calls himself “Young Poppa” and has a similar, fat guy rumble to his voice, but because of his youthful wit, food obsession, and the goofball sensitivity of his sex raps. The closing lines of “Handsome” combine all of those things: “Sauteed lamb samosa, blue magic weed/ Shout out Zooey Deschanel, she can have my seed/ Shout out all womens, all colors, all creeds/Especially the ones in the world that love me.” Producer Bad Slorp’s beat is on some Toto “Africa” plus early UGK with a John Tesh twist shit, though it also scans as 90s golden-era nostalgic somehow?! Whatever, it’s awesome and a nice step up for this charming rapper who just a few months ago was rhyming over Washed Out and Salem songs. This isn’t even the best track on My Westside Horizon, which came out late last year, it’s just the most illustrative example of its lo-fi shimmer. Not in the hypnagogia gone Memphis by way of Florida chillwave cacophony of SpaceGhostPurrp mind you, but in an almost classic indie rock sense where fizz and hiss don’t make the music, they just add more rocky textures and raw energy to a sturdy, classic formula.

Written by Brandon

January 17th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Them’s The Vagaries Podcast: Comic Books Talk Pt. 2

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Part two of my comics rant for the podcast Them’s The Vagaries. Sean and I finally get to my five favorite comics of 2011 (Wolverine: The Best There Is…, Gangsta Rap Posse #2, Welcome Fever, It’s Me–The Magic #1, Thickness 1 & 2, and Northlanders #41) and there are lots of weird tangents in these 90 minutes, including a moment where I imagine what Wolverine’s penis looks like.

Written by Brandon

January 16th, 2012 at 1:03 am

Posted in Comics

Spin: Rick Ross vs. Squadda B, Street Rap at the Breaking Point


Why Squadda B’s street concept mixtape Back $elling Crack is better than Rick Ross’ Rich Foreverr and just as much big dumb fun. Post-script is a defense of Jay-Z’s “Glory.”

Two new mixtapes, Rick Ross’ Rich Forever, and Squadda B’s Back $elling Crack recently hit the Internet — the former ostentatious and fantastical (still defined by 2010 mega-hit “B.M.F.”), the latter aggressively smooth and confessional (think: “cloud rap”). And they very pointedly pull street rap in dramatically different directions. A stop-gap release between last year’s Teflon Don and the upcoming God Forgives, I Don’t, Rich Forever finds Ross typically referencing guns, drugs, and snitches. Though, in a fascinating postmodern turn, his drug-lord persona also takes a backseat, as he mostly talks about the money he’s now earning that’s he’s a famous rapper. The beats are glorious and shiny, but there’s a tedium to Ross’ bellowing style — like a steroidal version of Young Jeezy, who was already a steroidal version of Cam’ron and Clipse, which is actually the ideal image for this engorged, hustling kingpin and his new mixtape: Roided-out twice over…

Written by Brandon

January 13th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column