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Rap Music and “Experimental” Music

I was dancing around this topic in my ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’ review because I didn’t think many people think or care why Tim Hecker and Young Jeezy are similar musicians. As my girlfriend, kind-of default editor, and imminent contributor to this little blog said: “Who would [that entry] be for?” I’m not really sure. But, who’s reading this shit anyway?

While I was writing my Hecker review, I kept thinking of ‘The Inspiration’ and how ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Harmony…’ are more alike than any of the other albums I’ve written about. If I had to compare ‘The Inspiration’, I’d say it is sonically similar to Three-Six Mafia ‘Most Known Unknown’, ‘M83’s ‘Before the Dawn Heals Us’, and the aforementioned Hecker album. A weird group, but seriously: What makes Tim Hecker avant-garde and Young Jeezy (and his producers) stupid mainstream rap? The music is primarily created through sampling and electronics. Those soundtrack to ‘Thief’ whips and beeps on ‘Hypnotize’ sound a lot like the in-and-out helicopter-sounding whooshes that provide the backing to ‘Dungeoneering’. More importantly, the songs are after the same feeling: Some kind of claustrophobic, scary world-collapsing paranoia that occasionally breaks open into minor joy. The way ‘Dungeoneering’ lets up towards the end and segues into the next track is a lot like the feeling Jeezy provides with a defiant chorus or Shawty Red or Timbo provide the listener with through a change-up of the beat. What about those sub-level basstones that suddenly push forward on a lot of ‘The Inspiration’s tracks? Electronic music, especially the kind Hecker makes, is all production. The minor details and subtle shifts are what make it good. The organ stabs on ‘Whitecaps of White Noise I’ sound a lot like DJ Toomp’s now signature synth-tone. This stuff isn’t that different!

If we think of Jeezy’s album as a rap album but still, not that different from glitch or ambient electronic or whatever, then the whole “Bring lyricism back/Bring New York back” argument is trivial because an end-run around that argument has been made. Why must Jeezy be eloquent? Is he even rapping on ‘The Inspiration’? He’s just sort of saying stuff that occasionally, doesn’t even rhyme. All I know is, the total package, what Jeezy says, lyrical or not, coupled with the production, is a really satisfying musical experience. Jeezy’s just some guy saying some shit about what he knows. It is unfortunate that rappers are so closely tied to precedent and tradition, but its evern sadder that they are asked to cover all of their bases socially, politically, and ethically. These concerns with racial representation and social consciousness don’t and shouldn’t mean a thing to Jeezy. I’m not interested in only listening to stuff I already know about or stuff that I agree with. I’m Black Metal obsessed and most of those guys are screaming about some Heathen/Preserve-the-White race stuff that’s scary, but also awesome because it’s just some guy in Norway pouring his heart into his music. Even if he’s pouring his heart into music that promotes church-burning. I think the first step towards this disinterest in purity of genre, while still being deathly afraid of “fusion”- could come about if more people realized what is going on in mainstream rap and gave these guys some credit. If ‘Wire Magazine’ had any balls, if the magazine was honestly interested in “adventures in modern music” and dropped their elitism, their rap coverboys wouldn’t be lames like MF Doom or Edan. Three-Six Mafia would have made the cover a decade ago. So would The Neptunes and Timbaland, even Jazze Pha or Kanye West. Are Broadcast or Boards of Canada more “adventurous” than a Phizzle production like ‘So What’? The magazine’s year-end list might include ‘Late Registration’ or something, but it’s more like them conceding to it so they don’t look totally out of touch. There isn’t anything spectacular about Edan, he’s entirely a throwback and I guess that’s cool or post-innovative or something, but I think it’s just annoying. The rap music that sells (not Edan), the rap music so many people have a problem with, is really, really good and forward-thinking and yes, “experimental”. More experimental than the “underground”. Noz wrote on this topic better than I ever could, particularly his passage on how “weird” rap music is. Go check it out: ‘The Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit Post-Rap Side Projects’.I sort of wish one of those anthologies like the Dave Eggers-edited ‘The Best American Non-Required Reading’ anthologies existed for the best web-based rap writing. This Noz article would make it. So would Peter Macia’s review of Little Brother’s ‘The Minstrel Show’ because if this rap-blogging stuff ever means something to anyone, I feel like that review was sort of a significant, throwing down the gauntlet. And yeah, if I were the editor of some sort of rap-blog anthology, it would be so Wigster your ‘Morehouse Class of 94’ Reunion’ commemorative kufi would fucking spin.

Written by Brandon

December 31st, 2006 at 11:29 pm

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Honorable Mentions
b. Tim Hecker – Harmony in Ultraviolet.
The only non-rap new release I gave a shit about this year. The market for noisey, farty electronic music is small, but you’ll never stop hearing me tell people that it is the only other interesting genre of music going on today. Last year, the only albums I could honestly and fully praise would be ‘Most Known Unknown’ by Three-Six Mafia and ‘Multiples’ by Keith Fullerton Whitman. For me, Tim Hecker is the musician of this genre (‘glitch’ is a horrible descriptor) that I admire most. Perhaps, it’s simply because he’s a hoser and makes amazing non-kitschy albums consisting of Van Halen samples, but he seems to be the least pretentious of these artists and his music the least precious. Like Ghostface, Hecker’s music may mean too much to me to have an objective or conventional opinion. I think ‘Mirages’ and ‘My Love Is Rotten to the Core’ are his best albums, while most reviewers write-off ‘Mirages’ as “okay” and ‘My Love…’ as some kind of novelty record. ‘Radio Amor’ sounds too much like other albums of the genre (I’ve never heard ‘Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do it Again’), while the two I mentioned have this woozy, painkillers, brink-of-death-and-destruction feeling that makes it unlike most stuff I’ve heard in any genre.

I’m sounding like John Ruskin or somebody, but I think it is important that all art, especially music, contain this intangible sense of menace about it. For something to be great, it has to have this menace because that menace is the acknowledgement of death and if you’re not somehow addressing death, what the hell are you doing? Even when you’re partying it up, you better remember you’re going to fucking die one day. You’ll be dust and those jager-bombs won’t mean a thing. I can’t really articulate what menace sounds like, but I know it when I hear it. The Rolling Stones have it, the Beatles don’t. Philadelphia soul, especially the Thom Bell productions have it, while I don’t get that same feeling from Motown. Do you know that middle breakdown in Egyptian Lover’s ‘Egypt Egypt’, especially the extended version? That’s menace. Three-Six Mafia, everything they’ve done is nothing but menace, while Lil’ Jon is just twiddling his thumbs (or snapping his fingers…). Pharrell’s minimalism even at its goofiest, is full of menace, while Timbaland has no interest in such things. I could go on and on and it probably wouldn’t make any more sense, it’s just, that ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’ does not have that menace, that sound of death within it. That’s okay, it’s still a good album but it doesn’t serve my sick, weird musical needs, so ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’ only gets an ‘Honorable Mention’.

When I first heard ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’ I commented to a friend that the album is “too good” or “too beautiful” and I still think that is true. Hecker removed the gimmicky aspect of his music, but a gimmick that I loved: the waves of static and talking. It put a thick fog over the music that made it much harder to penetrate and prevented anything from fully standing out. Instruments can actually be heard on the new album; the bassline in ‘Dungeoneering’ or the waves of electric guitar in ‘Whitecaps of White Noise I’ stand-out and this adds a precious aspect to the music, making it feel like post-rock or something equally sentimental. Hecker, on tracks like ‘Rainbow Blood’ (and ‘Blood Rainbow’) and ‘Harmony in Blue Pt. 2’ is moving towards having the kind of “transcendent” feeling that makes similar musicians like Belong or Phillip Jeck or even M83- mediocre or just plain crappy. I can see why Hecker would want to pull his music out of that fog, I’m sure some people considered it a crutch. Maybe he’s taken that sound as far as he can. I have no idea how Hecker makes his music, he may just send it through a single processor in some program and adds some radio static and it comes out sounding Hecker-like. I wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t care if it were that easy because it worked wonderfully. As I said before, the album is good, it just doesn’t satisfy my interest in Tim Hecker’s music. The album is impressive in its cohesion and consistency. Although that cohesion highlights some of my problems with ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’ it also makes for a remarkably easy listen. The transition from ‘Palimpsest I’ to ‘Chimeras’ to ‘Dungeoneering’ feels nearly subliminal. It’s still worth listening, downloading, or purchasing.

‘Eleven Old Songs’ by Mt. Eerie was also very good. Kind-of like this parody or one-upping of that annoying Postal Service album. I don’t really have too much more to say about it though. It may have even come out in 05?

Reissues/Compilations from this Year:
-Arthur Russell – Another Thought
-Arthur Russell – First Thought, Best Thought
-Arthur Russell – Springfield
-Earth – Phase 3: Thrones & Dominions
-Earth – Pentastar: In the Style of Demons
-Sven Libaek – Innerspace: The Lost Film Music Of…

Most of the music I bought was not released this year, here’s stuff I just got around to hearing, a lot of it was records from Goodwills and stuff like that. I’m sure I’m lame for only just now hearing a lot of stuff on this list, so, fuck you.

-Bobby Caldwell – Cat in the Hat
-Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – E. 1999 Eternal
-Bronski Beat – Age of Consent
-Camel – Rain Dances
-Eightball & MJG – Comin’ Out Hard
-Henry Kaiser – It’s a Wonderful Life
-Jay Dee – Welcome 2 Detroit
-Jay Dee – Ruff Draft EP
-Keith Fullerton Whitman – Schoner Flussengel
-Merle Haggard – Mama Tried
-Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff
-Roberta Flack – First Take
-Scott Walker – Climate of Hunter
-Spinners – Mighty Love
-Sun Ra – Solo Piano Vol. 1
-Tangerine Dream – Risky Business OST
-Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time
-Vangelis – China

Written by Brandon

December 29th, 2006 at 4:35 am

Posted in 2006, Lists, Tim Hecker

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Honorable Mentions
a. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
I must preface this by saying that I do not belong to the ‘E for Effort’ school of writing. Simply because an artist may have reached further on an album (the Andre 3000 factor) or has pretensions to art (the Lupe factor), does not give them extra points. Perhaps, I’m unfairly comparing these albums to past albums by these artists, but I do not think so. All that I know is, I felt the tinge of disappointment when I bought these albums and listened to them. Unlike ‘In My Mind’, these albums did not grow on me. Neither of these albums are bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I would say, they feel unspectacular. So, I am left with two albums that are good, but I could not feel sincere if I put them alongside my murderer’s row year-end list. I’ll call them ‘Honorable Mentions’. These ‘Honorable Mentions’ placed higher on a lot of ‘Best of’ lists than the albums I listed, so maybe I’m just a prick.

a. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale .
‘Fishscale’ feels all-over-the-place but in a way that is too easy to make sense of. ‘Underwater’ is Ghost being totally bizarre but in a way that is digestible to listeners. It’s indie-rap weird, which is quite different from Ghostface weird. It’s weird the way that guy in one of your classes would wear a baseball helmet to school was weird. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ weird. Contrived weird. ‘Fishscale’ just tries too hard. The songs are too singularly focused (hitting on a girl, being a little kid, being underwater) and that, coupled with Ghost’s more-controlled flow, just seems a bit too predictable. I personally don’t like the indie-ish beats of ‘Clipse of Doom’, ‘Jellyfish’, and ‘Dogs of War’ because Ghost is great when he’s rapping his weirdo shit on more conventional-sounding beats. When he does this, there’s a sense of counterpoint, when he raps about weird shit over weird beats it makes a little too much sense.

There are plenty of high-points and nothing on the album is bad. ‘Shakey Dog’ is one of the most impressive songs Ghost has ever recorded, especially the way it teases you with a chorus: “Why you behind me, leary, shakey dog stutterin’/When you got the bigger cooker on you/You a crazy motherfucker, small hoodie dude, hilarious…” and then Ghost just keeps rapping and you realize that just because you heard the title of the song in the song, does not mean you’ve arrived at the chorus. The song just keeps going and gives me the same feeling as ‘N.Y State of Mind’ and I think that is on-purpose. I also kept thinking of Rick Ross’ ‘Hustlin’, which was blowing up when ‘Fishscale’ was released. How many times do we hear the chorus in ‘Hustlin’? Think of how Ghostface teases the listener with a chorus but instead, just keeps cramming details, well-wrought, novelistic details into the listener’s ear giving them no time to breathe. I don’t like to be presumptuous, but I have a feeling ‘Shakey Dog’ approximates what it’s really like to hustle a lot more than ‘Hustlin’…

‘Fishscale’ sounds like the result of compromise, something that seems to happen to just about every Def Jam release under Jay-Z, including Jay’s own album. Ghostface will never be highly successful, so the album attempts to tow the line between old-style Wu-influenced production, and newer, indie-rap production. When ‘The Champ’ begins and the Mickey impersonator says “You ain’t been hungry since ‘Supreme Clientele” it’s incredibly sad because Ghost is listening too closely to idiot fans and critics. The most consistent and accomplished Ghostface album is ‘Pretty Toney’. ‘Supreme Clientele’ seems a lot like ‘Fishscale’: an attempt at mixing Ghostface’s weirdness with his Wu Tang sensibility. Hearing anything now that resembles classic Wu Tang or just early 90s New York rap is exciting until you think about it hard enough. Take ‘9 Milli Bros’, the song is pretty good until you think hard. What happened to Deck’s voice? Why doesn’t the RZA rap on it? The incomplete-ness of the ODB’s verse is very emotional and makes his death palpable; he pops up for a few lines and then his voice just fades out, and that’s it. The song however, just isn’t that great. U-God approximating the Genius’ ‘Fame’ is pathetic and the RZA didn’t even produce the fuckin song. Ghostface knows that he doesn’t sound like he did on those Wu Tang albums and that’s good; he does not need to look back in terms of keeping that Wu Tang sound; it’s gone. The Wu’s days are over. I’d like to get excited about the recent news of a new Wu album, but I just can’t.

Although ‘Fishscale’ is hardly terrible, the very thing that has gotten it major points, its nostalgia, is what prevents it from being anything more than a good album. I think this is the least hungry Ghost has sounded on any of his albums.

Written by Brandon

December 27th, 2006 at 1:15 am

Posted in 2006, Ghostface

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4. Young Jeezy – The Inspiration – I just bought this two days ago so my enthusiasm may wane, but I don’t think so. I’ve been obsessed with ‘Go Getta’ since I heard it on my SIRIUS radio last week. I bought the CD the way I’d bought a coffee earlier in the evening: to make my procrastinating Christmas shopping a little easier. I bought it, with plans on selling it for store credit because I assumed it wouldn’t be very good. I figured I would listen to ‘I Luv It’ and ‘Go Getta’ a few times and then the mediocrity of the album would entertain me through the shopping traffic. So, I put in ‘The Inspiration’ and heard these crazy Tangerine Dream-sounding blips and electronics and Jeezy breathing “ayyyyy…” on ‘Hypnotize’ and I was already kind of impressed. There isn’t a skippable track on this album and that’s more than can be said for most rap albums, even some that I enjoy. ‘The Inspiration’ sounds worked-on, which is refreshing. If he really did have “80 songs in the can” as the XXL feature from this month says, and out of those 80, the 16 that make up ‘The Inspiration’ came out, it was worth it (Rubin 88). Jeezy clearly did what so many rappers seem disinterested in doing or just can’t do: edit themselves. Not only has he edited himself, but he’s made an album that makes me believe Jeezy when he says “It ain’t about no money…I just want to be heard” (Jeezy qtd. in Rubin 88). If it was about money, or should I say, if it were only about money, those tracks with Snoop or Three-Six Mafia would be on there (Rubin 88). So would that “joint from Scott Storch” (Rubin 86).People are buying this album but what are they getting from it? There’s no “indicating”; you never get the sad, serious song or a club song, you just get this slow, futuristic dirge for 64 minutes. What do you do listening to this kind of music? Search for fugitive androids? Bang Sean Young?

I don’t know if this metaphor has been used before (and it only kind of works anyway), but for most rappers, the rapper is the actor and the producer is the director. If the rapper is given a slow beat with a soul sample, they rap about their Moms or regret, if they get a poppy beat, they rap about the club. This isn’t true on ‘The Inspiration’; Jeezy isn’t fitting his beats, the beats are fitted for him. This allows him to drop something sad, serious, motivational, insightful, or completely retarded (“call it pro-tools”???) all in the same song. Jeezy’s consistency pulls his lyrics out of the pit of coke rap cliché because he isn’t being “directed” by the beats. I can trust what he is saying, whether it’s well-said or not because it’s not dictated by the production, the guests, or the blueprint for having a rap album that sells well. The album has no concessions, even something like ‘Dreamin’ featuring Keyshia Cole, is still anchored by this super-flanged, sped-up vocal sample that sounds like a Vangelis synth. The sequencing of the album is excellent as well, putting this r & b song right after the intense ‘Bury Me a G’ is a logical transition that downplays the less interesting aspects of ‘Dreamin’.

I never heard ‘Motivation’ and didn’t like the singles except for ‘Go Crazy.’ The ‘Go Crazy’ remix is one of my favorite rap songs of the past few years but I basically ignored Jeezy. Summer of 05’ and into the fall, I was amazed by people of varying interests and devotions to rap loving this guy. He looks boring, he sounds boring, he just doesn’t have that much going for him. It sounds like the one thing Jeezy has going for him is that he works really hard to make good albums. I’ll even argue that if the last track on ‘Inspiration’ was ‘Dreamin’ or if you removed a few tracks and reordered a few others, this album would be as “good” (good, in some Platonic music-critic perspective I only sort of understand) as ‘Hell Hath No Fury’.

Tommorrow: Honorable Mentions of the year.

-Rubin, Peter. “The Undeniable”. XXL Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007. (82-88).

Written by Brandon

December 26th, 2006 at 3:00 am

Posted in 2006, Young Jeezy

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3. Pharrell – In My Mind – Once you listen to ‘In My Mind’ without tbe expectation of fifteen tracks of ‘Hot in Herre’ and ‘Milkshake’ and instead, enter into this new-age, Micheal Jackson, rap/soul trance, you realize that Pharrell made some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. Pharrell isn’t a great rapper or singer, but it all works. He says witty things and sincere personal things (he was in marching band, he longs for teenagers, he masturbates with bras). The album sounds like you’re in Pharrell’s brain which is exactly what the title suggests.The feeling is, Pharrell doesn’t seem to be worried about looking lame or seeming weird. R. Kelly and Cody Chesnutt are the only r & b singers I can think of that seem perfectly okay with singing totally weird shit that is at least half-serious. If you look at the inner sleeve (the one that holds the record) of ‘Thriller’ you’ll see these two bizarre Daniel Johnston-esque sketches drawn by Micheal Jackson. I think Pharrell touches some of that un-self conscious weirdness on ‘In My Mind’. Most r & b singers, oddly enough, are less soul-bearing and emotional than rappers. Just about every singer fully inhabits some infallible “mack” persona, where the only thing they ever sing about is getting girls. Usher’s ‘Confessions’ may have been “soul-bearing” and maybe truly confessional, but he was basically confessing to cheating and a sex addiction; while in confessional mode, he’s still bragging because its still about getting-with women. Pharrell recounts a story in ‘That Girl’ about wanting to take a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas but the girl is disinterested. In one way, it’s Pharrell just bragging even as he’s being dumped (he has money to randomly fly to Vegas) but it’s also about how sad it is when someone loses enthusiasm or can’t be spontaneous. This is the same song that has the simple phrase “but it wasn’t like that, back when I met her” which pretty much sums up how everything eventually turns shitty. Rappers get so much crap for being misogynist or self-serious but they are a lot more apt to be emotional, confess, or make themselves look kind of like losers. Although it seems to be hated on, ‘Girl’ by Paul Wall is the perfect example of the kind of sad soul song that r & b singers never touch anymore.

Pharrell’s on some kind of deconstructive trip with the production and track sequencing, totally blurring the lines between hardcore rap and soft r & b and showing how the two are weirdly connected. The album is conceptually muddled in that there is not a true rap side and r & b side, but that makes sense. What even constitutes rapping and singing on ‘In My Mind’? Are ‘Best Friend’ and ‘You Can Do It Too’ rap songs? There isn’t an answer to that question, that’s the point. The general movement into soul begins with ‘Best Friend’ and is in full-effect by ‘Angel’ but is complicated when we get Pharrell singing on songs that have rappers-guests like Jay-Z and Pusha-T. It’s all muddled in a good way. Pharrell is wise to return the album in the direction of rap for ‘Number One’ and ‘Skateboard P Shows You How to Hustle’ because the album suffers something of a lull after ‘Young Girl/I Really Like You’ particularly through the just plain-gross ‘Take It Off’. So yeah, I can’t really front and say this album is perfect, but I do think it is really weird in a really good way, not in a “Pharrell has lost his mind” way as some think (Pitchfork gave it a 3.9!). When Andre 3000 channels Prince or Funkadelic, everything about it is derivative. Pharrell’s debt to M.J is pretty huge but by refusing to reject all of his rap qualities, Pharrell comes off sounding original even when it’s clear he’s stealing from M.J. I recall an interview on 92Q around the time ‘In My Mind’ was released. Pharrell described the album as being an album full of tracks like ‘Human Nature’; presumably meaning, no obvious hits. That’s a better explanation of ‘In My Mind’ than I can think up, it just depends on how excited or scared you are of an album of 15 tracks that sound like ‘Human Nature’.

Written by Brandon

December 24th, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Posted in 2006, In My Mind, Pharrell

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Boring Best of 06′ Continues…
2. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury – I like how my last post began with complaining about the predictability of these lists and this list completely tows the Best Albums of 2006 party-line. Oh well. A lot has been said about ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ and for good reason, its really, really good. I’ll try to focus on some aspects of the album that I feel are under-discussed or “misinterpreted.”

The reality is Clipse (it’s Clipse, right? Like Talking Heads?) are above-average rappers but nothing amazing. However, they are really smart, really clever, and very insightful and have an emotional side that gives listeners the feeling that their music may last. For example, I can’t really get behind all of this Weezymania because Wayne can just spit and yeah, an extended ‘Mortal Kombat’ metaphor is impressive but not much more than that. Wayne and a lot of other guys are getting a bit too much credit when they briefly veer off-track and discuss emotion or consequences, while ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ is permeated by real emotional confusion and conflict. It is slowly becoming the next cliché of coke-rap that you discuss the dark-side of it all and that’s probably a good thing, but it just becomes another cliché. This summer, there was an interview with Ice Cube in ‘The Source’ where he gave this amazingly rational response to rap: “Some people that was political back then was bullshit, some people were real. You always gonna have that element. I don’t mind it as much as people probably think I would” (qtd. in Ford 82). Basically, everything devolves into a cliché and sometimes even those followers are good, but what, to me, separates Wayne from Clipse is insight. Wayne has followed the formula for being a hot rapper, and that isn’t easy to do, but he thinks going on-and-on and coming up with sick metaphors makes him a great rapper. It doesn’t. It makes him a good or an interesting rapper. Now all of this is subjective, so maybe I just don’t find very much to feel or relate to with Wayne, although he can impress me. Clipse to me, are legitimate, not in some “keepin’ it real” way but just in that they really understand how things work and can articulate their thoughts, whether they actually sold crack or made everything up. To me, the best moment on ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ is on ‘Dirty Money’ when Pusha T says “staying up til’ 2 am just to watch ‘Cheaters”. That small detail is so honest and real and it’s the sort of thing girls in black-framed glasses would fawn over if it was some “quirky”, indie singer-songwriter’s line. It’s a concise presentation of what is good about being with another person, some stupid little thing where you stay up late to watch some goofy reality show together. Of course, it’s in the same song as Malice’s “you ain’t gotta love me, just be convincing” verse, which makes all of this a lot more complicated; and complicated is good. Not Wayne throwing ‘Georgia Bush’ to the end of his mixtape complicated or Lupe Fiasco’s love/hate of Too $hort complicated ,but something…smarter. I can’t really articulate the difference and there probably isn’t one other than my own subjective interpretation, but I just feel too much satisfaction with himself when I hear Wayne and nothing but condescension when I listen to Lupe. Clipse are modest and their album is modest too. Like ‘Donuts’ where Dilla doesn’t let his production wizardry or the samples overstay their welcome, Clipse jump in and out. ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ is effortless to listen to; it’s like this understated, depressing, crime movie like Straight Time where, before you know it, Bilal is singing “I’m havin’ nightmares…” and its like the credits at the end of the movie and you know you didn’t catch everything you should have but you know that what you just experienced was great.

-Ford, Ryan. “G’Ology”. The Source. June 2006. (78-85).

Written by Brandon

December 23rd, 2006 at 7:59 pm

Posted in 2006, Clipse, rap humanism

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So…I had one of these over the summer. I posted a two-part review of Common live at Baltimore’s Artscape but felt like it was a waste of time and gave up because no one fucking reads these things. I think I’ve now faced the reality that no one fucking reads these things and feel okay about that. So yeah, I’ll begin with something easy: An End-of-Year List.

The biggest problem with best-of lists is their predictability. Certain artists release albums and those albums are generally guaranteed to make the list. Perhaps, every album Wilco or Jay-Z or Radiohead releases deserves a place on year-end lists but I think it’s a little lazy on the part of critics. Of course, real writers for real websites and magazines must create these lists, so they are under pressure, but I always come away from them thinking “was that album really that great?” I’m not a real writer for a real website or magazine, so I have no obligations and I would like to take advantage of that: Here is my murderer’s row version of the best albums of 2006.

1. J Dilla – Donuts – I can’t even explain this one. This guy that runs this great record store in Hampden The True Vine and is like, the only guy I’ve ever met that runs a record store who isn’t a prick, but is also the kind of guy that will tell you that the CD you just bought is “beautiful…really beautiful” told my friend that ‘Donuts’ is “[J-Dilla’s] love-letter to the world” and that isn’t far-off. What makes it so great is how it never tries to be clever or cool and totally avoids all of the pitfalls of other “sample-based” albums. It’s not douchey and trip-hoppy like DJ Shadow and it isn’t creating totally “new” songs out of samples like RJD2, who ends up being kind of a bore. ‘Workinonit’ is really the only track on that album that isn’t perfect because it sort of falls into the RJD2 style, it is song length (2:52), so you get a vivid feeling for its structure, and it just feels off-balance precisely because it is so ordered. When the twangy guitars come in you kind of get the feeling “it was time for those twangy guitars” which is quite different from when Jadakiss’s laugh randomly pops up or a track bleeds into the other and you’ve totally lost track of where you are in the album. Basically, its the only song on the album that actually sounds like someone should be rapping over it. There are so many things going on and so many subtle production details (that never try hard to be subtle or smart!) that are too amazing to try to describe. The way, for 30 seconds “Wake up world! Give peace a chance” slowly bubbles in the background of ‘Glazed’ before it becomes clear a minute into the track. Does that announcer at the beginning of ‘The Twister (Huh, What)’ say “Would you join me please in welcome-in-ing“? And then, it sounds like he says “The Temptations” but Dilla has chopped his words up to not actually say a word, so it sounds like “Tempting” and then we hear a live version of ‘For Once in My Life’ by Stevie Wonder’ and I feel like I could have totally misheard all of what I just described…and don’t forget that “I give to you” vocal sample on ‘Last Donut of the Night’…and it is called ‘Donuts’ which could mean a million different things and which is probably better place to begin any attempt at unpacking ‘Donuts’.

Dilla made it as he was dying and calling it ‘Donuts’ fits Dilla’s unpretentious and modest style. There’s obviously some circle-of-life stuff going on with that image of a donut; calling it ‘Donuts’ is a way of bringing the circle-of-life stuff down-to-earth. The title addresses issues of death and (possibly) asserts comfort with death as a part of this cycle without being all My Chemical Romance about it…(or all Pink Floyd/Lou Reed ‘Magic & Loss’/'American Recordings’ Johnny Cash about it…)

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:‘Time: Donut of the Heart’ I found this on Youtube. It’s some band from Korea called Bullssazo and they cover ‘Time: Donut of the Heart’ and turn it into this (more) stoned, blissed-out track. Their other songs seem more conventional and punk-rockish and they call themselves a “punk-rock” band but that doesn’t really describe this cover at all. Unless there’s some weird definition of punk in Korea because this is some really amazing mix of doom metal, psychedelic stuff, and post-rock or something.

Written by Brandon

December 22nd, 2006 at 5:51 am

Posted in 2006, Donuts, J-Dilla, True Vine