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Archive for 2007

Top 10 Album Tracks Pt. 3

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‘Right Or Wrong?’ by Median off Median’s Relief: Median’s sort of what people think Lupe Fiasco is or maybe, what Lupe should be…the “nimble flow”, decidedly Native Tongues in-spirit (fuck what Lupe says, he is)…even the embrace of never-were-a-good-idea concept songs and corny-as-fuck lines are found in much better (and worse) form on ‘Median’s Relief’.

This beat’s got a lot going for it. Really elegant piano and what sounds like vibraphone taps underneath it all, fit his pleasant flow. The serious but not too-serious feeling makes lines like “So you run it like a rebel/Chris Brown, pedal to the medal” and “if you get caught/Then you get to lose your rights and stuff” just sort of funny and not totally embarrassing. Is Common to blame for this bizarre conscious rapper conflation of message-music and punchlines that are so bad they negate the message entirely? To Median’s defense, he’s genuinely kinda poetic at times, like when he describes the voice he uses to say “Hello” to a chick as “an after-school ‘hello” and shifts his voice into a Guidance Counselor-esque soft voice for that “hello”, that’s good stuff.

‘Jus’ Ridin’ by 8ball & Devius off The Vet & the Rookie: This song is truly glorious. Seriously. Like I won’t even try again to explain how great it is, here’s what I said before:

“Jus’ Ridin’ is probably one of the greatest songs ever made, the sort of song that makes sense the first time you hear it. These super-clean kinda hard-ass guitars that play under the chorus, complemented by some typical Southern rap drums and an even cleaner sounding acoustic sound, with 8 Ball and Devius trading a few verses back and forth, it’s really simple and straightforward and great. The drums slightly change during each verse or an instrument is dropped-out, especially during Devius’ last verse, when its just drums and a slightly different acoustic part, it all makes the return of that riff even more exciting.

Plenty of straight rapping on this too. 8 Ball’s voice just gets deeper as he grows older and fatter, sounding like Baron Harkonnen should sound like or something: this angry, smart, decadent fat guy dropping classic lines. Devius is a good counterpoint as he raps with a youthful but still self-aware voice but he has more enthusiasm (“You know today look good”) and sounds like he’s having fun. I like Devius’ line about laughing at the chick he and his friends “ran a train on”. Also, Devius refers to himself as “Ted Deviase” or something like that, in reference to Ted “Million Dollar Man” Dibiase.”

‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ by Radiohead off In Rainbows:This is probably the kind of song these guys do in their sleep, but its better than third-rate electronics and it actually seems to be about something. Thommy boy dropped the “unborn chicken voices” junk and just talks about getting a number from a girl or some sort of like, Virginia Woolf – or just ‘You’re Beautiful’ by James Blunt- shared but minor moment between two people. The tenuous acoustic and the way it slowly builds layers upon layer of voice and bouncing bass and everything else, it’s predictable but that hardly matters because ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’ (an awful title by the way) grabs the perfect mix of enthusiasm and melancholy appropriate for a song about complicated human interaction. I was joking about the James Blunt connection but it kind of works, it’s the anti-’You’re Beautiful’!

‘Suicide Note’ by Scarface off Made: I’m a big fan of Scarface but I really don’t think he has any classic albums and ‘Made’ is no different, a bunch of really fucking great songs and some mediocre ones and a misstep or two. Is ‘The Fix’ ‘Face’s best? I think it might be. Anyways- for obvious reasons, this song is doubly affecting, but I’ve always been partial to these kind of emotionally-honest rap songs.

I’m sure plenty of rap songs do this and I can’t think of any at the moment, but the way Scarface’s voice comes in before the beat is sorta surprising and gives you like, no time to breathe or prepare for his story. The beat itself is on some Brothers Johnson ‘Land of Ladies’ shit, sort of dreamy and distant but then complicated by that really kinda scary backwardsy chorus…it fits the crazy emotions, the “this doesn’t really feel real at all” feeling one gets when someone they knew and loved has killed themselves.

Scarface maintains an interesting distance in the song in that he never overtly emotes, he just straight spits and assumes we know it’s fucking him up inside. The details are so well-wrought and just well, real, that it is clear without him going Ghostface-whine or Pimp C wistful (not that there’s anything wrong with those guys doing that or anything…). Going out of his way to say he was on his way to get with “some Asian bitch”, discussing in weird hindsight, the way he, for some reason went back to his friend’s house, the level-headed without being above-it-all details like “his wife read the bible” and then, ‘Face’s matter of fact ability to totally confront the real fact that the friend is gone forever and there’s nothing nobody can do about it…fuck!

I refused to “rank” these tracks because most of them have very little in-common, so I just went through them in the order that they album they correspond to was released, but looking back at the playlist, a little re-ordering makes a pretty satisfying 45 minutes of music. So, below is my suggested listening order for these songs…and, here’s a zipfile of all the tracks.

1. Jesu – ‘Weightless & Horizontal’
2. Crime Mob featuring Pimp C & Lil’ Scrappy – ‘Go To War’
3. Justice – ‘Stress’
4. UGK featuring Cory Mo – ‘Top Drop Dyne Remix’
5. Kanye West featuring Trick Daddy – ‘Can’t Say No’
6. Median – ‘Right Or Wrong?’
7. 8ball & Devius – ‘Jus’ Ridin’
8. Radiohead – ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’
9. Scarface – ‘The Suicide Note’
10. Boris – ‘My Rain’

Written by Brandon

December 28th, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Top 10 Non-Album Tracks Pt. 2

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‘Stress’ by Justice off : I love Justice the way I love my Nike Vintage Runners as like an example of hipster douchebag effrontery so extreme it becomes great again. And like those vintage runners,’†’ is great enough that its context or fans or what it may or may not represent just stop mattering. Justice are the great part of the French, the side that realized that Jerry Lewis is really fucking funny and that Poe can’t really write well but his stuff is really interesting and smart in its own way…more Derrida than Foucault, more Barthes than Baudelaire…you know??!!

‘D.A.N.C.E’ is a fun track but like a lot of singles from kinda out-there albums, it’s sort of an anomaly on the record…’Waters of Nazareth’ is a more telling single but was previously released as a stand-alone single, so I’m going with ‘Stress’ which comes before ‘Waters’ and is the point where ‘†’ gets really crazy again. The dentist-drill breakdown, the stiff poor man’s ‘Thriller’ drums, the way the trick of letting the beat like really fucking drop is used a couple of times in the song and is still exhilarating, and this randomly placed shard of static noise throughout, it sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a Romero Mall Zombie dance party or a bunch of Jersey dudes pumping their fists and pouring water on one another in some kinda gross club or my dumb-ass driving to work.

‘Top Drop Dyne Remix’ by UGK off Underground Kingz: This is the version of ‘Top Drop Dyne’ that follows-up disc 1’s closer ‘Trill Niggaz Never Die’, I just put it through Cool Edit and turned it into its own track. It’s representative of how dense and overwhelming ‘Underground Kingz’ can be: When a track like this is relegated to a hidden track at the end of the first disc, you made a fucking solid album. The number of Southern rap tracks that use clean-ish like near-hair metal guitars must be entering triple digits, but it doesn’t really get old and its one of the more non-soul samples that generally succeeds.

I was sort of in denial of it when this album came out, but yeah, overall, Bun B is a little disappointing on ‘Underground Kingz’, especially- unfair as this might be- when you compare it to anything he drops on ‘Ridin’ Dirty’. Maybe it’s my fanboy justification here, but it seems like Bun’s underwhelmingness(?) was on-purpose. With Pimp C getting out of jail and this being the first genuine UGK release in awhile, it was Pimp’s turn to shine. This, of course takes on even greater meaning because of Pimp’s death (it’s still crazy to type that out, that Pimp C is dead). On this track in particular, Pimp’s Southern whine sounds even more extreme and confident and it’s great that he not only addresses his annoyance with East-Coast elitism, but takes time to address the fact that he gets shit for addressing East-Coast elitism. Ending his verse with “get your fingers out your ass, bitch!” is about as unapologetic as you can get.

‘Can’t Say No (featuring Trick Daddy’ by Kanye West (unreleased): The best Kanye West song since the shit from ‘College Dropout’? This song should be the blueprint for how Kanye could continue to do different stuff with his beats but not be out-there in this predictably “out-there” way. The beat mixes chipmunk soul with some total retro dance-party bump that people like M.I.A or A-Trak and stuff are into. But over it, instead of funny rap sloganeering, Kanye gives a totally sincere verse that apes the content of ‘Spaceship’. What exactly is this song? If Trick Daddy’s verse didn’t mention ringtones and gas prices, I’d swear it’s from like 2003 and on one of those pre-’Dropout’ mixtapes.

Similar to the opening track on ‘Graduation’, Kanye’s sloppy rapping and embrace of his normal speaking voice, gives one a feeling of like, slowly moving into something shitty or at least, not so fun. When he says “Wake up, new day, same shit” his voice feels like he really is waking up to deal with some bullshit. The stuff about not only wanting to quit but come back and “go postal” and the whole idea of “tak[ing] shit too far” nods toward the very real frustration turned self-destruction you feel working some annoying job. Cynics can say Kanye’s day isn’t like that anymore and maybe never really was, but his ability to articulate those feelings in a way that is ultimately, inspiring, matters more than whenever was the last time he worked at the GAP or something; he clearly remembers those feelings well.

Written by Brandon

December 28th, 2007 at 12:09 am

Favorite Album Tracks Pt. I & The Changing Nature of the Single

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So, this year, my sorta kinda notable presence on the internet and my few reviews for the Baltimore City Paper got me involved in contributing to some notable Top 10 lists, (Links will be up when they are published). Like everyone, I totally get-off on list-making and it’s really cool to be asked to contribute, especially when one sees your vote have something of an impact. On the City Paper’s list, my putting ‘Underground Kingz’ at #1 certainly aided its appearance on the Top 10 and I could also smugly sit around all cool-like because of just how many of my albums didn’t make it.

The weirder lists were ones for Idolator and Pazz & Jop which asked for a Top 10 Singles List. It was hard to remember singles and exactly when they came out and in the past, people just listed good songs from that given year, so it was a little confusing and overwhelming and I’m pissed that I forgot about Baby Boy Da Prince’s ‘The Way We Live and a little upset I didn’t even consider Thicke’s ‘Lost Without U’ but just pouring over the list as I did, was good because it got me thinking about what is and isn’t a single in this weird internet age that is both amazingly democratic and hermetically-sealed.

Obviously, anything with a music video or on the radio is a single. But then, what about Satellite Radio, which I listen to more than regular ol’ radio these days? Was ‘Circles’ by Crime Mob a single? I was on the satellite rap stations this summer and it got a video like two months ago, but I don’t think it got any play on FM rap stations. Did it become a single because internet nerds were ranting about its greatness? I know we internet types like to imagine our impact on everything is greater than it is, but there’s something to it in certain cases. When a tastemaker like Noz posts something about the greatness of ‘I’m a J’ – and that song truly is great- does that in effect, become a single? When a song is posted on Nahright or XXL’s Bangers section, do those become singles? It becomes weirder because although those are internet websites/blogs, they are both closely tied to the industry and in that way, function like the radio dropping a new single. Can you consider ‘Glitter’ and ‘Just Us’ by Cam’ron singles? Those songs felt like it to me and I heard them a lot more than legit singles. Baltimore literally has no conventional “hits” stations and my SIRIUS radio continually bounces between Howard Stern and SHADE45, so the only time I ever heard Britney Spears’ single was when I actively sought it out. ‘Gimme More’s really good too, in case you’re wondering. The beat is awesome and kinda gross and dirty and uncomfortable, just like Britney Spears!

So yeah…what’s a single these days? My rule, outside of the conventional understanding of the single was anything that was used to promote an album…which made stuff like ‘Just Us’ by Cam’ron count. Plus that song’s too good not to appear on any list of songs or singles or iTunes downloads or whatever the fuck. I avoided a lot of 2007 wrap-up due to working way more than I usually do, and also because others do it better than me and my list would be more of the same shit. So, here’s a list of my favorite non-single tracks- “honorary singles”- or, songs that got as much play on my computer, iPOD, etc. as proper singles…‘Weightless & Horizontal’ by Jesu off Conqueror: The first track on this album, also called ‘Conqueror’- feels like it would be the single, if albums like this had singles, so it’s an easy choice and instead, I went with this track, ‘Weightless and Horizontal’. This track’s the centerpiece of the album, the perfect mix of near-heaviness, My Bloody Valentine-ish glory, and whiny vocals that totally work. ‘Weightless and Horizontal’ is also the point where ‘Conqueror’ moves into being the oppressive, cut-your-wrists-blow-your-head-off sound it seems like Broadrick intended. Before this point, the album is good and moody but it reminds me of like the over-emotional-ness related to like driving to party held by some chick you want to bang or something, not the “wrist-slashing experience” type of emotions it hopes to invoke.

I like the way-too-honest and sorta bad lyrics here because well, they are really sincere and I’m into that sort of thing. Especially good the way they lyrics bounce between total nihilism (“I’m way past trying”) and over-emotive blame and frustration: “You’re always leaving.” Mix truly emo shit like that with bad-ass riffs and a great quiet-loud dynamic and you got one of the best songs of the year.

‘Go To War (featuring Lil’ Scrappy and Pimp C)’ by Crime Mob off Hated On Mostly: ‘Hated On Mostly’ might be the best album title of the year and for straight-up party fight rap, this album wins hands-down. I figured it would keep me sated until the new Three-Six album, but with that perpetually delayed- ‘Da Last 2 Walk’ is now scheduled for fucking March- ‘Hated On Mostly’ maintains its relevance. ‘Circles’ is the “single” to vote for while ‘Rock Yo Hips’ was good, it’s by far the most digestable track- otherwise, ‘Hated On Mostly’ is a pretty sick album.

Production-wise, it’s all in-debt to Crunk and proto-Crunk and all, but it sounds individual enough to still stand-out. The beats are often rooted in really weird, atonal sounds that sound like they were loaded into a drum machine or sampler and then pounded-on for four minutes. There’s some poor man’s Lil Jon “Yeah!” keyboard sounds but there’s also this theremin-ish whir and some supertight, like totally electronic near-Kraftwerkian metallic pulses and bleeps. The severely underrated Crime Mob girls actually sort of suck on this, sounding out-of-breath and bleating out their verses, but dearly departed Pimp C owns the track; “Fuck how you feel” was my mantra for 2007.‘My Rain’ by Boris with Michio Kurihara off Rainbow: So, you guys know that Boris aren’t that good, right? Their first three albums are pretty great, but they’ve slowly done the same thing many of my favorite rappers have done in terms of pandering to their indie-rock cool guy audience. Their more conventional heavy-rock albums are pretty silly but kewl kids like em…I grabbed ‘Rainbow’ up because it was a collaboration with the dude from Ghost (yes, Boris featuring Patrick Swayze) and it’s pretty good. Still, derivative but it does it for me every once in awhile. The best tracks are the blissed-out, on-painkillers near-jams because they don’t have much of a precedent while say, opener ‘Rafflesia’ sounds like Candlemass and just makes me want to go get my copy of ‘Epicus Doomus Metallicus’ and beat-up Boris and especially their fans who would make fun of me for liking Candlemass.

This is the American version of ‘Rainbow’ and replaces the ending stoned-out track ‘…And I Want’ with ‘No Sleep ‘Till I Become Hollow’ which totally changes the albums’ feeling; oh well, there’s still ‘My Rain’ which is my favorite Boris track in years. I like that it sounds like ‘Stay’ by Lisa Loeb or something (that’s a good thing) and it’s just perfectly fragile, not twee or cute, just sad and resigned.

I’ll finish this up over the next few days. I’ll end with ‘Bet On It’ from ‘High School the Musical 2′ because this song is great; better than any of those Justin Timberlake songs the kids are talking about so damned much:

Written by Brandon

December 26th, 2007 at 6:22 am

Posted in Boris, Crime Mob, Jesu, Lists, Pimp C

Foe Tha Love of $ (Tha Yella Mix 9 minuts uv funk) (Ruthless Records)


Side One
-Foe Tha Love of $
-Foe Tha Love of $ (Tha Yella Mix 9 Minuts uv Funk)

Side Two
-Moe Cheese (Instrumental)
-Thuggish Ruggish Bone (Uneek’s Remix)
-Moe $ (Instrumental)

Been listening to this a lot lately…Did these totally nuts remixes begin with ‘Paid In Full Seven Minutes of Madness’? From that, with some stops on hip-house and then this…9 minutes that aren’t really funk at all, more like Kenny G sexiness and some distorted-as-shit drums- sorry I ripped it like three times and each mp3 sounded like ass- that pound like factory machinery and come in and out at almost random times. If you’ve heard ‘Moe Cheese’ off the ‘Creepin’ On Ah Come Up’ EP then this isn’t a total surprise but still, this is pretty weird. Corny-but-great sax wailing, piano plinks, and the flanged-out funk bass noodling towards the end is good if you’re not too cool for shit like that…listening to this, it should be of no surprise that DJ Yella also makes pornos; if he composes the scores for said pornos, I might need to order some copies because this shit rules.

Written by Brandon

December 24th, 2007 at 7:57 am

City Paper Article: Electronic Affronts, Bogdan Raczynski & Tim Hecker

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Yeah! Another article in the Baltimore City Paper…not rap-related though. I’m pretty into this one; I think it’s the best one I’ve done. Also sports a hilarious Basquiat-meets-MS Paint image from Idolator’s Jess Harvell (Yes, that pic was printed inside the paper which I think is pretty great…). Also also, the label putting out Hecker’s EP, Audraglint, were kind enough to upload mp3s of the EP to hear it because my personal copy arrived like, 3 days before it was due and that’s awesome…also also also, City Paper Music Editor Michael Byrne helped a great deal- probably more than he needs to with other writers- and it’s cool he gave me 1000 fucking words to write about what’s basically an album of happy hardcore and an EP of farts, glitches, and whuurrrrrsszzz…

IT’S BEEN A STRANGE YEAR for electronic music. Kanye West sampled Daft Punk. Timbaland brought the rave to MTV. And even the guys with scene cred embraced the porous borders between pop and “experimental”: Justice got rid of bass and made trebly, black-metal party pop, and the Field made house so micro it just became house again. The indie guys went a little more pop, the popular guys got weirder, and no one, musician or fan, could feel totally comfortable. This year’s common theme is bucking expectations, so it’s fitting that the year ends with releases from soundscapist Tim Hecker and electro-contrarian Bogdan Raczynski, two artists plenty ill at ease with genre lines…

Written by Brandon

December 19th, 2007 at 9:57 am

"I sorta want to bang that busted chick in the robe…"

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A mega-meta post from OhWord, based on a conversation between Rafi and I…

Written by Brandon

December 17th, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Posted in OhWord

Next To The Hood: Wu Tang’s 8 Diagrams

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In that ‘Time’ magazine cover-story on Kanye West a few years ago, comedian Chris Rock described Kanye’s appeal through his connections to an earlier, less Jeezy-friendly era of hip-hop: “In the early days, the best rappers weren’t necessarily from the hood. Run-D.M.C was from Hollis. Eric B and Rakim were from Long Island. They lived next to the hood.” This quote rumbles around in my head a lot, because it’s a great, to-the-point piece of rap criticism that describes rap’s appeal: Rap’s ability to both be rooted in the reality of an experience and step outside of it and provide commentary, at the same time. Rock’s one-liner is a little problematic because it implicitly connects hood to bad but what he’s basically saying, if you stretch it to a generality, is that the best artists are connected to their environment but also a little outside of it all. This allows artists, and especially rappers to adopt the first-person or engage in a very sympathetic understanding of others, while never being tied completely down by the closed-mindedness of whatever subculture one belongs to and that extends beyond “the hood”.

Henry James is “next to the hood” in the sense that he’s both of the upper-class his novels document, but also beyond it: he doesn’t simply justify the upper-class, nor is he a knee-jerk, self-loathing critic of it all…he falls somewhere in between. “Next to the hood” however, makes the most sense for rap because well, there’s really no other artform like it, where it occupies this pretty-much-inexplicable space between “truth” and story and real and fiction and morality and immorality (to continue my douchey high-brow references, rap is amoral in the way that Oscar Wilde meant it in the Preface to ‘Dorian Gray’…). I said it before, but Chuck D’s assertion that rap was “the black CNN” may have worked for certain rappers, but even message-oriented raps suggest a familiarity with that which they critique that extends beyond third-person reportage.

For example, Andre 3000 is “next to the hood” on ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1′ when he asks Sasha, the girl he’s “chillin’ like a villian” with, what she wants to be when she grows up and she says “alive’” and it totally blows his mind. One could say Eminem is “next to the hood”- or “next to the trailer park”- on ‘Kim’ as he both performs the actions of jealous, angry, cracker boyfriend but also critiques them: “You can’t run from me Kim, it’s us, nobody else/You’re only making this harder on yourself”. Rock’s “next to the hood” point keeps coming up in relation the new Wu Tang album, in part because of many disappointed fans and even members’ assertions that what the RZA did on ‘8 Diagrams’ was not “street” or “hood” enough but also because it, in effect, defines “next to the hood”.

On ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’- the album’s most successful and rewarding track- Ghostface drops a particularly winning “next to the hood” verse as he describes walking through Pathmark and being confronted with an angry Nephew who “wants revenge” because Ghost “murdered [the nephew's] Uncle Tim” by selling “him a bag of dope”. It’s already “next to the hood” in the sense that it breaks-down the conventional tough-guy hood stuff (he’s in Pathmark, spills milk on his Clarks/He regrets drinking/Saying “murder” is just great writing and very, very moral) but that’s just what we expect from Ghost. What really makes the verse great and indeed, “next to the hood”, is how it goes from the description of the Uncle to telling the listener that after the Uncle’s death, “his wife came and copped again” and then, he croons “that bitch is craaazzyyyy/She brought her baaabbbyyyy…”. In those two lines, you get the image of Ghostface the dealer and Ghostface the human being who sells her the drugs but in his head is thinking “whatthefuckthisbitchbroughtherbaby??!!”…this isn’t some oh-so-conflicted dealer cliche, it’s so much more than that. Not quite the same, but it recalls my own “next to the hood” moment, when I once drove this dealer-kid from school home only to discover his house was like, straight out of ‘Gummo’ and his like, 8 year-old, already-brain damaged kid brother was getting high…I still put on the act of non-chalance and “oh, that’s funny your kid brother smokes up” but inside I was like, “holy shit” (to reference ‘Fishscale’s ‘Shakey Dog’, another Ghostface “next to the hood” moment…).

Most of ‘8 Diagrams’ almost reaches this “next to the hood”-ness lyrically, the Wu are fairly on-point but seem a little guarded and uncomfortable, but that’s more age and their own fault, it’s got nothing to do with RZA’s beats which are wonderfully weird and yes, next to the hood. RZA tells his fans as much with that explanatory Kung Fu sample intro demanding “patience” and “honesty”, an honesty that even members Raekwon and Ghostface couldn’t subscribe to when they began bitching the album out before it even dropped. It is only the Wu’s impossible past reputation that makes this album a “disappointment”. When you hear these songs outside of the context of “I’m listening to the new Wu Tang album” they’re really good. When ‘Take It Back’ pops-up on Sirius’ SHADE45 or on your favorite college rap radio show or as one of 3000 songs on your iPod SuperShuffle, it’s up-there with the best rap of the year. Those sorta-Gothenburg Metal guitars on ‘Unpredictable’ don’t conflict with the Wu’s energy at all, nor do those drunken crooned choruses, ‘Sunlight’ is an evil clusterfuck that’s supposed to be an evil clusterfuck. The problems with ‘8 Diagrams’ are not the choruses but that the choruses show-up a little too-often on certain songs and that there’s no sense of control or balance…songs either don’t have hooks at all, or the song is chopped-up and the energy slowed-down by a way-too typical verse-chorus-verse structure.

Even that rigid structure succeeds on certain tracks, it builds tension on ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’ and keeps ‘Life Changes’ afloat because no one brings much of anything to this supposed ODB tribute. If there is one song that defines the limits of ‘8 Diagrams’, it’s ‘Life Changes’ which highlights pretty much of all latter-day Wu’s flaws. Ghostface doesn’t even show up and the rest of the guys drop super-short verses that just feel underwhelming and dishonest; hardly “half-short and twice strong”. They fumble through cliches of being emotionally honest instead of actually being emotionally honest and for the most part, never go beyond generalities. Exceptions are Method Man’s image of pouring out some Vodka and drinking the rest, which is compact, poetic, and an appropriate homage that never elevates or lowers his image (what’s with U-God’s “fall from greatness” line?), Inspectah Deck’s real-life emotions of loss- grief and blaming one’s self- and the GZA, when he points out that he’s recording his verse ten feet from where ODB died. The rest of the Wu act about as “hood” (in the negative sense) as they can, dropping short, hard-ass verses that perform emotions and never show any actual vulnerability. It’s all the more frustrating and symbolic of the Wu’s fragmentation that they can’t even come together or get-real in a tribute to a dead member.

I saw Wu Tang in New Jersey the night before ODB died. ODB was a no-show and towards the end of the show, Method Man acknowledged this reality to the crowd and was briefly interrupted by U-God who rambled off something about kicking Dirty’s ass for not showing and telling the crowd that if they see Dirty, tell them how mad they are and then, Method Man took the stage back and as a corrective to U-God’s lack of sympathy, he said that if we saw ODB, “tell Dirty we love ‘em”; that was a “next to the hood” moment.

Written by Brandon

December 12th, 2007 at 12:11 am

City Paper Article: Little Brother ‘Getback’ Review

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“Dropped from their label and down a member-producer 9th Wonder-the past two years have been tough on Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother. Surprisingly, the guys that confrontationally called their major-label album ‘The Minstrel Show’ don’t run further underground. Rather, they dropped the brash meta commentary and made Getback, a record that caters to the pop-rap crowd without losing its soul.

Little Brother always had an ear for radio rap in the past, but here the MCs internalize trends and turn them into songs that feel like hits but won’t be deleted from iTunes in six months. “Two-Step Blues” recalls instructional dance rap, but replaces “crank dat”-isms with demands to “two-step them blues away” and all-inclusive shout-outs for “everybody at the VFW.”

“Good Clothes” is every rapper’s “I got a lot of stuff” single but with a dose of honesty. It’s a critique of conspicuous consumption that implicates the group’s own quest to be fresh: “As we got on the floor, it was embarrassin’ trust me/ The saleswoman walked me straight over to husky.” “Sirens” conflates the messed-up political climate (“Go against the system, you in bed with al-Qaida/ Dog, they ain’t playing”) with cultural criticism-Phonte calls rap videos “psychological warfare” while pulling it together with a paranoid R&B hook: “They’re coming closer for you.” The rappers’ anger is aided by a decidedly mainstream beat; it’s like they took T.I.’s swagger and put it to better use.”

Written by Brandon

December 5th, 2007 at 8:40 am

Pimp C (1973-2007)

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“One day you’re here, and the next day you’re gone…”; 2007 is fucked the fuck up. On the personal tip, the year started with the suicide of a best friend and the year sorta kinda ending on the death of Pimp C is uh, a little devastating. I woke up about an hour ago to see a few e-mails from friends (and some readers!) about Pimp’s death and then saw it plastered all over the rap-focused feeds on my iGoogle page. I mention this because this info-age way of learning of the news- not even from a television- did nothing to lessen the weird feelings and shock that fucking Pimp C from UGK is dead.

I recall in high school when Dee Dee Ramone died and how it was when MTV sorta showed videos so they interrupted with ‘MTV News’ to tell their listeners and that death too, really got to me. Never was this super-Ramones fan (the group’s way better in theory), but Dee Dee seemed so great and his crapped-out bridge on ‘53rd & 3rd’ (“then I took out my razor blade…”) and him playing in the shower in that one scene in ‘Rock N’ Roll High School’ both came to mind upon hearing of his death and now, it’s the same with Pimp C, only as an artist, he means a lot more to me…That first verse on the first song of the first disc of ‘Underground Kingz’ with Pimp C coming in, his Southern accent upped to cartoonish extremes: “I got candy in my cup/Candy on my car…”, and it’s him wearing a Nirvana shirt in the ‘Use Me Up’ video, when his voice lowers and he says “I really miss Robert Davis” on ‘Chrome Plated Woman’, and just about everything he does on ‘Ridin’ Dirty’, and his voice wheezing out “Fuck how ya’ feel” on a number of recent songs and it’s him on that UGK Bonus DVD speaking with absolute conviction as if he’s making sure he’s using the right words to make his real-life, lesson-learned points with this hard, prison stare but Pimp himself is only focused on the future because, for all Pimp’s disses and beefs, it was all reactionary, standing up for what he saw necessary; one gets the impression he would’ve rather not had to tell everyone to “quit hatin’ on the South” and done his thing, and given everybody a hug or a pat on the back.

“Real” has totally devolved into another hip-hop cliche but it really does describe Pimp C, and not because he went to jail or gets high a lot, or beats-up his girlfriend or whatever, it’s because he really didn’t give much of a shit what people thought of him; he was sincere. Sincere when he subtly bemoaned the loss of DJ Screw or when he told whole regions to take their fingers out of their bootyhole and even if you’re the type who thought he could have conveyed his message in better ways…dude was pretty much right about everything- and when he rapped, the stuff was tied-up with everything else he was observing so his verses, half-rapped, half-yelled, not always totally rhyming, could bounce from pissed-off observations to emotionally honest stuff and back again. And those beats, don’t forget those beats…instrument-based country rap tunes, palpably funk and soul-based that really were the basis for UGK’s near-two decade significance. We’ll soon see shirts with “R.I.P Pimp C” and they’ll replace those “Free Pimp C” shirts and in-song shout-outs. R.I.P Pimp C.

And, whether or not it turns out Pimp’s death is drug-related, seriously, be careful with that purple stuff kids.“My world’s a trip, you can ask Bun B bitch, I ain’t no liar
My man Bobo just lost his baby in a house fire
And when I got on my knees that night to pray
I ask God why you let these killers live
And take my homeboy’s son away?
Man, if you got kids show ‘em you love ‘em
‘Cuz God might just call ‘em home
‘Cuz one day they here and baby, the next day they gone”

Written by Brandon

December 4th, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Pimp C, UGK, the South

Biographical Dictionary of Rap Entry: Common

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No matter what kind of rap fan I’m talking to, I end up having to qualify my thoughts on Common. See, if they are my kind of rap fan, the knee-jerk haters of the so-called “conscious” set that make jokes about Common eating granola, then I gotta remind them of just how fucking good early Common could be. If they are a conscious rap fan who really thinks its cool that Common eats granola, out comes my protracted rant about how everything from his persona to his politics is muddled beyond comprehension and he’s made himself nothing more than the go-to for everyone from “heads” to kinda fat Jewish girls that like “some” hip-hop.

Resurrection is an absolute masterpiece, one of the five or so best rap albums ever. Way better than Illmatic, which came out the same year and in my head, the albums forever linked and just like Illmatic (and so many other rap debuts), it’s an album that gives off the feeling of totally being inside the head of the rapper; you know, them saying the shit they wanted to say and before labels or their own fucking “creativity” screwed everything up. The “sometimes, sometimes…” break on ‘Thisisme’ makes me cry every time I hear it. Resurrection is a portrait of Common, warts and all, bad punchlines and on-point rapping and all, and features plenty of insight into one thing and one thing only: Common. He drops great confessions that are decidedly un-hip-hop without being purposefully un-hip-hop, just real: “I didn’t grow up po’ po’/but once you get grown and out on your own/Bills upon bills upon bills is what you have.” Resurrection is pretty much the bougie rap album Common would claim to be making from Like Water For Choclate to the present time. His problems, not enough money, too much fast-food and beer, have as much to do with those kinda fat “some hip-hop”-liking girls I mentioned earlier as they do with someone deep “in the struggle”.

There’s also something incredibly male and even masculine about Resurrection; the easy place to start is ‘I Used to Love H.E.R’ which is oft-cited as being you know a little closed-minded about what girls (metaphor or not) can do with their vaginas. Common comes through in that the album feels and sounds alienated in a way that girls just never really are; it’s a remarkable literature-caliber portrayal of a slightly educated twentysomething (Nirvana who?). On the album, Common’s aware of his problems and wants to fix them but is half-scared and half-lazy and half-enjoying being a fuckup so it’s all a messy loop of living rapped over messy-but-clean jazz and keyboard loops. He’s also weirdly un-ironic and not self-aware like a lot of confused twentysomething dudes (yes face it, Common is basically a dude); only a rapper with little irony or little interest in proofreading would not only rap a line like “and you could tell/By the way her titties hung” but end the verse with it!

At the same time, the album is a jarring transition from Can I Borrow a Dollar? (a great title by the way). No I.D went from pretty ill slightly wiser boom-bap to beats that move and gel together through the subtlest of keyboard touches and other genius sonic detail. Meanwhile, Common calms it down a little and makes the perfect use of his perpetually stuffed-up-like-he’s-got-a-cold flow. Many look back and like to joke or at least reference stuff like ‘Heidi Hoe’ to describe just how different he was when he first spit, but Common is the same dumbass he’s always been. His most winning aspect is a penchant for emotionally honest details that never seem cloying and his worst aspect is the one he’s been totally working-on for more than a decade: his political and social observations (if they can even be called that). It doesn’t surprise me that he dropped out of college because he’s exactly the kind of guy that would go and then drop out and then talk about how he didn’t need it and how (as he says on Resurrection) “I went to school for fourteen years and my best teacher was experience”; Common’s something of a dullard, really.

It’s fun to make fun of Electric Circus’ or the so clichéd they literally mean nothing stuff on Finding Forever (love is not a mystery…it’s everything?) but they are already there on Resurrection when he says junk like “I hope you wake up in time for the revolution/Or you gonna be like/I can’t believe it, I got shot!” and it works on that album because the whole concept behind it is a confused young guy just being real. It’s the same joyful ignorance found on the first N.W.A record (no really, it is); a decade later however, you realize he hasn’t learned much of anything about anything but he thinks he’s got the world figured out…his supposed resurgence with the help of Kanye West is highly overrated and Be and Finding Forever being celebrated shows just how far the Lonnie Lyn has fallen.

Written by Brandon

November 30th, 2007 at 11:55 am