No Trivia

Archive for January, 2007

leave a comment

‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 04.

It took the show four episodes, but they finally made that Guy-In-a-Bug-Suit funny by showing him get-down at the strip-club. And oh yeah, Just Blaze is a dick. I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the guy because lately, he’s on this totally boring incorporation of “real” instruments into his beats kick…On the show last night, he just seemed full of himself. Coming in and telling 100 Proof his style isn’t good, at the point in which he did, isn’t going to do anything but ruin his confidence. The same with telling Sullee not to read off the page. Plus, I’ve definitely seen footage of real rappers holding lyrics sheets, so what is he even talking about? And even if Just is right, anybody could step-in and do that. Then, after all of Just’s snarky comments, he gives in and says they did better than he thought, an obviously back-handed comment. He couldn’t even give these guys an enthusiastic “Just Blaze!”? Come on.

I think Jay-Z comparing this guy with DJ Premier really fucked him up. Who can forget this legendary quote from Just: “I could rap right now if I wanted to. I rap probably better than most rappers”. Did that ever make XXL’s ‘Negro Please’? And they say Kanye West has a big head. At least Kanye doesn’t pretend to be humble. The whole thing reminds me of an old episode of ‘MTV’s Making the Video’, I think it was for No Doubt’s ‘Ex-Girlfriend’. I watched it to see Hype Williams in action and was disappointed to see a lazy, fat dude sitting in his director’s chair half-speaking direction and letting his D.P do all the work. That’s exactly how I felt about Just Blaze in this episode. In fact, Just and Hype are pretty similar, both are pretty good but much too lazy and rely on gimmicks and their reputation to get them through some pretty unforgivable bullshit (‘Show Me What You Got’, that Nike commercial everyone is in love with this week).

Ultimately, Just looks foolish because neither team’s song ends up being terrible, although when you see the making-of it’s pretty hilarious. I want to make fun of Blue Team’s ‘One Night Stand’ but my friends and I were all singing “That’s what it is/So it is what it is/Toniiighht” within seconds of hearing it. That’s gotta count for something. It also seems like Red Team had a better engineer or something. Blue Team’s song didn’t sound like it was produced at all, it was mixed poorly and really did sound like something on a mixtape.

Placing the club-song competition in a strip club and choosing Kool Keith, maybe the only guy that sings about strip clubs but has never had any of his songs played in a strip-club, to judge the contest was unexpected but interesting. It isn’t what viewers would expect and fits with the show’s conscious attempt at being even-handed and also contrarian with rap history. Each episode seems to consciously incorporate up-to-date rappers with significant rappers from the past or distant past, always fucking with expectations. It’s a fair-minded and hardly bitter approach to presenting rap music that is truly discerning in whom it pokes fun-of. That’s why Jus Rhyme doesn’t get any effort points for his “political rap”; he’s exposed for the jack-ass he is. He’s everything that is wrong with so-called “political” rap. “Political” rappers think they know everything; they aren’t even expressing themselves as much as they are trying to tell you how to think. Their music is more oppressive than the most misogynistic rap song. I’ve been holding out on this but Jus is the wrong kind of Ethnic Studies prof’s wet dream. He totally defers to what he is being taught and as 100 Proof insightfully put it, “harbors… an extreme amount of white guilt” which many Ethnic Studies professors misinterpret as racial understanding.

I teach 11th grade English and I was telling some of my more eager-to-please students that I am not big on “A-students”. What I mean by “A-student” I went on to explain, is students that follow the rules, say the right thing, but don’t have a single insightful or new thing to say. Jus Rhyme is something of an A-student. Had 100 Proof not stepped-in, Jus Rhyme would be perfectly okay with saying there’s a problem with “whiteness”. Wow. This show just gets better and better. Seriously though, it really does. The scenarios and contests are increasingly well-done and the show seems to have found its balance between taking the rappers seriously and allowing them to make asses of themselves rather than place them in super-obvious situations that would make anybody look foolish. Next week’s episode looks nuts! Somebody laughs at Serch! Between this and J.T Yorke’s death on ‘Degrassi’ television rules everything around me.

Written by Brandon

January 30th, 2007 at 7:41 am

leave a comment

The Ruse of Rock Music

The front-page of the ‘Sunday Style’ section of ‘New York Times’ has an article by Jessica Pressler titled ‘Truly Indie Fans’, with the subheading: “Some black music lovers prefer hipster styles and the rock scene, even if it makes them outsiders.”
The whole article is pretty weird, but let’s begin with the title which sort-of suggests that black people who like indie rock are “truly” independent because they have chosen music that they are not supposed to enjoy. They are therefore, more “independent” thinkers than blacks who like rap music.

There is a weird thing where stuff like ‘The New York Times’ associates anything black with authenticity. In any article about rap music, the infamous “black CNN” critical lens is pulled-out and rap music is associated with “ghetto” realities. At the same time, this article argues that blacks who listen to indie rock are “truly indie”, presumably meaning, truly real. How can both of these things be true? The black interest in white music is immediately celebrated while eight years ago, even as ‘Times’ writers like Janet Maslin might celebrate Eminem in a way that they would never praise Biggie or Tupac, they would rarely write about white interest in rap music or rap fashion as being anything but “problematic”. Now, we have the inversion of those articles and I feel an uncomfortably condescending tone, celebrating black people for “finally” embracing rock music or somehow “returning” to their rock roots.

The article maintains the unfortunate ruse pushed by baby-boomers that rock but particularly, 60s rock, is the music to associate with integrity and purity. Look at this strange sentence, particularly the way it states sheer speculation as fact: “Black musicians gravitated towards genres in which they were more likely to find acceptance and lucre, such as disco, R & B and hip hop, which have also been popular among whites” (2). While I see what Pressler is saying, primarily that, generally, in the 70s, black rock musicians weren’t very popular, to imply that black musicians involved in disco, R & B, or rap are in some way less brave than black rock musicians is simply absurd. Furthermore, to suggest that black musicians not playing rock were doing so because there wasn’t any money in it is simply offensive. Pressler invokes Jimi Hendrix, the end-all in arguments on blacks and rock n’roll for uninformed people and quotes Paul Friedlander, author of ‘Rock and Roll: A Social History’ who says: “To the black community [Jimi Hendrix] was not playing wholly African-American music” (2). This sentence simply is a simple statement of fact and should not be used to somehow suggest the bias of black listeners when it comes to rock music. Black music fans weren’t being unfair or even critical to Hendrix if they said his music was not “black” because it wasn’t. Although he was influenced by Chuck Berry and the blues, Hendrix’s music has a closer connection to 60s rock, acid rock, hippie music; white music. Many British and American rock groups that played “acid rock” would probably cite the Beatles as their main influence and there’s hardly any explicit black influence on a Beatles record while, the Rolling Stones, particularly in the 60s, were quite good at acknowleding, adapting, and paying homage to their black music influences.

The main reason why so few black musicians explicitly make rock is because by the early 60s, conventional rock music was already becoming a bit played-out. Many black musicians quickly digested rock’s influences into their music. Listen to certain tracks by the Temptations or Bloodstone, who maintain a semi-heavy sound even as they make prototypical 70s soul like ‘Natural High’ or musicians like Arthur Lee & LOVE or Hendrix’s once-drummer Buddy Miles, who were a bit closer to rock but never fully rejected R & B influences the way Hendrix basically rejected them. To imply that it was somehow out of fear of acceptance that led black musicians to embrace (and even create!) genres like doo-wop, soul, funk, or rap is incorrect and moronically maintains boomer ideals about the transformative power of good ol’ rock n’roll. Remember, these are the same boomers that would later sue De La Soul and the Biz leading to bullshit sampling laws. As Chuck D once said: “Beware of the hand when it’s coming from the left.”

The most infuriating aspect of this article is a quote from Bahr Brown, owner of an “East Harlem skateboard shop” called ‘Everything Must Go’ who says: “Hip-hop has lost a lot of its originality…this [indie rock] is the new thing.” Where do I even start with that one? I don’t subscribe for a minute to the idea of rap music being dead. It’s very alive (I seriously mean this), it keeps getting better and more interesting. Nas has a problem with contemporary rap because it doesn’t sound like 1988. Well, I think that it’s a good thing, not because I don’t like rap from 1988 but because I’d hope something isn’t completely rehashing ideas that were mastered twenty years ago. Oddly enough, that is exactly what is happening in the indie rock world. There are very few indie rock groups doing anything innovative. Every dance-rock band does a crappy impression of New Order or Joy Division and every cutesy “twee pop” group rips whole pages from the Beach Boys catalog (that is, if they aren’t stealing from groups as recent as Belle & Sebastian). Not to mention, the ever-looming influence of the Velvet Underground. When Joanna Newsome makes a Van Dyke Parks rip-off album, it is for a bunch of people who don’t know or care about Van Dyke Parks (go cop ‘Song Cycle’ or ‘Discover America’, seriously.) so it’s praised by a bunch of critics with short memories and fans with even shorter ones. There isn’t anything wrong with this but please, don’t say that rap music is the place where originality is lacking.

-Pressler, Jessica. “Truly Indie Fans.” ‘New York Times’ 28 Jan. 2007: St1-2.

Here’s an online version of the article. Go here for a username and password if you aren’t registered.

Written by Brandon

January 30th, 2007 at 2:00 am

Posted in "black CNN", Indie

leave a comment

‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 03.

“They moved in a tight-knit order, carrying sticks and clubs, shotguns and rifles, led by Ras the Exhorter become Ras the Destroyer upon a great black horse. A new Ras of haughty, vulgar dignity, dressed in the costume of an Abyssinian chieftain; a fur cap upon his head, his arm bearing a shield, a cape made of the skin of some wild animal around his shoulders. A figure more out of a dream than out of Harlem…”-‘Invisible Man’ (556)

Remember when people read newsgroups and dudes would say shit like “Man so-and-so must be reading this newsgroup because they really fixed the show from last week”? Well, that’s how I feel after last night’s episode. Not really. No one is reading this but this week’s episode was a lot less problematic and actually addressed some interesting points while still being entertaining. The episode’s targets were more even-handed and I’m into equal opportunity embarrassment. I don’t demand for things to be fair nor would I consider it criteria for whether something is “good” but it is nice when you can tell a little extra thought is put into something.

Obviously ‘Affirmative Reaction’ (‘Family Feud’ but with racially sensitive questions), was supposed to make the white rappers look like idiots but the game also mocked super-serious posturing about racial anger. $hamrock’s foolish answers, especially the one about black people never being on time, were met with anger from the audience but Prince Paul just sort of laughed it off. It was fun with a serious edge to it, as opposed to being serious with some failed attempts at humor tossed-in. The set-up of the game made everyone involved seem pretty idiotic. Prince Paul, holding a spear was funny, audience reactions were funny, and the white rappers’ answers were funny. Everyone comes off looking stupid but with some dignity. You can’t totally look down at anybody except Lord Jamar.

The ‘Affirmative Reaction’ game seemed to be in direct contrast to the scene before, where Lord Jamar seemed angry at the white rappers only because they were white. At least a few of the rappers were excited to meet Brand Nubian, Persia was downright humbled, and all of them were listening but they were treated with nothing but disrespect. Sadat X was trying but recieved the “you’re a sell-out” eye from Jamar. Compare Jamar’s response to that of Juelz Santana who was very encouraging and disinterested in their whiteness. When Jus Rhyme rapped for Santana, he had the same exact horrified expression on his face that I have when Jus opens his mouth but Juelz was appropriately polite, unlike Jamar who took the super-obvious shots at poor John Brown. The show’s editors made no conceits to Lord Jamar either, making him look like the asshole he seems to be. To follow up Brand Nubian with Prince Paul’s half-parody of black power was a really interesting move by the show. Prince Paul, in full-on Ras the Destroyer mode, was a gentle joke on black nationalism. ‘Affirmative Reaction’ both laughed-at and reminded viewers of racial conflicts, moving away from the stone-faced seriousness of Lord Jamar without removing any of the significant points that could have been made.

The show is also becoming increasingly comfortable giving the viewers a taste of Jus Rhyme’s very-specific form of idiocy. Honestly, he’s the only character who needs to be made fun of…Jus Rhyme is not a freedom fighter. I know his heart is in a good place, but everybody’s heart is in a good place. It doesn’t stop them from being a fucking idiot. The look on Sullee’s face when Jus Rhyme wins over the barber shop with grotesque clichés about “the struggle” is really depressing. Jus is going for his Phd in ‘Ethnic Studies’? He’s yet to say a single insightful thing about race! The episode all comes together during elimination when Sullee says something incredibly insightful and legitimately challenging.

Presumably, without reading any of the books Jus Rhyme has read, without knowing or caring what he is saying, Sullee makes the incredibly important distinction between Whites in power and poor (or even middle-class) whites who do not have the time nor the interest in oppression. What Sullee is really addressing is not ‘White Power’ but ‘White Supremacy’ and makes a damn-good and dare I say, just fucking correct, assertion that it’s really just ‘Supremacy’. This some real ‘Redneck Manifesto’ shit! Sullee’s verse was even mentioned as exactly why the show isn’t a normal reality show in this video interview with the ‘(White) Rapper Show’ creators. The theme of last night’s episode seemed to be a significantly more even-handed approach to race where everyone is foolish and only half-knows what the fuck they are talking about. It’s a lot more rewarding to watch.

Some shit I wanted to say that I couldn’t incorporate into the points above…

Sullee was totally right about ‘Affirmative Reaction’ being bullshit but fucked-up as those rules may be, that’s just how ‘Family Feud’ rolls…

Also, poor G-Child. Where will she go? What will she do? Can we start a trust-fund? She also needs to lay-off the cough syrup. She took being sent home so well and she’ll just keep pursuing her dream of rapping like Vanilla Ice even when she is like, thirty. That’s really sad but really kind of touching too. Seriously. It is. Fuck you if you don’t realize why.

Also, also: Isn’t it pronounced “Ju-els” and not “Jules”? Serch clowns himself again. Last week he did it by being totally out-rapped by Grandmaster Caz…

“…Ras bent down from the horse, saw me and flung, of all things, a spear, and I fell forward at the movement of his arm, catching myself upon my hands as a tumbler would, and heard the shock of it piercing one of the hanging dummies.”-‘Invisible Man’ (557)

-Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage: New York, 1980.

Written by Brandon

January 24th, 2007 at 7:41 am

leave a comment

Uh, More Like Amy Whines-a-lot-House…

There’s a lot of talk about Amy Winehouse because of ‘You Know I’m No Good’ from ‘More Fish’ which begs the question, why hasn’t Mr. Maygreen blown-up? His vocal approximation of an incredibly specific bygone r & b era on ‘Good’ is just as impressive. Okay, so there are obvious reasons why Mr. Maygreen isn’t the talk of the U.K press: he probably doesn’t have an album out and someone that can sound Bootsy Collins is a lot less interesting to most than someone that sounds like 60s r & b. Even if those reasons weren’t the case, Winehouse has a lot of other things going for her.

First, the incredibly fickle U.K press. Once again, everyone has forgotten that England is a tiny piece of shit country where the press holds a lot of power and can make bands like Arctic Monkeys superstars. England isn’t open-minded, nor is it hip; it’s just small, so music critic love can make something incredibly popular. Imagine if the United States were only New York, the music charts would be “hip” too. It is for these reasons that punk rock was able to blow-up in England while remaining a subculture here.

Second, Winehouse is white. Her music proves just how far people will go to embrace black music while removing the black element. This is particularly true in the incredibly, musically racist U.K. These assholes will act like because they celebrated Jimi Hendrix they aren’t racist (just as the French still wear their acceptance of Josephine Baker as a badge). The reality is most white critics, particularly, foreign, white critics, when given the option, always adopt the white version of black culture. Can you say trip-hop? In the case of Winehouse, it is more disturbing because she has been embraced not only for her ability to sound like old, black singers but because her troubled, personal life is interpreted as making her soul music, that is, her connections to black music, more “authentic.” She is clearly trying to be Billie Holiday. This is borderline minstrelsy: (from ‘Rehab’) “I ain’t got tha tahhme/And if mah’ daddy thinks ahm fahne”. This is appropriation in the most fucked-up form but for some reason, no one is really complaining. The reason she is not questioned, challenged, or laughed-off for being white is because she is also nuts and can approximate a “black” voice?

Third, she is a woman. To many, Winehouse’s troubles are celebrated through some, confused feminist lens that celebrates her public hi-jinx as honesty. Julianne Shepherd’s recent ‘Interrobang(?!)’ said this:

“In the UK press, Winehouse has both been lauded as a talent in the classic soul and jazz sense, and held up as a drunken, eating-disordered, and generally disheveled pariah. She has been honest about all of these things– which, as those who have been drunken, eating disordered and disheveled will tell you, is no easy feat.”

No, it is not easy to discuss drinking problems or eating disorders but this is not what Winehouse is doing. She perversely uses her problems as both a P.R and anti-P.R moves (as not to alienate any fans), essentially making her problems a dark joke. Now, she can do whatever she wants with her problems but the fact that she is getting credit for being honest when she is at best, being sarcastic, is troubling. The fact that Shepherd, by far the most enthusiastic and (in the best sense of the word) impulsive of Pitchfork’s writers cannot actually say anything about Winehouse’s music in an article that praises the singer, is quite telling. When Winehouse uses her music instead of the press to address emotional issues, it is done in the least subtle of ways.

‘Rehab’ removes all of the subtleties of Winehouses’s supposed influences. While Nina Simone or Billie Holiday or girl groups used their very-specific femininity and the problems that stem from this as a sub-text, Winehouse rubs it in your face. Her music is a gross misreading of the female-fronted music she seems inspired by. There is something refined and at the same time, utterly brash about the music of these women singers, while Winehouse’s music is so cheeky it is uncomfortably obvious. Cat Power, who also went black-soul-throwback with ‘The Greatest’, was for many years, notorious for instability but never wore it as a badge even if every song she sang, in one way or another, was about said instability.

Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ sounds like a song from ‘Dreamgirls’ if ‘Dreamgirls’ were an off-off broadway musical instead of the Hollywood musical it is. That it to say, its approximation of the girl-group sound is significantly better than anything in ‘Dreamgirls’ but it is served through this hipster, “downtown” irony that seems to be where Winehouse is coming from. These impulses, the performing the action of honesty while making light of it all, allow her to be critique-proof and therefore, not controversial but safe, completely explains the UK press’s celebration of her. People love safe rebellion, quantifiable craziness, soft edginess, etc.

Winehouse has an incredibly contrived public persona that fully exploits her own neuroses not for absolution but for cheap popularity and misguided critical respect. So contrived is her persona that it is supposed to come off as totally uncontrived. She comes off as hot enough that males will think she is hot but ugly enough that women can’t hate her. When she says annoyingly flirty things like “I like pin-up girls. I’m more of a boy than a girl. I’m not a lesbian, though — not before a sambuca anyway” she’s begging dudes to jerk off to her. And fellas, if you haven’t busted a nut yet, in that quotation, she’s talking about her pin-up girl tats. Oh snap!

Her music isn’t bad as in, it’s alright, so I see why the British press and 30-something ‘New Yorker’ readers might embrace it, but I just can’t believe that so many others are being fooled. In contrast to Shepherd, Amy Phillips’ Pitchfork song review of a Hot Chip remix of ‘Rehab’ said: “Basically [Winehouse] sounds like a street-smart version of Joss Stone. (Not that we in any way needed a street-smart version of Joss Stone.) To extremely confused people, this means she’s comparable to Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill.”

Dear Extremely Confused People,
There’s a guy named Jaheim. He sang on ‘My Place’ by Nelly and he’s also on that Cam’ron album that Pitchfork told you to buy. He has a much better sense of r & b history and deservingly samples Willie Hutch as opposed to fraudulently sampling girl groups. There’s also Cody Chesnutt. Remember him? If not, dig through your back issues of ‘Fader’ from 2003 or so. Can you send some of your love R. Kelly’s way? I know you chuckle at ‘Trapped In the Closet’ as if R. Kelly isn’t in on the joke (he is) but this dude can sing and if you’re interested in psychos, it doesn’t get realer than R. Kelly. The motherfucker pees on under-aged girls! That’s actually troubled! Not troubled by way of some prep-school attending, child of musicians, Jewess, with a good approximation (I suspect, thanks to some studio processing, but that’s another story) of the Shirelles.


Written by Brandon

January 21st, 2007 at 7:59 am

leave a comment

The Mixtape Crackdown and File-Sharing

Everyone has heard about this by now. My initial response was the same as everybody’s: outrage. It’s a pathetic choice by a pathetic, out-of-touch association and yeah, those news reports were messed-up, basically racist, and definitely rap-a-phobic. However, if this is to have a happy ending I think people are going to have to look at it more reasonably. This stuff was totally illegal and only accepted because before, it wasn’t so flagrant.

The argument for mixtapes harming record sales is tenuous but not non-existent. For example, before Mixunit removed all of their mixtapes on their site, I was looking at the latest volume of ‘Purple Codeine’ because it has a bunch of unreleased Jeezy tracks (presumably from the same sessions as ‘The Inspiration’) but also because it has ‘Throw Some D’s’ on it. Five years ago, if the average music listener wanted ‘Throw Some D’s or any hit song, they would just buy the whole album, now, between iTUNES, illegal file-sharing, and mixtapes, there’s no reason to buy Rich Boy’s CD. Everyone benefits except the actual music industry. I don’t care but I can see why the industry would. The RIAA hasn’t succeeded in going after file-sharing or increasing CD sales, so they’ve gone after something that has a lot less impact: mixtapes. What else is new? You can’t find Bin Laden, so you enter Iraq.

I would say that the file-sharing controversies and how both the RIAA acted and how music dorks responded, would be a good lesson on how this mixtape stuff should not be handled. Let’s go back for a moment and recall the glory days of Napster…

I was in 10th grade and spent hours on my 56k connection downloading random songs. Then, I got a cable modem and would spend a few minutes after school just downloading whole albums of anything that seemed interesting. Brian Eno’s 70s albums? Click. Tribe Called Quest’s entire discography? Click. Then, bands like Metallica complained and I thought they were a bunch of whiners but I couldn’t front and say they didn’t have a point. The file-sharing crackdown pissed me off because it really did make me buy more CDs: I suddenly had access to all of this stuff and would often go buy it! This was the argument that many (including myself) made and at the time, the numbers proved us right: file-sharing did not negatively affect CD sales. But the argument isn’t true anymore because now everyone knows about file-sharing. Stroll through any large parking lot, look into a few cars and you’ll see a couple of CD-Rs resting on the seat or look at the sun visor and one of those faggy-strappy CD holders will be full of CD-Rs.

I have no facts to base this on, but I’d argue that what made CD sales drop was the increasing normalcy of file-sharing coupled with the rising significance of iPODS. Although, iPOD has found a way to offer “legal” downloads, anyone under 30 years old with an iPOD has some illegally downloaded files. Before iPODS, file-sharing, although not that much of a hassle, was still a pain in the ass. Too much of a pain in the ass for the average music listener. Now, your friends’ albums as well as both legal and illegal mp3s can just be quickly loaded onto your iPOD and you can take your music in your car, to a party, for a jog, whatever. The combination of file-sharing and iPODSs has probably negatively affected CD sales, hence the delay between file-sharing’s popularity and declining music sales. Of course, because iPOD essentially plays the game and because they are so damn popular they’ll never be accused of harming music sales. Again, what else is new?

When Napster was shut-down, people should have just admitted file-sharing was downright illegal instead of coming up with a million bullshit reasons why it was okay. People tried legal jargon while others just made moronic assertions about anarchy. Notice how then, the target being primarily white, rock music nerds, the screams were of how file-sharing was an example of “anarchy” and government oppression of such ideas, while the victim of this mixtape stuff is primarily a black or a racially-aware audience, so the screams are of racism. In times of crisis, you can always depend on opportunism to overcome honesty.

I recall attending the New Jersey Wu-Tang show the night before ODB died and being next to a dude who puffed joint after joint. This was in the Meadowlands, so it was inside, and he was probably ten feet from an usher but nobody busted him because in a situation like that, it just sort of becomes okay to smoke-up if you keep it under control. He was only reprimanded when he took his joint with him to the bathroom. I’m assuming the same is true in places like Bonarroo or even Jimmy Buffett concerts. I imagine that if suddenly, someone spiked a vein and started shooting heroin, that usher who has been ignoring clouds of weedmoke, would suddenly walk over like, “Hey, not cool.” DJ Drama is shooting heroin in the Meadowlands while all the others are smoking weed.

The guy made his fame off of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ and there’s no way he isn’t making money. I know he is because I was in a Best Buy in Baltimore City and saw a CD version of ‘Dedication 2’, with a conventional jewel-case and all. If you go to any FYE type store, you’ll stumble upon a couple of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ selling for retail price. It was only a matter of time. It is disturbing that the RIAA may really not understand the difference between bootlegs and mixtapes, but what else is new? Rap music is ridiculously popular while also being incredibly subversive. That’s a huge reason why I enjoy it and why I’m only annoyed and not appalled by those few dinosaurs left who still refuse to consider it music. It’s really hard to understand. Furthermore, a lot of rap writers and musicians are megomaniacally protective of their “culture” be it through one of the many forms of rap elitism or arguments based on identity politics that don’t allow whites to comment insightfully upon it. So, no one can get angry when a bunch of square white guys that certain, self-appointed representatives of “the culture” have alienated, don’t understand mixtapes. You can’t expect the average person who isn’t aware of the hyper-complex, performative aspects of rap, to understand that just because a mixtape has gun sound-effects on it does not mean that the DJs are criminals. It’s obvious to me but maybe not so much to someone who doesn’t even understand how a mixtape is different than a bootleg. So, as Noz said, “Know Your Enemies” but maybe sympathize with them too.

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2007 at 4:41 pm

leave a comment

‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 02.

I began watching ‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’ because it seemed interesting but also because I decided to have this rap blog and figured it would give me content for at least one of my intended per-week entries. I was wrong, there just isn’t a lot to say about this show. This is just a reality show; ego trip’s name before the title made me assume the show would be a little better or smarter or less exploitative than most reality shows. I’m just not used to having such a conflicted relationship with my television. My regular television viewing habits probably require a “no homo”: ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’, ‘Full House’, ‘Boy Meets World’ and shitty local news. I’m so ‘Reality Bites’: I watch shows that don’t take themselves seriously and then have serious discussions about them with my friends. So, I have a problem watching a show like ‘The White Rapper Show’ that sort of takes itself seriously. It seems to have pretenses to being somehow insightful about race or appropriation or miscegenation but it just isn’t. Any messages or insights are convoluted by the show’s contempt for its cast or lame quasi-racist jokes like having them tour the Bronx in a prison bus. The exact position towards the white rappers is a convoluted mix of seriousness and harsh satire. Too many of these rappers are just plain bad for the show to be taken seriously. They couldn’t find ten quality white rappers? If that were the case, we’d have a house full of $hamrocks and it would be boring because they’d all sit back and sort-of take this rap shit seriously. However, if the show is avoiding a house of $hamrocks, then it’s for a laugh and Serch needs to be easy on his Tyra ‘tude and stop saying shit like: “I’m not here to clown anybody”. If Serch really isn’t there to clown anybody, the rest of the production staff is and the joke is on Serch.

Ultimately, I guess none of that matters because the show is really fun and I’ll be at my couch with friends watching it next Monday at 10:00 PM. It’s almost too much for me to handle when the show ends and I realize I have seven fucking days until the next one, this wave of frustration comes over me in a “why is the world so unfair” way that I almost can’t deal with. So yeah, I’m fucking hooked and if that’s all that the show needs to do, it has succeeded. Otherwise, it’s only entertaining in a way that kind of makes me feel gross afterwards. It’s too easy to laugh at poor rapping or sad attempts at breaking. Occasionally, there’s an actually entertaining part of the show that hints at what it could be: the list of excuses that scrolled-by to explain Dasit’s refusal to rap (the best: “I am a shook one”) or when Serch says he’s going to miss Misfit and Prince Paul chimes-in “I won’t.” Is this what television watching is? Compromise? This weird, fucked-up mix of entertainment, contempt, and disappointment? I kinda want out.

Written by Brandon

January 16th, 2007 at 7:26 pm

leave a comment

Why I Love Dipset.

So, Dipset are at it again. If you haven’t read, according to Nah Right, someone Dipset-ized Tru Life’s Myspace. Among the changes, the main image is (was) a reversal of that lame Tru Life mixtape cover and the top four friends are (were) listed as Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, J.R Writer, and Duke Da God. The most hilarious change is Tru Life’s ‘About Me’ section. I copied the text from the screenshots on Nahright, so all weird grammar, spelling, punctuation etc. is kept intact.

“I want to apologize for disrespecting The Whole Dipset especially Jim “capo” Jones. I’m just a tad upset with my situation at rocafella, Jay Z spends all his money on beyonce, and doesn’t leave much for any of his broke Rocafella artist Like me Young Gunners, Memphis Bleek and Peedi Crakk; especially for his dust smoking habits.. I’m driving around the lower eastside in my 96 Windstar Caravan with my broke friends not really doing much. I don’t know when my album gonna drop, I’m still living off Jewelry I stole from Mobb deep and I’m down to my last dollars. I really want to say thank you to Geno, end of the day I know he is my muscle, and the only reason niggas aint swerve on me yet”

96 Windstar Caravan? Spends all his money on Beyonce? This is why I love these guys! This whole hacking thing is presumably a response to the Tru Life mixtape that shows Jones’ head photo-shopped onto Borat-in-a-wrestling-singlet and Cam’ron photo-shopped onto a woman’s body. While we’re at it, the woman’s body with Cam’ron’s head looks disturbingly close to Jamie Foxx’s Wanda character from ‘In Living Color’…anyways, this whole Dipset/Jay-Z beef was absurd from the beginning and as many others have said, it’s only become more ridiculous because Jay-Z has given it the time of day and worse, seems to be taking it seriously.

What makes Dipset so great is how they will do the most juvenile shit ever, fully aware that it makes them look stupider than it does the intended target and not give a shit at all. The entire career of Dipset has been about actually not giving a fuck. Just start with their clothing, their complete embrace of fur and pink and purple is an affront, a challenge to laugh at them. I’d also argue that for fans like me, it’s almost a challenge to take them seriously. I really have to work hard to find what I consider some really interesting realities that they address. Although I love their over-the-top production, many have a problem with it and I can’t really argue. Those nutso strings and cackling sped-up little kid voices on ‘S.A.N.T.A.N.A’ entertain me but I can see why a lot of people have trouble taking the Dips seriously. This bombastic production, coupled with their apparent ability to rap on anything from super-obvious samples (‘Push It’, ‘Roxanne’, Zapp, Cindy Lauper, ‘Between the Sheets’) to television themes (‘Monday Night Football’, ‘Magnum P.I’, ‘Hillstreet Blues’) to fucking Rick Wakeman samples makes them bona fide weirdos. Even their actual threats are filtered through some weird, genius form of Dipset comedy wherein they are the butt of their own jokes, as when Jim Jones threatens some guy with a wedgie. And yeah, I really mean genius here, these guys are funny in this weird subtle comedy way that’s only seen on like, early Albert Brooks films or ‘The Larry Sanders Show’. Those “Mizzle” skits on Cam’ron’s ‘Purple Haze’ are legitimately clever: “Get some weight on you like that fat bitch Della Reese-Yo, I still don’t know what that means.” A pitch-perfect parody of a Woon, the hanger-on, repeating what his favorite rappers say, without any understanding. Or the genius of ‘Chicken Head’:

Chicken Head: I’m a chicken, so I’m a act like a chicken, quack quack!
Cam: That’s a DUCK.

The extra-weird thing about that skit is by the end of it, Cam has clearly lost the argument. As much as the Dips are about pumping themselves up, they spend a lot of time making themselves look like jerkoffs. The much-hated ‘Killa Season’ is the best movie that came out last year. No joke. It is Cassavetes-like in its improvisatory style and what people used-to Hollywood movies call “the worst acting ever” is actually so realistic that it makes you uncomfortable, so you call it “bad”. I have a feeling that when people actually freak-out because their niece has been shot they look a little embarrassing too. A musician hasn’t made a vanity project that makes them look this real since ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Now that Dipset are huge because of ‘We Fly High’, one might think they’d tone it down, but as this hacking escapade proves they couldn’t care less. When ‘We Fly High’ was first released it seemed like typical Dipset hilarity: Jim Jones doing push-ups with a video chick on his back, that hilariously bad on-purpose bluescreen effect with Jones, Cam, and Juelz doing choreographed dancing. Then, Ballin!-mania hit and the inevitable remix was released and the video is even goofier. Jones ups the retardation level by now, bench-pressing a video chick. The video really is a parody of the baller-ific Puffy era. The video takes place on white floors, in front of white walls, leaving the only thing to focus upon to be the rappers, girls, and cars. Rap video cliches are reduced even further. Money is handled in a way that suggests contempt, they objectify woman and money; Diddy poorly juggling wads of $1 bills, Jones drops-back like a QB and throws a wad of bills like a football, Juelz wears the bills in his bandana like an Indian feather, and Birdman angrily punts a stack of cash. When Juelz brags “money ain’t a thing” I sort of believe him. And, let’s not forget the part where the to-be-bench-pressed video girl climbs out of the hood of one of the cars, exposing the car as, literally, a prop…and Juelz has some weird little piece of shit dog on his lap. Is that cool by anyone’s standards?

At the same time, Cam drops a shaky video of him riding mountain bikes with his friends through Harlem. I think there’s some truth in all of their actions. The fun and even stupidity of Dipset is there to be entertaining but it’s also there for us to cut-through to get to the substance. They couch their big ideas and their emotions in jokes. They, like the best artists of any medium, in any era, have a compulsive need to tell the truth. Take a song like ‘Harlem Streets’ from ‘Purple Haze’, a very affecting song, that contains the line “I told my mother I hustle and she said ‘Be Careful” which pretty much defines, in the sparest of words, a mother’s unconditional love for her son. Of course, ‘Harlem Streets’ is backed by a TV theme sample which arguably, downplays the song’s seriousness, as does a line like “…climb behind vagina/then I hymen grind her”. This precarious balance of emotional lyrics, goofy production, and rampant misogyny, contains itself because all of it sort-of fits together in a real-world-is-contradictory way. Jim Jones’ ‘Summer Wit’ Miami’ (wasn’t this the real beginning of the beef with Jay? Everyone seems to have forgotten this…) does not contain a single quality line but the overall feeling of the song is a lot like what it feels like to reflect back on summer. If you actually listen to it, it’s hardly a party song, more of a morning-after-the-party song. Those ‘Purple Haze’ skits are funny but they are also incredibly well-done and realistic. They didn’t have to be recorded so shittily, as to reflect a bad phone-line, the Jamaican on ‘Rude Boy’ could have a slightly less impenetrable accent, and as I said, Cam doesn’t have to get totally schooled in his argument with his girlfriend. The world of Dipset is incredibly well-observed and well-wrought, but there’s also room for wedgie jokes and bad CGI.

Written by Brandon

January 15th, 2007 at 4:44 am

leave a comment

Remember 2004?: ‘Detroit Deli’ by Slum Village

I picked up Slum Village’s 2004 album ‘Detroit Deli (A Taste of Detroit)’ the other day and have been listening to it non-stop. I have a vinyl copy of the album but it has these little, nearly-invisible surface scratches on it that make my needle skip everywhere, so it was good to find a CD replacement. Anyway, this is a really underrated album and deserves reevaluation. It’s definitely in my 20 favorite rap albums list.

‘Detroit Deli’ feels like a mixtape in its effortlessness and because Slum Village’s lyrical content is so limited (girls, girls, and more girls) it has an immediate sound to it, as if it were recorded in a few days, like a mixtape. You have the songs about girls they want to get-with and get support on that topic from Ol’ Dirty Bastard on ‘Dirty’ with his appropriately retarded chorus: “If you’re flexible, intellectual, bisexual/Can I get next to you?” Then, you have a song like ‘Selfish’ a mournful ode to the women they’ve gotten-with in every town but with a legitimate sense of respect, particularly when Baatin reveals: “I wish my arms was long enough to hug you all at the same time”. That line is hinting at the emotional reality of all sexual relationships, even mere hook-ups. That line verifies the sad feeling one derives from the Kanye West-produced beat: It almost sounds like you put your finger atop a spinning record and just subtly slowing it down so the sound kind-of wobbles. ‘Selfish’ segues into ‘Closer’, one of the many late-track sex jams that content-wise, makes me feel weird but are also legitimately sweet. ‘Old Girl/Shining Star’ is an ode to single mothers that again, is sincere without becoming maudlin or preachy. There is something to Slum Village’s modesty; they never sound like they are teaching or trying to exemplify treating a girl right, they’re just talking about it and sometimes, on songs like ‘Zoom’, they say more typical rap stuff about spinning rims and “put[ting] dick[s] in your mouth”, so it’s all appropriately conflicted. They never sound like high-minded jerks when they discuss “positive” topics because they’ve also said some “ignorant” shit. When Common raps “I never call you my bitch or even my boo” he’s proudly boasting which is unappealing; lines like that and most of the “conscious” rap community’s “conscious” lyrics often focus on appearance instead of action. They define themselves by what they don’t do, while Slum Village’s lyrics are performative, they are lyrics about what they do. Their Songs don’t tell you to “treat your woman right” they are about how they treat their women right.

Slum Village would connect themselves to “conscious” hip-hop and that wouldn’t be incorrect but more because they have no other place to be pigeonholed. I would argue however, that their form of consciousness, relating to women and sex is significantly more universal and less polarizing than the anger of the Okayplayer types. They also have a sense of humor that is entirely absent or feels forced when it comes from the “conscious” set. ‘Late 80s Skit’ sounds exactly what that title suggests and is an affectionate parody of something like ‘Friends’ by Jody Watley featuring Rakim but with a little more Debarge and a little less New Jack Swing. ‘Detroit Deli’s production has the ability to mimic and incorporate sounds from a variety of rap eras and genres without ever sounding throwback; it always has one foot in contemporary rap; that is what makes it a successful album.

Obviously, these guys learned from former member J-Dilla but I’d say, they are not derivative. The production is a strange mix of mainstream-sounding beats that, thanks to extra-thick drums, really knock, combined with homage to early 90s Native Tongues sounds, then, mixed with this weird air of melancholy. The album begins as an album should begin, with some exciting, easy-to-digest rap tracks and then, with ‘Selfish’, changes to an upbeat melancholy that progresses to the end of the album. Sad, regretful songs about others (primarily women) make way for sad, regretful songs about themselves (‘Keep Holding On’), ending with ‘Reunion’ one of the most emotionally affecting rap songs I’ve ever heard, it has the same as feeling as ‘T.R.O.Y’ and mixes a similar sense of love and outrage at family or friends, but without the “knowingness” of C.L Smooth.

The album reminds me of Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout’ in its equal interest in current, mainstream rap and the rap of the past. I hope I’m not being too nostalgic here, but this seemed to be a consistent theme in 2004. There was a subtle infiltration of mainstream rap that was still informed by the backpacker style. Kanye’s production of the time owes a lot to people like Pete Rock but it is equally influenced by the Puff Daddy production style. It was as if the “best” and “worst” eras of rap came together and by combining them, Kanye really was “the new version of Pete Rock” because if he only tried to sound like Pete Rock, he’d just be 9th Wonder.

‘Detroit Deli’ never blew-up but it was but one of many exemplary rap albums that seemed to be making an appropriate bridge between “mainstream” and “underground”.I can vividly recall watching MTV some day in Spring 04’ and seeing the ‘All Falls Down’ video and a few videos later, ‘Selfish’ and thinking about how exciting that was. 2004 was a good year for rap music and it’s just one more reason why these “bring hip-hop back” idiots kill me; when rap was showing a lot of potential, when a sea change was beginning, no one really appreciated it. They were too busy hating as usual. ’99 Problems’, Kanye West, Dead Prez’s ‘R.B.G’ (don’t forget, the ‘Hell Yeah’ video got some BET air time), Outkast-mania, Just Blaze, Nas’ ‘Streets Disciple’, ‘Breathe’ by Fabolous, and don’t forget Jadakiss’ ‘Why?’, a corny but politically aggressive and legitimately controversial rap song that got major radio and video play. Even the pop-rap and r & b songs were pretty great: R. Kelly’s ‘Happy People’, all those Usher, Ciara, and Destiny’s Child singles, ‘Lean Back’, ‘Tipsy’… where were all the heads then? They should have been yelling about how hip-hop is back or at least supporting some of this shit. Of course, those types can do nothing but complain, so somehow, the music wasn’t political enough or it wasn’t political exactly the way they wanted it to be or a million other justifications. It makes me fucking crazy.

Written by Brandon

January 12th, 2007 at 3:17 am

leave a comment

You Should Maybe Watch: ‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’

(the picture is unrelated, it just looks awesome.)

This show is really, really entertaining but it isn’t much more than that. ‘The (White) Rapper Show’ isn’t even that funny, which is weird since ego trip ostensibly had something to do with it. MC Serch is incredibly unlikeable (and is not “a hip-hip icon”); he adds an embarrassingly serious aspect to the show that isn’t necessary but makes the show more like every other reality show out there. The humor is kind of off or just seems strange and borderline offensive to blacks and whites: the cast members sleep on inmate beds, their house is ‘Tha White House’. The strangest is the way they represent a cast member being eliminated: MC Serch tosses a pair of shoes with their name on it atop telephone wires. It is all corny and uncomfortable the same way someone calling my out-dated cell-phone “ghetto” is uncomfortable. Those types of “ghetto” in-jokes seem bitter and forced; it’s much funnier making these goofballs play mini-golf or putting a giant ‘N-Word’ chain around Persia’s neck. That’s hilarious in a way that ego-trip is usually funny. Less of MC Serch’s personality and more of Prince Paul’s.

‘The (White) Rapper Show’ really is just a reality show that is rap-themed and that’s okay. The cast carries the show and their decency (at least so-far) makes it interesting to laugh at without feeling too superior. I was enthralled for the full hour because of the cast, not the production. The cast is nutso in a typical reality television way, however, they seem sincere about their rap inspirations, so there’s a little less cynicism at the heart of their actions. When G-Child unabashedly says her biggest inspiration is Vanilla Ice and is shown in previews for next week’s episode screaming “I hate 50 Cent! I hate Dipset!” it’s easy to laugh-off but she probably means it. My friend John also made the very good point that, out of all the rappers on the show, G-Child is probably the most “real” in the sense of having a tough-life. She’s this sad, weird, kinda trashy chick from Allentown, PA. I went to school in a semi-rural area and you get girls like G-Child there. They just seem perpetually out-of-place, too angry while, at the same time too sincere about everything (Exhibit A of her sincerity: her love of Vanilla Ice). I’d bet money she’s been molested or raped or cuts herself or something. The girls like this in my area, listened to Insane Clown Posse and drew fairies and stuff. It’s sad and not because I think these girls are lame but because they are just lost. Where do they go? Who do they marry?

Earlier in the night, I was at ‘Wendy’s’ with my friend John in this semi-crappy part of town where this discount store we were going to is located. Two G-Childs were working the register of the ‘Wendy’s’. That is what happens to these girls. They work at Wendy’s. Anyways, I can’t even really explain it, if you’ve ever met the girls I’m describing you already know what I’m saying…but seriously, the only thing that got me through my Big Bacon classic without crying may have been the discounted CDs I found at C-Mart, this weird discount/remainder store that gets all kinds of crap. It seems like most, if not all of their stuff comes from businesses that have closed. For example, a few months ago they randomly had racks of ‘American Apparel’ stuff. Well, some kind of record store must have closed-down or flooded because C-Mart had about 3000 flood-damaged CDs for sale, $3 apiece or two for $5. Here’s what I picked up:

-At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
-Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – Art of War
-Can – Landed
-Juelz Santana – What the Game’s Been Missing!
-Lee Hazelwood – Love and Other Crimes
-Scott Walker – Looking Back With…
-Slum Village – Detroit Deli (Advance Copy) *Has ‘Hood Hoes’ on it*
-The Obsessed – Incarnate
-The Whatnauts – Message from a Black Man
-Venom – At War With Satan

So yeah, had the excitement of opening those CDs not existed, I would have had a G-Child meltdown. But again, what makes ‘The (White) Rapper Show’ entertaining on a human level is the way the rest of the cast (besides Persia) seems aware and respectful of one another’s neuroses. The cast is just really confusing. 100 Proof is just Andrew Dice Clay in ‘Brooklyn Bad-Boy’ mode. John Brown is the Sun-Ra of white rappers, his whole bizarrely sincere demeanor and referring to himself as “an entity”…and did he name himself after thisJohn Brown? Dasit sounds like Eminem and it isn’t because he’s white, he’s trying to do that. Jon Boy, Sullee, and $hamrock are pretty good rappers and that’s a good thing because I was afraid the whole show was going to be a total joke (I’d still watch it but hey-). Jus Rhyme is jus a fucking idiot and who knows what to say about Persia. Oh yeah and sorry fellas, especially black men because I know you’re thinking it, but Misfit Dior is not hot. Also, I think she and G-Child conceived a child and named it Lady Sovereign.

All half-jokes aside, if you step out of the irony box, all of these people are really interesting because they are so damned earnest, too earnest. That’s interesting because I’d say that there isn’t a group that could possibly be more laughed-at and equated with inauthenticity than so-called “wiggers”. Can you imagine the life of the “wigger”? No one takes them seriously! I mean, I dress like a dorky white guy and I have a hard enough time justifying my love of rap to most people. The show itself actually encourages this laughing at them and and it’s a testament to their personalities that they all come out kind-of dignified (except Dasit).

I’ve always been disturbed by the word “wigger” for a million obvious reasons. My friend John (again) made the point that so-called wiggers should really be called “woons” (as in white-coons) because the biggest offenders of wigger-ism do not act “black” rather they act like gross stereotypes of acting “black”. I can recall being weirded-out when I saw the Genius in Baltimore a few years ago, not because everyone was patted-down for weapons, but because of so many woons with something to prove bumped into me and leered at my girlfriend’s ass. Baltimore’s a pretty real place and plenty of people in that audience probably do carry guns but it was only the woons that act like they have something to prove. This is what Tom Breihan was talking about in this entry when he said: “rap shows…are always sort of stressful [because] you’re jammed into an extremely full room with a whole lot of dudes in hoodies, and it’s always somewhere in the back of your mind that you might jostle someone wrong or spill someone’s drink and start a fight”. Breihan got a lot of shit for that comment as being racist and he probably could have explained himself better, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. Those fight-at-the-rap-show types are woonin’. There are plenty of white kids that I knew in high school who would have been called “wiggers” by outsiders but were legitimately into rap music and weren’t interested in acting “hard”. They wore Wu-Wear in eighth grade and white-T’s in 11th but they kept to themselves and I have pretty fond high school memories of joking around with those guys and occasionally talking rap with them. Let’s put it this way, Eminem is a woon, Paul Wall is just a guy who likes rap. Paul Wall is fun-loving and knows his rap history while Eminem is all self-indulgent look-at-me anger. He should probably drive down to that ‘Wendy’s’ in Joppatown, MD and bang one of those girls, they think that agro-shit is cool, it’s why G-Child is admires Persia so much…

This entry doesn’t really describe ‘The (White) Rapper Show’ at all though, sorry. It’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and I felt legitimately pissed-off that I had to wait a whole week for the next episode. I’d say the show is entertaining the way this is entertaining…

WOON STORY # 10,806:
Location: Edgewood, MD. ‘Goodwill Super-Store’
Description: This giant kind-of white-trash guy that looked like one of The Nasty Boys was pacing around this dressing-room mirror on his cell-phone telling someone about the “roc-O-wear” jeans he just found: “Honey, you’re gonna love these, I look so bangin’ right now…”

-‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’ is on VH1 every Monday at 10:00 PM.

UPDATE:(01/18/07) I just recieved an email from my friend John, mentioned in this post…

“I am honored to have such a complex definition of a woon attributed to myself, but I am afraid my separations were much simpler.

When I mean “woon”, I mean guys who basically clown their whiteness to fit in with blacks and entertain them as subservients-just like “coons” did before [with] their black stereotypes. ‘White Mike’ on the ‘Wayans Brothers’ [but] really any white guy on a black show: ‘White and Nerdy’ all that. Dasit’s appearance sort of fits in.

I’m afraid that saying a wigger doesn’t act black implies that “nigger”= black.
A “nigger” is an exagerration of the negative stereotypes of a black person.
Perhaps then, Kid we went to high school with/Paul Wall are just “Whack”? Ehh? Get it?”

Written by Brandon

January 9th, 2007 at 9:41 am

leave a comment

Most Young Kings Get Thier Head Cut Off

Last night, I picked up ‘Basquiat’ by Leonhard Emmerling. I’ve always responded to Basquiat’s painting and it was nice to find this affordable ($9.99!) introduction to the artist. I won’t recount Basquiat’s life because everything I know is from this book, Vincent Gallo interviews, and the the 1996 movie, which isn’t great but is worth watching. Basquiat began as a graffiti artist and always had connections to early hip-hop and his art is sort-of rap-like: The paintings are chaotic, his liberal use of images from the past and his interest in repeating images seems like a visual equivalent of sampling…I’m just saying some clichéd bullshit, so, if you don’t know about Basquiat, his Wikipedia entry is a decent introduction or if you have 10 bucks to spare, buy this book. Better than me rehashing stuff I only half-understand. More recently, Basquiat made news because Jay-Z supposedly bought Beyonce an original Basquiat (apologies for the awful article that makes sad use of the word ‘bling’…). There was also, a track recorded for ‘Kingdom Come’ that did not make the album, called ‘Most Kings’ inspired by Basquiat’s ‘Charles the First’ (see image above, notice the Basquiat version of the Superman ‘S’). This created a lot of condescending hub-bub: “Wow, a rapper likes art?!”

Conspicuous consumption is conspicuous consumption whether it is the gold faucets of Master P. or modern art, so I don’t give Jay-Z points for being “cultured” as this horribly condescending article does. However, I do find it refreshing because it makes sense that Jay-Z would like Basquiat’s art. That is to say, Jay-Z now has so much money he can buy pieces of art and he bought something he actually likes and something that fits his sensibility instead of something that is only a status symbol. Let’s assume, that most people buy art, even if it’s a print or a poster, to fill wall-space and to seem kind of distinguished. When a dude buys ‘Starry Night’ at his school’s annual poster-sale, it’s because he wants to have a nice print hanging in his dorm room. Most people, when they want to hang shit on the wall and are over twenty-five years old, go to ‘Deck the Walls’ or some store like that. Rich people probably have their own version that I don’t know about, but it’s safe to say most people choose art simply by “I like how that looks” or “the colors match the carpet” while I get the sense that Jay-Z is making a real statement, personal and political, about a shared sensibility between himself and Basquiat.

The most interesting connection is the way in which both of these black artists were initially ignored and dismissed by the mainstream, only to later have their asses kissed by those same people. Jay had to start his own label because no one thought his music could sell and Jay never lets us forget that in his songs. Basquiat was eventually sponsored by an Andy Warhol associate that initially laughed him off. Not that it is a rarity in the world of entertainment or art, no matter what race, to be ignored and then celebrated later, but I do think this had profoundly realistic effects on both artists’ understanding of art and commerce. Jay-Z and yes, Basquiat had no problem making money. A lot of Basquiat admirers refuse to reconcile being an artist with making money, so they somehow cite his exorbitant spending habits as examples of his ultimate disdain for money, but the reality lies somewhere between, as it should. One of the most insightful verses about commerce, rap, and “integrity” does not come from the Coup or “independent as fuck” Company Flow or Dead Prez, rather it’s contained in the second verse of ‘Moment of Clarity’ from ‘The Black Album’. In it, Jay admits to “dumbing down for [his] audience” to “double [his] dollars”. Mos Def or Common would never admit to “selling-out” even though Common dropped out of the ‘Touch the Sky’ tour to be in some movie, and appears in Pepsi and GAP ads, while Mos acts in all kinds of Hollywood crap or can’t even respect his fans enough to give ‘True Magic’ artwork (label obligation or not Mos, you have fans…). I’m not calling these rappers out for being dishonest, I’m calling them about for being dishonest about being dishonest. Jay defiantly says that “truthfully” he could “probably be Talib Kweli” or “rhyme like Common” and then defies integrity rap with the Pragmatist’s argument for capitalism with “Fuck perception/Go with what makes sense”. He then addresses rappers as a group, stating “we as rappers must decide what’s most important” and makes the inarguable point that he “can’t help the poor if [he’s] one of them”. Even Stanley Crouch might be proud of that. Jay-Z is basically presenting a more thought-out version of the “Get money!” argument every rapper makes these days.

Jay-Z and I believe Basquiat too, were pragmatically aware of the importance and the power of money while also highly keen to the way the artist, but specifically black artists can be easily chewed-up and spit-out. Money, fame, and success are possible ways of fighting back; you gain power and status through money, sorry, but you do. Of course, it’s also potentially harmful especially when mishandled. There’s nothing but rage in a Basquiat painting like ‘Five Thousand Dollars’, a canvas of two shades of brown with the price written on the painting in white or my personal favorite, the self-explanatory ‘St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes’. I refuse to suggest that the white-run art world “killed” Basquiat (it was heroin), but it couldn’t have helped. The Basquiat myth where the “outsider” goes mainstream and turns a lot of shit around, has been improved by Jay-Z, giving it a happy ending, one in which the money does not lead to self-destruction but to self-realization and the ability to help those less fortunate because of course, you can’t help the poor if you’re one of them.

Notice, in the past few years Jay-Z has “earned” his status by maintaining popularity by seeking out respect. For many years, Jay-Z found a balance between integrity and mainstream acceptance but with ‘Kingdom Come’ it feels as though he has tried too hard. ‘Lost One’ is not an introspective song, it just soundslike an introspective song. It plays by the rock-music rules for a serious song, with its piano-based beat, obnoxious British singer, and Jay’s faux-intense slow-down-my-flow-so-you-know-it’s-poignant voice. Why he couldn’t rap the same words over a less obvious rap is beyond me, but if you like Jay-Z for the right reasons, if you understand Jay-Z’s over-arching message, then you cannot be mad at ‘Kingdom Come’. You can be disappointed in it but you can’t be mad. Jay-Z has always been incredibly mindful of his audience and has ever only done what was necessary to do. It’s why ‘The Black Album’ is really consistent, it was his retirement album, it had to be. Those that defend ‘Kingdom Come’ generally defend it based on the concept, the evidence that Jay has “matured” and indeed, I can respect it for attempting to be grown-folks rap music but it just doesn’t really work as an album. Jay-Z made a critic-proof album (the way ‘Five Thousand Dollars’ by Basquiat is critic-proof) because that is what he needs right now to sell a lot of copies. It brings the hits, so a certain group of radio listeners will enjoy it and it has a commendable concept behind it, so heads and critics can applaud it for its pretenses.

Written by Brandon

January 7th, 2007 at 9:15 am

Posted in Basquiat, Jay-Z