No Trivia

Archive for March, 2007

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Stop Fronting: ‘Return of the Mac’ and ‘Blood Money’

I only half-understood the uproar when Mobb Deep signed to G-Unit. They were pretty much done already. I wasn’t expecting anymore interesting music from Mobb Deep for the rest of my life. There would always be ‘The Infamous’ and to a lesser extent, ‘Hell on Earth’ and ‘Murda Muzik’. Signing to G-Unit was a depressing but obvious economic choice for a group that probably needed to do something if they were going to stick around. Not to mention, any accusations of selling-out were pointless because Mobb Deep were totally honest about how it made them richer; they didn’t try to justify it at all. They got G-Unit tattoos on their hands and started telling everyone how much more money they were making. I mean, they called the album ‘Blood Money’. That says more about their choice to sign than any of us fans crying “sell-out” could say. If it took ‘Blood Money’ to make ‘Return of the Mac’ well I’m not complaining. I get a good album and these guys have a lot of money. Everybody wins, right?

Well, not everybody. Somehow, even after making a pretty great album Prodigy is getting backhanded compliments because many see ‘Return of the Mac’ as an “apology” for ‘Blood Money’. This is fan projection more than anything else. This is probably the album Prodigy has wanted to make for a couple years now but label bullshit and the very-scary and very-real need to stay “relevant” pushed him away from those goals and towards mediocrity. Signing to G-Unit guaranteed him money and I assume, a level of comfort, giving him the freedom, time, and a renewed confidence to make something like ‘Return of the Mac’. I don’t think one could exist without the other. Prodigy even makes this clear, incorporating a few references to 50 and G-Unit throughout the album.

Often, these references feel out of place, stuck in there just to antagonize hatin-ass fans like myself, making it harder to separate Prodigy from G-Unit. When I first heard ‘Mac 10 Handle’ a few months ago, the line “I’m so impulsive/I start gunnin’ right in front of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” made me think of the bowdlerized verse from ‘Pearly Gates’. I willfully interpreted it as some kind of subtle fuck you to 50 or something. The reality is probably more complex. Indeed, that line is on ‘Return of the Mac’ because he can say it, it is a declaration of “freedom” but I don’t think that means it is in any way in opposition to ‘Blood Money’. ‘Rotten Apple’, one of the discs best tracks, shares its name with Lloyd Banks’ last album and on ‘Take it to the Top’ among a verse that at least content-wise, recalls the angry depression we expect from Prodigy, he says “You got some stomach on your Nikes/I got blood on my G-Units”. Just as we get into the kind of “gully” stuff we expect from Prodigy, he still tosses in a reference to G-Unit, not allowing the listener to totally distance ‘Blood Money’ Mobb Deep from the Mobb Deep we know and love and sort of hear on ‘Return of the Mac’. In that way at least, this is as uncompromising as ‘The Infamous’.

On ‘Stop Fronting’, the obvious fuck-you song to haters, P brags: “I’m on tour with Mobb Deep/We out in Japan, Australia then we doing Madison Square/Then it’s right back on the road with 50 and Em/Rappers upset we last more longer than them.” While P’s logic is a bit off, I think most people aren’t jealous of Mobb Deep but sort of feel sorry for them, it still continues his uncompromising take on signing to G-Unit even as he makes the music that defines pre-G-Unit Mobb Deep. If you loved Prodigy for rapping about robbing and people and not giving a fuck, well then you can’t be too pissed when they really didn’t give a fuck and signed to G-Unit. What makes ‘Return of the Mac’ striking is that it even exists that, just as it seemed like everything was over for Mobb Deep, Prodigy comes back and show he doesn’t give a fuck by singing to G-Unit and that he really, really gives a fuck by making something as good as ‘Return of the Mac’. Artists almost never come back from “selling-out” and make something good. Granted, signing to G-Unit didn’t do wonders for their career but from what I’ve gathered, they are pretty comfortable and it is when someone is comfortable that you can assume they’ll stop making interesting shit or take chances. It seems as though Prodigy has found a way to give and take, making money and making something with integrity. Fuck a ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Return of the Mac’ is grown-man rap because Prodigy has totally accepted the reality that art and commerce are mixed. When Jay-Z tells you “30 is the new 20″ he doesn’t believe it as much as he thinks by making it a single he can will it to be true. Prodigy has no interest in justification or explanation because he doesn’t need to, the same personality that brought you ‘The Infamous’ and ‘Return of the Mac’ is also hanging out with 50 Cent and not being okay but at least, accepting shit like his ‘Pearly Gates’ verse being changed. That’s just how it goes.

Even those that want to connect this “mixtape” with independence, be it the uncensored nature of Prodigy’s content or the literal independence of KOCH Records cannot completely do so because there’s currently a ‘Best Buy Exclusive’ version of ‘Return of the Mac’ featuring three bonus tracks (‘My Priorities’, ‘That’s That’, and ‘Last Words’). A mixtape, on a non-major label, that allows an exclusive version of that mixtape with additional tracks to be sold at a chain-store. That is the weird world of the music industry, where the porous borders between independence and major labels, integrity and selling-out, exist. Good for Prodigy for taking advantage of it rather than simply bemoaning its existence or hating on the South or plenty of other bullshit moves. It’s not 1995 anymore. As I type this, I’m watching BET’s ‘Rip the Runway’ and I just saw 50 Cent introduce Rakim who rapped a bunch of classics while models presented the new G-Unit Clothing line. The show’s ending now and over credits, an Eric B and Rakim medley plays. Who cares about the context! That just happened (no Ricky Bobby)!

Written by Brandon

March 30th, 2007 at 3:15 am

Posted in G-unit, Mobb Deep, mixtapes

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Black Hercules

It’s not quite Unforgivable but this guy rules.

Written by Brandon

March 27th, 2007 at 3:36 am

Posted in Black Herc, NO HOMO, Youtube

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Devin the Dude Week Part Four: In Defense of Southern Rap Production.

The production on Devin the Dude’s music sounds conventionally “southern”, relying less on samples and more on live instrumentation. This same general style is found in work by Organized Noise, Pimp C, and MJG. Even the keyboard and drum machine-based beats of Three-Six Mafia, Lil Jon, and others is rooted more in composing than chopping-up samples. Instrument-based production is quickly embraced by critics when “advanced” producers like Kanye clutter ‘Late Registration’ with it or Just Blaze plays some go-go-rip-off drums on ‘Show Me Whatcha Got’ but in the South, this is the norm. Although East Coast opposition is not directed at Organized Noise or Pimp C. but at the more-recent rappers that influenced, created, or have run with the “crunk” style, there is a general disdain for the Southern style of production and it almost always go back to a lack of intelligence, the oldest stereotype about the South.

Guthrie R. Ramsey’s ‘Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop’ discusses this North and South divide in music in terms related to jazz and blues but it is still applicable. It can be simplified as the North being “urbane, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan” while the South is invariably connected to “musical gestures that evoke the Southern, agrarian past of African Americans.” (47). When this is applied to rap music it gets a bit more complicated because a conventional understanding of the music would apply a greater so-called “sophistication” to Southern producers who play their instruments while the New York producers are only sampling. Mannie Fresh is quoted in Tamara Palmer’s book on southern rap, ‘Country Fried Soul’ reflecting this view:

“For a long time hip-hop was just snippets and elements of other stuff…but when you get to the South it actually becomes music. You have more people playing it. You got structure, you got chords, you got strings as opposed to just taking a little snippet and doing something crazy with it. You actually got musicianship in Southern music.” (20).

Fresh’s quote is particularly loaded in terms of saying southern production is “music”, a term that should always be debateable. Furthermore, his invocation of “musicianship” is a bit elitist, and defining sampling as “taking a little snippet and doing something crazy with it” is the understatement of the century. However, Fresh’s view is something to consider if we are to begin to understand the Southern rap style rather than dismiss it as primitive or unsophisticated.

The North/South divide is also shown to be uneven because the New York types are comparing a music from ten or fifteen years ago with a style of music that is being created right now. What has New York done since 1997? The South does not compare Jim Jones to Goodie Mob. When Jim Jones or M.I.M.S are successful, it is also somehow the South’s fault. Two of the most successful rap artists of the decade, Outkast and Kanye West are “lyrical” and indeed socially relevant but neither come from New York, so they are conveniently ignored. The difference is attitude. Certainly, one would prefer Outkast to DJ Unk, UGK to Paul Wall, but that simply is not happening and rather than throws ones hands up and complain, southern rappers are simply happy somebody is listening. UGK will make an album that is better than Paul Wall; they won’t waste their time making an album about how they are better than Paul Wall.

It is an inalienable fact that rap began in New York. We all know the history, so I won’t go over it in-depth, but it is worth acknowledging the strange cross-over of the early rap world with stuff like No Wave, punk rock, and the “hip” art world. So, in addition to funk and disco and everything else, early rap in New York was connected to some pretty artsty-fartsy avant-garde shit. So yeah, the music is really discordant and noisy and chaotic like the cool art-scenes it was habitating with and informing as well as taking from. Of course, the actual location itself informs the music, so it makes sense that a big, crazy city like New York, especially in the late 70s/early 80s would be an environment for ferocious, noisy, but still fun oriented music to spring up. So…when you get to the South, the climate and culture also affects their interpretation of rap music. The open spaces in the production, the way things are allowed to ride-out and are not cut-short, is more countrified and slow-paced, which fits with the stereotypical “southern” way of being and even fits the physical southern landscape. The culture of the South is in significant contrast to New York; there’s just a lot less to do and a lot less shit to entertain you, so, you go to a lot more high school football games or attend church and these kinds of sounds ended up being “applied…to creating [Southern] hip-hop” adding “threads of gospel” and “the glorious horn and rhythms of marching bands of high schools and universities” (Palmer 20). Pimp C., in March/April’s ‘Scratch Magazine’ tells Noz that he was “a Division 1 trumpet player” (78). So, New York is hearing No Wave and Disco and city-sounds while the South is hearing marching bands, church organs, and crickets. It simply makes sense that when a Southern rapper wants to make a song, they would be more apt to follow in the tradition of conventionally-played music than a sampler.

Similarly, even as UGK or Eightball and MJG have taken from Kool G. Rap or N.W.A, they lack that same kind of aggression, depicting their story instead of angrily recounting it. There’s a greater focus on detail, exemplified by Devin’s Slick Rick of the South style but it can even be seen in the pimp talk of Eightball on, well, ‘Pimps’: “See, a real nigga believe in beatin’ them hoes down/Push they head into the wall until you hear that crackin’ sound.” Now, hardly lyrical genius, but in terms of presenting something realistic and honest, it is disturbingly effective. That, when mixed with the blissed-out production on ‘Pimps’ provides a unique experience. These references however, relate to a rap music that was simply ignored by the New York fans not necessarily hated-on. Something closer to the much-derided Southern sound on the radio now, would be Three-Six Mafia. Juicy J has a verse on ‘Smoke Dat Weed’ from his ‘Chronicles of the Juiceman’, part of which describes meeting a girl, fucking her without a condom, and getting an STD: “Get a little freak, take her to your home/Stuck ya dick in, with no rubber on/ Three days later you be on the phone/ Tellin’ your doctor “She burnt me Joe”/ Thats what ya get. Unprotected sex/Then ya took a pill called percocet/ It might keep you calm, but you’re still a wreck.” Once again, fairly simple but done with a heavy dose of realism that when mixed with Three-Six’s scary-ass production gives off a different impression than most music. Even the production of Lil Jon, which is nothing but diet, caffeine-free Three-Six Mafia has a certain disturbing edge to it that brings it away from typical, happy dance music. For the South, the focus is on the musical aspects, not only to make a hot beat but to express emotions and as a result, when lyrics take a backseat, the music is making up for it. It’s just different than the New York style, not better or worse, just different. In a perfect world, Devin the Dude would bring these sides together as a rapper moving closer to New York concepts of “lyricism” and storytelling but with a distinctive Southern style of production.

-Noz, Andrew. ‘Dope Boy Magic.’ XXL Magazine. March/April 2007. (76-79).
-Palmer, Tamara. ‘Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip Hop’. Backbeat: San Francisco, 2005.
-Ramsey, Guthrie R. ‘Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop.’ University of California Press: Berkeley, 2003.

Written by Brandon

March 26th, 2007 at 5:19 pm

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Devin the Dude Week Part Three: ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ Review

A lot of people want their New York shit back, but those types have some form of their music to hold on to, something resembling the style persists, and yeah, Mobb Deep did tough-talk better than Young Jeezy or Lil Weezy but tough-talk is still there, even if it has been watered-down and de-lyricized. However, no one short of the ever-growing hyphy movement, is doing out-and-out insanity anymore…except Devin the Dude. If you yearn for weirdo rappers like the Pharcyde and others, Devin may be the only place left to go. I’m not bemoaning the loss, I’m just saying that there probably won’t be another point where a ridiculous amount of people are listening to ‘It’s Jiggaboo Time’. You know? That kind of poignant goofiness is something that is truly lacking in rap today. The hardcore rap of New York still manifests itself in some form, the Native Tongues guys’ influence is apparent in rappers like Kanye West or Lupe Fiasco, but no one besides Devin is rapping a song with a chorus like “Girl, this dick is so clean, this dick is so clean, that you could broil it in some collard greens….it’ll probably go good with your Broccolli and Cheese”. This is why so many are hyped about the new Devin the Dude. If you have fond memories of weirdo rappers, Devin fills that gap and not only fills that gap, but is a master at the craft of being hilarious and insightful, obscene and sympathetic, disgusting and legitimately touching.

Devin’s appeal also comes through in his remarkable consistency. The flow of the tracks on ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ feels the same way a good DJ or a friend’s mixtape, successfully moving song-to-song with some attempt at cohesion. As we go from ‘Boom I’ to the wah-wah-funk of the first track on the album, ‘She Want That Money’ it feels perfect. Speaking of funk, it is important to note that Devin’s production is indeed, actually funk-inspired, not some weird, super-clean misinterpretation of funk that ends up sounding like bar-band “phawnk”. He often lets the beats play-out as on ‘The Almighty Dollar’, a bleep-and-bloop beat that, towards the end, moves from the chorus to some wah-ed out guitar and synth screeching over audio of Devin purchasing some shit at a convenience store and then, for the last 30 seconds, some really hard-sounding drums and this warm 70s synth tone, that plays perfectly to the melody. I know many found it innovative or exciting when this sort of thing happens on Kanye’s ‘Late Registration’ but I found it pretentious because Kanye and Jon Brion weren’t just playing-out their beat, they were adding Chamberlains and Mellotrons and shit to show-off. It came off as pretentious; I remember thinking, “I wish ‘Roses’ would just end at the 2-minute mark…” When the music takes over a track on ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ it isn’t any less tedious but it is a lot less pretentious. Devin’s disinterest in being concise does make the album trying at times, but it works because it makes ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ an experience. The album is never unenjoyable, but it does require some patience, so if you’re looking for something tight and concise, Devin’s a bad place to look. Devin rarely takes the super-obvious approach to anything.

The only time the super-obvious is really done is on ‘Little Girl Lost’. Although hardly a bad song, it has emotions that ring a bit less true as it tumbles into ‘Runaway Love’ territory. Only Lil Wayne comes off good on this one because Wayne is still finding his voice, particularly in making the move from good-sounding rapper to rapper with something to say, so a song as simple as ‘Little Girl Lost’ is a good look for him but not so much for Devin or Bun B. because any listener can pull out any number of better-wrought, sad verses from those two. Due to Devin’s limited lyrical content, it doesn’t surprise me that he’d consciously reach for something a bit more obviously “mature” but he doesn’t need to because all of his songs are this great mix of insight and retardation.

‘Just Because’ is exactly the kind of song that properly mixes the two, a smooth R & B beat like L.L’s ‘I Need Love’ but instead of a love song, Devin lists a ridiculous series of threats to a girl, in a contained polite, croon. It’s the sort of thing that Eminem might do and it would be lame as hell, but it works for Devin because he totally sells it. Devin sells it by singing sincerely over a beat that legitimately sounds like an R & B rap song instead of a purposefully corny version of one. Devin never winks at the listener, the production sounds like ‘Dreamin’ from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ album, which is perfect because it’s the sort of song that Devin probably loves and legitimately respects. He’s not exposing the bullshit of love songs, he’s just using that formula to a different end. There is also no actual malice in the threats Devin lists and there’s no anger in his voice when he says stuff like “I’ll sweep you off your feet with a box of chocolates/But watch it, because it’s really balled-up hog shit”. So if you’re listening and not thinking very hard, it’s all pretty stupid and offensive but therein lies Devin’s greatness, he makes it work as entertainment and sort of hints at something pretty honest and realistic. The chorus, which comes after a verse of scary threats, goes “just because of what love does” and yeah Devin, love does make you feel that way, so the song’s sort of accurate in its own crazy way. It’s like that scene in ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ where Adam Sandler tells Emily Watson: “I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty”.

What Devin is thinking and feeling dominates these songs, so they have a sense of being immediate in their sentiments and this leads to a really messy but rewarding album. Sometimes songs contradict themselves but it all adds up in the end. ‘The Almighty Dollar’ is just a song about inflation and you really get the feeling Devin just thought about inflation and decided to write a song about it. It can also be a subtle jab at the President and gas prices but I did enough over-analyzing already. ‘She Useta Be’ is another track like that. He’s just talking about some hot chick that he liked in high school that went “from elegant to elephant” and expressing to us how he can’t wait to tell “all the niggas I went to school with” about it. I remember being at my friend Mike’s funeral and even then, noticing a few girls from high school who came and whispering to my friend about how they’ve blown-up. That’s the kind of shit Devin is talking about, these weird, inappropriate but totally real and honest thoughts and stories that go through your head. You get the sense that Devin is always thinking and observing and if you get what I’m saying, that doesn’t contrast with his weeded-out persona. Today, I went through the drive-thru at Burger King and as I drove away, I realized I wasn’t given ketchup for my fries and it led me on a half-angry rant in my head about the recent fucked-up trend of drive-thrus not giving you ketchup unless you ask…cheap motherfuckers…what kind of bullshit is that? Maybe Devin can write a song about it.

-Devin the Dude Week Part One.
-Devin the Dude Week Part Two.

And…R.I.P to Calvin DeForest aka Larry ‘Bud’ Melman.

Written by Brandon

March 22nd, 2007 at 1:20 am

Posted in Devin the Dude

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Devin the Dude Week Part Two: The Boom And All That It Entails…

The skit that begins ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’, ‘The Boom’, basically involves Devin doing a really believable southern accent and prank-calling some kind of music equipment store asking for a sound system that has “that boom”. ‘Boom I’ is a pretty good place to begin discussing ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ because it works as a miniature version of Devin’s comedic sensibility and how through that, Devin moves into some weird and unexpected places.

‘The Boom I’ only sounds like a classic prank call skit but it is different than, something like ‘Deez Nuts’ because the Customer Service guy Devin pranks is really nice and patient. The classic “joke” in a prank call is getting a pissed-off reaction from the prankee but this never occurs on any of the three ‘Boom’ skits. Prank calls are generally malicious and by removing the malicious aspect of the joke (pissing off the prankee), Devin makes something that makes me laugh as hard as a prank call but is kinder and more pleasant, more like Devin’s attitude.

The southern accent Devin adopts for the skit is supposed to be a parody but it is such a realistic impression that it too is done with some manner of respect to the kind of redneck it mocks. What makes Devin so good is his ability to render something no matter how outrageous, with a realistic and nuanced ear. Like all of Devin’s songs, ‘The Boom’ is funny but grounded in the details of reality which even at their weirdest or most out-there, are still firmly concerned with rendering real-life honestly. One of Devin’s favorite topics is weed but as Noz suggested, “Devin is successful in that he goes beyond glorifying those habits, exploring the wide spectrum of their after effects, from hilarious to somber.” That somber side is the part that makes Devin’s music stick because without the serious aspects of his jokes, he’d just be Paul Barman or something (not that there’s anything wrong with Paul Barman).

Devin’s jokes are grounded in the very- real but they also, dare I say, have some loose moralistic or even philosophical edge to them or as Devin said, songs that “have a funny ending or meaning behind it.” So, when a redneck guy is calling to purchase “the boom” and struggles over three skits to describe exactly what that “boom” is, it becomes more than just well, a redneck guy asking for a loud sound system. It becomes about a redneck, a white guy trying to purchase the inconceivable, the beyond words sound or feeling that makes a rap song or any kind of music really good. The boom could be the funk, the perfect sample, the exact bass tone, or swagger or anything else, so it’s sort of about one’s search for something beyond words. Some philosophical shit that never gets too serious. The fact that it is a redneck, a white guy, addresses white co-opting of rap music and the way that everyone thinks this rap shit is easy and quantifiable and if they just call their music store and purchase “the boom” they’ll be a rapper or producer. And seriously, I don’t think it’s pushing it too far to suggest that Devin’s got all of this in his head and that’s the real reason there’s hype about this guy: there’s just a lot to think about and experience in his music. I mean, fuck-I haven’t even gotten past the first skit yet…yeah I know I’m probably “reading too much into it” or “over-intellectualizing” but everyone else is under-intellectualizing.

-Part One: Introduction.

Written by Brandon

March 21st, 2007 at 6:50 am

Posted in Devin the Dude

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Devin the Dude Week Part One: Introduction

My knowledge of Devin is pretty limited. I know him from ‘Chronic 2001’ and a couple of songs and guest spots but I never really felt that interested, probably due to his label as “slept-on” and “slept-on” usually just means “not very good”. In the past few weeks, he’s caught my attention because of Noz’s two posts and other entries, so I ran to Soulseek and downloaded the first Devin folder I found. What I downloaded happened to be the first seven tracks of his 2004 album ‘To Tha X-Treme’. I listened to the tracks, particularly going crazy over ‘Cooter Brown’ and after work, I spent the new few hours driving around Baltimore looking for a copy of ‘To Tha X-Treme’, finally finding one in a Borders for 16.99.

Due to the blogger love Devin has received, some have cynically labeled Devin as the next “hipster” rap darling and indeed, that may be true, but unless it really does affect his future work, who gives a shit? Furthermore, the backlash against a bunch of bloggers using their relatively small but still influential clout to support a rapper as idiosyncratic and interesting as Devin, is the real reason “hip-hop is dead”: When support is sent the way of any rapper, that rapper still isn’t “lyrical” enough or “political” enough or whatever else. Nowhere does this hatred feel more real than on ‘XXL’ Blogs, be it the notoriously retarded commenters or their bloggers: uber-PC hoser Tara Henley talks about the time she saw a bunch of brown people in Bali listening to Biggie, while professional hater Byron Crawford praises the Arcade Fire, and Billy Sunday writes the most self-important, homophobic entries on the internet (He may even take that as a compliment?). Other than Noz, these XXL Bloggers would rather lazily caricature themselves and write entries that can’t take more than five minutes than take this rap stuff seriously. However, this Devin support by Noz and yes, even Billy Sunday is a refreshing excursion from the typical hate because. Something positive is going on, and not only on personally owned turd-blogs like this one, but on XXL’s, which is, to adopt the language of the HHID-ers, “a corporate entity”. So, Devin is bringing people together, which from what I’ve gathered about him, would make him pretty happy.

I’m maybe, the ideal candidate for Devin the Dude because recent blogging attention will correct the years that he’s flown under my radar. He’s also something of the ideal rapper for this blog because his everyman persona and incredible sincerity fits right in with a lot of the stuff I babble about…so, this week, I’m belatedly announcing ‘Devin the Dude Week’ here at ‘No Trivia’ and I’ll be using the Dude and his music to investigate a couple of issues perhaps only tangentially related to the Dude himself but were all inspired by my listening to the Dude.

I’m about to drive to here and sell them some shitty CDs for store credit to buy ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ and I’ll have a review up later tonight.

Written by Brandon

March 20th, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Devin the Dude

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Amy Winehouse…

I thought I’d re-post this because of the SXSW hype about Ms. Winehouse. I should be back with an actually new post in a day or two…-brandon

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.


Also, this is William’s comment on the original entry which is well-worth reading…

“The critics all love Amy Whinhouse in NY”….hispters have hard time with soul music unless it is a)older or b)it is done by a white artist… they always need to create some sort of emotional distant between the the music and themselves music….soul music is all about sincerty and we all know sincerty makes the readers of pitchfork uncomfortable… Look same at mass Hispter jerk off to Justin Timberlake (see Pitchfork review of Unsexxy///soundsssss)…But have any of them even listened to a Jahiem album. Pretty smiley boy Justin is playing around about fucking…Jahiem is gonna fuck…


And just because…

How to Enjoy Rap Music If You’re A N00b: Volume 2

1. Dope Dayton Ave – Dayton Family (from ‘What’s On My Mind?’)
2. Serenity Prayer – Goodie Mob (from ‘Soul Food’)
3. 93′ Til Infinity – Souls of Mischief (from ‘93 Til Infinity’)
4. 03′ Til Infinity – Consequence ft. Kanye West (from ‘Take Em’ to the Cleaners Mixtape’)
5. Vernal Equinox – CAN (from ‘Landed’)
6. Pimps – Eightball and MJG (from ‘Comin’ Out Hard’)
7. Sequence I – Fabio Frizzi (from ‘Zombi OST’)
8. Call Me Rambo – Ackie (from I don’t know where, read about it in ‘Wax Poetics’)
9. I Got 5 On It – Luniz ( from ‘Operation Stackola’)
10. It Was A Great Day – Pharrell ft. DJ Drama (from ‘In My Mind (The Prequel) Mixtape’)
11. Dungeoneering – Tim Hecker (from ‘Harmony in Ultraviolet’)
12. Auto Rock – Mogwai (from ‘Mr. Beast’ and ‘Miami Vice OST’)
13. Trill Ass Nigga – UGK (from ‘The Southern Way EP’)

Here’s Volume One.

Written by Brandon

March 19th, 2007 at 3:57 pm

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The Worst Jay-Z Concert Ever

I had this dream the other night and in it, I attended this Jay-Z concert but it was in this crappy church basement, with wood-paneling and yellowed tiles and dark, brown folding chairs in rows and flickering fluorescent lights. I am in the front row with four of my friends, looking at the rather spare “stage” and by stage, I just mean an area where the 10 or so rows of fold-out chairs aren’t lined up, leaving an empty space for a performer. This space is occupied by a table for a DJ and in front of the DJ, a little television, like 20 inches, on a stand on wheels; the kind your Science teacher would wheel-in when you got to watch an episode of ‘Bill Nye’. On the television is a blank power-point template, with a light sky-and-clouds background and a blinking cursor. When the show begins, Jay comes out in a ‘Reasonable Doubt’ style suit and the lyrics he raps pop-up on the television like a power point. Each line appears and then the next line appears below it and every four lines, the lyrics disappear for the next four lines. My friends and most of the other people at the show look at one another like “this is really terrible, right?” but for some reason I’m totally entranced, as if the show is at Madison Square Garden.

The whole show is so low-rent and everybody knows it, including Jay-z. He just raps over instrumentals supplied by a DJ, as his lyrics pop up on a shitty power-point. Late in the performance, Jay stops and speaks to the crowd telling them he is going to reveal a new song and proceeds to perform a ’99 Problems’-esque song, ’99 Problems’-esque in the sense that it was this “heavy rocker” with sampled guitars, but the guitars were not from Billy Squier but from the most obnoxious Marilyn Manson song, so it has this really bad tone and generally embarrassing nu-metal feel. As the song begins, the television screen switches from power-point lyrics to this cartoony image of Morbius from Spiderman, done in this cheap animation style, literally this image. The Morbius cartoon is shown in close-up on the screen and his mouth opens and he’s supposed to be cackling, but the animation style is like, really choppy, like when you’re robotripping or something, so the mouth just sort of hangs open bearing sharp teeth and the entire upper-body and head of the cartoon just kind of move up and down. Then, Jay begins rapping over the nu-metal guitars and the walls open up, as if they were made to break open and this like, fake-looking futuristic machinery moves in and out of the breakaway walls and the lights start flickering…imagine ‘Judge Dredd’ as a broadway musical. So now, Jay is rapping over nu-metal, the walls are opening up and going futuristic and there’s a weird loop of a vampire cartoon on the television and this goes on for a few minutes and then the song goes into this extended breakdown, like classic Iron Maiden and the lights dim and Jay steps back, nodding to the breakdown while the doors to the church basement open and this guy dressed as Nosferatu walks in. The Nosferatu costume is ridiculously well-done, like Hollywood horror movie quality and it has like chains and spikes and shit like some stupid Clive Barker design and Nosferatu walks around the audience to scare them I guess, but no one really knows how to respond and after about two minutes, Nosferatu exits the room and the beat drops again and Jay finishes the song. Then, the lights come back on and the wall closes up and Jay ends the show with ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’ but for some reason, the bassline from ‘Ain’t No Nigga’ is poorly inserted into the song.

The final part of the dream is my friends and I, driving home with everyone just sort of like “what the fuck was that?” but I’m in denial about it and this leads to legitimately heated arguments with my friends about why it wasn’t a bad show but inside, I know everything I’m saying is just bullshit…so yeah, explain that one. Any internet Freuds can step forward…I think it’s about how I want to bang my mom.

Written by Brandon

March 16th, 2007 at 7:00 am

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How To Save Old Rap Music Without Declaring Hip-Hop Dead
In Byron Crawford’s post ‘The Day the Music Died’, about the Notorious B.I.G, Crawford discusses the fact that although he considers ‘Ready to Die’ one of his favorite albums, he “barely listen[s] to it anymore”. He goes on to describe the fact that due to the nature of his job “it’s just plain not [his] m.o to listen to old music” and that when he does, it is rarely a rap album and for “whatever reason” he does not “experience hip-hop the same way [he] experience[s] other genres of music”. Now, I’m troubled by this because the dude writes for ‘XXL’ but I’m also not troubled because it is an incredibly brave thing to say/admit and Crawford also uses this statement to implore his readers to respond. He ends his post with “I wonder why [it] is” that he and others will return to old rock albums but not to old rap albums. Now, I promise, this is not the post where some non-existent blogger goes after a popular blogger, but there’s a lot of shit worth unpacking here.

There are basic factual answers to Crawford’s “I wonder…” like the lack of radio support for old rap while classic rock may be more popular than recent rock. There is also the fact that the world is now run by baby-boomers who have a pathetic obsession with their own youth and so, they fill movies and commercials with the music they like, which is obviously not rap. There is also the fact that it is really only in the late-80s that one can begin to look at rap in terms of “albums” as it was primarily a singles game before then. So, there’s not the same kind of history there. To compare the consistent purchasing of albums from the 60s and 70s with albums that are, at the oldest, from like, 1986, doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Also, there’s availability or lack thereof. Old rap albums, in part because of little support, in part because they are in this weird middle-ground between “sort-of old” and “classic”, are just not available everywhere the way say, ‘Who’s Next’ might be. It may be kind of hard to find ‘Mecca & the Soul Brother’ or even ‘Raising Hell’ in a Best Buy. This may be changing slightly as re-releases of Run DMC or ‘Road to the Riches’ have come out recently and are making those albums slightly more available. The recent induction of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five into the Rock n’Roll Hall of Fame also “proves” some interest in rap history is building. The eventually-to-be-released UGK album features Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap on a song, at least it did the last track listing I saw. The release of a Biggie ‘Greatest Hits’ is another good move because when you first get into old music, you almost inevitably go for the safe choice of a ‘Greatest Hits’; full albums by artists you’re not totally familiar with is a bit scary. Eventually, you grow wiser and realize ‘Greatest Hits’ albums are for housewives and little girls but they do function as excellent primers for introductory listeners. Without them, the process of getting into older music would be a lot more daunting. So, the more compilations, greatest hits packages, and re-releases that come out, the greater interest in older music.

Even if these things are available it doesn’t mean a thing unless people are buying them so there is plenty of blame to be placed on the rap “culture”, particularly the younger generations of fans and artists, but I find that placement of guilt too simplistic and over-discussed. Older rappers show about as much interest and support to the new guys as the new guys do to the older rappers. Think of when Chuck D. went after Kanye West, certainly one of the more “positive” rappers to enter mainstream rap in many years. Even more absurd is the article ‘Respect’ in this month’s XXL in which Nas can only muster up praise for Lupe Fiasco and The Game, two incredibly predictable MCs. When older rappers do praise the new generation, they generally support clones of themselves or rappers that are obsessive in their “respect” of the old school. Rap music is incredibly criticism-free in the sense that no actual debate or discussion ever really goes on; everyone just sort of follows the script.

I know this script is part of the tradition of rap and to bemoan other rappers as not knowing their shit has been going on since the beginning but that just makes “it’s like the game ain’t same”-style complaints meaningless. The Was Good/Is Now Bad division has always existed and always been practiced, so who even knows what to think when a rapper says it one more time. This kind of battling or beefing is fine and good for a little while, but it goes from swagger when the rapper is on top to being just plain sad when that rapper is on the way down. KRS-One is saying the same bullshit about rappers that he said in 1988 so, at this point, it sounds like nothing but a knee-jerk reaction. Meanwhile, Rakim says he fucks with G-Unit and Dipset, Chuck D. hates on Kanye West, Nas holds up The Game as an exemplary rapper…these guys are digging their own graves by being so unreliable. How can they be trusted as sources on rap history?

However, (spoken like a true music writer) you can rarely trust musicians to lead you in the direction of good music outside of their own, so that is hardly a surprise. The most damaging aspect to older rap staying relevant comes from outdated and downright idiotic perceptions as to what rap music is or can be. Rap is either treated as party music or as “the black CNN” and this is by everyone from most casual listener to a hardcore fan. The dance music perception does not lend anyone to think of it as lasting or worth actual consideration, so that is a clear dead-end but the “black CNN” understanding also has its limits. The most limiting effect of seeing rap music as only the window into “ghetto” realities is that it distances listeners from the music. I think it distances white listeners because they feel as though they are able to appreciate rap, understand it, and maybe learn from it, but they cannot really relate to it and often, they do not feel as though they are allowed to comment upon it. For black listeners, the “black CNN” interpretation pushes who is saying what and how they are saying it to the background because what is being sought out is “real” talk about “the streets”. If that’s the perspective, then there’s no need to go back and listen to Biggie or Rakim or Melle Mel because there’s enough “reality” being “exposed” in Young Jeezy’s songs.

Regardless of race, class, or whatever, what makes music lasting is something a listener can connect and relate to on a number of levels. Rap music does not fail in this regard but the way it is discussed and treated makes it seem as though it has failed. I’ve talked about this at least three other times on this stupid blog, so I’m not saying anything I haven’t said already, but it’s sort of my specific, interpretive focus, so bear with me. Music listeners, white and black and everything else, follow the previously mentioned rules about how to listen to and embrace rap music. Even many rappers themselves follow these rules. It’s why Jay-Z feels like he needs to put the guy from Coldplay on a track for it to be emotional or why Kanye hires Jon Brion or why Andre 3000 started dicking around with other genres. They too have bought into the belief that rap music is not the place that actual emotions are expressed even though each of those artists have plenty of emotionally resonant songs that don’t have some white dude playing piano under them. Furthermore, rap is inarguably a primarily black art form but too many black writers, listeners, and musicians, even if they have good reason, are vehement protectors of the music. This protection discourages non-black listeners from feeling like they even have the right to connect to the music on their own terms even though, at the very same time, these same protectors bemoan the fact that rap isn’t more respected within and outside of the rap culture. It’s a pretty fucked-up loop if you think about.

The myth that one cannot relate to rap music or can only relate to rap music if you have experienced exactly what the rappers discuss gives the music nowhere to go. The music needs to breathe and expand beyond its initial release but this will only happen if people can find something about it to embrace. If you’re just dancing to it, it will get old pretty quick and if all there is to it is reporting, then once you have heard the lyrics, the reported information has been presented and the transfer is complete. Rap music is music to dance to and it is music that reveals truths that you may not hear anywhere else but it is also humanistic and it is all those things and a lot more, that is why I really do think it’s the most complicated form of music to exist. There’s so much shit going on in it that you’d think anybody could pull something from it to enjoy and perhaps they could if long-established rules on how to listen to rap music were broken down.

Written by Brandon

March 14th, 2007 at 7:26 am

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Consequence – Don’t Quit Your Day Job
I was excited to see that Consequence’s solo album has finally been released. Unfortunately, it isn’t very good. Consequence has certainly had an interesting rap career and one that you can read about in-depth at others places, so real quick…debuts on Tribe’s ‘Beats, Rhymes, and Life’, disappears for awhile, is picked up by Kanye and appears on ‘Spaceship’ from ‘College Dropout’ and since then, has been bouncing around, popping up on Kanye-related projects and dropping a few mixtapes, one of which, ‘Take Em’ the the Cleaners’ is ridiculously good and overlooked and is seriously one of my favorite rap albums of all time but I’ve got some weird case of 2004 Nostalgia, so my opinion may be suspect. Anyways…there’s been talk since ‘College Dropout’ about a Consequence solo album and it seems like he’s gone through the typical label drama in addition to all the other stuff described above. With all of that stuff happening to him, you’d think he’d have more to say about his situation than he does.

The album begins well, with ‘Job Song’ where we are introduced to Cons’ specific drawl and an appropriately introductory-sounding beat. The content of the song picks up where ‘Spaceship’ leaves off and indeed, shares some of that song’s mixture of frustration and defiance, but the album never moves beyond it. Almost every song gives the listener a similar feeling and we’re left with a fairly stagnant album. There isn’t that much insight provided, nothing as bittersweet as Cons’ ‘Spaceship’ verse where he recounts someone telling him he “look[s] just like/This kid I seen in an old Busta Rhymes video the other night”. Consequence doesn’t seem to have enough to say to hold-up an entire album and he can’t really write a catchy hook, so we’re left with Consequence’s mediocre rapping seguing into 50 Cent-ish chants also sung by Consequence (‘Callin Me’, ‘Pretty Little Sexy Mama’). There’s little room for variation or even counterpoint, the two aspects that generally make a rap album succeed.

The production as well, is incredibly lacking, all of the songs give me the same feeling as Kanye’s ‘Heard Em’ Say’. The beats here are just too soft, in the sense of having no weight to them, no grit; they feel lighter than air. Certainly this style of production fits Consequence better than if he were to rap on some Southern-sounding beats or something but these beats sound afraid to do anything. Using familiar soul samples and flute loops and doing little that is new with them, they end up feeling like background music. Otherwise competent to legitimately interesting producers like 88 Keyes and Nottz appear on the album (in addition to Kanye) but no one really fairs very well. Other than ‘Job Song’ which works but still feels incredibly thin, the only notable songs are old-ass Kanye productions (‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ and ‘Grammy Family’). I won’t fault the album, for including these songs, however, I will say that they negatively affect the album because these tracks feel so much different and well, better than the rest. There’s real weight to ‘Grammy Family’ as in it makes you feel something. The drums actually knock, it feels dense and full; exciting to listen to. Interestingly, the generally downbeat feeling of the song, along with Kanye’s rather angry verse fit Cons “all this fame could be gone at any moment” theme better than any of the songs in which Consequence is the focus. Most of the production feels like a sunny day in elementary school or something, while ‘Grammy Family’ feels dark and uplifting.

The lack of interesting production combined with Consequence’s limited lyrical interest does not make for much to enjoy. You can almost hear the seams of the album as it is held together by older, already-known Kanye tracks and some weak skits. Skits have been the bane of a rap album’s success for a long time. By now, most rappers wisely ignore them altogether or create skits that weave in and out of the actual music, adding atmosphere. The skits on ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ construct a pseudo-narrative to the album that is implicit if you’ve ever heard ‘Spaceship’ and if you’re buying or listening to ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ you probably have heard ‘Spaceship’ so it’s another aspect of the album that feels a bit pointless.

Consequence stretches himself very thin here. He raps alone on most of the songs, about the same topic (it’s a concept album with no trajectory), over consistently weak beats, even singing most of his own hooks, so there’s nowhere for anything to go. I just cannot imagine that Consequence is proud of this album; it’s so devoid of actual personality but I’m not sure why. Consequence isn’t exactly the most charismatic or individual rapper out there but he’s gotta have some stuff to say, it seems as though he is overwhelmed when given an entire album to himself.

Written by Brandon

March 13th, 2007 at 7:59 am