No Trivia

Archive for April, 2007

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Blah Blah Blah…

-‘Interrobang?!’:Say what you will about so-called hipster writers and rap, at least they are enthusiastic. This article is pretty good.

-At the same time, I still don’t get the excitement over Lil Wayne…I’ve tried, I remember hearing his ‘Show Me What You Got’ freestyle and finally being like “oh, I see why this guy is good” but it hasn’t extended beyond that. I’m not hating, I’ve even defended him in articles but I’ve yet to personally enjoy his music. He also looks like a douche and makes me feel weird; that doesn’t help.

-16 33 45 78: This site is pretty good too.

-I was digging through my Mom’s CDs Friday night, looking for ‘Journey’s Greatest Hits’ and I found her copy of ‘Voodoo’ by D’Angelo. I forgot she ever bought it. I’m sure she just got wet from that one video and immediately ran to the CD shop because I don’t think I’ve ever heard her listen to it…anyways, at the time I was too-cool for it but it’s pretty amazing. Since Friday, I haven’t stopped listening to it.

-Richard McBeef is blowing the fuck-up (sort of), 32 clicks from this site, not bad. It’s a pretty good video if I do say so myself…

-No Trivia’s “Wii expert” Jesse sent this link my way: X-Men Uncovered.

-Speaking of the Wii, ‘Metal Slug Anthology’ rules. But watch out, the box says it’s for 4 players but it ain’t…that’s some bullshit Nintendo should get fixed.

Written by Brandon

April 29th, 2007 at 4:54 am

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Late Registration Redux.

On Monday, I “came out” so to speak- “admitting” that Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout’ is my favorite rap album of all time. Maybe eventually I’ll explain why but I think it would take me like hundreds of pages to do it. I’d love to write on of those 33 1/3 books about it or something like that. Unfortunately, Kanye has disappointed me a great deal since ‘College Dropout’, I think ‘Late Registration’ is pretty terrible. Pretty much everything I have to say was already written here, by Joey of ‘Straight Bangin’:
“Later this year, Kanye will drop his third album. It will be a big deal–there will be big-name guests; expensive videos; extensive promotions; breathless reviews. The works. And if you’re like me, it’ll make you ambivalent. You’ll be happy to have some new music from a creative dude, you’ll delight in the few beats that are just right, and you’ll smile as he drops some of his witty punch lines. But you’ll also cringe as he sells out for top-40 radio, you’ll be annoyed when he whines about how great he is, and you’ll want to throw up when the some of the worst songs on the record get held up as masterworks by people with bad taste who don’t do much thinking for themselves…”

This is how I felt when ‘Late Registration’ came out and everyone was creaming over it. My opinion of the album has not changed but what I think Kanye was doing with it has. If you go back and read interviews around the time of ‘College Dropout’ you could tell it really pissed him off that no one realized how good ‘College Dropout’ really was. Instead of just doing his thing, it made him want to be accepted. I think ‘Late Registration’ was made to make an end-run around the “sophomore slump” as well as becoming accepted by those outside of the rap world. Releasing it fairly soon after ‘College Dropout’ allowed Kanye to never move totally out of the spotlight; he was occupying a weird place close to rap stardom and he learned from the past, knowing that only rappers like Biggie can wait years between albums and not lose any of their appeal. In a lot of ways, Kanye’s initial success was a fluke in the first place, it’s odd that ‘Thru the Wire’ or ‘All Falls Down’ became hits and Kanye had to be aware of that. So he got back into the studio knowing he could make a hit or two but also needing to please the critics, he got the king of over-producers Jon Brion, to “co-produce” it, solidifying its “artistic” credit.

‘Late Registration’ feels forced, it hardly flows as an album, it’s more a series of songs, certainly not what you’d expect from a guy who got his start producing. Although there isn’t a perfect album anywhere on ‘Late Registration’ I do think with a little rearranging something a bit closer to a good album could be found. I thought this might be fun. Below is my “version” of ‘Late Registration’. Obviously, since this is sort of a rap-dork fantasy type thing, I could have done anything but I tried to keep the rules to only removing tracks or rearranging the order.

1. Diamonds from Sierra Leone
2. Late
3. Wake Up Mr. West!
4. Heard Em’ Say
5. Touch the Sky
6. Gold Digger
7. Addiction
8. My Way Home
9. Crack Music
10. Drive Slow
11. Gone
12. We Major

Part One: The Tracks I Removed

-Skits (Tracks 5, 12, 15, 18)
Other than the introductory skit ‘Wake Up Mr. West’, the first thing to go are these totally pointless skits. They aren’t necessarily poor or anything, they just reek of Kanye’s attempt to make this random group of songs into a cohesive album. A similar thing is done on Consequence’s ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ (which ‘Late Registration’ is a lot like, actually). They don’t make the album cohere as much as they string the album along. A similar thing could be said of the ones on ‘College Dropout’ particularly those on the second half but ‘College Dropout’ is a delightful mess that really does connect through the interludes and skits, not just maintaining the appearance of connecting.

This song isn’t poor but it does not fit with my track listing and it’s instrumental second half is really fucking tedious. Kanye should just cut this track after the last line “So instead of sending flowers/We the roses” CUT! It would be abrupt and actually powerful and cathartic in a way that Kanye and Jon Brion jamming for two minutes isn’t. I think they tried to emote through music, something rap rarely does, and they had some plan that it would be very powerful if the music matched the joy of Kanye’s grandmother surviving, but it doesn’t because Brion sucks. All of his music is quirky, sad-ass mood music. ‘Roses’ also highlights the problematic aspect many of ‘Late Registration’s songs share: rap song with a single topic. Rather than the kitchen sink approach on ‘College Dropout’ where verses counter-act and contradict one another, many of the lesser tracks here are on a single topic, often a narrative that quickly becomes boring.

-‘Bring Me Down’

Brion’s maudlin strings actually sort of work here but the beat needs something more, something that functions as a counterpoint to the strings. It all fits together too well. It’s not messy. It’s produced like rock music or something. Kanye also recycles a lot of lyrics from two very good mixtape tracks ‘So Soulful’ and ‘Wack Niggas’, both of which would be better on this album. Again, the lyrics are too singularly focused and unlike ‘Roses’, focused on an overdone topic: haters. And…Brandy? Come on.

-‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)’
Kanye seriously thought ‘Diamonds’ would be his mega-hit but it didn’t really catch-on because it was just a little too weird and not all that poppy. Panicked, I think he quickly followed it up with this remix which is really fucking amazing but only as remix. Jay-Z’s verse is weirdly dropped mid-Kanye verse, which I understand is the point but it sounds hastily done. Also, Kanye’s remix verse, although better than the original verse, sounds hastily recorded and stands-out as having a totally different sound than Kanye’s original verses. When I heard this on the radio I loved it, it has a mixtape feeling to it but it’s a remix for a reason. The only thing that is lost is Kanye’s purposeful placing of this before ‘We Major’ which has Nas on it, a sort of symbolic, near-pairing of the two rappers who, at that time weren’t best buddies yet. Even that however, reeks of publicity stunt, as Jay-Z loves these stupid hints of what’s to come and the placement of these tracks next to one another was one of the first “confirmations” of the squashing of the Jay-Z/Nas beef. Maybe Jay-Z even forced the remix on the album?

-‘Hey Mama’

Some of Kanye’s lyrics are legitimately touching (“As we knelt on the kitchen floor…”) but once again, no interacting is going on here, we’re just getting Kanye’s love-letter to his moms. No jokes, no complexities. It tries too hard, like Tupac too-hard, you know? It’s insincere. We all know Kanye isn’t going back to school. Why would he promise that in a song? This is the sort of song that ‘Time’ magazine would love. The earlier mixtape versions are significantly easier to listen to and shorter. It is perfect example of ‘Late Registration’s over-production. Like all of my removed tracks, it is not so much Kanye’s rather simplistic approach to his content but the fact that he approaches his topics simplistically and the beats sort of suck.

There’s not a lot to say about this, everything about it is pretty poor but once again, it is the production that motivates me to remove it from the album. A song about celebrating that lacks any enthusiasm or joy; weird.

Part Two: The Final Track Listing

1. ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’
Part of me wants to just cut this track and begin the album with ‘Late’ which would make sense as its sort of the titular track but that wouldn’t leave a place for ‘Diamonds’ and it sort of should be on the album. So, beginning the album with the album’s first single just sort of makes sense. I had been hoping that the first song on ‘Late Registration’ would have somehow been a continuation of ‘Last Call’, particularly in the way that ‘Last Call’ echoes out with “Roc-A-Fella”. This song functions as a sort of “when we last saw Kanye…”as he discusses awards show tantrums as well as the dissolution of the Roc, so imagine if that “Roc-A-Fella” echo that ended ‘College Dropout’ began ‘Late Registration’ and transitioned into ‘Diamonds’! A cool double-comment on the state of the Roc would have been made.

2. Late
This was obviously written as some kind of intro or outro track but the weird thing about ‘Late Registration’ is every song sounds like an intro, an outro, or a crappy track that shouldn’t be on the album in the first place. The only justification for putting this as a “bonus track” is to enact the cute joke that goes along with the line “just throw this at the end if I’m too late for the intro”. Most of the lyrics are focused not so much on a story or narrative as an idea, which suits Kanye’s lyrics much better. He holds onto the college metaphor on this and only this ‘Late Registration’ track, so it makes sense to place this and ‘Diamonds’ earlier; they function almost as layover from ‘College Dropout’. The strings on the track also have a certain “collegiate” sound which functions as a transition from ‘College Dropout’. The song also drags out, setting the tone for the album being as much about musical “experimentation” as rapping. The end, with (presumably) Brion playing this sort of lazy, 70’s Bob Dylan-sounding keyboard segues nicely into the next track.

3. Wake Up Mr. West
Another remnant of ‘College Dropout’. ‘Late’ functioned as both an introduction to ‘Late Registration’ in content and a continuation of ‘College Dropout’ in sound and now, this initial skit returns, mocking Kanye for being late. The skit divides the tracks between tracks that began the album, which look back at ‘College Dropout’ and the rest of the tracks which deal with what has happened since ‘College Dropout’.

4. Heard Em’ Say
I’m not a big fan of this song but it officially introduces the ‘Late Registration’ sound in contrast to ‘College Dropout’. The guests are bigger, the music is stranger, and the overall tone a bit darker. Kanye’s rapping on here is a bit slower and different; for better or worse, this could never be on ‘College Dropout’ so it functions as the first true ‘Late Registration’ track. From here on out, the album is in the present or more immediate past.

5. Touch the Sky
6. Gold Digger

‘Late Registration’ really begins to fall apart after ‘Crack Music’ but it wouldn’t really work if you just removed all the crappy tracks after that one, hence this slight re-ordering of the tracks. I don’t think these three songs in a row can really be improved. They transition well and work off of one another in terms of energy and sound. ‘Touch the Sky’ and ‘Gold Digger’ also begin to address fame in negative ways, something of a theme throughout the album.

7. ‘Addiction’

Placing this track here continues what I have made the “fame” section of the album. We begin with ‘Diamonds’, ‘Late’ and ‘Heard Em’ Say’ songs that recall the content of ‘College Dropout’ and then with ‘Touch the Sky’ we move into the direction of Kanye’s celebrity in the wake of ‘College Dropout’s success. ‘Touch the Sky’ is primarily a celebratory song but there are already hints of the negative aspects of fame (“any girl I cheated on/ Sheets is skeeted on”). On ‘Gold Digger’ a truly bitter song, we get the dark side of groupies and sex. ‘Addition’ takes this darkness even further, it is the single-topic “confessional” song from ‘Late Registration’ that actually works. Kanye gets really honest and fucked-up here and Brion’s dark-sounding production fits it perfectly. At the end where he’s doing the thing every dude has done at some point or another, dancing around some weird sex thing with your girl, is vividly really and disturbing and then Kanye ends it with a quick joke, a reference to ‘Hot in Herre’ (“unless ya’ gonna do it”) that doesn’t change what he said before. The song obviously comes from a real place.

8. ‘My Way Home’

There’s also a downward trajectory in the tone of the production beginning with ‘Gold Digger’ and getting darker on ‘Addiction’ and becoming mournful here on ‘My Way Home’. ‘Addiction’ and ‘My Way Home’ share a warm, soul-sound that allows for a good sonic transition.

9. ‘Crack Music’
Again, I cheated here in that I just used the regular track listing but like I said, I’ve sort of recontextualized the earlier songs by placing ‘Addiction’ in there so I feel as though I’ve added something to it. You know how on ‘Spaceship’ from ‘College Dropout’ the Kanye verse ends with the sound of a spaceship and GLC’s ends with a gun-shot, but they sort of sound like the same sound effect implying that the same things that help us can harm us? I’m sort of going for that here, where suddenly we go from fame and how awesome it is to the same fame bringing problems and even addiction. The next transition is from the private sphere on Kanye’s conflicts with fame to the public sphere of addiction which he takes-on with ‘Crack Music’. I’ve always thought this song needed a really good guest verse and not from the Game. I remember “rumors” that the Game had a verse on it that was removed or something…Imagine if Kanye had put on the trap-rappers on here, like Jeezy or something? A interesting little comment on crack and crack-rap would have been made.

10. ‘Drive Slow’

This song has a similar sound to the tracks the preceded it, a sort of slow, dreary feeling. Also, the chopped-and-screwed ending fits with the overall drug/addiction theme. The song is minor in scope and putting it after the declarative ‘Crack Music’ brings the album back down into the private as Kanye reminisces about being a teenager.

11. ‘Gone’
This track ended the real album but like I said before, there’s a whole bunch of tracks that could begin or end this album. I think putting it second to last fits because it pulls the listener out of the depressive feelings of the past few tracks and back into typical Kanye excitement and bragging only tempered by sadness. On the original album, the track ends quickly with Kanye saying “Sorry Mr. West is gone” and all the music drops out and that would be a cool ending, making Kanye’s hypothetical absence from rap palpable but on the CD, after ‘Gone’ we get some silence, then “bonus tracks” ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’ and ‘Late’ so it doesn’t really “sell” the feeling it wants to. Putting ‘Gone’ second to last moves us towards a concluding feeling, mixing Kanye’s pride with a certain hurt and anger he stills feels (“I romanced the thought of leaving it all behind”). This track is also notable for being a track that to me, hints at ‘Late Registration’s somewhat rushed feeling. Listen to Kanye coming in at the start of the song, he comes in like, mid-line, as if whatever he said before was edited out. This is especially awkward on the ‘Late Orchestration’ live record where he tries to imitate the cut-up lyrics in a live setting.

12. ‘We Major’
This song is obviously the ending track. What the hell is it doing on the album as track 14? Other than the Jay-Z and Nas tracks having to follow one another up, there’s not reason not to end the album with this track. It sounds like the end of an album, all grand and excited and Vegas-y but sort of mournful, like a funhouse-mirror version of ‘Diamonds’, you know? It’s a curtain call. It even ends with Kanye “talking his shit again”, addressing the listener as he did on ‘Last Call’. The only reason for not putting it last would be that it has guests on it and it is a bit odd to have an epic, final track with guests but even that kind of works here because Kanye is rapping with Nas, a true legend, and Really Doe, an up-and-comer, putting Kanye in the middle, which is exactly where he is.

Part Three: Conclusion
So, there you go. Seriously, listen to ‘Late Registration’ in this order, it’s a lot better. I feel as though I’ve connected many of the threads throughout and plucked out the ones that don’t actually fit. It would work as wonderful album but it probably wouldn’t get the praise that ‘Late Registration’ got because my version is a lot less “diverse”. Critics have an odd way of getting excited by mediocrity almost as if something needs to have some shitty parts for them to really like it. In other ways however, I’ve made an equally “safe” album to the real ‘Late Registration’ cutting it down to something like 47 minutes is almost unacceptable in the rap world today and is also an easy way to make the album flow better. How about this? Kanye takes back the beats for ‘The Corner’ and ‘Go’ that he gave to Common, raps some better shit on them, and they go between ‘Gold Digger’ and ‘Addiction’?

Written by Brandon

April 27th, 2007 at 6:46 am

Posted in Kanye West, Lists

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Cho Seung-Hui’s ‘Richard McBeef’
So, this is why I haven’t been posting this week…made by my friends and I and starring my friends…music by Young Jeezy…
-Virginia Killer’s Violent Writings.

Written by Brandon

April 25th, 2007 at 2:53 pm

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My Totally-Personal, Super-Subjective Favorite 25.

So, everybody loves lists…here’s mine. It’s what I’m thinking today at 12:30, on my way to work, could totally change…

1. Kanye West – College Dropout
2. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu Tang
3. Goodie Mob – Soul Food
4. Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II
5. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, E. Eternal 1999
6. Notorious B.I.G – Ready to Die
7. UGK – Ridin’ Dirty
8. Outkast – Aquemini
9. Slick Rick – The Great Adventures Of…
10. GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords
11. Jay-Z – The Black Album
12. Eightball & MJG – Coming’ Out Hard
13. Ghostface – Pretty Toney
14. Slum Village – Detroit Deli
15. Mobb Deep – The Infamous
16. Cam’ron – Purple Haze
17. Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia
18. Nas – Illmatic
19. Ghostface – Ironman
20. Three-Six Mafia – Most Known Unknown
21. Egyptian Lover – On the Nile
22. Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever
23. Gang Starr – Hard To Earn
24. Eric B. and Rakim – Paid In Full
25. Run DMC – Self-Titled

Written by Brandon

April 23rd, 2007 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Lists

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Random Stuff…

-I noticed DirectTV has this ‘The Box-esque channel, on channel 334. I saw ‘99 Problems’, an old Flaming Lips video, and loads of Nu-Metal. You know, nothing great but at least it’s something…along with this apparent change in radio programming, maybe things are sort of looking up?

-Have you seen this? My Hip-Hop Television. It’s basically a real rap channel, with old and new videos, some programs about stuff like super-expensive hoodies and the like, check it out.

-This is great, too bad the guys disabled embedding, still, check it out: Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka dancing to Brand Nubian.

Written by Brandon

April 22nd, 2007 at 5:56 am

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“In this Post-Imus Climate…”

This week, DC’s WPGC 95.5 brought back Big Tigger of ‘Rap City’ and ‘106 & Park’ and bunch of other stuff to host a daily 2-6 radio show. Yesterday, he held what he called “a town hall” featuring Common, Lil Mo, and the head of the Prince George’s County division of the NAACP. They discussed Common’s Oprah appearance and of course, Don Imus. Today, Tigger moderated a discussion about “Stop Snitching” and Cam’ron’s soon-to-be-classic appearance on 60 Minutes. He allowed some callers to discuss “Stop Snitching” and even had a police officer comment at-length on the situation. I’ve also noticed Tigger playing older songs mixed with the typical rap radio fare. Maybe someone is responding appropriately to the Imus controversy.

Yesterday, I heard Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s ‘All I Need’ and today, I heard some Erykah Badu song in between ‘Party Like a Rockstar’ (which is really amazing by the way) and that “buy meeee a draaankk” song by T-Pain. All of this happened on Big Tigger’s show so I chalked this small amount of diversity up to him but on my way home on WERQ 92.3, I was fortunate enough to hear ‘Roc the Mic’ followed up by the new Beyonce. It seems like my local rap radio is a bit more diverse. It appears, all of last week’s talk has actually been put into action.

A rap radio revolution didn’t occur. We still get our “degrading” hits but mixed with some older songs. Not bad. It’s a good mix. A good way of giving people what they want but not giving them only what they want or really, what corporate interests convince everybody they want. This pluralistic choice of music moves toward the kind of “balance” many people are calling for, but it’s only a start. The biggest problem is, this occasional tossing-in of an old hit does little towards balancing crappy new rap music with slightly better new music. I really like the idea of playing an Erykah Badu song and following it up with T-Pain, it’s weird and complex and even sort of political; my first thought was: This could be the first step to slipping-in some different, new artists on the radio. However, my second thought was: Who would those artists be? Who are the new rappers and R & B singers that not only should be played on the radio but have the potential to pique the average listener’s interest? Amy Winehouse may be the only person I can think of. Who are the rappers that might have crossover appeal? I can’t really think of any.

The so-called underground, particularly since 1998 or so (when hip hop started to die, right?) has become increasingly obdurate, too-good to make catchy or even interesting rap music. They wear their underground-ness as a badge yet complain about the lack of balance on mainstream radio and television. Even rappers like Nas, who are indeed, mainstream have chosen to lash-out against, well I’m not even sure who but somebody, because their music no longer gets played on the radio. I empathize with all of these complaints even as I grow increasingly annoyed with them. To be Nas or Wu Tang or many others, must be rather frustrating; to go from being wildly popular to fighting for radio play would upset anybody. However, why this lack of support does not drive them harder or at least, create some self-reflection is frustrating. That these rappers who founded or continue the tradition of rap that is both introspective and hard, would victimize themselves to such an extent is embarrassing. Instead of balling-up all of their anger and frustration into quality music, they have directed it at fans, radio, or hip-hop in general.

This recent and probably temporary opening-up of radio playlists is exciting because, if it does continue, it will put the burden back on the artists to make good music. Maybe if there’s an actual possibility for a large audience, stagnant rappers will no longer do the bare minimum. I hope that 95.5 and other radio stations around the country attempt some, however small, version of radio diversity. Rather than “corrective” moves such as banning offensive songs, the more successful plan of radio pluralism” seems to be put into effect.

Written by Brandon

April 20th, 2007 at 5:26 am

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OhWord Article: ‘they got rap surrounded’.

“Besides the aesthetic and emotional reasons that I enjoy rap music, I love rap’s ability to challenge everybody’s core values. What does the left say about music developed and indeed, still tightly connected to a minority group that often “degrades” another minority group? What does the right say about a music that is the “up from your boot straps” mentality defined, that is grossly capitalistic, but not conventionally moralistic? Rap can expose the weird in-betweens that all of us are unwilling to address and often, cannot reconcile. The inability of either side of the political spectrum to properly discuss rap…”

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2007 at 5:19 pm

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Robert Glasper – In My Element.

I first heard about pianist Robert Glasper’s recent album ‘In My Element’ through (I’ll admit it), an NPR story. The brief samples of his music in the story immediately grabbed me. I got scared. I was enjoying contemporary jazz! I’m into bop and that’s really about it, I’m a dick that way. I was temporarily able to feel cool again when it was revealed that Glasper had worked with Dilla and indeed, one of the tracks on ‘In My Element’ was titled ‘J Dillalude’. What was interesting about the NPR story and Glasper’s music, were the consistent references to the “hip-hop” elements of the album, which was funny because what grabbed me about the music was how it reminded me of older jazz without sounding conservative. I’m scared of fusion, particularly in jazz because I find it the kind of thing that the simple-minded perceive as innovative but is generally just pastiche or plain awful. The jazz rap combination is incredibly problematic, Ornette Coleman’s ‘Tone Dialing’ or Miles Davis’ ‘Doo-Bop’ immediately come to mind- and even the Roots remind me of a jam band.

When I bought ‘In My Element’ I kept looking for these “hip-hop” elements, dreading the point where the album had some wack beat or rapper but it never came. It never came because the rap influences on ‘In My Element’ are so wonderfully synthesized and internalized, all within the construct of an acoustic trio, Glasper on piano, Vicente Archer on bass, and Damion Reid. Sometimes, Glasper’s piano has the pleasant, easy-going (but not easy listening!) sound of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown music or even, and I don’t mean this as some kind of snarky critique- music for the computer game ‘The Sims’. Glasper plays pleasant (but not smooth!) piano that really moves, changing-up, with a constantly altering Monk-ish quality minus Monk’s percussive use of the piano. There’s nothing abrasive about Glasper’s sound but it is not without chaos, as Glasper never keeps it simple or repetitive. This is complemented by Reid’s drumming which, in my fairly limited jazz knowledge makes me think of Tony Williams’ drumming on Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch’, a sort of fast, stuttering sound that barely even sounds like drumming. The drumming goes from a consistency to sudden but precise time-signature changing drum strikes, that remind me (although I know it’s the other way around) of the drill n’ bass sounds found on certain Aphex Twin or Squarepusher songs. At other times, Reid drums lightly and it sounds like the sound you get if you have a crappy apartment and your heat shuts off, that random, almost atonal clicking and clacking. We get this sort of chaotic, weird drumming, underneath Glasper’s pleasant but commanding piano and this drumming, at times, goes crazy but also keeps a consistent, pounding beat that indeed, recalls a rap beat without being explicit about it.

The most explicit connection to rap are the interludes at the end of almost every track. The actual song comes to an end and then fading in is a brief workout of what the next track will sound like. It is the most explicit “hip-hop” element of the album but it is also the most problematic; the only problematic aspect of the album. While the first interlude is a legitimate delight, exciting and unexpected, particularly on a jazz album, they quickly become tedious and slow down the flow of a consistent but rather long album. What begins as Glasper’s bucking of formula, incorporating a true hip-hop element to his jazz without it being electronic, sample-based, or a rapper, becomes programmatic because it occurs on nearly every track.

Another surprising hip-hop influence that is not overstated is ‘J Dillalude’, a track that begins with a recorded phone message from Q-Tip suggesting that Glasper do some “Dilla joints, trio style”. We’re then given a series of live recordings of presumably, Dilla tracks but I’m embarrassed to admit, that even as a big Dilla fan, I couldn’t recognize what Dilla tracks these are supposed to be. These phone message snippets and voice recordings also appear on ‘Silly Rabbit’ which contains the recording of a young girl (presumably a relative) humming one of Glasper’s tracks which we then hear, seemingly chopped-up and yes, sampled to hum along to Glasper’s music. The final track, ‘Tribute’ contains a truly moving recording of Glasper’s mother’s eulogy. This use of recorded phone messages and speeches is also something of a hip-hop album staple and Glasper uses it incredibly well. Unlike the rather strict rules and conventions of jazz, rap in its immediacy, is willing to throw in any sound or sample to convey the proper emotion. Glasper is clearly attracted to this “by any means necessary” perspective on music rules.

There’s an odd moment on the album’s second track, ‘Of Dreams to Come’, where, towards the end of the track, we get a bass solo but the bass is so closely mic-ed, that we hear, even more clearly than usual, the strings vibrating and the fingers playing, giving it an odd, percussive, noisy quality. It is the little details like this, the incorporation of recordings and the odd production techniques that make it the most similar in spirit to a rap album. Production reigns in rap music, small, sonic details are what many rap fans live for, particularly in the age of ultra-clean digital recording. So much music after the 70s, particularly in the genres of jazz and rock music, is horribly ignorant towards the importance of production, grasping towards the cleanest and most stream-lined sound available, not realizing that this is not always and more often than not, the best sound or tone.

‘In My Element’ without intending to be or even interested in being such, is a wonderful response to Wynton Marsalis’ curmudgeonly ‘From the Plantation to the Penitentiary’. Marsalis is well-known as a rap music hater of the uninformed sort, too good for the music he spends a lot of time dismissing, and on his new album, he takes on rap explicitly on the downright embarrassing ‘Where Y’all At?’. Marsalis is quoted on the cover of this month’s ‘Jazz Times’, bragging “I was speaking out about [rap] long before Bill Cosby” as if being ahead of Bill fucking Cosby is something to be proud of. I would love to see someone like Glasper sincerely debate Marsalis but judging from Glasper’s music and composed persona in that NPR interview, he’s far too polite and reasonable to waste his time.

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2007 at 8:11 am

Posted in J-Dilla, Robert Glasper

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‘Adventures in Hollyhood’: Not As Bad As It Could Be.

I finally caught an episode of the Three-Six Mafia reality show ‘Adventures in Hollyhood’. The Spring break teaser, featuring a bunch of college bitches giving Paul and Juicy cunty looks for 30 minutes was pretty depressing. That episode, coupled with Tom Breihan’s entry pretty much verified my fears about the show being typical reality-show fare. Breihan’s post caused a fairly interesting message-board debate that began when a few people snarkily asked: How could one be surprised when a group like Three-Six Mafia are portrayed on television as dumb and clownish? Breihan’s actual point was simply that the show does little in presenting them as anything more than goofs who had success fall into their laps. In reality, Three-Six Mafia are hardly the music industry n00bs that reality-show editing shows them to be. They have remained consistent and highly visible for more than a decade; their devotion to making music is inarguable. What can be debated and sort of was debated in the comments section, is the artistic qualities (or lack thereof) of Three-Six Mafia. I was surprised to find that this week’s episode of the show, whether intentional or not, did reveal some insight into Three-Six’s creative processes or at least validated them as human beings.

To begin, yes, there are plenty of problems with ‘Adventures in Hollyhood’ beginning with the title and extending to, Three-Six’s “assistants” Computer and Big Triece, who have something of an ‘Amon N’ Andy’ routine going on, but the episode I saw where Paul and Juicy prepare an artist showcase through Warner Brothers, didn’t seem particularly bad or offensive. If anything, Juicy J and DJ Paul came off looking pretty good. Certainly they are presented as being much more new to the music and even Hollywood game than they really are but even so, the show, like some of the early episodes of ‘The White Rapper Show’ can’t remove the subjects’ dignity no matter how hard it tries. I know…I know…a bunch of assholes and a guy that raps worse than Weird Al will say “Three-Six Mafia? Dignity?” but bear with me here…

The sort of reoccurring joke of the episode is Computer and Big Triece, popping up like the black comic relief in a Hollywood comedy, to present their questionable rapping and writing abilities. We see them chanting “Whatcha starin’ at? /I ain’t a mirror” in their bedroom and we see them embarrassingly performing this chant and nothing more (no rap), in front of a bunch of people who immediately realize it’s garbage. Later in the episode, they present two hooks “Don’t step on my feet/ I won’t step on yours” and “Where I’m at?/In the hood/Where I’m at?/On the corner” which are met by laughs and dismissals from Juicy and Paul. In an earlier scene, Paul plays a legitimately hilarious beat made up of fart samples, telling the assistants to rap on it. What is interesting is how both Paul and Juicy at the same time, without hesitation, can dismiss these guys’ songs, showing that there’s some aesthetic understanding between the two. The line between Computer and Triece’s hooks and those recorded by Three-Six Mafia is rather thin but it does exist and it has been internalized by Juicy and Paul.

The scenes of Computer and Triece’s music try-outs are probably set-up, written by a room of writers along with Paul and Juicy and Computer and Triece, but “fake” or not, they present an interesting contrast. Computer and Triece are the embodiment of what many think Three-Six Mafia are like. Actually dumb, actually irresponsible…Paul and Juicy are shown dealing with Computer and Big Triece, having to force them to act responsibly. DJ Paul simply tells them “Y’all gotta cut this crap out” while Juicy J takes some of the blame, admitting that he encouraged the jokes but now it has gone too far. “Too far” is not the phrase many would even expect to be in the vocabulary of Juicy J. It might even seem like a paradox coming from the guy who wrote ‘Tear Da Club Up’ but it shows why they are not exclusively the crazy thugs they portray on record. This proves that they are indeed, on some level creating something, thinking about the music they make: they know what it isn’t when they hear it. When Lil Wyte is trying to write a new song for the Warner Brothers showcase, he tries out some lyrics for Juicy and Paul and when one song invokes “hip hop” they immediately shake their heads, informing him that most people don’t want to hear songs about hip-hop, which is of course true. This aesthetic could be cynically interpreted as “songs about hip-hop don’t sell” but I think it has more to do with the navel-gazing aspects of such songs. Paul and Juicy are wonderfully populist in the sense of concerning themselves with what will sell but always on their own terms. This is why they are okay with the song Lil Wyte eventually performs being about “slappin’ a sucka” or something like that. It is why the ‘Doe Boy Fresh’ video is some weird comment on rap being co-opted…if these guys are only interested in selling-out, they do a pretty horrible job.

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2007 at 12:48 am

Posted in Three Six Mafia

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How Some White Dude’s Racism Becomes An Attack On Rap…

Don Imus is an idiot. An unfunny idiot. He always has been and I imagine he’s said more offensive stuff in the past year than the now infamous “nappy-headed hoes” comment which by the way, although a total failure, was some attempt at a joke; he was being performative. My initial plan for this essay was to simply discuss Imus’ idiotic rap/double-standard defense but now, the dude’s way of putting food on the table has been removed, so I don’t feel right using the situation only for my rap-centric ends…

A Rabbi once told me (and I’m paraphrasing) that you will never stop evil, for some reason evil exists- so you must act appropriately to stop it…

The firing of a supposed racist accomplishes very little in addressing racism, distracts from actual issues regarding race, and makes anyone with a heart sort of feel bad for the perpetrator. You cannot demand someone apologize and still say “not enough”. Sharpton and Jackson are doing very little to actually combat evil (in this case racism), instead they are unmercifully pounding a guy who made a lame-ass joke, creating a far-worse evil and then, spreading it to like-minded puritans nation-wide.

A friend I had in high school once told me: “No one deserves anything…”

This all reminds me of the ‘Dateline’ special ‘To Catch a Predator’ wherein they entrap a pedophile and then, lead him on to think that after they embarrass him, he can go home free. Then, once he is outside, the cops tackle him! That’s a sick part of the show; they lead the guy on to only further fuck with him. The cops can’t just walk in? He can’t be told he’s going to be arrested? It’s fucked up but because it is perpetrated on the lowest of low, we’re supposed to not care. Anyone who thinks Imus deserves to have his entire career ruined because he said some stupid shit is a sadist hiding behind values and principles.

So…Don Imus, backed against a wall, panicked, weasels his way out of what he said by bringing up what rappers say, invoking “the double standard” and because no one can really agree upon the importance or lack of importance of this Imus crap, right wingers, left wingers, black and white intellectuals, band together in opposition to rap music. Digging up criticisms of rap that were more accurate and relevant a decade ago or simply showing clips of Nelly (the only Nelly fans I’ve ever known were white women in their thirties, there’s a reason for that Tim McGraw collabo), rap is twisted and misinterpreted.

At first glance,opposing rap’s negative qualities is the kind of issue everyone from rap fans to rap haters can get behind; it looks good-intentioned. In actuality, the double standard argument allows the left and right to continue to be weary of black culture while appearing not to be by opposing rap’s “degrading” qualities. The response to double standard accusations are either answered with “it’s different when rappers say it” (which it is) or “it should no longer be said” (which is impossible) but the real answer, simply, “don’t vilify people for what they say” will not cause anybody political gain, so it will never be put into action. This double standard discussion is not really about improving the quality of rap music, it’s about deflection and ultimately, because rap is hard to exploit for anything other than monetary gain, it’s about how the superficially negative qualities will be distorted in hopes of moving rap to the side. Rap has a funny way of, in one way or another, putting almost everybody’s core values up against a wall.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2007 at 6:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized