No Trivia

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No Trivia Presents iPOD Week, Part One (Continued): Shuffle Songs.

7. Fortified – Pharrell & DJ Drama (from ‘In My Mind: The Prequel’)
I may be one of the only people that really loves DJ Drama’s screaming and sound-drops. This is a brief track, Pharrell rapping over a beat that I don’t recognize. Pharrell’s rapping while not typically good, is really entertaining and works, sort of like Kanye’s style on his early mixtape and ‘College Dropout’. In mainstream rap, there aren’t enough weirdo rappers, everyone sort of has something resembling the same flow and content, most are technically good or great which actually becomes a little boring. Pharrell’s sloppy rapping along with his weird references and metaphors (“lookin’ like a bullfrog pregnant”, David Blaine, “backwards cigarette”) makes him stand out. I actually really like ‘In My Mind’ but I see why those that heard this first would be disappointed.

8. Ultimate Flow – Clipse (from ‘We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2)
Pusha’s verse is one of my favorite verses on any rap song: “All the money in the world and I ain’t fulfilled/But what could be missing? I mean the wrist’s on chill/The neck all frozen I should feel like the chosen/Waterfront home overlooking the ocean/All these shoes one should be humored and amused/But more often than not, I find myself confused/Crusin’ in that drop and still I feel/As if I’m nothing more than a hamster in a wheel/Enough with the women they don’t see past the chain/I don’t see past the ass, two can play the game/Gotta thank God for ‘caine, I guess that’s the twist/Cause if I never sold, my rhymes would sound like this/You know I just be standin’ here lookin’ funny, nothing to say, a bunch of and shit…/It’s like a double-edged sword, a catch-22, you damned if you don’t, you damned if you do.”

9. Fall Breaks and Back to Winter – Jim O’Rourke (from ‘Smiling Pets’)

This is from an, I think-out of print compilation called ‘Smiling Pets’ basically lots of cool, hip musicians doing Beach Boys covers. I only found this in an obsessive search to find everything Jim O’Rourke recorded and it is easily one of my favorite songs of all time. I like the warmth of the electronics and the jagged noises that appear about a minute in which mix with, what sounds like manipulated piano chords or something. About 1.50 in you get these female vocals and actual piano playing and it breaks out the same way the best Beach Boys tracks breaks out. Also reminds me of Fennesz’s ‘Plays’ single which contains abstract covers of the Beach Boys’ ‘Don’t Talk Put Your Head On My Shoulder’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’.

10. Hi-Life – UGK (from ‘Ridin’ Dirty’)
Pimp C gets a lot of crap because he is teamed with Bun B, one of the best rappers of all-time and it makes his mediocrity stand out more. His mediocrity is also used to depreciate the overall quality of UGK which is really unfair because Pimp C produces these great tracks and his content is always honest and real. I like how he mentions his Grandmother giving him crap for not going to church, it’s just really real, you know? This song is also the point on ‘Ridin’ Dirty’ in which the album sort of circles back to overtly sad, emotionally honest songs. I love every track on this album but the Dr. Dre influence of the middle in particular starts to wear thin at about ‘That’s Why I Carry’ and following up that song with ‘Hi-Life’ is a great move for moving the album along.

11. The Finest (featuring Tommy Gunn) – MF Doom (from ‘Operation Doomsday’)

I’ve been obsessed with this CD since Noz mentioned it here. I’ve always been half-interested and half-bored by Doom, primarily because my only exposure was his later stuff which is, as Noz suggested, more lame and more pandering to his nerd audiences. I’m big on owning the stuff I like so I was really frustrated by this album’s lack of availability and it led me to purchase ‘Live From Planet X’ because, I don’t know why, a burned copy of ‘Operation Doomsday’ wasn’t enough or something…I’ve also had a recent obsession with single-track live or mix-type albums (‘Death Mix 2’, Daft Punk’s ‘Alive 1997’) so it fit right in. I sort of really enjoy ‘Live From Planet X’ but Noz’s comments are dead-on as you can easily compare the post-‘Doomsday’ tracks to the ‘Doomsday’ tracks in terms of their overt cartoon and other super-obvious pop-culture references…as for this track, I like Doom’s sampling of 80s-sounding shit that I legitimately love that others would consider corny.

12. You Are Invited – The Dismemberment Plan (from ‘Emergency & I’)

The Dismemberment Plan are one of the few indie rock groups that I liked and still listen to…most indie rock is so fucking disposable and insincere. They also used electronics and such really well, it never seemed attention-grabbing or a way to differentiate themselves in a superficial way because the band’s influences stretched way beyond other indie rocks bands…this songs is dominated by some really simple drum machines sounds and some near-spoken word singing about finding a mysterious invitation to a party or something. It’s very positive and sincere and when the song finally breaks out into more than just synth/drum machine noodling into the whole band, well rocking-out, it’s actually exciting. It’s also like, unbridled in a sense, unbridled in its enthusiasm which borders on Tony Robbins motivational speaking: “You are invited by anyone to do anything!” These guys never seemed cool, their music, their style, their live show; they were really upfront about everything; irony-free.

13. Cariocinesi – Franco Battiato (from ‘Fetus’)

Italian-Prog, oh shit…this is from ‘Fetus’ which would is easily one of my ten favorite albums of all-time, any genre. This is the worst song on that album though. It’s not exactly bad but it’s almost bad. All of ‘Fetus’ has the impressive ability to mix all kinds of sounds and instruments together in a way that should never ever work let alone be like, profound but it rarely falters. It starts out with some submarine-radar-sounding electronics and Battiato’s heavily-echoed vocals that kicks-in with this weird country-music sounding violin and a repetitive piano part which often stops for Battiato to croon a few more lines in Italian. You really gotta hear it. I’m already regretting calling the track weak because as I listen to it as I type this, I don’t want to listen to anything else ever…

14. 976-Bun-B – UGK (from ‘The Southern Way’)
Early(ish) Southern rap production has a strange mix of sophistication that I still don’t think most rap production has figured-out but it also has a certain amount of what feels like naiveté to it, for example, sampling Steve Miller Band as this track does. It’s not really naiveté though, it’s more like not giving a shit about conventional, ever-changing rap rules and only being half-interested in trends. It’s also a really well-chopped sample that doesn’t even rely on how well-known ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ is, it’s used the same way a producer would use, say, some obscure soul sample or something…and like every UGK track, there’s always a point where Bun B is so on-beat its ridiculous…

15. Snowblind – Sleep

A Black Sabbath cover from one of the best post-Sabbath bands. Not a lot to say about this. The Sabbath version is great, this cover by Sleep is pretty great too. I like Al Cisneros’ vocals a lot, he has a sort of mix between a growl that isn’t too modern metal and something that you’d hear on a 80s college rock record. Sleep also have this hypnotic power to their metal that makes it a step away from typical rock (which Sabbath sort of still were), the thick wall of noise on the guitars and the simple drumming makes you sort of lost in the song. Even on this relatively straight cover you hear the hints of the hour-long ‘Dopesmoker’ and the rhythm section’s later band OM. Matt Pike, later of High On Fire has a few really awesome solos here as well. These guys never really “rock” which is great, everything is always sort of subdued and controlled but it’s never too-tight or proggy either.

Written by Brandon

May 14th, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Posted in iPOD, mix CD

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No Trivia Presents iPOD Week, Part One: Introduction & Fun With the Shuffle.

I finally got an Ipod! I’m not one of those luddite douche-bags who refused to get one on principle and I didn’t not get one because I wanted to be one of those guys who likes to proudly proclaim shit like “I’ve never seen ‘Star Wars’ and I never will”, I just didn’t really have a need for one and I’m incredibly stubborn about buying practical things. When my record player needle started fucking up, I chose to listen to awful-sounding records rather than cough-up money for a new record player and even then, I waited until ‘Best Buy’ advertised this totally wack record player for 34.99…which by the way, really is shitty, other than it looking hilarious and being cheap which were its main draws, the CD player can’t play any CD-Rs or any CDs with enhanced content (so no ‘Wu Tang Forever’) and the radio reception is terrible…I currently have the wire antenna scotch-taped to my wall and then and only then, does it sort of get reception…anyways, I was able to get a second-hand iPOD from my sister who at some point recently upgraded to one with more space…

I’ve taken to driving around with my iPOD on which I believe is illegal but like my record player anecdote, I’m not too big on buying practical things so a fucking $50 dollar ‘iTRIP’ is not high on my list of things to buy, I’d rather drop $50 on records and CDs…

The most interesting thing about the iPOD is how it makes your life like one extended movie montage. When you have music up against your ears all the time, it starts to feel like you’re driving, walking, writing, whatever to the beat or rhythm of a song. I got out of my car last night and walked quickly into the house because I’m sort of scared of the dark and the propulsive drums from the intro to Lou Reed’s ‘Oh Jim’ were playing and it was like I was walking with a purpose, like I was in a Scorsese movie or some shit…

Anyways, the theme for this week of ‘No Trivia’ is iPOD week. The most interesting thing about the iPOD is how it’s one more way of making the borders of damn near everything porous. You put that fucker on ‘shuffle’ and all kinds of weird songs complement or juxtapose with one another and it’s all pretty interesting. Along with editor Monique, we’ve planned a week of weird mixes with way-too-in-depth explanations and other kinds of stuff…could be fun.

I put my pod on shuffle and these were the first fifteen songs it spit out… By the way, I stole the idea for this from Richard whose ‘iPOD rundown’ posts are often interesting and illuminating…

1. Liberation – Outkast (from ‘Aquemini’)
Outkast/Organized Noise are one of the few production teams that can mix live instrumentation into rap, truly “experimenting” and it still coming out listenable and resembling rap even as it seems miles away from traditional “hip-hop”. When I was younger, I liked Outkast but always felt they were a bit too derivative of Parliament/Funkadelic but I don’t really feel that way anymore or it maybe doesn’t matter to me. Their music in a lot of ways, takes the emotions of something like ‘Maggot Brain’ and translates it into rap language…that said, there’s not really any rap on this song but it still feels like a rap song while say, Jay-Z’s ‘Beach Chair’ or El-P’s stuff to me, doesn’t…

2. GreatDayInDaMornin/Booty – D’Angelo (from ‘Voodoo’)

As I said here, I stole ‘Voodoo’ from my mom’s CDs and have become obsessed. It actually feels similar to ‘Liberation’ only way more boring but that isn’t entirely a bad thing. I honestly couldn’t tell you without looking at the CD what track number this is because the entire album just sort of flows as one long, blissed-out, hazy, stoned groove. When the track changes, presumably the ‘Booty’ part, the drums turn into something resembling a typical beat and it’s really exciting. The typical thing about music being tension and release, almost feels in reverse on this track as if most of the track is release, kinda free and messy and then at the end, the ‘Booty’ part, it becomes tighter, the tension part. Or something?? What?! Fuck you guys…

3. My Buddy – Derek Bailey (from ‘Ballads’)
I really like this album, “free” guitarist Derek Bailey playing jazz standards like ‘Stella by Starlight’ and this track (I also have a Chet Baker album with his cover of the song). This is another album, like ‘Voodoo’ wherein the tracks seamlessly bleed into one another. I like how clean the guitar sounds on this album and how that counteracts the relative “free”-ness of the playing. Around the thirty-five second mark, the playing starts to go totally nuts but it’s never painful to listen to or basically bullshit noise, there’s always this sense that you won’t get totally lost in the improvisation.

4. Spaceship – Kanye West featuring Consequence & GLC (from ‘College Dropout’)

Yeah…this song is just amazing, everything about it, really. When it came out, it took me awhile to warm-up to Kanye’s super-obvious sampling of stuff, like the Marvin Gaye sample but I was still immediately affected by the production (in a rock sense) if not the beat-making. I love how full of all kinds of crap these tracks are, two different chipmunk vocal samples, the ‘Distant Lover’ sound, an almost marching-band snare loops that breaks free before it all starts over, the additional vocals by John Legend… It’s still essentially loop-based-beat making but the loops are like twenty seconds instead of five. Kanye’s verse is like every verse on this album, a good mix of personal and political and a wise merging of the two. GLC and Consequence will probably never sound better or write better than this. I said it
before, but I like how the spaceship sound that ends Kanye’s verse sounds like the gunshot sound that ends GLC’s, making a subtle comment on the inter-connectedness of our idealistic and self-destructive impulses.

5. Radio Spiricom – Tim Hecker (from ‘Harmony In Ultra-Violet’)
Tim Hecker is really good at making a track than can begin one way and by the end, totally sound like a different song without you, the listener really being aware that these shifts even happened. Hecker uses noise really well, he mixes it and manipulates it in a way that makes it less abrasive and confrontational, focusing instead on the hypnotic elements and for lack of a better way of putting it, the certain beauty of noise.

6. Here Today – The Beach Boys (from ‘Pet Sounds’)
It’s fucking ‘Pet Sounds’ what could I possibly have to say about it? I generally don’t respond to lyrics that are more general than specific but the lyrics on ‘Pet Sounds’ are so moving that they feel specific and rarified even if they are purposefully aiming towards generalities. There’s also the production which is of course legendary. What works about the production for me is a certain raw feeling and messiness that exists even as the tracks feel as if they were worked-on for months even years, which of course, they were. Listen to those thick drums, or the, I guess it’s sort of a bridge, where you get the drums and a nice keyboard sounds and an almost soul-clap that makes me think of Dilla’s soul-claps even though it’s the other way around. Yeah. This is great.

I’m tired so I’ll finish this tomorrow. For now, here’s the rest of the songs…

7. Fortified – Pharrell & DJ Drama
8. Ultimate Flow – Clipse
9. Fall Breaks and Back to Winter – Jim O’Rourke
10. Hi-Life – UGK
11. The Finest – MF Doom featuring Tommy Gunn
12. You Are Invited – Dismemberment Plan
13. Cariocinesi – Franco Battiatio
14. 976-Bun-B – UGK
15. Snowblind (Black Sabbath Cover) – Sleep

Written by Brandon

May 14th, 2007 at 5:50 am

Posted in iPOD, mix CD

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Reconsidering the Rap Canon.
1. What is the canon?
Just about everything has at least, an unspoken canon, a generally accepted list of “the best”. Literature has an oft-debated and ever-changing canon. Last year, in ‘Film Comment’ screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote about establishing one for film. Religious texts are often marked by canonical texts and in the world of comics and sci-fi, fans often debate what aspects of that fictional universe are canon and which are not: “Is ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ canon?” For the record, it should be…

2. The Rap Canon Is Very Restrictive.
Rap has a canon but it’s never addressed, it’s just sort of a given. I am someone with a healthy knowledge of rap but more of an interest in whatever music I happen to like, so I have, many times over invoked the name of a rapper, or an album or an opinion that turns out to be a capitol rap offense. The canon is not so much a canon as it is an anti-canon because the invocation of any number of rappers will bring out the veins in a rap fan’s head and he/she will tell you why what you like is a) bullshit b)not real hip-hop c) ruining real hip-hop or d) all of the above. The worst part is the assumption is if you like say, Three Six Mafia you don’t know about “better” rap or something. I won’t even get into the totally played-out mixed metaphor of the white imperialist entering Africa…but this kind of thinking is unproductive, and only increased since the persistent claims about hip hop’s death and the unfortunate bubbling of another region war.

3. Rap Is Post-Positive.
Rap is inarguably an African American “artform” and as a result, at least according to a lot of smart, fancy-pants African American literature professor types, this means that rap, like all other African-American arts is post-positive. What does that mean? Post in the sense of after or beyond, positive in the sense of absolutism, so beyond-absolutism. In the 19th century, a lot of shit came out like Charles Darwin and evolution and modern science and Nietzsche declaring God dead and blah blah blah…the result was, a whole lot of shit that had been taken for granted for hundreds and hundreds of years looked a little suspect. Super-easy example: Dinosaur bones are discovered but there are no dinosaurs mentioned in the bible. What do we do? It fucks some shit up, fucks some shit up so much we’re still feeling the fallout, for better and worse.

African-American arts are post-positive because by simply existing they oppose established literary traditions and continue to do so. You see…back then, a bunch of scholars and monocle-wearing types would have been discussing not the validity of black art but whether it even existed. Slowly, some black art was accepted and then overtime, a lot more is accepted and now we have rap music. But the loop of idiocy and close-mindedness continues because in the little world of rap, the modern day equivalent of the monocle-wearers are the ones telling rap fans what is acceptable and unacceptable. The rap fans that exclusively celebrate the true schools are oddly enough, the most conservative (with a lower-case c!) of rap fans. They are the closed-minded ones, they are the oppressors telling listeners and writers who and what to support. They are making the canon and the canon they have created, is incredibly myopic.

4. What’s Your Point?
Mainly my point is that any discussion of rap, no matter how apparently retarded, no matter who it is by, is ultimately good. Those discussions are not only necessary but crucial, even the most outrageous of claims (Lil Wayne as the best rapper alive) is not killing hip-hop but keeping it alive. Of course, one has the right to vocally oppose such ideas but when the disagreement is couched in race and accusations of racism rather than music it is disingenuous. This scares and threatens potential writers from writing about the music they care about…why would you do that? Why would you want to stop anybody, no matter how misguided you think they are, from expressing their love for rap?

5. Some Examples of Rap Canon Reconsideration

a. Straight Bangin’s Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums List.

Within hours of posting the request for ‘Top Hip-Hop Albums’ lists it was changed, if one so desired, to simply listing your favorites. It’s funny that what took one blogger a few hours to realize still has not been figured-out by debating scholars, multiculturalists, and conservatives…all we got is our opinions! If there’s some kind of truly objective way to determine the best rap albums, why would we make lists? Give the criteria to some scientists and give them every rap album ever made and let them calculate it.

How does one become objective on the topic or really, any topic? I see why Public Enemy are important but their records just don’t hit me anymore. When I was in 10th grade, I listened to ‘It Takes A Nation’ constantly, I got into a minor scuffle with a black kid who made fun of me for listening to “old stuff”. At the time, I made fun of him for listening to DMX and smugly put my headphones back on. These days I’m probably more apt to listen to DMX than P.E. Who was wrong? Both of us? Neither of us? It doesn’t really matter.

b. Byron Crawford & Tupac: ‘Why Do Hip-Hop Bloggers Hate 2pac?

The fact that Tupac sort of sucks is that dirty little secret that has always been unspoken but with time, can be said without facing a beatdown. Tupac is inconsistent, boring, insincere, and disingenuous. He was quantifiably rebellious, the kind of rebellion that woons too dumb to enjoy Wu Tang went for. Once Tupac died, these guys gravitated towards Eminem who kept the ball rolling on sub-par emcees with light production that through contrived controversy, enrapture dumb rap fans as well as ‘New York Times’ writers. Byron Crawford’s entry put into words what so many other rap fans have taken for granted: Tupac isn’t that good.

But is Tupac “important”? Yes. His celebrity, his murder, his level of fame while alive and his continued sales after death preserve him in the rap canon forever. I don’t mean this condescendingly but I know it will come out that way so fuck it: Tupac is a good place to start with rap. At least around me, I primarily see young people, black and white, but all middle-school age, wearing Tupac shirts. So, he remains a part of the canon no matter what and can therefore, afford to take a few shots from bloggers (no pun intended, I promise!). Tupac’s visibility isn’t going anywhere so only healthy discussion can come out of critical derision.

c. Tom Breihan & Nas: ‘Pitbull Is Better Than Nas’

Besides the obviously pejorative nature of this title the real point was a slight re-evaluation of Nas’s work. I smiled when I saw the title and thought about it and at least then (and now) I’d agree that I’d rather listen to Pitbull than Nas. Breihan, as a pop critic which because rap music is pop music (and always has been) gives him a different but equally relevant point of view on the music, is allowed to tell his readers Pitbull is better than Nas. Plus, it’s true in the pop music appeal sense because Nas has become really boring. Like Tupac, Nas is something of an institution, so his placement in rap history is solidified and as a result, it would only do Nas’ “legacy” some good to be reevaluated.

Particularly fun were the responses to this post which quickly dismissed Pitbull as only booty-shaking music. This dismissive argument reflects the same kind of thing that outsiders to rap might say about Nas because all they hear is a scary beat and the word “nigga”, their ears closed to the subtleties of rap. Try telling Cuban-Americans that Pitbull is only booty-shaking music. Calling your album ‘El Mariel’ is a political act. Pitbull also did the wonderful thing of calling-out rappers for wearing the image of Che Guevara, who if you’re Pitbull, Che is a murderer. The dismissal of Pitbull as booty-shaking music goes much deeper than musical opinions, it moves into the realm of politics and the pro-American politics just don’t jibe with most Nas fans. Pitbull and Nas while dissimilar in their politics are similar in the propagandistic aspects of their lyrics. Neither offer particularly insightful opinions on politics, rather they both preach to their audience the kind of politics the audience wants to hear. This is what a little statement like ‘Pitbull is Better than Nas’ begins to unpack when it isn’t dismissed outright.

d. Noz and Others’ Continued Focus on Rap Obscurities.

This constant reminding of listeners of that which they have forgotten or never knew existed is canon reconsideration defined. The popular and even intellectual authors of one period often become the nobodies of the next and the nobodies of the period can later become the greats. Trends, expectations, ideas, styles change and what looked weird or stupid in 1991 can suddenly become more relevant decades later.

6. Conclusion.
You know, there was a point where barely any rap was taken seriously and then there was a point where it became an interesting phenomenon, and then it became socially relevant, and then it became the biggest music on the planet. It is everybody’s music and it needs to be allowed to be discussed as such. The best way to do this is by allowing challenges to the rap canon, not dismissing them outright, but taking them into account. They should not be threatening to read. They should be exciting. The music that is canonical will stay canonical, it will not begin to wither away due to the eroding winds of writings about trap-rap or crunk or Pit Bull.

Any sense of absolute truth, any sense of the definite, ended over one hundred years ago, high and low and all between is pretty much one now. If it weren’t, us rap nerds obsessively analyzing and intellectualizing the music wouldn’t be allowed to do it, we’d still be like “Man the concerto last night was pretty good”. But we don’t have to do that! Instead I can write about Devin the Dude, or I can write about Devin and classical music, I could even write about how I think Devin’s music is sort of like classical music! What a wonderful world we now live in!

Written by Brandon

May 9th, 2007 at 5:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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A Cam-less Dipset?

(no homo!!)

So, according to Miss Info, Cam’ron is out of Dipset, probably, maybe, or something…as every “major” development in the rap world is suspect, I must preface this with: “assuming this isn’t a publicity stunt…” So, assuming this isn’t a publicity stunt, it’s pretty strange. Does Dipset even mean anything without Cam’ron? Part of my love and arguably, anybody’s love of Dipset comes from their craziness, their inconsistencies, all of which is best, that is least embarrassingly exemplified by Cam’ron. When he showed up on ’60 Minutes’ clowning scare-monger Anderson Cooper, I loved it even though I disagreed with everything he said because Cam stuck to his guns. That’s what Cam is supposed to do. His apology a few days later seemed sad and pathetic because Cam is supposed to not give a fuck. Why Cam why? Now this. Say it ain’t so guys…say it ain’t so. Well, it isn’t really so as the updates on the Miss Info link suggests…

Since Jim Jones became the greatest rapper alive (or something), Cam has kept a relatively low profile or at least one kind of separate from his fellow Dips leading some suspicion that Cam was on the outs. Cam wasn’t on the ‘We Fly High (Remix)’ and didn’t even pop-up in the video. His idiotic 50 beef has been more Cam than Dipset. I was super-excited about ‘Dipset X-Mas’, expecting some classic Cam retardo-genius but instead it was just Jim Jones…so Cam is out of Dipset? If it isn’t a publicity stunt in the sense of being orchestrated, it’s still a publicity stunt in the sense of its Jim Jones running his mouth. Does this even matter? Not really. Especially not to most people who have nothing but disdain for the Dips but even for myself, an unabashed Dipset fan, I don’t really care.

When ‘We Fly High’ got really popular for some reason, my friends and I joked about the end of Dipset because Jim Jones is too much of an idiot to be humble and his pseudo-success would give him a big head. Is this what happened? Probably. I think this will be more like Jim Jones ends up being out of Dipset…which isn’t a loss really. ‘Summer Wit’ Miami’ would make my list of 100 favorite rap songs but I don’t imagine a second spot on that list for Jones anyways…I’ll miss Jones’ amazing perm he had circa 2000 but he doesn’t have it anymore and I’ll mourn the loss of Jones’ ‘H & M’ clothing style but that too exists in videos of days gone by. Would the rest of the Dips really side with Jim Jones? What does it mean for Dipset to be Cam-less? They aren’t even Dipset without Cam. Dipset become the Beach Boys that come to the state fair each year.

My intentions for this entry were to discuss the greatness of Dipset in spite of (or whatever) this recent hoopla but I already did it, so I’m just re-posting it. This post also had a weird life on a few message boards, which was sort of cool…Re-posting. It’s cheap I know, but I happen to like this entry a lot…

Why I Love Dipset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Brandon

May 7th, 2007 at 4:31 am

Posted in Cam'ron, Dipset

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Oh Word: Books Pt. 2.
Some Books About Rap That Are Not By Nelson George, Jeff Chang Or Ego-Trip But Are Worth Reading… Part 2

Written by Brandon

May 5th, 2007 at 3:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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New Oh Word Article!

Some Books About Rap That Are Not By Nelson George, Jeff Chang Or Ego-Trip But Are Worth Reading… Part 1

Written by Brandon

May 4th, 2007 at 2:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Rap Profiling: ?uestlove, M-1, and Cam’ron.

The events that The Roots’ ?uestlove described here are rather disturbing. Any situation in which one is powerless is scary and if the questions asked are to believed (and I have no reason to think they aren’t true), I’m just surprised the story isn’t “Rap drummer arrested for bashing DEA agents’ heads in”. Don’t these morons have a computer?! They could have just Googled “Ahmir Thompson” and everything would have been solved…It’s a testament to ?uestlove’s wisdom and understanding that he chose to write about his experiences in a voice that is both pissed-off and sympathetic rather than rallying everyone through pure anger. I’ve always felt that KRS-One should step-down as the unofficial ambassador of hip-hop and hand it over to ?uestlove, someone who knows just as much and is way easier to listen to and take seriously.

There are certainly racial profiling aspects to the event but once ?uestlove was detained, it became more of a rap issue than a race issue. Of course, the two are inextricably linked but a white rapper, under the same circumstances as ?uestlove’s would have received the same amount of crap. The situation shows just how little the average person knows about rap music. The same could be said of any musical subculture as this article among many others would attest, but it is still odd because rap music is supposedly so influential. If it’s so influential, why doesn’t anyone know shit about dick about it?!

My ears close-up when someone says “what the mainstream media won’t tell you is…” but I have to rethink my skepticism because this “post-Imus” coverage of rap is nothing but misinformation. The perpetuation of the “whites buy 80% of rap music” myth, the fact that Anderson Cooper, Neil Cavuto, or DEA agents can’t differentiate between 50 Cent and ?uestlove is crazy. I’m not sure if these misconceptions are intentional or not, out of misinformation or a vested interest to discredit, but they are remarkably, consistently inaccurate. The most pervasive cliché is the one that screwed ?uestlove: Every rapper is exorbitantly wealthy. Where does this come from? Why is it so persistent? Certainly the conspicuous consumption exhibited in every rap video doesn’t help but only in the field of rap music is owning a jet, making money, perceived as negative. In every other area, making money is used as evidence of credibility but when it comes to rap, as seen in this incident with ?uestlove as well as recent “post-Imus” appearances by Cam’ron and M-1 of dead prez, wealth (actual or projected) is used to discredit.

In interviews, uninformed hosts imply that M-1 or Cam would not be saying the things they say if they weren’t making money. Certainly, M-1 could make a lot more money making music less political and even Cam’ron, “ignorant” as he may be, is, in a lot of ways, far from mainstream. When Anderson Cooper asked Cam what he would do if record labels stopped supporting his music, Cam side-stepped the question, saying a record label would never do that. I’d add, that even if a label did do just that, Cam probably would make the same music. The dude wears pink and makes songs like ‘Suck It Or Not’ he’s not too concerned with popularity.

In terms of rap profiling, there couldn’t be three more inappropriate, downright terrible examples of rappers only in it for the money than ?uestlove, M-1, and Cam’ron. All three represent subcultural areas of rap music below the mainstream because for one reason or another, they are uncompromising. The relative lack of influence M-1 or Cam have is the reason they can show up on Fox News! If they had anything to lose, like say, 50 Cent or other actually high-profile rappers, you would never see them on ’60 Minutes’. This is pretty weird given the point of these news stories if how much of an influence these rappers hold. I’m not really interested in the so-called harmful affects of rap to begin with, but to detain the most lovable rapper this side of Common, and to question the integrity of M-1 and Cam’ron, while rappers that actually sell records aren’t even brought into the discussion is strange.

Written by Brandon

May 2nd, 2007 at 5:46 am

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Trimming the Fat: ‘Ruff Draft’ & ‘Detroit Deli’.

The recent Stones Throw re-release of J Dilla’s ‘Ruff Draft EP’ contains two alternate takes of the ‘Intro’ track and the outro track ‘Shouts’, as well as two unreleased songs ‘Wild’ and ‘Take Notice’. The alternate takes and unreleased tracks are interesting as examples of Dilla as self-editor. Earlier in the year, I happened to come upon a promo version of Slum Village’s ‘Detroit Deli’ containing two tracks that didn’t make the official album release: ‘Intro’ and ‘Hood Hoes’. These tracks must have been removed at the last minute because some online reviews even mention ‘Hood Hoes’ in reviews; tellingly, these reviews are often negative towards the song.

To see what the artist removed from the album, unlike rap-dork rearranging, is grounded in reality and therefore, a bit more relevant. Looking at these removed or altered tracks moves the listener closer to the thinking of the musician. Concerns with pacing, track-order, content, etc. present the musician as sculptor. Once the songs are finished, the album begins, and the musician starts chipping away, making things smaller or different in an attempt to make a cohesive product.

Part One: Ruff Draft, the EP.

Beginning with the ‘Intro’ track where Dilla calls the music you are about to hear “that real, live shit” down to the lyrics, which oppose materialistic rap as well as backpacker rap (lyrics from ‘The $’: “and these backpackers wanna confuse it/Cause niggas is icy ain’t got nuthin to do with the music”), the EP is undoubtedly Dilla’s statement of self. The music is too weird to ever be picked-up by the corporate rap of the time but the aggressive focus on money and sex puts it in a weird position in relation to the “conscious” rap Dilla is generally connected to. The album isn’t really for anybody but at the same time, it isn’t overtly contrarian; it’s length and scope have a modesty that nearly all of Dilla’s work maintains. Even when singing his song of self, Dilla does it in a way that is never off-putting.

Part Two: EP song vs. Alternate Take

-‘Intro’ vs. ‘Intro (Alt)’

The ‘Intro’ found on ‘Ruff Draft’ is short and sweet, no music, just Dilla introducing the album; it lasts 17 seconds. The alternate take is 48 seconds long, with an incredible beat, the kind of thing DJ Shadow would make if he actually had a soul. The beat bounces as a really trippy, ghostly voice sample echoes in the background; the set-up to a John Woo shoot-out could be choreographed to it: slow motion guns being drawn, atmospheric walking, that kind of thing. Over the beat, Dilla excitedly yells a series of typical Dilla clichés “Yeah! Uh!…Brand new…long-awaited…yeah…I’m back…shut it down…there’s a whole lot of imitatin’ goin’ on!” In every way the alternate intro is “better” but if was actually placed on the album it wouldn’t really fit. That Dilla would just get rid of a beat this cool is a testament to his interest in a cohesive product. The simpler ‘Intro’ of just Dilla talking directly to the listener is more effective in introducing the EP while briefly delaying the music. The alternate ‘Intro’ also does not transition well into ‘Let’s Take It Back’ so, a cool-sounding song is ultimately sacrificed for the overall listenability of the EP. The differing lengths are also notable because by using the ‘Intro’ which is 1/3 the length of the alternate intro, it is one step towards reducing the EP’s already-short length.

-‘Shouts’ vs. ’Shouts (Alt)’
Again, the alternate version is the more conventionally “good” track. ‘Shouts’ is a sort of sputtering, rickety, falling-apart-sounding “beat” with Dilla calling out his worthy peers, friends, and acquaintances. ‘Shouts (Alt)’ is a loud, excited beat that stands-out. Using the same sampled drums found on Dilla’s ‘Fuck the Police’ single, along with some weird space bloops, and punctuated by a vocal sample of some guy saying “Baby-”, Dilla lists an extensive list of once again, friends, acquaintances, peers, and influences. The alternate ‘Outro’ is perhaps “too good” in the sense of calling attention to itself in a way that an outro track really shouldn’t. Particularly when the outro is following up ‘Crushin’ which is similarly sloppy, it would be odd to return to a conventional beat, so the shambolic ‘Outro’ works better than the concise, quantified ‘Outro (Alt)’.

Part Three: Deleted Tracks

This song seems to be a favorite among many since the re-release and although there is nothing wrong with it, it’s a bit too funny and gimmicky to really fit the seriousness of the rest of ‘Ruff Draft’. The EP isn’t self-serious, but it does have a certain strident tone that begins with Dilla’s assertive intro. The track is weird but in a novelty way, with a British girl singing Slade (not Quiet Riot) as the instruments either try to keep up with her sloppy singing or they were forced to play to the sloppy singing; either way, it’s all just a little too fun and light compared to the rest of ‘Ruff Draft’.

-‘Take Notice’
The beat of this song is used on track 6 of ‘Ruff Draft’, the first ‘Interlude’. This is interesting because it gives the listener insight into the way an artist often recycles or reuses an idea with the smallest of alterations. Nothing is wrong with the track, although the gun-talk is a bit incongruous with the rest of the album, but it just wouldn’t add anything to the overall feeling of the EP. The track is also 4 minutes and 25 seconds, a lot longer than any other track on ‘Ruff Draft’ and features a guest, Guilty Simpson. The guest appearance seems particularly at odds with the EP’s concept of being the announcement of a new style for Dilla; using people other than Dilla on the EP just seems strange. Like all of the bonus tracks, other than ‘Wild’, length may be the primary issue. The EP functions as Dilla’s assertion of self but at the same time, it’s a modest, quick assertion and the relatively lengthy ‘Intro (Alt)’, ‘Outro (Alt)’, and ‘Take Notice’ just wouldn’t fit.

Part One: Detroit Deli, the album.

I’ve already discussed this album kinda in-depth here but basically, I find it to be a remarkably consistent and emotionally affecting album. Many of the songs focus on women and sex without a cloying or obnoxious tone. As I said before, unlike more conventional “conscious” rappers Slum Village define themselves by what they do rather than what they don’t do.

Part Two: Deleted Tracks

When you’re a group like Slum Village, that is to say, sorry- but one that isn’t particularly notable, length and repetition will ruin you. Rappers with bigger personalities can give you a few weak tracks and it may not stand-out as much. This intro is a bit of a mess, the first five seconds or so is a soul-sample which stops for a second or two before a horn loop plays as we get, like the Dilla ‘Intro (Alt), a bunch of “we back!” intro clichés and then some freestyle-sounding raps over the horn-loop. It’s just not really essential. The very end of the ‘Intro’ is the sound of a car door opening, closing, engine starting, and driving away. On the official version of ‘Detroit Deli’ this car part is tacked to the beginning of ‘Zoom’, the rest of the ‘Intro’ is gone and very little is lost as a result. The album becomes one track and 2 minutes shorter.

-Hood Hoes’
On the promo, this track is placed between ‘Dirty’ and ‘Late 80s Skit’. The beat on this song is notable, a sort of flanged-out acoustic guitar note looped over some drums that are cut particularly short. My speculation is the content of the song, a rather negative song about women (as the title would suggest) led to its exclusion from the final version of ‘Detroit Deli’. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit about the content in terms of it being offensive or not but in relation to the other songs, it does come off even more harsh. The second half of ‘Detroit Deli’, beginning with ‘Selfish’ moves in a rather sad, sympathetic direction with a series of songs about women. Placing ‘Hood Hoes’ before these songs but not following it up with ‘Selfish’ just puts it in a weird, tacked-on position in relation to the other tracks. Once again, nothing bad about the track it just isn’t essential. The only thing that may be lost is a really nice aural transition into ‘Late 80s Skit’: The song ends but then, the drums pick-up again with added strength and without the flanged-guitar, and play-out for 10 seconds or so, building up to ‘Late 80s Skit’.

Written by Brandon

May 1st, 2007 at 12:24 am

Posted in J-Dilla, Slum Village