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Archive for June, 2007

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Is This Whiteface?

Think of how much headwrap-wearing black tail whitey-whites with the balls to toss around words like “co-opt” and “blackface” and some ‘African American Studies’ classes under their belt must get…

Jamie Radford’s post, linked through OhWord’s constantly-updated “shared items”, keeps popping back into my head. The post is labeled ‘Is This Blackface?’ and discusses some random-ass L.A fashion line,Fowl Clothing which Radford sees as signifying:

“…a recent trend among middle and upper-class white kids displaying a fashion sense that typifies some of the most obvious signfiers of hip-hop fashion — straight-billed caps, colorful jackets, flashy jewelry — but in such a way as to almost mock hip-hop culture.”

At first glance, it sounds like something I could agree with. Recall this post: ‘The Deadening Effects of Ironic Indie Culture’ but I gotta disagree with Radford, painfully sincere as he seems to be. I take issue with half-formed assertions, invoking “blackface” and racism because they only damage legitimate, more thought-out critiques. It made me think of this post which totally misreads the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ as being racist. It helps no one to toss-out thoughts about race and appropriation that are half-formed.

On the no-homo tip, ‘Fowl Clothing’ is just plain derivative and boring. An attempt at American Apparel-esque simplicity with some Bachelor’s degree in fashion-level print-making stolen from ‘Mark Ecko’ or ‘BAPE’ who of course, took it from skateboarder, metal, and punk-rock fashion…Also, making patterns out of iconic movie images like ‘The Shining’ is pretty played-out. The models also kill me. They look like girls you make-out with at a college “dance party” and spend the rest of the semester trying to avoid.But Radford has more pressing concerns (as he should); he is responding to the models’ holding of guns and wearing of Slick Rick-thick chains. Yes, the pictures are ironic. Yes, they are stupid. Maybe even sorta kinda racist, but its fashion! It’s always dripping with irony. I’m more frustrated by Fowl Clothing’s inability to do pseudo-subversiveness right than by any ill-informed moves towards disrespecting hip-hop culture.Fashion, in general, has a good grasp of irony as being alienating and harsh rather than cute and funny. Totally motivated by the next-big-thing, controversy, and $$$ as fashion designers often are, the ironic nature of some fashion points towards ugly truths. These Fowl Clothing pictures fall short but, American Apparel’s pervy-polaroids and Calvin Klein’s heroin-chic although “problematic” from a moral perspective, are truly subversive in their ability to make people look gross AND attractive, which is what sex is anyway…

Perhaps the biggest problem with Radford’s post is that it is founded on very-shaky ground. No one will ever agree upon what is true respect for hip-hop culture and what is disrespect. It gets even more complicated when you make assertions as to who is an “outsider” or “insider” in relation to that said culture. On a simple level, I can agree with Radford’s definition because it is pragmatic. The insiders to the culture are “those that really grew up in a neighborhood where they had to tote guns to survive” and the rest of us, are outsiders. But it’s not that simple!

I don’t think Radford (or anybody) accosts middle or upper-class blacks who also never had to “tote guns to survive” (whatever that means) but wear hip-hop clothing. Remember Tony Dungy’s kid? He tragically took his own life but for those few hours when you could look at his myspace you saw a kid, that in terms of hip-hop culture was every bit an outsider as these indie-fashion fucks. He’s allowed to do it simply because he was black?

There’s also the fact that outside of the chains and guns, which are working at a level of irony so thick and muddled that the joke seems to be ironic-white-guys-toting-guns-unironically-to-the-point-that-it-becomes-ironic, these white kids in L.A are wearing the epitome of “white” sub-cultural fashion not conventional hip-hop fashion. These designs comes out of the world of metal, punk-rock, skateboarding, and even, emo culture and have, in recent years, been dare I say- SAMPLED by designers of all races involved in hip-hop culture.

Obviously these Fowl Clothing people are being insincere but for the most part, we can’t really gauge sincerity, so forget about it. Strict rules on sincerity leads to weird grey areas no one wants to fuck with: Is Nigo doing blackface? is Pharrell doing whiteface? Are the Shop Boyz doing anything different in regards to race-mockery than Fowl Clothing? On one level, the Shop Boyz are doing a strange reversal that is primarily absent from the culture and as a result, we can applaud it, as Sach. O. of ‘OhWord’ said, it’s “a taste of their own medicine” while Fowl Clothing is maintaining a super-obvious parody of hip-hop, but really, the two ain’t that different…

Written by Brandon

June 29th, 2007 at 5:54 am

Posted in Indie, Irony, NO HOMO, fashion, woon

leave a comment Article: Rap & Country More Alike Than I’m Willing to Admit…

“Kelefa Sanneh’s article ‘It Takes a Tough Man to Tell a Bad Joke’ contrasts the serious attitudes of most rock stars with country singers who are more than willing to joke around: “While rock stars often try their best to make audiences forget they are professional entertainers, country singers have often been happy to celebrate the fact.” (23). Sanneh invokes Brad Paisley’s love-song ‘Ticks’ (“I’d like to check you for ticks”) and Toby Keith’s ‘High Maintenance Woman’ containing the chorus “A high-maintenance woman don’t want no high-maintenance man” (1). I know, I know… this isn’t, it’s but bear with me…”

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2007 at 6:29 pm

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Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’ Video.

Everything related to ‘Graduation’, the singles, the video for ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and now, the ‘Stronger’ video, give me a slightly ambivalent feeling. All of it is cool but none of it is amazing. I respect what these songs and videos sound or look like, but they don’t have me very excited. My initial response is a mixture of “that was cool” tinged with slight disappointment because it never really adds up to what Kanye hyped it as or what my little super-fan imagination turned it into. When you compare what Kanye is releasing to the crap that is on the radio or MTV, it stands out as impressive but on its own, it falls slightly short.

It’s hard to even begin to explain without sounding like a nit-picky asshole (but when have I been afraid of that?). The best place to start would be that, the video is essentially an ‘Akira’ homage. For those that don’t know, ‘Akira’ is in many ways, the definitive anime, the kind of anime that even people who aren’t interested or don’t care for anime should be able to enjoy. I think it basically ruins all other animes because almost anything you see after ‘Akira’ doesn’t really compare. Monique, upon seeing it recently, compared it to a bible story or something and I think that’s a really accurate comparison. It moves from being a story of a group of friends to being about all kinds of metaphysical shit without ever being bogged-down in pretension or exposition (the bane of most animes’ existence). But yeah, there are better places than here to read about ‘Akira’ if you don’t know about it and of course, you could just go out and rent it; it’s totally worth it.

The Kanye video is primarily a homage to a sequence in the movie where Tetsuo is subjected to a series of tests by the government, then locked in a hospital, and busts out, destroying an entire line of armed guards. The video contains numerous recreations of shots from the anime (see above) that are really effectively done. Kanye’s does some excellent physical acting, contorting his face just right, not too over-the-top, and his walk is as scary as it is when Tetsuo is doing it in the movie. Kanye’s apparent empathy with Tetsuo makes me think the sequence has some thematic resonance: Something about fame and being subjected to criticism (deserved and undeserved) and blasting back at it with full-force?

It all works conceptually, invoking ‘Akira’, particularly the character of Tetsuo is apt. Apt because it suggests Kanye’s mix of blind, righteous indignation and unblinking self-awareness. Tetsuo is the antagonist of ‘Akira’, slowly over-taken by his powers and the hubris newfound power entails, but he is also undeniably the main attraction, in part, because of his out-of-control-ness; he’s the most complex and engaging chracter. I think Kanye understands these kinds of contradictions in himself. We’re oddly annoyed and sympathetic with Tetsuo and likewise, with Kanye West.

Kanye’s music has always been fueled by opposition, but there’s a seething disdain and anger in ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and ‘Stronger’ that feels a little different than the mix of enthusiasm and arrogance on ‘Late Registration’. As he did on ‘College Dropout’, Kanye feels like he’s really got something to prove; it doesn’t seem like he’s going through the motions, which he basically was when ‘Late Registration’ was released. Kanye seems to be tapping into Tetsuo’s very rarified form of defiance.

Unfortunately the video itself, even in the scenes that mimic ‘Akira’, share little of the movie’s energy and anger. The video’s failure to be as engaging and impressive as it sounded like it was going to be, falls on Hype Williams’ shoulders. Hype Williams is a stylist not a kinetic, movement-oriented director. His video for ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ was clever in its parody of ‘De Beers’ diamonds commercials, that sort of too-clean, ultra-clear black and white and the ‘Gold Digger’ video was better than the song, but he seems to have the unfortunate habit of attempting to constantly create a new signature effect or stylistic flourish for every video. That effect used in the Ne-Yo video and the Robin Thicke video, wherein the images overlapped, essentially, putting images where the black-bars of normal widescreen would be, was too busy. The ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ video and the ‘Stronger’ video have this obnoxious technique where the footage kinda looks like security-cam footage for a few seconds and then stutters or freezes like a computer glitch and it just isn’t very interesting or clever. It makes sense in this futuristic video but it had no place in ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and it highlights a certain copying-and-pasting of techniques that plagues most video directors. They just don’t seem to have much of a grasp of what actually fits or makes sense, just what looks really “cool”.

There’s also the frustrating fact that it still relies on the typical music video structure of inter-cutting two “stories” with performance footage. Even a video this strange and out-there is still anchored in convention. All of it looks amazing on its own but as a whole, it just doesn’t really gel, particularly the Kanye performance footage. The most alive part of the video are these quick hand-held shots of Japan that look like they were maybe even shot on-the-fly; they give the video an energy it lacks in most other places.

Hype Williams is an amazing stylist and I half-regret all the shit I’m talking here already, but ultimately, I don’t think Hype Williams and Kanye West really fit together. The raw feel of Chris Milk’s videos for Kanye (‘All Falls Down’, ‘Jesus Walks’, ‘Touch the Sky’) fit significantly better than Hype Williams’ smoothed-out direction. Kanye, despite his popularity, just isn’t a typical rap superstar, he’s too weird, too idiosyncratic, too daring. No matter how hard he tries or no matter who he hires, Kanye can never be bigger-than-life because his appeal is how honest he is about everything. Imagine a cheaper version of this video directed by Milk, or even Michel Gondry who directed the ‘Heard Em’ Say’ video. The biggest problem with the ‘Stronger’ video is that it isn’t very fun. Only a director as vapid as Hype Williams could make a futuristic rap video, in Japan, with the most ambitious rapper around, and end-up with something uninteresting.

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2007 at 5:26 am

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Why I’m Not Sure Yet If Lil Mama’s Really Good (but I think she might be)

Hey, this is Brandon. Due to my recent posting inconsistencies, some friends are picking up the slack for me.

Despite being sort of a pseudo-feminist and also a listener of rap, I’ve never really gotten into any female rappers. They’ve simply seemed pretty uninteresting. Lil Kim seems to wear these alternately hyper-masculine or hyper-sexualized roles that sort of make me uncomfortable; Queen Latifah gave up rapping for acting and jazz long before I was interested and when she did rap it was boring; Missy Elliot does this sort of weird party/dance rap that’s not even all that fun and just really isn’t that good.

All of this is why I was pretty surprised to find that I really like Lil Mama. The first thing that struck me, especially when compared to Lil Kim and Queen Latifah, is that the fact that she’s female is pretty secondary to everything else she raps about. Her songs are far more directly informed by her young age than by her gender, which is much more interesting, in no small part because it’s much more universal. I get why Lil Kim and Queen Latifah had to define themselves in the world of rap as women for them to get noticed, but it’s kind of cheap to do it now, if that’s not too post-feminist of me to assert. The problem here is that Lil Mama is just as much limiting herself in defining herself as a young rapper—if she even makes it that long, will she still be writing songs about high school when she’s 25? In its own way, being the voice of a generation is just as pointless and meaningless as being the voice of women.

She makes Avril Lavigne’s ‘Girlfriend’ (a song I’m sort of obsessed with) almost listenable. Although she’s about five years younger than Avril Lavigne, Lil Mama’s presence seems to make the song (although not so much the video) much less juvenile. Which is interesting, because you’d expect a 17-year-old girl who raps about lip gloss to make a song consisting of cheer-style choruses about not liking some poor guy’s girlfriend, not a 22-year-old who (I found out in reading her Wikipedia page to write this) is married to the guy from Sum-41. This kind of oddly age-inappropriate niche is what’s going to happen with Lil Mama if she doesn’t stop with this “voice of the young people” business.

Her apparently standard way of starting remixes, which is to repeat “Remix” and “Lil Mama” at an appropriate tempo for 10 seconds or so before the song really gets going, is definitely kind of annoying. She’s not as affecting as some other rappers I love, but that doesn’t seem to mean that she can’t be affecting: the last verse of her remix of ‘Umbrella’ is legitimately touching. It would be condescending to say that it’s a touching description of a teenage relationship: her contribution to ‘Umbrella’ connects this really kind of nonsensical metaphor with a very matter-of-fact and moving statement of what a relationship is like in what is really a pretty universal and even adult way when she says, “and if you feel a lil drizzle you won’t melt–it’s just that you buckle your seatbelt, it’s a tough ride and when we temporarily park you better look out your window cause them haters coming down outside.”

‘Lip Gloss’ doesn’t compare as favorably. I definitely really like this song, but it’s especially interesting because of this incongruously serious tone in her voice almost the entire song that completely belies the overall tone of the song, not really because of her content. When she raps “what you know bout me” I don’t get any sense of a petulant attitude even though it’s repeated in the middle of a song explicitly about high school—it’s certainly no more ridiculous than T.I. asking “what you know about that,” anyway. I’m not really sure if it means much of anything in context since it suggests that she’s proving herself, which kind of contradicts the rest of the song’s point about how great she and her lip gloss just are despite the haters, but somehow while it’s happening it’s really good. Ultimately, though, she doesn’t say a whole lot in any of these songs, and when she’s really good, it’s pretty momentary.

It wasn’t until I found her remix of ‘Show Me What You Got’ that I really figured out what it is that I like about her. Her attitude reminds me of Jay-Z: she invokes this similar feeling of jubilance and excitement even when she’s not saying much, which is (I think) Jay’s greatest strength. Her vocal tone is really similar to his in that she has this not-very-feminine, not-remarkably-pleasant voice that seems anyway to be totally unaffected. Jay sometimes seems like he’s not that invested in the song, and it’s his charisma that really carries things along; I think a similar thing happens with Lil Mama. In this incredibly cheap and awesome video for ‘Show Me What You Got’, she even adopts some of Jay-Z’s mannerisms and some of the weird little rhyme things you hear him do sometimes (the 4 or 5 lines in a row which end in –erd is what I’m referring to especially; this really evokes for me Jay’s lost-love verse from ‘Lost Ones’, where every line rhymes with she or her), which I is assume calculated or at least an unconscious reaction to remixing a Jay-Z song, and also is really entertaining.

Even her claim to be the “voice of the young people” seems like more of a schtick than anything else, and I do think she’s potentially a lot more than that. Out of the three real videos I’ve been able to find of hers, the two that seem intended for anyone to see (‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Lip Gloss’) have a much more adolescent appearance than the third, which seems like a marginally fancier version of something my friends might make. The videos even have a much more adolescent tone than the songs themselves: ‘Lip Gloss’ is pretty sympathetic to the teacher who’s out of lip gloss until you see Lil Mama roll her eyes at her in the video. The whole enterprise of collaborating with Avril Lavigne also seems designed toward this end. Ultimately, I understand why she’s sort of straddling this pop/rap line and apparently marketing herself to teenagers and younger, but I’m really hopeful that when her album comes out it’s as good as I think it could be.

Written by Meghann

June 24th, 2007 at 4:51 am

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The Crack-Rap Conundrum.

I received this e-mail earlier today and my response got a little long. I thought the initial e-mail and my response might be interesting enough to post here. Plus, I haven’t posted yet this week, so anything is better than nothing…right?
“hey man, cool blog you got goin’. i’ve commented on at least one (a couple?) of your posts so far, and since i noticed a link to what you thought of Jeezy’s Inspiration album recently i figured i’d see what you thought on somethin’ that’s been buggin’ me ’bout dude’s music lately.

like you, i find a lot to like ’bout The Inspiration in terms of beats, hooks, the way Jeezy carries himself — i’d go as far to say it’s one of my favorite recent albums. however, there’s this kinda white-boy guilt that keeps naggin’ at me when i listen to it. i know Jeezy ain’t the first cat to rap ’bout drugs, but whereas other rappers — take Jay and Biggie just for the sake of example — have shades of complexity that can be pointed out, the way Jeezy does things strikes me as borderline (if not outright) glorification of the lifestyle, which irks me. if he did more excellent tracks like “Dreamin’” i wouldn’t feel uncomfortable ’bout it, but the fact that a _lot_ of his album has him mentioning selling coke and material gain in the same breath, and in easy-to-understand terms, is troubling.

i know the standard defense is that it’s just music, but when these guys go on ’bout how “real” they are and are bein’ listened to by kids who can’t grasp music in the same way we do, i can’t help but wonder if kids in poor urban communities are gettin’ bad signals from this stuff. i would like to think that everyone’s just takin’ it as music that’s fun and purpose-driven, but i’m not so sure that’s the case. and Jeezy’s easily way more popular than any cat who’s ever rapped ’bout drugs as explicitly.

kinda outta the blue, but might make an interesting blog post. just seein’ your thoughts on this.

-(name witheld until I get permission)”

Thanks for the comments and interest. I appreciate the personal email as well, that’s real.

It seems that we like Jeezy for many of the same reasons. Many of them almost seem to be in spite of him or out some kind of begrudging respect. He WORKS on his albums which is more than I can say about many of my favorite rappers. He has a sonic consistency and something like a vision for his album and persona and that’s really cool.

The contrasts between Jeezy and Jay and Biggie are apt because they work so well. Certainly, on the surface level they are unfair because Jeezy barely even raps and Biggie and Jay are two greats but it works. See if this makes sense…

Pardon me, if I’m being too pretentious or appear pedantic, I’m not trying to, but as my blog mentions, I’ve begun a ‘Film Studies’ program and we read an essay by ‘Taxi Driver’ screenwriter, Paul Schrader in which he discusses the importance, art, greatness and everything else of Film Noir. Film Noir being, American crime movies of the 40s and 50s noted by dark lighting and even darker, cynical stories and blah, blah, blah.

Well, Schrader contrasts the sophistication of Film Noir with other “genres”. He calls Westerns moral[ly] primitive[]” and adds that the Gangster movies of the 1930s, which preceded Film Noir, contained “Horatio Alger” values. Horatio Alger, was a late 19th century writer for young teens, his big book was ‘Ragged Dick’ about a raggedy orphan living on the streets, who through his own might and gusto comes to be wealthy. Hmm..sound familiar? What Schrader was getting at with old Gangster movies and what I’m getting at (and you too) with Jeezy which is, an intellectual problem. He presents the story too simplistically, too melodramatically, he skips over the rotten details. Jay-Z and Biggie are Film Noir; Jeezy is the 1930s Gangster movie. Of course, it says something about the current rap climate that the change is a devolution not an evolution as it was in “filmmaking”.

In terms of sophistication, there’s a change but in terms of influence I don’t know how much that really matters. The easily-influenced are easily-influenced by everything, not just super-obvious crack-rap, but more complicated crack-rap as well. Young Jeezy gives you a super-clear melodramatic version of the life that is therefore easier to grasp. Sort of.

I say “sort of” because I think his music contains some complexities and in a way, those complexities are even more subtle than Jay or Biggie’s. They can be found in his vocal inflection, and his dark and disturbing beats. This of course, flies over the heads of the people listening to the music. This, I find exciting but it is also disturbing because this subtlety is in-line with or right next to Jeezy’s super obvious coke-referencing. While Biggie and Jay-Z rapped about coke, it was often hard for a typical listener to grasp or pull-out the “sell crack, get rich” message that both of them, in their own ways, also espouse(d). Jeezy’s message is clearer because he just chants it at you for an hour straight.

At the same time, I’m not sure how much more obvious Jeezy’s rapping about coke is to that of Jay or Biggie’s. Jeezy’s rapping is more obvious and therefore the subject matter more apparent but I would say his production is more bizarre and strange; It blows my mind that these songs are on the radio. Jay-Z and Biggie rapped more subtle, more nuanced crack-talk but over very catchy and digestable production. Whose the true or truer “pusher”? I don’t know.

All of these dudes glorify the lifestyle and all of them, in one way or another, show you the downside. Jeezy works more in the super-obvious and in generalities, that is to say, his rapping is not detail-oriented and is more like a Hollywood version of the crack game. However, as I go back, do Jay or Biggie really give you any more detail? Do they glorify it less? Compare their crack rap to that of Raekwon and Ghostface and Jay and Biggie end up in the Jeezy spot.

When discussing the topic of crack-rap, there are two arguments/ideas, running next to one another that barely ever intersect. The first is, for lack of a better word, the rap fan’s perspective, and that primarily relates to an appreciation of lyrics and beats in all of their complexity. The second, is some kind of sociological or cultural studies perspective relating to the impact of crack-rap on poor “urban” kids. I’m sorry if I appear facetious but we all know what one means when they talk about crack and its effect on urban communities so I think it would be better, although less politically correct, to just say black kids. If country singers sang about selling crystal-meth, we’d be concerned with its effect on poor whites or even “rednecks” not poor “rural communities”…

Either way, the real issue you raised is the artist’s responsibility. I find the “it’s just music” argument weak and disingenuous, and I think all who use it know it is. However, they use it because if they don’t, they’ll just be shutup because this is some really complicated shit! Jeezy or whoever can’t jump on television and drop some kind of hyper-complex thesis on crack-rap and its positive and negative and in-between-ative aspects so they just blow it off with “it’s just me expressin’ myself” because it shuts people up and the shit sells so it isn’t going anywhere.

From a rap fan’s perspective, I like Jeezy; I don’t love him but his album is pretty damn good and for me, as a thinking person, like yourself (NAME), can reconcile these good qualities with the apparent bad qualities and (I don’t know if you’d agree here) I think Jeezy’s music does hint at and emote some of the negative aspects of hustling even if it doesn’t do it through subtle or conventionally artistic means. ‘Bury Me a G’ is an amazing, amazing, song, powerful, cinematic, emotional, everything. I said this in my little review, but I think if Jeezy’s album ended with ‘Bury Me…’ and ‘Dreamin’ it would have been lauded as a complicated address of the crack world.

From a sociological perspective, I totally differ from you and that is okay. I understand my opinion here is flawed and maybe even dismissive, but I’ve yet to find a “better” opinion I can feel comfortable having. We differ in that I do not believe in the transformative qualities of art. That is to say, I don’t think the art or even popular culture of the world truly does affect people for good or bad. There have been plenty of wars since Picasso painted Guernica. ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ didn’t end cocaine problems. People will sell and deal crack way after Jeezy’s albums are relegated to discount bins. Does that make it right to perpetuate it? No. But if it does perpetuate it, as you and others suggest and I totally see why you would say that, I do not think better-wrought or more complex raps about crack perpetuate it any less. So in that way, Jay and Biggie are equally guilty.

As a cultural trend or oddity however, the thinly-veiled coke stuff is weird. Weird the way popular songs that are really about blowjobs or other “subversive” stuff is weird. I think this is seen as stranger and more problematic because it is crack-dealing and not only dealing, but a perpetuation of the worst cliche being pushed in the ghetto (next to stop snitching): sell crack, make money. While I want to believe in tiers of suffering, that is to say, Jeezy is worse than Paris Hilton because Jeezy is affecting impoverished, mind-bogglingly fucked-over black youth, I have a hard time lying down with that idea. Primarily, because I find it simple-minded and in favor of victimization which I generally have a problem with… but more so than that, I find the “this negatively affects poor blacks” argument condescending towards the black youth. A black youth that myself and so many others claim to be concerned about. To suggest these kids and teens don’t understand the moralistic issues of crack-dealing is a bit condescending. This is the problem with D.A.R.E and other stuff like that, it assumes that these kids dealing are stupid which they are not. They know what they are doing is not a good idea but they do it anyway. That is unfortunate. That is sad, even tragic but people do things they know are wrong everyday. Most murders are thought-out to some extent, and just like a murderer who in some way, accepted or embraced his fate, those selling drugs have accepted the fate that may fall upon them for dealing. Now, many do not see the full implication of this choice and misinterpret the positives and that is unfortunate, particularly because so many choose crack-dealing out of decision that it is the best of the worst choices they have access to, but still- the issue remains more complex and morally ambiguous than Officer Friendly wants to admit or consider.

More complicated because I don’t know if dealing drugs really is that bad. It’s bad because it is criminal. It is bad because you’re leading to the destruction of others. It’s bad because it will get your ass thrown in jail, especially if you’re dealing crack and not cocaine and especially if you’re black and not white and all that good stuff we already know…

Sorry about the length. haha. I guess that’s a blog entry??


Written by Brandon

June 21st, 2007 at 5:10 am

Posted in Young Jeezy, crack rap

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Check. This. Out...Thanks-a-million to Jay Smooth, he put me in with people waaaayyyyy out of my league.

Sorry for no posts still. Monique’s got a really good one brewing. I’m still coping with this school stuff. I might even drop out of this bitch. My ‘Film Analysis & Research’ class entails writing one twenty-page paper in the entire six weeks. Fuck is this? E-Z. Is this Grad. school? It does give me more time to blog, so once I get out of the initial shock of this program eating a dick, I’ll get on it. This blog, OhWord,; that should excite me.

This is what you look like living in Roanoke, VA, when your brain isn’t stimulated.

Written by Brandon

June 20th, 2007 at 3:56 am

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Links & Lists

I’m in Roanoke, VA for the summer, beginning my Masters in ‘Screenwriting & Film Studies’ which is exciting but also annoying because seriously, the only thing I hate more than “hip-hop heads” are people into “Film” (sorry guys, but they are MOVIES). At least hip-hop heads have good taste, you know?

So yeah, I’m a little busy, so you get a fake post…

-‘Political Song for Paris Hilton’(from ‘Voguing to Danzing’)

“Also, we’ll need a rapper. Have you met Lil Wayne? Dude’s put out 125 mix tapes this year so far, never seems to sleep, and is apparently down for whatever. I know this because on a whim I sent the teen pop, zydeco, and bluegrass mixes of this song to his email addy – along with a zip file of Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow – and a month later I got a freestyle tape from the guy where he’s freestyling about hobbits and unicorns and shit. I mean, he’s rhyming about buying coke from Shrek and hunting gnomes and Emerald City detainees testifying before Judge Wapner! Apparently our collabo – I Can’t Feel MySpace – has been downloaded 2,899 times, so even though you’ve yet to put your inimitable stamp on the track, it’s already blazin’ hot on the streets! Or Same thing.”

- ‘The Beauty of Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls’(from ‘Excite the Feds’)

“Kingston gets involved in a relationship, goes to jail (OK, maybe that’s not so innocent) and then tries to work it out with the beauty. Of course, it doesn’t work and he’s “suicidal” over what she does to him – mentally, physically, etc. I’d like to think 99% of men were once at that point. Incarceration aside, the topic at hand is refreshingly blithe and universal. And just like Lil’ Mama’s excellent single “Lip Gloss,” Kingston uses no double entendres or blatant sexual euphemisms to appeal to an older crowd, making the song pure and that much more enjoyable.”

‘He Was Right, You Really Can’t Tell Him Nothing’(from ‘Until the Train Stops’)

“Kanye West is the most relevant rap artist in popular music today. Well, Timothy Mosley might argue otherwise, but he transcended rap—i.e. got sick of it—a long time ago. Then again, I’m sure ‘Ye would be disillusioned with rap too if he was surrounded by rappers the likes of Magoo and Sebastien (familial ties or not). But forget Curtis “Interscope” Jackson, and forget President Carter. Definitely forget Weezy F. Baby (please say the Baby!), who for all his recent MF Doom-meets-French surrealism-meets-southern-fried-rap verses has yet to make a meaningful dent outside of rap (though this could well change with Tha Carter III). Kanye is the one working with pop artists—and making good music with them—and is probably the only rapper under the lens of the mainstream who can honestly claim to be making important music. So Kanye West Singles are important events, and lend themselves to be endlessly critiqued. Because it’s not just the forthcoming Graduation that’s riding on the success of his singles—hip-hop is too.”

‘Astounding New Theory On Why Rap Sales are Sinking’(by Sacha Orenstein, from ‘Oh Word’)

“But I have a radical new theory. Something that’s going to crack this case wiiiiide open. This is something the industry has never even contemplated before. It’s proof that rap can be fixed if they listen. But what I’m going to say now will rock music to its very core…All current rappers are douchebags.”

‘Puritan Blister #27′(by William Bowers from

“A guy in Cosby sweaters with an appalling toupee, who talked constantly of Elvis’ singularity, had lent me his vinyl copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be, which I replayed and replayed, and which spun themselves in my brain while I did chores or rode to the corner store for bubble gum cigarettes on my thin, banana-shaped skateboard. After my mom broke up with him, he came by for the albums with a dour expression, refusing to enter, and making me pass him the records through the cracked screen door.”

Dunno if this is interesting to anybody but one of the hardest things about moving for only six weeks, was choosing which records to bring. I tried to make the rule “bring only 25% of your collection” but I ended up, somehow, bringing less than that. Anyways, I thought it was interesting to somebody, somewhere. I know I love lists no matter how boring or banal…

-Pete Rock – Petestrumentals
-Field Mob – So What Single
-Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
-J Dilla – The Shining Instrumentals
-Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full
-dead prez – R.B.G
-Death Comet Crew – This Is RipHop
-Common – Resurrection
-Del Shannon – Runaway
-Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – Tarkus
-Gastr Del Soul – Camofleur
-Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me Single
-Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
-Arthur Russell – Calling Out of Context
-Arthur Russell – World of Echo
-Keith Fullerton Whitman – Schoener Flussengel
-Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff
-Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
-Outkast – Elevators Single
-Nice & Smooth – Sometimes I Rhyme Slow Single
-Mount Eerie – With Wolves/In the World Single
-New Order – Substance
-Charlie Parker – Bird Is Free
-Camel – Rain Dances
-David Bowie – Heroes
-Gene Pitney – Looking Through the Eyes of Love
-Charlie Parker – Archive of Folk Music: Jazz Series Vol. 2
-Talk Talk – It’s My Life
-Donny Hathaway – Extension of a Man
-Fennesz – Live in Japan
-Goblin – Dawn of the Dead OST
-Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 1
-Sven Libaek – Inner Space Compilation
-Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time
-Christopher Cross – Self-Titled
-Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
-Camel – A Live Record
-Spinners – Mighty Love

Written by Brandon

June 18th, 2007 at 7:20 pm

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Lil Wayne’s Latest Single: ‘I Just Shit My Pants’

Two nights ago, I had this dream. My friend John was driving, I was in the passenger seat, and we were going like 120 down these windy country roads. It was a lot like those night-driving scenes in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, this kind of theatrical over-the-top lighting and just a generally unreal look. John is driving really fast, like he’s totally out of control but I feel like I can’t tell him to slow-down because I’ll sound like a bitch so I just sort of nervously hold-on and at the same time, begin to feel this huge deuce comin’ on. I mention to John how I have to take a shit and just at that moment, he veers off the road, crashing into an electric fence that contains cattle. At the moment of impact, I shit, but its not really shitting, it’s just this huge turd that falls out and ends up on the seat. It’s cylindrical, shaped like a a just-purchased Taylor’s Pork Roll and looks like it’s made of playdoh. Embarassed because I just fucking shit myself (!), I cradle the turd like a baby and run out of the car, telling John on my way out, “I’m looking for a bathroom!”

The next part is just me running through the woods, cradling the turd, which seemed really clean but is slowly smearing-off on my hands…I can’t see more than a few feet ahead of me and the whole thing is in my P.O.V as if there’s a camera strapped to my head. Then, it changes, going back to a more objective view; I’m racing through a Wal-Mart, turd in-hand and blasting on the radio is this Lil Wayne song called ‘I Just Shit My Pants’. I hear it and I’m like “Oh, this must be the new Wayne song I read about on FADER…” and I begin analyzing it as in real-life but after a few moments my thoughts shift to “What? Why is this song playing?! He’s singing about shitting his pants and I JUST SHIT MY PANTS!” I get really confused and I become convinced that I am in the video for Lil Wayne’s newest single ‘I Just Shit My Pants’ which by the way, is a ‘Dough Is What I Got’-esque freestyle, same energy level, same passion, only he’s rapping over Diddy’s ‘We Gon’ Make It’, the song off of ‘Press Play’ that also samples ‘Shaft In Africa’…totally confused, not sure if I’m in a music video or not, shit on my hands, turd in-hand, everyone looking at me, I find the bathroom and wake up just as I’m washing them under the sink…

Part of an infrequent but ongoing series wherein I describe my dreams involving rappers. The first one was this dream about a Jay-Z concert…

Written by Brandon

June 15th, 2007 at 6:04 am

Posted in Lil Wayne, dreams

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On ‘The Sopranos’ Ending…

My connection to ‘The Sopranos’ has primarily been as a bonding experience with my father. I’ve enjoyed watching him enjoy the show a great deal more than I enjoy the show itself. ‘The Sopranos’ seems to be one of the few things he seems really interested in; it gets his gears turning and often leads to actual conversation. I withhold my snarky comments because all of my qualms with the show are personal taste.

I dislike the smarty-pants intertextual references and the super-obvious, mildly clever ironies. For example, in an episode a few weeks ago, we saw A.J and friends sitting on a porch listening to rap music only to then, a few minutes later get into an altercation with a black kid, wherein they beat him up and call him a “nigger”. Very clever. This same episode featured Tony driving around listening to ‘The Departed’ soundtrack and even having the characters fucking comment on how good the soundtrack is. I find it all a bit too much. I’m not into “clever” dialogue and bad-ass music cues and cool, shock violence (Phil Leotardo run over by an S.U.V) but watching it with my father is very fun.

I see why he enjoys the show even if it has me internally rolling my eyes. Occasionally, the show does something genuinely moving and amazing and that, coupled with connecting with my father, makes it “worth” watching. This week, in the final episode, I sat there amazed and moved by the same final scene that pissed-off so many others.

When something ends ambiguously that is how it is supposed to end. That is to say, there is no definitive ending that you are supposed to go back and “figure-out”. This is the biggest misconception about ambiguity, that it is a throw down by the creator, that it is a puzzle you are supposed to interpret and solve. No, the point of an ambiguous ending is ending it, cutting it off before anything definitive has happened, leaving the possibility of anything happening. When people read into the ending as Tony is shot, it is no more valid than suggesting that he’s about to be abducted by aliens or that the onion rings were poisoned.

Tony is probably going to die, be indicted, or keep on living the same half sad-ass life he’s been living since the show premiered. What more do you need to know? We live in an intellectually-corrupt film world where puzzle pictures like ‘Memento’ or ‘Old Boy’ are considered “genius” and unearned, cynical endings are embraced. If the episode ended with Tony getting a bullet in the head or Tony being pulled-off by the feds it wouldn’t be any less ambiguous because then you’d want to see how he reacts or his family reacts or what happens and none of that could be summed up in a single episode or even, a single season.

At the same time, I’m sympathetic to those frustrated by the ending. Not for the reasons that it isn’t satisfying because if you have a working brain, it’s pretty perfect, but because the exact presentation of that ending could be better. I am not frustrated by nothing happening, I’m frustrated by David Chase’s inability to not be “clever”. It is apparently impossible for Chase to resist sticking in a few weird things to drum-up multiple interpretations.

The first one for me, which does not seem to be addressed by anything I’ve read, is when Tony first enters the diner. He walks in, scopes the place out and then we cut in for a medium close-up of Tony’s face. Strangely, the next cut is a basic film-school “no-no” as it cuts to a wide-shot of Tony sitting-down. The wide-shot seems to be from the angle shown in the previous shot where Tony scoped-out the diner. It is subtle but anyone aware of editing can’t help but read the succession of shots as Tony entering the diner and watching himself. What does this mean? I don’t know but given Chase’s reputation, it may lead some viewers into thinking it’s a strange dream sequence or out-of-body experience.

I think the tension built through the scene is wonderfully done and playfully suspenseful rather than obnoxiously so. We are truly in Tony’s brain during the scene, as each person entering the diner is anticipated because it’s someone about to ice him or it’s one of his family members. Even after watching the end a dozen times, I still find myself feeling weird when the Members Only jacket guy slightly turns towards Tony. I find myself going insane as Meadow tries to parallel park and keeps fucking it up. Where the scene fails and I think, why I sympathize with those disappointed by the ending, is that it cuts-off too early. I know this is the point but it would be equally effective and significantly less obnoxious if we were allowed to see Meadow come in and sit down and then given a close-up of Tony wherein his look is nearly ambiguous and then… roll credits.

The ending too, might even work if it simply played-out as it does but without the insanely pretentious moments-of-black-without-sound that precede the final credits. This too, feels like an affront; the fuck you or “joke” that so many have since accused Chase of doing. Cutting directly to the credits without music would again, serve the same purpose. It is not the ambiguous ending as a concept, nor is it any single aspect of the ending, it is the series of mild missteps that occur in the otherwise powerful ending that make it frustrating. However, even these criticisms are minor in comparison to the overwhelming strength of the final few minutes of ‘The Sopranos’.

I have not felt so emotional, so affected by a climax since Michael Mann’s ‘Miami Vice’. A series of well-orchestrated actions and shots illustrating how great and how fucked everything is, all set to Mogwai’s ‘Auto Rock’. My description, an illustration of how great and how fucked everything is, sums up the end of ‘The Sopranos’ as well. Only it’s all set to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ a song, that if drop your irony mask, can totally destroy you. It’s why David Chase is not a total idiot like Quentin Tarantino: he has moments of daring brilliance that move beyond clever-ness and into well-rendered emotional drama. Tony is holding on, you are holding on, I am holding on, all we can really do in this life is hold onto some belief about something, anything. The show has always wavered between ironic distance and true empathy with Tony and others and in this final scene, Chase makes the right choice, falling entirely on the side of empathy.

If the final scene must be “interpreted” on any level, I would move in the direction of saying the purpose of the scene is to put you fully in Tony’s brain; to fully empathize with him. For some reason, I’m involved in a pretty pointless debate about R. Kelly and pedophilia and really, my only point is, it is important to never forget the humanity of even the worst people. We need to relate to scumbags. That is what this final scene does and what ‘The Sopranos’ when it is successful, has been doing since Season One. Shit is complicated. Just because Tony’s a criminal and a killer does not mean he does not have deep feelings. Just because he fucks a stripper in Vegas (and countless others) does not mean he does not love his wife and family. That is what this final scene is about. We all have regrets and experiences and dreams and plans and they all weigh us down and freak us out and lift us up and keep us going.

Chase knows viewers will take-in every detail and gesture and magnify it because it is the last scene of the last episode. He takes advantage of this by making every gesture loaded with meaning, but not cutesy symbolism or puzzle-solving but pathos. It begins with the Journey song, those somber piano chords and lyrics invoking a “lonely world”, and continues when Carmela enters because we the viewers, know their relationship history. Tony may be comforted by his wife at this moment, glad to see her even, but it runs deeper than that because their marriage problems cannot be ignored.

To illustrate Tony’s paranoia but also to give us some kind of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’-esque sense of human interconnected-ness, we get shots of other diner patrons. Some looks like they might shoot Tony, others are there with family, others are on a date. The shots of the young couple laughing and smiling, which is shown more than once, holds a great deal of weight because it contrasts with Tony and Carmela’s deep, at-best bittersweet and at-worst disastrous relationship. That young, laughing couple, is what Tony and Carmela may have once been or maybe never were but wanted to be, it doesn’t matter- it’s just that the young couple are at a purer state of being; before shit starts to fuck up. Given Tony and Carmela’s age and their location in New Jersey, it’s possible that Journey was “their song” when they were dating. I know it was my mother and father’s “song”.

When A.J enters, right behind potential shooter in a Members Only jacket, we get the same feeling as Tony. Initially, it’s fear of the Members Only guy and then joy, at it not being a shooter (for now) and joy because he’s seeing his son. A.J sits down and Tony playfully hands his son a menu, touches his hand, and jokes about steak. This is what Tony and a lot of dads do to connect with their sons, fuck-around with them; it takes on greater emotional weight because Tony feels like it might be the last time he gets to joke with his son. Why Chase chooses to break this pattern by never giving us Tony’s response to Meadow I do not know. However, we are still put in Tony’s place as we see her attempts at parallel parking. Meadow’s poor parking, is presented as a foible, it’s nearly touching the way she tries to do it and keeps messing-up. She isn’t supposed to be an idiot, we respond to it the way Tony, her father, would, with frustration and impatience, mixed with sincere understanding and acceptance. A similar acceptance is shown when Carmela tells Tony that Meadow will be late because she is changing birth control. We see Tony, a father, a conventional one, reminded of the reality that his daughter fucks dudes. It does not make him angry, he understands!

I can’t help but connect the ending to my father, something of a Tony Soprano-type himself. Tony’s dignified resignation, mixed with an unflinching, hard-ass-ness and facing the facts; be it because he might get shot-up or that his son A.J is sort of a dope or that his daughter takes birth control, all reminds me of my father’s own mix of unflappable dignity and unintentional vulnerability. All this shit is goes on, you can feel it all, weighing down on you or keeping you alive or both and much more and at the same time, “real” life is just Journey and onion rings. While “regular” people chose to dismiss the ending as disappointing and nonsense and the television critics began thinking of witty one-line pans and random, anti-intellectual attacks, my father and I sat back, our minds half-blown because a television show we watched to laugh at and get-off on when someone gets whacked, maybe just sort-of defined exactly how we feel.

Written by Brandon

June 13th, 2007 at 7:51 am

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DJ Screw – Anniversary Day.

“On ‘Anniversary Day’, Screw’s work perfectly compliments the lyrical visions and sonic soundscapes. Equal parts hypnotic and narcotic, this tape sounds as serious as impending doom…with an apocalyptic legacy, but also as vital as what is out there today. Call it a fitting soundtrack to today’s times.”-from the back cover of ‘Anniversary Day’

Everyone is familiar with chopped-and-screwed music; its commonplace to get a generally weak chopped-and-screwed “bonus” disc when you buy any number of southern rap albums. ‘Anniversary Day’ which just seems to be Point Blank’s album ‘The Bull’ under a different name, isn’t one of those sounds-like-they-were-screwed-in-a-few-hours discs, it’s something totally different. I bought it about a month ago, primarily because of the cool cover, the description quoted above, and a working knowledge of DJ Screw. I just had a good feeling about it. It’s since become one of my absolute favorites, not music you enjoy, not music that sounds cool, but music that really does feel vital, that doesn’t seem like it will ever leave your collection.

First, this incredibly strange and powerful and downright fucking scary album shows you just how weird regionalism can be. What I mean by that is, when places are cut-down into their hermetically-sealed subcultures, be that subculture outlined by state lines or street numbers or how you dress, some really strange stuff can be commonplace. DJ Screw apparently made millions of dollars off of these tapes and it is very, very strange to think of something resembling a lot of people driving around, listening to this stuff. I immediately think of Baltimore’s own John Waters and how some of the most square and conservative (with a lower-case C!) people have seen his early, super-weird films, which means they’ve seen a transvestite eat real dog shit or a guy open and close his asshole to the tune of ‘Surfin’ Bird’…everybody in Baltimore knows of John Waters. That’s weird just like it is weird that anything resembling a significant amount drove around enjoying screwtapes.

On the topic of regionalism, screwed music is just one of many equally popular and equally bizarre forms of Southern production. The doom and gloom is way more obvious in chopped-and-screwed but it shows up in the buzz-saw synths of ‘Pop, Lock, and Drop It’ or the sicko marching band sounds of Crime Mob. Three-Six Mafia, when they were Triple-Six-Mafia sounded satanic and rapped satanic and while “my cross turns upside down” has turned into ‘Ass & Titties’ and a reality show, the music has never lost sight of that menace. I think people respond to Southern rap not only because it is undeniably fun but also because, whether they realize it or not, there is a disturbing air of menace to the music.

There’s something very harsh in so much Southern rap, a harshness that outweighs its lyrical shortcomings and still allows the music to emotionally affect the listener. All of the best dance and party music does not stop at just being good for booty shaking, it’s often political or social or emotional or just something else. Southern rap does this too. An initial hearing may get you dancing but each listen can unravel layers of sadness and joy, or awkwardness or death or whatever.

The music sounds like what its actually like to party or club. It isn’t the time of your life exactly, it’s fun but weird, anything can happen, good or bad. Drugs and alcohol are of course, a crucial part of partying and Southern rap often matches the feeling one has after too many shots or too many hits or both and then some- nowhere is this more apparent than in the music of DJ Screw, which is pretty much completely designed to be listened to with sips or purple or syrup or sizzurp or whatever they call it in your town.

While it’s hardly the party music of pre-crunk or crunk music, screwed music was designed for listening while messed-up or driving around, which is most people’s definition of a “party” anyway. The music, like club music or any kind of music really, is developed and created with the thought of being listened to under very specific conditions. Everything about this music points in the direction of blowing your mind wide open as you nod off from too much of something you’re not supposed to ingest.

The music isn’t exactly fun, or rather, the fun is firmly rooted in the danger, confusion, and abuse that the drug brings on. Purple is a drug beyond recreational fun and escape, because for an hour or so, it sends you into some limbo between painkiller-esque relaxation and end-of-the-world fear. There’s something truly apocalyptic-feeling about ‘Anniversary Day’ and unlike most contemporary party/hang-out Southern rap, the lyrics add to rather than conflict with this feeling.

On the first song on the album, ‘The Bull’, the chorus is “I ain’t crazy I’m just ig’nant” which shows a ridiculous amount of emotional understanding. ‘Straighten It Out’ a song about going to prison and getting-out, is equally honest. My favorite line is “Hell, three years ain’t that long/It’ll give me some time to write a whole lot of songs”; the kind of thought any creative person seriously confronting prison-time would think. ‘After I Die’ which has some dinosaur-stomp record scratching and a drunk-off-its-ass horn part, envisions Blank’s (or his narrator’s) death and just how little it will really matter: “My son don’t know about the tragic/He just crying because they won’t let em’ play in my casket.” This shit isn’t club friendly, its not really anything friendly; one can’t “enjoy” this music by any conventional definition of “enjoy”.

I recall once, partaking in way too much of said drug and seriously feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. Sweat was pouring from my face, the space between my lip and nose (your face taint?) was moist, sweat was getting in my eyes, and I was inside, mid-winter. I peeled myself off the couch of my friend’s and stumbled into his bathroom where I proceeded to lie on the floor as my heart beat so fast it felt like it was going to dislocate my shoulder. DJ Screw’s death was on my mind as I put my face on the tile because at that point, I was half-convinced I was maybe going to die of a purple-induced heart attack. I slowly decided I wasn’t going to die but probably needed to go to the hospital and eventually, after fucking crawling into my friend’s yard, I cooled-down and felt close enough to a human to go back downstairs and watch the rest of the episode of ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’they were watching. That is what this album sounds like. This constant pull between lucidity and total fucked-up-ness. When your ears finally adjust to the syrupy-thick slowness of the tracks, Screw will give you a track that’s a faster pace or he’ll throw in a scary sound effect (a phone dialing on ‘Wreckless’, a glass breaking on ‘Wanna Get Tha Blanksta’) or he’ll just keep bringing back a poignant or well-delivered line until it seeps into your mind and makes you feel like the walls of your room or the interior of your car is going to collapse on top of you.

Written by Brandon

June 11th, 2007 at 7:29 am