No Trivia

Archive for July, 2007


The Real Reason Ignorance Ruins Rap.

Ever notice how only the most “ignorant” of people call people ignorant? Be it some girl at the bar who cuntily scrunches up her face and goes “damn that girl’s ignorant” or one of the many rap haters, “ignorance” is blamed for everything. Yeah, ignorance in its true definition (“lacking knowledge”) or even in the ignorantly-used definition (as “dumbness”), is the reason for many problems in the world, that’s obvious. Ignorance is invoked in relation to rap music to explain why the music is immoral, should be banned, isn’t good anymore, or as some kind of nebulous thing that wasn’t a big deal when it was contained but godammit is now all that’s on the radio and we just can’t party like a rock star all the time…all of them are wrong.

Unless they mean “lacking knowledge” from some kind of 5% Nation perspective, rappers like Young Jeezy or 50 Cent are not ignorant. They do not lack knowledge nor are they dumb; they are very, very savvy. When the hater of recent rap blames ignorance, what they mean to say is rap is creatively closed-minded nowadays. I don’t think anybody could disagree with that. At the same time, why would you expect much out of most rappers or most people in general? Rap has just sort of slowly evened-out into being mostly shitty like everything else in the world.

So, while many bemoan “ignorant” rappers for crowding the airwaves with stupid-ass rap songs, I do not. It seems silly to harp on the crappiness of Jim Jones because he doesn’t have pretensions to anything beyond ignorance. What I do find frustrating and worthy of comment is the way that the few forward-thinking and ambitious rappers that somehow stay on the radio are equally frustrating. While I can respect and understand the recent bizarre production by Swizz Beatz, ponder the cultural crossing-over-and-back-again of Juvenile and Galactic, half-enjoy the stoner-weirdness of Lil Wayne’s ‘I Feel Like Dying’, and find it kinda cool when Kanye samples Daft Punk or commissions a video starring someone as un-hip-hop as Zach Galifinakis, none of it is any more satisfying than the ignorant rap.

What seems to be happening, and is something of a trend for “smart” rappers post-Golden Age, is that the closed-mindedness, the complacency of most thug rappers “real” and fake, leads the other rappers to grow reactionary and overcompensate. Common and Andre 3000 are early victims of reactionary hip-hop, slowly shifting their idiosyncracies into fruitless directions of pseudo-experimentation, which really just meant ripping their interesting personalities out of their music and ripping off Prince or Fela Kuti. The most distressing aspect of those rap “experiments” was they way they smugly eschewed rap altogether, as if giving-up were the mature response to rap’s “corruption”. I remember thinking: Don’t let rap be taken over by these idiots! It is as if these super-talented rappers totally bought into the media’s portrayal of rap as soulless and stupid and that expressing one’s “true self” entailed picking up a guitar or employing way too much jazz noodling…(many have already talked about this, my favorite piece remains Noz’s The Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit Post-Rap Side Projects).

In many ways, things are improving as Andre 3000 is again interested in rapping and now, Common just makes shitty rap albums and not shitty fusion-hippie-hop-jazz-rap-bullshit. My recent examples of rap’s boundary-stretching at least employ rapping but still, something doesn’t sit right about the recent “next level”-ness of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and others, and it isn’t their clothes. I see their new videos and hear their new songs and my first reaction isn’t to nod my head but to discuss it. That’s annoying. Music or really art of any kind, shouldn’t be first and foremost some kind of intellectual exercise.

I heard ‘Stronger’ and was initially not that interested in it. It has slowly grown on me and it’s a good song, better than just about anything else out there but it’s hardly great. Only when put into the context, when it follows-up the other rap-radio hits, does it stand-out as noteworthy. There’s a lot to discuss and analyze, but not as much to really enjoy. More time is spent trying to read into and understand Kanye’s intentions than is spent enjoying the music. Just because the scope of most rappers/producers is so small, does not mean that simply looping one of Daft Punk’s songs automatically makes you great. It makes for a good blog entry or a ‘New York Times’ article in the ‘Arts’ section about how black people apparently don’t just listen to rap music but I’m more interested in good music than cultural trends and blah blah blah…

My first response to the Galifinakis version of ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was delighted confusion but it quickly became “this is sort of funny”. Again, if this were a new video from any number of indie rock bands it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. And you know, that’s cool that Kanye’s doing something different than other rappers, especially rappers of his stature, but he’s clearly capable of much more. The video’s tone, a parody of Kanye’s self-serious rapping is condescending, so while it’s cool that Kanye’s okay with being made fun-of, I wish it was towards a more interesting end. The Will Oldham parts are also painful as he’s legitimately unfunny and even embarrassing to watch (and not in the way he intends). So, it’s like this…one part of my brain is like “Woah, that’s cool, something different than what other rappers are doing” and the other part is like “Uh…this isn’t actually that funny and sort of uses an easy target (Kanye’s sincerity) for its jokes and it’s not that much more entertaining that a funny indie rock video…”

Lil Wayne’s ascent from a good and thorough rapper for ‘Cash-Money’ to the psychedelic, stoner rapper he seems to have become is respectable but so far, has made for only a small amount of actually good songs. His output is impressive but is it all entertaining or even listenable? ‘Feel Like Dying’ is all over Sirius radio, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the song and I like it but it’s not particularly good. The songs is “experimental” without losing its edge or rap-ness, the way ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ songs lost theirs, but it’s still kind of gimmicky. Sonically, it’s disturbing and an accurate portrayal of being way too fucking high, but most of Wayne’s stoner imagery is fun but only noteworthy because he’s a rapper. We expect any white musician to be totally aware of such Strawberry Alarm Clock-isms and if employed, they would be dismissed as clichés.

Current rap’s divisive attitude, be it between fans or fellow rappers, encourages all sides to overreact. 50 Cent’s shameless business-man persona is just that, a persona, one he has created and developed as an affront to jerk-offs that criticize him. Andre 3000’s condescension towards rap came from the negative responses to Outkast’s artful experimentation and rather than half-consider what those half-right critics said, he leaped headfirst into artsy-fartsy “experimentation”. Kanye and Lil Wayne’s movement in the direction of rap weirdness comes from some over-ambitious attempt to enter rap hyperspace and end-up light years ahead of their rap contemporaries. What they are forgetting is, that isn’t that hard of a feat and that ‘College Dropout’ was actually a lot more bizarre and idiosyncratic than ‘Stronger’ or all of ‘Late Registration’ and that Lil Wayne was already a stand-out Hot Boy and that totally rejecting that previous persona for a newer, more overtly experimental one, isn’t all that interesting.

Written by Brandon

July 30th, 2007 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Kanye West, Lil Wayne

2 comments Article: One More Rap Book I Probably Won’t Read.

(read this Dyson book. It’s way smarter.)

This went up today. The date is from when I uploaded it to the site. N00b move on my part…
“Michael Eric Dyson’s new book ‘Know What I Mean: Reflections on Hip-Hop’ arrives serendipitously. A few months after the Imus controversy that somehow created a never-ending quasi-debate about rap music, Dyson hopefully brings a more nuanced, “insider” approach to the music. However, if this excerpt and his appearance on the ‘Today’ show on Tuesday are any indication, I don’t feel that readers of this site would get a lot out of the book and I’m not sure any rap “outsider” would either.

Dyson should be praised for taking rap music seriously and I do not doubt he is committed to the genre, but his argument seems less an attempt to engage hip-hop haters and more a plan to run circles around them. A great deal of what he has to say is glaringly half-formed. Dyson’s most prevalent points are stated in a way that falls apart with any knowledge of rap; his argument seems to depend on mainstream rap ignorance.”

Written by Brandon

July 26th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

one comment

Who Said It: Common or ‘The Technopriests’?

I’ve been reading Alexandro Jodorowsky and Zoran Janietov’s new-age stoner sci-fi graphic novel ‘The Technopriests’, the back cover describes it this way:

“Albino, the bastard son of a space pirate, has only one goal, to become a member of the Technoguild and create the videogames that influence every citizen in the galaxy, or die trying. And he just might! The path to become a Technopriest is a difficult one and Albino must face many trials before he can fulfil his destiny. Meanwhile, Albino’s mother, brother and sister begin a perilous quest to find the brutal pirates who fathered Albino and his siblings. INITIATION tells the story of Albino’s first three years of training to become a member of the powerful Technoguild.”

I’ve also been listening to Common’s newest album ‘Finding Forever’. Common new-age rap aphorisms and Jodorowsky’s futuristic utopian koans seem to be mixing up in my brain. Maybe you can help me sort them out…

If you get them all right you win a permanent membership to the Technoguild along with 30,000 chrono-dollars! Click for the answers!

1.“Merge with the powersphere and bring your arrogant master here”

2.“Time is an illusion. The only reality is your conscience”

3.“The lovers of the dope experiment to discover hope”

4.“You cannot put an end to all worlds…because they do not exist”

5.“The weak-hearted become Babylon puppets”

6.“Love is not a mystery, it’s everything”

7.“I’m piercing a hole in a giant cyberantula”

8.“The karma of the street says needs and takes”

9.“Dissolve your body and regenerate yourself on the inside”

10.“Lifting you, my drive is shifting you, I opened your freak”

11.“Shut up! Since that damned white-face robbed me, it’s only fair that I rob you”

Written by Brandon

July 25th, 2007 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

leave a comment

Kanye & Homophobia
Some are excited because Michael Eric Dyson simply mentioned bell hooks’ name on ‘Today’. Those same people probably won’t acknowledge Kanye’s discussion of homophobia. One is a pathetically minor victory for someone that will never be accepted by the mainstream (one moderately obscure intellectual mentions another more obscure intellectual), the other is a progressive comment from one of rap’s most popular and controversial rappers. One writes books and lectures for groups of like-minded smarty-pants-types. The other manages to sell millions of records, to people of all races, with singles that invoke the government administering AIDS along with plenty of everyman introspection. Who is more “important”? Who is actually more radical?

Those questions seem particularly relevant in this “Post-Imus” age where any misstep by a rapper leads to a Paula Zahn special. None of those hip-hop haters will embrace or even acknowledge Kanye’s comments but what else is new? It is much more problematic that those defenders of rap won’t acknowledge it either. I can’t help but think it is because Kanye tows no party lines and upsets certain “givens” among black intellectuals as well.

Everybody comes off challenged after listening to Kanye West be real and joke about his questionable wardrobe as he did on Hot 97. Since his appearance as the self-proclaimed “first nigga with a Benz and a backpack”, he has fought hard to keep rap’s borders porous and actually embrace contradiction. Kanye’s refusal to tow any party-line, his enthusiasm for the contrary and confidence in sincerity has made him unlike any rapper since hip-hop’s supposed death. What Dyson justified in Tupac’s pseudo-sensitive thug hustles is real and palpable in Kanye West.

He comes out against homophobia while admitting his own homophobia, critiques the “hood” mentality of Beanie Sigel while empathizing with it, and draws parallels between racism and homophobia that make a lot of people uncomfortable… but most importantly, he’s really fucking entertaining as he’s doing it. He has Angie Martinez and company laughing the whole time.

I said it before but Kanye has this amazing, political commentator way of speaking. This mix of insight and insanity and sincere (or what sounds like sincere) appeals to reason and humanity. He’s rap’s Glenn Beck! When it comes to political issues, how entertaining you are while discussing the issue is equal to, if not more important than what you have to say. This is in part (in part!), the reason why more people listen to Bill O’Reilly than Keith Olbermann. Both are smug pricks but at least O’Reilly is a hilarious prick. The trick of most conservative talk is they seem like they are having fun! If you can entertain, you can get away with a lot of outlandish shit. The point is, Kanye understands this and unlike O’Reilly, he’s using his powers for good.

Kanye concedes that yeah, he should get some “hood backlash” for what he is doing because it doesn’t fly in “the hood”. It’s cool that he admits his own homoish-ness and it’s even cooler that Kanye didn’t go Little Brother and take the opportunity to blast the “hood mentality”. Kanye accepts something that so many other intellectual or intellectual-leaning artists can’t accept, not everyone is or wants to be as “enlightened” as the oh-so gifted artiste…

Part of Kanye’s empathy with the “closed-minded” comes from being that way himself, as he readily admits to getting a little weirded-out when some tight-jeans guy approaches him in the store. And really, who isn’t kind of weirded-out by gay people (waiting for the P.C types to proudly proclaim “Not I”…)? This is the kind of honesty that very few speaking-out against homophobia would admit because it would present themselves as fallible and so much of identity politics hinges upon being better than those you critique. Of course, this aspect of his point is over-looked in favor of the moronically simple understanding that somehow, if you defend or speak-out against something, you have a dog in the fight. It couldn’t possibly be that he sees some sort of injustice and wants to use his celebrity to address it.

Kanye also draws simple and inarguably true parallels between racism and homophobia. This won’t settle well with many in the rap community and he knows this. Both the thug rappers and the conscious rappers benefit a great deal from absorbing and in a lot of ways, exploiting race-based politics. For the thug-rappers, their race is indeed, what allows them to “get away” with the egregious misogyny, glorifying drug-dealing, and homophobia. So many scared, guilty white liberals, out of fear of being “racist”, justify gangsta-rap and crack rap.

For the conscious set, race justifies so many actions and beliefs and any suggestion that there is an equivalent “struggle” particularly one among gay people, messes with their good-intentioned but divisive politics. There’s also the odd relationship between political rap and homosexuality (see Public Enemy’s “Parts don’t fit/Aww shit” and Mos Def’s ‘The Rape Over’). This does not negate their importance, the political/conscious rappers and even the gangsta rappers of the past are crucial to hip-hop’s evolution, but just as so many now consider this crack rap shit played-out, we should consider the reactionary naval-gazing that now passes for conscious rap equally played-out. Immortal Technique can write a million more “scathing” songs about the President but he isn’t even close to as brave or as risk-taking as Kanye West.

Kanye’s address of homophobia and defense of his bucking of “hood” trends is a challenge to almost every rapper and rap listener. Unlike the third-generation political rappers, Kanye West’s views do not breed complacency; He isn’t always preaching to the converted and actively seeks out opposition and underdog status.

Bonus! Some Questionable Clothes From Brandon’s (literal and maybe metaphorical) Closet…

-Teal and Dark Blue Puma Zip-Up Sweater.
-Light Blue Ralph Lauren Hoodie with weird-ass artsy stitching on it.
-Brown, tight-ish linen pants from H & M
-Purple Hoodie from H & M.
-Women’s XL ‘American Apparel’ Summer Shirt. (before A.A T’s went Unisex)
-Limited Edition Sweatshirt with stupid patches and shit all over it, designed by Japan’s David Sylvian.

Written by Brandon

July 23rd, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Kanye West, NO HOM0

one comment

No Trivia Is 100 Posts Old!

It’s real self-important to commemorate one’s self, especially on a personal blog, but oh well.

I started this blog during the Breihan “wigster” controversy because that inspired me to “delurk” and get in arguments and inevitably, people were like “okay, asshole, where’s your blog?” So, I made one.

I also did it because I didn’t have a lot to do and was getting pretty depressed. It seemed like a way to motivate myself and engage in the ideas I was ranting with my friends already. The blog took on an even greater significance when my best friend Mike SHOT HIMSELF IN THE FUCKING FACE; it truly became a distraction and a way to channel rage and excitement in a healthy way.

Around the time of Mike’s death, the blog started to get some interest and it’s just been growing from there. I don’t believe in a God or afterlife or anything but somehow I still feel like maybe Mike was behind the sudden interest somehow…

It’s super-douchey to “thank” people but seriously, thanks. Thank you to everyone who reads this. Thanks a million to everyone who has linked me or put in a good word. Those who comment are particularly awesome. Rafi from ‘OhWord’ started sticking me on the ‘Around the Horn’ feature and I popped-up on ‘T.W.I.B’. Tom Breihan linked me here, which seriously, I got calls from people about: “Yo, Tom Breihan linked you!” Noz linked me too and that was also cool. Cool because as I said a few posts ago, those were the blogs I read that got me excited about this whole blogging thing. There’s also Jay Smooth. Oh yeah, and there’s Bubsdepot, DocZeus, Kwis, Richard, Renato, Joey from Straight Bangin, Nation of Thizzlam, William, Raymond Cummings, Jason Kirk, Dallas Penn, Souled On Music, T.R.E.Y, Brent Rollins from ‘Ego Trip’, Matt Zoller Seitz, Josh B, Better than Butt Sex, Zilla Rocca, Dollar Wells, MC One Man, Scritch & Scratch, Experiencing Music, Beezer B, Floodwatch music, Gentle Whoadie 9000, Eauhellzgnaw, Jesse, Angry Citizen, Chris, Highbrid Nation, the Humanity Critic, Drew Ricketts, rrougher, Melatone Music, Brooklyn Vegan, Daniel Krow, Adnan, Alex, Dart Adams, bLis, in no particular order (If anyone was forgotten, no offense). Also, Monique who isn’t really an “editor” in any true sense of the word but whose influence/inspiration is all over every post.

Just as an excuse for content, here’s a sort of mix of my favorite or most-linked/hated/discussed entries:

-Rap Music & “Experimental” Music
-Most Young Kings Get Their Head Cut Off
-Why I Love Dipset
-Uh, More Like Amy Whines-a-lot-House
-Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me 12′ Single
-‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 05
-‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 06
-Rappers in Wii Form
-The Cast of the White Rapper Show in Wii Form
-Miami Vice Review
-‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 07
-Notorious B.I.G Death Day
-How To Save Old Rap Music Without Declaring Hip-Hop Dead
-The Worst Jay-Z Concert Ever
-In Defense of Southern Production
-Music Video Director Gil Green
-Richard McBeef: The Motion Picture
-Late Registration Redux
-Reconsidering the Rap Canon
-Monique’s Playlist with Potential
-Death Mix
-Paid Bloggers Are Assholes
-Some Movies Rapper Should Reference Instead of ‘Scarface’
-DJ Screw: ‘Anniversary Day’
On ‘The Sopranos’ Ending

I’ll have real content tomorrow…see everybody then.

Written by Brandon

July 23rd, 2007 at 12:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized


Rap & Community: A Scene from ‘Trans’ (1998).

One of my favorite scenes in any movie, comes from Julian Goldberger’s ‘Trans’ (1998). The movie is about Ryan Kacinzski, a kid in a juvenile detention center who takes up a chance to escape and well, just sort of wanders around Southern Florida. The movie itself isn’t that great, like many low-budget, “improvisatory” independent movies, it tries to skate by on realistic cinematography and regionalism alone. Nevertheless, the movie has moments of insight, Ryan briefly reuniting with his brother, a strange scene where Ryan tries to get a train ticket for cheap, and this one:
(Sorry about the quality of the video. It wasn’t on Youtube so I was relegated to video-taping it off my television and uploading it…)

The scene comes after a strange montage wherein Ryan wanders through a 24 hour supermarket, doing whippets and talking to some lady about corn. On his way out of the supermarket, he passes by two beer-drinking, parking-lot loser types and steps on a bottle cap. One of the ‘necks taunts him for stepping on “his” bottle cap and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. The movie fades-out, presumably along with Ryan’s consciousness, we get a pretentious arty-image of a Woman in front of a sunset (???) and then it goes back to black, and the voices of some black peers calling Ryan’s name fade-in.

Their appearance in the movie is a relief for Ryan, happy to finally see someone he knows, but it is also a relief for the audience who has felt as isolated and off-balance as Ryan. The early parts of the movie in the juvenile center are sterile and oppressive. When Ryan escapes, Goldberger briefly matches the thrill of escape but slowly winds it down into a rambly, unfocused journey. The thrill of escape quickly farts-out into uncertainty and worry.

You again feel alive when these black kids, presumably acquaintances from high-school, show up. Their acting is significantly more engaging and real than the actor playing Kacinzski, who feels afraid to commit to anything. Their scenes feel actually loose and fun as opposed to artfully rough. The movie should probably just be about these guys but the independent film world is only slightly less negrophobic than Hollywood, so you know…

To me, the scene represents the inclusive nature of hip-hop culture and in certain ways, black culture, which as a whole, is a great deal more inviting and familial to all than the white, middle-class culture from which Ryan comes. He is immediately brought along with them, they recognize his dire situation and it even is suggested that this isn’t the first time Ryan has been found like this.

The kids are generally kind, offering Ryan help, but they also mock him, in part because of the hilarious situation of getting his ass beat and also, because well, I bet he’s the goofy white boy they know that is always getting in trouble. Their looking for girls and their freestyles (or attempts) about weed and pussy are realistic and used to complicate their character. For a rap outsider, the contradictory nature of being so kind and rapping about weed and girls would be hard to resolve but Goldberg wisely moves beyond racial or cultural presentation and just lets all of the character be themselves.

The failed attempts at freestyling are particularly good because often in movies, scenes of battles are often used as shorthand for authenticity or being hip to the culture. Here, it’s more like the freestyle competitions you see in your high school science class or at a party, where it’s just a bunch of people fucking around. No one sitting there thinks they are the next Nassir Jones, they’re just having fun.

The party part of the sequence does the interesting thing of being totally in Ryan’s head. We don’t hear the music they are dancing to but music that reflects Ryan’s state of mind. We get this sort of depressive, rambling, jangle-rock. His inability to fit-in has nothing to do with race which is the way most movies would develop it. They are not presented as black kids and Ryan is not presented as a white; it’s a scene about people getting along and how hospitality isn’t always accepted. Ryan’s inability to fit-in is not because of race but because he sort of doesn’t fit in anywhere. The universal reality of alienation is the focus, not the cultural specific “reality” of racial tension. Ryan’s isolation is chosen, not imposed and still, at the end, one of the kids tries one more time to offer him a place to stay. It’s a very kind and genuine scene.

Written by Brandon

July 20th, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Posted in film, rap humanism

one comment

OhWord Article: Say It Ain’t So Ghost, Say It Ain’t So…

“When I first read it on Nahright, I recalled the vague rumblings of ghostwriting accusations a while back and quickly dismissed it, but as I considered it more, it kinda fucked me up. It was like when I was little and Superman was killed by Doomsday and Bane broke Batman’s back. What’s happening to my heroes?!”

Written by Brandon

July 17th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Ghostface, OhWord


In Defense of Uffie.
For those who don’t know (or don’t care), Uffie is the 18 year-old, white, female, pretty-much universally disliked “rapper” for the infamous Ed Banger records. I put “rapper” in quotation marks not to demean Uffie’s rapping skills (although they are almost non-existent) but because Ed Banger records is a French electronic music label with little to no connection to mainstream or even underground rap. It specializes in wonderfully aggressive and contrarian dance music. So yeah, this is some goofy-ass uber-white person shit but I promise, it does still relate to the rap music I generally talk about…

On the track ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’, from Justice’s album ‘†’, Uffie raps in a light, girlish but aggressive attempt at the Roxanne Shante style. The topic is well, partying and she drops such polarizing lines as “Out on the streets all the taxis are showing me love/Cause I’m shinin’ like a princess, in the middle of thugs”. The song seems to interrupt just about every critic’s enjoyment of the album and the consensus seems to be that Uffie is a complete idiot. I could explain why she’s an idiot (if you haven’t already figured it out), but this Pitchfork review of Uffie’s single ‘Pop the Glock’ does it pretty succinctly.

Let the hipster-hating polemic begin, right?

Nope, sorry. I think Uffie is much more interesting than anyone is giving her credit for. She complicates knee-jerk responses to hipster-ism by developing a persona that is almost too-easy to goof-on. Nearly everyone who encounters her, especially as the annoying chick on Justice’s album (Personally, I find ‘DVNO’ way more annoying) seems to take her bait. The same people who celebrate Ed Banger’s contrarian dance music miss the contrarianism of Uffie’s chick-rap-hipster persona.

She baits and confronts anti-ironists like myself and that is quite different than if she were just a plain old hipster ironist. In certain ways, her persona is constructed similarly to the “gangsta” rappers she ironically mimics and finds inspiration in. She fully understands the weird dialectic of rapper; one that moves between a self-created, semi-sincere persona and a detail-oriented reporter of their lifestyle. Recall that oft-quoted line that rap is (or was…) “the black CNN”. Just, Uffie documents the realities of Parisian club-going hipsters instead of inner-city plight and violence…

The “black CNN” metaphor is inaccurate. Originally used to explain the social importance of rap music, it simplifies the rapper’s complex stance to their environment. The rappers documenting the “reality” of their lives were almost always involved in that “reality” (or fronting like they were involved), so they were more like the black Truman Capotes or Hunter S. Thompsons or something. Most were not “reporting” in a conventional, objective sense but doing a strange, hyper-complicated mix of first-person, subjective storytelling and a brutally honest, few-steps-back-from-it-all-but-still-rich-in-detail objectivity. Even N.W.A at their most cartoonishly over-the-top, do not completely vindicate the violence they enact in song. The dirty, hilarious, gross, messed-up, ecstatic details still seep through and any thinking listener won’t leave the song only wanting to jack a cop. The compulsive need to tell the truth among even the most “ignorant” of rappers outweighs attempts at idealization and justification. This chick, Uffie does that too. She too is profiling a “scene” and its attitudes, but she renders that scene realistically, almost anthropologically.

On the song ‘‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’, in her purposefully-wack rhyming style, Uffie describes the night’s partying as it moves out of the club: “You and me, c’mon lets take it to the next level/Let’s all go to the hotel pool as we finish the bottle/Maybe kiss and don’t tell, it’s the rule around here/You must have put me under a spell, I lose control when you’re near”. The first line, where she asks some kind of male suitor (probably with an ironic moustache, no?) to “take it to the next level” is undercut by the second line, where the “next level” is partying at a fucking hotel pool! Finishing the bottle, hotel pool, and her little-girl delivery of these attempts at sexual provocation add a sort of gross, realistic feeling to it all. It’s decadent in the worst sense of the word. R. Kelly songs have a similar feeling. ‘Ignition Remix’ or that ‘Make It Rain Remix’ where he compares his taking-of-women to his room to a cavemen dragging a woman to a cave…Not exactly glamorous!

Adding to this lame-ish decadence (because its 2007, so her decadence is passé), she adds the come-on of making-out, but with an unsexy qualifier (“maybe”) and explicitly referring her actions as basically, predictable: “Kiss and don’t tell, it’s the rule around here.” There are rules to her decadence! The making-out is also empty because it is “kiss and don’t tell”, temporary; something kept-quiet. Then, at the end, either complicating or conflicting with her assertions that this is just some kind of brief fling, she tells the guy “I lose control when you’re near”. That line, along with the “next level” line seem like the meaningless ideal dialogue Uffie and friends engage in to get what they want and sandwiched between it, the reality (we’re just going to a pool.this means nothing.don’t tell anybody). When it comes to sexual behavior, “hipster” and intellectual types have a way of presenting their sexual irresponsibility as “with-it” or “open-minded” but here, Uffie presents it in a way that does not represent freedom or open-mindedness, it’s just the norm. She deals with sex like a rapper; doing whatever she can to get a nut.

Hipsters’ strange embrace of hip-hop culture as ironic performance only applies to Uffie in part. While Uffie more than indulges, adopting hip-hop slang and clothing (see above) it is rooted in appreciation. Naïve, delusional, retarded, misdirected ,WHATEVER- it is developed into something more than ironic appropriation.

She’s stolen a lot from the image-creation of rappers. Like a rapper, she has a distinct and polarizing personality, part-real and part contrived, which is used to portrayal the realities of her life. Check-out this interview; the difference between her musician persona and real-life personality is clear. She is not the goofy, obnoxious brat she plays on ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’ but an articulate, aware, unpretentious artist. It was jarring when I saw this interview, the same way it is jarring when the scary “gangsta rappers” revealed themselves as really fucking smart, “articulate” dudes.

Also, ironic hipster or not, Uffie knows her music history. She is well-aware and indeed, in her own way, sensitive to that which she quotes, copies, parodies, and steals. On ‘Pop the Glock’ (the most immediately egregious of her songs) she swipes her flow from Audio Two’s ‘Top Billin’ and paraphrases when she punctuates her verse with “and if you understood, would you?”. There are also references to Miami Bass, Crunk and Grime, all of which share a lot of sonic similarities. Her being from Miami does give her some regional “credit” if indeed, that’s your litmus test for whether someone is bullshit or not…

While it is her most problematic song, ‘Pop the Glock’ also shows the extent of Uffie’s relationship with rap and hip-hop culture. The song is exactly the kind of retarded hipster-ism so many of us are chomping at the bit to rip-apart, but the actual song isn’t what you think. Yes, the chorus is “pop the glock” repeated over-and-over and the song is punctuated with gunshots, but the topic of the song isn’t anything about popping glocks or any thug referencing, parodied nor appropriated. Uffie just raps loosely connected braggadocio that always loops back to her sing-talk “pop the glock” rendering the titular line, the one you’re just waiting to get pissed about, into nonsense. Did I mention she raps this song and only this song in a faux-British accent?

So… she’s a white chick who has lived all over the world, born in the American South, currently residing in Paris, making music that is a mix of old-school rap music and electronic music (itself rooted as much in the sounds of Mantronix as Aphex Twin), rapping in an unabashed girlish voice (no contrived rapper drawl) in a British accent! So yeah, I mean the levels of irony are mind-boggling and for that, I could criticize her but I think the weird, double-binded irony mixed with explicit inauthenticity ends up sincere.

Maybe it’s the British accent but I immediately thought of Mick Jagger, another white musician who flirted with levels of racial and cultural irony. Jagger often falls into a near-Minstrel black affectation and is equally willing to drop an over-the-top redneck voice, but it’s done in some weird over-the-top way that is ultimately, homage. It’s complicated, but in his 33 1/3 book on ‘Exile on Main St.’ Bill Janowitz makes a pretty good attempt at articulating Jagger’s complex stance in relation to his influences:

“The narrative voice operates on multiple levels. Some critics might have considered the Rolling Stones’ history of copping African-American music as a kind of cultural exploitation, similar to that practiced by all-white minstrels companies. But Jagger is in on the joke; the Stones themselves could be misconstrued as an updated minstrel show …[but] Jagger would certainly have been sensitive to such matters [of minstrelsy]. He does not let any self-consciousness impede on ‘Sweet Black Angel,’ though; rather, he displays a solid confidence in his own motives.” (113)

Uffie too, subtly informs her listeners of her motives by wrapping it in a great deal of sub-text and history. Like Jagger, the confidence comes through because she isn’t afraid of misinterpretation. No one would mistake her for a “real rapper”. Her voice contains no rapper-like affectation of either “hardness” or “blackness” and on ‘Pop the Glock’ she tries to get even whiter with that British accent. Her rhyme style too, is purposefully poor, avoiding any attempts at being “lyrical”. The electro and IDM-sounding production avoids condescending attempts at actual rap beat-making. The aggressively avant-garde “beats” of the Anti-Con guys or even El-P, especially in his blasphemous invocation of the Bomb Squad is waaaaaaayyy more offensive than Uffie.

This is all really-fun to break-down and analyze, but is Uffie any good? Well, no. Other than her track on the Justice album, which works because of its sequencing on the album, Uffie would probably best work as some kind of like, weird, Undergraduate thesis or independent project for a ‘Women’s Studies’ class or something. Pretty fun and engaging to talk about, but not music that will last. However, that too fits with Uffie’s persona of making music for parties and clubs. It is only her connection to the indie and experimental world that somehow “demands” her music be significant. Most of do not ask Cassie or Rihanna or even “rappers” like Jim Jones to be relevant, why must Uffie? Just as we praise the best mainstream artists, especially rappers, for injecting the cold, cold world of mainstream music with some heart and honesty, we should praise Uffie (and the Ed Banger crew) for injecting the “hipster” world with “meaningless” music. Be it the pseudo-literary world of the Decemberists or the intertextual, faux-clever mash-ups of Girl Talk, hipster music needs to stop trying so hard or try hard at not trying hard.

-Janowitz, Bill. ‘The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St.’ Continuum: New York, 2005.

Written by Brandon

July 16th, 2007 at 8:13 am

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Too-Many Movies Week.
For some reason, I rented six movies on Sunday. Here’s what I thought of them. Because there’s still plenty of real talk about rap on my previous post, I thought it was okay to go a little off-topic…

I’ve read numerous references to this movie, its reputation being, it is a movie directed by Johnny Depp with Marlon Brando in it, that was never released in the United States. I didn’t even know you could get a copy but the video store had what appears to be a bootleg copy, so I rented it. I sort of hate Johnny Depp; he’s a “good” actor rather than a good actor and his bad-boy image is so lame and bush-league that it makes sense that girls who shop at ‘Hot Topic’ love him.

The plot, which is pretty ridiculous, is about an alcoholic, criminal Native American, with a wife and two kids he doesn’t support who is going to allow himself to be murdered in a snuff film for $50,000 dollars, money he hopes, will get his wife and kids out of the crappy, shanty-ish, junkyard town they live in. I actually love the half-baked-ness of the plot and it is furthered by weird dashes of fantasy that aren’t explained. For example, somehow, secretly, in the night, Depp’s character builds a sort of junkyard amusement park for his kids. People who don’t really get anything would cite this as unrealistic but that’s not really the point.

The movie isn’t great but it’s good. Way better than most American “indies”. It certainly isn’t Hollywood material and at the same time, it never screams out “this isn’t Hollywood material”, in fact, it is more digestable than it could have been. Imagine if Werner Herzog and Sam Peckinpah, both past their primes, collaborated on a movie starring Johnny Depp. That’s what its like. There are plenty of missteps but it has a real power, almost in spite of the goofy plot. The movie would be better if he weren’t doing something quite so drastic; he could have just planned to rob a bank or kill someone for money and the mildly interesting moral quandaries could have still been addressed. Nevertheless, it has a strange way of building steam and all of the characters slowly become real and sympathetic, so it’s like the viewer’s emotional arc coincides with Depp’s and a real sense of empathy is achieved. Most movies don’t waste their time with silly concepts like empathy…
Yeah…this movie was really fucking awesome. These kids in this planned community do mildly-rebellious teenage crap because they are stuck in this middle-of-nowhere planned community. The adults overreact with discipline and no attempt to understand the kids, only exacerbating the situation. A particularly good scene is one in which the police of the community shutdown the rec. center leaving the already-troubled kids with literally, nowhere to hang-out. This is the kind of thing that was done in many black communities with even worse of a detrimental effect. Someone should make a movie about that.

Although the movie is a little too sympathetic to the kids to be totally insightful, it gets the kids actions and attitudes right. They aren’t cutely rebellious but they aren’t demons either. There’s a great scene where one of the kids takes acid during ‘Art History’ and subtly freaks-out as they view these Hieronymous Bosch paintings. The movie has a loose, borderline documentary style, with kids the appropriate age (not 20 year-olds playing 13 year-olds) and a comfort with them using natural speech patterns and slang. Everything about the movie seems well-researched and understood. The kids party to Van Halen and Cheap Trick which isn’t exactly cool or bad-ass, but is what teenagers, in a shitty suburban town, that are mildly rebellious, listen to. The ending OWNS.
I watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘The Holy Mountain’ last week and was totally blown away, like it’s easily in my Top 25 favorites, and ‘El Topo’ was pretty good, so I’ve been trying to see his other movies. Overall, this one was pretty bad; it’s basically Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ all Jodorowsky-ed out with the Freudian stuff even more explicit, plus made in 1989, so it has this awful 80s movie look instead of this classic, 70s style that I love so damned much.

Watching it felt like I was in 8th grade watching some bad movie on HBO at 2 in the afternoon on a sick day or something. It’s hard to explain if you don’t already know what I’m talking about but there’s just this late 80s to early 90s low-budget Hollywood “look” that just hurts. I can’t help but think that Jodorowsky didn’t have full control over it as the genius is there but it’s often ruined by the bad-bad acting (as opposed to low-budget good-bad acting, which I love), conventional Hollywood editing, and the occasional line or montage that drills the movie’s point into your head.

Still, there’s some really inspired stuff in there. Every 15 minutes, just as I was about to turn it off, something amazing would happen. There’s this strange funeral for an elephant, which ends with them pushing a giant casket off of a mountain into a quarry and then all of the mourners rushing into the quarry, ripping open the casket and tearing the elephant apart. Another really weird but strangely powerful scene shows the main character watching this buff-as-shit tranny wrestle a bunch of Luchadors, falling in love with the tranny, and taking him/her back to his house where he puts on a magic show for him/her and then murders him/her with a sword because his mother told him to (remember, it’s ‘Psycho’). Also reminded me of ‘Cemetary Man’, which is way better than this.
I really do dread the day I run-out of semi-obscure, American 70s movies to watch. The plot summaries for this say that it is about a prison block disrupted by the appearance of a new inmate, a pedophile, but that’s not really true. The appearance of the pedophile becomes the sort of “inciting incident” or whatever but the movie’s really just a realistic portrayal of prison-life; the pedophile plot is secondary.

Shot in a real prison using real or at least, real-looking faces and non-fancy camera-work, it’s pretty perfect. It doesn’t shy away from the gay aspects of prison life and the looming threat of assrape which, in a movie about tough-guy prisoners is really impressive. It’s based on a play, which generally don’t translate to movies subtly, but ‘Short Eyes’ only turns into a play for one scene, where the moral compass of the prison, Juan, has a moment alone and tries to sympathize with the pedophile. I think you know what I mean by “turns into a play”; when the acting goes from realistic to “realistic” (all yelling and indicating) and the inarticulate character is given a soliloquy…this movie only does that once and even when it does, it kind of works because pedophiles are ultimately idealists, and they kind of talk over-dramatically.

The movie just feels real and does a great job with atmosphere. When the prisoners all fight or yell or get excited, it’s palpable. There’s a scene where the prisoners begin clapping and whooping and it slowly turns into a musical performance, with Freddie Fender (???), as a singing prisoner. Fender then hands it over to Curtis Mayfield, who also plays a prisoner, and Curtis gives an in-movie performance of ‘Doo Doo Wap Is Strong in Here’ that feels spontaneous somehow, even though its an obvious soundtrack tie-in scene. Mayfield is also a character in the movie in a minor role, not a cameo, and he’s very interesting to watch. His speaking voice is every bit as moving as his singing voice. Also, that movie clip at the beginning of the Wu’s ‘Let My Niggas Live’, the one with the guy saying he “accepts it as [his] destiny” that he’ll be “shot by some pig who’s gonna swear it was a mistake”? That’s from ‘Short Eyes’.
Like a lot of nerds, this was one of my favorite movies in elementary school. I haven’t seen it since I was ten and I assumed it wouldn’t be funny, but damn, this movie is hilarious. It has this weird sophisticated-unsophisticated sense of humor, a mix of super-obvious, see it from a mile away jokes, with subtle, almost non-jokes. There’s a purposefully bad joke that occurs right after the classic “Sir, you are talking to a nigger!” line when he kung-fun fights the real estate guys and kicks the last one in the balls, hurting his foot. Marie, in the next scene says “How could you know that was Iron Balls McGinty?”- what? But then…towards the end of the movie, when he’s writing all of the settlement checks, he reads them aloud as he’s writing and one is written-out to Iron Balls. I love it because the joke is like “didn’t think we’d bring that awful joke back, did you?” Chappelle’s last comedy special did a similar thing, oddly enough, also a joke about balls- where Chappelle repeatedly returned to a bit about botoxing his balls not because the joke was particularly good, but because the joke was repeatedly bringing up the joke.

The concept of the movie too, is great, the way this innocent dolt very quickly learns to be a smug, manipulative well, jerk…of course, he’s saved in the end, it’s a comedy, but still, it’s all there. ‘The Jerk’ is a very weird movie. Certainly, it’s a classic, modern comedy, but it works as an actual “film” too. The crazy tone-changes, the gritty cinematography, and unrelenting pace, it isn’t that different from a Hal Ashby or Robert Altman movie (and way funnier). There’s also a lot of emotion in the movie, something I never realized. The stuff with his black family is obviously a joke but they are really given time and life in the movie and they love him the way a family loves one of their members. Navin’s speech to Marie as she’s sleeping is really, really sweet and real. I think Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Punch Drunk Love’ stole a lot from ‘The Jerk’.
I was surprised by how entertaining this movie was. The anthology set-up almost never works in movies but it works wonderfully here as the stories are well-paced and organized. The worst story in my opinion, was the last one ‘Taarna’ but mainly because it was a little too long.

My biggest conflict with most sci-fi comes in its use of allegory, which is always handled poorly and presented really obviously. The stories in ‘Heavy Metal’ are great because they are just stories. That isn’t to say they don’t have meaning or significance because they do but just, things don’t represent other things moving towards some heavy-handed theme. The second story in the movie, is basically this nerd telling a story of how he is sent into some other world, going from the nerdy “Dan” to the heroic “Den” who bangs a bunch of chicks and saves the day. The story gives me what I wanted from ‘Heavy Metal’, violence, cool-looking shit, and sex but in putting the story through the eyes of a nerdy adolescent, it acknowledges “yeah, this is a goofy adolescent fantasy”. Similarly, the story ‘So Beautiful, So Dangerous’ has two hippie space pilots, whose minds seem to be blown by the visuals they are encountering along with us. I generally dislike this kind of winking, commentary but the world of Science Fiction is so damned earnest, it could use a little self-conciousness.

When did Sci-Fi and Fantasy make the shift from being this awesome stoner thing to this hyper-nerdy, technical bullshit? It went from Science FICTION to SCIENCE fiction, you know? Heavy Metal’ just concerns itself with stuff that rules: Monsters, violence, futuristic stuff, boobs, buff dudes, aliens etc. I wish I had been alive to see this when it came out, preferably with friends, lit out of my mind.

And finally, I would have watched this…IF IT FUCKING EXISTED. Is there anything sadder than trailers for never-completed movies? Check out that pulsing synth-score…

Written by Brandon

July 13th, 2007 at 7:14 am

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Rap Nostalgists: You Gots To Chill.

If you grew up during the late 80s to mid-90s and were a rap fan, you lucked-out. You (most of you, at least) were not part of a movement. You were not discovering rap’s best era because it was right in front of your face. On MTV, ‘The Box’, and all over the radio. In Sprite commercials, on the soundtrack to ‘High School High’, and a million other places.

Like you rap nostalgists, I too lucked-out. I was lucky to have an Uncle seven years my senior, so before I turned 10 years old, I was listening to De La Soul and the Pharcyde. I was still a stupid-ass kid, I just happened to be baby-sat by someone who wasn’t. I also saw ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Goodfellas’ in the theaters, but I still went home and watched ‘Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest’ (no homo on that one…) until the tape broke. Little Brandy Soderberg didn’t have the most bad-ass taste an eight-year old ever had, he just happened to grow-up in a weird environment, often watched by teenage relatives because his parents had him when they were like, 17 and had to work all the time.

The first two cassettes I owned were ‘It Was a Good Day’ by Ice Cube and ‘Two Princes’ by the Spin Doctors. You know why? Because they were both on MTV! Now, when it’s convenient, when I need some forum/blog “street cred” I’ll cite the fact that I was into Ice Cube at age eight, conveniently forgetting about ‘Two Princes’. Similarly, cool “indie” types my age like to cite their owning of the first Weezer album or that Flaming Lips album with ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ on it as some sort of badge of their latent hipster taste but it wasn’t because they also owned Better Than Ezra and the Gin Blossoms.

Generally, you’re only as good as your surroundings and right now, a teenager into rap music is surrounded by shit. Yung Joc gets the amount of rotations that Wu Tang once received and you can waste your time bemoaning that reality, but the real point is, those who grew up in the 90s had Wu Tang shoved down their throats and now, in 2007, Yung Joc is being shoved. You listened to Wu Tang because it was on the radio; don’t front like you had exquisite taste. Just as now, people put on Kanye West and follow it up with MIMS, you bought ‘Enter the Wu Tang’ as well as Kriss-Kross and Positive K singles…wait, what? Those are certified classics, too? Oh right, I forgot, just about anything with rapping on it, made before 1996 is a certified or a slept-on classic. ‘I Got a Man’ is a damn good song but don’t assert its classic status as you angrily curse-out the equally entertaining but ultimately useless songs of 2007. Those T-Pain singles are the contemporary equivalent of ‘I Got a Man’.

Of course, we’re all infected by nostalgia, I was in a Starbucks (again with the no homo!) and heard some typical, bearded, overweight, still-grasping for hipness Starbuckians (along with their fat, ankle-tattooed wives) declaring the first Counting Crows album “great”. I bring-up this rock nostalgia for contrast. The only difference between 90s rock and 90s rap nostalgists is that the rockers have to compete with nostalgists with better music and more cultural pull: baby-boomers.

The baby-boomers, the former hippies, now the people who sort of run everything, have successfully thrown a cultural coup, convincing their children and now, their children’s children that the 60s were the best era for music. Furthermore, they’ve sold all of their classic music to movie soundtracks and car commercials solidifying its pervasiveness in the culture. Is that who you want to be like? Hippies?

The gap between 2007 and the 1990s is not large enough for to even get nostalgic! The 90s rock fan’s disinterest and/or inability to immortalize their music highlights how absurd and monomaniacal it is that this is already happening in rap. The 90s rap nostalgist, is in-effect, the baby-boomer equivalent for rap music. They grew up in during the second/third generation of their genre, a time when the musical cosmos aligned. These guys however, unlike the hippies, still need to wait a decade or so and then bring back their “Hip Hop is Dead” t-shirt.

The 90s rap nostalgist jumped the gun on their nostalgia, reminiscing and canonizing before they sorted-out their emotions. There’s no perspective. The music means too much for them to “let go” which is what you need to do if you want your music to become classic. They are not ready to sell their music to commercials and see it sold-out, manufactured and reprocessed. At the same time, they want it to be universally accepted as classic. It doesn’t work that way: You have to choose one.

They have refused to put the music of their generation on T-shirts and in movies and commercials and that’s respectable and consistent, but they lose me when they still bemoan the lack of respect for their music. Angrily dismissing new rap music, antagonizing new rap fans for not knowing their shit, all the while obsessively protecting “their culture” from corruption, rap nostalgists make the music unavailable. It becomes something to respect and revere rather than something to emotionally connect to and enjoy.

The current rap fan has a mix of legitimate fear of and pragmatic resolve to not feel like an asshole, so its just easier not to comment or discuss 90s rap. Even the books on the subject are exclusive rather than inclusive. When you write a book with a title as obnoxious has ‘When Rap Music Had a Conscience’ accurate as that title may be, it doesn’t feel inviting.

A poetry class I took as an Undergrad, titled ‘Phyllis Wheatley to Rap’ ended at Public Enemy because the professor, a bright and exuberant but ultimately closed-minded and petty little man, felt that the music became corrupt after ‘Fight the Power’. The class, a healthy mix of black and white didn’t even bat an eye because we knew no invocation of Tribe Called Quest or Wu Tang or even, Outkast or Kanye West would sway this guy’s “I was there” mentaility. Think of all the great rap music this guy is missing out on!

The rap nostalgists who live in 1997 are missing-out on an entire ten years of rap but for some reason, they are proud of their ignorance. I’ve been in too-many discussions where a crotchety old rap fan proudly tells me he’s never even heard Lil Wayne or Young Jeezy. In addition to a blind-spot for the most recent 10 years, many 90s fans exploit rap’s basic pre-Run DMC semi-obscurity. One can conveniently be not very conversant in pre-Run DMC rap because Rammelzee doesn’t come up in conversation very often (except for a month when Soul Jazz’s ‘New York Noise’ came out). Knowing a lot about the Cold Crush Brothers should be required from those who angrily bemoan this generation’s disrespect for 90s rap, but it is generally absent. I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of 90s rap fans who know their shit, but there are just as many talking-out-their-ass nostalgists who don’t know their shit.

So, rap nostalgists, talk to me in another ten years. When I’m complaining about the newest crop of rappers and talking about how classic ‘The Inspiration’ is, you can sell ‘T.R.O.Y’ to the finale of some watched-by-millions sitcom and hock Biggie airbrushes, not at a stand in the mall but at Urban Outfitters. Come back to me when you’re okay with that because that is how music becomes classic, by being bought, sold, and re-manufactured, idolized, celebrated, re-contexualized and canonized for another generation to misinterpret and not-get anymore than this “ignorant’ generation, but at least they’ll “respect” it, right?

Written by Brandon

July 11th, 2007 at 3:54 pm

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