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Archive for July, 2007

leave a comment Article: When They Reminiscence Over Mixtapes

“I miss mixtapes. I miss the bad cover art and the slim cases. I miss how cheap they are, I miss the shouting and gunshots peppered throughout otherwise listenable tracks, and I miss having to hunt them down, going in and out of stores that still advertise “Pagers”, having no clue which ones they’ll have or if they’ll even have any. I even miss the anonymous rappers that often show up on an otherwise good track and ruin it by rhyming the end of each line with the same word. Who is to blame for the hole in my heart formerly occupied by mixtapes? We all know the answer to that one.”

Written by Brandon

July 9th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

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Crime Mob’s ‘Circles’ Is A Great Song.

For some reason, I didn’t write about Crime Mob’s ‘Hated On Mostly’ when it came out because I didn’t feel like getting into debates about “real hip-hop” and “minstrelsy” even though I basically started one here, but that’s how I roll, right? Anyways, ‘Hated On Mostly’ isn’t great but it’s quite good and as the initial excitement of ‘Return of the Mac’ and to a lesser extent, ‘Waitin’ To Inhale’ wears off, ranking ‘Hated On Mostly’ right alongside doesn’t seem quite as outrageous. ‘Circles’ seems to be getting some radio play and a whole lot of satellite radio play and it, more than any other track on ‘Hated On Mostly’ could appeal to those generally dismissive of stuff like Crime Mob.

The song, produced by Dirty Doc Jam, was previously used on some mixtape-only (I think) Gangsta Boo track, and samples the Friends of Distinction’s ‘Going In Circles’. Rooted in a derivative but still well-done chipmunk-soul approximation, the track really moves due to wise changes in beat and subtle production touches. It begins quietly, the chipmunk soul barely audible, slowly increasing in volume. It is drum-less, just an extended section of the original song in chipmunk mode for the first thirty seconds or so. The song finally begins when the Southern drums come-in, accompanied by ‘Going In Circles’s wobbly bassline which Doc Jam weaves in and out of the beat, mixing it low-to-silent during a ‘Stay Fly’-ish stuttering of the “round and round” part of the Friends’ chorus and then bringing it right back even louder and more lively when Lil J starts his verse. The baroquey strings of the original also go through the verse but cleverly change from emotive during Lil J’s verse to swelling and bathetic during Princess’s. The chipmunk-soul chorus is bypassed when moving from verse one to verse two, perhaps because Lil J’s 16 bars, while introductory in the sense of telling you this isn’t a “beat your ass” song from Crime Mob, is really underwhelming.

The horns heard during the first verse are also removed for Princess’ but after her verse, the horns, the strings, the wobbly bassline, the chipmunk chorus, and an additional chipmunk vocal sample, all show up for an extended chorus that feels more like a bridge due to its length and added power. The sample is finally allowed to breathe for this bridge/chorus thing and then, when Diamond comes in, it is appropriately strangled by the conventions of Southern shout-rap and production. The production is like ‘International Players Anthem’ or ‘Stay Fly’ (both produced by Three-Six Mafia, which Crime Mob’s sound is totally derivative of) in its ability to bridge the contemplative, soul-sampling New York style with the in-your-face immediacy and simplicity of Southern rap. I sort of see it as a concession to another region but ultimately, the song benefits and ideally, it might attract the attention of those less willing to sit through songs by the guys who made ‘Rock Yo Hips’.

Earlier in the week, I tried to unpack the pros and cons of 9th Wonder and others’ Pete Rock-fixated production, ultimately finding the revivalist style to be ineffective; It rarely makes excellent music, it rarely makes terrible music, it just sort of sits in the middle. I think ‘Circles’ may actually be one of the better Pete Rock approximations of late. It has Rock’s subtle complexity down, the way one must, with each verse and chorus, change it up a bit, never letting the listener feel totally comfortable. It also gives agile and even, semi-agile rappers a lot more room to have fun and be interesting and here, Crime Mob, especially the girls, respond in-kind.

Crime Mob do a good Three-Six Mafia impression just as Joell Ortiz or Little Brother do a good boom-bap impression. Like those artists, when moved slightly out of their comfort zone, Crime Mob can do something a little more interesting. I’d add, that just as Little Brother’s Southern roots and great sense of humor separate them from well, the Joell Ortiz-type boom-bap revivalists, Crime Mob’s female rappers separate the group from being uninteresting. While Three-Six’s female rappers just rapped the same as dudes, kinda tagging along, Crime Mob’s females dominate every song, precariously balancing their femininity while never using their gender as a schtick.

Most female rappers do their best tough-male interpretation (which never works), isolate themselves by exclusively focusing on female issues, or go bo-hoe-mian, super-sensitively rapping a feminist, socially “concious” bit that’s already annoying when male rappers do it. The last kind of rapper is perfectly parodied on Ghostface’s ‘Wildflower’ which begins with an anonymous female MC rapping some typical over-confident bullshit: “I’m mind-shockin’, body-rockin’/Money-makin’, earth-shakin’/Sittin’ high, lookin’ fly, drinkin’ on the best wine-” Ghostface then comes in with full-force, not on some contrived passion but serious, earned hunger, nearly screaming: “Yo bitch, I fucked your friend/Yeah, you stink hoe-”. Haven’t you wanted to say that to any number of piss-poor female MCs at an open mic, getting by and earning respect only because they’re broads?!

Perhaps it’s because ‘Circles’ forces the rappers to be vulnerable and females can more safely navigate into the world of admission and weakness, but Lil J and Killa C are the ones adopting the persona while the female rappers give off an amazing mix of confidence and vulnerability and everything in between. Killa C just talks about thongs and a five-hour fuck session, while Lil C drums-up the default guy response, only for a moment, shifting away from it with the line “I’ll be the first one to listen” but eventually devolving into dumb-assed threats of physical violence. Princess’ delivery on the other hand, doesn’t waver, adding a tinge of palpable anger to her mature concerns about being with basically, a lying jerkoff. She isn’t desperate, she asserts, she just wants this dude to be real. If he doesn’t love her, that’s fine, just why the fuck would you say it if you don’t mean it: “I don’t read between the lines/So, you need to get to talkin’/Spell it and out and make it clear/Don’t tell me what I wanna hear”. In a way though, Princess’ verse and Diamond’s (which I’ll get to in a minute) saves Lil C’s and makes Killa C’s irrelevant because it positions the males as two voices in an ongoing male-female dialogue. Here, the girls just end-up winning the debate. Even if their verses aren’t in a direct-address with one another (although they are on the song ‘Don’t Need Ya’), the strange mix of the male and female perspective on every song, complicates the songs a great deal.

Speaking of which, the complication award goes to Diamond, who really, should just drop the rest of Crime Mob, or steal their beats and make a solo album. Male rappers have a script when describing love. First, they lovingly or objectifyingly describe the woman’s assets, then they say something about how she gives him the space he needs, and they invoke children or marriage. Female rappers generally provide light allusions to sex, some compliments to the guy’s physique, but generally focus entirely on the mental feelings love brings on. Diamond’s verse merges thosee physical feelings of sex with the mental feelings of love, making the verse way different from love-song conventions but way more realistic. She describes the increased connection sex brings on “Now, my body once I got him/Fulfilling all my needs/He had me fiendin’, obscenin’/I mean it-” but she then, does not separate the feelings from sex or somehow suggest she has grown beyond or “above” well, fucking. The last few lines pretty much describe a female orgasm: “He got me going’ in circles/As dizzy as I wanna be/Down through my toes deep into my soul”, and then she ends, with the very-honest and sincerely delivered “Man, I want him badly”. ‘

The song is sexual in a way that is really visceral (“just smellin’ his breeze”) without being Lil Kim obscene or shockingly “dirty”. It has a 1950s rock music quality in its ability to be dirty and innocent and this is brought to a girl-group level of bad-boy obsession because the middle of Diamond’s verse seems to be about her being under-aged: “I really want him, yes I want him/But the law disagrees/Our love’s illegal, certain people/Man, I wish they could see me/He got me goin’ in circles…” It adds a weird level of the sex technically being rape but nevertheless, it remains a well-wrought portraint of angsty, immediate, teenage sex and love, something that is rarely addressed anywhere with anything resembling accuracy or sympathy. On par with as I said before, old 50s songs, or maybe a movie like ‘River’s Edge’ or Charles Burns’ graphic novel ‘Black Hole’…

Wow. Not bad for a group of supposed “minstrels”…

DocZeus in the comments section dropped the bomb that Diamond’s verse is probably about weed, which makes me look like an over-analytical asshole.

Also, Noz posted the original Gangsta Boo song (from which the ‘Circles’ beat came) with some background info.

Written by Brandon

July 6th, 2007 at 4:01 am

Posted in Crime Mob, the South

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Little Brother Can Be Really Good When They Want To Be.

Little Brother are a perfect example of how no formula, be it the ones they subscribe to or the ones they vehemently oppose, ends-up creating a great rap product. So many mainstream rap albums are rightfully criticized for their production schizophrenia but Little Brother’s albums fall-apart due to their consistency. Little Brother suffer from a reliance on an image every bit as single-minded as your average crack-rappers’ and this too makes them generally, about as interesting as Yung Joc or Young Jeezy. Also, like the hated crack-rappers, Little Brother’s best work is done on non-album cuts, where the stress-level is presumably lower. Their latest single ‘Good Clothes’, along with last year’s ‘Life of the Party’, and the mixtape-song, ‘I See Now’ (featuring Kanye West) are signs that Little Brother, when they want, can break out of the cliché and expectations their sub-genre demands and make some smart and fun music; something we all need right now.

It is the first single from their first album without 9th Wonder, but the beat, produced by Illmind, sounds a lot like Little Brother’s former in-house producer. The track sounds like a good 9th Wonder beat, but it has the same simplicity. Too many people hated on 9th wonder; his bold attempt at sonic consistency sent him into this weird, rap nether region of not sucking, but never being great and he took ‘The Listening’ and ‘The Minstrel Show’ down with him. They aren’t bad albums but their style just gets tedious and I don’t know what could be done about that. The obvious answer for many was “get 9th Wonder out” but the choice for a beat on ‘Good Clothes’ so similar to 9th’s is more confusing than anything else.

The beat does pop, and retains the grit and density of the soul music it samples. My biggest problem with 9th Wonder was the way he seemed to suck all of the soul out of the soul music he sampled; looping the beats in a program as simple as Fruity Loops didn’t help, and he’d chop the sample so short and perfectly (because you have to if you work in Fruity Loops) that they sounded Freddie Jackson-clean instead of Delfonics-dirty. Phonte and Pooh aren’t short on passion and they can rap, and say smart shit and be hilarious but their overall quality, like most rappers is still contingent upon their beats.

‘Good Clothes’ move into greatness when, as they do on all of their best songs, Little Brother bring their personalities to the foreground and their ideologies in the background. Chappelle-ian in its humor, a mix of sympathy, downright cruelty, consciousness, and multi-level pop cultural referencing, ‘Good Clothes’ is a basically a more insightful and honest version of the “I got a lot of clothes” song every rapper does. They sacrifice none of the bragging or celebrating of having, uh, good clothes, but they punctuate it with the reality of wearing a Size 48 or being too young and having to get your mom to take you to the mall to buy you the good clothes you want.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m praising them for leaving politics or a certain level of didacticism behind, rather this song makes their views implicit. ‘Good Clothes’ acts as more of a corrective or variation on the rap song about clothes than any kind of denial or rejection. Instead of focusing only on conspicuous consumption as so many rappers are wont to do, but without devolving into an anti-materialism rap-screed, ‘Good Clothes’ acknowledges the ying and yang of tearing it up at the mall. Healthy doses of insight and humor are sent in everyone’s direction.

Their verses are self-deprecating in an honest and defiant way rather than a way that is borderline “emo-rap”. A lot of times, the self-deprecating rap song, among the “conscious” or “lyrical” types is dripping in sarcasm, ending up as some kind of “I’m so fucked-up/lame/pathetic that I’m awesome” that isn’t that different from typical rap braggadocio. The comedy here, is playfully mocking and other than Phonte’s spoken part, isn’t even making fun of anybody, rather, it’s comedy pulled out of indignation and embarrassment.

Pooh talks about getting him mom to take him to the mall and the sales attendant directing him to the ‘Husky’ section: “As we got on the floor, it was embarassin’, trust me/ The saleswoman walk me straight over to husky.” A quick fat joke about himself but also a quick summation of being a teenager and the give-and-take of getting the fly clothes you wanted but having to bring your Mom because she’s paying and just, the body-image issues that you have when you’re like, thirteen. The verse ends defiantly, husky or not, he still got the clothes he wanted: “…got stonewashed denim, Bobby Brown patent leather/Members Only jacket, ain’t nobody fresher” (he’s also super-on-beat there). Those clothes, indicative of the era in which Pooh grew-up, also have a populist appeal, as everybody around his age remembers wearing the same thing. If radio wasn’t corrupt beyond belief, there’s no reason why this song couldn’t be a minor hit. The fat jokes are funny and relateable, and the era-specific name-brand jokes would appeal to anyone in a VH1-esque “remember when we wore Members Only jackets?!” way.

Phonte’s brief rant on the fashions of those surrounding him in an imaginary bar makes me laugh-out-loud. Having this over-emotive soul singer voice pop-in and go “taaakkkeee that coooattt off niggaaaa” as Phonte mocks a dude wearing a leather jacket and then follow it up, with the same soulster belting out “better go too Laannne Bryanntt” in reference to a fat chick in low-rise jeans with the fat spilling over (“looks like a muffin”) is more clever than a fat chick joke really needs to be.

This is where Little Brother should focus their intelligence, not so much on snidely setting themselves apart but improving-upon and pointing to truths that other rappers are too tough, cool, or just plain comfortable to admit.

Written by Brandon

July 2nd, 2007 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Links and Lots of Stuff Unrelated to Rap…

First, shameless plug…if you haven’t checked out my article at, please do.

Second, I got a cool link about my Kanye entry over at film critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s super-amazing House Next Door. It means a lot because to be linked by anybody is nice but especially because Seitz, a former film critic for the ‘New York Press’, along with Armond White (still a critic for NY Press), are two of the first writers I ever read that seemed fearlessly intelligent. I was in 8th grade when I got the internet, exposing me to movie stuff beyond what my local library and ‘The Baltimore Sun’ critics had to offer and these guys blew me away…still do.

I feel like an outsider for a number of reasons among bloggers, particularly rap-bloggers, the foremost reason being I’m not really like, a fan of journalists, especially music writers and I’m not internet-saavy. Breihan and Noz were the only guys that made me think “I want to do this!” and the other two journalist-types really would be Seitz and White. I’m an old-fashioned pretentious douche so my writing influences, if I were to be honest, pretension be damned, would be like, D.H Lawrence, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Ruskin…but it’s really the two music writers and film critics mentioned above.

-Souled-On Music also gave me a nice link. It feels self-important to “thank people” but it means more than I can really explain when people link me or give me a compliment about the blog. It’s also pretty great to see that I have a decent-sized group of readers/fellow-bloggers who always expound and complicate things in the comments section.

-The Ed Zone (from Baltimore’s City Paper): A very interesting article about a very interesting man connected to Baltimore. Ed Norris, actor on ‘The Wire’, former Police Commissioner, current radio talk show host, held a press-conference announcing his crime plan in response to our pretty-much totally retarded mayor’s non-crime plan.

I generally try not to get too emotional or sincere about political issues but the rising murder-rate in Baltimore is nothing short of tragic. I was discussing it with my father the other day and just the thought of so many lives lost, due in large part, to state government incompetence and disregard, brought me to tears. It truly isn’t fair and its criminal the way this issue is being ignored or downplayed.

-Cute Overload: Pretty self-explanatory.

-‘We Want Weezy’: This is so amazing and it has nothing to do with being a Lil Wayne fan or non-fan. Despite what so many Wayne stans seem to think, I don’t hate the dude. My entry just said he isn’t “Great” and I tried to say it in a way that is a little more respectful than the way Dallas Penn said it.

But yeah, this guy making an entire album of Weezy parodies is incredible. Like ‘Outsider Art’ incredible. It would be easy to make a parody SONG but to do a whole album, wow. Also, it’s so well-done and accurate, yet hilarious, it moves beyond being malicious or anything. I personally like ‘I Need Baby’ and ‘Because of Baby’.

Please Rent: ‘Holy Mountain’

The above clip is from this movie ‘Holy Mountain’ by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s really great. You should rent it. I’m generally opposed to artsy-fartsy hippie shit but this movie somehow, did it for me. It’s ultimately kind of about how all that mystical stuff doesn’t mean jack and it has a never-serious tone mixed with a less harsh, less self-important instructive side. To me, it seems like a lot of people have snatched a lot from it. I think unlike other surreal or “experimental” directors, Jodorowsky cares about people and his movie’s contempt is slightly different than most movies as he has less contempt for his satirical targets and his audience because this movie is never boring or tedious or even that obvious.

I may go buy the box set because I’ve never seen his other big movie ‘El Topo’ and it comes with the soundtracks as well, and the ‘Holy Mountain’ soundtrack by Don Cherry was great, especially this broken-saxophone lamenty-esque song that played as the Woman whose planet is ‘Mars’ climbs out of bed with her bald, lesbian lovers.

-‘Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America’: THIS MOVIE LOOKS AWESOME. Too bad it will NEVER play anywhere really. The trailer posted here makes it seem even better.

Written by Brandon

July 1st, 2007 at 2:00 pm