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Archive for August, 2007

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Disrespect Your Elders!

While so many others are thinking it or hold back out of “respect” for these out-of-their-fucking-minds black “leaders” David Banner comes out swinging. Banner refers to Sharpton as a “permed-out pimp” and makes the inarguable point that, there’s a lot more important shit to worry about than rap lyrics. His comparing them to crappy parents is very apt: “Fuck that about they’re our elders and we gotta respect them. I’m tired of this. They’re like the parents, but the parents are crucifying the kids.” In the same article, Talib Kweli is predictably pseudo-diplomatic. For being such a “revolutionary” he sure does play it safe. The South wins again.

The problem with Kweli’s argument is not his sentiment, for political discussion certainly needs more “respectful disagreement” but there are points when this rule should be eschewed. Just as divisive arguing and name-calling is a bad idea, taking the supposedly “mature” way out every time is equally simple-minded. Banner isn’t just venting; he weaves valid points throughout his name-calling, alluding to more relevant problems, and subtly invoking his own political street cred. It is brave and backed by action, which as many readers suggested after reading this, Kanye’s anti-homophobia remarks were not. The South wins again.

In contrast to the leaders he calls-out for being fake and money-motivated, Banner presents himself as upfront and honest even if it makes him come off as angry. Banner’s comments highlight a rather unfortunate trend of duplicity among certain black intellectuals and leaders of the left. Certainly, many politicians and intellectuals of both sides and all races are duplicitous, but what is particularly disturbing about Sharpton or Jackson and many others is that it downgrades their otherwise valid viewpoints. When the President struts across an aircraft carrier in costume, I feel his sickening want to perform victory and the way he confuses that for actual victory. While I might agree with certain points made my Sharpton or Jackson, I find their actions similar.

If the recent, opportunistic attacks on rap don’t convince you, think of Sharpton’s recent grandstanding during the Duke rape case or go real far back to Jesse Jackson’s infamous bloody collar. Too much is made of Jackson’s supposed smearing of Martin Luther King’s blood upon his collar and then going on television, but it is problematic. I say too much is made of it because it is consistently used as ammunition for the right as evidence of Jackson being a liar and opportunist and while it does prove both of those things, plenty of people are liars and opportunists but also do a lot of good. At the same time, it is Exhibit A of a certain kind of political performance that believes that the means justify the end. It’s a pretty sick twist on American Pragmatism and is not any different than our current President’s lies that led us into Iraq.

The President thought he was doing good or planned to do good by invading Iraq and created a reality because one did not exist. I do not think he was evil, I think his own, hyper-idealistic want to do right motivates him to lie. The same motivation probably affected Jesse Jackson when Martin Luther King was murdered. Whether Jackson used blood that spilled out of Dr. King’s head or used chicken blood, the fake aspects of the action came out of a genuine but monomaniacal want to do right.

In rap, the understandable but no less retarded wish for the golden-age of political rap has made many blind to the more pragmatic politics found in recent rap, particularly that of the South or in a way, non-coastal rap in general. David Banner’s comments or Kanye’s coming-out against homophobia represents a shift in how rappers choose to get political. When someone says “no one is political anymore”, I respond by suggesting that how and why people become political has changed. They implicate themselves in the political issue at hand and through that, move away from the “preaching to the converted” problems of most political art.

David Banner comes out against Sharpton the same way he would on a beef record. He throws down his own political record instead of floating around in the high-fallutin’ world of political ideals. Banner’s anger and Kanye’s gay jokes even as he decries homophobia allows these rappers to maintain their humanity when they engage in political discussions. This makes them appear a great deal more honest and more digestible to average people. Who would listen to Public Enemy but those that already agree? Can you expect regular people to respond with anything other than fear when a band comes off militant and has a logo featuring the symbolic “the man” between cross-hairs? Paradoxically, David Banner, the creator of a song like ‘Play’ has more political pull than more “serious” political rappers.

Michael Eric Dyson and KRS-One appear in contrast to Banner and Kanye’s political sincerity and that makes sense, because they are closely connected to the old-guard of political rap I mentioned before. Although a great deal more “with it” than Jackson or Sharpton, they are equally insincere when talking about hip-hop.

I’ve discussed Dyson’s disingenuous argument here but what really troubled me about Dyson’s book was his introductory “prelude” ‘Hip Hop and Its Critics’ read it here). In it, Dyson recounts the story of being checked by an airport security guard who, between pat-downs, praises Dyson’s book and requests an autograph of the book. See, the guy loves Tupac and Dyson’s book on ‘Pac so much, he carries it around!

The introductory is wonderful on an emotional and political level. Dyson cleverly points out the way the guy navigates between his security guard voice and a moves into vernacular when discussing Tupac. It subtly says a lot about hip-hop and black culture’s occupation between worlds and impressive ability to navigate those worlds but…I don’t think it ever fucking happened. As I said, that doesn’t lessen the power of the story nor does it negate its points, but it does make Dyson’s writing questionable. I know I’m a cynic but if you really like Tupac, why would you carry around a book about him? If I was a big William Blake fan, I wouldn’t carry around Northrup Frye!

The anecdote just leaves a sour taste in my mouth and even if it did happen, it stops being relevant as it becomes more of a story about Michael Eric Dyson’s influence on one security guard than “eloquent proof that not everyone in his generation is illiterate, destructive, and materialistic”. All the Security Guard says in the Prelude is praise for Dyson. The story feels the same as when our President recalls some, probably fictional mother of a dead soldier who thanked him or said something about how proud she is of her son’s duty.

Jay Smooth recently posted this video of KRS-One playing Prospect Park and giving the audience a speech on “creative visualization”, relating a story of how years ago, homeless, he told himself that “one day [he] was going to rock” Prospect Park. With respect to Jay (not as an elder but as an accomplished, good guy), I see why the sentiment is moving but I find it a bit suspect. Even if it did happen and KRS did think that, it didn’t play-out as he presents it in that video. The world and especially one’s own life is so much more complicated than this affecting but pithy anecdote.

Just as Sharpton and Jackson and even Dyson are working on the same level of bullshit as the president, does KRS’s speech give me the same icky feeling as a Tony Robbins seminar. Just because it’s a rap legend and not a creep with big teeth doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be suspect. What is so refreshing about Banner’s sentiment is he isn’t interested in who Al Sharpton is, only what he says. It’s funny that the only time one is told “respect your elders” is when those elders are talking out of their ass and need to be disrespected.

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2007 at 4:04 am

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Random Thoughts On the New UGK
-‘Best Buy’ has the CD for $9.99 and the “exclusive” edition with a DVD for $12.99. Even though the DVD isn’t really worth three bucks I had to buy it. The DVD is actually nice, the documentary is well-done and you get video for ‘The Game Belongs To Me’ and ‘Int’l Players Anthem’. The main nerd appeal of this version however, is the old-style double-disc case; you know, that extra thick one that ‘Life After Death’ or ‘Sign O The Times’ comes in? The CD is also an “enhanced CD” and when you put it on your computer, this little icon of the cover shows. I don’t know if it was on purpose, it had to be sort of, but it’s all this nerded-out rap nostalgia. Like its 1997 and I’m accessing the enhanced content of ‘Forever’ and going through the virtual Wu Mansion…

-I was truly excited about the album because I didn’t download the leak. In part because the widget thingy that Noz posted gave me an adequate preview of the album and also it being two discs, it’s just a lot to download and my connection would cut-out or some prick would sign off before I got the whole thing. The result was, I had only really sort of heard the songs. I heard it as a totally new album upon purchasing which hasn’t happened since ‘Late Registration’. There was also sharing the excitement of the album with my friends. At noon, I talked to Monique in Delaware who was buying it, and my friend John who works in Annapolis, MD bought it on his lunch-break. There was enthusiasm shared and text messages sent back and forth (“Pimp C needs a ghostwriter haha”, “It gets really good at the end of Disc 1”, “I think Disc 2 is even better!”) and last night, my friends and I sat around and watched the bonus DVD. It’s just fun in a way that fucking iTunes and torrent-downloads can’t be.

-Speaking of the DVD. Are UGK the coolest fucking guys ever? They just really get how shit works and they are really modest and real about everything. When Bun and Pimp talk about ‘The Story’ from ‘Trill’ its genuinely moving, especially the way Pimp C says they don’t even really talk about it. That’s how it is with real friends, especially if you’re a guy, sometimes you just nod or share a look and it says more than actually discussing your feelings.

-One of the more disturbing things on the DVD is how Pimp C definitely has this prison-stare now. If you’ve ever met anybody that’s been in prison, they pick up this stare, probably part out of survival and also because their mind’s still blown from being in fucking prison; Pimp C really has it. Every word or point he makes is emphasized by his piercing stare and a tone that kind of feels like what he is saying is life or death urgent.

-‘Underground Kingz’ is perfectly paced. It’s too long but that’s obvious, it’s a double album. However, it works by having the pacing of a single album. It really doesn’t start to get amazing until late on Disc 1 and from there on out, it all just kills. From ‘Grind Hard’ to the second half of ‘Trill Niggas Don’t Die’ (which I guess is a remix of ‘Top Drop Dyne’) with these Randy Rhodes heavy-rocker guitars, oh shit.

-I think Southern rap actually gains a lot from the length of the albums. Every ‘Cash Money’ record is “too-long” but the length also works as complete immersion into the ‘Cash Money’ world. There’s something about rap that doesn’t need to be concise and even loses something in brevity. I went crazy over ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ and ‘Return of the Mac’ when they came out but I barely listen to them now. They’re just fairly easy to “get”, you know? The stretched-out, more conventional musicality of Southern beats too, caters to longer song-lengths and borderline “jamming”. Every beat feels urgent but once you get caught up in it, it just sort of bumps and whirls around you, sometimes for like seven minutes straight. Black Moon could fit three great songs into seven minutes, depending on your point of view, that could be good or bad or both…

-For old-ass whiny rappers, fuck Common or Jay-Z, ‘Underground Kingz’ is how you age gracefully. The album undoubtedly sounds like UGK but they have their eyes and ears open to the current trends of the South and totally body the songs. They don’t have any interest in reaching-out beyond the new and old trends of their region and they don’t need the jerk-off from Coldplay on their songs to sound “mature”. Their voices are mature, their style is mature, and they take plenty of time to address the more complex aspects of “the street” without making excuses for their age or condescending to younger rappers, although there’s plenty of condescension to New York.

-Besides a roster of recent Southern rappers, you get Talib Kweli, Dizzee Rascal, the Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson, and true rap legends like Scarface, Willie D (!!!!!!), Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. What other rap album pulls that off or even attempts it?

-‘Quit Hatin’ On The South’ is like a thesis on why hatred of the South is retarded. Seriously. One thing that certainly affects record sales is that essentially an entire coast refuses to buy anything Southern. While those in the South, Midwest, or West don’t worry too much about regionalism, at least in terms of music purchasing, the East coast refuses to even take true legends like UGK seriously. Fuck everybody.

-Do not listen to this album on your little computer speakers or your iPod earbuds. Play it really loud. In your car, on your stereo, anywhere, just play it loud because that’s how you need to hear it. The production is supposed to hit you, you’re supposed to feel it the same way a really good line hits you.

-My friend Jesse made this:

-I love the DJ Screw style but most other chopped-and-screwed stuff is terrible. Michael Watts doesn’t have any of the subtlety or genius of DJ Screw. The chopped-and-screwed version of ‘Int’l Players Anthem’ is amazing though. It isn’t just formulaic chopping and screwing but a real understanding and focus on making a listenable song in the screwed style.

-”Disc 1 is better. Disc 2 is like, R & B for boys”-Monique

-Buy this album. I won’t front like my enthusiasm may not wane as it has for just about every other rap release this year but right now, this is all I’m listening to.

Written by Brandon

August 9th, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Posted in DJ Screw, UGK, the South

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Lee Hazlewood (1929-2007)

I was writing this as Tom Breihan’s Hazlewood tribute popped-up on my rss feed thingy. Breihan’s entry is a much more historical and biographical piece with a focus on his production. Check it out if you haven’t…

I got into Lee Hazlewood’s music through the movie ‘Morvern Callar’. There’s a wonderful scene in which Samantha Morton listens to ‘Some Velvet Morning’ as she walks through the fluorescent-lit aisles of the supermarket she works in, all sound drown-out except for the epic intro to this track and Lee’s weirdo baritone voice that with his accent, comes off as more cracker than country but still really commanding. Nothing else really sounds like this:

‘Some Velvet Morning’ from ‘Nancy & Lee’
Sorry, but I only own this on LP so I can’t upload an MP3 of it but it’s really the place to start with Hazlewood. It’s on the ‘Nancy & Lee’ record and really is a great piece of production. Although he’s a white dude from Oklahoma, who started out as a folk singer and worked with people like Nancy Sinatra and other chanteuse-like singers, Hazlewood’s sound reminds me the most of the best early, gritty soul and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were some influence on someone like Thom Bell. If the RZA can sample the hell out of those distinctive Delfonics guitars and Al Green horns, one could easily chop the melodramatic weirdness of Hazlewood tracks like ‘Some Velvet Morning’ into something ill. The galloping strings that accompany Hazlewood’s defeatist “Some velvet morning when I’m straight” line would sit right at home on a vintage Raekwon track.

The song is also just flat-out bizarre. Hazlewood’s creepy singing is used in contrast to Nancy Sinatra’s prettier singing and exploited for maximum weirdness. He sings like a perverted Uncle or some creepy 60s guru about how someday, when he’s straight he’ll “open up your gate” and “maybe tell you about Phaedra”. The qualifications make it funnier and more real, as it seems to be, if he ever does get straight, he’ll you know, maybe get around to telling you about Phaedra. Sinatra, whose voice isn’t totally normal either, it has this disembodied, emotionless tenor, sings as Phaedra. Who knows what it all means but it works as being genuinely strange but also catchy. The end of the song is particularly striking as Hazlewood cuts-up the vocal tracks with increased vigor, as they bounce back and forth sort of interrupting one another and even does, what seems to me, to be some clever, early attempt at time-stretching…

‘Cold Hard Times’ from ‘Cowboy In Sweden’
There’s a palpable, stoned haze to all of ‘Cowboy In Sweden’. It’s subtle, like a vague film of weed smoke and wine that covers the track and Lee’s trying really hard to maintain a sense of optimism. The songs have this bouncy, near whimsical belief in the world tempered by an understanding of reality. The lilting strings, the playful guitar…He sings the chorus “It’s a cold, hard world love/And these are cold, hard times” as if he isn’t singing the saddest thing ever and the fact that he’s telling you it does kind of make you feel better. It’s like your father telling you something bad really will ultimately, be okay.

“I heard my brother died last week or was that just a rumor?/From an overdose of hate taken in his veins/”I heard the preacher said God must have a sense of humor/Cause when they put him in the grave, it didn’t even rain”

What can you say? Not a bad four lines there. I even like the vague pretentiousness of it (“overdose of hate”) because I think Hazlewood’s pseudo-poetry there is supposed to be sort of goofy.

‘We All Make the Flowers Grow’ from ‘Trouble Is a Lonesome Town’
I talked about this song in a previous post and here’s what I said:

“The song is darkly funny but deadly serious as well, it’s resigned in a way, accepted the fact that there’s no God or order to anything and in that resignation, finds humor and at least, the strength to articulate that resignation and not get lost in it. It’s “just” a folk/country song but through Hazelwood’s voice and really smart lyrics, you can tell that he isn’t trying to shock you with his “wormfood” assertions, it’s the kind of belief he’s earned.”

This comes from Hazlewood’s first album which works as a weird concept album about a crappy little town called ‘Trouble’. Hazelwood’s humor and sincerity are totally out-there on this, as each track is introduced by an entertaining but purposefully tedious spoken-word intro. By the end of the album though, the intros and the accompanying songs really do build-up to a moving portrait of the town.

‘Love & Other Crimes’ from ‘Love & Other Crimes’

Sorry, I only have this one on LP as well. I think this is Hazlewood’s best album and it’s frustratingly not available on CD. There is a compilation from 1997 on ‘LHI Records’ also called ‘Love and Other Crimes’ and while that is worth getting and does contain some tracks from ‘Love…’ it is not the album. Don’t be fooled!

Hazlewood has this way of being really sincere but always sort of joking around with you at the same time. There’s a certain level of melodrama that he is always working with and it makes it hard to totally decipher his sincerity. This song has this sort of jazzy bass, piano, and brushy drumming and mixed with his kinda over-the-top crooning, it sounds a little funny, but when it fucking kicks-in at the 35 second point, it sort of takes you away and then, within 15 seconds its done and the song’s pretty much over.

The whole issue of regret and guilt is something that asshole singers and rock stars never really deal with anymore; they are too cool for it and then indie musicians who aren’t too cool for it, have to present it in some artsy, twee way that entails becoming Anne Frank’s dickhole or something like that. Rappers are much more apt to simply, straight-forwardly address regret and guilt without falling into any “woe is me” type stuff. I’m sure it’s because I’m blasting the new UGK all day today but I keep finding these odd connections. I hear the same embrace of accent and actual voice in Bun B as I do when Hazelwood belts it out knowing it sounds kind of off or just plain old. When Hazelwood is singing this stuff he’s about the same age that Bun and Pimp C are now.

Hazlewood released an album about dying last year called ‘Cake or Death’ and it represents the kind of stoicism and no-bullshit view of life that is definitely a good look when death is coming and you know it. It’s what those ‘American Recordings’ Johnny Cash albums should be or could have been if they were less exploitative.

This interview is from last year and you can see, Hazlewood was just as amazing. He addresses some French-sounding douche guy about the time signature changing on ‘Some Velvet Morning’ so I guess it isn’t a production “time-stretching” trick. At the same time, Hazlewood is like every legend, a master bullshitter and it still sounds more like a production trick than some master playing, so who knows…either way, this video captures the feeling I’ve gotten from all of Hazlewood’s music, this modesty mixed with assertiveness and even like a mildly enlightened attitude about everything…and now he’s dead.

Written by Brandon

August 8th, 2007 at 4:51 am

Posted in Lee Hazlewood

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Apple’s iPhone One Month Later: Plenty More Practical Than You Thought It Would Be
Roughly a year ago, when I first heard that Apple was developing a phone, I was slightly intrigued but not set on it being my next phone. Then, I found out that AT&T, then Cingular, was going to be the carrier… I signed up for e-mail updates from AT&T. I basically decided that I was going to wait for the iPhone to be available to upgrade. But then June 29th rolled around…and I found myself completely disinterested. Too much money, the hype was making the phone absurdly urgent and I just felt like…I really don’t even care about phones that much.

I think my brother has made me hate phones. When you live with your 13 year old kid brother, who likes the Yankees (particularly Giambi) and thinks that he really is into electronics (iPods and the like)…you hear a lot about cell phones. The kicker about this age group is that they really know nothing about how electronics work. I spent hours on the computer on December 25, 2006 trying to teach someone who is disinterested in learning, how to synch his new iPod to the computer and add songs. He currently has what I call “the Zoolander phone”, the super-tiny Pantech camera phone. His wallpaper is currently a picture of him with Hooters girls. The kid likes to think he can stunt.

It really irritates me when anyone, 13 year olds included, try to replace confidence with something else…be it electronics, clothes…whatever…you get what I am saying. Phones are a primary item that people use to try to represent themselves…and truthfully, some of the poorest people I know have the best phones. And that is cool…do whatever you want, but I can’t be sympathetic when they seem to be the people always telling me about how much debt they have, how broke they are…etc.

On July 11, 2007…13 days since the release of the iPhone. I changed my mind. I decided it was probably worth it. Large purchases, for me, are nothing if not impulsive and I’m sort of sorry to say that this was not really as impulsive as it could have been. But the Megatrondon’s iPhone review revealed to me, for the first time, that it could actually be a practical “investment” that would, in fact, increase efficiency. Wesley Case bluntly advised me that it was stupid to invest money at age 21 (although, I still think Certificate of Deposits are a great, stable short term option!). And really…it’s better that I bought the phone with the $500 than on my notorious summer shopping spree in New York City (although, that might still happen).

For all the urgency related to the release date, there is a secret about Apple products that actually make them worth getting soon after the release date: The first and/or earlier generation always seems to be the best. For example, with the iPod, the earlier generations were not only better made but came with all the amenities needed, aside from a car adapter. Additionally, the packaging design gets increasingly less impressive. It seems as though Apple really knows what is going on without feedback from consumers. If you read any Apple support message board you will see some of the worst people ever complaining about shit that CLEARLY does not matter. So, this created my own urgency to get the first generation of the phone. And now there is already talk about how they will be coming out with a cheaper version. Although, this is supposed to be a cheaper option, I’m sure that Apple will make something on the current iPhone additionally plastic to make it lighter…and I hate that shit.

Since my first phone in 2001, I have had more Nokia phones than any other brand. They are dependable, have good battery life, and a simple interface. These are the primary aspects of a phone that I am concerned with..secondarily, however, I do like my phone to be aesthetically pleasing and have buttons that are comfortable. This is the subjective basis on which I will be judging the iPhone. Also, please note that a huge reason I really went through with the purchase is because I have an Apple computer.


Unlike the majority of people that will briskly contemplate an iPhone in an AT&T or Apple store, I trust Apple. I have had an iPod since 2004 and a MacBook since July 2006 and have had both serviced/repaired while under warranty. Their customer service is nothing less than impeccable…possibly to make up for widespread irrational doubt of their products or maybe they truly believe in something…which would be just as douchey as it is endearing. Basically, I’m an Apple customer, not a self proclaimed MacGenius that totes my computer to every wireless hotspot in this hemisphere.

Debit card in hand, I felt comfortable dropping 500 on an Apple phone because I know if something happens to it, I can easily take it to get repaired. Whereas with a Treo, Blackberry, or Sidekick…I’m positive that I would either end up with a replaced phone or shit out of luck. Most would prefer a replaced phone which I’ve never quite understood.

If anything, I would say that the iPhone’s interface may even be an homage to the Nokia interface with regard to simplicity. The set-up of the main screen reminds me of the immutable Nokia menu with each component being represented by a symbol…but clearly a true upgrade from the Nokia with better design and ease of use. As with all Apple products, the transitions that occur while navigating through the interface from menu to feature are very smooth and manage to distract the user as they wait by entertaining them with improved graphic transitions.


The first inclination I had that phones might go in a buttonless direction was with the LG Chocolate phones: a slider phone that integrated “touch buttons”. I had two friends that had the “black chocolate” (?!), the touch buttons seemed to be their favorite feature. I think its some sort of mental thing that humans have…somehow just touching something and getting a response is easier than pressing a button and getting the same response. Biologically speaking, we are on to something…it does, in fact, require the use of more muscles (and therefore a small increase in energy) to apply force to a button than it does to simply place a finger on a designated area.. Touch, although one of the most important and versatile senses, also tends to be the least rewarding and skill requiring…

Apple is undoubtedly concerned with ideas. Releasing a buttonless phone was a huge risk for Apple to take. But not an unexpected type of risk from people who are concerned with a niche market that tends to be far from the “average” sensibility. It is conceptually complicated in a way that could be completely disastrous if not perfected. But perfecting innovation to a marketable level is something that Apple tends to frequently achieve.

I didn’t try the iPhone in the store before I bought it. I felt sort of weary about it being difficult to type on the keyboard. Upon trying it, it definitely works better than you would think that it would. It seems to respond to where the center of your finger is placed which is a skill that is quickly learned.

Keeping in mind that the iPhone is truly capable of multiple features that my previous Nokia phone was not, the battery life seems to be substantial. On the first run, it made it two and a half days without streaming video or playing music through the iPod feature. I tend to not really use the video/iPod capabilities. Maybe I’ll use these features more when I get back to school. Even so, the battery was quick to charge.

Before I purchased the phone, I read online that it is a honking $79 to replace the battery. I’m not sure what to make of this…other than to think that I will deal with that when I get to it and maybe report back on how much it sucks.

Other Notable Features
-As with all Apple products, the brightness is unmatched. I’m sure this takes away from a potentially more efficient use of the battery but…worth it. The sleep button may redeem the inefficient use by allowing the phone to be put to sleep whenever the user decides. So…basically, if you have your brightness jacked…you can shut the phone off so that you can enjoy every eye straining-ly bright moment the battery has to offer.

-The Safari browser and Calendar are my two most used applications on my computer. Safari has become my favorite browser even though it ends up not working with many secure sites and calendar helps me to organize all the crap I have to do. My very frequent use of calendar is certainly a reason that I chose the iPhone. I’m not sure how this works with Windows, but I can directly synch all of my bookmarks from Safari and all of my Calendar events when I hook my phone to my computer.

Written by Monique

August 7th, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Posted in iPOD, iPhone

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Remember 2004? Mannie Fresh’s ‘The Mind Of…’

I did one of these before, talking about Slum Village’s 2004 release ‘Detroit Deli’. I guess my uh, “thesis” which even only I buy like 25% of, is that 2004 was a really good year for rap music but rap fans are insatiable pricks and in light of rap being supposedly terrible in 2007, I’m saying they should have maybe given a shit about these good and interesting releases of 2004 and supported them. I guess in a way, it’s my own moronic version of nostalgia…

While ‘Detroit Deli’ in my opinion, defined the loose crossover possibilities of the “conscious” set and in effect, the general feeling I was getting from rap in 2004, ‘The Mind Of…’ seems to be an album that for those paying attention, hinted at some of the shit that is currently going on. If you are okay with rap now you’ll probably like this album. If all you talk about are Cassidy mixtapes, Saigon, and how rap sucks in 2007, you won’t like this album.

As some kind of predictor of rap in 2007 ‘The Mind Of…’ seems nearly prophetic. You get Lil Wayne on four tracks, including two solo performances that are presented as Wayne hi-jacking the album (‘Wayne’s Takeover 1 & 2’). This is the same year ‘The Carter’ came out and is the era that most seem to perceive as the beginning of Wayne becoming the “rapper-eater” he is today. There is also the actually sort of prophetic ‘Mayor Song’ in which Mannie calls-out the poor governing of his beloved New Orleans a year before Katrina hit. Then of course, there’s Mannie’s production which is an example of and influence on the Southern rap style everybody likes to hate so damned much…

On ‘The Mind Of..’ the production seems a little more ambitious. ‘Intro’ doesn’t lack any of the Mannie Fresh bounce but it also contains a super-clean acoustic guitar and some really great, precise soul horns and wah-ed out bass and guitar. All of the songs have live instrumentation and real, solid playing on them, but Mannie seems a little more okay with letting that sound really stray from conventions of Southern rap. The playing pops-out a little more on ‘Intro’ and this helps adjust your ear to the mid-album songs which are as much some weird new form of soul as they are rap. ‘Nothing Compares to Love’ has this strange extended chorus that feels as much like ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ as Southern chant-rap.

A few tracks later, you get ‘Not Tonight’ more of an actual soul song than a rap song that also works as a soul parody because Mannie croons stuff like “is you out yo motherfuckin’ mind/Pagin’ me, putting 69/We don’t do that shit”. It works because Mannie’s got the chops to make it actually sound like a Freddie Jackson song and not some lazy parody. Then, after that, he gives you ‘The DJ’ sort of like Mannie’s own version of ‘Terminator X Speaks With His Hands’ and follows it up with a definitive Mannie Fresh production ‘Real Big’. And then…he goes into a particularly hilarious skit, the first of two labeled ‘Great Moments in the Ghetto’ a ‘Chappelle’s Show’ rip-off, complete with sincere delivery of said “great moment”, acoustic guitar strumming, and some harmonizing that signifies/parodies “down-home”. It’s tough to explain, but it’s really this sincere love and understanding of a genre or style, with the love so deep that you’re totally safe laughing your ass off at it. The Pharcyde do that on ‘Bizarre Ride II’ where the guys are likely to break into a parody of Louis Armstrong’s singing or toss in some half-sincere Thelonious Monk-ish piano vamps…

‘Mayor’s Song’ is a brief but effective track that imagines Fresh confronting the politicians that aren’t doing dick to aid his hometown. Mannie travels up the tiers of corruption, starting with the Mayor who blows him off, moving onto the Governor whose aide won’t even let Mannie ask a question and then, we get a quick snapshot of the President who is more concerned with playing golf. It sounds like it comes from experience; it’s more than generalized political anger. If one has ever tried to call even a local politician, what Mannie experiences on the track is exactly what happens, as the complaint is given to an intern and then the responsibility is shirked and passed-on to some other department. He also addresses the way that one’s wealth is used to downplay one’s political passions especially in the black community. When he questions the Governor’s Aide on taxes and the response is “you sound like you think white people are the only people getting by”.

It is the only political song on the album and while that makes one think of it as less sincere a concession to politics, I think it’s just realistic, especially on an album called ‘The Mind Of…Mannie Fresh’. My mind is certainly occupied by political thoughts and concerns but really, my brain spends way more time thinking about banging girls or trying to bang girls; that is why we get more songs like ‘Pussy Power’ and less like ‘Mayor Song’. At the same time, that shouldn’t downplay the significance of ‘Mayor Song’.

The production here is the main appeal, well that and the humor (every skit on the album is funny), and the only reason I spent more time on the ideas than the fucking great production is because a Southern rap album being taken seriously is still a problem. The production is what you’d expect but does seem a little more elastic and fun without losing the BPMs or the aggression. ‘Pussy Power’ jumps from typical bounce to interpolating the ‘Ghostbusters’ theme, and subtly changes up about ten other times throughout. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ has this weird breakdown with this high-pitched scatting and beat-boxing in lieu of an actual chorus and then falls right back into Mannie’s Rudy Ray Moore-esque story of cheating. Of course, Mannie is like the best Southern producers in that he never gets too lost in his own mind and never strays too far from what is expected, so the stranger details are complimented by conventionally “ignorant” beats like ‘Real Big’ and ‘Day In The Life (Cadillac Doors)’.

Written by Brandon

August 6th, 2007 at 6:17 pm

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Rappers Discover Acid (Not Really).
When rock music addresses the use of psychedelic drugs it is generally either the sonic equivalent of a life-changing “I saw God” moment or it’s a psychedelic freak-out; the sonic equivalent of a bad trip. Lil Wayne’s ‘I Feel Like Dying’ and ‘I’m a J Remix’ featuring Lil Jon, D4L’s Fabo, and Gucci Mane are two songs that I’ve been listening to a lot and in my opinion, address certain realities of drug-use much more accurately than your average acid-trip jam.

‘I Feel Like Dying’ is sort of a bad-trip song but we primarily get that feeling from the suicidal chorus, Wayne’s blissed-out flow, and a weird, meandering guitar. The lyrical content of the verses is a counterpoint to the bad trip feeling, giving you excited visions of Willy Wonka land or the Altered State of Druggachusets. While say, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ gets increasingly freaky, reflecting the shift into a bad trip, the reality of drugs is that its pretty much a constant struggle between feeling great and well, feeling like you’re dying. Sometimes both feelings hit you at the same time and then you’re really confused and really feel like dying.

One assumes a great deal of acid rock musicians actually did acid so it is even stranger that their presentations of the drug rely so much on the same cliches (although I guess the same could be said of “gangsta” rappers). As I said before, Lil Wayne is well-versed in played-out Strawberry Alarm Clockisms, but when mixed with the strange production and chorus, it feels wholly original. This is in part because rap, even when it does address tripping, never goes out on a limb this far to be weird but still listenable and even sort of catchy. The song isn’t a total clusterfuck freak-out but it isn’t a normal rap song with conventional lyrics replaced with lyrics about tripping. Also, Wayne knows his stoner clichés are clichés and he delivers them with glee. Particularly strange is his mixing of sports and drugs. I don’t even get what he’s going for at all but of course, that’s why it becomes some genuine stoner shit: “Playing touch football on Marijuana Street/Or in a marijuana field, you are so beneath my cleats”. I just finished reading this and the pretty much perfect soundtrack to it would be ‘I Feel Like Dying’, half-baked glee fighting with like, tangible grossness all filtered through some hit or miss profundity.

On ‘I’m a J Remix’, Lil Jon stumbles upon the little-addressed but undeniable reality that IT TOTALLY SUCKS TO TRIP WITH GIRLS: “then the hoe start trippin’/about to blow my high”. I mean really…I don’t know what it is but girls really do blow your high. They get way too freaked-out or they just talk the whole fucking time; it’s like they stole all of their “I’m high” moves from Pauly Shore in ‘Biodome’…of course, it doesn’t phase Lil Jon because he’ll “just jump up in [his] spaceship and fly”. I really like the “just” in there, as if he really could just do it on a whim…I imagine this like, really trippy ‘California Raisins’ style claymation and he just leaps up in the air like a jackalope and lands in this old-style 50s sci-fi rocket and circles the moon…the same moon Weezy is playing basketball with?????

Now, I know rap and psychedelics aren’t a new thing and I know neither of these songs are chartbusters, but the fact that two successful, well-known rappers are rapping about it is pretty interesting. Even more interesting is the way that both songs address the drug from a fairly realistic perspective, capturing the highs and the lows, often at the same time.

Written by Brandon

August 4th, 2007 at 8:45 am

Posted in Lil Jon, Lil Wayne, drugs


Science Fiction Doesn’t Have To Be Completely Terrible.

Along with Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Children of Men’, Darren Aronofksy’s ‘The Fountain’ and shit, throw Cormac McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’ in there too, Danny Boyle’s just-released ‘Sunshine’ marks a minor, but not insignificant trend that “returns” to the headier sci-fi concepts of the past to address our rather dire present. This strain of science-fiction/dystopia movies and one book manage to be in-tune with the world around them, actually thought-provoking, and skeptical of recent politics, without becoming reactionary, oh yeah, and really entertaining, which is important.

Just as we rap fans compare pretty much any quality, recent rap to rap of the 90s, a group of recent movies that are quasi-philosophical, and politically-relevant are inevitably compared to 70s movies. The comparison is apt because with the exception of ‘Children of Men’, all of the other works consciously recall the movies of the 60s and 70s “film culture”. No doubt ‘Children of Men’ pulls a great deal from ‘Blade Runner’ among many others, but it has a distinctly contemporary feel, relatively free of overt homage. ‘The Fountain’ is clearly indebted to Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as well as heady, European sci-fi (and a little ‘Aguirre: The Wrath of God’ thrown in). ‘Sunshine’ has the stamp of ‘2001’ all over it as well, as well as Tarkovsky and some John Carpenter and a lot of ‘Alien’.

Even McCarthy’s novel feels more like a 70s movie than a novel. Although the author will continually cite Melville, Faulkner, and the Bible, the stamps of Peckinpah and Peckinpah collaborators courses through the veins of ‘The Road’. L.Q Jones’ ‘A Boy and His Dog’ and ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’ screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer’s novel ‘The Flats’ address nuclear fall-out in strikingly similar ways. Still, there are major differences in approach and ones that mark all four pieces of work as products of this era and not complete throwbacks.

The first is a near reversal of the 70s sci-fi style, where those movies were first, concept, “thinking” pictures with characters taking a backseat to ideas, these recent movies aim for that ideal, but ultimately seem more interested in the people. For me, ‘The Fountain’ is hardly “better” than ‘2001’ but it is a great deal more moving, as the same concepts of life, regeneration, etc. are filtered through real characters (husband and wife) and palpable things (cancer). ‘Children of Men’s plot being rooted around infertility also hits viewers at a gut, emotional level in a way that ‘Blade Runner’s identity-crisis, “who are we?” bullshit just doesn’t. Much of the time in ‘Children of Men’, Cuaron puts his characters in an immediately stressful situation that is upped to a level of tension that feels so immediate we kind of forget the real plot of the movie for a few seconds. Those technically-impressive single-takes are not only technically impressive, they put you in with the characters, so in you empathize with their problems. ‘The Road’ is primarily a story about a father and his son and unconditional love, with the causes and relevance of the nuclear fall-out kinda irrelevant.

‘Sunshine’ too, ends up being more about the people involved than the ideas. Even a sci-fi stoner moment like a dude literally touching the sun feels less important than the crew’s arguments. The group of astronauts is well-observed and rooted in updated clichés, ones that could not fit into the previous century, short of cheap concessions to multiculturalism. The crew of the ship is mostly Asian, along with one Arab, an indie-ish guy, a whiny white girl, a white vengeful prick tough guy, a possible homosexual (Harvey’s supposed to be this whiny, ‘Queer Eye’ gay, right?). The crew resembles the room of an Undergraduate seminar in Biology or something.

My friend John pointed out the point that the Arab crew member Searle, is like one of those smart Arab engineers that also happened to be stoners (Afghani weed is killer). Searle spends large parts of his time on the ship staring into the sun; getting high on the sun. Crew member Cassie, who obviously has the hots for the indie-ish guy played by Cillian Murphy is this sort of liberal arts college scientist. She makes jokes about the excess of “manhood” on board and won’t budge about taking-out a problematic crew member on proud, moral grounds. These are not offensive stereotypes but well-observed although generalized characters and perhaps, archetypes for this new century. The point is, as much as time was spent thinking up these fairly complex characters for a sci-fi allegory as was spent on the logistics and design of space and the quasi-philosophy of the movie.

I see this focus on the human side of big ideas, as a return to emotion and sincerity. It is the up side of the “I” generation, who blog, post on Youtube, have Myspaces and Facebooks, and walk around with iPOD earbuds on; all of this self-consciousness, this unwavering focus on the self, can, sometimes lead to some interest in your fellow man.

The second difference between these recent sci-fi movies and that of the American movies they look back to has to do with the approach to politics. On this site, I spend a lot of time addressing rap’s “conscious” side and how its vapidity equals that of the much-more hated crack rap. Both push complacency to different groups, both rely on nothing much clichés. Whether you’re spouting off about that “white girl” and kitchen utensils or “the people” and the establishment, it makes me yawn. I think of so many older intellectual types and my self-righteous peers bemoaning the fact that no one is political anymore. Does anyone get some immediate form of AIDS everytime they watch some 70s movie and there’s some pointless knock on Nixon or Agnew? It pretty much renders all of Robert Altman’s catalog unwatchable. It’s the same feeling I get when I hear another Bush-bash or mindless wish for “peace”. I think the latest generation can’t drum up the self-righteousness of the hippies because it’s a bad idea, not because of apathy.

These recent science fiction works are obviously in part, a response to post-September 11th, the clusterfuck that is Iraq war and the messy war on terror in the same way that so many 70s movies were about Vietnam and Watergate and general American unrest. There’s one major difference: The obnoxious pride and simple-mindedness of 70s moviemakers is now gone. The current directors are reaching towards science-fiction to express their worst fears because that’s how bad their worst fears are, they extend beyond the reality we live. Also, science-fiction is particularly good with heavy-handed allegory and heavy-handedness is what most politically “conscious” types embrace. But that’s what’s so weird about the movies (and book) I’ve brought up! All of them handle the scare-mongering, the nightmare situations with a great deal more understanding and sympathy.

None of these pieces of art are complaints about the current state of the world, instead they are vaguely instructional in how we can deal with it! Pragmatic instead of idealistic. Realistic instead of utopian. How amazing is that? And people call this generation apathetic! These political movies are about what we do next, not what happens and how it’s totally bullshit that it happened at all.

‘Children of Men’ is equally skeptical of the radicals as it is the corrupt government, both sides are buffoons and it is those few who see above political leanings that try to save the day. ‘The Fountain’ is the straggler of the bunch as it is not political but it has distrust of monomania even for good intentions and an incredibly insightful distrust of science. ‘The Road’ is about how we need to continue on after something totally fucked-up happens. McCarthy obviously avoids the “reason” behind the fall-out as to not point any political fingers. ‘Sunshine’ acknowledges global warming in a subtle way, by being about the Earth getting cold. I might be accused of stretching it a bit, but I can’t help but see the movie as a clever way to address climate problems without being inextricably tied to it. Radical types might call it cowardice, I call it subtlety.

Written by Brandon

August 1st, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Posted in movies