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Archive for January, 2008

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. IV

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-What Rappers Talk About When They Talk About Getting That PaperTwo of the more invigorating songs of the year were Rich Boy’s ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ and Born Wit It’s ‘Stack Paper Up’ (which Tom Breihan has been rightfully praising for like, 5 months now). Both songs made very clear something I’ve been trying to explain to “real” rap fans and the average dumbass who complains “rap’s just all about making money, it’s stupid” for years. Namely, when rappers talk about getting money or stacking their paper up or whatever, they are talking about escape and freedom and well, transcendence (really!). If you’re the kind of dope that’s going to bemoan this reality still as some kind of horrible byproduct of a capitalist society or some shit, then you’re hopeless, but if not, bear with me.

Now, I don’t know if you guys knew this, but rappers are sort of really into looking cool and not embarrassing themselves and you know, because their form of expression is words, they like to be sort of clever or complicated with what their saying (even Soulja Boy was apparently talking about busting on a girl’s back or something…). When Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef, they didn’t drop a speech like, “we’ve grown to accept and respect one another”, they told the crowd something to the effect of “Stop all this beef, let’s make money.” Of course, making money was a part of it, but undoubtedly, it was deeper than that. I’ve said all this before, but basically…rappers don’t want to sound like hippie-dippie idiots, so instead of being like “I’ve matured” or “We’ve come to accept our differences”, they say “Let’s get this money!.”

In ‘Let’s Get This Paper’s scary, stuttering synths and like near-’The Thin Red Line’ choir noises, sort of captures the mix of defiant anger and desperation found in the quest to get the fuck out of your stupid surroundings and to some extent, the shitty world in general; that’s why Rich Boy’s anger goes towards the complacency of his friends and community, white supremacy, government corruption, and all other forms of bullshit and hypocrisy. You get money and then you’re out. You don’t have to deal with it anymore. ‘Stack Paper Up’ meanwhile, is about the potential for escape from the same everyday bullshit but extends it to a concern for those around you in hopes that your money or success can help others as well; even if it takes you down, maybe you’ll help somebody else.

Putting this genuinely triumphant message atop the mournful strings from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is pretty much genius- even if it a little goofy- because Born Wit It are acknowledging and trying to get beyond the same world-weariness of the Verve’s forever-quoted-in-high-school-year-books message and also, its defiant because due to sample-clearance issues, the song will just never get a true release and so, it’s sort of like this sincere Public Service Announcement rap song (Non-Profit rapping or something).

-Wow, Jay-Z Really Is the Ultimate Hustler
What It Was: Jay-Z, having backed himself into a corner by making a “mature” rather than mature “comeback” album, realizes he can’t just go back to talking about murking people and drug-dealing without sounding like he’s full of shit, so he claims inspiration from a pretty-stupid Hollywood gangster movie and calls its a “concept album” even though the first single is on some like, early RUN DMC shit and apes Rakim’s flow which has nothing to do with the 70s-setting of ‘American Gangster’. Then, this big single is relegated to a bonus track- probably because Jay realized it didn’t really fit the ‘American Gangster’ concept- and we get a bunch of lame 70s soul-beat approximations…Fuck Jay-Z.

What It Is: People who don’t really listen to rap put it on their year-end lists but pretty much everybody else got sick of it pretty quickly, which is a good thing. The video and even just the concept of ‘Roc Boys’ is so disgusting I still get angry about it. Okay, so the dude who made it his persona to be a ruthless piece of shit businessman, turns himself into the piece of shit businessman with a heart because this ‘American Gangster’ pseudo-concept demands it. How do the real-life “Roc Boys” from Dame to State Property and beyond, feel about this? Lines like “Thanks to all the hustlers, and most importantly you, the customer” are more amoral and obscene than anything Jeezy’s ever said. Fuck Jay-Z.

(‘Blue Magic’ flavored Vitamin Water made by Jesse Reese. Thanks.)

-Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ and Median’s ‘Median’s Relief’
What It Was: Two of the most consistent rap albums of the year came out of the Hall of Justus crew. ‘Median’s Relief’ was a thoroughly entertaining and smart group of songs that follows the “underground” blueprint well enough without seeming like it was by-the-numbers underground rap. Even the super-embarrassing lyrical games like ‘Personified’ get by with hot beats and Median’s sincerity. There are few total classics on here as well…‘How Big Is Your World’ and ‘Right Or Wrong?’ which I’ve talked about already (see the links) and a very effective kinda-sequel to ‘Pac’s ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ called ‘Brenda’s Baby’.

Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ was the kind of thing that never happens when a band changes or suffers label drama: they actually learn from their mistakes! The humor and personality is put to the forefront without sacrificing a certain degree of didacticism that seems important to Phonte and Pooh. The only song that really annoys me message-wise is ‘Breakin’ My Heart’ because it’s pretty much total bullshit for a group of rappers that demand people take responsibility for their shit to write a song that justifies cheating: “A woman’s life is love/A man’s love is life”. I think the most rewarding way to listen to ‘Getback’ is to see it as a kind of corrective to all the moronic rap on the radio but instead of smugly shitting on it as they did on ‘The Minstrel Show’, they wisely steal from this or that rap trend, spruce it up, and make it smarter. The beats are still Little Brother, but they have a focused R & B element to them and some of them genuinely bang in like a mainstream radio way. This is the album these guys should’ve made when they had major label support.

What It Is: Can someone explain how people praised Lupe Fiasco’s album but barely cared about either of these? How is basically ripping off Kanye West’s album and being even more of a twat than Kanye end up with you being celebrated as a great “real” rapper?

-Wow, Radiohead Really Are the Ultimate HustlersWhat It Was: I know this isn’t rap but I didn’t get a chance to bitch about this when it came out and it’s been bugging me ever since, so bare with me…Praising Radiohead for their “revolutionary” distribution of ‘In Rainbows’ is the same as praising Al Gore for being super eco-friendly (if he even was super eco-friendly): When you’re fucking loaded, it’s easy to go out on a limb and do something like this.

Radiohead haven’t released a real album since ‘Kid A’. They quickly followed-up the kinda polarizing ‘Kid A’ with ‘Amnesiac’, which was rock-ish enough to get some of those ‘OK Computer’ fans back, but still “weird” enough to seem cool and of course, it had that built-in cover-our-asses excuse of it being a collection of outtakes. ‘Hail to the Thief’ was also more a collection of song than an album but Radiohead made it a big deal by typing cryptic announcements in all-lowercase and waiting too many years for what was basically a “meh” set of songs. So then, “out of nowhere” comes ‘In Rainbows’ but it’s not really out-of-nowhere because Radiohead have a sick internet fanbase that discusses and analyzes every new song they perform live, so before it even came out, the group knew what their fans thought of certain songs, making ‘In Rainbows’ in its own way, as market-tested as ‘High School: The Musical’ and with this whole “download for any price” gimmick to boot!

What It Is: Who even cares. I’m sorry guys, this year-end recap thing was supposed to be a quick thing because there wasn’t a lot going on in rap right now, but it’s really getting out of control. “What It Is?”, well it’s a Radiohead album that everyone creamed over even though its not that good or interesting and hardly cohesive as an album. Look for my next post to be a non-2007 rap recap.

-The Return of Andre 3000!
What It Was: Throughout the second half of 2007, Andre 3000 started creeping up on remixes and guest verses and dropping really sincere and creative verses that you know, are not as great as some of his past work (but what is?) but will more than do…I was reminded of that line on ‘Champion’ by Kanye where he pretty much calls Lauryn Hill out for no longer rhyming and suggests that it’s not only a disappointment to her many fans, but like, an ethical issue. Andre’s always been the voice of reason in rap; an ethical but never “knowing” reactionary. Let’s look at those verses…

-‘What a Job’: Andre is one of the biggest influences on the current incarnation of Lil Wayne and Wayne’s taken Andre’s sincerity, willful weirdness, over-enunciation, purposeful mispronunciation, emotionality, bad similes, and everything else, and as is often the case with the smarter veterans of any genre, Andre’s maybe bit the biter and took some of his influence back from Wayne, most evidently in his near-robot flow on a lot of these 2007 verses, especially ‘What A Job’.

Andre’s bitching about file-sharing never feels too annoying because the song is about rapping as a job without ever being a song that bitches about being a rapper and also because Andre’s always had this very moral, instructive side to his rhymes; it makes sense that file-sharing bothers him. I love how he sings the middle of this verse almost like, tempting us or teasing us with returns to ‘The Love Below’…The other side of Andre’s persona is the side that is incredibly empathetic- notice how often he’s talking about what someone “is going through” or being in somebody else’s shoes and other well-worn but wise cliches of sympathy and empathy. The portrait of the couple that encounters him and their romantic history presented through the Outkast discography is like a smart version of bragging: Not how many albums he’s sold but how much they mean to those that purchased them.

-‘Walk It Out’ Remix: Andre’s taking a very open-minded and pragmatic approach to his return to rap…jumping-in with all the Southern rappers- good or terrible- that are now so popular in part, because of him and dropping his own observations and criticisms without making it seem too obnoxious or old-man-ish. Even his harshest observations (“your White-T looks to me/More like a night gown…) are clever and ultimately rooted in hope, as he suggests cutting-it “two sizes down” so they can look like “the man that [they] are or could be-”. His critique of the current car obsessions is particularly brilliant in the way it travels into a mini-tangent on the history of mass production and suggests a celebration of hard-work and craft, not image without being on some obnoxious Talib Kweli-like “I’m real” bullshit…

-‘You Remix’: Tom Breihan compared this verse to the cloying cuteness of a Wes Anderson movie and he’s pretty much correct but still, although gimmicky, providing the image of a rapper in ‘Whole Foods’ is refreshing in this very, very, stale rap environment. Andre’s also a master of the in-rap tangent, as he stumbles off-topic for a brief mention of the silliness of the phrase “went down the wrong pipe”. As he said on ‘Aquemini’: “Sorry y’all, I often drift…”. The conversational flow and syrupy sweetness of this verse works because it’s on this romantic R & B song and so, it’s in part, a good example of a rapper matching the song, you know, doing what a rapper’s supposed to do. How many R & B remixes have some absurd rapper spitting hard-ass stuff under this beat made for 16 year-old girls?

-‘Throw Some D’s Remix’: Perhaps Andre’s most affecting verse of the bunch. Rich Boy’s song has a sort of implicit melancholy to it, but Andre brings that to the focus and touches on the danger of hood violence and dope-dealing: “He could die/Any second how much long it gonna take?” The part about the “boys in blue” coming in is particularly masterful in the way that it contrasts the attitude of the cops with those in the house whose door they are kicking in (“but we do care who they shoot/So we do what we must do”) and then, describes a scene that has a sort of dark comedy to it, as we imagine the cops coming in one door and then those running from them, having to change their escape; it has a like Three Stooges quality to it. Andre makes his tangent or “drifting” a part of the plot of his verse: “So we act like we run track, then we run straight to the back/But they comin’ from the back, so we run back to the front…”.

-‘International Players Anthem’: This is perhaps the best use of Andre’s happy-optimistic persona as it is most clearly being used to represent a pre-marriage optimism to be contrasted with the other verses. The verse is genuinely sweet but still pinned to the ground. Don’t forget his line about “wetness all around” which is actually pretty obscene and later in the verse when he adopts the voice of his more cynical friends: “If that bitch do you dirty…”.

His use of the word “bitch” here and in some of these other songs is really interesting. It’s an acknowledgment of the anger and reality of the world, which he temporarily jumps off of for these verses, but it’s always there. I’m reminded of his verse on ‘Mamacita’ about how if “niggas all dogs/What that make broads?” which ends with the even-scarier because it’s coming from the usually respectful, right-minded Andre (voicing a woman, no less), instructions to “Grab her by her neck, throw her on the wall/Say, “Bitch don’t ever disrespect me never not at all”. I’m not advocating abuse (and Andre isn’t either) but he is suggesting a certain degree of respect and confidence and ability to stand-up or fight back.

-‘Da Art of Storytelling Pt. 4′: This verse feels the most like real rapping and still manages to move through a rejection of all the worst rap cliches. He notes how disgusting the recent “make it rain” trend is in light of real poverty, the celebration of violence with the reality of street violence and maybe even a reference to the the Iraq war, and how uncool it is to fuck another dude’s girl: “Call me when ya’ll break up/ I don’t fuck nobody bitch and never on the Jacob.” Even though it’s some self-important rap condescension shit, he’s says it right, so I’m totally on his side when he says “club” in a way that seethes with contempt and his rejection of car odes by refusing to say what he’s driving in- “I’m in my whatever bumpin’ NWA…”- is clever and a subtle way to decry rap materialism.

What It Is: An Andre solo album seems imminent and I’m excited. My biggest fear is that these corrective verses will get annoying when they don’t have such an explicit contrast, but we’ll see. Let’s hope he gets personal as well.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2008 at 6:19 am

Posted in 2007, Lists

Spin It Like A Helicopter South Cackalacka!

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This is why Youtube is great. While looking for the apparently-deleted ‘Mr. Big Dick’ video, I found this. The mosaic effect is NO JOKE.

CHOICES: The Election
-Why are the media ignoring Mike Huckabee’s remarks about the Confederate flag?
-There’s something pathetic and embarrassing about our obsession with Barack Obama’s race.
-Why Romney needs to talk about his faith
-Why on earth would we choose to put the Clinton family drama at the center of our politics again?

Written by Brandon

January 27th, 2008 at 7:17 pm

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. III


-Cam’ron on ‘60 Minutes’
What It Was: Doing exactly what makes us love him, Cam’ron goes on ‘60 Minutes’ and makes such an ass of himself that it like, doubles back on everyone’s favorite probably-homo ambulance chaser do-gooder Anderson Cooper and makes Cam’ron look like the complicated comedic genius we know him to be. This is the proper response to “hard-hitting” stories that strive for soundbite simplicity: don’t even give them the satisfaction (“I’d probably moooovvee…”).

What It Is: Cam’s made a career of making him self look so foolish that it’s clear he doesn’t give a fuck- purple and pink, fur, rapping over lame samples, pathetic beefs- and this year, ‘60 Minutes’, that Youtube video in front of the kinda shitty pool in his boxers, and a not-bad double-CD mixtape that at the least, yielded ‘Just Us’, one of the best songs of the year…not bad. In his own crazy way, in 2007, he beat Jay and 50.

-Ed Banger’s Uffie: Inexplicably Missing from XXL’s ‘Leaders of the New School’!
What It Was: Everyone hates Uffie but loves M.I.A, explain this one. Actually don’t, you’ll only play yourself. M.I.A masquerades as a third-world revolution while wearing American Apparel leggings, Uffie’s just sort of hanging-out and quietly releasing these weird, deceptively stupid half-rap party songs. ‘Dismissed’ off ‘Ed Banger Vol. 2′ was her version of every real rapper’s hater response song, but she sells-it and takes the same attitude as Z-Ro or Scarface and calls said haters “faggots” and rather than explain herself, outrights lies by claiming: “Oh that girl is so hot, she’s never touched any glock/Bitch, if you only knew, yes I have fuckin’ popped”. “Lyrical” types should pay attention too, because that line is on the same complicated word-reversal shit as say, Chuck D’s talking about how his uzi weighs a ton, meaning his microphone but maybe meaning his uzi? Then there’s her guest-spot on the Justice album. On ‘The Party’, which has the same sense of ugly details as actual reality rap, it’s just Uffie’s reality is clubs and hotels with obnoxious hipsters friends.

What It Is: I’m the only contrarian douche taking this chick seriously and she’s set to release an album and it probably won’t be very good and will have like three good songs on it, which makes it about as good as ‘Kala’!

-Album of the Year: UGK’s ‘Underground Kingz’

What It Was: ‘Underground Kingz’ is exactly why I love rap. It’s a huge mess of songs that are offensive and brilliant and honest and political and emotional and just fucking great. The album functioned as a way of reminding listeners of the roots of all this Southern rap- terrible or great- that dominates the radio, while also looking beyond the region in a way that well, so-called “real” rappers aren’t even doing. Plenty of Southern rap legends show up to guest rap and produce, as well as surprises like Dizzee Rascal and Talib Kweli and ‘Next Up’, which although better in-theory than in execution, puts Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap along with Pimp and Bun, over a beat by Marley Marl! The best example of old-ass whiny rappers putting their money where their mouth is since those really amazing ‘Where Are They Now?’ remixes by Nas (which, I regrettably forgot to write about in Pt. I of this…).

What It Is: ‘Underground Kingz’ grows even more rewarding with its purposefully-overwhelming two discs of music. The death of Pimp C turns the album from a late-career return to the finale, which is unfortunate, but there are worse ways for UGK to “end”…

-Not a Bad Year for Old Rap Nerds
What It Was: Nas’s ‘Where Are They Now’ remixes, that aforementioned Marley-Marl produced, Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap featured UGK track, Percee P’s ‘Perseverance’, a new Witchdoctor album, Prodigy’s ‘Return of the Mac’, new Wu Tang, Scarface’s ‘Made’, Andre 3000’s rap return, as well as re-release type stuff like a new DVD for ‘Wild Style’ and an official release of Charlie Ahearn’s ‘The Deadly Art of Survival’, CD re-releases of Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Death Mix’ series, J Dilla’s ‘Ruff Draft’ coming to CD and I’m sure some stuff I’m forgetting or didn’t know was around.

What It Is: With record sales getting increasingly terrible, the possibility of only appealing to niche audiences is no longer frowned-upon but sort of the future of music sales, albums by guys that shouldn’t be but are considered “old” will keep happening.

-Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’
What It Was: Yeah…for what I thought about it, check out “Kanye West Week” parts 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11.

Everything that was or is annoying about ‘Graduation’ is the stuff that reminds me of ‘Late Registration’ especially the aspect of it not really coming together as an album. But unlike, ‘Late’, there aren’t a whole lot of turds on ‘Graduation’. Other than the still not-funny or entertaining ‘Drunk N’ Hot Girls’, every song on ‘Graduation’ is good and wouldn’t sound strange on the radio, which is really quite impressive. The songs work as some weird mix of deep album cut and hit single.

What It Is: Even four months later, little sonic details and smart stuff is revealed to me when I listen to ‘Graduation’. There are these all-over-the-place synth gurgles under T-Pain’s triumphant chorus, the crazy bassline on ‘The Glory’ still kills, etc. etc. There’s also smaller shit like the connection between Kanye’s meaning of the phrase “the good life”, ‘Graduation’s vague effront to thug rap, and the more conventional use of the word “the good life” as a kind of euphemism for the criminal lifestyle, is but one more way that Kanye really is trying to reverse some of the lesser aspects of post-Puffy idiot rap (even as he takes a great deal of influence from the guy). Reading around the internet a few weeks ago, I read of how Labi Siffre, the artist sampled for ‘I Wonder’ was openly gay and of course, connected that to Kanye’s ongoing discussions of homophobia in the rap world. It’s these little details that keep ‘Graduation’ fresh…

- R.I.P Big Moe
What It Was: Big Moe is the kind of minor rapper that never wanted to and never got a lot of success and he’s the kind of guy that a lot of people didn’t know but he’s important and even crucial to a small group of devoted Southern rap and S.U.C fans. R.I.P Big Moe.

What It Is: The best way to remember Big Moe is to immediately download ‘Streets Ain’t Right Flow’ posted by Noz: R.I.P Big Moe.

Written by Brandon

January 25th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Posted in 2007, Lists

Pazz & Jop 2007

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Village Voice posted their Pazz & Jop poll this evening. Here’s my ballot, it’s the same as my Idolator poll though. Both of my comments were also printed:

on Kanye’s ‘Graduation’ from ‘The Top 10′: “Those who don’t listen closely hear even more of Kanye’s ego-tripping, but Graduation is about how fame, fashion, and girls are fun and all, but really, not that great.”

on Justice’s ‘†’ from ‘That Which We Cranked’: “Justice’s music has roots in French house, but the influences extend to jagged Michael Jackson rhythms, all-treble-no-bass black-metal fuzz, a seemingly genuine hint of Christianity, and, well, everything else ever: Cross begins as a Daft Punk derivation (“New Jack”), becomes hipster effrontery with the one-two punch of “The Party” and “DVNO,” and then morphs into an all-out George Romero dance party for the undeniable trilogy—all this God stuff can’t be a coincidence—of “Stress,” “Waters of Nazareth,” and “One Minute to Midnight.” Justice are the side of the French that loves Jerry Lewis and Edgar Allen Poe, the side that’s daringly anti-elitist. To get real fancy about it—something the group would never do—Justice are more Barthes than Baudrillard?”

Written by Brandon

January 23rd, 2008 at 4:54 am

Posted in 2007, Lists, Village Voice

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. II


-Crime Mob’s Hated on Mostly

What It Was: The kinda slept-on, but at the same time labelled slept-on so much they’re almost overrated Crime Mob, dropped the pretty amazing ‘Hated On Mostly’. Besides ‘Hated On Mostly’ being the best album title of the year, it also possesses plenty of moments of Southern production genius and as usual, one song that even Southern Rap haters can’t hate on:‘Circles’.

One can’t ignore or dismiss Three-Six Mafia’s “influence” on the group, but Mob’s sound is tinnier and even more aggressive than Three-Six productions, which never fail to be catchy and damn near-poppy even if they are willfully weird. The quasi-gun-shot drums and super-clean guitar accompaniment of opener ‘Represent’ might feel like some genius (or horrible) conflation of Three-Six and Mannie Fresh production styles, but there’s this underlying mess of deep synth tones and screeching strings approximations that put it into new (at least new-ish) territory. There’s some genuine raver acid squelches on the Pimp C-assisted ‘Go To War’, weird theremin and even deeper more ominous synth tones on ‘All-Madden’ and of course, Crime Mob’s secret weapon/gimmick, female rappers that really can rap, Diamond and Princess. The girls overall, were inconsistent- they occasionally bleat out a verse- but their best moments (as on ‘Circles’) give me hope for future Crime Mob records.

What It Is: Initially, this album seemed a bit inconsistent, but the more I listen, the minor flaws sort of disappear. ‘Hated On Mostly’ has remained in my player way after the deceiving single ‘Rock Yo’ Hips’ stopped dominating local radio, BET countdowns, and MTV Jams. ‘Circles’ got plenty of music-fan love but it didn’t really translate to anything big. It’s the sort of thing that really does make you think there’s some radio conspiracy against any rap song that is even remotely smart or insightful. A few months ago, it was announced that Diamond, the most engaging member of the group, went solo. Every listen of ‘Hated’ had me asking myself or whoever was in the car with me, “Why don’t the male members just produce and leave the rapping to the females?” So, Diamond’s leaving is kinda cool but without the Crime Mob production, it will end up as either hipster-baiting throwback girl rap or crappy hard-ass rap just not over Crime Mob beats. I’m vaguely interested in how this plays out.

-Devin the Dude’s ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’
What It Was: In an act of particularly grotesque rap elitism (and defeatism), rap heads expressed fear about Devin’s celebration by “hipsters” before it even happened. But Devin’s way too weird in a way that’s pretty much devoid of coolness- there’s not really anything to the Dude that warrants even ironic appropriation- and he’s painfully sincere. He’s out-there like a guy at your bus-stop. You’re initially afraid of him, but after like two days, you sit there and bullshit with and even look forward to the frigid or too-hot- depending on the season- wait for the bus, because it’s really the only time you’ll interact with a guy like him. And that’s what ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ feels like: A totally unfiltered dive into the mind of Devin, equal parts funny and depressed, offensive and insightful, a little too long, too much to take in one-sitting, but ultimately worth your time; you’ll laugh a lot and learn a lot.

What It Is: Having since gone back and digested Devin’s discography, ‘Inhale’s particular brand of dirty raps and Southern production is even more of a delight. Although I’m still partial to ‘To Tha X-Treme’, the album’s series of fables and sweetness feel unrealistic and forced in a way that his other albums are not. At the same time, the increased focus found on ‘X-Treme’ carries over to ‘Inhale’. It’s still a little long but there’s so many great songs on here, that when it kind of falters at the end, it stands-out more than it really should. I honestly haven’t listened to the album all the way through since the Spring, but looking at the tracks, it’s really only the last two (the jokey-in-a-way-that-”hipsters”-would like ‘Nothin’ to Roll With’ and the over-over-long ‘Till It’s All Gone’) that seem unnecessary and it’s the rest of the disc’s greatness that makes these tracks feel so underwhelming. Early’s fall’s ‘Waitin’ Our Turn’ (credited to the Coughee Brothaz) is expectedly messy but contains enough genius that it’s at least worth a listen. And, don’t worry, the hipsters didn’t get into Devin, I’m sure many of you are so happy Devin sold less albums than sell them to those goddamned hipsters.

Related Blogs: Devin the Dude Week Part 1,Part 2,Part 3,Part 4, and my Baltimore City Paper article on the Dude.

-Prodigy’s ‘Return of the Mac’
What It Was: Those bad-ass Youtube videos, those really-great soul beats…P was apologizing for aligning himself with 50 Cent! Not really, even on the “gulliest” tracks, there are lines like “I got blood on my G-Units”-which ingeniously combines the Mobb Deep we all love with the one we feel sorry for- that make it impossible to totally disassociate ‘Blood Money’ from ‘Return of the Mac’. A remarkably consistent album that constantly plays with the tension between the young Prodigy of ‘The Infamous’ and that era of rap and the older, money-grabbing lame rapper of the 2000s and ultimately, attempts a noble but sensible return to the former.

What It Is: This album kinda sucks. The ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ of 2007 in the sense that I got totally sucked into the hype, the glossy shine, and its baiting of dumb rap fans like me and lost perspective on a “meh” album that isn’t content-less but is quantifiably “complex” or “dark” and not you know, actually dark or complex. My bad. Fun to listen to a track when it pops up on my iPod and good for my friends that aren’t rap obsessives, but otherwise, a pretty worthless album 8 months after its release. What was once novel and interesting about Prodigy working out his messed-up career and damaged street-cred, has gone too far- especially since his arrest and imminent incarceration- and gives me the same sad, icky, exploitative feeling of say, that Amy Fisher Sex Tape.

-Robert Glasper’s ‘In My Element’: Rap-Influenced Jazz Done Right
What It Was: ‘In My Element’ is the best kind of album to get into. I wasn’t anticipating its release on any level, it wasn’t the latest album from a favorite or notable group, I wasn’t even aware of it until I heard an NPR story and some quick samples that piqued my interest and what I heard was a pretty perfect mix of conservative jazz and open-minded but fusion-skirting experimentation. The hook of the album is its hip-hop influence, but that doesn’t show up through embarrassing jazz-rapping, but through some loosely hip-hop rhythms, some ‘Mecca & the Soul Brother’-ish interludes, and occasional vocal samples culled from answering machine messages and in ‘Tribute’ the final devastating track dedicated to Glasper’s mother, a preacher’s eulogy. The other “hooks” are ‘J Dillalude’, a medley of Dilla beats done jazz trio style, and a cover of Radiohead (mixed with Herbie Hancock) on ‘Maiden Voyage/Everything In Its Right Place’. If those ideas excite you, they won’t disappoint; if they make you weary of Glasper’s album, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What It Is: I kept waiting for this album to get some support and the proper talk-up but it never really did. It still gets near-weekly play on long drives and every listen opens up some new comparison or subtle musical detail. It also serves as an unintentional but strong response to Wynton Marsalis’ snarky, misinformed ‘From the Plantation to the Penetentiary’.

-Don Imus Says Some Bullshit
What It Was: Don Imus thinks he’s being a postmodern racist when he calls a women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes” but forgets he’s a stupid old man who is actually racist. My thoughts immediately darted to Howard Stern who has had a long-standing hatred of Imus, for not only being a hack but a genuinely dishonest and horrible person (old Stern stories reveal Imus to consistently use the word “nigger”). Somehow, Imus was able to deflect the criticism by invoking the moronic double-standard and what began as a bunch of opportunistic people exploiting Imus’ mistake, became bans on “the N-Word”, Paula Zahn specials, and Imus being fired. Ultimately, it was like so many situations related to political correctness, one where it reveals everyone, left and right, right and wrong, to be totally full of shit.

What It Is: Don Imus is back on the air, he was paid for his “firing”, and rap is still under attack (although it seems to have subsided a bit, no?). This is why this kind of good-intentioned censorship is retarded…

-Three-Six Mafia Release Two Great Singles and No AlbumWhat It Was: It was pretty refreshing that after Three-Six’s Academy Award, goofy reality show, and general moving up a plateau in terms of fame, their first single contained lyrics like “I pop her cherry then I pop my collar”, a fairly explicit verse about doing coke from Juicy J, and a particularly John Carpenter-esque beat, full of looming synths, ghostly oohs and ahhs, and a totally flanged-out guitar outro. At the same time, there were rumors that the album had people like Good Charlotte and Paris Hilton on it…who knew what the fuck was going on? A few months later, there was the equally insane and aggressive ‘Like Money’, cut from the same sonic cloth but this time with some flanged-out scratching, more guitar riffs, and some Godzilla stomp drums. By the time ‘Like Money’ came out, ‘Da Last 2 Walk’ had been delayed twice and was slated for the December 2007.

What It Is: Is Three-Six Mafia or their label to blame for these delays? Both sides needs to realize these dudes just can’t sell-out even when they want to. ‘Doe Boy Fresh’ and ‘Like Money’ are their singles??? Just give up and let them make another genius album of songs that keep the content simple, the guests minimal, and the beats the most out-there shit being made, be the comparison to fellow weirdo producers like Timbaland or overtly “experimental” musicians that grabs the cover of magazines like ‘WIRE’ and have stupid names.

-Lil Wayne’s Rap Takeover (or something)
What It Was: It was hard not to scoff at the Wayne hyperbole going on but still, you ask anybody still interested in this rap shit and they will ruefully or gleefully rattle off an impressive list of Weezy tracks from last year that bounced all around their brain. Wayne’s schtick was to be ubiquituous, admittedly whorish, and drop some random shit on a random song to random degrees of success. He turds up Kanye’s ‘Barry Bonds’ and is just plain annoying on ‘Make It Rain’ but drops super-affecting shit on the Lloyd’s ‘You’ (and ‘Something You Forgot’ and Wyclef’s ‘Sweetest Girl’ remix and ‘Prostitute Flange’ and ‘Comfortable’..) and is crazy and creepy as fuck on ‘I Feel Like Dying’ (and ‘It’s Me Snitches’ remix and ‘I Like It’). The highs of ‘Da Drought 3′ match the highs of any collection of music released this year, but it’s still pretty much impossible to get-through in a single sitting (while say, UGK’s double-disc is surprisingly listenable all the way through…). The sheer weirdness met with unexpected consistency on ‘Da Drought is Over Pt. 4′, my preferred Weezy mixtape for 2007.

What It Is: I recently put together a Lil Wayne mix CD for a friend at work and it was through compiling that mix, that the greatness of recent Lil Wayne totally struck me. Editing out all the bullshit and cloying half-assedness, with minor diversions into my personal favorite eccentric tracks from the rapper-eater, the scope of what Lil Wayne has done in the past year and a half was clear. His jumps from an insane amount of metaphors (or to be real, mostly similes) for getting head and wet pussies to some really emotional shit about the women- real and imagined, fucked and ones he wants to fuck- to a (and I fucking mean this) Proustian ability to recall the minor details of his childhood, both personal details (Starter jackets, Saints hat, ‘Gremlins’) and pop-culture events (Tonya Harding, ‘The Bodyguard’, Nintendo), builds into a feeling of really getting to know a rapper who has made it his goal to be as weird and grotesque and obscure as any. Of course, this hyperbole dies down because I realize that through the making of my Lil Wayne mix, I custom-fit the dude to appeal to me. The brief ‘The Leak EP’ is both exciting and disappointing and is but one more example of the way Wayne drops the ball on actual, official releases- the releases that “matter”.

Brandon’s Worst Posts of the Year
-Black Hercules: You guys kinda slept-on this dude. He just posted some new videos like yesterday and make sure to check them out. Nevertheless, this was a clear attempt to keep-up with my three-posts a week schedule.
-More About Amy Winehouse: Before I realized that the amount of comments one receives means very little- especially from a bunch of angry Winehouse fans clearly directed from some kind of message board, not actual readers- I did this sequel to my first Amy Winehouse hater post.
-Paid Bloggers Are Assholes: I’m supposed to put this one here and act like I’m embarassed by it, but it’s still basically correct and I’m impressed by my kinda articulate vitriol. Also, Fennessey’s Vibe blog currently has an even more prick-ishly obnoxious pic, for those interested…
-Lil Wayne’s Latest Single: I Just Shit My Pants: I’m on the fence on whether this was a particularly great post or a particularly terrible one. Like most things, the truth probably falls somewhere in-between…
-Links & Lists: This was from when I was in film-school for three days. Again, before I realized that no post is usually better than a shitty post. Also, admitting it’s a crappy post doesn’t make it a less crappy post.
-Who Said It: Common or The Technopriests?: The links to the images don’t work but I don’t really have a place to house them and you’re not missing anything anyways. It’s sort of funny to think that when I pitched this to Rafi at OhWord, I was a little pissed he didn’t accept it.
-Just Some Good Videos: When you’re too busy to post, just post a bunch of Youtube videos…works everytime!
-Ja Rule and the Gays: Following-up my pretty good “Kanye Week” series with this muddled discussion of homophobia and silly condemnation of anti-homophobia was pretty stupid.

Written by Brandon

January 22nd, 2008 at 4:58 am

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is… Pt. I


-BET’S ‘American Gangster’
What It Was: This time last year, I was getting more excited about loosely rap-related television- BET’s ‘American Gangster’and ‘Ego Trip’s ‘White Rapper Show’- than any actual rap music. ‘American Gangster’ was a surprise because it easily could’ve been a stupid exploitative “hood” show and I still would’ve watched. Instead, it was an incredibly nuanced and determinately moral show. When ‘106 & Park’ “flashback” videos means like, ‘Headsprung’ by LL Cool J, BET Uncut was long fucking gone, and the moronic programmers haven’t realized it’s a bad idea to program late-night reruns of ‘Girlfriends’ on BET and BET Jazz, ‘American Gangster’ stood out.

Related Blog: You Should Watch: ‘American Gangster’.

What It Is: The second season was equally stellar, the first season is out on DVD and the show finally got a few shout-outs from the press and even that, was primarily as a sidebar to the swagger-jacking turd that was Ridley Scott’s ‘American Gangster’. Curmudgeon Stanley Crouch wrote a smart article contrasting the amorality and simplicity of the film with the show, but you know, the show was the same a year before when Crouch probably dismissed it without ever seeing it. All of this is even more grotesque when looking back at 2007, a year where, arguably, the attack on rap grew even more absurd. Critics praise Scott’s weird hood cash-in as somehow being real because he had a lot of money for hyper-accurate set-design and vague pretensions to “complex” morality that’s more Jeezy than Jay-Z- or once was, ‘American Gangster’ (the exploitative album not the exploitative film) is equally disingenuous…

-Ego Trip’s ‘The White Rapper Show’
What It Was: Who knew the White Rapper Show would’ve been engaging on that great-but-gross reality show way and have a like, surprising ability to suddenly be making plenty of comments on current rap culture? Well, I had a feeling because the title is prefaced with “Ego Trip’s” but still! From its ultimately sympathetic approach to “wiggers” and rap-loving rednecks, to weird indirect comments on “stop snitching” and class issues, and like, actually good guest appearances from rappers, I knew where I was every Monday from 10-11 PM.

What It Is: The new season is coming out soon and the hook this year is female rappers which doesn’t sound as entertaining, but I’m willing to let the Ego Trip guys take me there. It’s all a little bittersweet because just a few weeks ago, Elliot Wilson was dropped from XXL which is pretty depressing and a genuine blow for smart, popular coverage of rap. Wilson’s aggressive style made him look foolish- the magazine was nowhere near as good as he pretended it was- but I’d buy at least a few issues a year, while I’d skim through the SOURCE in 10 minutes and avoid VIBE like some kind of vaguely hipster metrosexual-vying-for-street-cred plague.

Related Blogs: Episodes 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.

-DJ Drama & the Mixtape Crackdown
What It Was: DJ Drama’s ‘Gangsta Grillz’ series was an always engaging bunch of mixtapes that could guarantee a few great songs at the least and sometimes, were way better than the artist’s actual albums. The idea was simple- put good rappers over other rappers’ good beats- and it worked; they started popping up in malls, record stores, and end-of-the-year lists. I found the whole mixtape craze really fun and like, the last bit of music fan nerd-dom left in an iPOD crazy world. The poor fidelity, the annoying sound effects, the crappy no-name rappers, the covertness of it all- I already bemoaned the absence here- was just really, really, great and DJ Drama was the KING of good, bad tapes. Every douche in the world would drop the “Hedoesn’tevendoanythinghesuxxxx” speech, but he compiled the series and made them compulsively listenable and even his annoying drops seemed perfectly place, adding to the ambiance of it all. Mixtapes quickly dried-up and were replaced by internet-only tapes which gives the same content, but just isn’t as fun.

What It Is: Music sales still suck. Illegal downloading is as crazy as ever; good job RIAA. DJ Drama was initially humbled by it all, refusing to be a total martyr, his recent release of the “meh” ‘Gangsta Grillz: The Album’ has him making a poor man’s DJ Khaled compilation, and ruining the rather momentous ‘Art of Storytelling Pt. 4′ with a closing faux-triumphant rant straight out of a Ric Flair wrestling tape. I had some silly idealistic hopes for Drama, thinking he would take his talent for compilation to “real” record labels, but he didn’t. Maybe the guy needs money for legal bills, but it was depressing when the first single had the same cast as every other “Southern Banger” this year…I thought maybe we’d get something odd or unpredictable, like sticking Little Brother or something on the track but no…and while we’re at it, why won’t all these entertaining-for-a-verse guys just make a whole album? They should just be a crew: Fat Joe, Baby, Rick Ross, Akon.

-R.I.P Disco D
What It Was: The guy who made ‘Ski Mask Way’ killed himself? Even if you knew more about the dude, that’s usually how you framed it to friends only to later elaborate on Disco D’s varied and interesting career. It’s always grotesque to intellectualize someone’s death- especially a suicide- but he was but one more example of the porous borders between rap and other genres and yes, the genuine influence of much hated-upon “hipster” types on the genre. That Trick Daddy song he made is pretty amazing.

What It Is: There was a very good and affecting article printed over the summer on Disco D’s career and his “ups and downs”.

-Rich Boy’s ‘Throw Some Ds’
What It Was: Upon first hearing this song, I declared it the ‘Stay Fly’ of 06/07, that like perfect fucking rap single that you usually get like, one, maybe two of each year. The beat, especially those perfectly warm but a little futuristic synth boops, grabbed you right away (along with Polow’s “dick on the wall” line!) but the vague melancholy of it made it stick around.

What It Is: ‘Throw Some Ds’ sort of came out at the worst time. Late 2006, but not late enough to be considered a song of 2007, it sort of sat there in between and by the time Rich Boy’s self-titled album came out in like March, there was too much build-up. Just as ‘Throw Some Ds’ slowly wormed its way into every type of rap fan’s head, Rich Boy’s album or at least, the really good tracks stuck around. He’s underrated amongst the asshole hater fan who laughed at ‘Throw Some Ds’ because it was Southern and about cars and then slowly, after the initial hype decided to like it, but Rich is overrated amongst his supporters- which includes me- because it’s hard to truly praise the dude. He’s got potential, which isn’t the sort of thing you say about a guy who already dropped his debut, but oh well. ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ is undeniably great as a big dumb Southern rap song or a smart social commentary rap track.

-Monique’s Favorite Singles 2007

0. UGK Ft. Outkast *’Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)’: This is no place holder. It’s above the contention of the rest of this list.

1. Playaz Circle Ft. Lil Wayne ‘Duffle Bag Boy’: I was sort of blown away at this song on first listen. It’s got a great hook via Lil Wayne but sort of lacking otherwise. It works really well overall because of the consistently changing tone between and within Wayne’s hook and Playaz Circle’s verses. Also, had a “real” rap video (see No. 3).

2. Gorilla Zoe ‘Hood Figga’: Long hair: Yellow, White, Red, Brown. That Zelda-esque flute noise is amazing.

3. Kanye West *’Stronger’: I thought this was the best of the three KW singles. I think he really bombed out on the order these were released. I think this would have worked better as the first single because it’s more representative of the album than ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ or ‘Good Life’. It’s the most widely digestible of the three and had a video and sample that stood out. The video is not a “real” rap video; it’s more of an artsy homage to an experience in the future (will we be wearing jean vests?). Truth is: maybe the future isn’t much different than right now…remember when KW had to wait a year for everything? He’s still waiting.

4. Lil Boosie feat. Foxx and Webbie ‘Wipe Me Down’: Better than “Crank That”. Shoulder, Chest, Pants, Shoes.

I didn’t really think that the “Crank That” craze was a bad thing…it’s more so that it just wasn’t that good; I never really liked steel drums in the first place.

5. Lloyd *’Get It Shawty’: I’m really into these sort of-Aphex Twin beats. The idea was my first noted by my since passed friend in reference to Akon and Snoop Dog- “I Wanna Love You”. But it’s really Lloyd’s use of the word “weight” in this song that blew my mind. Things that we define as “real” usually have “weight”. So, it seems like a quick, deep way of making this dancing experience that Lloyd is singing about seem more meaningful.

Also, Lloyd has this great Michael Jackson “Rock With You”-like persona that I can’t deny.

6. 50 Cent ‘I Get Money’: On “Curtis vs. Kanye day”, I remember walking down Main Street in Newark, DE and at least 3 cars drove by…windows down…blasting this. These two people in front of me basically said “aw real cool, blast the single”. But that’s what is so good about it.

This also happened during football season at school and I had this “great idea” for this football team anthem “I run New-Ark”, get it?

7. Bobby Valentino ‘Anonymous’: It’s no secret- I think BV is really good on the singles. I’m still not over ‘Slow Down’. This song strikes this Foreigner “chord” with me and maybe that was what Timbo was going for…but I like that “chord”.

8. Baby Boy Da Prince ft. Mannie Fresh ‘Naw Meen’: GO DJ! Although I liked ‘This is the Way I Live’, it was sort of this weird thing with my roommate last year where she interpreted it as “hood” or something. That eventually sort of weird-ed me out so I prefer this more impenetrable BBDP single.

9. Musiq Soulchild ‘B.U.D.D.Y’: I really don’t like ‘Teach Me’…but ‘B.U.D.D.Y’ probably should have been a Bobby Valentino song. Therefore, I’m loving it. The video is pretty similar to the video for ‘Slow Down’ but instead of a fantasy, it’s more like Musiq just harassing this girl. And Musiq has the biggest head and face ever…it makes him seem like he has a chubby body type but then he doesn’t. Weird.

10. Swizz Beatz ‘Money in the Bank’: This is favorite of the Swizzy singles. The video is really stupid but I really like how the beat drops out and it was a great radio song. I also really like how its a pretty mean spirited song. But I’m not offended; we all know the “money in the bank” chic is out there and she’s a scary one.

*Denotes albums I purchased in 2007.

Monique’s Favorite Month of Videos (January 2007 Rotation)
-Akon and Snoop Dogg ‘I Wanna Love You’
-Pretty Ricky ‘On the Hotline’
-Lloyd ft. Lil Wayne ‘You’
-Nelly Furtado ft. Timbo ‘Say it Right’
-Rich Boy Ft. Polow da Don ‘Throw Some Ds’
-Birdman and Lil Wayne ‘Leather So Soft’
-Young Jeezy featuring R. Kelly ‘Go Getta’

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2008 at 10:19 pm

Best of OhWord 2007

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Rafi of just posted their The Cream of the Crop: The Best of Oh Word in 2007. There’s the ‘50 Incredible Rap Songs’, the Cam’ron Rhymebook, and a personal favorite of mine, Thad Clark’s Kanye piece Polos, Tuition, and Jesus (Why I Can Believe I Can Fly)’ and a thing I wrote ‘Reality Rap and Blaxploitation: Prodigy’s Return to Form:

“A great piece of writing by guest poster Brandon Soderberg on Prodigy’s Return of the Mac. Brandon focuses on the album’s use of Blaxploitation samples and projects that outwards, discussing what makes the genre unique from Hollywood gangster flicks and how those differences are echoed on Return of the Mac.”

Yeah…I’m going to try to have some real content up soon, at least one post this week and yeah, next week, I should be back to my 2-3 posts a week.

Written by Brandon

January 16th, 2008 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Lists, OhWord, Prodigy

Idolator Pop Critics Poll

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So, the Idolator Pop Critics Poll is out, with some really good graphics and some good thinkpiece-type things from the staff. Go read it! I’m just thrilled I was asked to participate…here’s my ballot (the only thing I regret is forgetting about ‘The Way I Live’ by Baby Boy Da Prince as one of my singles…).

ALBUMS (10 each)
1. UGK – Underground Kingz
2. Robert Glasper – In My Element
3. Slavia – Strength & Vision
4. Justice – Cross
5. Kanye West – Graduation
6. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
7. Jesu – Conqueror
8. Little Brother – Getback
9. Tim Hecker – Atlas
10. Blaq Starr – King of Roq

1. UGK ft. Outkast – International Players Anthem
2. CRS – Us Placers
3. Fergie ft. Ludacris – Glamourous
4. Teriyaki Boyz ft. Kanye West – I Still Love H.E.R
5. Median – How Big Is Your World?
6. MIA ft. Bun B & Rich Boy – Paper Planes Remix
7. Cam’ron – Just Us
8. Three Six Mafia ft. Chamillionaire – Doe Boy Fresh
9. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony ft. Akon – I Tried
10. Swizz Beatz – Top Down

1. J Dilla – Ruff Draft EP
2. Fennesz – Endless Summer
3. Dinosaur L – 24/24 Music
4. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
5. Lee Scratch Perry & the Upsetters – Super-Ape/Return of the Super-Ape

1. Kanye West
2. Lil Wayne
3. Justice
4. Andre 3000
5. The Field

Written by Brandon

January 15th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Posted in 2007, Idolator, Lists

You Should Read: IMAGE Comics’ ‘Elephantmen’


1. What ‘Elephantmen’ Is About:‘Elephantmen’ is a (pretty much) monthly comic book series from Image Comics, about a group of gigantic human/animal hybrids, crossbred for an essentially corporate war, in the year 2240 or so. But it’s not really about that or it is, but if that description sounds stupid or juvenile to you, there’s a lot more going on to entertain you and if that description sounds fucking awesome well, there’s enough nerded-out ‘Heavy Metal’ bliss to keep you reading.

What has now become the monthly ‘Elephantmen’ series, began as a 2002 mini-series called ‘Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection’ written by Richard Starkings and Joe Casey and painted (painted!), by Mexican artist Ladronn. The ‘Unnatural Selection’ series has since been collected in a pricey but totally worth it hardback “widescreen” style book. It’s pretty much the “origin” issue. It takes place in North Africa in 2218 and shows a Japanese scientist named Nikken developing these human/animal hybrids, growing them in kidnapped African women (disgarding of the women once the Elephantmen are birthed), and then raising them to know nothing outside of the MAPPO Corporation and its ill intentions.

What usually happens in science-fiction is the politically loaded concept, issue by issue, is sucked of its relevancy by ever-devolving dives into adolescent war games and shit being blown-up, making the initially engaging concept feel disingenuous; Not so with ‘Elephantmen’. The “hook” of the story, a sci-fi origin about genetically altered animal/humans being created to fight in a war, whirls around in the background of all subsequent mini-series and issues but is never the focus. Instead, the comic’s focus is after the war, when these anthropomorphized war machines have to assimilate into regular society!

Each issue of the monthly series contains two generally stand-alone stories that nevertheless, build upon one another indirectly, by clarifying some aspect of Starkings’ rarified vision of the future or humanizing the characters. Every story, whether the focus is something as minor as Hip Flask’s Ifrog- a kind of living iPod-ish device that makes your bed and pays your bills- or a story that illustrates crucial information about how the U.N. rehabilitates the Elephantmen, serves to complicate some aspect of the Elephantmen universe.

The lack of a straight narrative also allows the allegorical or metaphorical aspects of the story to be stretched to their limits. Because the near-anthology set-up of the story allows such freedom, every issue can put the characters in some new, interesting situation that ultimately, allows the Elephantmen to function as an ever-changing metaphor for any number of issues relevant to current times.

2. The Elephantmen As a Purposefully Mixed Metaphor:In Issue 001, the Elephantmen becomes a metaphor for a returning solider facing a society unaware of the horrors of war, as well as briefly touching upon issues of miscegenation, homophobia, and illegal immigation.

The first story, ‘See The Elephant’, involves one of the Elephantman named Ebony, encountering a cute white girl (race and well, species is very important in the series) named Savannah innocently asking Ebony questions about his life. At one point, Savannah says “I bet you were a big baby” to which Ebony replies “Oh Yeah…” and then, like a dramatic, cinematic cut, the next frame is Nikken’s lab in North Africa many years before, baby elephant Ebony being torn from the stomach of a African woman. A few pages later. Savannah, knowing that elephants (the animals, at least) stampede, asks Ebony if he’s ever stampeded and killed somebody. Once again, we go back, now to Ebony the Warmachine, red-eyed, huge gun in-hand, being struck with a rock by an African and retaliating by blasting the guy away. At the story’s end, Savannah’s mother yells at Savannah for talking to one of those Elephantmen and pulls her away.

The other story in Issue 001, ‘Just Another Guy Named Joe’, follows an angered white blue-collar everyman and his thoughts as he bitches about the way the “munts”/”unhumans”/”Elephantmen”- all presumably, derogatory slurs of varying harshness for these hybrids- have taken jobs and much more from well, regular Joes. The story ends with Joe bumping into Hip Flask- he’s confronted with that which he hates- and Hip Flask tips his hat and politely says “Excuse me”. The immigration connections are explicit and although Joe spits hatred for the Elephantman, the simple act of a comic entering the head of a guy like this, is fairly empathetic. Furthermore, there’s a point where Joe says “Don’t think about all the jobs taken away from honest Americans to provide those…animals with a livelihood.”, which points towards the way no program or plan, no matter how good-intentioned, won’t screw somebody (in this case, poor Joe).

In later issues, there’s a particularly affecting subplot about the announced marriage between Obadiah Horn, an “elephantman” who has assimilated well (he’s a Donald Trump-like business man) and Sahara, an African woman (human). Of course, people are outraged, one frame shows an outraged Preacher speaking about this as a violation of the sanctity of marriage and it becomes a comment on the Gay Marriage issue and yet, it’s still also about the paranoia of miscegenation. Yeah, this sounds a little simple but its not, because its handled so well and because, a right-minded sense of reality and cynicism is at the core of ‘Elephantmen’.

The reality of human (or animal or humanimal hybrid…) nature is never avoided even if it makes the Elephantmen as metaphor a little mixed or confused. In fact, it’s better than the metaphor is sort of ever-changing or temporarily shifting because a perfect metaphor for the crazy racial and cultural issues of our times wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

One of the best examples of this “pulp science fiction”’ series’ somehow feeling grounded in reality is the way each Elephantman chooses to assimilate. Hip Flask is a private detective who tries his best to mind his own business, while Obadiah Horn is a take-no-prisoners capitalist- he’s done “the most” with his assimilation- but he’s as cold and uncaring in Los Angeles as he was fighting World War 3 as a brainwashed killer. It reminds me of Fassbinder’s movie ‘In A Year with 13 Moons’ and the character of Anton Saitz, a man who as a child suffered the Holocaust, but has come out of it having learned nothing and is a ruthless business man. This kind of multi-directional critique is rarely seen in movies or books, let alone comics and its all the more exciting in a comic that smuggles all this heavy, smart shit into a like, classic sci-fi meets TMNT storyline.

3. ‘Elephantmen’, Africa, and Colonialism:“Smuggling” might be a good way to define Starkings’ approach to ‘Elephantmen’. Start with the title. “Elephantmen” is the kind of attention-grabbing super-heroish title that would pique anybody’s interest but it really doesn’t accurately describe the series and within Starkings’ futuristic universe, “elephantmen” is an almost derogatory term for the victims of Nikken’s experiments. It recalls Native Americans being called “Indians” or even simple terms like black and white, which you know, don’t really describe skin color and don’t do us a whole lot of good. Very few of the “elephantmen” are elephants, most are some other animal indigenous to Africa, but it’s just what people call them. The label works like so many other pragmatic but often damaging labels put on a given group of peoples. And so, this bad-ass title, one that might bring to mind some conflation of the X-Men and Spiderman into one supercomic, is proven, within two pages of the actual comic, to be a kind of offensive slur to the main characters.

This focus on issues of labeling moves towards the series’ true focus: colonialism. Yeah, it’s about immigrants and homophobia and lots of other stuff, but the basis for the series is a scientist’s creation of human/animal hybrids using animals indigenous to Africa and African natives as vessels for birthing the hybrids. Starkings is British and its quite refreshing to see a white dude bravely and explicitly addressing colonialism’s effects. One of the weird things that has happened- as a sort of weird byproduct of multicultural awareness- is that white authors and artists pussy out of addressing their nation’s involvement in atrocities under the guise of letting the once-Other-ed “finally” tell their side. Starkings is on his Joseph Conrad shit; I say that advisedly, knowing the positive and negative implications of such a comparison…

Starkings plays on our initial like, first-grade impressions of Africa, as a place of exotic animals and jungles, and twists and turns it into an ever-evolving metaphor for issues of race and colonialism. The Elephantmen themselves, despite the very-real art by Ladronn in ‘Hip Flask’ and now, Moritat and others in the monthly series, maintain a cuteness that recalls the oft-discussed racism and imperialism implicit in something like Babar and it’s hard to think the guys behind ‘Elephantmen’ didn’t intend this. Again, we’re back to this concept of “smuggling”…these characters, at times cute, at times absolutely bad-ass, be it blowing people’s heads off in futuristic war or pacing down rainy L.A streets in hat and trenchcoat, also manage to echo a century of racist caricature and problematic portrayals of the dark continent. It’s the actualization of Chris Ware’s assertion in one of the recent issues of ‘Acme Novelty Library’ that comics have more in common with racial caricature than fine-art, but minus Ware’s didactic self-loathing. Ware, for all of his accolades, never ventures into issues of race deeper than “people are racist and it’s fucked up.” This kind of assertion sides steps complex issues about race connected to white privilege, supremacy, complacency and others. Indeed, Ware’s work just looks more like the comic worthy of praise in places like ‘The New Yorker’ than an allegorical sci-fi action comic, but it’s worth pointing out that none of the celebrated “graphic novelists” do much with race besides digestible white guilt.

Oh yeah, and I haven’t even gotten into the aspect of the doctor doing harsh experiments on the Africans…I’ll just say- because this thing is getting really long- that I happened to be reading ‘Medical Apartheid’ by Harriet Washinton as I was going through every issue of ‘Elephantmen’ and the book greatly complemented the comic series…Professor Griff’s half-crazy ramblings about Jews doing AIDS experiments on blacks in the Congo made vividly real.

4. ‘Elephantmen’ Is Also Fun to Read, I Promise: Unfortunately, I think I’ve made ‘Elephantmen’ seem like it’s not that fun to read or like it just gets points for addressing themes most comics- especially “dumb”-type comics- don’t, but that is not the case. ‘Elephantmen’ is first and foremost an enjoyable comic book. In addition to the endless amount of ideas moving through each deceptively simple story, there’s a genuine focus on artistic craft and design. The art, first painted by Ladronn and now drawn by Moritat, is hyper-realistic but as kinetic as the best comic book art; it feels like an amalgam of any and every great artist that ever worked on ‘Heavy Metal’ and ‘Epic Illustrated’ without being derivative of any and every one of them either.

Currently, it seems like the regular ‘Elephantmen’ series is on a brief hiatus, not because of typical comic book lateness or laziness, but to re-introduce another aspect of the origin, this time in a three-part series called ‘Elephantmen: War Toys’ (see below for the trailer). The series elucidates the war the Elephantmen fought, the atrocities they committed, and the long-term affect it has on each of them. With the first issue of ‘War Toys’ on the shelf of any decent comics store and the second issue due out fairly soon, it’s as good of a time as any to get into ‘Elephantmen’.
One of the best things about ‘Elephantmen’ is the way it recalls the best comics and sci-fi of my youth; not that the stuff was actually that good in retrospect, but it’s immersive universe and Starkings’ focus on fanboy-ish stuff, be it variant covers and hardbound editions or his occasional essays on the sci-fi of his own youth, make the series even more enjoyable. Since I’ve gotten a little nostalgic for the in-retrospect-pretty-awful comics of my 1990s youth, I got thinking about the way all those IMAGE comics used to have an entertaining ‘Fan Art’ page where uncreative comics fans- that’s why they read Image, right? Because they’re not very creative?- would pretty much copy a random frame or cover from like fucking ‘Deathblow’ or something and send it in…bored the other day, I did this “fan-art” on Monique’s white board in her room (she then added the disembodied dick busting on a girl’s face…). Oh yeah, and here’s the ‘Elephantmen: War Toys’ “trailer”:

Written by Brandon

January 14th, 2008 at 8:03 am

Obama’s Iowa Victory & The Infatigable Cynicism of the Left

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So…yeah! Obama won in Iowa which really sort of means he could be the Democratic candidate which means he really sort of could be the President. Fuck this “first black President” junk for a second because that’s exciting and all and represents this or that, but Obama is really just an genuinely exciting and smart candidate. I’ve used the quote below in a previous entry, but it’s worth repeating because it’s exactly why I am excited about Obama- like everything in life, we like people we agree with and I agree with enough of what dude has to say to be excited- and represents his clear-thinking, sincerity, and avoidance of some of the left-wing ideological traps that I don’t necessarily disagree with, but see as ultimately polarizing and therefore, a good idea to drop or stick in the background:

“I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don’t work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world; I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally…Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them.”-from ‘The Audacity of Hope’ (10-11)

In short, Obama is saying without saying “I’m pretty much your classic pre-60s Social Democrat. If you like that, hop on-board, if you don’t, I’m very sorry to disappoint you”. It’s a testament to both the inherent hopefullness of liberalism and the current left’s total out-of-touchness with most people, that so many of my peers still won’t support Obama. I say this not on some “how can you not see how great he is” type shit (because he’s not great) but because he’s an actually viable Democratic candidate, simple as that. Watching the New Hampshire debates last night, I was shocked by his ability to not be totally full of shit and I’m genuinely engaged by his ability to think about a question, pause, and then respond in a way the highlights the results of promises more than the promise itself.

I understand my joy is a little premature and etc. etc. but I find it troubling that so many people I talk to or read are still a little “meh” about Obama. At my work, as the Iowa results were coming in, more discussions were about Huckabee being a creepy motherfucker and abortion rights than you know, the Democratic candidates. Another co-worker’s contrarian response was not to sway the discussion towards the candidates we’d all presumably be voting for, but to say that complaints should cease because any Republican would be better than Bush (Huckabee to me, is way scarier than Bush, but that’s besides the point). What was so depressing but gave me some secret glee was witnessing a group of twenty and thirty somethings that all lean to the left, confronted with something quite hopeful and not knowing what to do with it!

I stumbled into a similarly frustrating conversation with a declared “feminist” co-worker the night before. The topic was American Apparel, specifically their business model in regards to making quality American-made clothing and especially, CEO Dov Charney’s respectable stance on immigration. The “feminist” of course, mentioned sexual harassment suits brought against Charney and for her, this outweighed any “good” the guy might be doing…

If the flaw of the current right is a mind-bogglingly complacent attitude and fear of anything that isn’t the status-quo, the left’s flaw is a refusal not to be cynical. But like most of the left’s flaws, they somehow switch it around into a self-important positive. My co-workers’ inability to get their dicks even remotely hard for Obama is not because they are infatigable cynics but because they are “discerning”.

Similarly, two of the most engaging and entertaining hip-hop bloggers, Jay Smooth and Dallas Penn both posted apprehensive blogs on the topic of Obama. Neither of the guys support Obama and I think it’s awesome that they come out and say it, but it ultimately draws parallels to the single-issue voting of so many right-wing voters. Jay’s post is interesting but ultimately cynical in a way that most of his blogs are not. That probably says more about the current political climate than it does Jay’s attitude but I personally found it a little distressing that the focus was more on the racism of those Americans that haven’t yet voted, than those Iowa-ans that did. Dallas Penn’s reasons are equally honest- which I totally respect, this is not an attack- and boil down to Obama’s opposition to universal health care. Penn cites his mother’s multiple-sclerosis and this country’s- to steal a phrase from Dallas- “fucked the fuck up” health care system as reasons why Obama’s opposition means so much to him. That, I cannot and will not fault but I find it problematic that the assumption is that Obama’s opposition to universal health care must mean “the pharmaceutical industrial complex and the insurance rackets definitely have their wallets over Barack”. Maybe Obama just doesn’t support universal health care? I don’t support universal health care and no one’s paying me to say that. The only reason I even work at the aforementioned job (where I fucking shelve books from 8pm-5am, after a day of teaching, mind you) is so I can have some health insurance.

The logic that because Obama does not support this supposedly good thing of “universal healthcare”, it must mean he is being paid-off, is unfortunate and reduces a complex issue to comic-book hero/villain simplicity. I no longer perceive cynical, political idealists as highly-demanding voters but impediments to genuine political change, who bask in their own complacency even as they proudly proclaim their refusal to compromise; It’s a fun way to feel but it doesn’t do a lot of good.

The Democratic left has become but one more institution designed to maintain power and the status quo. A trip through history will show nothing but institutions that create an impossible “ideal” to gain power and reward the people not by you know, giving them what they want, but by giving them the illusion of progress. Christianity remains pervasive because it is based on “Goodness”- something no one can ever achieve. The return of Christ too, is an example of it; you hook a person forever if you have them believing in something impossible. The war on drugs, the war on terrorism, Islamic terrorism itself, the goals of Socialism, Communism, and all identity-based “isms” are all based on the impossibility of total equality or the total stamping-out of whatever “evil” a specific ideology has decided to label “evil”. Capitalism is the idea that you can continually move-up and make more money with no end in sight…even this concept that hip-hop was once this wonderful, perfect thing that is now dead, works as an example…you get the point. It’s fun to feel noble and discerning all the time, it’s scary to actually embrace something real and palpable, even if it isn’t exactly what you want.

“We decent, liberal, humanitarian types (representatives of the moral community to which both my reviewers and I belong) are just luckier, not more insightful, than the bullies with whom we struggle.”-Richard Rorty

Written by Brandon

January 7th, 2008 at 8:14 am

Posted in Barack Obama