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Archive for April, 2008

EgoTrip’s Miss Rap Supreme: Episode Three


Dunno what it was, maybe it had something to do with the ton of typical reality show drama throughout tonight’s show, but it became even more clear in this episode than in previous ones (and last year’s entire season) that none of these people have any chance of an actual rap career. That, along with the dangling of the really rather small prize of 100 grand makes the show a little sad to watch- sad like the photo of Bree’s cokehead/Jimmy Buffett-fan looking dad who died when she was fourteen. The whole series is even more of an explicit joke than most reality shows, but a kind of weird sympathy occurs precisely because ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ doesn’t in any way try to look like it’s doing anything but make fun of these wannabe girl rappers. The show actually ends up being less condescending because it doesn’t try to convince all the snarky viewers that it gives a shit about these people and through that, we kind of project our own sympathies and frustrations onto the cast members. Also: No Homo on this awful PUMA ad that popped-up a few times during tonight’s episode.

As with last season, the contests, especially the ones that don’t’ involve rapping, feel like something of an after-thought. Why did the potential Miss Rap Supremes have to be part of this weird “dress like a rapper” contest/pageant? I think they should’ve had to rap in the style of the rapper they had to dress like or something. Still, it was cool that Byata dressed like Kanye West circa 2003, and Ms. Cherry’s Tupac impression was very good, in part because Tupac, with tweezed eyebrows and way-too beautiful skin kinda already looked like a drag-king.

The highlight of the show was an appearance by Too $hort which led to the contestants having to spit their own version of a freaky tale right back at Short Dog. All the girls failed because they saw what Short was doing as a gender-based version of battle-rapping when really, what Too $hort does is sexually-explicit storytellng; he’s rarely talking straight at his targets the way the girls all decided to do, which makes his raps less bragging or insulting and more like a friend telling you about the retarded blowjob he got last night or something. I know it’s a reality show and all, but it’s also a little sad to see Too $hort reduced to a filthy and offensive rapper. $hort’s got this really sensitive side (famously: “Life is/to some/Unbearable/Commit suicide/And that’s terrible”) and his verses on recent songs like ‘Bossy’ by Kelis or ‘Didn’t I Tell You’ by Keyshia Cole, show him taking on a kind of, wizzened dad-like persona, proud of these younger women. In the episode however, $hort couldn’t muster up that sympathy or pride and mainly just looked uncomfortable. Rap guest-stars on ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ and last year’s ‘White Rapper Show’ often fall-flat because the show basically confronts an older rap-legend with a bunch of terrible but earnest rap wannabes and it’s really hard to tell them to their faces about how bad they are, so you get Ghostface or Too $hort sort of stumbling through the event trying to help-out and not shit all over these sad kids. Also, rappers are really nice and kinda down-to-earth and you see that in Ghostface as he steps back and listens and looks for the good, even in the now kicked-out-twice Lionezz.

One of the interesting sidebars of this week’s episode was a kind of vague interest in race, specifically white humiliation. Late in the episode, the winning team is given the Salt-N-Pepa suite and on the bed is that vaguely Napoleon Dynamite nerd bellhop, in briefs and part of his uniform. Nicky2States begins paddling his ass and demanding he scream out “I’m black and I’m proud” and later, he’s forced to dance around; it’s like some weird scene from an early John Waters or Robert Downey Sr. movie or something. Earlier in the episode, Byata, who’s on her William Blake shit, getting these like answers to the world through her incredibly literal dreams, calls Chiba “the devil” and gets all pissy when Chiba sends it back calling her, without fully saying it, a white devil. This is something that’s been going on in all the episodes in a scene or two: The white females using their whiteness as an excuse. When D.A.B and Lionezz are picked last in the first challenge, D.A.B sort of addresses it as being “the white girl” when in fact, it’s just her talent that makes her undesirable and in an early freestyle, Byata says something about how she “cant help it” if she “sounds black”, which is a shameless and indirect way to get around race appropriation issues that no one’s even brought-up. Throughout the heated but ultimately silly argument (because again, what are they really competing for?), I kept waiting for the big joke about Chiba’s fucked-up eye and then, in next week’s episode, there it is!

Written by Brandon

April 29th, 2008 at 5:18 am

Aural Convergence: Vincent Gallo’s ‘So Sad’ & Hi-Tek’s ‘So Tired’

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-Click here to download ‘So Sad’ by Vincent Gallo off ‘So Sad’ Single
-Click here to download ‘So Tired’ by Hi-Tek featuring Bun B, Devin the Dude, & Pretty Ugly off ‘Hi-Teknology 2′

If you’ve ever made a trip over to the McSweeney’s website or browsed the many books they’ve published over the years, you’ve probably stumbled upon Lawrence Wenschler’s ‘Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences’. A “convergence” is basically, a visual rhyme or connection between two or more images. Wenschler also provides an essay that unpacks the convergence (this one from a reader, not Wenschler, is my personal favorite). The point and to some extent, the liberation of these convergences is that they are supposed to be created or “spotted” by the viewer and are projected onto the images (an intentional visual reference or rhyme is quite different).

Like a lot of stuff on McSweeney’s, “convergence” is better in theory than execution. It’s quickly devolved into a lot of people being very clever but saying very little about their convergences, but the idea is still interesting. Yesterday, while listening to ‘So Sad’ by Vincent Gallo, I stumbled upon a kind of musical- or aural as opposed to visual- convergence. I should add, that in addition to Wenschler’s book bouncing through my head, Joseph’s post B.O.B. Dylan influenced my “spotting” of the convergence between Vincent Gallo’s ‘So Sad’ and Hi-Tek’s ‘So Tired’.

The brief Gallo song sort of stumbles along, with clunky percussion and strummed guitar, as Gallo bemoans his ability to make everything “so sad”. He’s got this humble, almost-embarrassing croon and the lyrics are so upfront and beyond any sense of lyricism that it feels like a little bit of a joke (Gallo’s personality and the cover for the single seen above don’t help the questionable sincerity either). In the last twenty seconds of the 2 minute and 16 second song, ‘So Sad’ sounds like it’s going to pick up with a warm solo to punctuate the verse-chorus-verse structure but the solo doesn’t act as a bridge or a conventional culmination of the song, it too ends up puttering along, never really going anywhere, and then just ending. For whatever reason, I immediately connected the song, a song I’ve heard maybe a hundred times, with a detail from another song I’ve heard a great deal, ‘So Tired’ by Hi-Tek.

‘So Tired’ ends with nearly a minute of near-blues guitar noodling atop Hi-Tek’s rather clunky drums and that solo too, just sort of punctuates the feelings of the song, it doesn’t send it somewhere else, and while Gallo’s solo basically farts out and stops, Hi-Tek fades-out his solo, so it never really comes to an end. When the songs are put next to one another, they have a great deal in common much more obvious than a purposefully depressive guitar solo (those clunky drums, each have the emphatic “So” in their title, similar content), but this convergence for me, was all about the guitar.

What is interesting is how both songs use the guitar “solo” as a musical convention- to sort of solidify or add to the overall feeling of the song- but avoid the transcendence usually associated with solo-ing. Even a solo in a depressed rock or blues song usually kinda busts-out and tries to move above (or dive totally into) the sadness by wailing (think George Clinton to Eddie Hazel on ‘Maggot Brain’: “Play like your mother just died”), but these ‘So’-song solos just kind of wrap-up the shitty resignation that the rest of the song is already talking about.

Gallo’s solo lacks the structure that a good, affecting solo usually has and it just ends, like Gallo got bored with it. There’s something kind of brilliant about it. The solo matches what the song’s already been saying, but it also makes it physical or at least, a little more visceral. The solo comes, sort of builds, and then just stops, the final chords echoing out and the song ends. You don’t leave “wanting more” or anything, you just sort of leave the song confused and unsure of why it ended there. There’s also the sense of it being such an intimate and even embarrassing song and if- at least for the moment- you take ‘So Sad’ as sincere, then it’s almost as if Gallo just gives up, too depressed to properly finish his song. At the same time, there’s this sense of insincerity to the song that I suggested earlier. I own ‘So Sad’ as a record and I think I dropped like $8.99 on it whenever it came out and the only song on the single being really short and kind of anti-climactic could feel like a bit of a “fuck you” but if it’s a fuck you, well then, it’s the song itself exemplifying what Gallo so sadly and honestly sings about: His ability to make everything “so sad”. It’s easy to leave the song ‘So Sad’ being sort of annoyed.

The most apparent contrast between ‘So Sad’ and ‘So Tired’ is how although both are expressing a similar feeling of “I know what’s wrong with me but I’m too fucked to do anything about it”, Gallo still subscribes to conventional rock and folk intimacy signifiers, while ‘So Tired’, even at its most lethargic, still kinda bangs. That it is mixed so loud, exemplifies the confidence that rap music always employs even when delving deep into emotions. Hi-Tek’s decision to fade-out the guitar however, brings it back down a few notches and has it slowly falling away rather than abruptly cutting-off like Gallo’s solo. If this loudly-mixed solo, however pensive it feels, just suddenly stopped, it wouldn’t sound right. Hi-Tek and the rappers are sort of expressing their concern of deterioration and so, the guitar kind of deteriorates through the fade-out.

Fading-out a guitar solo has always seemed like a bullshit move in my opinion. Go listen to Neil Young’s ‘Cortez the Killer’, one of the best and wanky-in-a-good-way solos I know of and then think about how awful it is that it fucking fades-out. Maybe it was to fit it on the side of the LP or whatever, but it’s awful because it feels cheaply anti-climactic and even lazy. The fade-out on ‘So Tired’ isn’t a cop-out, it’s the only place for the song to go. The same could be said of Gallo’s anti-solo on ‘So Sad’. All that would happen after that solo is for it to go on a little longer, and then another chorus and two more verses and then it would end. There would be a confidence to the song’s structure that would make it one more sad-bastard song and not this weirdly, conceptual lament.

Written by Brandon

April 24th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

EgoTrip’s Miss Rap Supreme: Episode Two

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So, let’s start with Khia. In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that her verse was pre-written as she was basically rapping to a beat that only she could hear but this non-musician sort of assumed that you know, since she wasn’t about to kill anybody on the mic anytime soon, maybe her talent was in writing vaguely-catchy hooks? Nah, she was just repeating the chorus of ‘Respect’ off her 2004 album ‘Gangstress’! She couldn’t have even just lifted a verse from one of her songs, it had to be a chorus?!

I’m confused because no matter how you look at it, her verse recycling is really sad. It either means she didn’t give a shit or is so deluded that she thought it wouldn’t matter or she thought she could get away with it, which would suggest that even she realizes that very few people heard the second album from the chick who sang ‘My Neck, My Back’ and you know, that sort of undercuts her massive ego and sense of entitlement.

It’s really fun to think of the EgoTrip crew, behind the scenes, discussing and researching the validity of Khia’s 16 bars. Serch tells her it sounded familiar but he’s being nice. No matter how big of a head Serch might be, it’s hard to imagine he’s ever bobbed his head to any songs on ‘Gangstress’. Some lyric-Googling took place and exposed Khia. So, German rapper who gives me the creeps Lionezz is back, Khia’s gone, and the show moves on.

Using Khia as a cast member reminded me of the weirdness of a show like ‘Dancing With the Stars’ who very early on, bucked its own concept by allowing fucking ice-skaters or the buff queerby dude from ‘Saved By the Bell’ who’s obviously taken some dance lessons to compete, but unlike those shows, which allow these ringers to move-on, Khia got the boot early. Only in the world of EgoTrip is there an actual sense of reality-TV justice; it’s one more way that the show does reality television on its own terms.

There’s a personal quality to ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ that prevents it from being either heart-warming garbage or exploitation trash. We learned a little bit more about Chiba’s car accident, complete with pictures of the car and her fucked-up eye and the point that it put an end to her modeling career. The show gives us this in a few quick bits of dialogue and images and then moves on, never becoming too saccharine. There was also the very touching interaction between Rece and her son Shawn. We hear Rece claim that she’s doing this “for” her son and that she even quit a job to be on the show, but there’s no music or cute montage to encourage the legitimacy of her claim. The forgettable dismissal of D.A.B at the end of tonight’s episode too, is a good example of the show’s disinterest in editorializing.

D.A.B’s story is sort of intense- this girl with a history of sexual molestation who became a drug addict- but the show doesn’t give her much of a break and never sentimentalizes. Last week and again this week, the show drops these real quick photos of D.A.B, in her underwear, surrounded by beer cans which is a little sad but let’s be real, if they were posted on SpaceGhetto or something, you’d just be laughing your ass off at how sad and pathetic it is (I think the EgoTrip guys realize this). Again, the show gives you some actual reality and not reality TV reality: Heroin addicts look busted and lay around on the floor in way-too-blue blue jeans and a sweater from the Hecht company, they are not cool.

I kinda liked D.A.B because like a lot of people who’ve gone through actual trauma, she’s humbled and good-natured, but also like people who’ve gone through a lot of trauma, she’s decided to define herself by her problems and there were only so many more embarrassing verses with heroin needle details that we could take. It was also funny when Nicky2States talks about how “hip-hop is hard” and how D.A.B isn’t “hard” even though, she’s probably the most gully in terms of having the most fucked-up life.

Oh yeah- can we talk about just how retarded the name “Nicky2States” is? Somehow, last week, I just sort of accepted it as her name, but what a fucking idiot. It’s like that girl in elementary school who had some cunty club with her friends and acted cooler than everybody but then, her club was called like “The Spending Time Together Friends Club” or something and even in third-grade you knew that was stupid. Only a person whose confidence comes from total obliviousness could seriously call herself “Nicky2States”. She’s clearly one of the more engaging and interesting cast members, but Nicky2States mainly annoys me.

But ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ is sort of complicated, so Nicky2States was featured in the most hilarious and out-there part of tonight’s episode: A blow-up doll love montage set to the song ‘Tender Love’ by Force MDs! It’s weirdo moments like this that move ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ not only out of the realm of big, dumb reality show and into the realm of smart, corrective, reality show, but towards just being this really strange, out-there show that at moments like that, have you surprised this is even on television.

There’s a hand-crafted feeling to the show that rejects clean graphics and replaces it with a ‘Price Is Right’ 70s throwback design and a swinging signs caked with A.C. Moore glitter. The joke of showing Nicky2States getting it on with a thugged-out blow-up doll set to ‘Tender Love’ is the same joke going on when a prop phonograph mutters out “yes, yes y’all, mirror mirror y’all” to signal the ladies that a new message from YoYo is about to come through. The joke isn’t so much that this shit is actually funny but that this shit isn’t funny and that makes it funny. It’s retarded. It’s “can you believe we just put a singing phonograph on TV and had it chant a totally forgettable catchphrase?”. You get the sense that the EgoTrip guys are as entertained by the show as the viewers.

A few other things…
-I kept seeing a commercials for ‘Best Day Ever’. Is it only a matter of time before the former ‘Best Week Ever’ turned ‘Best Day Ever’ becomes something like ‘Best Hour Ever’?
-Lady Twist as a three year-old in a bathing suit is really great.
-Ms. Cheri somehow bypassed rap altogether and somehow dropped a comedy routine straight off of Lady Reed’s ‘Will the Real Dick Rise’? or something. What was going on there?
-The show still lacks a stand-out or engaging personality outside of the out-there drama craziness of Chiba and at times, Nicky2States.
-Just get Bree the fuck out of there. She’s like this dopey pothead girl in a bucket hat at a party, just hovering in the background and making everything weird.

Written by Brandon

April 22nd, 2008 at 8:00 am

OhWord Article: Further Into the Devil’s Nest

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“As a participant in the LA Times Beatbox experiment and occasional contributor to OhWord, I thought I would add a few things to Rafi’s into the devil’s nest. And because part of this kinda-controversy came from a Beatbox blogger “defending” an LA Times journalist, however Pulitzer-Prize winning, who didn’t do his job properly, this lowly blogger decide to play “journalist” and see if he could clear a few things up. As it stands, all that exists is a leading LA Observer blog and Rafi’s post and I thought my participation in the blog might help clear some things up. No such luck. Everyone involved had no interest in talking; I’m the only asshole willing to talk about it…”

Written by Brandon

April 22nd, 2008 at 3:58 am

Posted in OhWord

Sorry Hon, Try Again: XLR8R & Converse’s ‘bMore’ Insert

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So, I stole the Converse-sponsored insert on Baltimore music out of the latest issue of ‘XLR8R’ a few days ago and I was sort of shocked by just how silly it all is. At first, I was hesitant to talk about it because it’s pretty obvious that some corporate sponsored psuedo-zine is going to seem a little disingenuous. I try to be mindful of the from-the-town-being-discussed-and-therefore-no-one-else-gets-it mentality because a) it’s stupid and complacent and b) it’s what ends up killing a lot of almost-popular “scenes”, and I’m of the perspective that any exposure is good exposure, but I’d also like to touch upon a few, particularly frustrating things.

First, the entire thing’s rather postmodern in the sense that it’s a hip, cool, print magazine and a corporate shoe company contriving a throwback-looking ‘zine that goes out of its way, in the depressingly titled introduction “Hi Hon!!” to say “we are not trying to write the book on beats in Baltimore”- essentially covering its ass for not being all that good. What saves the insert from being completely horrible- besides Al Shipley’s ‘Mixtape Madness’ article- is that this whole internet thing exists and goofy half-sincere/half-cash-in stuff like this ends up stimulating some conversation; a stream of correctives and qualifiers will spill-out from tons of blogs, websites, message boards, etc. and turn a meh article into thousands of more interesting and better words, pictures, and downloads.

This is what the internet has over the much-idealized pre-internet “mail order” days: Fifteen years ago, someone from outside of Baltimore would see this insert, get interested in the scene, mail-order some records, but generally be limited to what the insert tells them and accept it as fact. The best response would be the few genuine print ‘zines around or maybe, one feels really idealistic and starts their own ‘zine and thirty people read it; it was more the illusion of change than actual change. This is what Rafi at OhWord was talking about in his Into the Devil’s Nest blog which touched upon the reality that in many ways, corporate sites and print publications need assholes like me almost as much as I need them. It’s not as glamourous as photo-copying your ‘zine or sending away for a bunch of records that end up sounding awful, but it’s a lot more useful.

Back to that little intro titled “Hi Hon!!”. For those who don’t know, “hon” is a Baltimore term that’s used in place of a proper name. I would also add that no one under 65 years old really says “hon” and so its placement in the idiotic “Bmore Slang!” section of the zine is not only dumb for their inability to define it properly (their definition: “a greeting”) but because most of the other slang words on the lists are endemic to the rap/club scene. Furthermore, “hon” is the kind of term that even 70 year-old grandmothers who use it, employ with some self-awareness. The only reason “hon” would even become aware to whoever from ‘XLR8R’ stopped in Baltimore is because the city has thoroughly embraced it as a joke. I won’t give you a history of “hon” but it’s essentially something older, vaguely to undeniably white-trash women of Baltimore have said for a really long time. Since something like “the sixties” didn’t really hit an area like Baltimore until the early 70s, there’s a kind of weird lag in people in their 40s-60s and anti-autoritarianism and so they began mocking and ironically employing the use of the word “hon” as one more way to separate themselves from their big, dumb, Eisenhower generation parents.

Of course, Baltimore’s additionally weird because of this 60s lag mixed with a very working-class roots of even educated types, and so the distance between Eisenhower-ian parents and hippie kids is small to non-existent. Except for choice areas that only the biggest douchebags in the world attend, a bar in Baltimore can have a strange, near class-less feeling, as businessmen sit next to dock workers in a way that is neither contrived or some attempt but the aware-businessman to not be an elitist and/or some kind of weird “derelect” sight-seeing trip. And that’s not to mention the strange gay community of Baltimore which too, moves in and out of every circle. This divide between 50s parents and 60s kids that so many hippies- in Baltimore as well- like to latch onto just doesn’t exist in the same way here and its best exemplified by this ironic or at least, self-conscious use of “hon”. If it’s some weird, crazy slang, pretty much every one in the city knows it. I recently had a conversation with my Baltimore-raised Grandmother about a piece of under-discussed “Baltimore-ese”: beans. “Beans” as a kind of weird conflation of “being” and “as” (example sentence: “Beans you’re going to the store, can you get me a pack of cigarettes?”). Now my grandmother’s an overweight lady, who wears Crocs and shirts with beach scenes on them and loves Elvis, but even she has some irony about the language she uses. This is true of all regional slang and maybe I’m taking it all a little personal, but it seems like most regional profiles don’t have quite the same sense of “ISN’T IT CRAZY HOW THEY USE THESE DUMB WORDS?”. Actually, some of the Houston profiles from a few years ago did…

The next one that is frustrating is “Harm City, Bodymore” which are “alternate names for Baltimore, based on its high-crime rate”. No one actually from Baltimore with any sense of the city refers to its as “Harm City” or “Bodymore”. It’s a term employed by people from the county who can’t admit where they are from and wear the city’s devastating and depressing murder rate as a badge of realness even though they rarely venture into any areas that are even remotely dangerous. It’s odd that this is a glossary of terms used not by the actual people of the city but by the people that want to be from the city.

The only time you’ll hear “Bodymore” or “Harm City” used without that sense of condescension is in a rap or club song and maybe from a club DJ shouting it out and in that sense, it has some of the same irony employed by old-ass ladies when they drop “hon”. The glossary’s inclusion of “down the hill”/”up the hill” and “yo”-as-pronoun, while accurate, feel lifted from this scholarly article on Baltimore Club than any actual experience with the city, an experience they try to feign by tossing-out locations like Cherry Hill, Druid Hill, “or other hills in Bmore” (while we’re at it, no one in Baltimore calls it “Bmore”…).

And finally, there’s the inclusion of what is essentially accent issues, presented as “slang”. Okay, I understand lumping it in there because of space issues, but again, they’ve employed the knowledge of people from around Baltimore and not from it, for their explanations. The on-going joke amongst people who like to make fun of Baltimore and also use it for some quick street cred, is that they are from “Balmer”, Maryland (writing it “Bawlmer” would be closer to the pronunciation one hears, but whatever…). “Balmer” is defined as “Baltimore, pronounced in a Maryland accent” but most people I hear say something closer to “Baldimore” or maybe, “Bald’more” (pronounced Ball-Duh-Moore) than “Bawlmer”. It’s also not a Maryland accent but indeed, a Baltimore accent, or specifically, Baltimore City/County accent. The proper definition for “Balmer” should be “A parody of the Baltimore accent, “Baltimore” said by those incorrectly mocking the Baltimore accent”.

Outside of “yo” and the “down the hill” references, nearly all of the terms I’ve discussed are white, working-class slang and have little to do with the primarily black rap and club scene, ‘XLR8R’s focus for the insert. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of condescension for the scene too. Take note of the focus on hipster goons Tittsworth and Dave Nada (Tittsworth’s from DC too, but I’ll leave that alone…) and the angle the magazine takes on Baltimore Club (The music’s really dirty, isn’t that so funny?): “Nothing says romantic like some Baltimore club joints. Just play a girl ‘Wanna F**ck’…”. The weird mixing of different aspects of Baltimore culture is a kind of depressingly other-ing of the city into one big mess of weird, dumbass slang, and dirty dance music.

As I said, it’s Al Shipley’s ‘Mixtape Madness’ section which makes the insert worth reading (or ripping out of the plastic and stealing…) and stands as a kind of corrective to the rest of the insert. He made the most of the opportunity to reach a new audience for Baltimore music and highlights a group of varied rap and club releases that there’s pretty much no way a reader of this insert could’ve known about. His tone, is that of an excited record store clerk, with conversational summaries of the records that never stumble into too-cool name dropping or obvious “shit’s from Bmore” bullshit.

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2008 at 7:27 pm

It’s How Phrase It: Andre 3000’s verse on ‘Royal Flush’

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Defenders of those less “lyrical” rappers fall back on the line that when it comes rap, “it’s not what you say but how you say it.” And there’s some truth to that, but lyrical rappers (lyrical does not mean stuff like Immortal Technique by the way) have to say it in a cool way too. That “how you say it” supposition forgets the fact that your favorite rappers’ favorite rapper probably says his lyrical shit pretty awesomely.

Rap’s always about “how you say it”, not in the sense that Jim Jones’ “swagger” makes up for the lyrical turds that fall out of his mouth (although they sometimes do) but rather, taking those extra few moments to properly present an idea makes all the difference. A tale of violence with the right kind of details is no longer another “I shot that dude” song. Scarface knows how to perfectly emote a line, Ghostface can tumble into a cry and then out into a full-speed ahead flow, and Rakim’s poise and confidence—that’s basically “swagger” by the way– perfectly reflect his terse rhymes.

But you already know all this. The reason for parsing out all this is because of the ongoing excitement and discussion about Andre 3000’s year-and-a-half slow build return to proper rapping. Maybe it’s because what Andre says is fairly obvious, but there’s been little discussion or focus on the content of Andre’s verses—especially odd, in light of the crazy and deserved fanfare for ‘Royal Flush’—and exactly what they are doing and saying. Part of it though, I think is because assholes like me spend a lot of time crapping on didactic rappers but are now crapping our pants about super-didactic Andre verses. If we got into the content of those verses, we’d look like big dumb hypocrities. Sort of.

Only “sort of” because what excites and endears so many to Andre’s verses, especially on ‘Royal Flush’ is Andre’s focused and purposeful word-choice, which rubs up against and in some ways, supports his purposefully off-kilter flow: it’s what Andre’s saying, how he spits it, and how he phrases it and that’s you know, the place where most good rap resides.

His lengthy verse on ‘Royal Flush’ is an especially interesting case of the what you say/how you say it divide because the verse is an exercise in style, and pointed, “conscious” rapper teaching. Not that those two things haven’t co-existed in rap before, but Andre’s past eighteen months of lecture raps occupy a weird place between that divide. Joey from Straight Bangin’ referred to it as Andre taking “a whimsical approach to some serious shit”, and he’s right. There’s a level of modesty and approachability to the way Andre chooses to say some “the teacher” type shit that doesn’t make the listener feel condescended to. Additionally, his instructions never fall-back on simple-minded answers.

Quite a few people have joked about how Big Boi and Raekwon drop a solid 16 while Andre rambles and fumbles for nearly half the song. Of course, that’s sort of the point. Big Boi and Rae come in quick and confident, Andre’s sort of stumbling and moving through his thoughts, trying to qualify and perfect his message as he says it. Andre’s verse is an experience, you’re traveling through his brain as he basically ponders some super-complicated shit about crime, what leads people to it, community, the double-bind of making money and lots of other stuff. Anyone listening who is angered by the rambling nature of the verse should recall the ‘Throw Some Ds’ remix where he talks about the “boys in blue” busting in and how “We act like we run track/Then we run straight to the back/But they’re coming from the back/So we run back to the front” which properly presents the chaos of running from the police and turns Andre’s rambling style into a physical description. Or think back to the song ‘Aquemini’ when Andre apologizes: “I’m sorry y’all/I often drift…”. One of Andre’s best assets is his disinterest in a tight 16 bars…

On ‘Royal Flush’, the rambling nature reminds me of some of the humanity and sensitivity one sees when they watch Barack Obama debate, as he pauses for a moment, or stops and dips back a few lines to correct himself, more interested in getting the exact thoughts in his head to the microphone than a quick political catchphrase (or hot line, if you will). There’s just a heightened level of awareness to Andre’s recent verses and even if it’s a little too self-conscious, it’s well-handled and sincere enough that no one should really be shitting on it.

One of the best word choices in when he discusses the oft-discussed nature of “the streets”—but it really applies to anyone who makes it out of any economically-fucked environment—and how “it’s unfortunate that if you come up fortunate/The streets consider you lame.” It’s some Andre wordplay, bouncing unfortunate and fortunate back and forth, but it’s also something of a response to the Jeezys and other rappers who rap about “haters” and have a very ME-centric take on why they’re no longer on the corner (their reason: I worked hard all by myself to get out). Andre’s calling his ability to move-out as “fortune” downplays his ego and points towards one reality of success that no one wants to face: A lot of it’s luck. Plenty of better rappers and better drug dealers never make it out and plenty of computer geniuses never become Bill Gates, you know? The concept of “luck” also undermines free-market and Capitalistic dogma about fairness and everyone having the potential that crack-rap further supports, but that’s a whole other post…

Andre also touches upon the other reality that hard-ass rappers like to pretend doesn’t exist: need. “Go show them that we’re more than slangin’ raw/That’s when I broke into my Big Rube impression/And I tried to enlighten/But that night I learned a lesson/That that morals that you think you got go out the window/When all the other kids are fresh and they got new Nintendo/ Wiis and your child is down on her knees/Praying hard up to God for a Whopper with cheese”.

Words like “hungry” and “driven” are just euphemisms for the more vulnerable word “need”. A word like “hungry” downplays the necessity of the thing well, needed, and makes it sound like something one has of their own accord, decided is important. It misplaces basic, vulnerable emotions and tries to pass them off as capitalistic desire. These words are really played around with in fun ways, by framing the contrast between those that have and don’t have through funny pop-culture references (the Wii, a Whopper). Maybe it’s a stretch but the use of food certainly feels like a direct reference and/or joke on rappers talking about how “hungry” they were for a record deal. Fuck a record deal, the kid in the song is literally hungry.

Andre The Teacher permeates the song but plenty of lines and that overall “whimsy” move it away from being an old-ass rapper bitching to you. The same way a curmudgeonly line like “Your white-T/Looks to me/More like a nightgown” (from the ‘Walk It Out’ Remix) is saved by being a totally killer battle-rap line, Andre’s attitude on ‘Royal Flush’ prevents it from being a simple indictment of “the system” and or justification of the drug-dealers’ complacent pseudo-protest. We hear songs all the time from dudes who got sick of the way things were going and had the balls (and amorality) to start dealing, but we’ve heard enough of them. Andre’s verse is for those people in the same position that have the morals (and lack the balls) to start dealing. The reality is, “the streets” are more filled with people like that.

He concisely and entertainingly nails the place that need and the desire to commit crime come from, but doesn’t totally justify it. Biggie half-parodied his desires (and needs) on the song ‘Ready to Die’ when he rapped “My mother didn’t give me what I want, what the fuck?” and here, by taking an outsider view, Andre further articulates those feelings by not (or no longer) having them. There’s no way of mistaking the Andre’s descriptions for his rap character, while Biggie’s balancing a persona, a critique, and confession. Generally, the complexity of Biggie is preferred, but there’s a brilliance to Andre’s near-third-person rap-narration.

Andre even as he partially stands above teaching the listeners, he takes a few swipes at moral absolutism (the bane of conscious rap’s existence) and adds some empathy by qualifying the line about the morals that one has as, “the morals that you think you got”. Often, people will phrase negative actions in the sense of abandoning their morals, but the reality as Andre points out is, those were only morals you thought you had. If you really had them, you wouldn’t have done it! That makes it sounds as if he’s critiquing these people but he’s not. What he’s doing is suggesting that no one actually has these morals all the time; we’re all apt to rob, steal, etc. if we need or think we need to do it to survive (or get a new fresh pair of shoes). It’s a complex and partially muddled sense of empathy, but that’s what empathy is in a sense.

Go back through your Outkast CDs and think of how many times in one way or another, Andre demands listeners to empathize, to put their feet in his or someone else’s shoes. These newer verses, particularly the instructive ‘Royal Flush’ are further extensions of the warm-hearted anger and teaching Outkast have always done. Recent lines and verses parallel past instructive lines and just make them a little more obvious, but kinder as well. “No wonder they call it the trap” he muses on ‘Royal Flush’ and it reflects the angered, possessed Andre who called-out on ‘Y’all Scared’: “Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trap?”. His anger with file-sharing and fans’ misunderstanding of the music business is touched upon on the Devin the Dude ‘What a Job’ remix, but it first came up back on ‘Elevators’: “I replied, that I’d been going through the same thing that he had/True, I got more fans than the average man but not enough loot to/Last me to the end of the week/I live by the beat like you live check to check/If you don’t move your feet then I don’t eat/ so we like neck to neck”.

Most rappers, be their persona unfuckwithable drug dealer or all-knowing, angry, political emcee, stand above or away from their listeners and the average person. Note how in that ‘Elevators’ verse, Andre’s interests are more as to what he has in common with his fan than how he is different. This is the key to what makes the ‘Royal Flush’ verse so entertaining, affecting, and even thought-provoking. It does not stand away from its listeners, even when it’s teaching.

Written by Brandon

April 16th, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Andre 3000, Outkast

EgoTrip’s ‘Miss Rap Supreme’: Episode One

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Reality shows are generally thought of as some awful extension of the “MySpace” generation–as if every young generation isn’t self-obsessed– but the main appeal of reality shows is actually how communal they are. Anybody can enjoy them. For example, where I work, the division amongst co-workers falls squarely between people who watch ‘Lost’ and people who don’t. About all people like me, who don’t watch the show, can do is say, “Oh sorry, I don’t watch that show” or a half-hearted “…maybe I’ll borrow the DVDs and catch-up…”. If one doesn’t like a TV show there’s just no place to meet on it. With reality TV however, anybody can sit down and pretty much figure it out in a few minutes and start talking about it, because the characters are at least kinda real and do real things, shitty and nice (more often shitty) and so, even the dude at work you have nothing in common with, can still discuss why so-and-so is an asshole or why so-and-so isn’t because it’s like talking shit on your co-workers about which co-worker’s an asshole and which isn’t. There’s nothing to understand or interpret on a reality show: It’s all right there.

Okay, okay, okay, so snobs who dismiss reality television as trash or as some kind of further example of the devolution of “our culture” can’t enjoy them, but those fuckers need to put their Baudrillard books down anyways. The rest of us can sit down, well aware of the fact that what we’re watching isn’t reality–but it’s not fake either– enjoy it and even discuss it.

Last year, my friends and I got into the ‘White Rapper Show’ because it has egotrip’s name on it, was supposed to be about rap, and looked like an entertaining freak-show to kill an hour watching and five more over-analyzing. And it was. But the weirder thing was how my fifteen year-old sister and in-their-forties parents got into the show as well. They didn’t know and don’t care who Lord Jamar or Just Blaze are and they didn’t need to because there was this weird drama going on and a snarky but universal-enough edge to the humor that made everyone laugh.

Like a lot of really good things, ‘egotrip’s White Rapper Show’ was really smart and really stupid and it appealed to really smart and really stupid people in equal parts, and that is why it was popular. It was neither lowest-common denominator, nor was it an all-out hip-hop nerd insider jerk-off. It knew it was a reality show, had accepted that from the beginning and tried to just be a good reality show, not a show embarrassed to be a reality show. So now, the show’s back as ‘egotrip’s Miss Rap Supreme’ and it’s pretty good and it’s at least got me back for next week to see how everything evolves (or devolves…).

I started this with a little rant and some hints on the over-discussed nature of “reality” on reality shows because what’s so striking about this first episode of ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ is just how real the cast is and by real, I basically mean weird or unspectacular, but that’s a good thing. For example, Chiba reminds me of the very nice but clearly-weathered chick that helped Monique buy some NIKE Outbreaks at Downtown Locker Room earlier today. Her ability to be really concise and undramatic about the car accident that fucked-up her eye for life, is used as neither a melodramatic hook for her character nor as comedic relief. Later in the episode, she’s shown always wearing some pretty-awesome and if-she-ever-got-famous-could-be-her-signature sunglasses, but we’re also well aware that it’s to hide her one weirdo eyeball. Maybe it’s going too far (or maybe it’s because she’s got this pretty great ‘Strawberry Letter 23′-sampling song on her Myspace), but this weird, sort of awesomely stylish rap chick named Chiba with a fucked-up eye, makes me think of the time of weirdo rappers like Slick Rick or Bushwick Bill. Even a cliched “character” cast member like D.A.B, who fits a kind of weird post-Fergie stereotype of the stupidly innocent, ex-drug addict, white hip-hop girl, is sympathetic, especially once the moronically-named Nicky2States keeps harassing her. It’s hard not to sympathize with D.A.B, she takes the “crackhead” insults she’s probably heard her whole life pretty well…

Creatively, the choice not to simply repeat the concept of last season’s is wise because already, you can see that this season’s cast watched last season’s show and so, switching up the focus and smaller details of the show works. Around a certain season of say, The Real World, they’d all get there and be like “Okay…so who’s the gay one” or “I guess I’m the black guy!” and it just further hindered the pseudo-reality of it all. On the way to their house, Lionezz mentions that she “hopes” it won’t be like last year’s house (back to the “reality” tip for second, how do you cast a German chick that’s not hot at all? That’s part of the show’s genius) and there’s just a general comfort with the curveballs sent their way because they know what to expect, having watched or at least heard about last season.

I do find it strange that the sort of “hook” of the show is how in the past few years, female rappers have been more well-known for their drama and/or inability to live up to musical hype than their music because it sort of side-steps the more complex question of how female rappers fit into the uh, “rap game” since well, there was a rap game. You can mention Salt N’ Pepa and Roxanne Shante and Monie Love and other early pioneers,but they’re still the exceptions. ‘White Rapper Show’ took on the maligned status of the white MC with a great balance of satire and genuine sympathy head-on, while here, the jokes and stuff us rap fans talk about when it comes to female rappers don’t seem to be hovering around as much. In part, that’s because the reality of the female rapper is they just sort of suck and no one seems to know why. It’s the same way female stand-up comedians aren’t funny. It’s not the simple frat-boy thing of “girls aren’t funny” just as it’s not the pseudo-thug toughness of “girls just can’t rap”, it’s some weird, pretty complicated thing related to tons of stuff that hopefully, the show will touch on in future episodes.

The season seems to be a little more sensitive to these female rappers than last season was to the white rappers and I hope that’s more a symptom of there being enough drama between cast members than some kind of playing nice-nice with the girls. The need for a female co-host just makes sense because the dynamic would be weird if it were Serch and Prince Paul clowning a bunch of broads for an hour every week, but Yo-Yo is way too polite and in some ways, just too much of an obscure figure to be a part of the show. The fact that she wasn’t even sold to the audience that may not know of her (not even a mention of being connected to Ice Cube) and the relative lack of nerdy rap references makes me a little worried that this season will be a little more conventional. The all-female cast of essentially, busted crazy women is moving it into ‘Flavor of Love’ territory but as I suggested, even at its worst, it’s only like a quarter of the way there.

In fact, a good way to frame this first episode would be to contrast it with ‘Flavor of Love’ which takes all of that show’s women, pounces on their eccentricities and flaws and then frames the show around them for maxiumum (let’s be real here) “haha I’m laughing at crazy niggers on TV” effect. The fact that ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ literally follows episodes of ‘Flavor of Love’ and the fact that the brilliantly corrective egotrip dudes are making this show, make me think it really is designed as a kind of antidote to the awfulness that is ‘Flavor of Love’. On one show we see a member of one of the greatest and most significant rap groups of all-time clowning himself beyond belief, one another show (if it’s anything like last season) we’ll see old rap legends giving advice and generally coming out looking pretty good.

Unlike ‘Flavor of Love’ as well, the fact that a talent and craft frames the ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ prevents any sense of exploitation from taking over; characters are not rewarded for their negative actions on ‘Miss Rap Supreme’. Take the inclusion of Khia, aka the bitch who sing that weird ‘My Neck, My Back’ song, not as any kind of commentator or co-host but as a competitor. She’s clearly there because it’s like instant drama and division to have a contestant who’s already had a career, but it’s really great the way pretty much everyone is like “fuck this asshole” and Ms. Cherry’s “one-hit wonder” chant is pretty great. It’s probably a stretch, but there’s even a kind of like visual analogue between Khia and actual female rapper Lauryn Hill: Khia sort of looks like this grotesque version of Lauryn Hill.

Maybe it was because it would’ve just been too predictable or maybe it’s because the drama will be good for the show at least for another episode of so, but I think Khia should’ve gotten the boot. Lionezz is pretty awful, but she’s really genuine and the line about how even with subtitles you wouldn’t catch what she was saying was at least kinda hot, while Khia’s just an idiot. And then, you look at these people’s MySpaces and it’s revealed that Lionezz isn’t some kind of like sincere, German rap-naif, she’s just dumb and foreign and opportunistic: According to her MySpace, she appeared in the video for Shaquille O’Neal’s ‘Shoot Pass Slam’…the only time you see any shots of girls– presumably because Shaq’s these weird manchild not interested in girls, right?– is like 1:16 in, but I don’t think that’s her…and while you’re at it, check-out a quick cameo of Dennis Scott because 90s basketball gives me the same feeling as 90s rap…

One last thing…don’t sleep on Lady Twist. Her obvious Twista meets Bone-Thugs midwest flow is well, obvious, but I’ve got a good feeling about her.

egotrip’s ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ is on Vh1 Mondays at 10pm (eastern time)…

Written by Brandon

April 15th, 2008 at 4:45 am

So, that ‘Tha Carter III’ Cover

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Most rappers, especially nowadays, create a totally impenetrable persona—as opposed to a moderately impenetrable persona—but Wayne doesn’t do that. He yelps and screams and laughs and jokes and cries; it’s all out-there for better and worse. On this delightfully weird cover, first you just see this cute kid in like, church clothes, then, you see the tattoos and you’re freaked out, and then, you’re confused (Is the pinky ring real or photoshopped?) and then you either shit all over it or it hits you: “holy shit this is brilliant!”. Yeah, that’s Wayne and that’s this cover too.

I really hope this ends up being the real cover for ‘Tha Carter III’ because despite what everybody says, it’s really great. Like classic, iconic. And not trying-to-be iconic because it’s batshit crazy at the same time. The baby picture cover clearly invokes the 90s classics ‘Illmatic’ and ‘Ready to Die’ and it’s a kind of mix of homage to past classics and maybe a subtly aggressive assertion of the “classic” status Wayne’s engaged in when hyping ‘Tha Carter III’.

Ghost and Raekwon half-correctly took-on Biggie for swiping their slang and Nas’s album cover, but ‘Ready To Die’s cover has always seemed like an homage or corrective to the ‘Illmatic’ cover; only a partial-bite. ‘Ready to Die’s baby recalled ‘Illmatic’, but the object in a white void, with a simple font above, always made me think of Too $hort’s ‘Born to Mack’ too. In a sense, that’s what ‘Ready to Die’ was: ‘Illmatic’ meets Too $hort. One could even throw-in Common’s ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense’ cover, featuring Common with his mother: A wholesome, sweeter version of ‘Illmatic’.

The added Wayne tattoos to the baby picture are Wayne’s update on the ‘Illmatic’ cover and perfectly fit his style; a weird mix of being really weird and interesting and totally retarded and questionable. It just makes sense. Lyrically, one of Wayne’s more interesting and affecting tricks is his—and I kinda mean this—near-Proustian ability to recall minor details of his childhood, be it pop-culture (“murder she wrote like Angela Lansbury”) or more specific details about growing up in New Orleans or remembering his mother or riding his bike or whatever. He merges this with his adult side; dips into thug talk and shit-talking and plenty of similes for getting head, and also, some complex adult/relationship rap. Just as in his raps, the cover to ‘Tha Carter III’ takes the two seemingly opposing “sides” and merges them and the merger is appropriately awkward.

Written by Brandon

April 10th, 2008 at 9:10 pm

City Paper Review: Pastor Troy’s ‘Attitude Adjuster’

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Attitude Adjuster is more of the same from Atlanta’s Pastor Troy, but that’s a good thing. He’s one of many Southern rap vets to drop low-key classics every other year with little interest in a hit. The production is decidedly Southern but not Soulja Boy Southern. Whether it’s murder rap (“Put Him on the Scope”) or a heartfelt elegy to lost “soldiers” in his hometown and Iraq (“For My Soldiers”), stuttering 808s bounce all around, while depressive chipmunk soul and pained rock guitar wail underneath.

Sonic consistency and a modest length of about 45 minutes aid Pastor’s street rapper-meets-thoughtful dude persona and make even his weirder choices–like, say, a Sting fetish–a success: “Soldiers” samples Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” and “Street Law” grabs its riffs from the Police’s “Message in a Bottle.” Both of Pastor’s Gordon Sumner-swiping tracks avoid Puffy melodrama and reach into the originals to tear out genuine pathos and energy. Longtime fans recall this isn’t his first song inspired by a rock legend: On his 1999 debut, Troy dropped the affecting, Beach Boys-quoting “Help Me Rhonda.”

Brian Wilson and company might again come to mind on Adjustor’s best track, car ode “My Box Chevy,” an affecting reminiscence (“bought my Caprice from an old white couple . . . “) with a chant-chorus simply repeating “my box Chevy” over and over, like Troy wants to will the album’s only uplifting memory back again. Deceptively simple albums like this one rarely win accolades, but they should.”

Written by Brandon

April 9th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

The Worst Thing About Stanley Crouch Is…

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…how dude’s late on everything. His article ‘Why We Line-Up For Tyler Perry’ is an interesting defense of the much-maligned and mocked Tyler Perry movies. He provides the black comedy precedents for Tyler Perry and wisely confronts the elitism and lack of perspective many have when they critique stuff like ‘Meet the Browns’: “Those black people who are not so estranged from Perry’s kind of humor that they even find the inanely narcissistic “Seinfeld” sophisticated…” He adds–and rightly so– that part of what makes Perry’s movies not only very successful but quite good and affecting is their heart. It’s a good point, but this late in Perry’s career, Crouch’s opinion one way or the other on something like ‘Meet the Browns’ means very little. Early on, when every smug critic (black and white) laughed-off his movies and success as simply dumb or worse, invoking words like “coonery”, Crouch’s nuanced perspective could’ve done some good.

NYPress brilliant mind Armond White’s been defending and defining Perry’ artistry for a couple of years now. A personal favorite was this review of ‘Why Did I Get Married?’, which wisely contrasts it with the smug, knowing, white buffoonery of Judd Apatow: “Nothing in Knocked Up is as meaningful as Perry’s spectacle of men who must restrain their anger physically or his politically incorrect fashion show of women proudly, luxuriously wearing furs as signs of pleasure and achievement.” I won’t complain about one more critic however late, being genuinely discerning, but Crouch’s oscillation between old-man curmudgeon and quasi-post-race idealist is not only inconsistent, it’s cowardly. One of the recurring issues of the anti-identity-politics baiting of Crouch is his persistent frustrations with the Al Sharptons and Spike Lees of America who’ve made careers and developed followers because of their infatigable cynicism, but it’s rare that Crouch will go out on a limb and praise anything himself. And when he does, it’s often something already established. Another good example is his very-late discovery of BET’s ‘American Gangster’ which he only praised during it’s significantly higher-profile Second Season and in contrast to the obviously-goofy ‘American Gangster’ movie. Even this stupid blogger knew BET’s ‘American Gangster’ was smart early on: You Should Watch: BET’s American Gangster’.

The worst thing is other than his sadly misinformed take on hip-hop, Stanley Crouch can actually be a pretty brilliant mind. His book ‘Notes from the Hanging Judge’ is a contrarian classic and his kinda recent book ‘The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity’ has probably the best take on Quentin Tarantino and race out there. But between a certain vested interest in being the insider’s outsider and his obsession with hip-hop’s “negative effects”, Crouch nuance stumbles into muddled argument and ideas. It’s hard not to throw his argument out the window when he contrasts Perry’s populist and arguably negative appeal with “the mush-mouthed posturing of hip hop’s thug icons” but ends his article with a concession that perfectly defines hip-hop’s appeal: “He [Perry, but also hip-hop] knows how to bring trash and soul together in a way that doesn’t make one get in the way of the other. Like it or not, that is some form of genius.”

Written by Brandon

April 8th, 2008 at 9:09 pm