No Trivia

Archive for May, 2008

Race & Gender Devolution in ‘Flashing Lights’ Version 2


Being a Kanye West fan–or as some see it, a Kanye West apologist– can be pretty maddening. Around the same time he drops the wonderfully weird and heartbreaking guest-verse on Jeezy’s ‘Put On’, he releases this simple-minded video that nearly negates the first video’s brilliance and says the same shit in a way more obvious way.

When those mad Jeezy synths slow-down into a depressed twinkle and Kanye turns Jeezy’s “I put on for my city” chant into a depressed monotone, stretched to a whiny whimper by auto-tune, it’s performance no doubt, but you feel it too. It’s not the “despite it all I’m still king shit” crying of T.I’s ‘No Matter What’ nor is it the typical “things are fucked-up” hip-hop every rapper drops every once in a while and great rappers like Scarface and Z-Ro have made a career of, it’s a crazy mess of honest anger and pathetic, reaching-out-to-fans because he needs someone to feel bad for him depression. There’s even less of the “even while I’m complaining about fame, I’m reminding you of my fame” stuff that’s all over ‘Graduation’, this at least sounds like he’s really about to crack or close to it- that smart self-awareness is still there. Remember, he tells you he feels like “bitches still owe [him] sex” not that they actually do, there’s a difference. One comes out of ‘Put On’ thinking that Kanye would probably be a lot happier if he was still giving Talib Kweli hot beats and trying to bite the drums off ‘Xxplosive’…

Kanye’s point since ‘Graduation’s been about how getting really famous is great and all but really fucked-up. ‘Late Registration’ was the album and the point in his career where he went all-out and ‘Graduation’s the aftermath, where he feels bad and weird about it all but also knows he can’t be another famous person bitching about being famous. So, he’s trying to find lots of new ways to address fame and sex and glamour and smuggle in some smarter, complicated messages too. The original ‘Flashing Lights’ video was both crystal-clear and avant-garde in its presentation of Kanye’s issues with fame, paranoia, women, and everything else–a perfect but non-literal companion to the song. At the same time, it was a kind of “Video Ho’s revenge” video, by putting the video chick at the center of the video, leaving her relatively un-objectified, and leaving Kanye to pay for the sins of every rapper who ever slid a credit card down the ass crack of a girl. The was the duality that early Kanye mixtape songs had– he was a rap nerd who wanted to be a superstar– and fueled something like ‘All Falls Down’; his self-criticism moved into social or cultural criticism and was easier to digest because it started with why he was a dick and spiraled out to everybody else. An easy trick but one that worked and felt sincere nonetheless.

The new ‘Flashing Lights’ video is an interesting parallel to the first video in that in this version, it’s the women who is attacked. Perhaps the video’s striving for some kind of we’re-all-fucked equality but it never gets there, it feels completely wrong and painfully obvious. The video’s essentially a series of stills or freeze-frames (some REM ‘Daysleeper’ video shit) of a thin, white model–Charlotte-Carter Allen– walking around her apartment, presumably after a night of partying, smoking cigarettes and eventually, trying on a bunch more clothes because that night, she’ll do it all again. That night however, on her way back to her super-nice apartment, she’s attacked and raped by a bunch of dudes hiding in an alley. Again, the dark side of partying and fashion and all that, but this time, with all of the subtlety or complexity removed.

The video’s got a very ‘American Apparel’ aesthetic which goes along with all the “hipster rap” talk and is a lot like Kanye’s music and recent videos. Those ‘AA’ ads riding the corners of blogs and the backs of your city’s free alternative weekly try to do the same mix of being really sexy and glamourous and also, hint towards the ugly, reality of fashion and fucking (the one where you can see the vague hairs on the female model’s ass would be a good example). Kanye’s new video fails though. In part, because the concept is just too simple. While indeed, women are raped by dark strangers in alley-ways, the reality of rape and sometimes even “rape” is that it’s some dude you know or were talking to and not some weird, third-party evil literally lurking in the shadows. There’s some stuff going on with the way the scene of violation is interrupted by black & white fashion-like stills of her pained expression in the same exact way that B & W fashion stills interrupted her smoking a cigarette or drinking, but it’s all negated because the violation, which is the conceit of the video, is separated from the rest of the video.

Even worse however, is the model Kanye chose for the video. Aesthetically, she’s boring. Like, ‘Victoria Secret’ model boring. Like, girl in ‘Maxim’ boring. But that’s not just an aesthetic issue, it doesn’t jibe with what the video is trying to do. We’re seeing this glamourpuss on her down-time, but she either looks or is afraid to look like she’s not posing in a Kanye West video. She smokes and she drinks and she looks a little mopey but it’s never felt. The video screams-out “the messed-up reality of the glamourous life!” instead of just portraying it. Contrast that with admittedly more-beautiful-than-you-or-I ‘American Apparel’ models that still, have something real or interesting about them. Maybe the ‘Flashing Lights’ version 2 girl is supposed to seem like this– the polar opposite of Rita G– and there’s some aspect of it all being this angry, sick, revenge on the conventionally beautiful– so conventional she’s not even attractive really– girl being attacked, but it feels more like it’s supposed to be all the more tragic and horrible because of the way she looks.

It’s real fun for white dudes like me to pretend to be “with-it” by calling-out rappers for falling-back on super-white models and even light-skinned girls or something, but that’s not what’s going on in version two of ‘Flashing Lights’. Kanye should not be criticized because he’s black and he’s chosen to adopt the most mainstream and conventional concept of beauty, but because his previous videos have done a great deal to either avoid this or at least, really joke-around with concepts of beauty. Think of Stacey Dash in ‘All Falls Down’, a girl most well-known for ‘Clueless’ almost a decade before, still looking beautiful but appropriately aged and still the adored center of the video, even as she represents the “single black female addicted to retail”:

Or think of the plurality of bodies celebrated in Kanye-directed clips for Common (‘Go’) and John Legend (‘Heaven’):

Going back a bit, remember that when Kanye finally got around to a video with out-and-out “video girls” (‘Kanye’s Workout Plan’), the whole thing was a little bit of a joke, but the biggest joke was on Anna-Nicole Smith, the ideal, big-breasted, white blonde reduced to absurdity. Between her cameo in this video and Kanye’s later use of her at an award show, there was a sense of Kanye exploiting the ideal white female or at least being like, “this is what you people think is attractive?!”. Anna-Nicole’s near-exploitation by Kanye also highlighted another aspect of the ‘Workout Plan’ video: all the other girls in the video are black. I saw it as subtle but effective nod to his political and “conscious” rap roots, without being super-obvious about it all. It was refreshing because as a big star on MTV, it was no longer expected that he think about or care about mainstream entertainments and its relationship to racial politics.
Then, when the ‘Touch the Sky’ video premiered, he seemingly took-on issues of “blackness” and “whiteness” and rejected them all by making-out with the other reduction of white ideal beauty to absurdity, Pamela Anderson. An interlude in the video has Nia Long and the girl whose name I forget from ‘Girlfriends’ freaking-out because he’s making-out with a white girl. It was a political act to cast black girls in his early videos and now it was an equally political act to be like, “I see what you guys mean about selling-out or whatever you want to call it, but it’s just as stupid to not sell-out in a way, you know? Like, categorical thinking of any kind is fucked-up…”
So, given those previous complexities afforded to race and gender, the second version of ‘Flashing Lights’ feels disappointing because it’s so conventional in every way. From the beat-you-over-the-head obviousness of the video’s concept to the video girl herself, it feels lost and muddled, trying to do a whole lot at once– it’s toothlessly edgy, plainly sexy, dully artistic– and as a result, not doing anything at all.

Written by Brandon

May 27th, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Fuck a Block Talk!

one comment

So, the XXL Blogs or at least some of their bloggers are no more? Not that XXL’s blogs were much to begin with, but you at least learned something from Noz and Dallas, er- Billy X. Sunday. Shed a few tears, give a moment of silence, peruse Noz’s greatest hits, keep reading CocaineBlunts and and whatever you do, don’t join XXL’s blog-replacement ‘Block Talk’.

‘Block Talk’ is a crappy magazine’s crappy website cutting corners under the illusion of Web 2.0 buzzword junk like “user-generated”. It’s your office building upping the A/C to 77 degrees because they’re “going Green” when they don’t even recycle. It’s your company putting in a vending machine and allowing you the “freedom” to check whether you want cheese or peanut-butter crackers or maybe even both! It’s SOHH’s now weekly game of summarizing the dopey arguments on their message boards and presenting is as a fucking news story, times 100 (and the less said about the involvement of “indie” rap artists like 9th Wonder in this whole fucking thing, the better…).

A dude in his twenties, white-T, fresh jeans, and too-big shades, approached me at my bookstore job and rattled off a list of hip-hop magazines he was looking for (Scratch, Mass Appeal, O-Zone, Murder Dog). I told him we didn’t carry the last two, that ‘Scratch’ had been shut-down for awhile now and ‘Mass Appeal’ was on its final issue. He maybe kinda looked like he was going to cry?

His near-teary eyes fell on the latest XXL– you know, the one with a shirtless Rick Ross poorly photo-shopped together with a bunch of other hip-hop turds—and shook his head: “Fuck a XXL man, what is this? How’m I gonna even bring this up to the register?” As we walked back to the register, I nodded in agreement and along with his change for the issue of ‘Don Diva’ he finally settled on, I gave him a brief list of URLS and keywords to search that might fill the gap. “XXL Block Talk” didn’t make my list and I don’t think the possibility of having his own personal blogging space would appeal to him much anyways- especially one that totally rips the design of MySpace. Come on XXL, really now…

Written by Brandon

May 27th, 2008 at 3:05 am

Posted in XXL, the internets

Chris Rock: Hip-Hop Ambassador


“Sammy the Bull would have made a shitty album. And I don’t really have a desire to hear Warren Buffett’s album – or the new CD by Paul Allen. That’s what everybody [in rap's] aspiring to be.”-Chris Rock, Rolling Stone Magazine, Nov. 2007

Chris Rock knows hip-hop. His first big HBO special was called ‘Bring the Pain’, Prince Paul produced his comedy albums, and his musical sidekick on his short-lived but brilliant talk show for HBO was Grandmaster Flash. He’s also one of hip-hop’s most insightful critics, whether he’s praising the genre on his favorite albums list, breaking-down rap’s problems as in the quote above, or doing some real analytical shit like he did for TIME’s 2005 Kanye West article: “In the early days, the best rappers weren’t necessarily from the hood. Run-D.M.C was from Hollis. Eric B and Rakim were from Long Island. They lived next to the hood“. As a comedian, it’s his job to make fun of shit and his parodies of hip-hop– the Pen n Pixel parody for ‘Bigger & Blacker’, SNL skits like ‘I’m Chillin’, the severely-underrated ‘CB4′, his movie soundtracks filled with rap he loves and rap that’s hilarious (that he also loves)– are always done a keen eye towards accuracy and always with affection.

More than anything though, it’s that kinda-forgotten HBO talk show he hosted for a few seasons in the late 90s that exemplified Rock’s devotion to hip-hop. Without being cloying or contrived ‘The Chris Rock Show’ really was the rap version of the lily-white comedic talk-show. Rock’s Paul Schaefer was–as I already said– Grandmaster Flash and old friend Prince Paul added additional music. I always thought it was interesting that the show was on between seasons of ‘Dennis Miller Live’ and played before ‘Mr. Show’. The intention I guess, was for a comedic talk-show replacement but the show rejected the condescending smarm of Miller and surprisingly, had way more in common with the absurd chaos of ‘Mr. Show’.

And it’s not that black comedians can’t do that nerdy, typically-white guy college boy anti-humor, but for a number of complex reasons, black comedy– especially from “sophisticated satirists” like Rock– veers away from absurdity and aims for social/political satire. ‘The Chris Rock Show’ had a really interesting balance of really, smart satire and college-boy yucks and it was Rock’s impressive writing staff that maintained that balance. Along with Rock, Wanda Sykes, and a cast of black comedy writers, some crazy white boys were thrown into the mix. Ex-Conan O’Brien/Letterman writer and successful comedian on his own Louis CK was a big part of the show, as was ex-SNL/Letterman writer (and the basis of ‘30 Rock’ character Frank!) Frank Sebastiano. Maybe it doesn’t seem like too big of a deal to mix smart racial humor with out-there stoner absurdism because of the insane popularity of ‘Chappelle’s Show’, but it felt like a big deal at the time.

And the show aimed to be way more than just a comedy show too. Not that ‘Chappelle’s Show’ should lose credit for being really fucking hilarious, but the episodes always felt slapped-together, with like three skits per episode, a lot of Dave setting-up the bits, and then a killer musical guest. Okay, that sounds like a great show, but I think it wouldn’t have existed without ‘The Chris Rock Show’ a few years before and as I suggested, Rock did a little more to. He navigated the show into a fairly serious, NPR-style interview show for the 10 minutes between the introductory skit and monologue, and the second skit and musical guest. Sometimes it would be hilarious when like, Johnnie Cochran or someone comes out after some weird pussy-eating skit or recurring character Controversial Lou- a black comedian obsessed with the differences between black people and white people, in a purple Gerald Levert-ish suit and parrot on his shoulder- but that just added to the crazy charm of the show.

I remember a really strong and heated discussion with Spike Lee about essentially, why black and white people don’t go to see “better” black movies. Rock’s point was aggressively populist while Lee’s was admonishing. At one point, Lee said how when a “good” black movie like ‘Rosewood’ comes out, no one goes to see it. Rock got that squinched-up eye-look with a grin that’s half-entertained and half-devilish, and breaks it to Spike that not only is ‘Rosewood’ not something people want to see, but it wasn’t that good either! He talked to political figures like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or black conservative J.C Watts and wasn’t afraid to argue with any or all of them! Also, I could be wrong, but the musical guest on that Jesse Jackson episode was, I think, Rakim!?

And those musical guests! Not many of them are on YouTube, but I remember a pretty-perfect performance of ‘Rosa Parks’ by Outkast and Jay-Z and State Property dropping a performance way too hip-hop for TV (even for HBO)…you know, where there’s just a crazy bunch of people on-stage and Jay’s rapping fast-as-shit and he’s hunched over with like Bleek or whoever and they’re all wearing hoodies or big-ass leather jackets and don’t really care if there’s an audience or not? It’s pretty good. But probably the best and most out-there–and maybe therefore most hip-hop– performance was the Biz Markie doing ‘Bennie & the Jets’:

Then there were the skits, which really were on another level. In addition to the typical talk-show on-location question-and-answer type stuff (which Rock still did really good because he sort of gives a shit about people), you’d get these really weird, sort of really insular skits that really seemed like they were written for Rock and his writers to laugh-at; fuck the audience. Plenty of winners are on YouTube–I’ve chosen a few below– but one of my personal favorites not on YouTube was ‘The Malcolm X Games’ which was just a bunch of dudes in Nation of Islam suit-and-bowtie skateboarding and snowboarding and stuff.

Other favorites:
-’Daddy Still Has A Flat-Top’: Does the lame after-school special thing really well and has some of the painfully-earnest “African-American 90s Social Drama’ corniness of like ‘Straight Out of Brooklyn’ (a movie I actually like a lot, but still) in there too. “A masterpiece”-Larry Blackmon of Cameo”:

-’The Chris Mullin Show’:

-’Tupac Shakur Blvd?’

And of course, out of ‘The Chris Rock Show’ came ‘Pootie-Tang’ which will probably one day, get its own post..

Apparently, Season 1 & 2 of ‘The Chris Rock Show’ are out on DVD, so if you have money for that, go pick it up.

Written by Brandon

May 23rd, 2008 at 7:37 am

Nas Is a Pussy


So, you’ve probably heard that Nas’s new album will not be titled ‘Nigger’ or even ‘N****r’ or anything like that. It’ll be self-titled or untitled, or something. According to Nas, it’s the same album with the same songs and all that, just without that controversy-baiting– not controversial, controversy baiting– title. It’s a smart move because Nas was really clowning himself with the title, his gibberish, pseudo-intellectual defense of it, and stunts like showing up at the Grammy’s with “NIGGER” slapped across he and Kelis’ clothes.

It’s still unclear what his intentions were with the title, even in this post-album title change interview, so it’s probably better that his muddled politics aren’t painted all over the cover of the album. It would only result in a lot of rap-hating assholes having one more reason to complain and guys like me having to either give-in and be like “yeah this is stupid” or try, try, try to explain what Nas was doing, which is really hard because it doesn’t seem like Nas really knew. In his defense, his explanation of the ‘Hip-Hop Is Dead’ title wasn’t that clear either. The only constant in both “controversial” titles is that Nas comes up with a title that gets people talking and gets some pissed-off, then he back-peddles on what he actually meant, as not to really offend anybody. And that’s why dude’s a pussy.

If you’re going to call your album something controversial, be it something that riles-up hip-hop heads and gets rockist critics’ dicks hard, or something that’s going to confound and upset or at least make uncomfortable, pretty much everybody, you should have a clear sense of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Was ‘Nigger’ supposed to numb people to the word and therefore remove it’s hate-based context? Was it some reclamation of the word? Was he trying to shock us back into not using the word? Nas wouldn’t say. And now it’s not called ‘Nigger’ anyway and it’s just another album by Nas.

The only thing ‘Nigger’ really had going for it was that Nas didn’t seem to be backing-down on the title and in that sense, it was admirable even if it was wrong-headed but without the title, which he’s obviously backed-down on for financial reasons, it all looks pretty pathetic. Nasir can make himself look like a good guy and tell fans that he backed-down because the overall message of the album was more important than the title, but it’s because he’s still scared of losing major label support and the money that comes– or supposedly comes– with it.

The sequence of events is symptomatic of the kind of half-PR-grabbing/half-bullshit actions of every rapper around and presumably, the ones Nas maybe kinda sorta claimed were killing hip-hop. This is Lil Wayne or even David Banner’s claim that they have the “best hip-hop album in years” and it’s 50 Cent talking shit about how big his album will be and it’s Kanye reminding you of how next-level he is; Nas’s vaguely socio-political spin on the whole thing doesn’t make it more admirable if the result is still a whole lot of hype and little delivery.

As Eskay mentioned, Nas should just stop “fucking with those majors and [then] this wo[uld]n’t be an issue”. Nas simply isn’t the cultural figure he once was and as a result, his impact or the availability of his album wouldn’t really be diminished if it came out on a KOCH or Stones Throw or Def Jam. He could call the album ‘Nigger’ or whatever he wanted to, avoid O’Reilly-types who just want to muddle Nas’ already muddled version of the issue, and get his album out without delay. For Nas to jump to a small label (his appeal’s so wide that he would fit-in at nearly any indie label) and release any album, let alone one called ‘Nigger’, would do a great deal more for hip-hop and the culture at-large than starting some shit about the title, backing-down, and then over-justifying that inability to stick to his guns like every other rapper out there.

Written by Brandon

May 21st, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Nas

EgoTrip’s Miss Rap Supreme: Episode Five

leave a comment

I’ll say this about ‘Miss Rap Supreme’. While last year, I leaped to my laptop as the credits for the latest episode began to roll, this year I find myself getting home from work at 3am, slogging through the episode and then generally, choosing to read or jerk-off than immediately post on the latest episode, thinking, “it can wait until tomorrow”. Still, this week’s episode was a little more engaging than the previous two…

The pretty-much total bullshit dropping of Lady Twist last week hangs heavy over the opening scenes of this week’s episode because well, everybody in the house knows it was total bullshit. Chiba not only messed-up way more than Twist– who simply under-delivered– but is so much more of a problem for the house and the show in terms of starting shit all the time. The show’s in a weird bind at this point because it seems like maybe the EgoTrip guys just didn’t expect a lot of typical reality-show bullshit because somehow, magically, the show last year was absent of reality-show bullshit and now has it in spades. The show feels ungoverned in a sense and at least in terms of the “who’s going to go home this week?” tension, it feels random or inevitable, neither of which makes for very good television.

Last year’s ‘White Rapper Show’ was great because of how far it stumbled away from being anything like a reality-show and after the first episode of this season, I had high-hopes and set the show up as some kind of actual response to ‘Flavor of Love’ but that’s sort of gone away too. There’s too great of a divide between characters’ actions and their rapping in the sense that, at least in terms of what gets you kicked-off, it’s exclusively how well or not-well you perform. Now yeah, that’s fair because it’s a show supposedly about talent and if the assholism of cast members got them eliminated, it wouldn’t be a competition but still- it’s frustrating. An episode is either really boring because characters are acting humble or it’s just like ‘Flavor of Love’ because people are acting a fool and being annoying. At least this week, the Chiba/Byata battle was relatively calm and it was instead, Nicky2States and Ms. Cherry who brought the ego-tripping. Of course, they also got the most praise, so who knows what’s going on.

Although Nicky’s talent and even her supposed “swagger” are being overrated, it’s easy to see why she’s successful in competition and as a personality on the show. Even when she’s being really evil and screaming at Reece Steele and just bossing every one around, it has a certain charm to it because it’s more out of ignorance than malice. It’s funny that Nicky was the cast member that early on cited her “experience” (which really just means she’d been knocked-up like four times) as being her biggest asset because she seems like someone that’s depressingly naive and has been given everything she’s ever wanted her whole life because she’s shameless and I guess kinda sorta hot (maybe). But the show’s supposedly about becoming a rapper and it’s clear Nicky knows little about rapping and recording when she refuses to stop screaming into the mic and passes it off as just being who she is. Only the ODB could really get away with that blowing-the-mic out style…

Ms. Cherry, the other darling of Serch and Yo Yo is pretty terrible really. She’s pretty funny and stuff, but I’m not sure if what she does can really be called “rapping”. Her flow, a kind-of sing-songy, slow flow that’s said in a voice that always sounds about to laugh, seems more influenced by look Rudy Ray Moore or like Chitlin Circuit insult comics than any actual rappers. I’m being funny but only sort-of. Even her verse and the entire concept of the song/video she headed about being robbed of all her jewels was on some like Moms Mabley comedic-fable thing, which isn’t bad, but has nothing to do with rapping in 2008 (or 1988 for that matter…).

It was a good look for Serch to tell her she needs to actually discuss the week’s rap prompt and not just totally internalize it and spit it back out as more egotism. Even when she’s trying to address the issue at-hand, it’s always from a near-martyred sense or cocksure attitude that’s just not interesting. It’s like how every introspective, vulnerable Jay-Z song is, if you think hard enough, Jay-Z’s fault; he’s the asshole who caused all his own problems and is now rapping all slow and crying about it. The same problem with ‘No Matter What’ by T.I which is a fucking awesome song except that he’s bragging about doing what he should do: take his shit that’s his fault like a responsible fucking adult.

The video prop game is fun and I’m glad it was brought back and it yielded the most engaging segment of the show this season. Soulja Boy came in for like three seconds and didn’t say much of anything even though you’d think if he could talk about anything, it’d be how to promote one’s self and make an entertaining video. Why does the show even have guests? Last year, they were a little better incorporated into the episodes but here, they pop-in for a few seconds and move-on. I feel bad now for giving Just Blaze or Lord Jamar shit for being dicks- at least they gave enough of a shit to be dicks! The implicit message of the prop thing is what Soulja Boy put into action whether he knows it or not: you don’t always need to most impressive shit to make a great video or market yourself. But again, inexplicably, it was Team Byata’s terrible yacht video that won, which kinda conflicts with that message…Also- why was Rece Steele going nuts about how she’s never been on a yacht as if that’s something most people have done? I’ve never been on a fucking yacht either. Oh yeah and Rece, you look like those weird Richard D. James monsters from Aphex Twin videos, it’s creeping me out.

Team Byata’s video was embarrassing and had the same feeling as every other video where a bunch of bad rappers, through money or connections, get a nice car or yacht or whatever and rap awkwardly on it. Their beat was good though, heavy synth squelches and some like DJ Quick-sounding guitars…but who knows how there was even a debate as to which video was better. Byata’s fake parrot on her shoulder creeped me out too. Last week, I was the comic book store and this tiny, gross lesbian girl was walking around with a fake bird on her shoulder as she bought like, ‘Dark Tower’ comics.

Cherry’s video didn’t remind me of a traumatic comics trek and was simple and contained in every way that Byata’s video was all over the place (at some point in Byata’s, it goes sepia-tone for a few images?). Outside of the over-saturated ‘City of God’ cinematography, it stuck to a simple concept that still bypassed conventional performance video tropes and got the job done. So, the team that should’ve won didn’t and it led to the wrong team being put in elimination which led to Bree being booted, which was fine because she probably should’ve been booted right after Khia, Lionezz, and D.A.B anyway.

And uh, don’t sleep on this…

Written by Brandon

May 20th, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Judd Apatow Thinks Rap Music Is Really Funny!


Last night, I caught some of ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ and was particularly annoyed by a scene late in the movie, where a rapper called Lil’ Nutzzak is introduced to an aging Dewey through this a video clip. Nutzzak’s rap samples a single-word from Dewey’s classic song ‘Walk Hard’ and the plan becomes pairing Dewey with this up-and-coming rapper (there’s some wonderfully shameless Cox and Nutzzak jokes in there too). It’s a moderately clever parody of total sell-out, music exec retardation but writers, Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan’s disdain for rap comes through way more than a genuine disgust for corporate synergy- and it’s weird.

While the rest of the movie sends-up musical tall-tales like Brian Wilson in the sandbox and appropriately cuts-down Hollywood’s hubris for reducing a country legend’s ups and downs to a single event involving his dead brother– in ‘Walk Hard’ the brother is sawed totally in-half during a machete fight– there’s no begrudging respect or polite joshing when it comes to hip-hop’s excesses and absurdities. When Ghostface- pretty much as ethical and moral of an rapper as there’s ever been- comes out at a Dewey Cox Lifetime Achievement Concert, it’s got none of the vague absurdity of Jewel or Lyle Lovett being there, it’s just, “Ha! A rapper’s on the stage saying some dirty-words! Oh how far music’s devolved!”

Apatow’s producer/director/writer filmography contains a weird trend of using hip-hop as either a quick throwaway joke or as a way to reduce a character or scene to absurdity. Recall the intro to ‘Knocked-Up’ which uses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s classic ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ (Armond White: “white boys clowning to Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) with emphasis on Dirty’s “Ooh baby I like it raw” hook to make it really obvious and funny what this movie’s already going to be about. Think of the constant hip-hop slang used by everyone but Steve Carrell’s character in ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’ and how it’s essentially used to represent just how vulgar and crass everyone’s become and how stupid white people are for adopting any part of this culture.

Leslie Mann’s bar-slut in ‘Virgin’ is speeding home, too drunk to drive, blaring and singing along to Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, which is sort of real- drunk white sluts love Missy Elliott- but it’s sort of the icing on the cake for why this girl’s so terrible. It’s not presented with any of the sympathy given to a whiny loser who collects action figures, rides a bike, and hasn’t ever dropped his dick in a pussy. Contrast this disdain for hip-hop with the ‘Superbad’ kids. The movie’s James Brown-referencing title, constant funk soundtrack, and actor Jonah Hill’s Richard Pryor T-shirt (now sold at Urban Outfitters, by the way) are all used to invoke the characters nerdy, outsider-ness. They are characters wonderfully out-of-step with the rest of their peers because of their interest in 70s funk and soul. I won’t even begin to understand that one…

In the Apatow and company universe, which is one that despite all the blowjob and weed jokes is incredibly conservative- dumb critics say this is why his movies “have heart”- rap music and culture are one of the biggest signifiers of how low things have sunk and how distant people are from their “real” emotions: Rap as ruiner of everything. In previous Apatow movies, this was just sort of irksome, but because ‘Walk Hard’ is a movie that sets-out to make fun of just how most music biopics just don’t get it, it’s even more apparent how little Apatow and Kasdan themselves “get” about pop-music history.

The obvious contrast is between Lil Nutzzak’s inarguably offensive interpolation of ‘Walk Hard’ and Dewey’s innocuous but somehow riot-causing, priest-punching ballad ‘Take My Hand’. It seems in many ways, the movie is saying, “Here’s actual dirty stuff, here’s actually reprehensible music” with little understanding or sympathy for the mores of previous generations. It’s probably quite hard for a guy like Apatow, so clearly stuck in his own head, to think of the freedom and excitement music could and still does possess- in part, because he’s decided to skewer it in this big, dumb movie- but anyone with a working knowledge of pop history should be able to fall-back a few decades and realize just how rowdy Elvis Presley, or Jerry Lee Lewis were and frankly, still are. Lyrically of course, the songs only appeared innocent and were full of double-entendre and even when they weren’t, the songs were brimming with anger, angst, and depression. One of my go-to records is Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ LP. There’s a song on it just called ‘Misery’ and it’s about some other dude fucking the girl you used to fuck and how fucked-up that is! And even the music is only safe and cute if you’re not listening close enough. Plonking horns, a hard-as-fuck drums, and the limits of early 60s recording gives this an incredible raw, anarchic sound. Oh yeah, and the creepy organ solo by an under-discussed electronic music pioneer named Max Crook-Crook rewired a bunch of instruments to create a hybrid synth, shit is real!- pretty much solidifies how this music’s supposed to make you feel- less happy and cheery, more creepy, which is the same feeling Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’ gives you and something Dewey’s ‘Take My Hand’ is directly aping. If you can’t see why an entire generation of kids in the 50s and early 60s weren’t totally ready to explode after hearing this shit, you’re not really listening.

There’s a rough, energy to that music that was mostly sucked away in the supposedly “free” 60s– and continues through pussified 60s pop-influenced indie rock– but is still alive and well in hip-hop, dance, and club culture, all of which are very scary and silly to guys like Apatow. In David Foster Wallace’s ‘Signifying Rappers’ he discusses the significance of pop lyrics and connects it to rap in a way that Apatow’s totally blind to seeing:

“It’s well-known in pop history that slang and double entendre and even the tacit neologizing of innocuous words were used to make rock lyrics at once explicit and shocking enough to ‘rock’ and suitable enough for the radio airplay rock needed- e.g. “Baby here is my love/I’d love just to love you” equals “Baby, here is my dick/I’d just love to fuck you” (75).

What rap, in a lot of ways has done is sort of flipped this and uses very explicit lyrics to sometimes say polite, innocuous things (a lot of the time of course, it’s straight-forward but still-). Rap uses the relative freedom to say anything to chip closer at honesty because really, if you love someone you also want to fuck them, so why not say it? Stuff’s complicated Judd, think about it. In a way, it makes sense that the two most offensive and pop-culturally off parodies in ‘Walk Hard’ would be about 50s rock and contemporary rap.

-Costello, Mark & David Foster Wallace. ‘Signifying Rappers’. Ecco Press, New Jersey: 1990.

Written by Brandon

May 14th, 2008 at 7:19 am

The Endless Cosmos: New Comics Round-Up!


My friend Jesse, who’s occasionally helped-out with stuff on this blog, started a comics blog a little while ago called The Endless Cosmos. Today, I posted an entry that reviewed a bunch of new comics that came out last Wednesday or last, last, Wednesday, so check it out:

“One of the best scenes in Issue 2 of ‘Batman: Deathmask’ is when Bruce Wayne’s sensei discovers him training in the evening- verifying Wayne’s training goes beyond “spiritual strength”- and respectfully asks him to leave the dojo. Again, it’s basically a scene that’s occurred in Batman stories before, but that same story from the perspective of a Japanese gives it some added weight. Wayne’s not presented as a horrible American or disrespectful guy (even though he kinda is), what matters is his basic drive to train and become a superhero. In our post-’Watchmen’ era of comics, it’s fun to highlight heroes’ flaws and turn every guy in a cape into a self-involved fuck, but it’s great how Natsume retains the Byronic, radical individualism of Bruce Wayne and celebrates the mix of glory-grabbing and selfless sacrifice that turns him into Batman. That duality is also familiar territory but by tossing-in the influence of the Oni-essentially a demon- on the creation of “The Batman”, it adds some complexity and was a way for Natsume to make this very American superhero his own.”

Written by Brandon

May 12th, 2008 at 3:52 am

EgoTrip’s Miss Rap Supreme: Episode Four

leave a comment

Initially, ‘Miss Rap Supreme’ seemed to act as something of a purposeful contrast to that other show where a buncha crazy broads are stuck in a house- ‘Flavor of Love’- but Episode Two and then especially Episode Three, pretty much turned it into ‘Flavor of Love’ with lots of yelling and arguing and fighting only it was worse because it wasn’t even funny and sad, it was just sad.

The girls on ‘Flavor’ are competing for nothing really- they just get to act crazy on TV- but ‘Miss Rap’ still presents itself as a competition and so, the characters take it all way too seriously. Pretty much all of the girls can rap or at least deliver, so there’s not a lot of contrast here and when all that’s added to that is really insane drama- made dumber because the girls are taking themselves way too seriously- it’s hard for the show to be enjoyable. And so, this week the show wisely framed the end-competition around the issue of “drama”, a smart way to tell the girls to all chill-out without explicitly saying it or having MC Serch come in whoop-whooping with a real-serious look on his face and yelling at them like an old, dopey dad. The EgoTrip crew seems to have a set of ethics about how they manipulate the “reality” of the show and that’s pretty cool.

But still, the issue remains the cast and even hosts, especially Yo-Yo, taking it all a little too seriously and it ended with some real reality show bullshit: Lady Twist being kicked-off. The narrative that’s constructed about Twist in some ways, sort of giving-up is interesting but it actually feels a lot like the manipulation of reality I said in the previous paragraph, the show avoided. Twist is obviously the best rapper with the best personality on the show. Even if she’s derivative of many Midwest rappers, there’s you know, way worse things to be than highly-influenced by fucking Do or Die!

Twist also doesn’t fall-back on any of the conventional female rap stereotypes. She isn’t a big, fat, mannish thug-rapper and she’s not a big, fat, “I still fuck dudes even though I’m fat” female rapper either. By the time she’s pacing around the dance studio with a “fuck-this” look on her face, she’s more like a stand-in for a lot of ‘Miss Rap’ viewers in the sense that she’s pretty much thinking “this show’s outta control” and that’s she’s not too-good for this, but it’s just not really her thing. And even though she gets totally robbed by getting booted, Lady Twist will be alright. As she mentioned, she’s got an education to look into, and she’s confident but totally doesn’t take herself seriously and she’s not bat-shit crazy, so she probably does alright in life anywhere. If anything, her disinterest in the show at this point and her outside interests should make her more viable as a real rapper. It’s like stuff like the PTA in school or like any big job with a business: The person who’s not an asshole who should get the job is smart enough to know why the job’s a whole lot of bullshit and doesn’t want it.

Still, it reveals a big problem with the show: all that really matters in an episode is the final competition. How the show should be structured I don’t know, but there’s a weird sense that if you win the initial competition, it means you’ll end-up in elimination at the end. The show’s dependable structure. So, Lady Twist got fucked-over because she did really good at that totally retarded John Singleton/’Hood Shakespeare competition, which in a lot of ways, defines what’s wrong with this season versus last season anyyway.

Putting the show in LA seems to have eliminated a lot of the rap legends that are pre-90s and therefore, not too cool or “thug” to show up on a reality show and EgoTrip’s presumably got better connections in New York. There’s also the dichotomy of female rappers who are either once-famous now-nobodies, so it’s almost sad when they show up on the show or there’s those few “big-names” that would never, ever show up to talk to these potential Miss Rap Supremes. The ‘Hood Shakespeare event also highlights how the comedy’s not only more broad but just way more conventional and obvious. The contrast should’ve been something like the cast having to do a scene from ‘Boyz N the Hood’ or something in a straight-forward manner, but stick them in drama-fag black tights and make them hold a skull and have them deliver lines like, “Give me the motherfuckin’ gun, Tre”. Thug Shakespeare? That’s something that like Blue Collar Comedy audiences or Jay Leno fans would find funny…

Written by Brandon

May 8th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

City Paper Review: Pete Rock ‘NYs Finest’


Among the barrage of blax-ploitation clips introducing NY’s Finest is a snippet from the 1977 Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby vehicle A Piece of the Action: “What’s happening is some bourgeois bullshit!” With rappers wearing confetti-pattern hoodies, producer superstars like Timbaland designing T-shirts for H&M, and Kanye West attending Fashion Week, it’s easy to sympathize with the frustrations of the legendary “Soul Brother No. 1.”

The main appeal of Finest is Pete Rock’s production, but a particularly strong array of veterans–Redman, Raekwon, Styles P–and effective up and comers like Papoose serve the beats well. The biggest surprise is Rock’s resurrection of ’90s legends long faded away: Lords of the Underground on “The Best Secret” and Chip Fu of Fu-Schnickens on the half-good/half-terrible reggae-rap “Ready Fe War.” It’s easy to mistake Rock’s latest for another hourlong trip to “back in the day,” but in the end, dorky rap-fan excitement wins out.

“‘Til I Retire” is a “hip-hop sucks right now” song, but Rock punctuates the message with watery electronics and finely chopped soul-string stabs. “We Roll” flips oft-sampled “Summer Madness” by Kool and the Gang into another Pete Rock classic and hands it over to Dipset goofballs Jim Jones and Max B. It’s the grab for radio and one of the best tracks, a nice art and commerce compromise. Likewise, Little Brother gets an uncharacteristic bass-heavy thump on “Bring Y’all Back.” Finest is part nostalgic kvetching, but it’s part rap-nerd wet dream, too.”

Written by Brandon

May 7th, 2008 at 7:39 am

Posted in City Paper, Pete Rock

How Big Is Your World? Good, Recent Rap-ish Songs


-Hot Stylez featuring Yung Joc ‘Lookin’ Boy’
Click here to download ‘Lookin’ Boy’
This queerby kid I used to know that went to art-school in Brooklyn told me about how one night he was taking the subway back to his room with a bunch of other art-school queerbys and this homeless black dude kept harassing him, saying stuff like “Yo, this nigga- this nigga looks like he eats cookie-dough ice cream!”. Well, ‘Lookin Boy’ is sort of that brilliant insult in song-form. Like, it doesn’t really make any sense that you can explain but you hear it and you know what Hot Stylez and Yung Joc are talking about and it’s fucking hilarious and like spot-on, somehow.

It’s basically a song illustrating what every nerd or asshole I know spends a lot of their time doing…these sort of vaguely-offensive, people-watching insults that aren’t necessarily that mean but are like really accurate and get extra points for diving kinda deep into pop-culture for the joke: David Ruffin, Morris Chesnut in ‘Boyz in tha Hood’, presumably that weird short gross lady from ‘The Weakest Link’, Lambchop…

-J Dilla ‘Believe in God’
Click here to download ‘Believe in God’
From ‘Jay Love Japan’, finally released on CD in America last month and even at like, 17 minutes and around 13 dollars: worth it. The lazy fade-in on this track is perfect and the record sampled is pretty blown-out, all full of fuzz that adds this additional percussive element, which along with those Dilla drums we just expect on everything Dilla made, is pretty devastating. ‘Believe In God’ hits its peak when those soul-strings are cut short and whirling around and folding into one another along with some subtle piano, wordless vocals, and then…it fades-out too fast and that’s perfect too.

What’s great about the title of this song is it’s an order: Believe in God. A lot of beat-makers give their songs these sort of moderately profound-sounding, atmospheric titles, and it’s easy to imagine a beat with a nebulous title like ‘Belief in God’ that suggests somehow the song imparts the feeling of a belief in God but this track’s like Dilla telling you to believe in God. It feels like the weird conflation of DJ-ing, beat-making, and whatever else on ‘Donuts’ where these perfectly tweaked soul and weirdo samples were used to really fucking say something from a guy who you know, was dying and all, so he had some pretty-real shit on his mind.

-Jay Electronica ‘I Feel Good’
Click here to download ‘I Feel Good’
A simple chipmink soul sample, some back-and-forth piano, and some simple drums and a catchy chorus that doesn’t fall-back on R & B histrionics, it’s neither street shit or rap and bullshit and it’s a lot of other stuff too. What can you say to a pretty brilliant attack on anti-Southern rap sentiment that really reminds this hyperbolic asshole of early Nas?

Like a dick, I blew off Jay Electronica at first, but Monique hipped me to that ‘What the F- is a Jay Electronica’ mix put out by WEDOITRIGHT and there’s plenty to like and quite a few songs that more than explain dude’s “hype”. Like a ‘College Dropout’ and before era Kanye West who just made hot soul beats and joke songs and didn’t give a shit or like those early ‘Doomsday’-era MF singles, Jay Electronica feels like a rapper actually full of potential and not like he’s blowing all he’s got on his mixtape. Jay’s 31 and I think that’s important to remember; he’s had a lot of time to think about a lot of stuff and it shows. Bonus points for not referencing “haters” but getting to the heart of what makes everyone in the world not feel good: “…the dumb shit that people say.”

-Ryan Leslie ‘Diamond Girl’
Click here to download ‘Diamond Girl’
The guy that made the still-good-every-time-you-hear-it beat for Cassie’s ‘Me & U’ has this sort of out-there crazy R & B jam that has none of the irony of R. Kelly or the robo-jokes of T-Pain. He’s actually serious in singing this sexy song for the ladies or really, for one very special girl, which is awesome and also, makes it more like an older love song. Fuck these post-modern loverboys with girls on the side, this guy with a name that sounds like he should be a cast member on ‘The Hills’ might be where it’s at.

See, Kanye West or Pharrell try to make songs like this but they sit down and are like “Yo, this is some Space-Vegas shit” so it comes out like, planned and a little mannered and don’t get me wrong, that still rules (the Pharrell/Kanye track on the new Madonna album comes really close), but ‘Diamond Girl’ is just this power-up in an NES game disco party synth-line over and over, a few extra bloops, and then some like rappers’ swagger on the vocals (he kinda goes Lil Wayne late in the song), along with some goofy lover-man sincerity! Yes!

-M83 ‘Couleurs’
Click here to download ‘Couleurs’
The new M83 album ‘Saturdays=Youth’ is great not because it somehow “captures” the 80s or teen angst or whatever else people who don’t actually listen say, but because it actually takes all those feelings and musical influences, and not only the “cool” ones critics feel comfortable citing. That’s to say, there’s nothing hip or ironic about ‘Saturdays=Youth’, it’s real and awesome and embarrassingly sincere and moves beyond 80s music signifiers or homage.

Yeah, there’s a lot of New Order bouncing around- especially on this song- and “Blade Runner’ synths” reads/sounds cooler than “a Vangelis influence” even though they are the same thing, and but there’s also like Christopher Cross and John Carpenter and ‘Knightrider’ and tons of Michael Mann soundtrack and it has some like electronic cow-bell and maybe some 808s and this great part where it slows-down and kinda funks-out.

-And click here to download all five songs; they make a pretty good mix.

Written by Brandon

May 2nd, 2008 at 9:40 am