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Archive for June, 2008

Sell-Out Songs that Hedge Their Bets

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Despite Three-Six Mafia’s growing fame for the wrong reasons–like an Oscar they shouldn’t have won and a really exploitative reality show– early signs of ‘Last 2 Walk’ were still promising. The new tracks were either good enough (‘Suga Daddy’, a collaboration with the Crime Mob girls) or just great (‘Doe Boy’s flange-crazy outro, ‘Like Money’s Godzilla-stomp). Even ‘I’d Rather’ featuring DJ Unk–the only one of these “singles” to actually make the album’s final cut– wasn’t on some ‘Walk It Out’ shit at all!

Then came ‘Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)’ an unquestionable cash-in on the auto-tune Akon/T-Pain takeover. It’s the kind of song pumped-out under record label pressure for a big hit that, because it was pumped-out to be a big hit, will never be one. The whole thing’s doubly depressing. It shows how desperate Three-Six want to be really big and the cluelessness of their record label. Moved into a bigger pool of fame and expectations because of a song called ‘It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp’, and best-known for songs about staying high and sipping syrup, knee-jerk label reaction was still to couch the group’s harder elements behind mega-clean vocodo-tune shine and ignore an almost-two decade career that precariously balanced mainstream popularity with street-level success (that’s the ideal model now that record sales are down, I thought…). ‘Lolli Lolli’ verified skepticism of ‘Last 2 Walk’. It seemed clear that the album’s early tracks had all been scrapped for an increased focus on OK Magazine collabos with Paris Hilton and Good Charlotte and maybe sorta quickly jump on the success of Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’.

‘Last 2 Walk’ finally saw release this past Tuesday and it’s neither the smash-it-up consistency of ‘Most Known Unknowns’ or 20 tracks of ‘Lolli Lolli’. It’s incredibly messy and all over-the-place, but it’s just a mediocre Three-Six album, not another hard-ass classic, and not the crunk, auto-tune, Hollywood/hood rap cash-in it could’ve been. If there’s a problem with ‘Last 2 Walk’, it’s that it tries so hard to not sound like Three Six haven’t gone Hollywood, that it comes off contrived integrity. Like, what two talking-head dopes for NPR would think an uncompromised Three-Six album sounds like. But whatever. ‘Last 2 Walk’ ultimately comes out way better than most of the fans I talk to expected it to (and it’s good to know that a Eightball and MJG, Al Kapone, and fucking DJ Spanish Fly songs exists).

Most interestingly, however, is the way ‘Lolli Lolli’s stuffed at the very end of the album, after a long-as-shit and hilarious ‘Outro’ and right before a remix of an unfortunate but not-awful, Good Charlotte collaboration, ‘My Own Way’. The song’s also weirdly contextualized by ‘Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body) Intro’, a sixteen-second skit between DJ Paul and Project Pat where they basically are like “Whew, time to go to the strip-club!”. Then, the song plays.

Stuck at the end of the album, and sort of subtly out-ed for being their big, dumb, sell-out song by the guys themselves, ‘Lolli’ doesn’t interrupt the flow or classic Three-Six sound on the album; it’s almost out of sight, out of mind. Still slapped on there for those few people who bought the album for this single, but not really a part of the album–it’s labelled as a “bonus track” on Amazon, for more “bonus” track fuckery see ‘Carter 3′ and ‘Late Registration’ but that’s a whole other post.–and therefore, not too offensive to die-hard fans.

It’s a bullshit compromise but it might be necessary for musicians to survive and it’s better than ‘Lolli Lolli’ fumbling between say, ‘Rollin’ and ‘Click Bang’ and being a total bonerkill. I’m reminded of the oft-discussed Roots/Fall-Out Boy song ‘Birthday Girl’. The Roots obviously have a more purist fan-base–although musically, the Roots and Three-Six’s devotion to mining their own sound album after album is really similar– and so, ‘Birthday Girl’ wasn’t so much ignored as it was totally shit-on by tough-minded fans (and pathetically defended by OkayPlayer dickriders). Within a week or so of all the fan derision, ?uestlove back-peddled and said ‘Birthday Girl’ wasn’t necessarily going to be on ‘Rising Down’ from the start and now, that possibility was official: It would be the “international single” and an iTunes exclusive. ‘Rising Down’ was better off without ‘Birthday Girl’, hopefully the Roots made some cash off of completist Fall-Out Boy fans that bought it on iTunes, and I’m left with the vague feeling that I got hustled by a group whose plans to sell-out blew-up in their face…

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2008 at 6:03 pm

City Paper Review: J Dilla ‘Jay Love Japan’

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Since J Dilla’s death in 2006, record labels’ response to fan’s demands to hear all things James Dewitt Yancey has been met with equal parts homage and exploitation. Where Jay Love Japan falls is hard to say.

Available in bootleg and quasi-official Japan-only releases for a while, it’s good to see Japan in places other than sketchy bit-torrent sites. But at barely 20 minutes long and with no vinyl pressing, at retail price this release is a little too cash-in for comfort. Still, the music within is as teary and joyful as that happy Hokusai on the cover.

Japan’s a terse whirl through Dilla’s entire production career. The clipped acoustic guitar in “Yesterday” looks back to his early production, such as the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” while the song’s use of record crackle as a percussive element–not simply atmosphere–recalls the obsessive sample-slicing of his later work. The electro weirdness of “Say It” pays debt to the Detroit techno of Dilla’s hometown and feels straight from his own work on Q-Tip’s Amplified, reminding poptimists in need of a history lesson that radio’s current rave-hop trend owes a little to Dilla.

“Believe in God” is a make-you-wanna-cry instrumental, like something off Donuts, Dilla’s beat-tape/life-and-death meditation: A guy near death flips soul samples to emote and provide beyond-the-grave advice. “Believe in God’” is an order, but the music gives heads plenty just to enjoy. Soul-strings flail around as thin vocals cry out “God.” It’s a producer beyond hot beats, with some pretty real shit on his mind.

Also, check out Al Shipley’s article on the death of Baltimore hip-hop figurehead Mr. Wilson: Michael Dante Wilson, Jan. 23, 1973-June 5, 2008.

Written by Brandon

June 25th, 2008 at 8:12 am

How Big Is Your World? New Rap Songs.


-Nappy Roots ‘Good Day’
Click here to download ‘Good Day’
Driving around North Carolina two weekends ago, this song was on the radio constantly but it hasn’t made its way to Baltimore/DC stations or maybe they just aren’t interested in it, which makes sense because back when they were popular, Nappy Roots seemed pretty second-rate. A few years later, given the insane amount of Southern rap that gets on the radio, these dudes seem a little more interesting. ‘Good Day’ makes absolutely no 2008 rap concessions…it sounds the same as the songs that got Nappy Roots big in the early 2000s or maybe like something of Scarface’s ‘The Fix’ when he’s rapping manic utopianism instead of depressive fuck-it-all threats.

-88-Keys featuring Kid Cudi ‘Wasting My Minutes’
Click here to download ‘Wasting My Minutes’
The thing about this track is that it doesn’t hide its obvious production tricks at all. The sample slowly mutates into chipmunk voice along with some really simple Daryl Nathan-esque keyboard squelches, a subtle drum and then, this really heavy drum drops along with some perfect la-la-las and the song finally begins. The concept’s funny and like knowingly offensive and boiling it all down to the dumb girl’s wasting his cell-phone minutes is extra hilarious. It’s not a surprise that Kanye’s releasing dude’s album; this is the kind of shit Kanye’d still be doing if he wasn’t a megastar.

-E Major ‘Don’t Worry’
Click here to download ‘Don’t Worry’
The thing about this dude E Major is that his music won’t click right away. Of course, it sounds like really solid, 90s-influenced “hip-hop” and that’ll do, but his beat selection and the shit he raps about sort of slowly gels together over a bunch of listens- except for ‘Don’t Worry’, which should grab anybody with ears. A beat by DJ Excel that rides some whirling soul-strings and really weird-sounding drums–it sounds like a drum and a clap hitting at the exact same time– as E essentially raps about his minor victories as a rapper and then changes it up in the final verse that shouts-out a dead friend, drops the bragging for self-reflection, and humble thank-yous, then fades-out…

-Cody Chesnutt ‘Afrobama’
Click here to download ‘Afrobama’
Really topical songs of political hope are always better than hyper-topical songs decrying the government or the president or whoever else. Curtis’ “Nixon sayin’ don’t worry” works and Willie D’s final verse on ‘Point of No Return’ from ‘The Resurrection’ grabs political outrage in a way that’s clear enough whether you know who J Edgar Hoover is or not, but too many songs of the sort just feel knowing and obnoxious. Whether Obama’s the second coming to you, the better of two evils, or the dude you’re plain not voting for, ‘Afrobama’s just unabashedly celebratory and you should relate to that sense of actually caring enough about something to make a song about it. Also, just a really smart song in terms of referencing or trying to ape the political urgency of someone like Fela; also, the song feels like a sly reference to Vampire Weekend’s Afro-pop aping. Will there ever be a follow-up to probably the fourth best album of the 2000s ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’?!

-Mt. Eerie ‘Appetite’
Click here to download ‘Appetite’
The Microphones–now Mt. Eerie– have always been masters of the quiet/loud indie-rock dynamic. They–or really he, it’s just Phil Elverum– took the dynamic to the next level, eschewing the predictable quiet guitar to loud jangle explosion for Phil Spector-sized drums and belted-out vocals and ‘Appetite’s essentially more of the same, but stretched even further. As indie pop essentially becomes the new pop, it’s interesting that Mr. Best Album of 2001 According to Pitchforkmedia keeps moving further away from iPod commericial indie and instead, mines the quiet/loud dynamics of metal, especially black metal here. The drums and guitar pummel even more and pound even faster and there’s some like Sabbath-ish guitar harmonics going on and that Burzum buzz, but there’s still Elverum’s pleasant voice and sincere lyrics, so it’s never genre-hopping as much as it is internalizing the parts of the genre that he can squeeze into his own music.

As usual, here’s a zipfile of all five songs…

Written by Brandon

June 24th, 2008 at 7:47 am

E Major ‘Majority Rules’: Bonus Features

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As an addition to my review of ‘Majority Rules’, I thought I’d throw-out some additional information on E Major and highlight some favorite tracks from his album, which is available for free but if you have some money to spend, it’s more than worth the 15 dollars.

This isn’t exactly a Baltimore blog–there’s already the hyper-comprehensive Government Names anyways– and I don’t think I have a ton of Baltimore readers but E Major is performing with Blu & Exile at SONAR in early July and actually, this weekend, he’s part of a really interesting performance/workshop for kids on the “Art of hip-hop” hosted by Sean Toure:

June, 21 2008 at The Park Heights Community Health Alliance
4151 Park Heights Avenue., Baltimore, Maryland

E Major ‘Majority Rules’ (Under Sound Music)
-‘The Next Episode’ (produced by DJ Face, scratches by DJ Excel)
The first proper track on ‘Majority Rules’ with a really great Primo-type beat and E dropping a really affecting story of his life moving between Baltimore and California and his involvement in hip-hop from fan to rapper. Plenty of stuff for pretty much any rap fan around my age to appreciate and relate to.

-‘Livin the Life’ featuring We & Us and Tia (produced by E Major)
I love how this record starts with this record scratch–a perfect production choice– and then the horns come in and it slowly becomes an actual beat. One of the best aspects of ‘Majority Rules’ is the use of female voices for hooks and sometimes just la-la style singing behind the beats which reminds me of Little Brother and some of the best underground rappers that know how to mix hip-hop with catchy hooks and more mainstream production. Also, the guests on this track, We & Us do exactly what guests do on all my favorite rap albums: come in, kill it, and jump-out. Us in particular, has a great verse: “to death I lost two brothers/I ain’t been straight since/But I learned to gracious to this gift I can’t dismiss it/Now every day I wait, it’s a celebration bitches”. Never heard of We & Us before this track but I’m going to look out for them.

-’Nuthin Nice’ featuring Hezekiah (produced by Dre Belovit the Truth)

-‘How You Wanna Carry It?’ (produced by zu_keeny)
This song takes its hook from an early 90s Baltimore classic ‘What’s Up What’s Up’ (sometimes ‘Whatzup Whatzup’) by Miss Tony (sometimes Ms. Tony, and later as Big Tony). Miss Tony is a really fascinating Baltimore personality, who was famous as a female impersonator and radio DJ. He died in 2003, a few months after a compilation of his songs came out. My old computer’s fried and it’s where I had most of my music, so you’ll have to settle for this YouTube video that plays ‘What’s Up What’s Up’. The best part of E’s interpolation I think, is how he got that very specific pronunciation of “carry” on the track.

-‘Make It’ (produced by Heroes 4 Hire)
‘Majority Rules’ goes beyond just being hot because E Major’s constructed a really cohesive album. The last bunch of tracks are on an R & B style without ever sounding lame or crossover-y and this is my favorite of them. The first verse is basically about being a fuck-around in high-school–like almost every smart, interesting person, right?– while the second comes in with a story of how hard his Mom worked to make a better life for him, how he’s going to do the same and it’s punctuated by a change-up in the soul-strings. Affecting, smart stuff.

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Baltimore, DJ Excel, E Major

City Paper Review: E Major ‘Majority Rules’

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Here’s my review of Baltimore rapper E Major’s album ‘Majority Rules’. Later today, look for a follow-up post with some mp3s and additional info on E. For now, here’s the review and here’s E’s MySpace:

“Despite its many puns on “major,” independence pervades Majority Rules. E Major’s album–available on CD and free download on his MySpace–succeeds because it’s an uncompromised 17-track drive through the rapper’s life. This is more than enough, now that even your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper drops a major-label mess of crossover attempts and corporate accord.

Early tracks invoke everyman realities, such as tension between paying rent and pursuing a dream: “I hope you’re listenin’, y’all, because if not/ it’s back to 40 hours a week punching the clock” (from “Magnificent Pt. 0″). “Next Episode” charts an adolescence bouncing between Baltimore and California, and tosses in some wistful rap-nerd references–”me and my homies recited lines from Black Moon”–atop taut boom-bap by DJ Face with scratches from BMore Original’s DJ Excel. E further explores the porous borders of Baltimore club and traditional hip-hop on “How You Wanna Carry It,” a song that grabs its hook from Miss Tony’s classic “What’s Up What’s Up”.

As the album moves along, E Major perseveres, so when the Excel-produced “Don’t Worry”–the “I’m finally making it” song–explodes, it’s earned. The rewards are there, but they’re simple stuff like Nike Dunks only available in Japan, and the joy is still tempered by a final verse for a friend who passed before E’s rap shit kinda popped off. It has what every track on Majority Rules has: a proper mix of swagger and sincerity–as E says on “A Fresh Start,” “present my sentiment without being too sentimental”–atop remarkably consistent soul beats.”

Written by Brandon

June 19th, 2008 at 8:21 am

Metal Lungies: Kanye West Beat Drop


I was asked to contribute to Metal Lungies’ Kanye West Beat Drop. As expected, I’m way more pretentious and long-winded than the rest of the dudes, oh well. The beats I picked were ‘Guess Who’s Back?’, ‘Never Let Me Down’, ‘Selfish’, ‘Go’, and ‘The Glory’. Follow the link below:

“This is from Kanye’s best beat-making era. Right after the success of The Blueprint and before he became a superstar, Kanye laced a whole lot of rappers’ albums with two or three beats and usually one of them ended up a street or radio single. In addition to the obvious “trademark” chipmunk-soul, all of Kanye’s beats from this mini-era had these strange, really-thick-but-rather-limp drums on them. It’s like he chopped the drums so short that he removed the beginning and end of the drum sound and sucked out all the bump. Similar drums — probably the exact same drums, really — are all over The College Dropout and critics cited them as a weakness, but it moves Kanye’s production even further away from conventional boom-bap. The drums don’t charge through, they contemplatively knock in the background as basslines and soul strings and subtle “Guess who’s back?” vocal scratches bubble up. My single of this song — it’s the B-side to “On My Block” — credits Kanye, but I’m pretty sure that’s Mos Def on the hook…”

Written by Brandon

June 11th, 2008 at 7:51 am

Video Director Chris Robinson

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Chris Robinson’s music videos are fairly ubiquitous (he usually has one or two in BET rotation) but he’s not an event video director or an overt visual stylist and so, his name’s rarely on the tongues of anyone talking or writing about music videos. When he made his feature film debut after about a decade of hip-hop and R & B videos, it was ‘ATL’, a well-reviewed but still underrated coming of age drama that was reaching for the feeling of ‘Cooley High’ or the sincerity of ‘Straight Out of Brooklyn’ and for the most part, matched those black, humanist classics. His videos are similar, avoiding the show-off cinematography, quick-cutting, and other music video cliches for an understated style and palpable sense of fun.

Alicia Keys ‘Teenage Love Affair’

This is the video that inspired this post because it’s all over BET. Basically a homage to Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze’ with the right details highlighted (subtle choreography, the classic characters-on-the-dolly shot) and a wise avoidance of being a flat-out rip of the movie. ‘Teenage Love Affair’ actually looks way better visually than ‘School Daze’ as Robinson goes for a warm, 70s look instead of the colder colors that seemingly every movie between 1985-1992 had to have. Check out the production design when it cuts between Alicia Keys and her new boyfriend’s rooms; the stuff on their walls is used to contrast their personalities and there’s plenty of little details in there. The chopped-up narrative too, with funny throwback title-cards informing the viewer of where we are in the narrative is a good way of mixing-up what would probably be a pretty boring video to viewers used to tons of CGI and boat-races in Miami.

Ryan Leslie ‘Diamond Girl’

First of all, why this song isn’t like the summer-jam is beyond me. The on-the-fly shots that open this video are very good, as Leslie is getting ready and then racing to the performance. Some really good hand-held work and smart cutting that captures the energy of rushing out to perform instead of the like, the big, spectacular slo-mo entry a lot of videos about performance employ. Robinson’s a really economic storyteller, quickly reducing Leslie’s pre-performance drama (or whatever) to a few quick shots that are about to fall out-of-focus, as if even the camera couldn’t keep up with him. You don’t totally know what’s going on, but you know he’s in a hurry and that’s all you need to know.

The performance part looks like late 50s/early 60s film, like the original ‘Oceans Eleven’ or say, ‘Point Blank’ where the colors are contrast-y and immediate. Also, full of great 60s-style movie zooms and cheesy-but-great rotating diamond effects. When it cuts to the girl watching the video, she’s modern and watching it on a flat-screen, but Leslie’s performance is total 60s Rat Pack stuff and it seems to suggest how Leslie’s this throwback to an earlier time. As I said when I reviewed the song, it’s a straight-forward love song, not the postmodern crooner’s song about how she’s his girl for the night or how he has girls on the side or anything like that.

Jay-Z ‘Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…)’

The introduction of this video is very much like ‘ATL’, with a whirl of telling images over a simple voiceover. What’s interesting is how all of the 80s rap iconography is real and accurate (thick chains, old flyers, Olde English 40s), much like the way the credit sequence of ‘ATL’ grabbed every part of Atlanta and not just “ghetto” signifiers. Also fun for how Robinson has Jay’s 1988 crew calling themselves “The Roc Boys” like some ‘Warriors’ or ‘Education of Sonny Carson’ stuff. I like to contrast this with Rik Cordero’s ‘Blue Magic’ teaser which yelled-out “gritty” and made the drug-dealing aspect covert enough but also pretty obvious. Here, it’s all kind of implicit and understood that the Roc Boys are a clique of dealers but it doesn’t really do anything to make that clear. And it doesn’t because that’s not really the point. The real point is the contrast between Jay-Z’s current position and where he was in 1988 and that’s made clear and emotional by the bouncing back and forth between the 2007 Roc Boys partying and the 1988 Roc Boys stalking Marcy projects. The past and the present come together in the teaser ending suggesting the played-out but always worth telling people message that you know, you don’t ever really escape “the life”.-Music Video Director Chris Robinson Brings His Feature Debut to His Charm City
-Fairly-Complete Videography from Music Video Database (there are some errors though)

Some of my other favorite Robinson videos are below. Robinson has a lot of fun with throwback effects like the ‘GIRL FIGHT!’ title that explodes on the screen in the Brooke Valentine video, or the ‘Mr. Rogers/Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood stuff on the Ma$e video, the bouncing sing-along heads in ‘Selfish’, or the vaguely psychedelic ‘Sesame Street’ weirdness of Slum’s ‘Tainted’. Other times, Robinson effectively grabs a new or interesting angle on some kind of video cliche. I’ve always seen the set-in-a-diner Alicia Keys video for ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ as a kind of anti-‘Milkshake’. The Jay-Z video for ‘La La La (Excuse Me Again)’ does a really good job of incorporating the ‘Bad Boys 2′ movie clips (having them play off TV sets in the video’s background); he does a similar thing in his video for ‘What You Know’ as well. The ‘Deja Vu’ video does the typical cut-between two sets rap performance video bit, but has one of those sets as a baseball stadium. Robinson shoots it in cartoony colors too, with the grass and uniforms Crayola-bright, which takes a lot of the hardness out of the song. There’s also the Big Pun video, which can comfortable sit next to Spike Jonze’s ‘Sky’s the Limit’ video as a video made after the death of its artist and finding a creative and touching way to pay tribute.

Brooke Valentine ‘Girl Fight’

Ma$e ‘Welcome Back’

Slum Village ‘Selfish’

Alicia Keys ‘You Don’t Know My Name’

Jay-Z ‘La La La (Excuse Me Again)’

Slum Village ‘Tainted’

Big Pun ‘It’s So Hard’

Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz ‘Deja Vu’

‘ATL’ (2006)
Robinson’s debut film ‘ATL’, is undoubtedly the work of a music video director, with a mix of 2003-2005 summer jams playing in the background for almost all of the movie’s running time, but it ultimately works, as most of the movie’s set in the music-friendly settings of a roller-rink and house-parties.

At other points however, Robinson eschews source music style and punctuates a scene with a really great tone-setting or emotional cue. Big Rube’s ‘Love’s Deceit’ scores the movie’s emotional denouement, while the movie’s epilogue is set to ‘Right Now’ by Cee-Lo. ‘Git Up, Git Out’ plays as TI and younger brother Ant (played by Diana Ross’ kid) accompany their half-fuck-up/half good guy uncle cleaning up a big office building and the scene matches the complexity of the song in terms of you know, trying to get-on the right way but also being like “Man, cleaning up office buildings sucks!”. A later scene, where despite TI’s pointed wishes, Ant is dealing, is set to OV Wright’s ‘Motherless Child’; it works as both literal (the boys have no parents) and as the perfect musical switch-up in a movie full of stuff like ‘Kryptonite’ and ‘And Then What’. The scene culminates in Ant getting jacked and a few scenes later, as both TI and the neighborhood’s big-time drug dealer– played so well by Big Boi that nothing about him seems appealing or cool, a testament to the movie’s effective social message– search for Ant, the score plays some wailing electric guitar that’s vaguely ‘Maggot Brain’-like and if the movie didn’t weave so many references, I’d hesitate to connect it to George Clinton’s instructions to Eddie Hazel (“play like your Momma just died”), but having just watched a ‘Motherless Child’ montage, it seems legit.

In terms of like, brilliant sub-text, the best scene is a scene that takes place at the country club where one of TI’s friends, nicknamed “Esquire” works. A group of elderly, mainly-white, musicians, hired to play milquetoast background music, play an incredibly square version of John Coltrane’s ‘Impressions’. Mounted on a wall of the country club is a painting of a Confederate soldier, standing proud and it looms as Keith David’s millionaire entrepreneur character John Garnett toasts to “six consecutive quarters in the black…” (David also narrated Ken Burns’ 2001 ‘Jazz’ series). The whole scene is Ellison-ian in its complexity and subtlety (although its sorta ruined when Robinson ends the scene with an in-focus close-up of the Confederate painting, but still!).

Written by Brandon

June 9th, 2008 at 7:08 pm

M.I.A Just Want To Take Your Money: Scottie B’s ‘Paper Planes’ Remix


-‘Paper Planes’ (Scottie B Remix) off Homeland Security Remixes.

-‘Bmore Club Slam’ by Scottie B and Wale off Wale’s Mixtape About Nothing.

On her own type of cultural imperialism, M.I.A’s grabbed this and that from the Baltimore Club scene recently. Blaq Starr provided some production on ‘Kala’, has gone on tour with her, and Starr’s protégé Rye-Rye, a teenage girl from Baltimore has joined her on-stage and appears on another ‘Paper Planes’ remix. With all that in mind, it’s hard not to read Baltimore Club legend Scottie B’s remix of M.I.A’s ‘Paper Planes’ as a little contemptuous. He speeds her vocals up into an even more annoying nag or slows them down into a blurry drag, and punctuates it all with a persistent vocal chopped and reorganized to say “…why can’t you see?/M.I.A just want to take your money.”

Scottie B’s been a DJ since the late 80s, involved in Baltimore Club since its inception and still co-owns/runs ‘Unruly Records’. His style is decidedly throwback, almost all classic club-breaks and tons of House and Hip-House signifiers which he consistently finds new ways to flip and fuck around with; he’s both a hardcore protector of the scene and open-minded celebrator of out-of-town “BMore club” love. He’s bitter enough—see that shirt above—but he always goes out of his way to state that support for the music is important no matter what or where it comes from.

And so, he’s rightly jumped on the Baltimore Club remix trend, sending out remixes for hipster darlings like M.I.A, Santogold, and Wale, but sending them out as uncompromising all-out Baltimore Club jams. There’s no compromise here. Only the real thing. ‘Paper Planes’ gets the same destruction and then, rehabilitation as any other song ripe with samples would receive on its way through the Scottie B, Baltimore Club assembly line. When even people from Baltimore call Spank Rock or Diplo “Baltimore Club” and tell you how “crazy” it was when M.I.A brought out “this little black girl Rye-Rye”, this is important.

Rather than outwardly complain, Scottie takes the opportunity to do the music he’s known for more than two decades right. One of the best aspects of the remix is the way he grabs the original ‘Paper Planes’ gun-shots and uses them for rat-a-tat percussion- the way it’s used on a song like say, ‘Safe’ by KW Griff (which can be found, amongst other places, on Rod Lee ‘Vol. 5’, a nationally distributed Baltimore Club mix/album). Scottie B spins samples from ‘Paper Planes in all directions, speeding them up and slowing them down and sticking a layer a classic house kick-drum and rumbling bass under it all. Loud enough, it makes you feel kind of woozy and sorta makes the original version feel like a waste of time.

And of course, there’s those vocal edits, “all I wanna do is take your money” and “MIA just want to take your money”. It could just be Scottie B doing what he does or it’s some not-too subtle address of the London/Sri-Lankan’s questionable interest in Baltimore music and this whole half-contemptible (not totally contemptible, mind you) hipster trend that’s got everybody upset or at least, thinking.

Contrast it with ‘Bmore Club Slam’ off Wale’s new mixtape. It’s a song that Wale said he commissioned from Scottie, a symbolic connection between the DC rapper and Baltimore Clubbers. It’s not a remix so it’s a little different, but it’s interesting that Wale’s basically allowed to run circles around Scottie’s beat and do whatever he wants

Written by Brandon

June 5th, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Tha Carter 3 REDUX

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So, ‘Carter 3’s neither a classic nor a total disaster. It’s like most of the stuff Lil Wayne’s released since he was a Hot Boy. The biggest concern for those obsessing over his mixtapes of the past few years was that he just couldn’t find a way to balance his increasingly off-kilter raps with something resembling a conventional song structure. His most out-there freestyles abruptly stopped with the beat falling-off or Wayne announcing “I’m gone!” and his more conventional songs awkwardly tumbled from crazy space-shit that don’t make no sense into a typical chorus or hook. ‘Tha Carter 3′ does a fairly good job of precariously balancing Wayne’s faults with musical convention–why he doesn’t just have a CD of batshit crazy raps that don’t adhere to musical standards, I’m not sure– but that also makes it feel like more of the same. I didn’t buy into the whole Wayne’s going to rap his way into overkill theory, but it’s true. Skeptics won’t be won over by anything on ‘Tha Carter 3′ and will find plenty more to make fun of, converts get more of the same at best, and at worse, some songs that almost give you the feeling of his mixtape highlights.

Almost everything great on ‘Carter 3′ can be found on a mixtape or guest verse somewhere else and on a few songs, he even seems to have made the decision to make a new song that sounds like one of his mixtape classics rather than just stick the original song on there. Intro track ‘3 Peat’ is just a slightly less exciting version of ‘I’m Me’ off ‘The Leak EP’, the unfortunate ‘Tie My Hands’ is sonically, a second attempt at the already pretty-bad ‘Shooter’ off ‘Carter 2′, and lyrically aims for the poignancy of ‘Georgia…Bush’ and would get there if ‘George…Bush’ didn’t already exist, the Rolling Stones interpolating ‘Playin’ With Fire’ sounds like the Franz-Ferdinand sampling ‘Burn This City’ meets the Heart-sampling ‘Something You Forgot’ with some like queerby ‘American Idol’ understanding of “rock” vocals, and ‘La La’ (not to be confused with the really good ‘Haters (La La La)’) is a beat that thinks it sounds like the weirdo Wayne-ness of ‘I Feel like Dying’ but is just annoying.

Only ‘Dr. Carter’ works in referencing another Wayne song (‘Gossip’) and improving upon or matching it, by extending the concept of Wayne being able to kill and/or revive rappers and signifying it through life-support beeps. The concept’s pretty well-delivered, features one of his best weirdo punchlines (“Fly, go hard/Like a geese erection”) and the Swizz Beat production is perfect and on the same simple soul-loop shit as Busta Rhymes’ ‘Don’t Touch Me’ (Swizz Beatz is pretty much keeping old-style soul-rap beats alive in the mainstream, weird…).

It’s interesting that the only total layover from his mixtapes is the great and very affecting ‘Comfortable’, a track that has Wayne going away from his typical oscillation between tough-talk and space-shit and into like nerdy, seasoned relationship raps. Along with ‘Shoot Me Down’, a track that really shouldn’t work but is one of the album’s best (and on some like actually emotional indie rock type shit), ‘Comfortable’ is the only song where we get of Wayne in total confessional mode- something ‘Tha Carter 3′ needs more of to work.

There’s plenty of good weird tracks, a few total misfires (especially ‘Tie My Hands’ and ‘La La’), and the expected ones where Wayne raps his ass off over spastic electronic beats, but as an album, it has no trajectory, either sonically or thematically. ‘Got Money’s the kind of song that destroys everything before or after it with thick buzz-synths but it’s followed by the downbeat ‘Comfortable’. The sinister ‘Nothin On Me’ is sandwiched between the Oompa-Loompa retardation of ‘La La’ and the mournful Kanye-produced ‘Let the Beat Build’ (Kanye’s beats here, really kill and don’t sound much like other shit he’s done). Every song feels like it should be the bad-ass track that starts the album, the regret-filled track that closes the album, or some piece of shit that should’ve never made it on the album and just flutters around. Weezy still hasn’t found a way to properly navigate his varied personae and since this is an album, he’s mostly doing tough-talk, punctuated with some honest stuff and some really out-there stuff, but it never gels or works even as complex contrast. It’s just this style or that style for a song and that’s awesome but it makes a pretty-good album that’s at times, frustrating.

Wayne’s talents are ever-growing and his frame of reference and ability to pull from any and everywhere remains, but as an artist, ‘Tha Carter 3′ hardly improves on ‘Carter 2′, is nowhere near the first ‘Carter’, and shares all of the sloppy indulgence of his mixtapes, which I guess is all we should have expected anyway.

Tha Carter 3 Redux…
My immediate thoughts upon hearing ‘Tha Carter 3′ is how buried in poor sequencing and a couple of really poor decisions, there’s a really good album there and I’d try to make it. I did this with another album that was half-great and half boner kill, Kanye West’s ‘Late Registration’, and it was pretty fun, so I’d thought I’d try it again. If you took all of the tracks Wayne’s dropped in the past few years, you could make an absolutely killer album or “mix”, so I tried to stick to two main rules when making my version of ‘Tha Carter 3′:

Rule 1. It had to use tracks that were commercially released. This meant tracks on ‘Tha Carter III’ and on ‘The Leak EP’. Additionally, I allowed for the use of ‘Haters (La, La, La)’ because it got some radio play and a lot of Satellite radio play like, six months ago. The same would apply for ‘I Feel Like Dying’–which I could’ve found a place for undoubtedly– but the recent lawsuit disqualified it and since I’m sort of playing make-believe mountain-man with an electric guitar here…

Rule 2. No matter the hype or “artistry” found or supposedly found on ‘Tha Carter 3′, this is still a CASH-MONEY record which makes this shit over 70 minutes no matter what. There’s a really good 40 or 50 minute album in here but that’s just not how Birdman and company roll, right? I could’ve stuck one more song on here to max-out the running-time (probably would’ve gone with ‘Talkin’ About It’ off ‘The Leak EP’) but ‘Carter 3′ only moves into that CD max-out time because of the long-ass ramble that takes up most of ‘Misunderstood’ anyway.

Here’s my version:
1. I’m Me [off The Leak EP]
2. 3 Peat
3. A Milli
4. Got Money
5. Nothin’ On Me
6. Playin’ With Fire
7. Gossip [off The Leak EP]
8. Dr. Carter
9. Phone Home
10. Lollipop
11. Mr. Carter
12. Haters (La La La) [from numerous mixtapes]
13. Comfortable
14. Mrs. Officer
15. Shoot Me Down
16. Love Me or Hate Me [off The Leak EP]
17. Let the Beat Build

Tracks I Removed
8. ‘Tie My Hands’ featuring Robin Thicke
What is it with vaguely soulful white guys and political apathy masquerading as being like, worldy wise? File Thicke’s parts of this song right next to John Mayer’s ‘Waitin’ On the World to Change’. His first part about how “we’re at war…with the universe” is ridiculous and his later addition of “I work at the corner store” is as generic and silly as Wayne’s politicism is impassioned and personal. Wayne does the confessional thing pretty well, especially the “deny being down low” line and skillyfully moves into the political, but Thicke’s singing is just too absurd. But a lot of people like ‘Shooter’ so, who knows. This will probably be the next single and it shouldn’t even be on the album.

12. ‘La La’ featuring Brisco & Busta Rhymes
Again, Wayne kills this track just like he kills every other track but this beat is just inexcusably retarded. And coming after ‘Lollipop’, the album needs something a little more real. ‘Lollipop’ is this not very good but also sort of great song that albums like ‘Carter 3’ need and it’s positioning on the album is right before essentially the home-stretch where the album needs to regain its focus and instead you get this, the hard-ass ‘Nothing On Me’, the soul-loops of ‘Let the Beat Build’, the for-the-ladies ‘Mrs. Officer’ and then the outro track, ‘Misunderstood’. The album just really doesn’t need a song like this at this point and it only adds to the messy back-end (no homo) of ‘Carter 3’.

17. ‘Misunderstood’
Again, nothing wrong with this track but it’s fairly underwhelming, is based on a played-out Nina Simone sample—why not sample the Santa Esmeralda version, that’s more Wayne’s style—and isn’t the message song Wayne thinks it is. The discrepancies between crack and other drug convictions and the “reasoning” for busting the black community are worth noting–as is Wayne mentioning that it’s a “white guy’ he heard saying this– is all poignant, but I’d rather hear a verse about it than a rant. When he discusses how they should leave dealers alone and deal with actual criminals, I was waiting for a discussion of corporate fucks and politicians and instead it’s a weird rant against sex offenders, which is just kind of dumb and obvious. ‘Misunderstood’ is a pretty typical “outro” track but ‘Carter 3’ isn’t really a typical album and, as I explain below, there’s already a perfect final track.

The Final Tracklisting
1. I’m Me
2. 3 Peat
Both of these songs are purposefully similar and it almost feels like ‘3 Peat’ only exists because ‘I’m Me’ has been out for awhile now and Wayne’s afraid of being accused of recycling, especially because his bit is that he’s this endlessly inspired rapper. The songs complement one another enough that having them open the album one after another still works. ‘I’m Me’ sounds like the perfect intro track, especially because of those clips at the beginning and end of older Wayne songs. ‘3 Peat’s essentially an even higher-energy version and that energy’s upped even further when ‘A Milli’ follows, so the album starts-out right.

3. A Milli
4. Got Money
Basically, ‘Carter 3’ doesn’t really start to fall apart until ‘Tie My Hands’ but the rest of it is such a mess that dividing up the early tracks is the only way to save the album. Still, I had to cheat with these two because they work perfectly together and maintain the energy level of ‘I’m Me’ and ‘3 Peat’. The placement of ‘Mr. Carter’ at track two on the real album is confusing because it’s this traditionalist chipmunk soul sandwiched between the insane strings of ‘3 Peat’ and the all-out weirdness of ‘A Milli’. Also, if Wayne’s going to claim legendary status, he shouldn’t need a Jay-Z appearance at track two, even if it’s a song connecting the two and one where the legendary Carter apes the younger Carter’s flow. Sticking it late in the album is a kind of subtle suggestion of Wayne’s importance.

5. Nothin’ On Me
‘Mr. Carter’ is a song that should be towards the end of the album and this is a song that should show up way sooner. The best albums are sequenced like a good mix, with mini-movements or even “suites” of sonically or thematically (or both) similar songs and so ‘Nothin On Me’ fits right in with all of these high-energy, booming electro beats, most of which are essentially shit-talking, hard-ass rap songs. The album will move further and further away from shit-talking and more towards introspection.

6. Playin’ With Fire
The terrible chorus of this song makes it a sore-thumb no matter where it falls, but putting it early in the album actually makes it way more digestable. If I had real power I’d totally remove it or at least cut down the 40-second intro, but it still works as is here. At track 6, you haven’t lost your listeners yet, so some weird-ass or even kinda terrible shit doesn’t feel as heavy on listeners’ ears as it will later in the album. Think of Outkast’s ‘Aquemini’ which is all over the place and doesn’t really gel into a solid sound until like, track 8. Also, the transition from ‘Nothin’ On Me’ to the next track ‘Gossip’ just doesn’t sound right but the transition between ‘Fire’ and ‘Gossip’ works well.

7. Gossip
8. Dr. Carter
This is sort of the second “movement” of the album. A brief dive into overt conceptual rap, with Weezy “killing” other rappers on ‘Gossip’ and then “reviving” them on ‘Dr. Carter’. The failing life support sound that ends ‘Gossip’ transitions well enough into the hospital dialogue of ‘Dr. Carter’. These songs also introduce some beats that are outside of the electronic stomp of the first six. There’s also some obvious but fun parallelism between the flatlining at the end of ‘Gossip’ and the revived heart at the end of ‘Dr. Carter’.

9. Phone Home
This song’s really crazy and would probably be my second choice for an ‘Intro’ track if the rest of ‘Tha Carter 3′ were a little more insane. I put it here because it has this ‘General Hospital’-style theme music that introduces the track which connects to the corny like, Rex Morgan M.D stuff on ‘Dr. Carter’ and there’s some subtle sonic connections between the pumping heartbeat that ends ‘Dr. Carter’ and the drums on this song. Also, a return to the shit-talking, self-asserting tracks that started the album, but a little stranger.

10. Lollipop
The spaceship taking-off sound that ends ‘Phone Home’ transitions well into the space beep-bloops of ‘Lollipop’ and both songs are sort of these mid-tempo weirdo party tracks. This is also the last of the electronics you’ll hear on the album, as I’ve made the final bunch of tracks some relationship/sensitive-guy raps mainly supported by more soul-oriented beats.

11. Mr. Carter
12. Haters (La La La)
This is kind of the final movement of the album and it’s a little more sophisticated or conventional than the rest and so, it’s a good place to stick the collabo with Jay-Z. As I said, burying this pretty great track late in the album makes Jay-Z more like another guest than some event rapper. The pianos that play-out at the end of ‘Mr. Carter’ almost sounds like they fade-out and fade back-in on ‘Haters (La La La),’ a song that’s kind of on some ‘Hard Knock Life’ shit and so there’s that Jay-Z connection too.

13. Comfortable
14. Mrs. Officer
15. Shoot Me Down
16. Love Me or Hate Me
Wayne’s good at weaving introspective rhymes in songs that don’t immediately appear introspective, but I think it would actually be a good look for him to focus on this side of his raps more explicitly. ‘Comfortable’s a great song and maintains the momentum of ‘Mr. Carter’ and ‘Haters’ and adds the smart, nice guy part of his persona that can get outshined by all the pussy -eating talk. ‘Mrs. Officer’ doesn’t really fit but is a song for the ladies that’s actually really good and albums like ‘Tha Carter 3′ always have songs like ‘Mrs. Officer’ on them. It complements Wayne’s emotional honesty with the woman in ‘Comfortable, well. We then move from these sensitive songs to outwardly vulnerable songs from Wayne. ‘Shoot Me Down’ is essentially a reaction to all the people who apparently want him to fail and ‘Love Me or Hate Me’ is a confident but still upset address of his own hype and ability or inability to live up to it.

17. Let the Beat Build
When this song came on the first time I heard the album, I really wanted it to the end the album because it’s so perfect. It’s like the end of ‘Good Times’ or something. Ending the album on a soulful, uplifting note puts a finality to the album that the rambling ‘Misunderstood’ does not and it just feels more hopeful and excited than a depressed, half-right rant. This is like ‘Dipset Forever’ at the end of ‘Purple Haze’ or ‘Love’ on ‘Pretty Toney’ or ‘13th Floor/Growing Old’ on ‘ATLiens’…you get the picture.

Written by Brandon

June 3rd, 2008 at 8:26 am