No Trivia

Archive for 2009

No Trivia Book Club: The Year of Goines.


So, I thought about putting up a kind of obnoxious message about how the “New Year’s resolution” for everybody reading and writing about rap on the internets should be some attempt to at least like, foster discussion?

And then it seemed wiser to create something or another that might facilitate discussion instead of simply demanding it.

The result is gonna be a book club. All during the upcoming year, I’m going to read every novel by “street fiction” originator Donald Goines and at the end of each month (ideally, the final week day of whatever month it is), post some kind of fairly in-depth essay about each book. The comments section will ideally be a place for people to discuss the month’s book and if anyone wants to contribute more notable pieces about any of the books, they can do that too. They can be posted here or linked here, if you want to use your own blog to post your thoughts.

But real quick–some stuff about Goines: Was a pimp and a junkie, along with Iceberg Slim pretty much established Holloway House as a publisher and developed the current craze that is “street fiction”, was shot dead at his typewriter, is idolized by tons of rappers (personal fave lyrical reference here) and most importantly, is still kinda slept-on as an author of a whole bunch of deeply compelling work.

If you want to read-up on dude a bit more, do not, I repeat do not consult Eddie Stone’s Donald Writes No More. Do go find a cheap copy of Eddie B. Allen Jr.’s Low Road: The Life & Legacy of Donald Goines though, but only a cheap copy because even Allen’s book isn’t a masterpiece, but it does provide you with Goines’ life story and some terse but effective criticism of the novels. All Goines’ novels are relatively easy to find, relatively easy to read, and all will run you like $7 or $8 bucks new.

Below you’ll find a “syllabus” and after that, some quick notes on why the reading list is structured as it is.

  • January: Dopefiend
  • February: Whoreson
  • March: Black Gangster
  • April: Street Players
  • May: White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief
  • June: Black Girl Lost
  • July: Eldorado Red
  • August: Swamp Man
  • September: Never Die Alone
  • October: Cry Revenge
  • November: Daddy Cool
  • December: “The Kenyatta Quadrilogy 1 & 2″ Crime Partners & Death List
  • January: “The Kenyatta Quadrilogy 3 & 4″ Kenyatta’s Escape& Kenyatta’s Last Hit

This reading list primarily goes in the order his books were published. The most notable shift is moving Crime Partners, Death List, Kenyatta’s Escape, and Kenyatta’s Last Hit towards the end and all in order because they are essentially one big novel–and a long-ignored American epic in my opinion. I’ve dubbed them the “Kenyatta Quadrilogy” because that’s the guy that slowly becomes the main character and through which all of the action kinda sorta connects. Though these months, you’ll have to read two novels instead of one but it’s totally do-able. I read all four of them in a week.

Goines’ Inner City Hoodlum is omitted from this list because it’s up-for-debate as to how much he actually had to do with it. It was finished by another author after Goines’ death and well, you can tell. That book will be used as a kind of February “coda” for the Year of Goines Book Club, a way to identify Goines’ style and structuring through its rather apparent absence in that particular book.

Yeah, get reading! Any questions or suggestions on how to run this can be put in the comments section.

Written by Brandon

December 30th, 2009 at 9:51 am

Metal Lungies Beat Drop: Best of 2009

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I picked my five favorite beats of 2009 along with a ton of other people for Metal Lungies’ Beat Drop. My picks were “Rising Sun” by G-Side (produced by the Block Beataz),”Run This Town” by Jay-Z (produced by No I.D and Kanye West), Rhymefest’s “Pull Me Back” by Rhymefest (produced by The Matrax), “In the Ruff” by Diamond District (produced by Oddisee), and “First Day Out” by Gucci Mane (produced by Zaytoven). Here’s what I said about that Zaytoven beat. Click to check out the whole feature:
“Usually, a great beat brings together a bunch of disparate chunks of sound into a dope, cohesive whole. This beat by Zaytoven does the opposite: It stacks the same sound (a ping-ponging Zombie movie synth) on top of itself until it’s a crawling mess of bleeps, bloops, and whines, all up in your speakers. It’s deceptively simple and the power comes from the like, casual chaos of it all…the seemingly accidental rhythms and syncopations that stem from this sound-stacking.”

Written by Brandon

December 28th, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Yelawolf’s Redneck Manifesto


“Confederate flags, I see em’ on the truck with the windows down/Why’s he playing Beanie Sigel?/Cause his daddy was a dopeman./Lynrd Skynrd didn’t talk about movin’ keys of coke, man/Ain’t no such thing as a free bird…”

That’s from Yelawolf’s “I Wish”, which features Raekwon and has a beat that rumbles like a Booker T & The MGs instrumental, a Duane Allman solo, and Triple H’s entrance theme all at the same time. Notice how there’s no interest in resolving all the tensions in that rap, how all the details float out there and link-up in some ways and don’t connect in other ways at all. You either get it or you don’t.

The Gadsden, AL rapper points out the absurdity an outsider would immediately gravitate towards–a Confederate flag on a truck, as hip-hop blasts from its speakers–and then, explains where the interests of Beanie Sigel and what a lot of you would call “a bunch of rednecks” intersect: Black or white, both poor, they’re afforded those few luxuries they have because of dope money.

In the words of James Baldwin, Yelawolf is “put[ting his] business on the street”: Letting-out some previously ignored, problematic reality for the rest of the world to see. In this case, it’s the reality that the drug trade holds in its grasp as many whites as blacks, and not only on the typical, higher-up rungs, but on the, work-a-day, keep-the-lights-on levels illustrated in the music of many trap-rappers or on a show like The Wire.

This has never been a fun chunk of reality for white people to hear. Namely because white privilege (which exists when you’re white, but not white and poor as fuck) makes it relatively easy to disassociate one’s self from “white trash”…all the while of course, invoking it when necessary, as country singers like Toby Keith or ex-presidents like George W. Bush are wont to do.

Yelawolf though, like the scores of black rappers before him, realizes some kinda change, real awareness–and interesting stories–stem from actively putting one’s business on the street, regardless of the perceived “hurt” it might do to one’s race or reputation. And so, his music isn’t only engaging with race/class on a political/social/”message” level, but in the dirty, details that’ve always been rap’s specialty.

“Pop the Trunk” is full of them, drenched in novelistic details that build-up over and over, to that increasingly terrifying hook/threat: “Don’t make me go pop the trunk.” It’s like when Wayne recalls having to go “get the cleaver” on Tha Carter III’s “Playing With Fire” because his mom’s “pussy second husband” is beating the shit out of her. Just serious, intensely personal, cinematic rap. Pay attention to the final verse of “Pop the Trunk”, which makes good on the hook’s threat, but it’s a kind of country road shotgun stand-off, and the victim of some buckshot to the chest slows Yelawolf’s staccato flow a to illustrate those bloody last gasps of life.

But there are everyday details too, the kind of sweatpants he’s wearing when he’s awakened, that both his parents are actively working–another reality for the working-class, there’s always bullshit to do–and lyrical flashes of the fucked-up night before. And there are quieter, less loaded pieces of insider info running through Yelawolf’s work, illustrated quite well in his interpolation/almost covers of rock hits of the past.

He screeched a Flock of Seagulls hook on Slim Thug’s “I Run” and he’s gotten a lot of interest lately for his “Subterranean Homesick Blues” reinterp on Juelz Santan’s “Mixin’ Up the Medicine”–that he’s got Stereo, a whole mixtape of classic rock-sampling rap songs, speaks to open-minded, all over the place listening habits of regular-ass people. That his parents probably partied to Flock of Seagulls and reflect on a shit-day at work over some beer and a Dylan record. This is also deeply hip-hop, this grab-from-anywhere if it sounds dope approach to songwriting.

There’s also something to say about a guy with an off-kilter flow that’s super comfortable just doing hooks–he’s the anti-Drake–and fully understands the fluidity of his rap persona. Because that persona’s scattered, it’s real, and because of that, it doesn’t fit nicely into this category or that one, and he can fluidly move around.

He’s a total rap outsider. He’s an awesome hook man. He’s as attuned to ghetto realities as any other rapper. He’s a skate-metal, trailer-park, drug-dealing, white hip-hop head from Alabama, deeply in-tune to the contingencies of his upbringing, which ain’t all that different from all his rap heroes and the dudes he grew up with.

Example: While Yelawolf’s adjective-filled, scene-stealing verse on G-Side’s “Who’s Hood” overflows with trailer-park imagery, it’s 6 Tre G who’s got the Jeff Jarrett punchline on “Feel The”–the song right before.

Namely, Yelawolf realizes that by simply existing and speaking on his life, he defies much of the classist bile espoused by popular media, white and black cultural gatekeepers, and the types that use phrases like “red-state/blue-state” unironically–the people that don’t want to acknowledge the ways the white and black working-class not only have a whole lot in common, but are one in the same.

That they’re listening to the same rap and rock and metal, rocking the same fashion, selling the same drugs, trying to cop the same clothes, circling their town’s hot spot in the same cars, hanging out at the same skate parks, of the same community, with the same interests, the same pleasures, the same pains.

further reading/viewing:
-Wikipedia Entry for Gadsden, Alabama
-The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad
-A weird interview with Yelawolf by J Dirrt of Baller’s Eve
-”If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin
-Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
-William Faulkner’s “Snopes Trilogy”

Written by Brandon

December 23rd, 2009 at 5:43 am

Posted in Yelawolf

How Big Is Your World? New rap.


-Z-Ro ft. A-Ro “Best I Ever Had (Slowed)”

Z-Ro and um, A-Ro, go in over Drake’s only good song because well, this rap-sing schtick’s been Z-Ro’s forever now. Not sure, but I suspect it bugged ‘Ro and company when Drake rapped over “June 27th” and in some weird, smart way, this is the “response” record. Please note how Z-Ro’s freestyles (and even A-Ro’s in a way) are just as effortless and meaningless as Drake’s but they work–nothing contrived, a guy going off the dome, wandering around the same topics (drugs, money, blowjobs, how fucking fake everybody is) because it’s what was on his mind the day he recorded this, which was pretty much like every other day in the life of Z-Ro. The screwed version of the little bit ignored Relvis Presley tape came out before the regular version, which is genius because it’s much better screwed–or “slowed” as it’s listed–and it’s the only way anyone would really give that version a proper listen.

-Gucci Mane ft Lil Wayne & Cam’ron “Stupid Wild”

The decade in mainstream but completely insane rap can be told through these three guys. So here they all are, the freaky-freak trap rap triumvirate rapping over a big, horrifying beat from Bangaladesh. Gucci waddling around the beat and locking-in like he does on damn near everything, and tossing in some genuinely mature insight (“Someone dissed me yesterday, what I supposed to do now, cry?”) and a depressing hook. Then, it’s over to Wayne who raps like he cares again which means enunciating in a way we haven’t heard since he spoke to Miss Katie Couric and being all meter-obsessed, threatening to shoot your grandpa, and cackling a whole bunch. Cam’ron’s still not quite there, but you still get something like “all the haters hate me” and that line about using your wifey for food-stamps.

-DJ Quicksilva “Where They Do That At”

This song’s been out for a minute, and by “a minute” I mean since the summer, but there’s been recent Baltimore and “DMV” remixes of this supposed-to-be-fleeting party song from DJ Quicksilva of DC’s WKYS 93.9 and now it has a video too. The sub-regional remixes add rapping and a seriousness that the “Where They Do That At” totally doesn’t need (though it is a good primer on Baltimore/DC rappers) so this original version stays winning for just following in the tradition of something like “Lookin’ Boy” or Chalie Boy’s “I Look Good”. Like the former, it’s full of edifying, hilarious observations (these songs are the closest we have to 60s/70s “party records”), and like the latter, it’s just a kind of visceral, post-snap synth track with a hook fun enough to repeat for months and months. Mainly though, it’s just a goofy, fun song that at it’s heart calls for people to be reasonable.

-Nite Funk “Am I Gonna Make It”

On Stones Throw, remixing Animal Collective, collaborating with Nite Jewel…thing is, Dam Funk’s music is just too good to be bogged-down by schtick or contained by potential niche audiences. Save for the brilliantly subtle female vocals (as coy and quiet as Dam’s are loud and confident in their lack of confidence), it’s hard to tell exactly what Nite Jewel brought to the song, but it seems like it’s probably the dying-battery electronics and atmospherics that give “Am I Gonna Make It” that one more layer of sadness that it really needs. Unlike most Dam Funk songs, which are either blissed-out instrumentals or heart-on-the-sleeve love songs, “Am I Gonna Make It” is self-reflective and self-loathing, a song about being on one’s way to some kind of epiphany–having fucked-up and well aware of it, but only like 70 percent ready to accept it.

-Harlem Children’s Chorus “Black Christmas”

“Black Christmas” is from that weird, transitive era between 50s Liberalism and Black Power-informed Civil Rights. It quietly demands equality but wraps it around the Christmas holiday and still has that “we’re gonna make it” power that all good soul has. Crime and poverty are invoked but instead, the joy that nevertheless exists is the song’s focus. A few years later, hip, with-it, blacks and whites wouldn’t dig the sentiment or the glowing warmth of the voices and production. It’d just not be political enough–a Christmas song built with the master’s tools if you will. Re-released now, thanks to Strut’s recent In the Christmas Groove compilation, “Black Christmas” is a weird time capsule, a sideways response to the use of kids voices for transcendent twee rather than sincerity in stuff like Where the Wild Things Are, and most importantly, a “new” awesome song for Christmas mixes.

further reading/viewing:
-”Gucci Mane, No Holds Barred” by Jon Caramanica for The New York Times
-DJ Quicksilva’s MySpace
-Video for DJ Quicksilva’s “Where They Do That At”
-”New Singles from Dâm-Funk, Solange, and Simian Mobile Disco” by Michelangelo Matos for The Stranger
-Food One/Jim Mahfood Art

Written by Brandon

December 16th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

City Paper: Year in Movies, Gomorrah


One more thing. Actual blog content is soon to come. I wrote about Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah for the Baltimore City Paper’s “Year in Film”, it was ranked #2, right after Revanche, whatever that is…

“Sinners in the hands of an angry director. Eurotrash beats apathetically pound over scenes of sitting around and shooting all the same–and no self-justified, too-tan character is spared director Matteo Garrone’s scorched-earth disdain. Not the “just doing my job” money collector, the knuckleheads who think this crime shit’s like Scarface, or the guys in charge, stomachs spilling over too-tight DIESEL jeans. Even those far from Naples aren’t absolved when the web of corruption stretches to Oscar night couture and Camorra cartel investments in rebuilding the World Trade Center. Gomorrah’s biblical pun title is more than earned.”

Also, here’s my ballot:

1. Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, United States)
2. Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (Tony Stone, United States)
3. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, Italy)
4. Madea Goes to Jail (Tyler Perry, United States)
5. Public Enemies (Michael Mann, United States)
6. Two Lovers (James Grey, United States)
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States)
8. Good Hair (Jeff Stilson, United States)
9. Tyson (James Toback, United States)
10. Moon (Duncan Jones, United Kingdom)

Written by Brandon

December 9th, 2009 at 5:28 am

Posted in City Paper, movies

Village Voice: “Huntsville’s G-Side Are Thriving on the Internet—and East Village Radio”

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The reason this blog was relatively silent about G-Side’s masterful Huntsville International was because of this article in this week’s Village Voice about G-Side, the new mixtape, and their connection to East Village Radio’s very awesome “Baller’s Eve”. In the process of doing the article, I managed to lose my driver’s license, spill Crystal Light all over my Macbook, hang-out in New York with G-Side and The Baller’s Eve dudes, as well as meet Joseph of “Geek Down” and yes, the Internets Celebrities Rafi and Dallas. Loads of fun. On the way back to Baltimore, I listened to Huntsville International for the first time and it just totally devastated me. I hope I was able to put some of that experience into words.

“Kat Daddy Slim, one-third of the East Village Radio show Baller’s Eve, takes a shot at summing up Huntsville, Alabama’s finest hip-hop duo, G-Side: “Outkast on steroids.” His co-hosts, DJ Dirrty and Minski Walker, just nod their heads: “Yep.”

G-Side themselves—rappers Clova and ST 2 Lettaz, alongside Codie G, manager of their label, Slow Motion Soundz—are taken aback. There is a moment of modest silence.

We’re gathered in the EVR office after a mid-November Baller’s Eve episode (there’s another one every Wednesday, from 10 p.m. to midnight) heavily devoted to tracks from G-Side’s Huntsville International mixtape, released for free online earlier that day. Clova’s eyes grow big, taking in that profoundly flattering comparison. ST drawls out an appreciative “Shit . . .” Codie G, for once, has no words…”

Written by Brandon

December 9th, 2009 at 2:38 am

Village Voice, Sound of the City: “Free Gucci, Fuck Diplo, & The History of “Free ___”

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So there’s a pretty nutty thing I wrote about Diplo’s loathsome “Free Gucci” T-shirt and upcoming mixtape up on the Voice’s “Sound of the City” blog. Word to Zach Baron for sculpting it all into something that sorta makes sense:

“Gucci Mane’s new album, The State vs. Radric Davis is in stores today, but the insanely prolific, remarkably consistent Atlanta rapper has been in jail since November 12th. This is Gucci’s second stint in jail for a parole violation this year. Both sentences stem from a 2005 incident in which Gucci attacked a promoter, served six months for the attack, and was released under the agreement that he would take rehabilitation classes and do some community service–which he’s now failed to do, and gone to jail for failing to do…twice.

And though this recent return to jail brought about another wave of “Free Gucci” T-shirts, mixtapes, and Facebook groups, there’s an equal amount of healthy, hands-up-in-the-air frustration with the guy. It’s impossible to turn Gucci Mane into any kind of victim of “the system” because the system’s given him second, third, and fourth chances to get his shit right…”

Written by Brandon

December 8th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Hip-Hop’s Dying, Ya Heard?

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“One of the tasks of the film critic of tomorrow–perhaps he will even be called a “television critic”–will be to rid the world of the comic figure the average film critic and film theorist of today represents: he lives from the glory of his memories like the seventy-year-old ex-court actresses, rummages about as they do in yellowing photographs, speaks of names that are long gone. He discusses films no one has been able to see for ten years (and about which they can therefore say everything and nothing) with people of his own ilk; he argues about montage like medieval scholar discussed the existence of God, believing all these things could still exist today. In the evening, he sits with rapt attention in the cinema, a critical art lover, as though we still lived in the days of Griffith, Stroheim, Murnau, and Eisenstein. He thinks he is seeing bad films instead of understanding that what he sees is no longer film at all.”-Rudolf Arnheim, 1935.*

Regions have splintered further into town-specific styles, there’s just a couple of discernible stars, a whole bunch of rappers it’s hard to get one’s critical bearings on, and it all meets on the streets and the internet, not the Billboard Charts or MTV. Hip-hop isn’t dead. It just isn’t as easy to write about anymore. That’s what Sasha-Frere Jones’ intriguing though problematic “Wrapping Up”, and Simon Reynolds’ confusing “Notes on the Noughties” are actually saying.

But instead of acknowledging the weird, new species that hip-hop’s evolved into, it’s gotta be just plain dead or at least, “ag[ing] out”. Skipping over these dramatic shifts in “the industry” and the ever-growing influence and eventual reliance on the internet–best represented with mixtapes–is a huge oversight if you’re diagnosing hip-hop in 2009.

These guys think they are hearing bad albums instead of understanding that what they hear is no longer an album at all.

Industry changes hover in the background of SFJ’s piece and bubble up through the focus on Freddie Gibbs’ mixtapes, but its Reynolds who out-and-out dismisses the mixtape, with the pithy adjective of “obscure”. Now, it’s depressing when a critic–even a pop critic–tosses out “obscure” as a negative descriptor (sorta how indie critics used “lo-fi” to negatively describe Wavves) but it’s another thing when that same critic both performs ignorance (that unfortunate “Gummi Bares” joke) and proves his ignorance (lumping Soulja Boy, Yung Joc, Gucci Mane, and Boosie together like they have much of anything in common) and then tries to tell readers anything about hip-hop.

Many of the mixtapes one could cite to prove hip-hop’s still vital aren’t really obscure–if you’re a notable critic and you declare them obscure, they’ll remain obscure–but more importantly, these “obscure” mixtapes are maybe the only way vital hip-hop can even get out there anymore. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rapper that’s debuted since 2004–the year Reynolds says rap started withering away–whose best work isn’t on a mixtape or at least, has some mixtapes competing with their albums in terms of quality. This isn’t a coincidence. It also isn’t a coincidence that 2004 or so is about when hip-hop and the internet really started mingling. Just saying.

You know, on Tuesday, new albums from both Clipse and Gucci Mane drop. Most of you reading have already heard them. Neither of these albums are particularly good, both of them have their moments, but only Clipse will truly suffer from making a sub-par album. Clipse made their proper debut in 2001–though their first album dates back to 1999–while Gucci debuted in 2005.

The reason Clipse will suffer and Gucci will not is because Gucci’s established himself as a creative rapping force via mixtapes, while Clipse fell back on the mixtape when their official stuff got mucked-up in label drama. Clipse need–or think they need–the album. Gucci’s using it purely as a means to an end: More money, more ubiquity, maybe some respectability. Indeed, even if The State vs. Radric Davis were a masterpiece, it wouldn’t sell better (it’d maybe sell worse) and in a world of “Gummi Bares” jokes by notable critics, it doesn’t seem like “Gucci Mane” and “masterpiece” could even be conceived of in the same sentence. So why bother? Go get Gucciamerica or the official unofficial Murder Was the Case which is structured like a tight, worker-bee album…which means it’s structured like a Gucci mixtape.

Clipse though, in part because they clearly care about rap in the long-term sense–Gucci does not, proven by the fact that he’s going to jail again–and in part because they’re undoubtedly from a different era, tie rap artistry to the album format. They also want to be successful. Til the Casket Drops is torn apart by this tension, neither as good as their past work nor pop-oriented enough to yield any hits, in part because the brothers Thornton translate “pop” as “stick a broad on the hook”. Til the Casket Drops misses both of its intended targets and farts around in no-man’s land. And unlike Gucci or plenty of rappers who’ve come since (but didn’t indeed, have a few singles like “Icey” and “Freaky Gurl” to buttress their street buzz) Clipse don’t promise a deluge of new material and so, this all we get.

The State vs. Radric Davis is a product and that’s clear to all involved: a guest-heavy, bets-hedging group of songs that hopefully maybe will sell a lot of copies and make a lot of money. It begins like Gucci’s mixtapes, rolls into a sequence of R & B jams, and wraps-up with a group of songs with big-name guests and up-and-comers. Gucci’s artistry is on display on dozens of album-like mixtapes, not the actual album. In 2009, rap fans just know this. Critics apparently, do not.

*More accurately: J. Hoberman in 1998 quoting Rudolf Arnheim in 1935.
further reading/viewing:
-”Wrapping Up” by Sasha Frere-Jones for The New Yorker
-”Notes on the noughties…” by Simon Reynolds for The Guardian
“Audio: Gucci Mane Calls Into DJ Drama’s Show w/Young Jeezy” from Dirty Glove Bastard
“The Film Critic of Tomorrow” by Rudolf Arnheim
“The Film Critic of Tomorrow, Today” by J. Hoberman

Written by Brandon

December 4th, 2009 at 5:41 am

Posted in Clipse, Gucci Mane, hmmmm

No Trivia in XXL’s 100 Best Hip-Hop Websites


Comments have been disabled so this doesn’t seem like some kind of back-patting party or something. Finally held the new XXL in my hands and read the very kind comments on my blog (“Better known as No Trivia, Soderberg’s blog gives rap the kind of intellectual, analytical respect is deserves.”) and the other ninety-nine picks. It’s a different thrill than seeing my byline in-print and we’re all supposed to be too cool about this stuff, but damn, I’m honored.

XXL, besides being a magazine I actually read from time-to-time–there was a time when my sanity was kept by the routine of picking up XXL, Wax Poetics, and Film Comment after work on the days they came out–is one that’s sorta active in the blogging world, so the list means a bit more? And not just because I’m in it. But because a big, giant, alphabetical list of dope blogs and websites is the proper way to advise someone on how to figure out the rap-blog world. The magazine’s also always printed kindly letters from inmates and for a while, I was shipping out copies of the magazines to prisons, helping the children, wives, and girlfriends of the incarcerated help their in-fucking-jail loved ones…so in some weird way, my stupid name being in the magazine in any form means a lot on that level too. Thanks to XXL and Ben Detrick.

Written by Brandon

December 3rd, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Lists, XXL

How Big Is Your World? New, good rap.

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-G-Mane ft. Bentley “Listen”

Guest rapper Bentley reveals the anti-message of “Listen”: “Moral to the story, not a damn thing/Just another nigga trapped, trapped in the game.” G-Mane puts it a little nicer (“See I done learned from folks’ mistakes/And you can learn from mine too/I share the stories of my life, so you figure out what you gonna do”) but either way, it’s grabbing from the weird humanist moral center that pimp-hustlers like UGK and 8Ball & MJG took from. This is something sociologically-aimed, gender-worried rap “scholars” still haven’t figured out. Simply by speaking on this shit, with the right degree of detail and self-seriousness, does it become “message music”. It doesn’t need to formally/structurally “redeem” itself or anything.

G-Mane’s two verses are expertly put together here, the first verse outlining his path to rapping and the second verse, how he started selling. The song, the mixtape, his career–the intersection of the two. Weird, interesting details aren’t spared either, be it the fact that his DJ/musician father didn’t want him to get into hip-hop or that he used the projection booth of the movie theater where he worked to deal. This isn’t just “I been into hip-hop/selling crack for a long time” type banalities. It’s lived-in, cherry-picked from life rhymes. Then there’s Bentley, younger than G-Mane, a relative newcomer, who tells a story that pretty much sounds just like G-Mane’s only a decade or so later. It reinforces that final, resigned line about just being “another nigga trapped”. Time and circumstances mean little. G-Mane and Bentley’s tale is thousands of others’ too.

-Mannie Fresh ft. Russell Lee & The Show “Get With Me”

Okay, “Get With Me” is burdened with a verse from The Show, an absolutely terrible Lil Wayne wannabe who shows up on too much of Return of the Ballin. Seriously. All you guys who throw around the word “ignorant” need to listen to The Show. Not because he’s particularly offensive, but because he has no concept of how punchlines–or verbs and adjectives for that matter–really work. Still, there’s an almost Haiku-like genius to, “All you gotta do is suck a dick and chill”, so dumbness wins again.

But that almost doesn’t matter or rather, the rest of what’s going on in “Get With Me” makes The Show’s part negligible and even kinda fun eventually. Fresh just brings an overdose of personality and fun to the song. His masterful and hilarious bridge–”get that, on e’rything”–rubbing up against just plain gorgeous beatmaking.That “1-2-3 Ow!” sample at the beginning, the rolling acoustic guitar loop, the rush of angelic synths in right after the sampled-hook…that hook itself which rest awkwardly but perfectly, like it was stuffed between the drums after the fact. Just another immaculate Mannie Fresh production, so immaculate here that you wish F-F-Fresh were less of a worker-bee beatmaker and would let this shit roll-out for 7 minutes or so, ONP style.

-G-Side ft. Kristmas “Rising Sun”

Wow. From the last chunk of upliftingly depressing songs on G-Side’s Huntsville International. Block Beattaz are on some like Eno/U2 style mixing and production here, that same kind of chintzy glory where everything’s reverbed and booming and it makes the shit really cinematic without being “cinematic”. For awhile, they relied on the trance samples to bring it to that next, melodramatic level, but now it’s their assemblage of sounds alone that hits you in the gut. When that bizarre sample comes-in on Clova’s verse, like CP and Mali Boi sampled the music you hear in your town’s Chinese Buffett and sent it through auto-tune a few hundred times, it’s well, damn.

Credit should go to ST, Clova, and Kristmas too, who wisely rap against the Slim Thug hook. If this song “is for the Gs and the hustlers” it’s “for” them in the sense that they need to hear “Rising Sun” so some sense gets knocked into them. ST’s “Somehow, the game got twisted to shit/The whole point in flippin’ the brick was to flip it legit” and Kristmas’ extended brag about having a bank account feel immortal, inarguable. Clova then, sorta plays the role of drug dealer here, dropping contemporary coke-rap punchlines–”shit, we flippin’ chickens call it Zaxby’s” is personal favorite–but still centering his verse with a reminder: “I don’t sell dope, or cut the dope no more-”.

-Sensational & Spectre “Rip Like This”

Spectre’s one of many, many, many hip-hop weirdos wandering about Baltimore. There’s King Tutt or Labtekwon or Will Roc, and there’s Spectre. Ostensibly dude is making “beats” but they’re all airy and squonky and downtempo sometimes but not trip-hop or anything–they just defy categorization. Phaser sounds. Death knell drums. All coated with a fog of general insanity that still sorta knocks good and proper. So, pairing up with no-nonsense, nonsense spitter Sensational makes a lot of sense. Maybe too much sense. With age, Sensational’s schtick becomes both legendarily hard-harded and kinda played-out. But man, when the shit works…

“Rip Like This” has a lot more hip-hop in it–a buzz of foggy guitar, some real drums– than most of Acid & Bass and so, it doesn’t deflate or get boring after a minute or so (the story of “avant hip-hop”). This song actually gets more interesting and doles-out surprises left and right, like this indie-blues kinda guitar-solo that sounds like the song’s coda, but then, Sensational’s GZA with brain damage flow comes in one last time. Wire almost got it right this month, it’s just that they put the wrong part of this duo on the cover.

-Rich Boy ft. Rico Love “We Like It”

Rich Boy goes “hard” on this one, but he’s just singing about girls and there’s a hook from some guy named Rico Love. The low-end, Bladerunner rumbles at the beginning suggest a sequel to “Let’s Get This Paper” and then it slinks in, and it’s nearly electro-clash or something. Like it’s from that weird, interesting time a few years ago where everything synthetic was on some full-of-menace, retro-futuristic shit, be it Pharrell, Poni Hoax, or Fennesz.

What does this track mean in 2009 going on 2010 though? A pretentious, music-crit question yeah, but one that’s sorta vital for a guy like Rich Boy who’s gonna forever chase the zeitgiest that made “Throw Some Ds” a hit while tossing-out some roaring mixtapes along the way. “We Like It” is also of course, just Jim Jonsin’s beat for Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” minus the “Beat It” influence and made for the speakers in a strip club instead of a regular club–darker, oozing more, but still essentially a weird Atari-informed piece of pop production that a bigger star already turned into a hit. What’s Rich Boy to do, then? Rap viciously on it, like he isn’t just saying strip-club platitudes and find an odd, off-to-the-side synth melody to ride and keep it moving.

-DJ Pierre “I Deserve This”

Upping the energy of Drake’s “The Winner” just makes sense, but doing so appends some swing, some soulfulness to the stilted, stunted production of Tha Bizness. Without a mumbling lightweight like Drake to worry about, the BPMs can go up a bunch and the song’s allowed to really move. And it’s this swing, the soulfulness at the center of an otherwise chaotic, discordant Club track that gives the latest Pierre track its legs.

“Deserve This” is very much of-the-moment and inching towards a more classical, less temporal type of Club too. The kind where the drums destroy (more Booman than Blaqstarr) and the structure’s sophisticated–no longer just a cicada whirl of “hey”s and “what”s, samples of samples, and kick-less drums. It’s got that oppressive craziness, but out of the cloud of stutter vocals, weird half-basslines, and space-noise syncopation comes that glorious brass. Pierre’s already a masterful DJ–challenging and pragmatic at the same time–and a very clever post-Blaq Starr Club producer, but “Deserve This” sounds like DJ Pierre’s first, tried and true Club classic. His “Ryda Girl”, his “Pick Em’ Up”, his “Niggaz Fightin’”.

further reading/viewing:

-”Sunday On Da Porch (Drops Thanksgiving)” by Codie G from Huntsville Got Starz
-”G-Side – Huntsville International” by Quan from Hater Player
-”Sensational & Spectre: Acid & Bass” by Michael Byrne from City Paper
-Matt Furie’s Website

Written by Brandon

November 30th, 2009 at 5:35 am