No Trivia

Archive for January, 2009

NO TRIVIA’S Dilla Donuts Month Starts Sunday


So, starting tomorrow February 1st, and into the early days of March, each day here’s going to be devoted to a different track from Donuts with thoughts by myself and some others. It should be fun and it’s not too late for every and anybody to contribute, either by e-mailing me your essay, anecdote, dream, freestyle, whatever or even just sticking it in the comments section. It should be fun.-brandon

Written by Brandon

January 31st, 2009 at 5:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

How Big Is Your World? New Good Rap.

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-Bobby Creekwater “I Mean It”
“I Mean It” is free on Bobby’s Myspace

“I Mean It” isn’t a masterpiece or anything but it’s got the same appeal as all the best rap that contains actual rapping. It doesn’t matter what Creekwater’s saying or really, how he’s saying it, just that he’s going in with rapid-fire raps about everything and nothing without trying-too-hard, “Yo, I’m going in on this one” indicating and just making something dope. Like so many actual rapping raps from the Golden Era too, “I Mean It”s simply about how dude is awesome or “real” but Bobby’s found a slightly less played-out way to talk about how “real” he is, framing it around word-is-bond type chants that flaunt genuine real-ness: Honesty, integrity, sincerity. He laconically drawls out, “If I say it-” and then desperately asserts,”I mean it, I really mean it” because he’s floating around on SHADY Records without a record release date and outside of sheer talent–which sure as fuck doesn’t necessarily sell records–it’s the only gimmick he’s really got. Sincere conviction’s a good gimmick though.

-Lil Wayne “Prom Queen”

This song gets better–the worst of it’s those corporatized post-hardcore guitar strums, Wayne’s rocker grunt, and the subsequent unfortunate cascade of P.O.D-heavy guitars that would score a date-rape on Degrassi: TNG. From there, it never like, gets good but it’s better than “Lollipop” if only because Wayne’s weird, half-ideal, half-bitter tale of a nerd who wanted to get it with sadly beautiful titular Prom Queen is really bizarre and affecting. Wayne’s a free-verse freaky freak I know, but he’s a really great storytelling rapper in his own way too and he uses it (and wastes it) on “Prom Queen” expertly. “She tried to keep em entertained/When they can hardly re-member her name…” is the same kind of melodramatic empathy for the rarified shitty hand chicks get dealt that you get on his “Sweetest Girl” remix or any time he opens up and talks about his Mom. Then, he matches it with the bitter vengeance that only a sensitive, rejected nerd can have with those lines about her “crying, sitting outside [his] door”.

-Soulja Boy “Hey You There”

Whether he tries hard at rapping or not, Souljaboy’s iSouljaBoyTellEm is a ridiculously solid album that does exactly what it sets out to do really well. Rappers I actually like don’t make albums as entertaining as this or as weird and homegrown as “Hey You There”. Souljaboy’s little intro thingy basically explains how they made this song–some goofy-accented Mall Cop yelled “Hey! You there” and they, inevitably clowned on him for the rest of their time tearing the mall up, then went home and made this song. Produced by Souljaboy himself, it’s this really insane intertwining of voices and the simplest of percussion (cymbal, snap, 808 thump) and it just keeps going and going for-fucking-ever! What “should’ve” been a weird interlude or even skit, rambles on for almost four minutes and gains something through the indulgence. It’s sort of hypnotic and you only get pulled out of because there’s a fart joke, a Rick James reference, or something wonderfully juvenile like that.

-E Major & DJ Impulse “Paper Runnin”
“Paper Runnin” with a remix is available from Undersound Music

Woozy washy synths, E-Major’s mournful ode to the paper chase and random vocal manipulations overwhelm the dance-ready club break that shuffles–but never explodes–underneath “Paper Runnin”, making it some weird not-quite club, almost ambient hip/trip-hop/house track (or something?). Nowhere near as dense as the Block Beataz, but similarly drunk and “fuck a club” music avant weirdness that would totally bang in a club, or close to the beats on It Is What It Is and parts of Crack–which I’ve taken to calling “Tim Hecker beats”–”Paper Runnin” is especially vital because it’s two people from the wonderfully incestuous Baltimore hip-hop, dance, and club scenes dropping a hard-to-categorize joint like this at a time when “Bmore club” has become a formula for don’t-even-know-they’re-cynical-about-it, out-of-town artists and DJs. Towards the end, when the song’s sounds further devolve and fumble into one another, there’s a few moments of laser effects, malfunctioning drum stutters, and E’s chant that’s particularly glorious and easily, the best, weirdest musical moment of the young new year.

-College “The Energy Story”

Like Jonas Reinhardt’s also a little slept-on self-titled release from last year, College’s Secret Diary does basically one thing and does it really well for an entire album, with little interest in who will get it and how. Unlike Reinhardt, College isn’t locked-up in some old-fashioned Stockhausen-like lab of big-ass computers and farting electronics, he’s trying to make sad, happy, simple music that grabs from 80s electro less for day-glo irony and more for hazy, bittersweet emotions. “The Energy Story” is one of the less one-note sounding songs of the album, but it’s a good introduction, with a simple melody and an uncluttered mix of keyboards and drum machines that still somehow, have that recorded from a degraded VHS layer of warmth around them. The vocals are fighting against something, quivering and almost getting to a point of really singing but never totally getting there, instead huddling up in the same limbo as the music, somewhere between dancey and depressed, immediate pop and foggy avant-garde–the wonky emotions of the 80s movies and culture College is all about.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2009 at 7:40 am

The EP: A Good Look For Rappers in 2009

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Everybody’s sort of over the long-as-shit, lotsaskitsandguests rap album, right? It figured itself out, as rappers either avoid it to make short-ish, still-shitty albums while claiming “all hits no skits” or they dig in deep like Lil Wayne, embrace the inherent sloppiness of 70 minutes of music and make a kinda classic.

But the 40 minute album’s weak and most rappers can’t precariously balance art and bullshit like Weezy. And anyway, the Illmatic formula only works when your music sounds like Illmatic, otherwise listeners just kinda feel cheated. A great deal of Clipse’s success for Hell Hath No Fury had to do with its relatively brief length and Common’s Be and Finding Forever hold up because they’re kind of consistent and don’t over stay their welcome. Less “classics” than albums that followed the formula for a classic close enough.

Hath succeeds though because it has scope and a sense of a narrative. Rap albums, more than any other genre, just don’t work as a mess of songs. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly sensible story or arc, but some palpable sense of evolution needs to be in there. If Jeezy’s The Inspiration (which came out a few weeks after Hell) had ended after track 11, “Dreamin”, it’d be as resonant and palpable as Clipse’s second album.

Making a good album, in that like Platonic way music critics gravitate toward isn’t all that hard (it’s basically a formula), but most rappers aren’t even interested in that and we’re left with a bunch of too-long, not that great albums or mercifully short but still sloppy 40 minutes. This past year, something like Q-Tip’s The Renaissance, sounds like Tip grabbed the best songs from a larger group he’s been working on for the past 9 years and sequenced them to flow together well enough. It’s not a bad album, it’s not great, and it’s a got a couple of classics on it, but I don’t know–I expect more?

Albums like this are, at their best polite, modest compilations of music and nothing more. For example, Pastor Troy’s Attitude Adjuster isn’t really better or worse than The Renaissance and if you dig aggressive, affecting enough kinda Crunk, of course it’s way better. Musically, they don’t have a lot in common, but both discs are equal parts fun and frustrating for short durations and diminishing returns.

Pastor and Tip should’ve just stuck another twenty minutes of music on there; they weren’t making anything that justified the short length anymore than they could justify filling out a whole CD. Or, these moderately successful albums could’ve just been chopped down fifteen minutes and become excellent EPs.

The EP format’s never been as integral in hip-hop as it has other genres, but there are plenty of classics rap EPs–100 Miles and Runnin, California Livin, All Souled Out, Creepin On Ah Come Up to name a few personal favorites—and it’s always seemed like an ideal way to introduce listeners without overwhelming them, an all-too common problem when your first introduction to a rapper’s his long-ass mixtape or his totally-compromised, delayed a million times album.

For veterans that have a fervent fanbase (like Q-Tip or Pastor Troy), dropping half-assed mixtapes for free doesn’t make as much sense as dropping half-assed albums for 12 dollars. But they’re not really touching anybody in a new way sonically or commercially–and maybe they aren’t trying to–but only all-out stans would feel totally satisfied by these albums.

The EP makes a really cool end-run around the album for artists like Q-Tip who clearly aren’t totally sure where to go or what to do right now and Pastor Troy, who drops one, sometimes two albums a year that half-work and are half worthless. In a way, the mixtape’s made an end-run around some of the problems with the “album” but we’ve hit this weird breaking point for mixtapes.

Because they don’t cost anything and we don’t expect much from them, it’s silly to bitch about a mixtape’s quality unless it’s like, a Lil Wayne or Clipse tape, so we just download them, digest them, and move on. They both mean a lot and mean absolutely nothing and it’s mainly the artists losing out. Artists that, because they’re major label album’s forever in-limbo or they’ve got blog hype and no contract, are entirely dependent upon the mixtape to stay above water.

For new or in-limbo artists, a solid, easy to digest product that would sell for a few bucks cheaper and still doesn’t curtail the necessary “debut album” seems like a better option. As Jay Electronica’s shown, not really playing the “mixtapes, rap on others’ beats” game can work better than being another guy with a ton of mixtapes going buck over “A Milli”. Jay’s earliest hype came from his Style Wars EP, which at 12 songs, all of them originals, could’ve been called an “album” or at least, a “mixtape”.

Calling it an EP suggested a cohesion and signficance greater than DJ So-and-So Presents… but still built-in hype for his formal debut (which we’re still waiting for). The brilliance of the EP is that it suggests “this isn’t important” which, in the current world of rap–where a snippets of a single get leaked and people drop trailers for their fucking music videos–is refreshing in its anti-hype.

SHADY records-signed Bobby Creekwater released an EP on his MySpace last year called The BC Era and listening to it was both invigorating (it’s nine solid, guest-less tracks of rapping) and depressing (because if Bobby ever drops an album it’ll have crossover beats and guests and run closer to 18 tracks). Bobby Creek’s always impressed me more than most languishing in label limbo rappers, but BC Era shows he can make a solid collection of songs without hiding behind the “mixtape” label.

The stumbling psychedelia of “Clouds” is a proper intro and “Goodbye” is the right way to end an album—with one last explosion of energy and some vague sense of wrapping-it-up melancholy. In between, there’s a track like “When I Go” which references “A Milli” through the beat’s minimalism and Creekwater’s cadences and is in a sense, his “freestyle” on the mega-hit without him just being the 1000th dude to plain rap over it. It isn’t overt and isn’t aggressive, but it invokes the subtler ways rappers of the 90s addressed over-arching rap trends amongst one another before it was cool to just rap over dude’s beat about how you outrapped him on the track wherein you’re supposedly outrapping him…

For unknown rappers too, the EP’s a great idea as it’s equal parts overwhelming and underwhelming like a mixtape and again, doesn’t force them to blow their big-time “debut” album load as soon as possible. Some of my favorite releases of 2008 turned out to be EPs from Baltimore rappers that were no-bullshit bursts of rap clocking in between twenty and thirty minutes.

B.O.M.B released his EP Testers in the spring and like BC Era, gives you a group of great songs and some palpable sense of scope. Demon synths and trebly horns squeak out from the titular intro track through the next nine songs, with brief detours for the rolling pop-rap of “Lean” or club-ready jams mixed with a Ghostface/Dolemite storytelling detail on “She’s Nasty” and it all lets-up for the perfect closer “Sunday”, a decidedly relaxed celebration of his hometown. Imagine the average rapper’s grabs for versatility, smooshed into nine cohesive tracks, not stretched to twenty.

MANIA Music Group’s Midas and Kane Mayfield each released super-solid, thematically cohesive EPs for free on their website. Midas’ Live from the Arcade, based around the propulsive, video-game themed “Push Start” is a quick portrait of a rapper that straddles the line of nerdy thoughtful sometimes wounded rapper (“Blue Lights” “You’re Fired”), and guy ready to kick your ass (“Brass Knuckles”) and call you a cunt (“Set’em Straight Skit”). It’s a concept and sincere gimmick that dude can easily stretch into a proper full-length when the times comes and part of that confidences comes from his comfort in not taking seventy minutes to prove it. On the Prelude to Bladerunner EP, Kane’s almost always ready to kick your ass and call you a cunt, but he wraps it all around a dystopian aesthetic of garbage can drums and future electronics.

Although record sales show I’m kinda maybe alone on this, when I hear something perfect like The BC Era or Live from the Arcade, I want to own it. And I’m more apt to pay 10 dollars for something that’s really hot than 15 dollars for something that’s part hot and part boner-kill. Additionally, the EP is marketable as an LP which most rap records—almost always 2xLPs– are not. While the market’s not exactly huge, the “vinyl resurgence” has been documented in quite a few places lately and I like to walk around pretending that rap heads in particular, still care about vinyl outside of their Serato.

Just today, I was in a record store and heard a guy asking for the new Animal Collective “on vinyl”. Make jokes about how he got his record player from Urban Outfitters last week or how “vinyl” is real hip right now, but the other part is, a record offers you something really cool and personal that CD’s don’t and even this dope knows that. Now that you can download something and burn it or stick it on your iPod and drive around and the only thing lost is like, a little audio quality, a record’s got levels of “retro” and sincere appeal.

I can’t think of anything more exciting than having The BC Era or Jay Electronica’s Style Wars and “Act I: The Pledge” on record, or you know, a version of The Renaissance without “Manwomanboogie”, “Dance on Glass”, and “Life is Better” on it.

-The BC Era is available for free at Bobby Creekwater’s MySpace
-Testers is available for purchase at CDBaby
-Live from the Arcade and Prelude to Bladerunner are available for free at MANIA Music’s Website

Written by Brandon

January 26th, 2009 at 8:12 am

Posted in 2009, Baltimore, EPs

Pazz & Jop Stuff

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Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop is up. If you love lists, there’s plenty of them here and that’s what makes it so fun to read. Even as the Top 10-ers are fairly predictable–as they should be, the list’s supposed to find common ground–you can view every voter’s list and stumble upon some song or album you dismissed or didn’t know existed. My ballot’s below:

1. Ocrilim Annwn
2. Glen Campbell Meet Glen Campbell
3. M83 Saturdays=Youth
4. E-Major Majority Rules
5. The Sea & Cake Car Alarm
6. Kanye West 808s & Heartbreak
7. ABN It Is What It Is
8. Mount Eerie Black Wooden Ceiling Opening
9. Aidan Baker & Tim Hecker Fantasma-Parastasie
10. Lil Wayne Tha Carter III

1. Bun B featuring Rick Ross, David Banner and 8 Ball & MJG, “You’re Everything”
2. Rick Ross featuring Nelly and Avery Storm, “Here I Am”
3. Ryan Leslie, “Diamond Girl”
4. Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West, “Put On”
5. Nappy Roots, “Good Day”
6. Sigur Ros, “Gobbledigook”
7. Bishop Lamont, “Grow Up”
8. Devin the Dude featuring LC, “I Can’t Make It Home”
9. Outkast featuring Raekwon, “Royal Flush”
10. Lil Wayne featuring Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer”

Two of my quotes are in there too:

“Nothing’s dead in hip-hop when every cool DJ and electronic freaky-freak remixes Lil Wayne and producer Bangladesh’s “A Milli,” and the original, monster radio hit’s still weirder and crazier.”

“Ocrilim’s Annwn should probably get closer to 90 points, if that was allowed. A big, dumb, obnoxious, out-there, tries-too-hard, and still successful masterpiece like Berlin Alexanderplatz or Infinite Jest or something. Every year, certain very-good artists will make certain very-good critics’ lists, but this is a genuine, incomparable standout. The opposite of the mannered metal of the “doom” sub-genre, Annwn takes the awesome, orgasmic part of metal—the face-melting solo—and stretches it out forever.”


Written by Brandon

January 21st, 2009 at 2:32 am

Posted in 2008, Lists, Pazz and Jop

City Paper Noise: Blaqstarr & Diplo "Get Off"

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My first time contributing to the City Paper’s music blog “Noise”. I’ve been polite about it by not complaining before, but really, I wish they’d get my last name right. Either way, this is a really cool and weird record, whatever your opinions on MAD DECENT are, you should check it out.

“Blaq Starr’s dead-set on respectfully wrecking his hometown genre’s trappings, but late 2008’s cloying cover of The Wire theme (featuring M.I.A) and “Bang Hard,” an affecting slow burner that, nonetheless, was on some “fame’s gettin’ to me” business, felt calculated weird–not Blaq Starr weird. “Get Off,” a new single released through Mad Decent–on pink vinyl no less–stretches club’s limits by not trying so hard…”

You can check out “Get Off” at Blaqstarr’s MySpace and on imeem too.

Written by Brandon

January 20th, 2009 at 7:37 pm

On Bun B in the "My President" Video…

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More than a multi-racial sea of exuberant Obama supporters standing proud (or just as appropriately wilding out), more than John Lewis’ pensive cameo, more than just the existence of this epic victory lap rap from Young Jeezy, it’s the about-to-cry sincerity of Bun B’s face that makes the “My President” video.

Everybody but Bun’s acceptably sincere: Look pensive, nod your heard, jump up and down, cheer. Bun’s response is the one you’ll get a few moments later, the one that’s not cool, after the adrenaline stops, when the history-making, genuinely hopeful feeling for the first time in awhile sense of joy hits you and you tear up because it seems like maybe just maybe something really great’s really gonna happen.

He’s like, on the verge of tears, biting his lip a little, maintaining his cool, not on some “no homo” shit, but just because. That mix of keeping your cool and being totally okay with being a little bleary-eyed in a rap video’s basically what Bun’s been doing his whole career. It’s what he does when he raps on some much dopier Southern rapper’s “remix” and flips the song into some kinda complex political shit, or just plain raps harder, faster, whatever-er than the rest of the dudes. Whatever the rest of the group’s doing, Bun’s going to do that and then some and inject even more reality and honesty into the whole thing.

Neither a wizened “about damn time” stoic (although he’s probably in part, thinking that) or a treating it like a Super Bowl victory ball of enthusiasm, Bun’s modest and private, shooting the camera a few pensive glances with eyes that say more than Jeezy’s raps and simply raising his chain to Pimp C. It’s an insular kind of joy- the kind of joy you feel in those really glorious moments, where you step off to the side, away from everybody because somehow it’s all come together and you need to be alone. I think that’s what Bun B’s going through–or performing effectively enough–in this video: Tears of joy.

Written by Brandon

January 20th, 2009 at 6:44 am

Dance History Lesson: "I Wonder" (Scottie B Remix)

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As “spastic” or “hurried” as Baltimore Club can be, it still generally conforms to some kind of dance music structure (build-up, a breakdown, call and response, you know the deal) and it no doubt, does a whole lot within that structure (fart sounds, out of nowhere like sub-break beats, some Klaus Schulze-level of transcendent synth line) but Scottie B’s remix of Kanye West’s “I Wonder” from DJ Benzi, Kanye West, Plain Pat, George Bush, your mom, and Rue Mclanahan present The Sky High Mixtape does whatever it wants. Even someone with ears totally accustomed to Baltimore Club will have a hard time making sense of or predicting where this one’s headed.

A few moments in, that classic “Bmore club” breaks drops and proceeds to shuffle under the whole track, but those opening moments, it’s just a synth fart, clap, and Kanye’s vocals, slowed down, making room for a quick stab of drum or keyboards between Kanye’s already super-emphasized vocals. Scottie basically turns the track into Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” then gets bored, speeds up the Labi Siffre hook, slows it back down to normal speed, punctuates it with those “It’s Like That” stabs, and finally uses the “I wonder” part as a temporary typical club hook. The way he subtly shifts the Siffre sample makes it sound, if not for the deliberately slow piano of the original (“My Song”), barely even manipulated. But that piano dances all over the track–at least for the 40 seconds or so that it’s a part of the song–and Scottie’s speeding it up makes the track into some keyboard on “Piano”-setting Freestyle or pop House track production flourish.

And then, the energy halts for a clearly digitized, skipping loop of “you”–one can easily see that part of a second of the loop bouncing wavering back and forth in some sound editing program getting a little longer each time–and we’re out of the 80s of Run DMC and Freestyle signifiers and onto something newer, weirder, and crazier. The “you” sample’s smooshed into glitchy, CD skip modernism and stretched back out for one last affecting, sincere “for you…” before it finally like, truly drops.

The “you” fades into the background as a monster bridge builds up, falls out, and comes back to meet-up with Kanye’s goofball come-on of “How many ladies in the house?” lyric which here, turns into a typical DJ shout-out–Scottie makes Kanye the hype-man on his own song. The track ends with a super manipulated version of the Kanye vocal (or just some other dude saying “House”?), chanted like shouting-out the genre of music this really is, can be enough of a hook in and of itself.

Scottie probably didn’t sit down to give you a party music history lesson–and last time I over-speculated Scottie himself was nice enough to bring me back down to earth–but dude’s been doing it for a long time and it’s more like, all of these genres and sub-genres and signifiers and tricks of the trade rush around in his head when makes a track. And nonetheless, there’s a sense of time traveling here.

A mini-history itself’s contained within “It’s Like That” (which reemerged as an unfortunate but important remix by DJ Jason Nevins), those house pianos, that vocal looping, the jarring hyperspace warp into the 2000s through those obviously digital glitches, it’s everything that’s been going on since the 80s transferred through a Baltimore Club (a genre based in Miami Bass, Detroit Techno, and Chicago House) remix of a rapper that’s trying his own brand of party-rap retro-futurism lately. Time traveling too though, in the sense that Joseph mentions here (“distorting time”) which is something that electronic and especially dance music does particularly well, changing up, shifting, turning back on itself, until you don’t know if the song’s been playing for three minutes or three hours.

Written by Brandon

January 13th, 2009 at 7:11 am

Uptown, Downtown, and Blah Blah Blah

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The “difference” between say, Rammellzee or Fab 5 Freddie hanging out with Bruno Bischofberger or showing up at No-Wave shows and Jay-Z rapping with a Santogold hook or Jim Jones rapping over MGMT is deeper and sadder than Noz’s point that once, “those hipsters went uptown for coolness. Those rappers went downtown for money and exposure” and now it’s the other way around.

Namely, neither side, “cool” or “money-making” is doing a lot of inspired or interesting work. There’s this dreary toilet bowl apocalypse sound to Kanye’s “Swagger Like Us” beat and indeed, 808s turned out not to be a grab for the rockist, but a big, weird, album that doesn’t fit comfortable anywhere, but it’s not exactly innovative stuff. As for those “indie” artists, the work is even more derivative and uninspired. MGMT’s “Electric Feel” is on the same ripping-off the 80s shit as West, but at least West challenges your pop expectations a little bit.

This lack of innovation’s especially prescient in light of Noz’s uptown/downtown flip. The sense that all those rappers and B-boys got out of downtown was wealth and exposure caters to the reverse romantic myth that even the “Truest” hip-hop’s based on. Rappers even at their most artistic, feign capitalist nihilism, and art-rockers, even at their most capitalistic, feign artistry and as usual, the “reality” is somewhere between. The primary difference between this art-rock and hip-hop quasi-intermingling–quasi because it’s really one-sided but more on that later–seems to me that there’s nothing all that artistic going on from any of these turds. It’s all really ugly insider stuff, meant to entertain one another and the people who cover the music and nothing more.

The other difference, is that most of us weren’t there in 1981 and so, children of museum owners rocking Rammellzee’s shades or something, doesn’t piss us off in the same way that, hearing ODB’s Nigga Please in some boutique or talking to some kid who thinks he knows everything because he downloaded a Spice-1 record last week pisses us off. Rap was also less of a big dumb institution and so, I get the sense that it was all probably, just a little bit genuinely utopian back then.

People on both sides were less jaded and rap fans especially, weren’t these total protective cocksuckers about it. I’d love to hear some even-handed shit from anybody actually involved in the scene at the time, how did it reflect the pseudo-scene of today? How was it different? And I call it a “pseudo-scene” now because it has the illusion of a convergence of styles and ideas, but on the part of the artists involved, is very one-sided. That’s to say, don’t expect MGMT to ever show up on a Jim Jones record or Jay-Z on a Coldplay record. If it’ll make the rock side of this look potentially stupid or goofy, it isn’t going to happen. Rappers don’t give a fuck about “image” in that way; it’s why rap’s so great.

This supports as well as conflicts with the uptown for cool, downtown for money thing. Supports it, because there’s a clear focus on image and money and conflicts with it because, that old “scene” was full of genuine interaction and experimentation and not just taking the rich white artsy fartsy kids for all they got. Uptowners got a lot more out of the downtown scene than cash. Something like Death Comet Crew wouldn’t exist without the crazy, mindfully avant sounds of the white weirdos and of course, the death disco of KONK or something wouldn’t exist without hip-hop and disco and funk and stuff. History of that era too, has gone in the way of hip-hop, as more people probably know of “White Lines” than Liquid Liquid. Interestingly, the recent reevaluation of No-Wave and “post-punk” has been surprisingly fair and deferential to hip-hop’s influence, certainly less of a white wash than most rock histories.

This weird mix too, as wrongheaded as it might seem, does seem a little more sincere than cynics present it. I’m not sure that Santogold (or Jay-Z) will gain a whole lot crossing over from “Brooklyn Go Hard” and who’s baiting cool and who’s baiting cash is pretty muddled when it comes to M.I.A and Kanye West. The crossing of these two paths is more of a strange indulgence on the part of rappers to rep some shit that, however terrible, is the sort of stuff they’re rocking in their cars.

Fans of Santogold probably made a decision about Jay-Z a long time ago and her presence on a song won’t change that. Most fans of Jay-Z that don’t know who Santogold is, don’t give much of a shit on who’s whining out the hook. Also, the song’s pretty cool and Kanye’s dying battery synths and determined drums aren’t really some kind of indie concession or anything. So, this is all frustration and annoying in theory and has made for some decent music. But If you’re gonna get cynical about the song or just this whole weird scene in general, you have to dig deeper. Once you do though, it starts to get ugly and weird in a way that I can’t get behind.

This “indie” rock and popular hip-hop mixing and merging is no doubt inspired by the odd and problematic celebration of hip-hop–especially of the party/”ignorant” variety–by so-called “hipsters” and indie kids. Pitchforkmedia’s increased rap coverage over the past few years, hip-hop fashion entering places like Urban Outfitters, sites/magazines like THE FADER, etc. etc. For awhile, there was this weird disconnect between where the “average” hip-hop fan was reading and getting his information and those aforementioned websites that suddenly started bigging-up hip-hop to their readers, most of whom were complacent to enjoy Wilco and when it came to rap, that first Blackalicious album or something. In recent times, especially the past few years, artists, writers, and fans have gotten a little more savvy and it’s all started to mix and match.

I bet a lot of rappers, writers, and fans breathed a sigh of relief as they no longer had to pretend to be this or that. That’s to say, Kanye West or Jay-Z are kinda weird, nerdy dudes and there’s no way they were rocking rap in their cars all day every day and now, they got to kind of admit it. It’s big because it was one of those weird times where one’s personal interests happened to match-up pretty well with one’s fiscal interests.

We’re also getting to a point where almost two generations of people have grown up listening to rap on the radio and so, that along with the internet which makes music of any and every variety available, it was only a matter of time before hip-hop’s borders got as conventionally porous and fusion-ready as every other genre’s. I’m sure certain writers and editors really wanted to talk-up the new Three Six Mafia since 1995 but couldn’t justify the word space for doing so. Now they could.

However, this has taken an especially awkward and calculated turn more recently. I think what is now happening is the same kind of ugly, media support system/takeover that’s happened to the rest of the media when money’s to be made. THE FADER and Pitchfork announced a partnership late last year. That means, the two most hip-hop as well as white hipster friendly publications (one print, one online) are working together. THE FADER’s Senior editor is Julianne Shepherd, an ex-writer for Pitchfork (and a writer I like quite a bit). Peter Macia, online editor for THE FADER is also ex-Pitchfork (he penned this excellent, kinda important Little Brother review, among other things).

The average hip-hop fan probably doesn’t read either THE FADER or Pitchfork, but plenty of rap artists do (Kanye’s shouted it out, Clipse got all pissy about Tom Breihan’s Pitchfork review, Bun B mentioned THE FADER in a Metal Lungies interview), and a more obsessive kind of rap nerd surely peruses these sites. When I proposed a crossover between THE FADER and NahRight a little while ago, more than one commenter disagreed, but this recent discussion between Eskay and one of FADER’S editors Eric Ducker certainly suggests this divide between a certain kind of rap fan and another kind of rap fan gets thinner.

NahRight is the website for rap news and music no doubt, and it functions the way a magazine like XXL or Vibe (ex-Pitchfork-er Sean Fennessy is Vibe’s music editor) does, in that it’s the go-to mainstream place for populist but not moronic rap information. As this whole indie thing gets bigger, what a site like THE FADER or Pitchfork covers and what a site like NahRight covers overlaps more and more. That a guy like Eskay’s even talking to THE FADER certainly reflects the rumblings of change. Change that benefits both mainstream, populist hip-hop sites and semi-mainstream niche magazines/websites.

I don’t think there’s some vast conspiracy going on, but I do think that this hipster stuff’s being further encouraged and supported by websites and magazines of the rap and non-rap variety alike because it pulls in a certain kind of influential and easily swayed reader and “synergy” and stuff like that is all the talk. It sells more magazines or ad-clicks or whatever, the artists crossover, new artists have more places to show-off, and everybody in the industry wins a little, while listeners lose because they’re being fed stuff that makes a good blog post or article or story angle first (“Kanye sampled Santogold!”, “Jenny Lewis likes Lil Wayne”, “Charles Hamilton raps over the Offspring, that’s some real Girl Talk shit!”) and good music second.

Written by Brandon

January 10th, 2009 at 8:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Notorious & The Authenticity Myth

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Over a beat that turned the glossy synth-funk of Mtume into something glossier and funkier as only Puffy and pals could do, Biggie dedicates “Juicy” to “all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing…to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustling from that called the police on me when I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter, and all the niggas in the struggle” and then, raps a bittersweet song of big-time success, minor victories, and hazy hip-hop memories. The joy, the pain, and all that stuff’s palpable and it’s still pop enough for the radio!

Cynics and even-handed fact-checkers have long pointed out that Biggie’s upbringing wasn’t as bad as his songs made it out to be. That he followed a long line of self-mythologizing, kinda fake-ass rappers was as much an obnoxious cliche as the corrective to the fake-assery: When he’s rapping it, you totally believe it, and that’s what matters. What struck me though, hearing this song Saturday on a college hip-hop station (sandwiched between “It’s Supposed to Bubble” and some T-Pain “banger”) was how even that introductory dedication, which sounds totally sincere and isn’t hip-hip “cool” like crack sales or poverty, ain’t true either.

Biggie’s daughter T’yanna Wallace was born on August 13, 1993, after Big had a record deal. The year before, he’d popped up in The Source’s “unsigned hype” and on Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” remix. The movie Who’s the Man came out in April of 1993; the soundtrack of course, featured “Party & Bullshit”. Not that a rapper with that minor level of fame couldn’t–or wasn’t–still hustling, but that the truth behind Biggie’s affecting dedication’s a little more complicated.

Unbelievable, Cheo Hodari Coker’s excellent book–and the basis for the new movie Notorious–confirms Biggie’s return to dealing upon news of ex-girlfriend Jan’s pregnancy. But the story Coker presents has a similar feeling of “print the legend” or at least, smooshes some stuff together for the unfortunate pragmatism of a readable biography. Biggie went to the relatively less competitive crack game of North Carolina–he’d done time there for dealing earlier–and apparently, got an angry call from Puffy urging him to come back, forget about dealing and work on his music. And Biggie did it.

He later got news that the very place he was staying in Raleigh got busted by the cops. Big took it as a sign and got real serious about rapping. Perhaps that’s just a story that really happened as is and just sounds like a movie. And maybe it’s Biggie turning his real-life anecdotes into legend just as he did with his raps and maybe it’s Puffy and friends making real-life, scary events capital-R romantic…something you can’t blame anybody for doing when the real life’s that of their murdered friend/husband/father/lover.

The point is, the real-life event was weirder, less and more dramatic, and less and more complicated than pages 77-79 of Unbelievable or the people involved make it and now, you’ve got this movie Notorious, based on the “real-life” events of a now-dead dude hyper-aware of his importance and legend, supported, exploited, and everything else by people that too understood the significance of a good story, whose memories are additionally clouded by years and idealization of a dead friend, claiming to have worked closely with these very unreliable sources to tell the guy’s “true” story which is marketed as big, exciting Hollywood bio-pic in the vein of Walk the Line or Ray.

This is simply what happens to all of our “old” favorite pop-culture, but the whole thing’s particularly silly and–outside of money–a fruitless endeavor, even more so because Big was a guy who balanced the whole selling the dream and breaking it apart thing pretty well. Biggie’s discography’s his biopic. And while Ready to Die and Life After Death don’t contain songs where say, a disheveled Faith Evans opens the door to see Biggie with a groupie, anybody with ears and a brain gets a more affecting and uglier, more-real version of a scene like that on say, “One More Chance” or that blowjob skit at the end of “Respect”, complete with all-too-real blowjob noises and a moment of touching reality where Big and the girl share a mid-sex laugh.

A scene where Biggie and Faith are shown deeply in love will use the same all-too-obvious romance signifiers as Academy Award-grabbers like Benjamin Button or Revolutionary Road (subpoint: An essay just like this one could be written about the disconnect between Yates’ novel and the Mendes film), but you’ll get a more touching and affecting version of fucked-up but all the more stronger for it romance on “Me and My Bitch”, a song where Biggie’s totally adopting the voice of a drug-dealing don married to the kind of girl Tony Montana thought he had without idealizing her at all (his deconstruction of the word “bitch”, the mini-story about using his toothbrush to wash the toilet).

The bottom-line focus of even art-oriented Hollywood pictures mixed with the idiotically obsessive attention to structure that’s infected even “good” screenwriters wouldn’t allow for a makes-the-song details like the point where Biggie (or his character in the song), despite being sure something truly fucked up’s happened to the girl he adores, still “make[s] the U-turn [to] make sure [his] shit was clean”. To be real (and real pretentious) that’s some like Auerbach’s Mimesis-level of storytelling complexity type shit.

And if it isn’t reality or representations of reality that you’re into and you want to see iconic Biggie, well, you can see the actual videos and performances…why you’d want to see actor-ly approximations of stuff that happened ago a decade on television re-performed by melty-looking versions of the real icons, I don’t know.

If you care about hip-hop for the right reasons, because it’s affecting and full of ugly-true, smart, touching, just over all affecting details that bypass bullshit terms like “real or authentic” and concern themselves with the real bottom-line (emotions) all the while, being fun and catchy enough that corporate interests that ran/run television and radio couldn’t deny, skip out on Notorious. We don’t need a semi-mainstream but still “authentic” version of Notorious B.I.G because that was the very line he balanced and tested for all of his short but brilliant career.

Written by Brandon

January 6th, 2009 at 6:56 am

Posted in Notorious BIG, movies

"Kamikaze 2009": A Goodbye 2008 Mix


“Kamikaze 2009″: A Goodbye 2008 Mix (56 minutes 57 seconds)

One final way to say “bye” to 2008. I tried to highlight some tracks I didn’t otherwise talk-up, re-highlight some other great ones, and just in general, capture the about-to-fall-over warm electronic party music every genre focused upon last year. It seems as though we’re at this point where things look and sound like people in the late 70s thought the 2000s would look and sound like and it’s a bizarre but works-for-now loop of innovation and nostalgia.

Written by Brandon

January 4th, 2009 at 8:06 am

Posted in 2008, mix CD