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Archive for April, 2009

Three-Six Mafia & Juvenile "That’ll Work" (Produced by Alchemist)

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A-Team horns blast through the beginning of this beat and you’re like “Just another Alchemist almost-banger on some blissed-out blaxploitation shit…”, only it’s not because it’s taken over by sparks of something less analog: the theme from Halloween sent through Terry Riley synths (or the Phantom of the Opera drunk on Vault energy soda), pieces of Percolator drums, digital fuzz clipping in and out, and a chunk of very rigid and unfunky flickering back and forth bass. Where did this come from? This isn’t totally from left-field or anything but it’s pretty nuts.

Alchemist’s always had this kind of shit in him, but he’s never gone this far in sort of kind of rejecting his “style”, even if the rejection lasts only until Prodigy needs some more middling soul-bangers–although “Death Wish” on Jada’s album was on some other shit too.

“That’ll Work” though is cool because it’s made-up of the same elements that’ll be on the next Dilated Peoples album just stretched-out or chopped-up to a very different end. There’s a funk bassline, it’s just been destroyed and reorganized to stutter and flip-out instead of glide along…there’s patches of some ethereal probably-from-an-Italian-movie-OST vocals, just it comes in for like a quarter of a second–in only one of the speakers–and then trips out of the way. Even the sexy moans and hook might have their origins on one of those “Porno Sounds” break records.

Alchemist’s beat sounds like an attempt to match the menace and energy of Southern rap using the New York rap tools to do so. Or flashback to a time when style and sub-sub regional genres didn’t have to be protective and properly defined and wrapped up inside themselves and this could just be an early 90s Memphis or Bronx record.

Rapping-wise too, Three-Six and Juvenile are slightly out of their comfort zone, but out of it enough to where they’re challenged and interesting shit happens, not so far out that they’re no longer doing them. Juvie especially…maybe it’s that ficky-ficky quarter of a bassline that’s like a Dilla/Busta joint but it’s got that same kind of weird feel, but it’s Juvenile and Alchemist which makes a lot less sense.

Written by Brandon

April 30th, 2009 at 7:02 am

A Post About Gucci Mane.

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Sometimes, just because you got enthusiasm for the Willy Wonka boom-bap blip of “We Gotem” or the blissed-out kinda glory of “Stunt” or the entire Gucci Land mixtape you physically bought in a store a few weeks ago in Baltimore, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just concede to someone who’s said it better. But then, Dantheman’s video (or half a video) for “I’m Back Bitch” shows-up and it’s Gucci rapping gloriously, looking glorious-er, but a little desolate and sad (car in an empty Big Lots parking lot type sad) and it’s hard to keep quiet.

Even this point’s been made already–that’s how immediate the Gucci love is–but it’s worth repeating that a Black Eyed Peas track made to cash-in on the quasi-Clubish, retro-futurism hip-hop & B production trends of the past year or so, and the swagger boys’ infinite “shittin on you”-type rap lines at the same time, like that flips itself into a Zaytoven approximation so Gucci can laconically rhyme around it is a sign of Gucci’s impending takeover.

But it won’t be the ubiquitous takeover Lil Wayne’s committed the past few years, where it’s a mix of eager-to-please guest spots and all-over-the-place mixtape joints because Gucci’s nothing if not consistent. Wayne’s ascent was fun in a way that the internet was fun a few years ago, when “Web 2.0″ was all cool and interactive (oh, 2006, so far away) and not just this thing that crushed your Google Reader and Inbox and we could all mix and match our favorite Wayne verses and put them on CDs for friends. Gucci’s all take-it-or-leave-it oppressive; there aren’t entry-level Gucci Mane songs the way say, “Dough Is What I Got” could be sold to anybody with a vaguely open mind towards hip-hop.

His power as a rapper comes from the build-up of songs and verses. The excitement and joy of rapping all the time on hundreds of tracks doesn’t have to be super-explicit–that he’s doing it is enough–or even joyful and so, there aren’t really highlights or let’s just say, there aren’t these like inarguable stand-outs. Gucci’s putting the same effort forward all the time and he’s mining the same territory, twirling the same ideas and jokes and threats around and around sometimes falling on something deeper or heavier but when he does, it’s in the same wizened jokey drawl. He’s having fun and if you want to join in go ahead, he doesn’t seem to really care but you get the sense that inside, he really cares.

Unlike those easier-to-write-about rappers, Gucci Mane doesn’t “suddenly” get all personal or “deep” and he never sounds like he’s trying to get all “weird” and “next-level” either–he’s pretty much doing the same thing on whatever’s sent his way and it ends up as some weird mix of absurd creativity and worker-bee, head-down, move-forward rapping.

There’s a quieter, more modest sense of style and if you must say it, swagger too. This is why in many ways he’s been met with even more opposition and downright denial that he’s a significant figure in rap: He upsets your expectations of a rapper and rap star by being ordinarily irregular. He revels in the minor joys of self-expression, like your your accountant wearing NIKEs or the guy at Sheetz with a big-ass earring or your redneck neighbor with those truck balls.

In “I’m Back Bitch”, he’s basically rocking shades you could buy from American Apparel, matching shoes, tracksuit, and cycling hat, and shit-ton of gold–it’s both crazy over-the-top and really kinda understated. It’s like out-there, out-there the same way his signature Bart Simpson chain is out-there. That shit’s not cool and it’s unprecedented too. Gucci thought of this stuff, he’s not playing rock star or dressing like he’s in TRON because that’s what’s cool this year. He’s not exactly concerned with the outside world all that much.

And what better way to represent Gucci’s disinterest in the world than to stick an iced-out Gucci Mane in a tour van in the middle of an empty parking lot rapping to a hand-held camera as his buddies smoke and fart around on a laptop around him? Director Dantheman’s perhaps best known for Prodigy’s “Mac 10 Handle” video and in a lot of ways, “I’m Back Bitch” is as just as isolated and dark, just not so obvious about it. This is the plurality of emotions, the pleasure and pain, and all that, hip-hop does best.

Prodigy revels in his paranoia and self-destruction, while Gucci just sort of stiff-upper lips it and keeps on going. All Gucci’s descriptors, a laundry-list of what’s around him, what he’s gotta do, and how much he’s going to sell, extend only as far as his backyard (where he keeps “a couple” old-school Impalas), which is a little broader than the “four corners” of Prodigy’s room but not by much.

That this is the parking lot of a Big Lots should resonate with a whole bunch of people much the same way Asher Roth’s references to “Thirsty Thursdays” have caught-on. Trapping at a gas station, asking people to “meet [him] by the checkers”, and rapping in a tour bus in an empty parking lot at like, 3am, and proudly tossing-off another gumptious rap that’s implicitly–and only implicitly–celebrating his release from prison is everything great about Gucci Mane wrapped-up in under two minutes.

Written by Brandon

April 29th, 2009 at 6:45 am

Posted in Gucci Mane

How Big Is Your World? New Rap

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-Diamond District “In The Ruff”

For some dumb reason, Diamond District keep pushing In the Ruff as a return to “boom-bap” but, as Noz already pointed out, it’s not really like that. Or rather, it doesn’t sound like an album that’s supposed to sound like a Golden-Age rap album. On a song like “In the Ruff” though, they’re totally going for 90s rap but only the extremes of the sub-genre: The poppy, catchy aspects on that transcendent hook and the strange, fuck-it-all avant-brilliance on the beats. No need for all the mid-level details, which is where most revivalists reside and why they’re shit’s boring.

Note the slowly dissipating fuzz of foggy samples that ends “In the Ruff”. Holding off on the weirdo self-indulgence until the end is like those times when Primo or Pete Rock would just wreck a sample or toss in some half-idea at the front or back of a track like, “Look, I just gave you the song of your life, so indulge me with this weird awesome shit for a few moments, I’ve earned it, no?”

Not to sound too old-ass rap head-ish, but you can hear Oddisee pounding on his MPC or whatever on this one and the shit’s more next-level than your favorite producer shouting “next-level” because he discovered indie rock samples or Minimalism. A reminder of how bizarre 90s New York rap could be before history wrapped a label around the shit and sold it to a new group of angry kinda rappers.

-Lil Boosie “Shit Yeah”

Where once a certain kind of knowing half-rap fan would celebrate the “political” songs of oft-ignorant rappers, it’s sorta evolved past that and now rappers’ “importance” is justified by their sad-bastard songs. Sometimes it seems like Boosie courts this because he either doesn’t care to or lacks the talent to synthesize ignorance and emotion–like actually great rappers—but a track like “Shit Yeah” makes all that in-culture rap think-talk not matter. And this song isn’t really typical sad Boosie rap anyways.

A hazy, Black Caesar soundtrack groove with the right amount of Southern rap treble in the drums and synths, Boosie—and an unnamed rapper, somebody out there knows, who is it?—continue the rap tradition of “dead friend” songs. Unnamed Guest Rapper sounds like he’s voicing Bobo who “lost his baby in a house fire” from “One Day” while Boosie not only grieves, but breaks-down grief: Why drinking it away doesn’t really work, why most people just don’t get it, why a stiff-upper lip mantra like “Shit yeah” is about all you can do when leaning over the body of a dead friend.

The best thing here though, is the comfort Boosie has with calling-out fake-ass grievers, which is exactly the kind of thing you’re told to ignore at funerals but really pisses you off. Death’s a weird thing; it brings out a false, public sentimentality in people, and Boosie gets this and kinda mocks with mentions of “hoes crying at the church” and “everybody” in “a rest in peace shirt”. Shit matters more to certain people in certain situations and sometimes the fact that you kinda knew dude that’s now dead doesn’t give you the right to over-emote and all that, right Boosie?

-Jadakiss featuring Avery Storm “I Tried”

After way too many delays, the only reason left to be excited about the new Jadakiss was a rap and bullshit track with Nelly’s dude, “Here I Am”-hook crooner, Avery Storm. Consider yourself lucky that this piece got moved-up ahead of a thousand words just on Avery Storm and so, I’m nixing that piece–either way, dude is the truth.

Looking like a contestant from Tool Academy who sings like how people who can’t sing think R & B singers sing—all weird accent and dead-weight melismatic tricks and high-pitched fourth-rate Al Green high-pitched whines—but it all works because he has a great voice, he just chooses to use it towards a decidedly uncool end. The result’s something weirdly emotional and really fucking honest, which is kinda perfect to accompany Jadakiss, even though on paper, “a collabo” between the last of the N.Y hard-asses and a greasy, K-Feds-like goofball from Jersey shouldn’t work at all.

In a way, both guys are totally out-of-step with 2009’s sense of cool, as Jada’s still mostly angry and missing Biggie and Avery Storm yelps out with total disregard for 2009 R & B’s celebration of cool, calm, and collected. Both are also pretty bummed-out and frustrated and though they approach it from different angles (Jada’s angry, Avery’s whining), they share a universal sense of confusion and depression about fucking their lives up and they meet at the beat, which bangs and whirs like its fighting all the ugly stuff that makes life sad as shit.

-Kneel Knaris “Who’s Watching Me”

“All that Starbucks and Guinness got me so fired up…”; Every few years, there’s a gut-wrenching piece of hyper-honest depression rap that battles with the king of the genre, The Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me”. Like Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It In The Air” from a few years ago, Kneel Knaris’ “Who’s Watching Me” comes really close and gains power from sorta cheesy production–call it “the Cam’ron effect.

There’s too many lines here worth quoting, a healthy (or unhealthy) mess of self-deprecation (“My album is an inside joke with a hidden verse”), self-hate (“eyes in the back of my head for self-loathing”), and knowingly dead-end indulgences (“I feel slightly reassured when different girls undress me”, “the only time they disappear is when I sip a beer”) with the life of crime and hustling usually in the fore-front of songs like this, placed in the background implicitly making the point that even without those pressures, the shit in his head would remain.

Knaris is Baltimore rapper with a concept album about bipolar disorder called Going Sane In a Crazy World that comes out in May. “Who’s Watching Me” is not on that album—I’m assuming sample clearance issues—but Kneel’s brilliantly using it as a promo, pre-album single anyway.

-Eddie Hazel “California Dreamin”

So, Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel’s amazing solo album is finally back in-print, on vinyl-only. There’s a Rhino CD re-issue from a bunch of years ago that tacks on a bunch of tracks from some later recording of his and while they aren’t bad, Game, Dames, & Guitar Thangs is too solid and cohesive for the decadance of “bonus tracks”.

I was happy to find the LP at Chapel Hill’s CD Alley yesterday and as I was paying, the members of Acid Mothers Temple walked into the store—no really, they did, they were playing a show up the street—and I couldn’t help but think this is the kind of thing to show them to get on their good side. Maybe Kawabata even stopped in to pick a copy of it up? It did just come out…

Anyways, a damaged cover of ‘California Dreamin” begins and ends Game, Dames and as expected, beats the hippie-dippie original at its own game. Chunks of effects echo out of Hazel’s meandering guitar as it’s surrounded by primitive pounds of piano and flicks of bass and a moaning chorus led by Hazel’s Dennis Wilson-damaged wail. This song’s delightfully formless but not “jammy” either, it just kinda moves along, with lyrics from the original shouted-out when they seem appropriate but mostly just giving way for the same devastating guitar emoting that made “Maggot Brain” as well known as it is.

-The Field “The More That I Do”

The genius of Axel Wilner—you know, The Field–is a Dilla or Primo-like attention to slicing and sequencing samples that he forces to fit into the confines of dance music. It’s a great trick for capturing the feeling of longing that’s at the heart of most, if not all, house, rave, and dance music. Your ears are left grabbing onto pieces of voice and clips of sound, trying to complete them or waiting for it to happen, but it never will, so you’re waiting forever…

And if earlier work from The Field was a little too mannered or micro to get you dancing, “The More That I Do” really bumps. Wilner’s added bass to his arsenal, which may seem obvious, but’s something of a big deal because dude’s entire sound up to this point came from ethereal pieces of other songs: He never used a sound long enough for it to contain bass. Past songs were micro-house made so micro they just became house music again but here, he’s approaching conventional dance music without losing any of the rarefied weirdness of the early stuff.

Even the steel drums and arpeggiating space disco synths coda, which literally breaks the song down to its bare essentials for the last thirty seconds doesn’t feel gimmicky or showman-like, as it did when he performed live and “revealed” his sample source, it has the same oddly compelling, hard to articulate emotionality that it did when The Flamingos flutter out of the tail-end of last album’s ending track “From Here We Go Sublime”.

Written by Brandon

April 23rd, 2009 at 2:37 am

808s & Jupiter-8s: Egyptian Lover’s Electro Pharaoh


Back in Wax Poetics #32, the Egyptian Lover mentioned his plan to release twelve 12-inches in 2009–one for every month of the year. While that hasn’t exactly happened, it didn’t feel like total un-real talk in the interview because the beauty of electro and derivations of that music is its carpenter-ish core, which allows, kinda even demands, and actually rewards, quick, worker-bee style production.

This big 12-inch release plan also made a lot of sense because Egyptian Lover’s entire bit is he’s a kinda out-there, cocky motherfucker and some vague, grand idea to drop a ton of 12-inch vinyl in 09′ had the same, uh swagger (?) as being a jheri-curled chubby dude that sang about how all the ladies wanted him one moment and opened-up all sad and lonely a la “I Cry (Night after Night)” the next.

With Electro Pharaoh though, which came out digitally at the end of last year and moved to sites beyond iTunes at the beginning of this year and somehow–or not somehow, but inexcusably–passed through everybody’s radar, Egyptian Lover’s at least beginning to make good on his promise which is more than enough in a way.

Hardheadedly throwback, Pharaoh is all 808s and Jupiter-8 keyboards and except for being recorded way cleaner than the old stuff–my only critique of the record is, he should’ve recorded it analog, because it’s too clean like the same way the new Candlemass record is too clean–the differences between this late 08, early 09 digital release and On the Nile are negligible. Tracks sway and fold into themselves, perfect for breaking or at this point the idea of breaking, and the trebly snaps of his equipment’s complemented by warm washes of synth or a sample (the especially grand synth-strings on “Electro Pharaoh”, the low budget Bernie Worrell keybord work on “Freaky DJ”). In a way, it’s closer to Uncle Jamm’s Army stuff than it is his debut record.

The only current concession is some auto-tune or some vocoder that sounds more auto-tuned but even the auto-tune’s more DJ Class than DJ Khaled hook and you know, Egyptian Lover’s allowed to briefly cash-in on a trend he had a lot to do with developing say, twenty-five years ago. But that’s the only hint of “contemporary standards” here, as there’s not even those little bits of rapping or rap-singing of his 80s work…just stuttering, pummeling shards of tinny electronics, a shit-ton of rhythm, and lots of chanting.

In a way, the release of a new (and actually good) Egyptian Lover release has a lot to do with where rap is and in another way, it’s on some very different–or divergent–shit. Really, the most analogous record to Electro Pharaoh would be some of the newer wave of ATL producers or the Jesu side of that Jesu/Envy split from the fall ((and it’s not like Justin Broadrick isn’t hip to this rap shit) and at times, The Field. Or maybe The Field just comes to mind because the best song on Pharaoh is called “Scandinavian Summer” for some reason. A corresponding track to the classic “Egypt, Egypt”, “Scandanavian Summer” uses lots of the same sounds (extra breathy vocals, those same 808 slaps of death) and the same goofball foreign imagery only now applied to “Finnish freaks” and “Danish freaks”–a “we’re all pink inside” statement of universality bouncing to a freak-beat that yeah, is also probably a crossover grab for a part of the world that’s inexplicably latched onto electro.

Even issues of legacy and influence–something every old-school pioneer will remind you about–is handled pretty well. Most of the tracks occupy this weird place of shameless myth-making and logical extension of the shit-talking of the past. “Freaky DJ” has Egyptian Lover telling you “I survived all the changes in the industry” and it’s slightly pathetic, but then, on the title track, he does a a cool thing of inserting himelf into his own Egypt iconography to represent how say, like the Pyramids or all the Egyptian and Afro-Asiatic contributions to culture, Egyptian Lover’s music is just as big and looming and influential in its own way: “Crowds fill the arena/On the east bank of the Nile/the throne becomes a DJ booth as they play this ancient style…”.

Written by Brandon

April 19th, 2009 at 6:17 am

Posted in Egyptian Lover, Jesu, e

City Paper: "Doom Patrol : Doom’s Roundabout Recession Rap Hits Home"


“Absolute power corrupts absolutely” goes the seething hook of “Absolutely” off Born Like This (Lex), the latest album from Doom (nee MF Doom). Most of Born feels similarly hopeless and deterministic–it’s the first post-Obama political album whose cynicism doesn’t feel decadent–but that’s oddly refreshing because last time dude dropped a proper album, it was a toothless collaboration with lightweight producer Danger Mouse that had Doom repping Adult Swim and rapping with Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

On the new one, though, Doom’s rap pals are like-minded weirdo thugs (Raekwon, Ghostface, Kurious, Freddie Foxxx) and, on “Cellz,” the ornery rhymes of Charles Bukowski. “Cellz” places a wonky stumble of drums beneath an extended sample from said scribe (the poem “Dinosauria, We”) that lays out a series of darkly funny, fucked-up ironies of American life: “Born like this, into this, into hospitals which are so expensive, that’s its cheaper to die.” It’s a brilliant collaboration.”

Written by Brandon

April 15th, 2009 at 4:26 am

Posted in City Paper, MF Doom

Soul Food & Sushi: A Mania Music Group Mixtape

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-Download Soul Food & Sushi at 41Yo.Com

All of Mania Music Group’s stuff is available at their website for free already, but I wanted to give people that hadn’t heard them the closest thing I could think of to an all-encompassing sampling of their work. So with Mania’s blessing, I started working on Soul Food & Sushi: A Mania Music Group Mixtape.

At about this time last year, WE DO IT RIGHT dropped a fan mixtape of Jay Electronica’s work and it’s what moved me from a dude with a few of his tracks on my computer to an all-out fan. I thought I’d do my own version of that for Mania. It’s basically my favorite tracks with a few clips (and a monster freestyle) from their radio interview on WQFS with Adam Katzman all mixed by Joseph Oheygi of the blog Geek Down. Enjoy and pass it around.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Mania Music Group

Cracker (Swagger) Jacks: Eminem’s Return, Asher Roth’s Ascent.

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That Eminem’s “We Made You” drops as Asher Roth’s “I Love College” hovers, ready to take over, is something of a perfect storm of rap frivolity far uglier than ad-libs, auto-tune, or rhyming the same word with the same word.

Two rappers, one who once mined the problems of the working-class in a manner however cloying, still greatly affecting, and one who at least feigned interest in “poor people” on his corrective mixtape raps just a few months ago, escape into the world of OK! Magazine and the greens and quads of college, respectively.

The problem here isn’t derision, because everyone that matters thinks these songs are awful, but that “We Made You” and “I Love College” are dismissed because they appear “not serious” when they should start-up the same kind of “once a year we’ll all get political” meme that say, crack rap or “hipsters” inspire.

Look at it this way. “I Love College” gets the “it’s fun” free pass—and tons of press—while the also Weezer-sampling “Grind Baby” from the Paper Route Recordz crew just sort of wanders around kinda unnoticed. This isn’t just an issue of taste or exposure, it’s a moral one.

“Grind” grabs the melancholy of Weezer in a typically constructive hip-hop sense of sampling–say Nice & Smooth turning “Fast Car” into “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow”; “College” goes for it Girl-Talk style. “Grind” is a, we’ll-get-through-it anthem for the clock-punchers, “College” is a celebration of wasting either parents’ or the state’s money in a place of higher education most of the country can’t even begin to afford. Remember, the biggest rapper in the world right now based his debut album around the in-the-gut frustration of going to college and being thoroughly disgusted by the reality its overrun by assholes like Roth.

For Asher Roth to be the same dude who made his internet hype rapping over others rappers’ beats about how “sick kids need” money “more then [he needs] a necklace”, now praising another kind of indulgence, is a good example of the weird classism—and white privilege—that often goes unchecked in the media, but shouldn’t slip by rap fans. Sure, pizza and beer are a cheaper than rims and chains, but Roth’s awful misreading of how and why people conspicuously consume seems grotesque when he’s farting-out a song just as ugly and self-justifying as all the rap he claims doesn’t speak to him. While Roth may not “look” or “sound” like most rappers, he’s selling the exact same line of bullshit.

Goofy college kids once saw themselves in the nerd-outs of Tribe and Pharcyde or even the willful self-destruction of Mobb Deep or DMX. For awhile they could misread crack raps and sloppily apply it to their Circuit City commissions or day-trading jobs. Asher Roth’s rendered even that rudimentary leap of empathy obsolete.

Uncomfortable truths about Eminem amplified by “We Made You”:

- Eminem’s flow and persona’s simply a dumber, less nerdy version of the self-deprecating raps of mindful non-thugs like The Pharcyde. Down to the nasally, high-pitch flow, Em’s entire schtick–or at least the schtick that’s kinda entertaining–can be traced back to “Runnin”, a song he stuck in 8 Mile don’t forget.

-Dr. Dre’s production for him has nothing to do with hip-hop, more Ray Stevens with an MPC. And for those who dismiss the track and pray for that “raw shit” from Eminem, dude’s own productions are diet, caffeine-free RZA. Grammy-winning “Lose Yourself” is essentially “Liquid Swords” with a mall-rock chug replacing Willie Mitchell grit.

-The video for his first hit featured a Lewinsky joke and the song itself mentioned the Spice Girls and Pamela Anderson.

-His flow, which he’s always gotten credit for even in the dumbest songs, is the kind of flow that beats you over the head with every cadence and enjambment and shift of meter and at this point, rap’s evolved and devolved so much that when a fan defends a rapper with “He can flow”, it’s the equivalent of someone telling you that their boring-ass friend’s “a nice guy”. Technical skill’s always been Eminem’s defense and rockist bait while he’s sold hip-hop down the river.

-His “raw shit” is just as manipulative and flat-out retarded as “We Made You”, and that those pieces of “reality” that he could touch-on (“Stan” or “Kim” being obvious examples) diluted Dre, Cube, and the rest’s equally retarded but more entertaining and relevant reduction of poverty, dysfunction, and suffering.

“We Made You” is less a case of an artist not delivering than a bunch of rap fans not copping to how wack dude’s always been. Still, there’s something especially calculated,–like being a guy who raps about college and having your album come-out on 4/20 level of calculated—about Eminem’s latest.

Intentional or not, the song’s like a big Slim Shady “fuck you”, less to the world at-large or his critics, but at the Web 2.0 nerds. Jokes that are either out-dated or covered ten-fold by gossip blogs, are still new-ish or funny to the people that barely know of Twitter and don’t have a wireless network. Em’s feeding them supermarket gossip rag (versus gossip blog) trash and working a kind of synergy that has nothing to do with Nahright or “Perez” and has everything to do with say, Inside Edition and MTV (both did stories on Eminem’s “controversial” new video).

In a sense, “We Made You” acknowledges a fanbase that’s been forgotten about in the music business’s ill-concieved flight to the blogosphere, but it’s a fan-base he could’ve touched upon all the same with equally retarded but at least emotionally-resonant, real-world raps that everyone not named Pruane2Forever prefers.

But none of this is a surprise, anymore than someone finally and fully running with the “rap doesn’t speak to white kids that buy it” hustle is a surprise. What is a surprise–well, this isn’t a surprise either, but it’s distressing–is how this kind of manipulation is either justified or laughed-off as insignificant, while entire essays and debates drum-up about Young Jeezy’s “responsibility” to his neighborhood or art-form.

Asher Roth’s touching on some kind of zeitgeist or just “doing him”, but Lil Wayne or or even someone as downright loveable (and at times, batshit brilliant) as Gucci Mane are “killing” rap…and Paper Route Recordz hardly matter.

Deborah Norton will scrutinize the “controversial” and “hilarious” references to Paris and “KK” in “We Made You”, but would never take the time to highlight say, the affecting Patriotism in the climax of Kanye’s just-as-zany video for “Champion” or even acknowledge the existence of Rihanna/Chris Brown response record like Ghostface’s “Message from Ghostface”.

This is in part, white privilege aligning with some mad-calculated synergy, but it goes beyond that. Those artists and especially rappers (white or black), that really do complicate or at least worm around issues of wealth and privilege–even if it’s “all I could show em’ was pictures of my cribs”, if Eminem’s retardo raps receive praise, give Kanye a pass for trying–and end-up implicative, receive a healthy dose of derision, while those that simply fall-back on privilege as natural order get a free pass.

Written by Brandon

April 12th, 2009 at 7:59 am

41Yo.Com: Doo-Dew Kidz & Mullyman Interview

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Working on some stuff for this site I promise, but allow me to play schlockmeister one more time and point you towards this pretty great interview/video thing made when I interviewed Baltimore Club legends, The Doo-Dew Kidz along with rapper Mullyman over at 41Yo.Com.

If you’re one of those fruity DJs spinning Baltimore Club for Wavves fans, you probably know about these guys–or know someone who knows about them–and if you’re most of my readers, well, still, an interview with the Bambaataas of Baltimore Club should mean something. Most of this video is dudes constructing a club track before your very eyes.

Also, here’s Doo-Dew Kidz Greatest Hits Volume 1 for download.

Written by Brandon

April 10th, 2009 at 2:42 am

He Shouldn’t Have To Wait: Ryan Leslie’s Album Is Great.


Ryan Leslie is not cool. He dances like Ian Curtis and he kind of looks like a camel. His production’s all fluttering electronics and house music sounds, but it’s weirdly understated and subtle too. His songs are all-out love songs for one very special girl or they’re wizened R & B dramas about regret and complex adult type stuff.

Even those few times when he enters into the girl-on-the-side bro-talk that’s taken over rap and R & B, Leslie flips it. “You’re Fly” begins with a half-rap about “friends with benefits” but soon enough the relationship’s real and Leslie’s talking about how she’s “the one”.

“Shouldn’t Have To Wait” is an answer track to all those songs that brag about side-girls, focusing on the ugly, emotional tug-of-war this kind of lothario loverman bullshit brings. Leslie sings the hook, voicing the girl’s frustration (“This is crazy, I shouldn’t have to wait”) and verses are Leslie the dude, exuding empathy, looking back at it all and realizing his stupidity: “Baby trust me, I know I’m not the one/To take good care of you…”

This all really great stuff and it makes Ryan Leslie the best release of the year, but it’s also why the album, as of this week, has only sold about 65,000 copies. Ryan Leslie’s really on some other shit. Half throwback loverman and half even-further-in-the-future than Kanye or The-Dream production genius, Leslie doesn’t fit in any of the hyper-corporatized categories.

“How It Was Supposed To Be” which seems to be getting some consistent airplay right now–let’s hope Leslie’s album slow-burns its way to popularity, it certainly can, there’s 8 or so singles on it for sure—is an even better example of his work than previous almost hit singles “Diamond Girl” and “Addiction”. Those songs stood-out as fairly direct love songs (an anomaly these days), but “How” puts Leslie in the very uncool position of the shocked and spurned boyfriend. And better yet, even as he’s rolling around with it, whining-out lines about “how it was supposed to be”, the music doesn’t sonically recreate his pathos a la 808s Kanye. People still dance, clubs are still open, the world (and pop radio) don’t stop because you’re sad and Leslie understands this.

Less interested in whipping-up gloom-and-doom soundscapes and just as bored with aping the retro-futurism that was fun a few years back, but’s been reduced to formula by Lady Gaga or Flor-rida, Leslie makes personal pop music, which means it knocks but sounds wonderfully rarefied too. In the best way possible, Leslie’s music isn’t cool or protected. He takes the 80s shit that’s everywhere a step further, neither ripping it off for irony or stripping it for parts, he’s wrestling with the bizarre craftsmanship and try anything-ness of 80s funk and R & B and succeeding.

The fact that Leslie’s album is released on Casablanca is just too damned perfect. What do you do with the extended Cameo-esque synth work-out that rolls-out at the end of “I-R-I-N-A”? It’s cathartic but it’s awesomely silly, which you know, is how most moments where we really let-go and get emotional are like.

“Quicksand” is tight funk guitars that sound a bit like the Neptunes and a lot like Maroon 5 and then tumble into the Vangelis zone on a genuinely and appropriately oppressive-sounding bridge, that lets-up for the hook once more and dives further into Blade Runner territory to the song’s end. “Valentine” twinkles like those lover-man R & B tracks Big Daddy Kane and Grandmaster Flash albums had on them for some reason, and Leslie grabs for a Prince register in the idealized verses, and comes back down to earth for the uh, down-to-earth hook: “I know you’re not my girlfriend/But I swear that I love you, baby I do”. It’s like “Look okay, I know I’m being weird and all but who cares, I love you!”. There’s even a few moments where Leslie stops singing altogether and speaks in a painfully sincere rasp “Valentine…be mine.”

For those that think Leslie can’t sing, you’re not entirely incorrect, but you’re missing out on the many ways Leslie exploits his voice (“Diamond Girl” ends with a very Wayne-like rap, he moans like Stevie on the bridge of “Addiction”, he raps like mixtape Kanye on the beginning of “You’re Fly”, He tries for Prince’s sincerity on “Valentine”, he’s Bobby Caldwell or maybe Bob Odenkirk as Larry Black on “Wanna Be Good” and even sneaks in some Al Green squeaks on that same song) in ways that if he could sing better, would just sound absurd or like, the wrong kind of absurd.

Pretty much every song on Ryan Leslie has this same sense of variety to it, as it bounces between “too-many” ideas. But it totally works. One gets the same kinda in-awe feeling listening to these quick pieces of pop as one does listening to something like Lindstrom—that music nerd confusion as to how all these disparate sounds (Why did a vocoder work right there so well? Did he sample the AIM sign-off sound on “Just Right”?) and rhythms layered atop one another makes any sense at all.

There are these Trevor Horn-like uh, horns that rise and fall through the background of album-closer “Gibberish” and further add to the weird feelings being worked-out in the song. “Gibberish” is a song about the goofball, baby-talk stuff two people in love do to one another when alone but would never take outside of their apartment, taken out of the apartment and placed on an album. That it’s also a pretty funny, slight parody of the way auto-tune turns all that’s crooned through it into well, gibberish is an added bonus.

“Out of the Blue” builds beeps and buzzes atop one another as an ugly drum thumps behind it all–as I said before, a hack like Polow Da Don would make five beats out of the abundance of sounds Leslie crams into a single track–and Leslie bounces between regretful “shoulda been”s and a hook that asks “What would you do if I left you out of the blue?” and you think it’s this cruel question that validates how bad his girl needs him, but it turns out, he’s transferring his own pain onto the girl: “Would you fight back tears as your heart gets torn to pieces?/Because that’s what you did when you/Left me out of the blue”. There’s an absurd melodrama to it, but it’s all sucked-up inside and contemplated, it’s not shit back out or buried by finding the nearest shorty and buying her a drank.

Musically, Ryan Leslie is subtly avant-garde and lyrically, the album’s actually honest. Leslie opens-up instead of lashing-out or just plain spitting game. When even many of my favorite R & B singers in 2009 sing a love song, it sounds like what they’re supposed to sing about, or what they say to place nice to lay one more girl, and when they’re too-cool for everything under the guise of “getting real” about love, it’s more the bro-like response we have in the moment in front of our friends.

Leslie’s songs wrestle with the feelings that’ll echo later or can’t be hidden for too long…the ones you’ll wake up to when your best buds aren’t around and you’re not full of Patron (or Pabst Blue Ribbon) and “man, fuck that bitch” makes way for “Yo, I kinda messed-up and it’s all ruined now”. And when they’re not that, they’re expressions of pure, “uncool” love. Ryan Leslie is the guy singing his his date’s order to the waiter at Cheesecake Factory. He’s your dumb-ass (and mine) saying “schmoopy” and making silly in-jokes with the girlfriend. He’s a goofball R & B singer too sincere and weirdly brilliant for his own good.

Written by Brandon

April 7th, 2009 at 8:16 am

Posted in Ryan Leslie