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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

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