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Archive for July, 2009

City Paper Noise: My Crew Be Unruly 2


Some of my scatter-shot thoughts on the “My Crew Be Unruly 2″ show along with some very awesome photos from Josh Sisk are up on City Paper’s Noise blog. My words or the photos (or these or these or these) though, don’t really do the event justice at all and it’s totally the sort of thing that I’d encourage any and everybody to come on down to Baltimore to check out. Seriously, if it happens next year–and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t–you can stay with me or my parents or my grandparents or some shit. Also cop the MCBU LP when it’s out in a few weeks!

“With the Artscape DJ Culture stage relegated to some Wind-Up Space shows last Friday and Saturday night-a kind of cruel and confusing shift, given that July is the one year anniversary of K-Swift’s death and club’s massive global growth over the past year-My Crew Be Unruly 2, the second edition of what better become an annual event from now until the end of time, felt even more essential. That it was even bigger and badder than last year’s, even more vital in its delightfully sloppy mixture of any and everybody, wasn’t lost on those attending. Be it it Paradox regulars or goofy kids that don’t normally set foot in the club, an unspoken “this is something special,” got passed all around and rattled between the walls of “the ‘Dox” two Fridays ago.”

Written by Brandon

July 31st, 2009 at 9:33 pm

I Should’ve Kicked Your Ass My Motherfuckin’ Self

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So, a new, ‘Special Edition’ of Abel Ferrara’s masterful ‘Bad Lieutenant’ came out on Tuesday and though it features a commentary with the always-fascinating Ferrara and a whatever whatever ‘Making Of…’, it still does not restore the original musical cues. That’s because it can’t. When it played in theaters and appeared on video, ‘Bad Lieutenant’ featured Schooly D’s “Signifying Rapper”, a song that interpolates Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”…then Jimmy Page heard it and got mad.

Not even sure how a non-sampled, played on real instruments version of “Kashmir” can constitute it being removed but well…it did/does. The power of big, scary lawyers. And so, the cheapo DVD that’s been floating around for a few years and yeah, this ‘Special Edition’ does not feature Schooly D’s crucial song. Still, cop/rent that shit. It’s like a Top Five movie for me, for what it’s worth.

Below’s a slightly fixed-up version of a pretty old post I did about the song and the movie and I figured I’d re-up it in honor of a slightly more respectable version of the movie coming to DVD. And if you do want to experience the movie with Schooly, find/rent a VHS copy and it’s still in there. Also, love me some (early) Werner Herzog but fuck this remake.

A decade before Puffy got Jimmy Page to recreate his own riff for the Godzilla soundtrack, Schooly D got some guitar player named Mike Tyler and some drummer named Andy Kravitz to recreate Jimmy Page’s “Kashmir” riff for “Signifying Rapper” off Smoke Some Kill.

The “beat” for “Signifying Rapper” is heavy like Zeppelin but tougher and scarier, due to the repetition and the rawness of the recording. It just starts and goes and goes for almost five minutes, only letting up for the final line: “I shoulda kicked your ass/My motherfuckin’ self”. Schooly is technically rapping–you can break the lines down and everything– but the storytelling aspect of his delivery takes over in full. He moves in and out of emotions, performing different voices, and he shifts his cadence to match the shifting tones of the story rather than the beat. More a kind of spoken-word performance–appropriate given its interaction with the history of the”signifying”, a longstanding, oft-discussed and intellectualized trope of African and African-American verbiage.

Clouding Schooly’s song in cultural history(s) further is its appearance in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and the subsequent controversy its appearance spawned. Though an explanation would work fine, it’s better to read the controversy in Ferrara’s own words:

“”Oh, yeah. I’ll strangle that cocksucker Jimmy Page. As if every fucking lick that guy ever played didn’t come off a Robert Johnson album. “Signifying Rapper” was out for five years, and there wasn’t a problem. Then the film had already been out for two years and they start bitching about it. And these pricks, when their attorneys are on the job, our guys are afraid to come out of their office. You’re not gonna fight their fucking warriors, you know what I mean? Can you imagine, this was down at a federal court in New York, with a 70-year-old judge, and they’re playing Schoolly D and Led Zeppelin to the guy? It cost Schoolly like $50,000. It was a nightmare. And meanwhile, “Signifying Rapper” is 50 million times better than “Kashmir” ever thought of being. And then, this prick [Page] turns around with Puff Daddy and redoes it for the Godzilla soundtrack. Here’s Puff Daddy, where every other song this boy sang was King Of New York this and King Of New York that. And I would never even fucking think of suing these guys. Why sue? You should be happy that somebody is paying homage to your work.”

Lotta good points there. First, there’s the whole aspect of what “sampling” really means. Wasn’t Page “sampling” Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson and others? Yes, Willie Dixon sued his ass at some point, making Page’s suit even more retarded…and Schooly D was certainly commenting on the Zep’s reckless appropriation when he decided to base a song around “Kashmir”. He’s smart like that.

Second, it’s messed-up because it seems directly related to Page playing on ‘Come With Me’. To me, it seems as if “Signifying Rapper” was wiped away as not to somehow compete or co-exist with Puffy’s “Kashmir”-sampling track. It becomes particularly egregious, as if someone really had a grudge against Ferrara because of course, Biggie called himself “Black Frank White” in reference to Ferrara’s hip-hop classic ‘King of New York’.

Third and most importantly, there’s the impact of “Signifying Rapper”s absence on Bad Lieutenant. Here’s a quick breakdown of how the context of certain scenes is shifted minus Schooly.

Scene I: “Get back, police activity!”

As the Lieutenant runs down the street, the Zep rip-off riffs of “Signifying Rapper” expand and compress in the background. A group of young black kids, one of which just handed off drugs to a moving car, run away from the Lieutenant. He chases one into an apartment and at the top of the steps, the chase stops. It was a ruse; the Lieutenant’s a customer (and occasional supplier) for the kid. The scene’s dark humor, it’s clever reversal of expectation (movie-wise and racially) is furthered as the Lieutenant shuts-up a complaining citizen as he takes a few hits from a crack pipe.

At first, you hear the super-identifiable ‘Kashmir’ riff and it maybe reads like some bad-ass theme for the white cop. Rock n’ roll blaring as justice plows through. Then, Schooly comes in and the song becomes a typical, Hollywood “ghetto” atmosphere-setting song: You play rap when white characters go to a black area. Once the Lieutenant’s revealed to be enforcing little justice, the song merges the two, shown-to-be-false binaries (law/crime, white/black, rock/rap). This aspect’s easily glossed over because the song’s context shifts through the characters’ quickly changing dynamic, Ferrara doesn’t do any indicating.

Scene II: The Rape of the Nun
One of the best thing about Bad Lieutenant is that it’s essentially plotless. Simply structured around a couple of days in the life of this wreckless character. Of course though, there are some threads to hold the flashes-of-daily-life moments together, namely the Lieutenant’s investigation of the rape of a Nun.

Ferrara presents the rape fairly respectfully. Although it is explicit, it is not gratuitous and it has an over-stylized feeling to it. Bizarrely idyllic, glowing light, strange slow-motion. It’s an odd choice but it works, almost like the movie’s trying its hardest to not succumb to the perversion playing-out across the screen.

A Virgin Mary falls to the floor in slow-motion. The entire scene is bathed in red light. Purposefully pretentious shots of Christ wailing interrupt the action. It’s sort of surreal and kind of reminded me of Alex’s biblical sex fantasies from A Clockwork Orange. Originally, this scene was accompanied by “Signifying Rapper” but on the DVD, it’s replaced with classical music. This is a real shame because the super-obvious visuals are moved into pretension by the music. In the original version, “Signifying Rapper”‘ acts as counterpoint to the super-serious religious imagery and was meant to complicate the scene.

Scene III: Walk To See the Nun
A long, wandering hand-held following shot of the Lieutenant as he navigates the hallways of the hospital to talk to the raped Nun. The most obscene part of “Signifying Rapper” blasts in the background, Schooly’s insults fully clear because there’s no real-life sound or dialogue to mask it. An explosion of raucous obscenity rumbling around in the Lieutenant’s head that also invokes the nun rape from earlier. This is a great example of how the movie loses nothing with the song removed, but how it gains so much with it added in there.

Scene IV: End Credits
The DVD version ends with a Dylan-esque song performed by Abel Ferrara but the movie originally ended with “Signifying Rapper”. The Schooly song, when the movie wraps-up, feels like the Lieutenant’s theme, a final explosion of aggression and confidence before the movie’s over. That it works more effectively than an actual “theme” written for the movie is telling.

Additionally, the previous two appearances of “Signifying Rapper” in the movie are jarring: The movie switches to a new scene as the drums and riff kick-in. Here, at the movie’s end, the song has a jarring but more organic, non-shock cut oriented appearance. A kind of semi-polite coda for the ultimate hard-ass. This works well, as it’s the Lieutenant’s final moment. It isn’t glorious but it’s not not glorious either. He’s not a likeable character, but he’s fully-exposed (literally and figuratively) and there’s an intimacy the viewer feels with him.

Written by Brandon

July 30th, 2009 at 4:54 am

Posted in Schooly D, movies

How Big Is Your World? New Rap.

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-”Everybody Raise Up” Z-Ro & Chill

A Z-Ro song about convergence and community instead of isolation and depression. Funny thing is, the same stuff that usually sends Z-Ro to his four-cornered room (dead friends, unjust political system, crooked cops, triflin’ girls, general bullshit), here drums-up an anthemic demand to come together, every bit as dead-serious as the usual thoughts of paranoia and suicide. Sure, Z-Ro sending out a slightly healthier, productive message is something, but it’s the hook here, the plethora of voices behind Z-Ro’s anthemic demand that turn it into something mildly transcendent. You get Z-Ro’s signature mumble but there’s some high-pitched squeaky dude in there and what sounds like an entire block repeating the message too. Like the Houston version of Hardcore crew vocals or something.

-”Ego Trippin” Gucci Mane

Gucci wandering around on Zaytoven’s tiny fireworks explosions of synths shouldn’t be fascinating still, but it is. This could’ve easily been one of those joyous Gucci verses, where he’s being especially silly and rubbery with his raps, but instead he raps from the back of his throat. Gucci’s nose always sounds stuffed-up, but here it’s like he’s got laryngitis or something. But the more he raps, he digs his way out of it and sounds excited to sing the chorus, which is about how exciting it is that he’s got a song with Snoop. And then we never get the Snoop part. And my guess is when this song shows-up in full, with a whatever whatever Snoop verse, it’ll lose something. Like the idea of Snoop is exciting or Gucci’s idea of Snoop is exciting and infectious and that Gucci’s enthusiasm for rapping with Snoop is better than the reality. The big line here is Gucci’s demand to “Stop that ego-trippin’ man” which you know, is good advice–Gucci’s version of “Hang On To Your Ego”–but this has been Gucci’s M.O forever really. He just raps. A lot. Modestly.

-”Ain’t Nothing Else To Do” Gucci Mane

“Ain’t Nothing Else To Do” is almost too easy to analyze: A desperate, capitalistic, nihilistic cry/celebration of making money and buying shit because well, that’s all there really is to do. Gucci though, adds another level of confidence to the thing, as it’s not only that there’s nothing “else” to do but that he’s got nothing else to “prove”. A rarefied, top-of-the-world alienation quite different from say, Kanye’s. When you read those old-ass stories of totally working class dudes in the late 1800s that struck oil or found a shit-ton of gold and had more money than they knew what to do with (literally), so the rest of their life was a bit miserable and really decadent, their attitude was probably similar to Gucci’s…on this song at least. Those guys were “new money”, provincials (everything American that’s interesting stems from provincials) that didn’t fit anywhere. And it’s the same mix of pride and continued awkwardness a guy like Gucci feels being a slowly-growing superstar that still won’t ever make sense to a huge part of the rap world. If Jack McCann from Nic Roeg’s Eureka were a rapper.

-”Helpsomebody” Maxwell

There’s almost like, no production on the new Maxwell album. Not in the sense that it’s lo-fi, just that there’s something oddly pure and direct and wreckless about BLACKsummers’night. Precedents are previous Maxwell records (duh), and D’Angelo’s Voodoo, but shit like Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock too–echoes of Talk Talk’s “Ascension Day” when “Helpsomebody” cuts-off just as it’s ready to explode. Raw smoothness. Jagged but super-clean. David Drake referred to the weird anti-production style as “an almost underwhelming live-performance feel” and that comes about as close to words as describing whatever the fuck is going on inside of this record. There’s nothing necessarily “new” here, but buzzing whirring guitars and rumbling basslines–this is like a 90s indie rock neo-soul record–and perfect punches or horns and organs all build around one another into something that feels. Dunno, it just feels. The personal is the political and vice versa on here too–a nice diversion from navel-gazing “all about me” rap & B.

-”Makin a Livin” Scottie B

Baltimore legend Scottie B flips the flipped-a-million-times “Heaven and Hell” from the 20th Century Band and makes it anew. You get that identifiable, hyper-empathetic “everyone’s got to make a livin” shout but he grinds the word-less rah-rah response back into itself over and over and over again. The recent–and by recent I mean, like nearly a decade–trend in Club music is a sort incessant cicada buzz of Lil Jon “Whut?!”s and “Hey!”s until the word and its sample origin become meaningless and fractured (like you’ll hear a loop of “Hey!” as a loop of “eyH!”) and Scottie gives a classic break the same treatment. There’s something cosmic and zen or something when he reduces the loop to “children growin, women producin”–the bare essentials of life. “Makin a Livin”–off the My Crew Be Unruly LP out in a few weeks–is a justification for mining the same ideas and territory endlessly, if you know how to do it right. When the “Think” break drops at the end of a particularly elaborate loop of rhythms, it’s only “played-out” if you’re listening to Club music cynically…which you just can’t really do. Like all dance music, it’s beyond-words and shit.

*Sorry about the players…uploading problems.

Written by Brandon

July 28th, 2009 at 4:09 am

Pablo Escobar’s Dinosaurs

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Though it’s apparently been open for more than a year now, Hacienda Napoles, a theme park built on and around one of noted “drug lord” Pablo Escobar’s getaways, has been getting a lot of discussion the past few weeks. A kind of hard-edged human interest story meme. In many ways, Pablo Escobar’s sprawling 200-mile weekend retreat turned into a a kind of cocaine Dutch Wonderland is also a story of hip-hop.

Beyond a quick note about Rick Ross or Nas sometimes calling himself “Nas Escobar”, the coke-hero asshole that Escobar was and represents is a significant part of rap mythology. That Escobar’s estate is now a big, tacky amusement park park isn’t distasteful or even absurd, it’s damned pragmatic and contains some of rap’s weird, half-accidental politicism too. No other way to describe that than as something that’s quintessentially “hip-hop”. The weird mix of outrageous opportunism and shamelessness meeting up with some subtle but totally right there truth-exposing.

Escobar housed hippos–who since Escobar’s murder in 1993, hung around and multiplied–and a bunch of hulking dinosaur replicas and a bunch of smart opportunists cleaned the shits up, piped-in some jungle sounds and atmospherics and called it a theme park that’s charging something around $9 dollars American money to enjoy. That it bizarrely though responsibly, also contains a museum detailing Escobar’s life and exploits, on the place where his big dumb mansion once stood, throws in a important piece of history that’s just a few degrees separated from some heavily controversial shit.

A personal favorite detail about Escobar, comes from Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance in which Escobar is noted as continually referencing a photograph he had of George Bush “posing with Medellin cartel leader Jorge Ochoa”–a photo that Esobar threatened to reveal “at the appropriate time”. Escobar was killed in 1993 and the photo’s never shown up, but whether or not it was real hardly matters. That we’re even discussing the possibility of a photograph (but really, all it’d entail, symbolically and factually) exposes the porous borders between “good guys” and “bad guys” that well, not a lot of amusement parks are really parsing out.

Not sure the extent of the history provided–most articles see this as simply “wacky” or plain distasteful and nothing more–but it seems to be framed around the slightly more complex than “crime doesn’t pay” message of “crime pays…for awhile”, and well, any kind of discussion of Escobar is wonderfully close to things like the C.I.A’s (alleged) involvement in cocaine distribution, the complex web of relationships between America and South America and the drug trade, and fascinating folk heroes like Los Pepes–themselves drug traffickers and sorta kinda do-gooders. Not a bad way to teach your kid about moral complexity…and he still gets to see some big-ass dinosaurs.

Written by Brandon

July 23rd, 2009 at 4:09 am

Posted in Nas, crack rap, drugs

Biographical Dictionary of Rap: Disco D

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“50 Cent’s “Ski Mask Way” is a track that’ll pop-up on college radio mix shows or in-between sets at a hip-hop show and it makes everyone just kinda feel weird. No one really knows whether to just stand still like “Okay” arms crossed because it’s a track from 50 Cent or to nod their head approvingly or go nuts over it. I’ve seen hands swing up and then drop back down when an entire crowd didn’t totally go wild for “Ski Mask Way”. For most people, “Ski Mask Way” is producer Disco D’s legacy and it isn’t a bad one.

So clearly rooted in the the hyped-up soul production of the early 2000s–Kanye and Just Blaze grabbing from Pete Rock, but Puffy too–”Ski Mask Way” is still a stand-out of the micro-trend that ended up major. Especially notable is the embrace of empty space, the confidence to stop, start, roll back, and push forward the dusty, squeaky O Jays vocals over and over again. There’s moments of this song where all the music stops, which is crazy. This is what happens though when you’re some goofy white kid DJ responsible for developing “Ghettotech” (or however you choose to spell it), one of the many hundred high BPM, spastic strands of regional dance music. Those clipped vocals, the complete ripping-apart of the track, especially in the last minute or so, when it’s just sort of this malfunctioning loop of keys, strings, and vocals, is the kind of production prowess honed mixing and cutting balls-out dance music.

That’s to say, while it makes more sense for a Ghettotech kid to have made Trick Daddy’s “I Pop” , “Ski Mask Way” is operating similarly when it comes to warm, wizened open-space. Even the execrable “Popozao”, the first sneak-peek we got of Britney Spears ex Kevin Federline’s music career was mind-bogglingly, subtly, weirdly catchy. And contains the very same comfort in absence.

Or just think of it this way: Disco D got 50 to quote Goodie Mob. That a wonderfully goofy white kid DJ made the gulliest–and most soulful–track on 50 Cent’s otherwise hedge-betting The Massacre is an oft-noted irony, but it’s not really an irony at all. Disco was responsible for “Ghettotech”, as I already mentioned, and he was one of the many DJs of the early 2000s to get really into music from Brazil…but he briefly married some Brazilian Playboy model, which is some weird form of authenticity, right?

Committing suicide as your career’s just warming up is a weird form of authenticity too though. For an overview of Disco’s career and a piece of music journalism you’ll print-out and pour over for years to come, check out Adam Matthew’s “The Death of Disco” from the July 24, 2007 issue of The Village Voice. The producer/DJ/entrepreneur (like actually, not just a guy who jumped onto some weird trends, some of his business plans were prophetic) suffered from bipolar disorder and it ultimately led to his suicide in January of 2007. It’s real easy to reduce people to symbols when they commit suicide, but Disco seems to represent so many troubled, trying-to-cope suburban but not really suburban white kids that are into hip-hop. “Authenticity” doesn’t truly enter the picture ever in hip-hop, but there’s a deep, hardened sense of dejection and tough-minded realism that makes so many kids gravitate towards hip-hop. Whether the stuff 50 Cent or much better rappers describe in their songs hits home directly, it’s the carefree nihilism that only develops when you first, really, really care about like, everything, that bleeds through hip-hop and makes it “authentic”. There’s shit at-stake in hip-hop. Disco D knew this and he put it in those rap beats he made that are worth something.

Disco D hanged himself in his parents’ home eight or nine days before my best friend shot himself in his apartment. Mike made beats too. A lot of them. But they never got fully completed. He’d always stop and move on once they were a skeleton, a fairly complex skeleton with crumbling vocals or some super crazy organ flourish he’d tossed-in but a skeleton nonetheless. A great Mike story is him getting an organ from some old couple advertising it in the paper and then kinda sorta intimidating them into giving it to him for cheaper when he got there. Every beat hovered around 60% finished and then he stopped altogether really. He was pretty hopeless about the beats being much more than “okay”. You couldn’t even tell him why they were good or oh-so-close to being really good. He’d already decided they weren’t that good. Fucking asshole.”

Written by Brandon

July 21st, 2009 at 4:50 am

City Paper: "Bigger Than Baltimore" (Bmore, Philly, & Jersey Club)

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So, my real big article on Club music’s different strains in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Jersey is up over at City Paper. It’s part of the yearly “Big Music Thing” and I’m really psyched to have gotten so much space to try to figure out the “differences” between each city’s version of Club music. Thanks to Michael Byrne, City Paper’s Music Editor for thinking of me to do this and Arts Editor Bret McCabe for some crucial help on this thing. Also, Sasha Frere-Jones’ quick excoriation of each city’s Club sound was the starting point for this article.

And big thanks to all the people I interviewed, DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones, Scottie B, Emynd, DJ Sega, and DJ Tameil. Sega and Tameil even drove down to Baltimore together to talk to me which was beyond helpful. I hope I did everybody well in this thing:

“Club Music is the new hip-hop!” Philadelphia’s DJ Sega howls his mini-manifesto in Rod Lee’s Club Kingz record store in downtown Baltimore, then laughs. “I wanna get a shirt made that say that shit.” DJ Tameil, of Newark, N.J.’s Brick City Bandits, grins in agreement.

Give it a few years, maybe a generation, and Baltimore club may become the “new hip-hop.” Right now, the city’s homegrown dance music claims a Billboard-charting jam from one of its OG producers, steady interest by music fans worldwide, and burgeoning, autonomous scenes nearby. It’s called “Brick City club” in Newark, “party music” in Philadelphia. To Doo Dew Kidz vocalist Jimmy Jones, however, it’s just called club. “Keep it as ‘club,’” he says. “It don’t make sense to call it ‘Baltimore club’ or anything else. It’s club.”

Scottie B, co-founder of Unruly Records and one of the city’s most fervent club ambassadors, is wry about the name tiff. “You know when people get mad, though?” he asks. “When you brand something that’s already something and brand it something else. Tameil’s branded it through his name–he’s bigger than Brick City. [Philly] started calling it ‘party music’ because New York’s first, Philly’s second, Baltimore’s third, and you can’t go up the chain. Philly’s not gonna call anything Baltimore something.” Fair enough.”

Written by Brandon

July 15th, 2009 at 11:06 pm

How Big Is Your World? New Rap Songs.

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-”D’ough” Unladylike

There’s a really weird Baltimore Club influence running through Unladylike’s totally-ignored album Certified and who knows how or why it happened. Cynically, the slow-burn hype of someone like Rye Rye might be to blame–it’s clear Unladylike’s label has no idea what to do with them–but it totally works because it’s the grab from anywhere fun of Club with those Lil Jon Yeahhhhs popping-up or the song that samples Four Non-Blondes (yes.) and here, some samples from The Simpsons. Neither of the girls in Unladylike are rapping particularly well on this track–it’s kinda too slow and minimal for them–but they can rap well when they want to and this track is more about like, fuck-it-all weirdness anyway. Tee wins out for being completely bizarre, sorta yelping out her brag-raps and kicking the verse off with two Simpsons references back to back.

-”You’re Not My Girl” Ryan Leslie

Who knows what’s going on in Ryan Leslie’s brain. “You’re Not My Girl” quotes or re-interopolates (?) “Another One Bites the Dust” the same way Leslie grabbed Maroon 5’s sound for “Quicksand” off his slept-on self-titled from early in the year. Then, he fills in all the open space of the imminently head-noddable bump with arcade machine synth noises and a ton of other weird sounds.Call it super elegant electro-funk or symphonic synth R & B. Think there’s a harpsichord or a keyboard set to “Harpsichord” in there somewhere. Leslie basically makes songs with three or four different pieces, any one of which would be enough for a hit, but crammed together, one after another, it becomes oddly underwhelming. In part, because R & B right now’s kinda like Hair Metal was in the 80s–a whole bunch of unmemorable shit and then the most killer chorus in the world–Leslie’s not very popular. There’s too much good stuff in his productions. He also has an awesome, terrible habit of taking typical R & B topics (girls on the side) and either refuting them or as he does here, singing about all the awkward and complex shit that swells up inside these kinds of affairs.

-”Fuck Da World” Diamond

Nihilistic raps like this never get old but it’s automatically more interesting because it comes from a female rapper, rapping about her feelings (or lack thereof) in precisely the same way a depressed dude rapper would do it. It’s not that female rappers–or females in general–don’t have these feelings, it’s that they’re sorta not allowed to express them, but the entire P.ardon M.y S.wagger tape, beginning with the title, runs circles around gender expectations wrecking them and recontextualizing them, so Diamond can get away with it. Too many sad-sack lines to highlight here, but when Diamond apologizes to her (miscarried) seed is well, damn. The part about hoping the plane she’s on would crash so then people actually react to something is similarly “wow” and captures the jumble of pathos and self-obsession rolling around inside suicidal thoughts. This verse has the same air of desperation Diamond had when she spit about missing a dude on “Circles”, just she’s extended it to Scarface or Z-Ro territory.

-”I Wish You Were Here” Ghostface featuring Tre Williams

Almost picked “Redemption”, the meaty intro track from the kind of a Wu Tang album Chamber Music because it perfectly illustrates the Revelations’ smooth jaggedness, but “Wish You Were Here” does that too–and it has rapping. Revelations vocalist Tre Williams usurps the song at the mid-point and doesn’t give it back and “I Wish You Were Here” is better for it. Like The Delfonics (or “Delphonics” as they’re credited) pushed Ghost to the side and just totally took over “After the Smoke Is Clear” off Ironman. Good to hear Ghost avoid his much-smarter but more boring crack-rap correctives of the past three years and dealing entirely in tiny details of normal life. Like how he describes cuddling after fucking (“it’s bright from the TV light”) or his super-sincere form of get-in-your-pants talk (“I get butterflies when we hug and kiss/Do you?”). Wu Tang’s increased interest in smothering the rap in their songs with like, extended R & B crooning or rap-psych weirdness, is old-head rap gracefully avoiding diminishing returns.

-”Spiritual Gladiators” Willie Isz

Part of the reason Willie Isz never goes the way of Gnarls is because it’s clear producer Jneiro Jarel hasn’t listened to any “hip” non-rock music since like 1998, so he’s forcing Drill n Bass (the skittering drums) and ominous atmospherics of Trip-Hop (an unidentifiable wheeze in the background, plinks of piano) and 80s loosely Gothic acts (the “some will fall” chant is so Bauhaus) into a hip-hop soundscape. Those sounds are way easier to incorporate into something still tinged with hip-hop because they were all dealing with some form of black music and these days, non-rap, smart-person pop music’s run screaming from black music (or “white” music influenced by “black” music) and so, there’s hardly any sub-genre discourse going on. Further collapse of a monoculture and blah blah blah, SFJ’s ‘A Paler Shade of White’ etc. Khujo kills these kinda rap tracks because he doesn’t feel the need to get extra-anything on them, he just raps unintimidated.

-”Vultures Descend” Greymachine

This song isn’t very impressive, but it gets the job done. Or maybe it’s really good and it just comes too loaded with context. It’s easy to imagine chill alt-bros in Isis hoodies thinking noise and genuinely fucking heavy guitars is next-level when it’s really kinda some sad attempt at Kevin Drumm or something. Nothing in metal, especially “avant-metal”–like hip-hop, metal’s inherently avant-garde–has been all that good since Sleep’s Jerusalem but okay, here we go. There’s a killer riff hidden in this thing, it’s catchy, like Land of Lurches or the good Merzbow stuff is catchy–it inexplicably grabs hold of your ears, it not all din and thud that turns to background music. The blast of drums about four minutes in and the post-metal guitar riff a minute later are genuinely transcendent. And it’s the clear merging of two bands’ sounds: The drums of Justin Broadrick, the emotionally-manipulative guitars of Isis.

Written by Brandon

July 13th, 2009 at 4:01 am

iPOD Journal


Sorry–been a bit busy with some other writing endeavors that are long-term and keeping me away from blogging but will be totally worth it when they finally show up. For the moment, I’ll point you towards a weird, who-knows-what-it-will-mean Tumblr project I started a couple weeks ago: The iPOD Journal. I’m figuring it out as I go along and I guess I’m still waiting to see the effects/results if any of this kind of cataloging, but yeah–check it out. Joseph of Geek Down started his own too. It’s called EyePod, so check it out.

Also, I’m no longer associated with the website 41Yo.Com for a number of reasons I’ll get into at some point.

Written by Brandon

July 8th, 2009 at 4:49 am

Posted in iPOD

Bay’s Transformers 2 vs. Abrams’ Star Trek

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Even before the absurd racism rushing through the movie (A jive-ass robot…with a gold tooth…really?), Transformers 2 was problematic. We can start with the simple snobby point that it’s directed by Michael Bay, he of jingoistic characterization and imagery, or that it was based on a childhood cartoon that itself was pretty racist (something people keep forgetting) just now stretched to marketing-synergy extremes.

Still, simply by being so awesomely explosive and transparently, the party-dude of popular cinema, running down a checklist of audience-pleasing turns and self-justifying thematics, Bay is often sorta celebrated. Armond White’s review summed up a near healthy contrarian take on Bay–his review begins “Why waste spleen on Michael Bay?”.

As cool as it is when a notable part of the media jumps on some actually racist shit, it’s as much because Bay’s an easy target as it is actual social/cultural indignation. That Transformers 2 was vilified for its racial hard-headedness and Star Trek not celebrated for its pop-racial sophistication on this front, sorta negates any “searing” critiques of Bay’s directorial choices. Had Abrams’ Star Trek–written by Roberto Corci and Alex Kurtman (the same two guys behind Transformers 2) and the big, dumb, franchise blockbuster before Transformers 2 stomped onto the scene–not arrived just two months ago, White’d be right. But he’s not.

The differences between the movies are clear and fun to list: Meghan Fox’s bland beauty vs. Zoe Saldana’s rarefied allure, Bay’s leadfooted action cutting vs. Abrams’ embrace of hand-held chaos and roving single takes, the tension of saying “I love you” between Spock and Uhura vs. Mikaela’s cunty frustration with Sam for not uttering those words, the dopey slapstick of Transformers vs. the from the original series dead-pan weirdness. All of these show Star Trek to be both more artistically and socially sensitive than Transformers 2.

In part, this begins with the original show’s conceit and the decision to comment or not comment on it. In fact, both directors are essentially “faithful” to the original properties. Bay decided to continue the selfish excess of the 80s (it makes sense as little kids, we loved Transformers, we were 5 yr. old selfish pricks) and Abrams kept-in all the goofball sincere multi-culti 60s stuff of the original Star Trek. When it’s 2009 though, and you’re doing this, recontextualizing an old time-capsule piece of popular culture, it becomes political. It just does.

There’s a scene in Star Trek in which Kirk (at this point a stowaway on the ship, and a total jerk) and Sulu, along with a particularly gung-ho crew member, sky-dive (or something) onto the Romulan’s ship. Waiting to leap down, this gung-ho third member is bouncing up and down, full of adrenaline and hubris–in short, he’s a character from a Michael Bay movie–as Kirk and Sulu look at him strangely, maybe even sadly. Once they leap, he continues shouting extreme-sports platitudes, and eventually, misses the intended target and gets burned up in the Romulan ship’s jets. This scene illustrates what would happen if a Michael Bay character got dropped into Abrams’ more studied and realistic (for an action movie) world.

Abrams’ perspective in this scene is of course, made more complicated by the character of Kirk, ostensibly the movie’s main character and one defined by his daring and arrogance. That’s to say, a lot of the time Kirk acts like a Michael Bay character himself and so, having a scene in which a complete arrogant goon vs. a kinda arrogant goon is destroyed by his arrogance is brilliant. It’s all about the tiny little details.

Early in the film, we see a very Bay-like flashback to young Kirk stealing his step-dad’s car and speeding across a golden, Mid-West vista (it’s essentially awful, like, right out of a Bay movie) and it’s followed up by a later scene in which a drunk Kirk hits-on Uhura and gets in a fight. What would happen in most movies is that this early awkward assholism would be rectified or shifted to something resembling sensitivity and Uhura, despite her initial disgust for Kirk, would grow to love him…or at least sleep with him.

Not so much in Star Trek, as Kirk never gets “the girl”. A scene in which he’s shown making-out with a girl at Starfleet Academy is presented as fairly loathsome, sad, even robotic. Even more crazy is that it’s Spock who “gets the girl”. This shift is not only a “clever” re-up of an old series, but a mindful shift in sensibilities. Abrams’ Star Trek rejects Kirk the jerk in favor of Spock’s hyper-sincerity. When the movie ends with the famous “Space…the final frontier” and it’s spoken by the aged voice of Leonard Nimoy–we’re not working with clever revisionism but an ethical improvement on the past.

To base the movie around poetry-reading, In Search Of…-hosting Nimoy vs. the chintzy, hair-pieced, ego-tripping Shatner (the movie’s Kirk, when he’s at his worst, most selfish, acts Shatner-like) is fascinating. Cynics might chalk this up to some kind of “wussification” of American culture or something, but they’d be missing the nuanced evolution of Kirk’s character–both a core decency he clearly gleaned from his father (who we meet before we meet Kirk) mixed with a fuck-it-all sense of confusion a very specific kind of American radical individual feels.

Even at his worst, Kirk’s never the gung-ho asshole incinerated by a Romulan ship, but it’s through experiences on the Enterprise and the interaction with the ethnically diverse crew that he (and all of them) come together. This is where Star Trek’s wizened and realistic understanding of patriotism usurps Michael Bay’s U.S of A. belligerence.

Where characters and images in Bay’s movie act as short-hands to re-instill played-out, long-internalized values, Star Trek seeks to remind Americans of the importance of plurality and understanding–the rejection of black and white for grey. The Enterprise begins as a sort of “Team of Rivals” and they slowly come to realize their similarities. The merger of Spock and Kirk is, when it finally becomes civil, simply pragmatic, but from that pragmatism it spins into something lasting, true, and worthwhile. Differences are more than accepted, more than celebrated, they’re seen as vital.

In this sense, Star Trek indeed, functions like a product of filmmaking or television from the progressive 60s or 70s–what Pragmatic philosopher Richard Rorty called, “platoon movies” (100). Platoon movies, Rorty explained, were a byproduct of the pre-60s (pre-P.C) left and “showed Americans of various ethnic backgrounds fighting and dying side by side” (100). About the only other successful “platoon movies”, that’s to say, not movies simply playing on this trope of an ethnically diverse crew working it all out, but really internalizing it, that I can think of in recent years would be Wes Anderson’s movies–especially The Life Aquatic.

The movie itself is pragmatic, both giving viewers what’s necessary (a ton of action, Saldana in her underwear, bad jokes, old-show reference irony, ethnic jokes) and flipping the script in weird ways, as to never topple over from the unfortunate stupidity necessary for a big-budget movie. Notice the way it glosses over the alien races or nearly pushes all characters not Spock or Kirk to the side, all the while maintaining their humanity…not in a quest to maximize whiteness on the screen, but to treat diversity as a foregone conclusion of life. Abrams is not interested in “other”-ness, even the villains though darkened and evil-ized, get a decent enough reason for their actions beyond simple “evil”–precisely the kind of primitive value system that is literally Bay’s meal ticket.

Just as Michael Bay’s Transformers 2 begins its second week of hyper-visibility, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek makes its way to your city’s “dollar” theatre. The decision to see Star Trek maybe again, maybe a third time, over Transformers 2, is not only financially savvy and aesthetically wise, it’s ethically prudent too.

-Rorty, Richard. “Achieving Our Country”. First Harvard University Press, 1999.

Written by Brandon

July 1st, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Posted in film, movies