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Archive for August, 2009

How Big Is Your World? New songs with rapping on them.


-Kristmas “Dopeman Girlfriend”

Reason number 1,0781 why the music industry failing is a bummer: If these incredible motherfuckers in Huntsville were doing this in say, 1995, a dude like Kristmas’d have a minor victory masterpiece album out, and not a couple of mp3s floating around. Notice how despite the “spoiler alert” title, Kristmas spends the entire first verse building to the revelation that indeed, he’s “fuckin’ the dopeman girlfriend”. Verse two focuses on the why’s of it, namely framed around the ways said dopeman’s girlfriend is ignored–implicitly elaborating on the thing NPR types would often cite about The Wire, that indeed dope-dealing is a full-time job.

There’s even a cool sense of complex morality to Kristmas’ tale, when he devilishly admits in verse three that he “know[s] every stash spot in the house” (and apes Mims’ “This Is Why I’m Hot” flow for some reason?) but adds, “[he] could rob the nigga but that’s not what [he's] about”. That’s a kind of Goines-ian understanding of the roundabout morality amongst thugs. And lastly, there’s a level of suspense throughout the song. Because it’s totally of the gangsta rap storytelling tradition, you’re waiting for the twist or the part where it goes bad–it’s especially ratcheted-up when he mentions going out to get “a bite to eat” with her–but it never comes, though you assume it will eventually. It isn’t often that a rap song has a life beyond the start and end of the beat, but “Dopeman Girlfriend” does. Word to Traps ‘N Trunks for putting Huntsville, AL: Rocket City together.

-Lil Wyte “I’m Da Bad Influence”

Alright! New Lil Wyte–which means weirdo white-trash reality raps and a bunch more beats from DJ Paul and Juicy J. This one’s hardly an evil synth stomper or an ugly-elegant Willie Hutch flip, it’s a kind of blissed-out, on-painkillers whine of 70s Zombie movie synths. Or like, Boards of Canada in a slowly-dying cassette player. Or the music from some old-ass PBS documentary peppered with skittering drums. Seriously, the sample’s gotta be one of those three or Paul and Juicy spent some syruped-up night fucking with filters on a keyboard until it sounded like any or all of the stuff described in the previous three sentences.

And Lil Wyte brings some funny and poignant lines to this thing, in his deceptively unlistenable flow–that’s to say, if you power through your first listen, you’ll really dig his cracker shout rap. Doesn’t he beat Drake and Kanye and Wayne and all these faux-cocky rappers at their own game when he croaks out, “When I make 10 million, I’m gonna turn into a fuckin’ jerk”? Is he even bragging there? He’s sort of just saying it as an inevitability or like, a fairly deep understanding of his–and most people’s–low-brow fate. This is that kid that your bus in middle school had to go way out of its way to pick-up all, the kid you fuckin’ clowned for wearing Spaldings and not Nikes, grown up and rapping desperately.

-Beanie Sigel ft. Omilio Sparks & Freeway “Where’s My Opponent?”

A song all about the build-up before heads are cracked, literally or figuratively via hard-ass raps. Contained quiet before the storm. The clacking about-to-pop-off beat is there enough to sound ominous and shit, but spare enough that Sparks, Freeway, and finally Beans, can rap however they like around it. Sparks, well he raps like Sparks, Freeway predictably ups the energy though he’s wisely reserved a bit, gritting his teeth and then Beans almost whispers kill-you lines–all three verses punctuated by a regal, mob boss rhetorical, “where the fuck is my opponent?”.

The genius of this track is how it never explodes or even comes close, energy-wise. It peaks with Free, his dependable fervor supported on each side by quiet, seething, James Caan grimacing before he pops you, Deniro staring straight ahead as “Sunshine of Your Love” plays, verses from two buddies from the Roc days. There’s the feeling of a cipher on the track, which is all a “posse cut” has to have–it doesn’t need to be an event or even a “banger”, it just needs to sound awesome and be scary and destroy.

-Jay Z ft. Kanye West & Rihanna “Run This Town”

Best use of bird squawks in a rap song since The W’s “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)”. Anyways, obviously putting a Beans song with some old Roc members on it right above this half-successful jam makes a statement about what in the fuck Jay Z is or isn’t doing in 2009–there’s also a Jay diss on the new Beanie by the way–but it’s important to realize this is still a fairly thrilling rap song for the radio. That Rihanna almost works on a militant clomp of a beat (pianos pounding, some Rave-esque wave of vocals, clunky guitar) like this is something and a reminder of how weird pop music is right now. Really everybody, there’s a thing called radio and most American popular music listeners still get their music that way and you should listen to it every once in a while, if only for that reason.

For about the fifth time in the past year, Kanye runs away with someone else’s song, capturing the kind of bitter feeling of victory that Jay Z once embodied and rode for an entire album on The Black Album but now only does in interesting ways on internet teasers for MTV specials from the backseat of some presumably, fly-as-fuck car–oh wait, that clip’s from 2001. Back to Kanye, who has never been a great rapper but seems to be interested in having his words rhyme and embracing the very special ways that rap can hold up two disparate ideas at once. The line about requesting “no photos” while he’s in church is really loaded and just good writing–hinting at a particularly grotesque violation of privacy, even as he brags about fucking girls just a few lines before.

-Barnes “5 In the Mornin”

A whole thesis on the shifting concerns of hip-hoppers could stem from Baltimore rapper Barnes’ rewrite of the Ice T classic–Barnes drops “a bag of Indo”…Ice T lamented not having time to grab his “old-school tape”. But not really, because the whole song’s basically about what that fucking dropped bag of indo means to the dude. The repeated line that builds in meaning is, “I never had no motherfuckin’ indo to smoke”.”5 in the Mornin” is about how this 5am arrival of the Feds forces him out the back window, resulting in the dropped bag of weed, which is not only a bummer for the obvious reasons but because it represents like, awful, terrible waste to him.

That’s to say, even at his relative level of wealth, Barnes remembers back when he was “broke” and “never had no motherfuckin’ indo to smoke” and so, dropping it is like palpable waste, which is quite different than the “blow” that’s flushed out of necessity, or the girls he proudly refuses to “give a fuck” about. It’s all about that dropped indo–as it should be. This is a weird song because it’s so brief and it’s barely even a structured rap song–just a series of terse, repeated, rhyming couplets that resonate through repetition with a forgettable, kinda-verse sandwiched between them. It works though. From the first installment of AllBmoreHipHop’s “Block Work” mixtape series.

further reading/viewing:
-”Thursday, August 30th, 1923″ by Virginia Woolf
-”Three 6 Mafia’s Cracker Protege Returns” by Tom Breihan
-Zach Baron from Sound of the City on Jay Z’s “Off That”
-Scene from Thief
-Scene from Goodfellas
-Newsarama Interview with James Stokoe

Written by Brandon

August 28th, 2009 at 9:20 am

Pulp & History: Inglourious Basterds & District 9

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The intersection of movies wrestling with atrocity and the top-grossers of the week’s a rare occurence, but Inglourious Basterds and District 9 occupy the #1 and #2 spots respectively, while swiping some of pulp’s grammar to engage with the Holocaust and South African Apartheid.

If either of these movies actively worked within pulp traditions properly or respectably, this would actually be an advance from the usual Oscar-bait historical tragedy movies that are way more apt to gross big money. Paradoxically, there’d be some sense of sophistication and breaking down of categorical thinking if lots of people were going to see artfully trashy concept pictures about history. Thing is, Basterds and District 9 run on the same “historically important” fumes as Schindler’s List or Cry, the Beloved Country. Namely, a kind of sleight-of-hand trick that grabs lots of chin-scratching, simply because it tries to take-on the most taken-seriously events of the last century.

And because both offer some kind of “clever” flip on the expected, they’re celebrated for basically being particularly egregious. Basterds removes all the the confusions–the how’s, the why’s, the what the fuck’s–of history for a loaded “what if”, while District 9, sets real-life history next to made-up history, devaluing the former and gaining “clever” points on the latter. District 9 though, is pretty easy to dismiss. In short, the sci-fi metaphor–maybe the only sci-fi metaphor, aliens=outsiders/immigrants–makes no damned sense when you set the movie in the very place that doesn’t even need a metaphor–because it all really happened there. Aliens as shit-class citizens along with entire groups of people also marked as shit-class citizens sorta moots the point. These movies are “compassion fatigue” flicks, wrapping important things around too-clever so they’re stupid conceits and pretending it’s insight.

Tarantino’s WWII pulp-epic/cinematic essay is far more respectful and healthily problematic–that’s to say, you’re not a dolt if you defend it on thematic terms–but it does have that one “District 9 moment”. It’s the aspect that Jonathan Rosenbaum cited (see “further reading” at the bottom, a new tiny feature I’m trying out) and it has to do with carving swastikas into the heads of that one Nazi they don’t kill (so that he may spread the word of the Basterds).

A kind of reversal, though really a parallel, to Nazi perversity, it has the effect of over-extending something that totally doesn’t need to be over-extended to resonate. Like the aliens in District 9, swastika carving is beside the point, not a reinforcement of that point. When the reality of the Holocaust is as equally horrifying as carved-on skin and one can pick your favorite fucked-up detail of death (Mengele’s experiments, gas chamber concrete walls scratched by fingernails), there’s no need to up the ante any.

Of course, excess is a big part of Tarantino’s movie–District 9 however, grows more confusing the more you try to parse it out–and so, this critique and those like it are valid but nearly besides the point. Still, the whole sense of essentially turning Jews into Nazis and Nazis into Jews, despite being mindfully uncomfortable, doesn’t so much wrestle with “revenge” as it just totally advocates it–something even the pulpiest of pulp rarely does. Undoubtedly, the best movies or “films” about revenge are well, about revenge: What it does or doesn’t bring, the time spent and wasted enacting it, etc. Flat-out, this refusal to embrace rarefied Nazi evil is a key to something resembling solace for many Holocaust survivors–and you just can’t push that to the side…and you can’t lean on the implicit thick-headedness of pulp to skate by either.

further reading/viewing:
-Adam Katzman on District 9 vs. The Host
-”Film Threats” by Bret McCabe of City Paper
-Jonathan Rosenbaum on Inglourious Basterds
-”Blues in More than One Color: The Films of Quentin Tarantino” by Stanley Crouch
-Elem Klimov’s Come & See (1985)

Written by Brandon

August 26th, 2009 at 11:29 am

Posted in Tarantino, film, movies

UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE: Lil Wayne in Raleigh, NC 08/08/09

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So, I was asked by a paper to attend the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ tour and review it, but then the piece never ran and no one will tell me why, so here it is. It’s a good reminder of why, despite rawk-star trappings right now, Wayne’s still wonderfully weird and the only guy to pull something like this off.-b

Following a fun, but perfunctory performance from Soulja Boy, and a head-down, straight rapping set from Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, the star of the “America’s Most Wanted Tour”, which came to Raleigh’s Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion a couple Saturdays ago, took the stage amidst a flurry of samples from Scarface and a screen projecting a psychedelic collage of eyeballs. The self-declared “best rapper alive” immediately let-out an unhinged freestyle (“Cannon”) before segueing into mega-hit, “A Milli…which is also an unhinged freestyle.

See, that’s the thing about Lil Wayne: There’s no difference between the rote (samples from a tough-guy rapper-approved classic, playing the hits) and the rarefied (a trippy eyeball video, endlessly thrilling nonsense raps)–it’s all awesomely muddled. This was a big, outdoor show where it often felt like the audience indulged the performer.

Because he’s at his best when he’s impulsive and scatter-brained, indulgence is less of a problem than it might seem. Remember, Wayne is a guy who–though he’s been rapping and making hits since the late 90s—carved out his one-of-a-kind path to pop stardom via quasi-official “mixtape” tracks that more often than not, consisted of hook-less, structure-less, oddball rapping. Part of the enjoyment of listening or seeing Wayne is the experience: the high-highs as well as the distracted asides.

Even though the performance was anchored in mixtape songs and hits from last year’s Tha Carter III, it was also mired in Wayne’s most recent whims, namely his underwhelming Young Money Crew—made more underwhelming here by the absence of breakout star Drake—and an interest in middling alt-rock, the apparent sound of Wayne’s upcoming album this fall, The Rebirth.

The Young Money Crew was easy to ignore, dropping in for a verse and rolling out, but nearly every song was revamped to fit Wayne’s newfound embrace of rawk. The transformation of well-known skittering beats to recycled butt-rock riffs isn’t as jarring or awful as it sounds, but it wasn’t great either and it didn’t help that right before, Young Jeezy expertly performed a set informed, but not reconfigured, by a live rock band.

Jeezy didn’t throw out the end-of-the-world stomping synths of his albums, he just had a band that tossed-in skronks of horns and slabs of guitar shredding overtop of them. Whammy-bar dangling, Jeezy’s guitarist punctuated “Who Dat”, a snarling beat from last year’s The Recession, with a chunk of strangled guitar, bringing a palpable sense of chaos to a purposefully no-frills, worker-bee rap performance.

And when the live instruments fully took over Jeezy’s set, it was at the end–a kind of coda to the Atlanta rapper’s show. Jeezy’s guitarist stepped forward and approximated Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which shifted into Jeezy’s Obama-inspired, “My President”. There wasn’t any rapping though, Jeezy thanked the crowd and walked away, letting an instrumental play out, back-up singers howling out the defiant, conflicted chorus: “My president is black/My lambo is blue/And I’ll be godammned if my rims ain’t too”. It was absurd and arrogant and moving all at the same time.

Wayne’s performance was entirely made-up of confusingly awesome stuff like that, bouncing between sensational and stupid and then blurring the line between the two. There were a few moments of stirring clarity, particularly an almost spoken-word (read: respectable) performance of “Let the Beat Build” that seemed to suggest the ease in which Wayne could put on a “good” show, but moments like that gained power precisely because other moments were so transcendently nutty.

He performed “I’m Me” with the word UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE flashing behind him, indulged in an especially raucous mini-suite of mindless raps (“I Run This”, “Always Strapped”) with Cash-Money mentor Birdman, and endlessly two-stepped around the stage, getting the crowd to shout back his nonsense couplets (“I’m a great dane, I wear eight chains!”). The show didn’t make a lot of sense but that hardly matters—Wayne’s adept at making something monumental from a mess.

Written by Brandon

August 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 am

Moving Image Source: The Devil’s Spawn, the MTV Legacy of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising

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So, over at the Museum of Moving Image’s website, a video essay by Kevin Lee and myself that investigates sixties underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s immeasurable influence on music videos is up. From Anger’s weirdo, Manson-family member scored Lucifer Rising to Hype Williams, back to 90s alt-rock and Wu Tang, to Hercules & Love Affair–all in nine minutes. Partially narrated in my fruity-ass voice. This video essay’s been awhile in the making and I’m glad to see it up and ready for viewing. Hope you enjoy it.

Big thanks to Kevin Lee for thinking of me and brilliantly editing and organizing the whole thing. You can watch it above or go to the website and watch it and read along. If you’ve never seen Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, well it is on Google Video.

Written by Brandon

August 17th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

How Big Is Your World? New Rap, you know the deal…*

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*Can’t find mp3s for two of these, so you just get some Youtubez links…

-Slum Village “Actin Normal”

Just from this song, it’s clear the return of Baatin was what Slum Village needed–then he died on us. Album to album, but really anything after Fan-tas-tic Vol. 1, SV got notably less loose. The exit of Dilla, and the embrace of Elzhi, an awesome but highly-technical rapper (in a sense, the anti-Baatin) didn’t help this much either. Though they probably needed something like success and conventionally-structured music in order to finally shift back into a blissed-out, hook-less, off-the-cuff sing-rap like “Actin’ Normal”. Even down to the grabbed-from-a-random-line title, this feels like “Pregnant” or something.

Nonsense love rap, lyrically obsessed with cartoon characters of the late 70s/early 80s, Baatin’s digressive from the first line rhymes run perfectly alongside Karriem Riggins’ mobius strip beat of soul horns and harp flutters (or something). Has some of the woozy victory of Kanye’s “We Major” or those times when boom-bap beatmakers dig-in and pull out a trippy, druggy loop of something or other instead of a finely-chopped, headphone-perfect banger. RIP Baatin.

-Cam’ron ft. Vado “Ric Flair”

DJ Drama and the “Gangsta Grillz” series are a shell of their former selves. For those that are into the obvious (Drama is annoying) or flat-out miss the point (mixtapes with sound effects aren’t easy to listen to), this probably doesn’t matter, but when a track like this begins with shouts and then fucking Vado gets a rewind on his first-line, we’ve entered a kind of perfunctory, going-through-the-motions mixing. But the song is called “Ric Flair”, has a mealy-mouthed awesomely complicated hook invoking the Nature Boy, has Cam’ron on it, and the beat’s a low-end ominous twinkle and that’s more than enough.

It’s time to accept Cam’ron’s just kinda over making regal bangers—it’s clearly a conscious choice. Dude’s always been honest, pathetically straight-forward–here’s a guy who touted his 2008 return by wandering around seemingly lost in dollar store army fatigues, gets clowned in his movie/ego-stroke by his lawyer, and gets out-argued by his girl in that one skit on Purple Haze–and so, he probably couldn’t keep dropping rule-the-world rap fantasies because he don’t feel that way anymore. Instead, you get these low-to-the-block sad-ish raps about nothing in particular but mainly how he still rules (enough) and nothing and nobody else (really) matters all that much.

-Robert Glasper ft. Bilal “All Matter”

Pianist Robert Glasper’s made his name in jazz by healthily interacting with contemporary hip-hop and R & B. That’s to say, he’s grabbing sonic ideas from the hip-hop here and there, but there’s no synthetic beats or wack MCs interrupting his wisely conservative approach to modern jazz. That may change with his new album, Double-Booked which is apparently split between a typical jazz side and a hip-hop influenced side (Mos Def is featured), but then again, the conceit behind 2007’s In My Element was its embrace of “hip-hop” and it worked just fine. Confusingly, this song, “All Matter” with vocals by Bilal is on the hip-hop side, so who knows.

The most hip-hop thing on “All Matter” is probably the drums, here not provided by drummer Damion Reid–as on In My Element–but Chris Dave. Reid in many ways, was the anchor of Element–as a jazz drummer should be–wandering around with double-time skitters and booming, almost boom-bap percussion. Dave’s lighter and tinnier, but in that sense closer to the electronic-informed drums of so much rap of this decade.

There’s also a lot more open-space here, which also reflects current hip-hop (the album also features some vocoder, it’s clearly talking to 2009) and it’s used expertly. The song slowly wanders between Bilal’s singing and Glasper’s piano-driven jazz wanderings. Try to ignore the usually stellar Bilal on this though. His lyrics, too thought-out, too mannered, are like some Sun Ra science/unity shit minus the grit and grime—a pretentious version of Everybody Poops. At the same time, there’s something deeply moving and sincere about Bilal’s vocals (what he’s saying, not so much) and a few listens in, it makes the song vital. Caught this thanks to Eric Tullis.

-Zomby “One Foot in Ahead of the Other”

There’s not been any discussion of dubstep on this blog, but I’m not sure why, as it’s fascinating, deeply regional, rap-informed music. Not sure how or if people dance to this, but it’s being made by a weird crew of quasi-provincials in parts of England and they seem to seeping-up all the sounds of 90s British “IDM”, the video games they grew-up with, and the auteur/producer weirdness of American R & B of the past five or so years. The shuffling, clack of drums is nearly always the skeleton and so, it reminds me of Club music with the “Think” or “Sing Sing” drums that’s then built upon and deconstructed over and over until it’s something new. That said, there’s something mannered about dubstep–again, are you supposed to dance to this?

Usually though, “mannered” is tossed-around on this blog as a negative descriptor, but it’s almost a delight to find music that’s imminently catchy and fun, but not designed for coke-head dance parties. The best thing Zomby does on this track is layer somewhat joyful blips and bloops around the idyllic shuffling, rainy-day-in-London evoking drum pattern. “One Foot Ahead of the Other” just keeps going, ever-forward but not fervently or aggressively, patiently and reserved–it’s appropriately titled. Imagine this scored to a particularly hazardous level of Adventures of Dizzy. It seems a song about getting through the day, the sucky parts and the kinda good parts too.

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

What They Gown Do? NOTHING.

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Rod Lee “What They Gown Do”

When I talked to DJ Sega and DJ Tameil in Rod Lee’s record store Club Kingz, Rod Lee hung out upstairs eating chinese food and blasting Gospel music that was like, the most soulful shit I maybe ever heard. To a lot of people, it might’ve seemed weird for one of the biggest names in Baltimore Club music to be listening to Gospel but that’s incorrect. As I just told y’all, the truly avant-garde, the actually balls-out creative takes some sideways, inside-out approach to its influences.

When vet Club producers discuss the difference between their shit and the kids all over the world trying their hand at their city’s weird music, the word “soul” comes up a lot: How much soul they’re music has, how much soul they put into it, how little soul there is in any music right now, how little soul there is in breaking-down the music of poor-ass Baltimore kids into a bunch of signifiers (horns, “Think” drums, stuttered-samples) and slapping a tag of “Bmore” on it. You get the point.

On “What They Gown Do”, all those signifiers are there for sure, but there’s more going on too. It’s a big evil anthem for not giving a fuck, an indirect way of calling pretty much everybody out there a big fucking pussy and an edifying piece of dance music about really giving a fuck. Rod gets cartoon gutteral and tells you, “Don’t let nobody take your pride, stand tall, right!?” Simple but direct…and universally smart advice all the same.

This song, from 2006’s Volume 5: The Official, maybe the only Club release that if you looked hard enough, you just might find in the cut-out bin of your local record store is pretty much the only thing I’ve been listening to this week. On the way to work on a loop and on the way back, each and ev’ry day–as Rod says it here.

Written by Brandon

August 11th, 2009 at 4:07 am

Madlib, Cutting-Edge Producer.


Noticed that Madlib’s on the cover of the latest issue of Wire magazine and this, coupled with the hub-bub about Passion of the Weiss’ whatever whatever “Top 50 Rap Albums of the 2000s” list has me thinking it’s 2003 again–when you know, making an argument for why rap that wasn’t exactly capital-R rap was just as awesome was a new enterprise or something. When I’d have to explain to people that got in my car that indeed, my enjoyment of Three-Six Mafia wasn’t just because I hadn’t yet been exposed to El-P and The Roots. It was years-festering frustration with that sort of thing that really got this blog rolling.

Anyways–why isn’t Zaytoven on the cover of Wire? Bangladesh for “A Milli” alone? Or if it’s legacy, well I already bitched about Juicy and Paul covering the magazine. Surely that shit’s roving around the sounds of Reich or Riley (and Rubin and Rick Rock and RZA too) much more than Madlib’s stoner boom-bap. Imagine Dilla without the craft or the context. The point is, rap’s really weird and awesome and still kinda folk-oriented because it’s often in the mainstream or close to mainstream that all the brain-busting stuff’’s going on.

That’s to say, totally normal people are dancing every night to the melancholy electronics and sound-effect percussion of “Turn My Swag On”…and obsessing over the wordplay of Gucci or Lil Wayne. Even something like the layers of corporate-sheen synths heard on a Runners track has more in common with a group like The Skaters (also featured in this month’s Wire) than Madlib’s stuff.

Ignoring this hyper-mainstream avant-garde or wandering around it to celebrate Grind Date or the mannered dystoproduction of El-P or the third-generation mumbles of Aesop Rock or MF Doom, is odd when an avant-garde and a sincerity deeper and kinder’s no longer bubbling up out-of-reach on cassettes and mixtapes but becoming the dominant musical force for the entire decade.

It’s similar to the critical think-pieces that highlighted “the death of irony” or a “new sincerity” in art during the 2000s as if being sincere and real, not being ironic, wasn’t how much of the world has lived for most of time. Suddenly, Madlib or El-P grafts some explicitly weird weirdness onto their beats and the motherfuckers doing this in their basement for years get pushed to the side. De La twirl around in their own assholes and people gulp it down like its Buhloone Mindstate. Huh?

This isn’t anything new, but it’s an extension of something connected to the significance of provincialism/regionalism–it’s always been the provincials that create that new new shit–and the reality that regular ol’ people are the ones setting trends and it’s the hip, cool, and with-it that follow.

Written by Brandon

August 8th, 2009 at 4:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Drake: First You Get the Hype, Then You Make the Controversy, Then You Get the Women…

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Upon hearing of Drake’s tumble, flashes of a kind of Putney Swope absurd, Wag the Dog cynical set-up rushed through my head: Drake never gets up from his fall, becomes a wheelchair-bound rapper, and the divide between actor Aubrey Graham, his character Jimmy Brooks, and his rap persona Drake completely melt away and he becomes an even bigger star. And really, a few days later, that sequence of events doesn’t even seem that far-fetched. The problem with Drake’s not that he isn’t very good, but that his every career move seems wrapped in the quietest of controversies and hype-building–never enough to alienate, just enough to maintain that crucial “buzz”.

This isn’t a surprise or anything, given the weird, new-ish media machine rolling through the radio and internets, but when Drake took that spill on-stage earlier in the week and it immediately became not only gossip/rap blog fodder, but a series of comments on just how Drake “took a chance” performing with a bad knee–as it it were all for his fans, and not the damage dropping-out of a tour just as he’s on the cusp would’ve done–we’re entering like, Entertainment Tonight style “reporting”–chunks of P.R thrown out there like they constitute an actual “story”.

A key to Drake’s success is the ability to consistently court mini-controversy and maintain a level of interest/hype almost completely separate from the music. And his injured leg is embodies this quite well. Though a deeply cynical/paranoid part of me could get into accusing it all to be faked, it certainly wasn’t. But what was at least, rather contrived is the contextualizing the fall as Drake’s devotion to his fans and whether intentional or not, the knowledge that anything sorta weird like dude collapsing is gonna have the internet going nuts.

So, Drake falling creates content for blogs, the possibility for exclusivity (who posts/gets the first picture or video of the collapse), and allows Drake to then talk/blog about the fall for the next few days, continually mentioning the tour, pushing his singles/album, and looking like a real trooper. Where, at one point, this sort of thing was an embarrassment or something to quiet down, it’s now an opportunity for some extra press. Not totally convinced this is even a bad thing, it’s certainly more honest (in a way), but this awkward embrace of “all press is good press” is strange nonetheless and something Drake’s an expert at using.

This kind of sub-controversy courting started at the BET Awards, where he performed “Every Girl”, along with the rest of the Young Money Crew, sitting on a stool for much of it, and towards the end, surrounded by pre-teen girls. The stool-sitting, presumably the first rumblings of his injured leg, but it had the odd effect of hinting–whether intentional or not–to his crippled character from Degrassi and also, both put him on the stage with the rest of the more swarthy Young Money and separated him just a little bit. It seemed to be saying, “Hey this is rap but it’s not rap either”.

The end of the performance too, surrounded by pre-teen girls, while ill-advised given the “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world” hook of the song, seemed to be again indicating Drake’s safe-ness (something he’s awesomely confident in). There are already plenty of Dads I’ve talked to that end up spending part of their night watching Degrassi re-runs with their ten year-old, pop-rap radio obsessed daughters precisely because Drake’s on the show. This is clever. While a sitcom in the vein of Hannah Montana starring Drake would never really work-out, with Drake, there’s already one, getting constant plays on paid cable.

The pre-teens surrounding him, was less a sexualization of pre-teens–though it most assuredly was that too–than a quick way of catering to a demographic hip-hop can rarely court so explicitly. That said, once the controversy started about the unfortunate combo of the pre-teens and “Every Girl”s chorus, a mini-controversy developed and that’s good for Drake too.

This after-the-fact, after-the-blog-hits apology is what Asher Roth courted, though in a more obnoxious way. When you have a label or even just a powerful A & R behind you, ill-advised Imus references on Twitter, critiques of “Black–African rappers”, or rocking a Larry Bird jersey, don’t become problems because nine minutes later, there’ll be something else to posted on all the blogs…and there’s no big-time media covering this shit anyway, so it hardly matters.

The next example, the video for “Best I Ever Had”, which while really brilliant–it looks great and continues director Kanye West’s interest in varied female body image–was clearly developed to confuse and bother a whole bunch of people. Again, not enough that anybody would come out poorly–this is Drake, etc. exploiting music fans’ and writers’ apathy and aversion to anything politically engaged–but just enough that it’d get some debates on Twitter or Facebook. With the setting of a high-school gym, there’s also again, bizarre, sideways hints at Drake’s come-up: Cornball Canadian soap Degrassi.

Drake though, is also sorta separate from the internet/blogosphere hype monster. Unlike Asher Roth or Wale or Kid Cudi, Drake’s struck a nerve with people; real actual people, some without wireless routers. He’s on the radio. Notice how even Cudi, who had a bonafide hit, weird enough to be cool but oddly catchy too, didn’t become ubiquitous or talked-about through “Day N Nite”–DJs didn’t even get his name right, they kept calling him “Kid Cooty”.

Being a child TV star presumably gave Drake some connections and being a Canadian child TV star helped him not become totally suspect, but he got some quick co-signs by rappers like Wayne and Kanye–and by co-signs, not in-your-face, on-the-spot video camera “Yeah he’s dope” asides like Asher Roth–and he knows when to shut the hell up. Probably because he began as an actor, we’ve not seen a lot of Drake Twitter or MySpace blog freak-outs, and probably because he has hits and isn’t quite as desperate for promotion of this kind.

And his songs are just better. Contrast “Best I Ever Had” or “Every Girl” with Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite”–the sole blog-rap hit. “Day N Nite” is an excellent song and one that secretly creeps up on your ears months later, but it’s a weirdo one-shot that’ll never happen again. The 2009 rap equivalent to Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”. The only difference being, in 2009, kids won’t be exposed to Cudi’s contrived but mind-blowing enough for twelve year old wandering sing-raps, they’ll grab the single off iTunes and never pick-up Man on the Moon (not that they could, it keeps getting delayed).

“Best I Ever Had”, a kinda cornball love-rap, Slum Village’s “Selfish” sucked of its weary experience, is still catchy and fun enough and “Every Girl”, wisely aligns Drake with a Lil Wayne and a crappy crew–but a crew nonetheless–providing the illusion that Drake’s not as ubiquitous as he really is–this song’s not Drake, it’s the Young Money Crew! None of these are masterpieces, but they aren’t trying to be either.

Drake though, besides having those hits–and a kiddie version of street buzz–has found a way to more casually keep people talking. He stumbles into controversies, he explicitly hints at his very uncool past, making him critic proof. It’s like, rather than not acknowledge the loathsome qualities of one’s personality, you might as well just sorta quietly flaunt it, and hopefully get some blogs blabbing on and on about it. Awesomely 2009 it seems.

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Drake, Lil Wayne

R.I.P Baatin.

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“Pregnant (Baatin)”

The story of Slum Village seems to me, to be in many ways the story of post-Golden Age hip-hop. Steeped in tradition but subtly bucking it and breaking it down until you had something new.

Working with the same blueprint as all those second-generation “real” rappers but minus the possibility of hit singles, so just choosing to get really insular and weird. Fantastic Vol. 1 is an absolute classic and it’s maybe what Tribe or De La would’ve made if the possibility of minor major stardom was completely out of reach and catchiness wasn’t something to even try to fuck with.

Baatin’s the clear star–rap wise–of all the SV albums he’s on, but especially Vol. 1 where the unhinged, stop-start, cloudburst of pop brilliance and then some trippy weirdness pattern’s pretty much perfect for his flow…and his attitude. Take “The Look of Love”, one of SV’s stone-cold classics, and a song that perfectly captures the group’s mix of the “conscious sound” with a beyond-healthy dose of ignorance.

“The Look of Love” sounds like a head-wrap love jam, but what’s stuck between the hook’s pure wanna fuck stuff. This is perfect though, the mix of the kind and aggressive, polite and destructive, smart and ignorant. This whirl of contradictions, anchored in that beyond healthy dose of ignorance could probably sum-up Baatin’s rap career and the personal life exposed in those raps as a beyond healthy dose of ignorance.

One of my favorites aspects of Baatin’s rapping style is how he can (could…) both expertly enunciate but also use his accent and like, the spit in the back of his mouth as a tiny little extra percussive device, again creating an odd tension between craft and emotion. You hear this on “Pregnant” especially.


Though Baatin’s influence certainly never left the group, well after his exit due to drug problems and a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, for better and worse, Baatin’s all over Detroit Deli, the first SV album after he left the group. There’s a palpable sadness and a wizened sense of empathy to Detroit Deli–the SV sound finally lining-up with the lyrics.

Still plenty of shit and fuck talk, but the moody, sadness of the production starts to align with the lyrics which work their way through disappointment. By 2004, when Detroit Deli dropped, Baatin’s mental issues and exit and Dilla’s leaving of the group and his illnesses were all realities. And it floats through the entire album.

Most telling is Detroit Deli’s closing track “Reunion”, intended to be a track that featured current members T3 and Elzhi as well as Dilla and Baatin. Baatin never made it onto the track, but they kept the “Reunion” title, giving it an angry but also palpably sad tone. Dilla begins his verse with “El and Tin killin them, 3 killin them…” as if it really is a reunion. T3’s verse wraps-up with a look to the future (“maybe we’ll reunite”) when maybe they can all finally rap together.

And then, there’s Elzhi’s verse, one of the most affecting and damned honest verses ever really…and now, a weird eulogy for Baatin. Groups like SV forever live their rap lives partially under the shadow of their influences but that’s really okay, because more often than not, SV were interacting verbally/musically with their heroes. “Reunion” is SV’s “T.R.O.Y” and Elzhi takes CL Smooth’s responses to the fuck-ups in his life further in terms frustration and his empathy.

The verse is transcribed below, because it needs to be, but that final line, of the verse, of the song, of the album, “Getcha mind right nigga”, a line full of straight-forward advice, friendly honesty (“Dude, figure your shit out”) and a hopelessness that’s communicated by the choked-up delivery, destroys. That’s a weird balance, really hating someone and really understanding them. In a way, it’s the balance of living and considering other people.

Yo, Tin killin ‘em, 3 killin ‘em
You thought we broke up and well you right we really did-
I wrote a verse that I recited, it was hot
But I had to rewrite ’cause I thought we was united and we not
And though, all the love that I got for you partner
I picked apart your words and I’m shocked,
In them interviews I’ve been accused of not caring
When the city threw your furniture out
It’s not fair what I’m learnin about
How stressed you feel in a article
Forget a rhyme, I’m just as real when I talk to you-
And you know that we share Kodak moments
I wish we could go back
But don’t act like you wasn’t buggin’ out like a phone tap
Chasing cars in the street
I saw you throw a part in the sink
Then after, hit the bar for a drink
Who asked you to slow down?
Even though niggas told me you was gone clown
But I tried, you didn’t know I cried
When I saw you wildin’ at the State Theater
Near the door by the side
Throw you in the trunk and find a preacher for you
Cause I thought you had unlawful demons on you
Sinkin’ fast in the deepest soil
Your parents finally got you some help
You came out seeming normal and
I heard you on medication
Had a illness you couldn’t heal with herbs and meditation
And believe me, Me and T3 kept it low
Don’t take this as a dis this is just to let you know that I love ya
But watch the company you keep
Swearin’ niggas don’t care, but they love you in the streets
Get ya mind right nigga…

Written by Brandon

August 3rd, 2009 at 5:14 am

Posted in Dilla, RIP, Slum Village