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Archive for January, 2010

How Big Is Your World? Good Rap from January.


-Fabo “Put Some Gik On It”

In every corner of whatever tinny, post-Snap beat he’s not quite rapping, not quite singing on, Fabo finds enough hooks and memorable melodies for five singles. It’s always infectious and really fun, because it’s just a guy kinda going off–only Fabo’s understanding of “going off” has nothing to do with what’s expected in rap music. It’s actually out of control and unpredictable. Every song is about being stuffed so full of drugs that you’re like, rolling around on the floor and drooling and spazzing out. Fabo goes there. On “Put Some Gik In It”, listen to those “agggh!” ad-libs all over the background of the track and how a few times they morph into stunning, wordless crooning–this lurching, sorta harmonizing he’s mastered at this point. And despite all the infectious silliness, he’s got a genuinely beautiful, emotive voice (makes sense that he references James Brown and the The Temptations on this song instead of other rappers) he just uses it towards a really personal, really goofy, really somber end.
-Yelawolf “Love Is Not Enough”

“What made it come to a stop?/Had to be the money issue.” Yelawolf’s really wrapped-up in working-class concerns and to exclusively focus on his technical abilities or his deep understanding of tradition or whatever, is a bigger disservice than pumping his raps full of some context. Speaking of context and tradition: From Rick James’ “Hollywood”, to Triple Six’s “Da Summa” and Devin the Dude’s “Anythang”, and now, “Love Is Not Enough”, Yelawolf’s tagging along on some sad-sack, Southern rap classics. Unlike those songs though, Yelawolf’s still in it, so he employs his elastic rapping style towards the song’s confused, drunk off Jack, speeding down the highway emotional chaos. His voice jumps forward in the verses, speeding through all the frustrating details of the relationship (“you began to lie to your parents”, the real or imagined college graduate she’s now dating) and suddenly slows-up on the hopeless hook. And it is hopeless, because it’s beyond world of the forms stuff like “love” or having things in common, it’s hard, touchable, but unmoveable things that ended his relationship: stuff like social class and economics.

-Rich Boy ft. Yelawolf “Go Crazy”

Let’s just get a whole album of Rich Boy rapping over Jim Jonsin’s kinda awesome, kinda stupid beats. At least a mixtape. These Jonsin/Rich Boy team-ups aren’t exactly radio-ready or nothing, they’re too slow, too murky, and weird–kinda what that group jj thought they were doing to Jonsin’s “Lollipop” on their song “Ecstasy”. You can’t even throw for-the-ladies concession accusations at these songs, they’re just these bizarre, slow-burning shit-talk tracks. Rich Boy just kinda combining cool-sounding words and phrases together, digging deep into his Alabama accent and grumbling out some raps. There’s also a kinda funny thing when Yelawolf dropkicks into this one, like suddenly there’s enthusiasm and energy there, not a kind of simmering disgust with any and everything. As a result, Rich Boy’s second verse sounds a little amped by Yela’s guest spot.
-Just Blaze “Exhibit GFP”

You get a chance to hear that Just Blaze House music set? He ended his set with this jokey but actually awesome refix of “Exhibit C”. Blame Jersey Shore I guess? The set, all the way thorough, is really genius. Almost a cruel joke on his audience, as it starts with a kinda perfunctory run-through of a bunch of his hits and favorites and then suddenly, it shifts into a masterful, dance set and doesn’t let-up. And it’s a real dance music set, not the never-get-too-crazy kinds that you usually hear at places like Fool’s Gold, where it encourages people to sorta dance but not go all-out because going all-out isn’t cool. Seriously, at places like this–or your city’s low rent, but probably better version–when a chick actually busts-out and dances, unironically, with moves and shit, people get weirded out or get this “hater” attitude. Downloading the set, and having a context for this remix (it was out on the internet in late December) was a great way to begin 2010, like a joyful death knell on the genuinely destructive indie takeover over dance music that happened during the ‘aughties.

-Araab Muzik “Death By Electric Shock”

This is audio ripped from the MPC performance of Dipset producer Araab Muzik, which you can watch here. When it was on YouTube, it was labelled “Death By Electric Shock” and that’s a cool title so I’m keeping it as that. Free of the very awesome video though, you start to realize how bizarre this song is and it shows that Araab’s almost bass-less, treble-filled beats on Crime Pays, Boss of All Bosses 2 and many other places, are not the result of a guy who doesn’t know how to mix or is on a budget, but a guy developing a weird, very new aesthetic. The drum and bass in the intro, the DJ Shadow homage, dude is looking at hip-hop from a very expansive and not all that popular right now perspective. His ears are open. If he were British and 12 other twits were doing this to diminishing returns along with him, it’d get covered in magazines. He should do live performances. He could open for Xiu Xiu or something. He could tour with The Knife. He should release an instrumental version of Boss of All Bosses 2.
-No Gang Colors “Killer Season”

Half of No Gang Colors is Joseph of Geek Down but that doesn’t matter, no playing favorites here, this is the weirdest, angriest, open-minded extreme music I’ve heard since Strength & Vision by Slavia. A focused, determined aesthetic fighting with a kitchen-sink approach to genre and expectation. Like all the songs listed above, these releases not only give me hope that something’s shifting in how people vomit out their post-iPod/Google Blog Search influences but that all the mash-up, po-mo cleverness, sell-out, genre-hopping is over and we’re just gonna have awesome weirdos doing whatever they like–and doing it right. Was this Burzum-y punch of guitar and drums scored to Cam’ron’s sideways motivational speech from Killa Season? Like everything on No Gang Colors’ EP This Is Your God–the hilarious/sad Mike Tyson sample, a screech of vocals, all the sounds sent into one speaker and then the other, the occasional growl of vocals, a dose of screw music–it feels purposeful, inspired, and assured. Seven songs in eleven minutes assured.

further reading/viewing:

-Billy Madison Clip

-DJ Burnone on Fabo

-Rick James performs “Hollywood” on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert

-jj “Ecstasy” track review by Marc Hogan for Pitchfork


-AraabMuzik (Dipset Producer) [In Studio Performance]

-Go get No Gang Colors’ EP This Is Your God

-Sean Murphy (artist)

Written by Brandon

January 28th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Goines Book Club & Formspring


Real updates coming soon…

For now, a few things about the whole “Goines Book Club” jump-off. I started a Formspring account like every other asshole out there, but it’s going to be set-up for the Goines book club in the sense that it’s a place to toss-out some questions or comments about Goines, his work, and the specific book for the month. Feel free to use it as more something like a message board, as in, you don’t have to have a simple question for me. Of course, if you have a simple question about Goines–or hell, even a non-Goines question–you wanna ask me, I’ll answer that too.

But really, the main reason for the Formspring is so I can gauge the interest in the book club and what direction to take this whole thing. My issue with Formspring is the same one I have with conventional teaching–the whole, one dude in charge of it all thing–and so, I’d like to at least try to temper my view on his work by providing a place to read what others want to talk/think about in his work.

This weekend, there will be a series of essays introducing Goines and where I think he’s coming from. They’ll be called “Locating Goines”. On Monday, I’ll drop an essay on Dopefiend and ideally, some of you will like it or hate and we’ll argue about it. Originally, it was just gonna be a Dopefiend essay and then I wanted to do some like, throat-clearing introductory shit, but then I didn’t want that to cloud you guys’ readings of the book, so I’m dropping it on you last minute, right before we get into Dopefiend.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the Goines Book Club Syllabus.

Written by Brandon

January 27th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Pazz & Jop 2009


So, the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop is up today and as usual, it’s fascinating and infuriating and fascinating again when you dig through all the individual ballots and comments and everything. Below’s my ballot, tell me the shit I missed or why the stuff I liked sucks and whatever else. That’s the point of this poll, right?:

1. Ryan Leslie, Ryan Leslie
2. G-Side, Huntsville International
3. Maxwell, BLACKsummers’night
4. James Ferraro, Edward Flex Presents: Do You Believe In Hawaii?
5. Wavves, Wavves
6. Diamond District, In the Ruff
7. DJ Quik & Kurupt, BlaQKout
8. Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3
9. Robert Glasper, Double Booked
10. Ryan Leslie, Transition

1. DJ Class “I’m the Shit”
2. Bat for Lashes, “Daniel”
3. Keri Hilson (ft. Kanye West & Ne-Yo), “Knock You Down”
4. Gucci Mane, “First Day Out”
5. Girls, “Lust For Life”
6. Emynd, “What About Tomorrow”
7. Mariah Carey, “Obsessed”
8. Cam’ron, “My Job”
9. Soulja Boy Tell Em’, “Turn My Swag On”
10. Raheem DeVaughn (ft. Ludacris), “Bulletproof”

Was also quoted twice in the section “Michael Jackson and Hip-Hop”. On Hip-Hop, not Michael Jackson, who I’m either going to just keep quiet about or write a 10,000 word thesis on the song “Human Nature”. No in-betweens there. But yeah, I got to talk about two of my favorite things: Why Kanye is always interesting and great and the awesome ways rap gets smart and mature and how all of y’all are ignoring it…

“Besides Kanye being right—Beyoncé did have the best video—he more quietly outshined Taylor Swift with his verse on Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down,” which one-upped Swift’s “You Belong With Me” and its high school love histrionics. In Kanye’s version, high school binaries are broken down—the class clown gets the prom queen—and then it turns sour anyway. Another awkward, awesome bummer from Mr. West.”

“Jay-Z tells you it isn’t cool to carry a strap. The Clipse wanna watch Madagascar with their kids. And Internet rap is no longer indulgent day-glo whatever, whatever, but wizened, worker-bee rap from every region. In short, hip-hop finally answers a lot of its critics—it grows up, it actually matures, and not in a “Ludacris goes on Oprah” way—and everyone’s favorite rap album of 2009 is a facsimile of a 1995 coke-rap blueprint. OK.”

Written by Brandon

January 20th, 2010 at 2:59 am

Misreading Rap: Fish Tank & “Life’s a Bitch”


Two things comes up in pretty much every review of Fish Tank, a British film about a troubled fifteen year old girl into “urban dance” and nothing much else (that is, until her mom’s new boyfriend shows up): The apparently stellar performance from “non-actor” Kate Jarvis and the use of Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” in a poignant scene between mom and daughter.

Whenever rap finds its way into a movie and it’s not as either source music or for a cheap laugh, it’s something of note, but what’s so cool about Fish Tank is how its given a bunch of film critics the chance to riff on the Nas classic. It’s a crucial part of the movie, so it’s sent critics previously unaware of the song to IMDB to figure out what it is and for most, a chance to throw in a sliver of rap criticism into their movie review. Unfortunately, most are misreading the song. Dana Stevens of Slate called it “unremittingly depressing”–AZ’s hook maybe, the song itself, not so much.

The biggest offender though, is Armond White, who lines-up the perceived phoniness of Fish Tank with Nas’ own “baby brother impudence”. Like most of White’s writing in um, the past ten years, his point is brave and valid (let’s reconsider Nas’ talents), he’s just building it all on a base that’s flimsy at best. Stevens’ descriptions and the many like it can be partially excused by the simplicity word counts often demand, but White’s just completely wrong.

The best explanation of the song, in connection with Fish Tank at least, comes from, of all places, Thinking Faith (the online journal for British Jesuits). Aaron Kilkenny-Fletcher begins his review with a quote from AZ’s verse and quotes the hook later, but is quick to explain that, “Life’s a Bitch” is, “in spite of [the hook], a song of hope and of escape.” Exactly.

“Life’s a Bitch” though, isn’t even that hard to “get” which makes all the misreading all the more frustrating. If there’s a common strain in the “Nas kinda sucks” revisionism that’s been wandering around in the past bunch of years, it’s fueled by the relative simplicity–and therefore, perceived insincerity–of his work. That doesn’t make Nas a bad rapper or Illmatic any less of a classic, but there’s a “teachability” to Nas’ work, that you know, would lend it to short-hand poignance in art films or a pretty mindless book if you peeped that Dyson disaster Born to Use Mics.

There’s still plenty of room for complexity in something teachable, and a lot of the power of “Life’s a Bitch” comes out of its adherence to structure. Really, “Life’s a Bitch” hinges on structure. It’s a song built on pieces that complement and contradict one another. AZ’s verse and hook are apparently all that many people hear–really, just the hook–and it’s easy to see the song as “cynical” or “unremittingly depressing” through that lunkheaded lens, but that ignores the shifting context of that hook, Nas’ entire verse, and the joyful coda that is Olu Dara’s horn solo.

Really though, AZ’s verse isn’t even conventionally “depressing”, it’s beyond “fuck the world” and all that. His verse is not only a celebration of making money, but a quick mini-history lesson on why that’s all he believes in (“we were beginners in the hood as Five Percenters/But something must’ve got in us ’cause all of us turned to sinners”) and a clear acknowledgment that indeed, it’s a fruitless exercise: “As long as we leavin’ thievin’ we’ll be leavin’ with some kind of dough”. The depressing part isn’t that he desires money but that he knows exactly why he does what he does and has no interest in doing different.

AZ’s verse and hook though, are viewed as the contrast or set-up to Nas’ significantly more “hopeful” verse, but that’s too simple too. There’s the same amount of vibrancy and intelligence at work in AZ’s verse as Nas’, it’s just being employed for a different end. Both verses sound good and are perfectly put together pieces of rapping. They are equally persuasive in terms style–they sound awesome but Nas’ verse could not exist without AZ’s–this is literally true if you read the XXL making of piece–because it’s through AZ’s acknowledgement of just how fucked things are, that Nas can come to his 20th birthday epiphany. That oft-quoted, “That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto” comes from a guy who’s spent a lot of bucks on bottles, you know?

When the hook returns after Nas’ verse–again, all about structure here and how structure highlights meaning–it’s nearly “ironic” because Nas has just rejected it or at least, found a way to not believe that “life’s a bitch and then you die”. This is the inverse of most songwriting wherein the “happy” chorus is undermined by the verses or a sad chorus is sung happily–there’s a real give and take going on here. Then it’s punctuated by Olu Dara’s horn solo which is happy, but hardly glorious.

And “hardly glorious” is precisely the kind of minor victory joy director Andrea Arnold’s at least trying to employ in Fish Tank: That good-bad, good enough, tension of the song transported into her film. Not sure where it falls in the white people/black music poignance meter–The Big Chill and Motown as a “1″, Schooly D in the Bad Lieutenant as a “10″–but there’s an attempt to wisely engage with the song’s tensions, which is more than what a lot of critics are doing.

further reading/viewing:
-”Automatic Pity for the People” by Armond White of New York Press
-Fish Tank by Dana Stevens for Slate
-Fish Tank by Aaron Kilkenny-Fletcher for Thinking Faith
-XXL’s Making of Illmatic
-”Deconstructing Illmatic” by Dan Love for Oh Word

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Illmatic, Nas, movies