No Trivia

Archive for June, 2010

Slant Magazine: “Summer of ‘85: Rambo: First Blood Part II


For The House Next Door’s “Summer of ‘85″ series, me and comics artist Benjamin Marra talked a whole bunch about why Rambo: First Blood Part II rules. You may have casually encountered Marra’s artwork for Lil B (6 Kiss and the upcoming Black Ken) and Madlib (Madlib Medicine Show #5: The History of The Loop Digga), and you should totally order his comics Night Business and Gangsta Rap Posse if you’ve not read them. Click below to read our discussion…

Brandon Soderberg: Let’s talk about the waterfall scene towards the end because it inspired this discussion. Basically, Benjamin was part of a panel at the Small Press Expo (SPX) called “The New Action” that was talking to “indie” creators engaged with more visceral narrative styles. At one point in the discussion, Benjamin just kinda lovingly describes the scene, late in Rambo: First Blood Part II, where Rambo fires this explosive arrow at this guy on a waterfall and there’s like one killer beat between the arrow launching and the explosion and then—blam! The guy just gets decimated.

Benjamin Marra: Yeah, that whole scene really resonates with me. I really love it. The music, the way it’s edited, it all just really sticks in my head. I think the scene is emblematic of the action movies around that time. Death Wish 3, Cobra, Commando, The Running Man, Invasion USA, Red Dawn, feel, through the prism of time, completely bizarre. I get the feeling they were constructed without any self-awareness. I can only speculate really that what occurred in those movies at the time they came out was totally acceptable and normal action. That’s at least how I felt about them, but I was pretty young. If any of those movies were released today, they’d probably be perceived as satire.

Written by Brandon

June 29th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

How Big Is Your World? New rap!


-Kanye West “Power”

Bouncing between swagger at a thousand-trillion brag-rap and a little too out-there wounded asides, “Power” is Kanye’s most obnoxious, enjoyable, kitchen-sink single since “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”. For every petty post-TMZ style reference to the SNL cast or whatever, there’s depressive stuff like, “How’s Ye doin?/I’m survivin”, the really touching description of writer’s block/existential ennui (“My child-like creativity, purity and honesty is honestly, being crowded by these grown thoughts”) or you know, that whole weird, funky, suicidal synth coda part. Maybe it’s the Drake vortex we’ve all be sucked into for the past bunch of months, but people are taking Kanye’s fame-whines way too seriously. Dude’s laughing into the void here, so there’s Kelly Rowland punchlines and the song’s obnoxiously long…and really, really, affecting. Kanye’s special kind of hubris heard an art-rock classic and thought, “yes, this song is about me. I’m the 21st Century Schizoid Man.” Pardon if he’s all over the place–that’s sorta the point.

-Rittz “My Time Is Now”

Usually, the vibrant, double-time flow’s associated with youth and urgency, but Rittz (who you probably heard on Yelawolf’s “Box Chevy Pt. 3″), sounds awesomely disinterested in proving himself. There’s an air of confidence and diffidence to “My Time Is Now”–as if the song weren’t a declaration of intent. Instead, Rittz steps up and does his thing, never prattling on crazy with the syllables or rather, letting a sleepy guitar beat mask how crazy he is with the syllables. Even those great punchlines like “this is underground rap, call it Fraggle rock” are delivered like asides. Lyrically and musically, this song’s pure aesthetic experience, you don’t learn anything, but you get a puffy cloud of images (Jordans, pills, rebel flags,) and a hook–really more like a verse within a verse–that doesn’t go away easily. Thank the failing majors and the Southern internet rap renaissance for allowing a weird white rapper like Rittz to debut, free of schtick.

-Dappa!!! Dan Midas “U Might Think”

Midas usually talks his shit with a smile–a talent undoubtedly culled from years of Baltimore rap battling–but “U Might Think” is an unrelentingly creepy diary entry in rap form. To call a song this dead serious a “parody” would be ill-advised, but basically, what Midas does here is mimic three different types of rap songs (the Mobb Deep-style ode to depression, classic knowledge-dropping advice rap, and the post-Kanye bitch-out) and stir them all up into a demand that people to get their shit together and take personal responsibility: “When you stay troubled with problems/Money and a freaky bitch ain’t gonna solve em”. There’s also a lot of early 2000s Philly rap in this song, specifically the even more chaotic, gritty version of it that Baltimore grabbed and hasn’t let go of 8 years later (see songs by: Comp, Barnes, Smash, etc.). It’s cool to see Midas do a more wizened, personal flip on that. From Mania Music Group’s totally overwhelming in-a-good-way debut, Welcome to the Audience. Rap needs a song like this right now.

-Gucci Mane “Dats My Life”

There’s are too many highlights on Mr. Zone 6–the meta-intro track “It’s Goin’ Up” (a clever play on “it’s goin’ down” rap declarations), Gucci’s empathetic inhabiting of characters (a stressed dealer who needs to stretch his supply on “It’s Goin’ Up”, a guy facing the electric chair on “Georgia’s Most Wanted”), his bottomless pool of oddball pop-hooks (“Mr. Zone 6″, “Koolin” ,”Makin’ Love To The Money”), his Mike Tyson-esque love of vocab (every single song), that one line about a tweeting a twitpic of his dick–but Gucci’s increasingly sharp double-time flow’s the highlight right now. “Please don’t crash, am I going too fast?” is the closest Gucci gets to bragging about his rapping and it’s in a kind of classic, skills-related way, not Wayne’s implicit “I can make up endless streams of bullshit so I’m a great rapper” style or worse (every other rapper claiming best), but sheer technical ability, which anybody should be able to appreciate. Contextualizing the song as a “just outta jail” song frames his exuberance around something real–something really real–which is a nice touch.

-araabMUZIK “Cuffin”

Certainly informed by classic boom-bap–there’s some semblance of that undeniable knock in his beats–araabMUZIK then sends his beats through some rarefied, bass-less, treble-happy aesthetic, and overloads them with the most ominous, eerie sounds he can find. There’s some demonic, ghetto-tech wails hiding in the background of “Cuffin”, but the sounds in the foreground are just as creepy. Zombie video game soundscapes converse with that main melodic squeak that skips over itself every few bars…and then the drums come in and it’s nearly a hip-hop beat? There’s nothing warm or inviting about the production here and the scary thing is, dude doesn’t even realize this. His natural style is this tinny, squeaking, eventually pounding series of noises, glitches, and super-clean samples. What Justice did to French House, what Dubstep’s doing to American R & B, araabMUZIK’s doing to hip-hop right now–there’s just no tastemakers to tell you that.

further reading/viewing:
-“Kanye West, “Power” transcribed by Wesley Case
-“Rittz – My Time Is Now” from BLVDST.
-Purchase Mania Music Group’s Welcome to the Audience
-Soul Food & Sushi 2.0: A Mania Music Group Mixtape by ME and Joseph
-Comp “Whole Lat”
-HipHopGame Interview with araabMUZIK

Written by Brandon

June 21st, 2010 at 7:44 pm

No Trivia Presents Soul Food & Sushi 2.0


DOWNLOAD: Mania Music Group – Soul Food & Sushi 2.0

So, last year, Joseph and I put together a mix of our favorite songs from Baltimore’s Mania Music Group. It got some downloads and I knew we’d done something right when Al Shipley listed it on his “In My Stereo” list. In preparation for Welcome to the Audience, Mania’s debut album, which comes out next Tuesday, Joseph and I did a new version, adding some of the group’s work since last year, and a few songs featuring the group’s newest member, Milly July.

What I like about Mania is that they don’t really make a lot of sense. All four rappers come from pretty different backgrounds and rap in different styles, and the production from Headphones and Bealack can shoot in any number of directions: futuristic post-Neptunes swag synth-rap, hard-as-fuck boom-bap, snarling guitars and a minimal drum weirdness, it’s all over the place, which is how it should be. That’s hip-hop to me. This messy mixing of everything. The goal of Soul Food & Sushi was to make sense out of a group that doesn’t make sense. Enjoy. And look out for Welcome to the Audience next week.

Written by Brandon

June 8th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Mania Music Group

G-Mane’s Teflon Females Pt. 1: “Maria”

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Despite the relatively minor events of the song—a woman gets revenge on some chumps that ripped her off—G-Mane makes “Maria” (produced by MIDIMarc) mythical. He’s the rapper bard poet, telling Maria’s story in detail-filled couplets that give us a sense of her but only a sense–she remains distant and unknowable. A local legend.

Like most rap songs about girls, it begins with physical description, but it’s not as simple as “She’s fine, she’s a bad bitch,” (though that’s part of it), but that her skin, her thighs–everything–illustrates how together she is in every aspect of her life: “She’s got a good head on her shoulders/Take no shit off top”.

G’s description of Maria is almost non-sexual because like, you’re just not going to get next to Maria like that: “Queen bee, she handle business since her nigga on lock/Other niggas wanna move in, thinkin’ they got clout/But she focused, do her thing, she got two sons to think about.” Notice how the verse shifts from physical details, to compliments about her person, to hard, cold, facts about Maria’s circumstance. Like any woman in power, she’s constantly threatened/courted by suitors who just can’t conceive of her doing it all on her own or think she’s easy to take advantage of and takeover. G-Mane’s wise to admire her from afar.

Particularly affecting is the aside about her sons, because it humanizes Maria and also, makes her even more impressive–she isn’t just after money, she has kids to support, a husband’s tiny empire to hold down. From there, the description moves back into the physical but now it’s all material objects, from the shit she wears (Prada, Gucci) to the gun she carries. The verse ends with G-Mane calling her “The Godmother”–the ultimate compliment.

There’s no hook on this song, what divides the verses is a quick interlude wherein G-Mane spots Maria and casually says, “What’s up?” We have to wait until the next verse to hear what Maria tells him–again, she’s too much of a myth for us to hear her voice–and it’s at this point that our storyteller, gets wrapped-up in the tale: “She said G, I need you to do a favor for me/I think these dudes in the bathroom, I want you to go and see.” Of course, the dudes are in there.

G-Mane’s not asked to pop these dudes. He’s not even asked to say anything to them. Just confirm that they’re in there. Maria’ll do the rest. This kind of minor-detail storytelling is something G-Mane does a lot. His songs are hardly ever street epics and gun-battles, it’s more often than not, little bullshit like this. And cleverly, G-Mane sprinkles this part of the song with similarly “unimpressive” details: his drink order (“a Budweiser with a coke, ice, and jack”), that he took a piss while in the bathroom.

When G returns from the bathroom, verifying the guys are in there, Maria hands him the drink he ordered, but the action’s described as “she passed a libation”. Once Maria touches something, it becomes something bigger and grander–the drink, a small sacrifice. It’s like that part in “Pop the Trunk” from another Alabama wordsmith, Yelawolf, when Yela’s friend hands him his watch before he “grabs his biscuit”. Like, something’s passed between them, and it’s far more nefarious than just a simple Cartier watch or Budweiser.

Reflecting the listener’s perverse curiosity, G-Mane says, “I knew I had to step out, to see these boys get crept-on”, and so, we have a first-hand description of how Maria takes these fuckers out. This is a real dedication to storytelling rap because like, G’s concerned with the logistics of his story and so, he has to justify how he witnessed the shooting: He went out of his way to see it.

And then there’s the violence itself–what the whole song has built up to—and it’s a blast of small details, it’s not exactly epic, it’s quickly done, curt, concise, and violent. The closest to this mix of dramatic tension and just like, casual, flash of violences I can think of would be the “action” scenes in Donald Goines’ novels. Like, it’s all over before it even started and it’s all the awkward, bitter, aftermath.

The song’s final lines describe the kill-shot, and once again, G-Mane goes to crime movies to compliment Maria’s heartless calm. But this time, it’s not the grand, Don-like qualities of The Godfather that make Maria something else, but her similarity to Ice Cube’s iconic Boyz n the Hood character. That kind of wild, heartless efficiency: “Like Doughboy, she told him turn your punk-ass over then/Smashed-out in a blacked-out Rover, The End.” One last, blunt flash of detail and then it’s over.

further reading/viewing:
-“Maria” on Dirty Glove Bastard
-How Big Is Your World? ft. “Listen” by G-Mane by ME
-Download Sunday on da Porch
-Southern Hospitality on Sunday on da Porch
-G-Mane on Twitter
-Midi Marc on Twitter
-The Women of Homer by Walter Copland Perry
-“Libation” on Wikipedia
-Photo by Monique R.

Written by Brandon

June 7th, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Posted in G-Mane

City Paper: “Something Old, Something New”

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Rap content on the way, I assure you. For now, you may want to check out my review of Daniel Clowes’ Wilson and Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld, in this week’s Baltimore City Paper. Shaw’s BodyWorld is masterpiece, just something that totally blew me away–and it’s available for free to read right here–and the new book from Clowes, um, not so much.

Every year–at least since Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and most certainly by the time Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was a bookstore-ready hardcover–a few sophisticated, sprawling comic books make their way out of the alt-comics echo chamber and into the mainstream. Last year it was David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp and R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis; April alone saw the release of Daniel Clowes’ Wilson (Drawn & Quarterly) and Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld (Pantheon). Though it won’t replace the great American novel anytime soon, the past 20 years have certainly witnessed the rise of the great American graphic novel.

Both Wilson and BodyWorld are graphic novels in the loaded, fancy sense of the term, but each book also subtly defies the expectations for the kind of smarty-pants comics that get write-ups in magazines and, well, free alternative weeklies. Clowes’ collection of depressive joke strips–a parody of the Sunday funnies–about a middle-aged, out of touch douchebag, shuns comics’ recent fascination with the grand statement, opting for a terse take on America in the aughts. It feels like a relic from an earlier indie comics era when every release didn’t have to swing for the fences. Shaw follows up 2008’s Bottomless Belly Button–a 720 pager about divorce–with an erotic, pulp-obsessed, 384-page book about a strand of weed that makes you psychic: It’s a new kind of comics epic…

Written by Brandon

June 2nd, 2010 at 5:03 am

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Village Voice, Sound of the City: “Dennis Hopper, Soundtrack Savant”


This piece is based on a theory about Hopper’s work that I’ve had for a while now, and it’s a shame it took the dude dying for me to write it, but you know. Everybody’s got an opinion on Dennis Hopper and like, everyone has a performance to talk about, but I tried to place him in a tradition beyond “batshit crazy actor genius” and also, touch on some of his work that doesn’t get talked about as much as it should or in the way it should. Easy Rider, Out of the Blue, and Colors makes up a good night of movie watching and if you want to extend it another day, throw in Last Movie, Tracks, and River’s Edge.

​In the aftermath of Dennis Hopper’s death this past Saturday (J. Hoberman’s obit is here), tributes to the actor didn’t even try to construct an easy narrative out of his chaotic life. How could they? Hopper was many things at once: the actor who pushed the “method” style way past its breaking point; the ’60s icon turned rightwinger who publicly voted for Obama; the sensitive art photographer and abstract expressionist; and the nut who, threatened ex-wives and co-stars with guns and once attempted to blow himself up with dynamite in front of live crowd. He was far out in every role, from art-house classics to chintzy afternoon HBO staples like Spacetruckers, but was nominated only once by the Academy for his onscreen work–Best Supporting Actor, for Hoosiers.

The only constants in Hopper’s career were chaos (even his final months of life were wrapped up in a divorce) and his outre acting style, but there’s a narrative in Hopper’s career that’s been mostly ignored–his fluency with pop culture, especially in his work as a director. Particularly, three films he directed between the late ’60s to the late ’80s: The ’60s movie Easy Rider (1969), the grimy punk tragedy Out of the Blue (1980), and the proto-gangsta rap police procedural Colors (1988). Together they form a trilogy of music-tinged mini-masterpieces, showing Hopper to be a guy with his finger on the pulse of an ever-shifting pop music landscape for three decades–way longer than someone like Dennis Hopper really needed to have his finger on the pulse of pop music…

Written by Brandon

June 1st, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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