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Archive for September, 2010

How Big Is Your World? Rittz – “Outta Here”

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You’ve got a rapper, Rittz, and a producer, DJ Burn One, both out of mainstream rap’s mecca Atlanta, making a song for Baller’s Eve, a New York radio show hosted by a bunch of ATL transplants. This is the Southern hip-hop scene rebuilding itself after being chopped up and sold to the majors, piece by piece: “Field Mob, you go here…Pastor Troy go over there…” It’s all finally moving back underground, which is probably a good thing.

“Outta Here” is a great example of this resurgent, underground sound. Rittz says fuck a catchy hook and raps one big extended verse here and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even notice that’s what going on until a minute and forty seconds later when dude charmingly brags “One verse. How ya like that?” It’s like an elaborate but subtle single-take in a movie: eerily seamless and perfectly-crafted. This is one of those fun-to-listen-to, lots-to-ponder, weighty verses that you can unravel for days. Very excited about White Jesus.

DJ Burn One’s beat channels the dread of John Carpenter’s iconic Halloween theme, has these thick, hulking live drums—shades of Schooly D’s “Signifying Rapper”–and fills in the empty space with his signature, country rap tunes-tinged electronica. After Rittz’s non-stop rapping, the listener gets a break from the rapid-fire rhyming and the beat, this hard, slow-growing instrumental just gets to ride out–for more than a minute! It’s a confident producer move–laying their beat bare like that—and maybe even a subtle message to other up and coming rappers: “Okay, now the rest of you guys, rap a fucking verse after this big, flame-haired maniac just completely blacked-out. Here’s a whole minute…go!”

Written by Brandon

September 30th, 2010 at 8:32 am

b free daily: “The Surreal Eye”


If you’re in Baltimore, you can go pick up my cover story on Baltimore filmmaker Hilton Carter. His short film Moth plays at the Landmark Theatre tomorrow night. Hilton’s also directed a ton of music videos and commercials, most recently the Blaqstarr video for “Oh My Darling”.

Two years ago, Hilton Carter stood in Paris’ Louvre, transfixed by Paul Delaroche’s 1855 painting The Young Martyr.

No longer a glossy image in the art history texts he studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, the massive painting was right there, ready to overwhelm and inspire this former Baltimore filmmaker.

“When I stood in front of that painting,” Carter explains on the phone from his L.A home, where he now lives, “I saw the painting for what it is. It hit me.” Delaroche’s painting, which depicts a dead girl eerily floating in the water surrounded by darkness, became the inspiration for “Moth,” Carter’s short film about a drug-addled L.A. girl who slowly sinks under the weight of her addictions and insecurities…

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Splice Today: Neurosis – Live At Roadburn 2007

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Here’s a review I did of Neurosis’ Live At Roadburn 2007 and the re-release of 1993’s Enemy Of The Sun. Struggled with explaining how and why the group is so much better than all the stuff they’ve influenced but I think I did an okay job, while also getting in some unnecessarily catty digs at bands that stick in my crawl. Dunno, just seems like Neurosis are the sort of band that once you heard them, it’d be tough to return to all this wandering, build-up-then-explode “post-metal,” you know?

Before metal got all mannered and started circling the drain of drone, getting all respectable, and soundtracking Jim Jarmusch movies, Oakland hardcore/metal contingent Neurosis stood alone in stretching out, slowing up, and lurching forward the core dynamics of heavy rock. And sorry bro, but none of the copycats and third-generation in-quotes catharsis builders that have come since really compare. The release of a live album, Live at Roadburn 2007, and the re-release 1993’s Enemy of the Sun make that painfully clear…

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Splice Today, metal

How Big Is Your World? Gucci Mane – “Grown Man”

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Talking about the final track on a brand-new, just-released album is a little out of line, so, MUSICAL SPOILER ALERT. “Grown Man” featuring Estelle and produced by Jim Jonsin though, is a good way to start unpacking The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted and it’s been on the internet for about a week now anyway.

“Grown Man” is a follow-up to The State Vs. Radric Davis‘ “My Own Worst Enemy,” wherein Gucci, who is usually, actively opposed to introspection, drops a very sincere, rolling evaluation of where he’s at in terms of not beating people with pool cues, not violating parole, etc. There’s something incredibly touching, yet still very Gucci-like about his proud, album-ending declaration, “I’m a grown-ass man.” In part because he sounds a uncertain when he says it, but also because it’s Gucci being mature on his own terms; gotta love that colloquial “grown-ass.” The whole song works like that, and it begins with the A.A-style mantra that unravels itself: “I was lost but now I’m found/I was blind but now I see/Super high, can’t touch the ground.”

Rap’s always been about these clever balancing acts, asserting one thing and not necessarily the other even if it makes sense to assert that thing too and Gucci’s working with that type of deconstruction here. Yes, he’s a fuck-up and a maniac but say, being “super high” is perfectly acceptable and totally separate from getting his life together. Not to mention his reasons for getting his shit together have to do with his losses (“I’m mad as hell because my best friend probably gonna die in jail”) and responsibilities (“I got a point to prove and a son to raise”), not some higher power moral thing. You know, real shit: my friend’s gonna be dead in a cell, I got my mom to take care of, I can make a shit-ton of money if I stop being a knucklehead.

The sound of therapy’s also running through Gucci’s lyrics and though that isn’t “cool,” it is a very good thing. You’re hearing a guy trying to figure out his life. Notice his ability to trace his behavior to his family and upbringing—keeping up the balancing act approach, he still gives his father and grandfather respect but frames them as part of a pattern he’s trying to break—and an understanding of his environment’s affects on him too. There’s a ton to quote here but it almost feels unnecessary because he’s not dropping one-liners that sound dope or funny, but a series of introspective confessions in a sober, somber tone and an entertaining, hypnotic double-time but kinda roving style. All this makes it a “mature” rap song that is still very much a Gucci Mane song! There’s nothing compromised about this track.

Basically, the same way he’s got all those songs where he riffs on a single word (“Heavy,” “Ridiculous,” “Normal,” “Weirdo”), is he now rapping about getting his shit together. The Appeal isn’t hyper-focused—despite ending with “Grown Man” this is not a concept album—but copping to one’s mistakes is a recurring theme throughout and Gucci, because he’s a craftsman, he primarily approaches it as a word-game first.

Written by Brandon

September 28th, 2010 at 10:10 am

Welcome To The Zoo On MARS Promo Video

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Preview video for the Zoo On MARS EP from Z.O.M.E. Rap-wise, Z.O.M.E keep their inner city Baltimore upbringing floating in the background (this was true on Mike-Mike’s “Bmore Better Be Afraid” too) and it’s a nice skipping over of street-cred. The only time they mention Baltimore, it’s to tell you that it’s “more than homicides.” There’s a very head-down, “yeah, we’re from the streets, whatever.” attitude that’s really captivating and affecting. Even the whole Mars, aliens, etc. angle works because it’s less about next-level-ness and more on some G-Side/Sun Ra sense of space as escapism: space as an appealing place because shit, it’s not here. There’s also a tradition of this kind of stuff in Baltimore specifically, back to the city’s house music and club music roots and the Egyptology cosmic rap weirdness of Labtekwon–brought together in the Doo-Dew Kidz/Labtekwon project 410 Pharoahs or Unruly producer King Tutt.

Murder Mark’s production is actually worthy of all this other galaxy talk too. The beat here’s more in the mold of club music–in that he’s just stacking strange sounds on top of stranger sounds–but he’s creating a claustrophobic, in-the-red intensity to the whole thing. As a result, the raps are urgent and excited, not laid-back and spacey like a lot of the radio and underground rap Z.O.M.E superficially resemble.

What also makes Z.O.M.E so appealing is that these guys aren’t in a bubble. They’re part of a scene. They’ve done shows in Baltimore. You can see them perform live. And when you see them in their bedroom here, they’re working on their rhymes and making beats together, not on some closed-circuit solitary rap shit like so many dudes lately. Totally not trying to turn this into a Baltimore blog as of late, but this is some of the only new stuff that’s grabbing me right now.

Written by Brandon

September 23rd, 2010 at 9:08 pm

City Paper: Best Of Baltimore

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(photo by Frank Hamilton)

This year, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the the Baltimore City Paper’s “Best Of Baltimore” issue, which mostly meant hanging out with dudes who write for the paper and watching them hash out a lot of this and then offering my two sense on a couple of categories where I sorta kinda have some authority. So mainly, the club music categories in Arts & Entertainment, but please check out the whole issue.

Written by Brandon

September 23rd, 2010 at 6:51 am

Splice Today: “The Madness of Dappa Dan Midas”

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The work of usually exuberant Baltimore rapper Dappa Dan Midas has lately taken an ugly, existential turn. Though the former battle rapper’s always displayed a mean streak—perhaps best seen in his recent tussle with A-Class—Midas’ M.O is usually playful humor mixed with unmatchable intensity. Joyful, pummeling tracks like “Push Start” off his Live From the Arcade EP and his role in Mania Music Group—as the equally furious but far less serious foil to Kane Mayfield, Ron G., and Milly July—show a rapper with a deep understanding of craft and the rare ability to entertain. Midas might sport a mohawk and rock an outfit that’s one part Urban Outfitters and one part Plato’s Closet thrift finds, but he’d absolutely murder any track handed over to him. In a city of rappers still dredging up references to The Wire for street credibility, Midas stands out for choosing skill and enthusiasm over mean-mugging…

Written by Brandon

September 21st, 2010 at 8:12 pm

How Big Is Your World? Ski Beatz – “Cream Of The Planet (Instrumental)”


If you want to know why Curren$y is a very good, maybe even vital rapper, check out Ski Beatz’s 24 Hour Karate School, wherein rappers of pretty much every style rhyme over Ski’s absolutely fucking immaculate production and all fail pretty miserably. All the other wandering weedhead rappers can’t figure out what to do with stuff this elaborate and neither can your super-serious rappers like Jean Grae or Ras Kass. Shit, Camp Lo even come off pretty bad. That’s why I’m focusing on this bonus track instrumental, “Cream Of The Planet,” which at one point or another, featured Mos Def, but doesn’t anymore, which is a good thing.

“Cream Of The Planet” isn’t a skillful soul beat, it’s a time-traveling, rap-tinged, jazz-funk composition. Note the way the song defiantly arrives–that confident row of horns, the waves of organ—and how it spreads out from there, before turning in on itself in the final moments, each instrument exiting, before a polite, extended fade-out. The only comparable song is Dilla’s cover of “Think Twice.” A quick look at the credits for 24 Hour Karate School show that the only non-instrument here is Ski’s drums—the rest of this is played by a room full of real, live musicians. Now, that isn’t impressive on some musical purity level but because it’s completely unnecessary. That’s to say, this could be another cool blaxploitation-soaked beat from the producer of Uptown Saturday Night and be just fine, but instead it rolls along, slightly shifting, like the interstitial music in a blaxploitation flick (a good, sophisticated one too, more Across 110th Street than say um, Black Samson).

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 20th, 2010 at 7:45 am

How Big Is Your World? DJ Pierre – “Can U Feel It?”


OJ Da Juiceman’s hiding inside of this song, I think. Listen close to those squeaking, oscillating high-pitched sounds that start talking to the Eno-esque pulses 38 seconds in: those are the pitched-shifted “Aye!” ad libs of young Juiceman…I think. Specifically, it sounds like Pierre has grabbed some pieces of –wherein Murder Mark sampled the Gucci track of the same name and then covered it in a haze of OJ Da Juiceman “aye!”s and “okay!”s—and incorporated it into his much more chill, Art Of Noise-esque club track. As “Can U Feel It” unravels, the manipulted “aye”s grow closer to sounding like a human voice, giving this askew dance track that very important feeling of progression.

Notice how “Can U Feel It?” lacks most of the basic, decades-old elements of Baltimore Club (no quirky/raunchy samples, no “Think” or “Sing Sing,” it’s not all that aggressive) and instead, wanders around in its own strange sonic space. I like to tell people that club music isn’t a subgenre, it’s a genre and though that sounds really good but only kinda makes sense, the point is club’s pretty much mutating into something unrecognizable to older ears and that’s awesome (it’s even more awesome because somehow these tracks still work next to the classics in mixes). DJ Pierre is at the forefront of this still figuring itself out mutation.

Also check out Pierre’s latest track which at first, teases itself as a “Samir’s Theme” derivation and then waddles into far murkier territory.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 15th, 2010 at 8:23 pm

“Runaway” vs. “Innocent”


The title of Kanye’s song should be “Innocent,” and Taylor’s Swift’s, “Toast For The Douchebags.” “Runaway” doesn’t work for either. This whole MTV masterplan to relive a not all that interesting or controversial moment from last year, by having each artist perform a song kinda sorta about that event thing was a terrible stunt/concept and it only worked out because the artists involved, Kanye West and Taylor Swift, are top of their game types. Both “Runaway” and “Innocent” are quite good but they’re also each respective musician/persona doing exactly what’s expected of them.

Kanye writes a confused, emotional epiphany rap that falls somewhere between honest and “honest” and steals the show (because he’s like that), continuing his culture-jamming streak by getting Pusha T up in front of an audience that probably doesn’t know who the hell he is, and shows that same rap-unaware audience an MPC in action. Not bad.

Swift does her A-student pop star thing, which totally stands-out because her peers are like D-minus students in terms of craft and performance, but it comes off a bit too precious and hedged. Nobody likes an A student because the A student route is mad easy and like, programmatic. She doesn’t put herself out there, but then again, Taylor Swift never does.

Kanye of course, must put himself out there for “Runaway,” but he can’t formally apologize and he can’t explain his actions either, he’s gotta do a little of both. So, he clouds the concept of the song with that immediately talk-about-able “let’s have a toast for the douchebags” hook and turns the whole thing into a knowing joke and a disarming confessional. “Runaway” is Kanye’s take on Scarface’s “say good night to the bad guy” speech.

Despite all that inward-looking self-justification, Kanye is talking about events bigger than his VMA assholism. The Taylor Swift “incident” is not the crux of the song, but one part of his “I’m an emotional fuck-up” narrative. Most of the song is actually about his issues with girls and intimacy and here, he’s quite honest: “Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy/And I know it did damage/Cause the look in your eyes is killin’ me.” That’s in sharp contrast to 2008’s “break-up album,” 808s & Heartbreak, where Kanye worked with a mix of grinning, laughing knowledge of how shitty he is and open-wounded, last-word obsessed, “fuck you hoe” bitterness.

“Runaway” is no less public about Kanye’s lovelife—and because we’re in gossip blog end-of-times here, we can connect 808s to Alexis Phifer and “Runaway” to Amber Rose—but he’s kinder and more apologetic. Take note of that aside in the “toast for the douchebags” part, where Kanye shouts-out “the jerkoffs/That’ll never take work off.” He’s extending his plight to something larger and distinctly, male: the focus on everything but the real, emotional stuff that actually matters, you know, being there, being available for another person. This is the sound of a person’s emotional growth trying to catch-up with their artistic growth and it sounds wonderful.

Still, Swift’s song is the stand-out because it’s so direct and empathetic—like, beautifully so. Swift’s talent and maybe even genius is that she’s sincere in her songs. It’s not that she doesn’t know about irony, it’s just that she’s decided not to be gobbled up and infected by it like the rest of her Billboard buddies. The result of course, is that she comes off a bit above-it-all and cold–like a grandmother giving you a life lesson—but that’s preferable to the sassy, pseudo-feminist kiss-off Lady Gaga or Ke$ha (or shit, even Beyonce) would’ve dropped if they were in Swift’s position.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 15th, 2010 at 6:01 am

Posted in Kanye West, vs.