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Archive for February, 2011

Spin: “Children of the Grave, Rap Has Its Metal Moment.”


This week’s column: Waka Flocka Flame, Odd Future, and metal.

Last Thursday, skate-prick rap collective Odd Future signed off Tumblr and appeared on national television. Sporting ski masks with inverted crosses scrawled on them, and bouncing across a smoke-filled stage, Tyler, the Creator, the crew’s charismatic frontman, along with Odd Future point guard Hodgy Beats, performed their 2010 single “Sandwitches” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The morning after, the Internet — which basically birthed Odd Future as well as most interesting rap these days — celebrated the group’s bizarro entrance into the mainstream.

Many of the same people losing their shit over Odd Future on Fallon were also busy downloading Salute Me Or Shoot Me 3, a victory-lap mixtape from Waka Flocka Flame, which featured the same sort of headbanging, fuck-you-up rap that made his debut album Flockaveli a success last year. Less than a week after a Grammy Awards show that was proud to acknowledge only the kindest hip-hop (B.o.B, Drake, a once caustic now “recovered” Eminem), Odd Future’s off-the-rails TV appearance, plus a new batch of noisy aggression from perhaps the genre’s most polarizing figure, were welcome disruptions. Tyler, the Creator and Waka Flocka are anti-pop, sure, but they’re also interested in being just plain fucking scary. Think of them as the first truly metal rap stars…

Written by Brandon

February 25th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Spin: “Grammy Reflections, The Great White Wash.”


New Spin column is up, I go in on this year’s Grammys. Enjoy!

Country music, and yes, indie rock, were the big winners at this past Sunday’s 53rd Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. But you know what lost? Black music. The slight wasn’t much of a surprise, really; the Grammys are notoriously out of touch. But this year’s ceremony felt actively dismissive, with hip-hop and R&B, inarguably African-American strains of music, getting pointedly whitewashed.

The subtle digs at hip-hop started early. As is often the case, awards for “urban music” categories were handed out before the show. Legendary rapper Guru was left out of the people-that-died-last-year montage; Kanye West immediately noticed (he tweeted “R.I.P to GURU!!!”), as did thousands of others. When recording engineers, agents, managers, etc., are summarily eulogized, the rapping half of an incredibly influential and fairly mainstream ’90s rap duo should at least get a mention. Another example of Grammy cluelessness, more funny than offensive (though still telling), was the use of a Jay-Z photo from his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt as visual representation of the rapper in lieu of his absence. Incidentally, 1996 was the first year the Grammys implemented the “Best Rap Album” category. And oh yeah, “Best Rap Album”? That went to Eminem’s Recovery…

Written by Brandon

February 19th, 2011 at 5:51 am

Posted in Spin, Spin column

January Picks.

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A little late. Here are my favorites from last month. What’d I miss?

  • G-Side, The One…Cohesive: A rap album actually “bigger than hip-hop.” I mean, what sounds like this? It does all the things rap should do, but it does a lot more too. Review here.
  • Tabi Bonney, Postcard From Abroad: A chick named Smiles Davis slices up MOR indie for overrated, underrated, bugged-out actually #BASED DC rapper, Bonney. Share his world of “bicep curls and beautiful girls.”
  • James Nasty, The Truth About James Nasty: A hyper-concentrated dose of frantic, rubbery, dance. “I Got Sunshine” might just bring tears to your eyes. How often does club music do that? Review here.
  • Blaqstarr, Divine EP: Once you tire of James Blake’s Clapton-y coffee-shop dubstep, get lost in Blaq’s parochial singer-songwriter Baltimore club. Review here.
  • DB Tha General, Young O.G 2: More than a whole CD-R’s worth of worldly-wise raps and spazzy 80s beats that slap. The anti-BLVCK Diamond Life.

Written by Brandon

February 17th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Posted in 2011

Spin: “Assessing Lil Wayne’s Post-Prison Comeback.”

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The first installment of my weekly hip-hop column for Spin’s website is up, and it’s about Lil Wayne’s post-jail verses and the rather brilliant and touching way he’s confronted his jail-time. Namely, by not getting all sad-sack rapper about it and just rhyming really well. Read it! Argue about it! Thanks!

Though psychologically damaging and probably not all that reformative, prison isn’t a bad career move for a rapper. It feeds the hype machine, can help with street cred (which does still matter, even in this Officer Rick Ross era), and preps everybody for a big, got-through-it-all comeback.

See: Gucci Mane, at least until time in jail outweighed time spent in the recording studio. Also, T.I. on “I’m Back,” but less so on No Mercy, the rapper’s triumphant return that never was because dude got busted for smoking weed in broad daylight and went right back to jail (No Mercy was originally titled King Uncaged). Okay, so doing time is good for rappers who can stay on the straight and narrow once they get out, and make some good songs. It doesn’t work if people don’t give a shit about you, and that’s why Shyne has been out of luck since his release in 2009.

But people really give a shit about Lil Wayne. That’s why even his disastrous butt-rock experiment Rebirth went gold, and why I Am Not A Human Being, a decent odds-and-sods collection soaked in Drake guest spots, released while Wayne was in Riker’s Island for eight months on a gun charge, did pretty well too…

Written by Brandon

February 11th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Lil Wayne, Spin, Spin column

Pitchfork: Blaqstarr – Divine EP

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My review of Blaqstarr’s Divine EP is up, and though it’s much different than his club production, it’s still really good. Take some time with it please. Discussing the EP with friends, my point of comparison was often James Blake–for better and worse. James Blake also happened to be reviewed on Pitchfork today (it’s an excellent review by Grayson Currin) and it’s fun to just look at the site today and see the two similar covers and think of the ways these guys are kinda doing the same thing. Both are moving on the same path (from producer of regional dance music, to a singer-songwriter informed by that regional dance music), and they’re making similar-sounding music too, so give Divine EP a chance.

In the video for “Shake It to the Ground”, from 2007’s Supastarr EP, DJ Blaqstarr hides in the corners of the frame, dreadlocked and blunted, wearing a Marvel Zombies Captain America t-shirt. He sleepily looks on as teenage rapper Rye Rye runs circles around his cluttered, manic beat. On the cover of Divine EP, nearly four years later, the Baltimore club producer is front and center, shirtless and mohawked, almost cherubic-looking. Probably still blunted. And he has removed “DJ” from his name, signaling the shift from game-changing maker of club music to experimental bedroom producer.

For Bmore club obsessives, Blaqstarr’s move away from rapid-fire dance music is a bit like OutKast’s André 3000 starting to sing: a master abandoning his field of expertise for some brassy musical indulgence. Even Blaqstarr’s 2006 regional hit “Ryda Girl” is stripped of its frenetic dance elements here (and retitled “Rider Girl”). Anybody familiar with the original can’t help but view Divine EP’s softer version as a bit of a buzz-kill. But for the many, many more who never heard “Ryda Girl”, and never heard of Blaqstarr at all, the stumbling interplay of dancing synths, plucked bass, and Blaq’s naïve croon are enough to make it transcendent. For most, it doesn’t need those trademark Bmore club claps…

Written by Brandon

February 9th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Blaq Starr, Pitchfork