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Archive for March, 2011

Independent Weekly: “Wiz Khalifa’s Nonchalant Rise To The Top.”

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Unlike most of the internet, I think Rolling Papers is pretty great. Even the fratty acoustic jam “Fly Solo” has some charm here, somehow. But unlike most of the internet, I have nothing invested in Wiz, so maybe that’s part of why I’m feeling this so much? No expectations. I’m definitely having a tough time listening to people parse out the songs they think are good from the ones that are “too pop,” because other than “On My Level,” what here isn’t pop? Dunno guys, Wiz made a really blissed-out, one-note, stoner rap album and weaseled everybody from Stargate to his buddies E. Dan & Big Jerm into making the same kind of beats. Ambient rap on a Bruckheimer budget. What’s wrong with that?

In addition to the piece in this week’s Independent Weekly linked below, I have a review of Rolling Papers in next month’s Spin. Also: The dude Wesley Case is running through Rolling Papers one track at a time on his “Louder Now” blog for b free daily.

Before a performance at East Carolina University last fall, rapper Wiz Khalifa, as is his wont, encouraged prospective attendees of that night’s stop on the Waken Baken Tour to “fall thru wit ur finest plant life.” That is, as he posted on his Twitter account, bring your weed. Soon after that show, and just as his soon-to-be mega-hit “Black and Yellow” began picking up steam, he was arrested for possession of 60 grams of marijuana.

Wiz posted bail by the morning and kept doing the same thing: smoking, touring and rapping. By February of this year, “Black and Yellow” was the No. 1 song in the country. This week, as Wiz comes to the Triangle to perform at the Raleigh Amphitheater, he also releases the much anticipated Rolling Papers, his third album and arguably the first major-label rap album of any consequence to come out this year. Ergo, the biggest rapper in the country is a giggling, tatted-up, skinny-as-shit stoner from Pittsburgh. Wiz Khalifa’s scrappy approach to success—unfazed by setbacks or an arrest, steadfastly affable, an unaffected party rapper who’s become a bona fide rap superstar—is pretty much unprecedented…

Written by Brandon

March 31st, 2011 at 12:06 am

Spin: “Free Lil Boosie’s Lyrics! Rap On Trial, Again.”


This week’s column is about Lil Boosie and the possibility that his lyrics will be used against him in his upcoming murder trial, which is absolutely ridiculous.

One of the more ridiculous critiques lobbed at hip-hop, from both outsiders dismissive of the genre and old-head traditionalists upset at where the music’s ended up, is that gangsta rappers rarely tell the truth in their rhymes. Besides just being irrelevant, it’s one of those zingers that sounds good, but unravels the moment it’s given any thought. Mostly because there’s an implicit suggestion that such grumbling would stop if rappers actually got out there and hustled or committed violence. Only a small group of street-minded knuckleheads seriously expect such authenticity, right?

Apparently, a Louisiana district attorney does, as well.

When not piling on the sentimentality, BoosieJustice.Com, the website for Baton Rouge rapper Lil Boosie, who currently faces a first-degree murder charge, attempts to examine the injustices in his case. The “About” page cites the lack of evidence, the fact that Boosie’s involvement hinges on the words of a criminal offered a deal for naming other conspirators, that the rapper’s been a target of police for quite some time (due to politically charged songs like “Dirty World,” it suggests), and perhaps most disturbingly, the use of Boosie’s lyrics as evidence against him.

Written by Brandon

March 25th, 2011 at 5:09 pm

The Life And Death Of An Auteur Producer

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There are like, infinite gems in this Red Bull Academy interview with Mannie Fresh, but the one I’d like to focus on comes about an hour and thirteen minutes in, when Fresh answers a question about producers he’s currently feeling. His list is Drumma Boy, Shawty Redd, T-Mix, and Beanz & Kornbread, who are all basically Mannie Fresh disciples (okay, T-Mix is more like a peer), but Fresh’s discussion of how the record labels have good reason to hold these guys back, so that there isn’t well, another superstar studio nerd like Mannie Fresh is pretty fascinating:

“The people who I name right now, if they were sitting on the sofa with me, you wouldn’t know them, because it’s almost like, that’s the way record companies want it to be. They don’t want you to get too far, where you can start naming your price and doing certain things or whatever.”

Fresh’s cynicism is kinda ideal. He rose to fame with Cash-Money and basically built the label, but he got pretty fucked over by them or at least, Birdman Zuckerberg-ed him at some point or another, but he isn’t bitter about it. At least not publicly. He’s of course, also given hits to plenty of rappers outside of Cash-Money, so he’s dealt with major labels too. Though his output’s slowed down as of late (Hurricane Katrina and your sister being murdered will do that to you.), he’s shifted to DJing live sets and doing stuff with his own independent label, Chubby Boy Records (last year’s Return Of The Ballin was minor but excellent nonetheless). The point is, Fresh comes from a pretty rarefied perspective when he gives us all one more reason why the majors are kinda evil.

On the major label level, hip-hop producers are increasingly viewed as disposable. In my Spin column two weeks ago, I mentioned the majors’ slash-and-burn approach: A regional production style arrives on the radio and then is sucked dry until we’re all sick of it (Lex Luger, you need to watch out) and then, it’s onto the next one. Running parallel is a generic, even easier to repeat “pop-rap,” style that absorbs the signifiers of a regional sound and allows a bunch of middling, kinda-alright producers to do a lot of the work on most of the pop-rap hits. Either way, the work’s spread out amongst as many cheap, desperate producers as possible, or handed over to the few major label golden boys. If that producer isn’t a star like Kanye West or Will.i.Am, the plan’s to keep him invisible.

This approach extends beyond hip-hop too. Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me” features a dubstep breakdown but the song is produced by Dr. Luke. Just a few years ago even, this kind injection of sub-genre would’ve been accomplished by bringing in an actual person who makes that music (indeed, at some point, Rusko was working with Britney Spears) but now, thanks to technology and a feckless industry, we simply get a facsimile of the style. It’s just as likely that Rusko was just paid a bunch of dough to hand over his dubstep beat, but either way, it represents a hardheaded, closed-circuit approach to musicmaking that’s going to be pretty lethal to both the producers being fucked over and the producers/labels doing the fucking over.

The wholesale jacking of a sound or style isn’t anything new to the music industry and ghost-producing is quite simply, part of the game, but there’s something more nefarious going on here. Previously, regional sounds were able to sneak in, if not immediately, but over time. Now, all in an attempt to keep the industry afloat by protecting the ten or so money-generating artists and producers, regions and the underground get rolled up in the major label sound in careless, selfish ways.

There is some hope however. It’s worth nothing that the recent awesome and mostly Chris Brown-less Chris Brown single “Look At Me Now,” is produced by Diplo and Afrojack, which is nice to see after Will.i.Am took a break from ripping off Baltimore club to pretty much swipe the loping, drooping bounce of Afrojack for The Black Eyed Peas’ “Time Of My Life (Dirty Bit)”. Even more interesting is how the next wave of auteur producers aren’t all that interested in making hits or talking to the majors. Producers like DJ Burn One, Araabmuzik, Clams Casino, and The Block Beattaz, who don’t exactly need the majors and don’t even make beats that court that sound–because well, what’s the point anymore? Major labels are so protective of their very few moneymakers, that they’ll do anything to keep it “in-house,” even if it means slowly but surely killing the industry’s future creative opportunities.

Written by Brandon

March 23rd, 2011 at 3:26 am

Posted in Mannie Fresh

Spin: “Behind the Two Faces of the White Rapper.”

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New column is up, slightly delayed by SXSW. It’s on white rappers, a favorite, dicey topic of mine. I tell you why Yelawolf and Rittz are great and why Mac Miller looks like Agent Cody Banks. Also: Wrestling with “Frat-Rap.”

In the video for his song “Donald Trump,” Mac Miller, a scruffy 19-year-old white kid from Pittsburgh who looks more like Agent Cody Banks than hip-hop’s next big thing, bounces up and down, spitting well-worn boasts about bitches, partying, and his future success. Yet, people are actually listening to this guy. “Donald Trump” has more than one million views on YouTube. Miller’s on the cover of this month’s XXL as one of hip-hop’s promising “freshman.”

Gadsden, Alabama’s Yelawolf, a 31-year-old skate-punk, redneck rapper with a nimble flow and talent for novelistic detail, is part of this year’s “freshman” group, as well. Yelawolf was also on last month’s cover of XXL, along with hard-head, traditionalist supergroup Slaughterhouse, and Eminem (both Yela and Slaughterhouse are recent signees to Shady Records). White rappers, though still an anomaly, are not quite the joke they once were. Thanks to rap’s full-fledged entrance into the pop landscape, the white rapper and listener don’t necessarily look to hip-hop to dramatize their fantasies about black culture or tell them what’s cool to impersonate; rather, many white rappers and white rap fans genuinely relate to the music. The era of the suburban gangster is over.

Written by Brandon

March 21st, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Village Voice, Sound Of The City: Interview with Clams Casino

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My interview with everybody’s favorite ambient rap producer Clams Casino is up on Village Voice’s blog. Not surprisingly, he isn’t listening to Dolphins Into The Future or anything, but like, taking the manipulated soul of Heatmakerz and Kanye and going even further with it. If you haven’t checked out his mixtape yet, please do. Clams Casino Instrumentals Mixtape > Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972.

​Clams Casino is the producer behind some of Lil B’s trippiest and, therefore, #BASED-est beats, from “I’m God” to “Motivation.” Until the release of his self-titled instrumentals mixtape last week, his name was known to only the most devoted scourers of Internet rap. But thanks to the tape’s mysterious, very un-hip-hop design (a black and white marble image), his wonky producer name, and the beats themselves — moaning, fractured, noisy things that sound as much like Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 as they do rap instrumentals — the 23-year-old North Jersey-based producer is enjoying a wider profile. Earlier this week, we met up with Clammy Clams at a Mexican spot near his house in Nutley to talk about his spaced-out, hypnagogic hip-hop, which just might bring you to tears, it’s so beautiful…

Written by Brandon

March 17th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Pitchfork: Lil B – “Base For Your Face” [ft. Jean Grae and Phonte]

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Wrote about this totally wacky but not actually collaboration between Lil B and Phonte, Jean Grae, and 9th Wonder. For some precedent: B raps on a slurred version of 9th’s “Wonderbread” beat on “Connect The Dots” from Angels Exodus and on the latest installment of his Gorden Gartrell radio podcast, Phonte mentions that he first thought of collaborating with Lil B last year when he was planning his solo record. Total nerd stuff, but there’s also some fun rap meta-history going on here, with “Base For Your Face” sampling Flav and playing off the word “bass” the same way Public Enemy did with “Night Of The Living Baseheads.” From bass, to freebase, to #BASED, the philosophy.

Written by Brandon

March 12th, 2011 at 12:37 am

Spin: “When Rap Rock Didn’t Suck, Lil Jon’s Crunk Rebellion.”


Inspired by the release of Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz’s Crunkest Hits, an evaluation of crunk’s strange musical legacy:

For the first half of the 2000s, crunk music was rap music. The production of Lil Jon — the fight songs of Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia by way of shiny, Atlanta pop-rap — was a hybrid style technically “from Atlanta,” but with roots extending across the South (some Miami Bass and a distinct, New Orleans-based Cash-Money/No Limit influence too), but it was never beholden to area code or region. Crunk was southern hip-hop malleable enough to make room for a Midwestern double-time rapper like Krayzie Bone (“I Don’t Give A Fuck”), universally hard-edged enough to support lyrical New York tough guys like Styles P and Jadakiss (“Knockin’ Heads Off”), or just plain fun enough to direct Usher’s career away from slow jams (“Yeah”).

Crunkest Hits, a compilation of some of Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz’s most well-known songs, featuring “I Don’t Give a Fuck,” “Knockin’ Heads Off,” “Yeah,” and eleven others, arrives in stores this week. That’s less than a year after Crunk Rock, Lil Jon’s much-delayed, rap-metal genre mash-up, which was actually more like a Hot Topic-infused party record. Crunkest Hits makes a much better case for the idea of “crunk” as “rock.”

Written by Brandon

March 11th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Lil Jon, Spin, Spin column

Pitchfork: Holy Ghost! – “Jam For Jerry”


Wrote about this stand-out from the Holy Ghost! record, out next month. Best “sucks that my friend’s dead song” since UGK’s “One Day.” First song of 2011 to make me cry. I love that it’s called “Jam For Jerry” instead of the more ponderous “Song For Jerry” or “One for Jerry,” it really shows how much they thought this tribute out.

Written by Brandon

March 10th, 2011 at 1:28 am

Posted in Pitchfork

Spin: “The Rise of Rap’s Regular Guys.”


On G-Side, Tabi Bonney, and Stalley, and what it means to be moderately famous in rap.

A rapper’s narrative is pretty much always the same: Enter the young, hungry wordsmith who has finally, gloriously, made it. Lately though, thanks to the Internet, which makes it easy to bypass labels and normal promotional routes, as well as a messy, confused industry that often protracts buzz, the next big thing remains on the come-up for far too long, eventually staring down their official debut with a well-defined, often self-satisfied persona.

On last year’s Thank Me Later, Drake skipped the hungry, earnest rapper stage and proceeded directly to the “I’m famous, now what?” point in his career, and producer-rappers like J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T saddled their striving-for-classic mixtures with a “small town on my shoulders” martyr complex that demanded fame they’d not yet earned and had them questioning whether that fame was even worth it in the first place. Recent releases from Huntsville, Alabama’s G-Side (The One…Cohesive), Washington D.C.’s Tabi Bonney (Postcard From Abroad), and Massillon, Ohio’s Stalley (Lincoln Way Nights) make those petulant meta-narratives look a little foolish…

Written by Brandon

March 4th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

February Picks.

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  • Patrick Stump, Truant Wave: Fall Out Boy mastermind does an experimental r&b, concept EP. “Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)” might make you cry. On “Cute Girls,” Stump gracefully moves from an MJ impression to a brazen Prince swipe. Perfect.
  • Stalley, Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music): Stalley’s the first actually engaging, conventionally “lyrical” rapper in quite some time. Is there a single #hashtag rap on this thing? Boring at first, then, slowly but surely all you wanna listen to.
  • Hercules & Love Affair, Blue Songs: Queerer, blacker, and better than their debut. House LPs are supposed to be varied and moody, not front-to-back floor-fillers, alright? Do you also find Inner City’s Paradise inconsistent?! More about it here.
  • Mama’s Mustache, Next Level: Picks up where Sleepy Brown’s Mr. Brown left off. Imagine if Lil Will’s Better Days had actually gotten to stores and was some kind of game-changer. Fun, edifying, and completely ignored. Come on guys!
  • Mullyman, Mullyman Vs. The Machine: Mullyman blacks out on for an hour straight, Sonic the Hedgehogging his way through futuristic soul from producers DJ Booman and MBAHlievable, and even attacking G Dep’s “Special Delivery.” More about it here.
  • ***BONUS REISSUE PICK*** Nate Dogg, G-Funk Classics: Dr. Dre’s comeback features Skylar Grey and Akon. Meanwhile, Nate Dogg’s recovering from two strokes. Bet you didn’t even know Thump Records reissued Nate’s own little headphone masterpiece, did you?

Written by Brandon

March 4th, 2011 at 3:22 am

Posted in 2011