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Archive for August, 2011

Watch The Throne: “Gotta Have It”


Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Five Thousand Dollars”

A James Brown sample is cast in the role of the Throne’s hypeman on “Gotta Have It,” cheering them on, and shouting over a classic Kanye chipmunked vocal and the Neptunes’ minimalist synth-funk. There’s been a lot of controversy about “Otis” being credited as “featuring Otis Redding” (Curtis Mayfield is similarly credited on bonus track “The Joy”), but Watch The Throne is, in part, an investigation of “black excellence” (Jay’s words), and the Throne position themselves in this continuum, so it’s only right that they treat these musical gods like peers.

The bar-for-bar, back-and-forth rapping, a tribute to not only old school hip-hop, is retrofitted to play out like a dramatic dialogue between Kanye and Jay-Z, which actually makes sense, given the Socrates shout-outs on “No Church In The Wild.” Kanye takes the lead, and Jay tags along, asking him questions (“Ain’t that where the Heat play?”), keeping the flow moving along. Halfway through, Jay steps up and enacts a scene where he threatens a guy who hasn’t paid his debts: “Wassup, motherfucker, where my money at? / You gon’ make me come down to your house where yo’ mummy at? / Mummy wrap the kids, have ‘em cryin’ for they mommy back.” It’s vicious, and shows just how easy this CEO/rap superstar can resurrect the anger and scrappy aggression of his past….

Written by Brandon

August 17th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Watch The Throne: “Otis”


Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Red Kings”

“Otis,” which samples “Try a Little Tenderness,” features the Throne rapping Run-D.M.C.-style, and in the last verse, nods to Audio Two’s “Top Billin,” begins a mid-album suite of nostalgia-tinged production. The soul samples really get to breathe in this section (Nina Simone on “New Day,” James Brown on nearly every track) and all these rap-nerd details (quoting Raekwon’s “Incarcerated Scarfaces” on “New Day,” updating “The Message” on “Welcome to the Jungle,” using “Apache” on “That’s My Bitch”) ground WTT in hip-hop history and precedent. Given the album’s focus on black success and influence, this nostalgia trip is conceptually necessary.

Kanye’s masterful, sideways chopping of Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” reducing the Memphis legend to a loop of visceral grunts and hollers, references the soul-beat tradition that started the Throne’s friendship, while cleverly updating it, as well. When Jay-Z threatens, “Run up on ‘Ye, I might have to murk ya,” he’s also commenting on their relationship, reasserting that which hasn’t changed. Namely, that Jay was and is the heavy, and Kanye is the normal kid for whom violence was never a way of life. “Big brother” Jay’s still there to protect Kanye…

Written by Brandon

August 16th, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Watch The Throne: “Niggas In Paris”

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, “King Pleasure”

“This shit weird / We ain’t supposed to be here,” the usually cocksure Jay-Z confesses on “Niggas In Paris.” Being famous is indeed weird. But being black and famous is a special kind of weird and that’s the overarching theme of Watch The Throne. It’s a rarefied burden, yes, but not one to be dismissed, even if the album did drop on the day Wall Street farted out. WTT may be a musical event, but not because of its broad sonic palette (woah, dubstep!) or because two rapping superstars told you so months ago, but because it bites off more than it really needs to chew.

Think about it this way: Watch The Throne, which is about blackness and responsibility and the grimy American dream, is probably gonna be the second biggest album of the year. It could’ve been 12 tracks of “H.A.M.” but instead you don’t even get one “H.A.M.” That lumpy epic is relegated to a bonus track. Let’s start with Jay and Kanye titling this song “Niggas In Paris,” which speaks to a W.E.B. DuBois-ian “double consciousness” that permeates much of the album…

Written by Brandon

August 16th, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Watch The Throne: “Lift Off”

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Formless”

When Jay and Kanye aren’t brooding about fame, caught up in their reputations, they’re screaming, “Holy shit, we made it!” And that’s what “Lift Off” is about. This kind of glee does involve running down a list of cool locales, fancy clothes, and expensive art they’ve purchased, but nevertheless, it is quite different from good old-fashioned conspicuous consumption. There’s a classically American sense of making something of yourself on WTT, and that’s unabashedly introduced on “Lift Off,” and complicated later on with “New Day” and “Made In America.”

The raps on “Lift Off” are mostly placeholders; it’s the feeling that matters here, best exemplified by Kanye’s high-pitched, downright adorable singing. But this Jay-Z line — “When you Earnhardt as me, eventually you hit a big wall” — is an example of how, even in this massive song, there’s still a reminder of the limits to wealth and success. Jay’s referencing the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who died while racing at the top of his game; but he’s also suggesting a more general, inevitable downfall — of the economy, of the Western world — pronouncing “Earnhardt” like “earn hard,” thus making the line, “when you earn hard as me, eventually you hit a big wall.” What was that about this album ignoring the current economic climate?…

Written by Brandon

August 16th, 2011 at 12:13 am

Watch The Throne: “No Church In The Wild”

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled (Fallen Angel)”

An ominous guitar riff, pumped full of bass, bubbles to the surface (from a sped-up sample of 1978’s “K-Scope” by Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera), synths quiver and pulsate, and Odd Future buddy/budding R&B star Frank Ocean intones a series of loaded, tone-setting questions (“What’s a mob to a king? / What’s a king to a God?”), building towards “What’s a God to a non-believer?”

Jay-Z and Kanye West aren’t the non-believers here, though; they’re the guys navigating this ugly world beyond good and evil. Like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with its crucial question — “Can we get much higher?” — Watch The Throne begins with a loaded question we don’t actually want answered…

Written by Brandon

August 15th, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Spin: Watch The Throne Track-by-Track, Pt. 1

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In which I save Watch The Throne from lazy-ass ledes invoking the economy, one track at a time. Part two later this week.

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative album Watch The Throne is finally in stores. August 12 also marks the day that the painter Jean Michael Basquiat died, 23 years ago. It’s an oddly appropriate time for a money-grubbing, deeply considered, pop-art rap album full of shiny, expensive message-music to drop. When it was released on iTunes Monday, with the reality of the United States’ lowered credit rating sinking in, plus the riots in England, Watch The Throne was criticized by many for being tone-deaf and out-of-step. But despite Jay and Kanye’s wealth-signifying shout-outs, their swaggering, money-burning attitude is delicately woven into an affecting, pointed exploration of success that’s freaking massive and also a lot of fun to listen to…

Written by Brandon

August 15th, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Spin: Kreayshawn’s White Girl Mob & The N-Word.


About Kreayshawn and all this toxic, White Girl Mob nonsense. Also how White Girl Mob are kinda like the Tea Party.

Rule number one for white rappers, and shit, man, white people in general: Don’t say the n-word! Just don’t. Not exactly sure where this white-rapper compulsion to utter “nigga” comes from, but the latest violator of what should be a pretty obvious rule is V-Nasty. She’s a member of the White Girl Mob — a group that revolves around Oakland MC Kreayshawn, who’s responsible for the viral hit “Gucci Gucci,” which is nearing nine million views on YouTube.

Kreayshawn has stated that she doesn’t use the n-word in her raps (although she did tweet it), and according to a rant on her Tumblr, intends to separate herself from V-Nasty: “[V-Nasty's use of the n-word] has taken a huge toll on what I been trying to do and what I been trying to push. I hope soon people will see the difference between us even though we are still close friends doesn’t mean I use it too or defend it in anyway.”

A video from a few months before, though, finds Kreayshawn drumming up a dumb-assed defense of her n-bomb-spouting friend: “[V-Nasty] says it all the time and that’s just because she grew up all different. Like she goes in and out of jail for armed robbery all the time and like, you know, her mom calls her that.” This hedged stance might wash, except for the fact that the only reason any of us are even privy to V-Nasty’s raps is because Kreayshawn has given her something like a co-sign. She becomes responsible for V-Nasty, whether she wants to be or not…

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

Pitchfork: Rewards – “Equal Dreams” [ft. Solange Knowles]

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Wrote up this very awesome dance track from one of the guys who used to be in Chairlift. Solange guests and kills it.

Written by Brandon

August 2nd, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Pitchfork

Spin: Watch The Throne Preview

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So, last night, I went to a planetarium in New York and got to hear the new Kanye and Jay-Z album…

There was a mysterious Eyes Wide Shut feeling to Monday night’s listening party for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s much-anticipated Watch the Throne collaborative album.

After handing over any and every device that could possibly record audio or video, an excited clump of writers, rappers, models, and nebulous industry types filed into the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s Museum of Natural History for an hour and a half of sipping champagne, waiting, noshing (shouts to that potato-pancake thing with maple syrup or something on it), and more waiting. Then suddenly, everyone began climbing a staircase and moving towards an elevator, which took us to a dimly lit museum floor (illuminated only by TVs showing a Watch The Throne documentary). Finally, we were seated in Hayden Planetarium.

More and more guests flowed in, including hip-hop royalty (Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Clipse’s Pusha T), some rap-nerd legends (Kanye co-producer and Rap-A-Lot sonic architect Mike Dean, Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg) and, yes, Beyonce. Kanye arrived early on, dressed kinda casual (flannel, jeans, big-ass chain) smiling, shaking hands, and grinning ear-to-ear, genuinely psyched to be there…

Written by Brandon

August 2nd, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Jay-Z, Kanye West, Spin

July Picks.


  • Prurient, Bermuda Drain: Why make regular old noise when you can conjure up the lovechild of the first Burzum album and Brad Fiedel’s score to The Terminator? The sticker on the LP says: “Listen on headphones while driving through tunnels in Europe.”
  • Washed Out, Within And Without: A lush, cleanly produced album that finds Ernest Greene trying to be Sade for dorks like me. Chillwave gets grown and sexy. No really! Just an easy hypnotic listen, which is the point of this junk, right? Review here.
  • Murder Mark, Ayo Volume 2: A remix of “H.A.M” that actually goes ham. Futuristic fight songs “In My Hood” and “Tear Shit Up.” A spaced-out cover of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Mark should be part of 2011’s global wildin’ out music phenomenon.
  • Skinny Friedman, Trap Rave: Moombahton tilted towards the house side of things with lots of trippy effects, just enough island-y atmosphere, AND SOUTHERN RAP SAMPLES. 7 minute moombah-izing of Juicy J’s “Who Da Neighbors” FTW.
  • Gucci Mane, Writings On The Wall 2: Successfully mixes his major label self-aware, self-destructive persona with the wounded, word-happy mixtape nihilist we all fell in love with. Expansive, kinda expensive beats from Gucci’s best producers hold it together.

Written by Brandon

August 1st, 2011 at 3:28 am

Posted in 2011