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Beanie Sigel’s Balancing Act: “What You Talkin’ About (Average Cat)”

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What’s been forgotten since Beanie Sigel released “What You Talkin’ About (Average Cat)”, earlier this week is just how well-rapped the thing is. Just how good Beans is on the song though, is pretty easy to forget, when such a delicate balancing act of a diss song is followed-up by an almost twenty-minute bitch-rant…in video form. That’s the tit-for-tat internet for you though, right?

But really, this is the most solid, determined chunk of rapping from Sigel since The B.Coming. Every word and idea is wisely placed, there’s a concern for meter and syllables, the way he stretches the word “mere” in one line to rhyme with “hairs” in the next–”The mere sight of fiends/Raise the hairs on your back”–or the weird, flurry of Michael Jackson references and something as vicious and nebulous “I can say shit that make ‘B look at you different”–all too a plodding, piano beat and Mobb Deep hook that’s obviously constructed to be the complete opposite of the Euro-house synth party that is the Jay song Beans “answers” here.

Beanie’s also kinda mimicking Jay-Z’s voice–that awkward, scrunched-up nasally accent–which is just funny, but is a subtler way of reminding you just how much Jay really does owe Sigel. Fuck “street cred” and all the dopey stuff Beans still cares about at age 35–that’s no less pathetic than Jay talking “business” in response, just two guys leaning on their proverbial crutches–Sigel is pretty much responsible for making Jay-Z the more complex, introspective rapper he became around the time of Blueprint.

Ever notice how every early “reflective” Jay-Z song, if you thought hard about the lyrics, it was Jay who was the asshole? Beanie brought a sense of self and morality that Jay picked up on. Beans moved Jay away from “thug em’, fuck em’, love em’, leave em” and into a functional, knuckle-head with real feelings. There’s even plenty of examples of Jay swiping Sigel’s flow pretty much wholesale: Compare The Truth’s “Mac Man” and Jay’s “Girls, Girls, Girls”. The joke here is, Jay doesn’t have it in him to get this (publicly) upset about anything and so, on the sincerity tip, and only on the sincerity tip, Beanie Sigle’s victorious.

The point is, this really isn’t just a “diss song”. Yeah, it’s a little too insider-y and all that, but it’s genuine response, with Beans recontextualizing Jay’s song in nearly every way, inhabiting his voice and opinions, and then sitting down and writing an artful rap, that moves between anger and disappointment, violence and distress, and never loses sight of its target. But there’s something unfortunate about the fact that Beans’ rediscovered focus is rooted in being upset and the reality that a shit-load of people’ll actually hear this song, so he better rap cogently.

But what all the zShare hawks get when they put on the “Beanie Sigel Jay-Z Diss” though, is sure, filled with the fruity gossip junk that a diss record requires in 2009, but it’s also downright horrifying. The aforementioned scary-movie beat and the fact that it just sounds like a dude really trying to keep his shit together and then, just kinda exploding at the end, no longer even rapping just ranting. There’s no “oh shit, no he didn’t!” moment to the thing. This song does not make you excited for a follow-up.

further reading/viewing:

-”The Quarterly Report: Albums” (#5 is Beans’ The Broad Street Bully) by Tom Breihan
-Beanie Sigel “What You Talkin About (I Aint Your Average Cat)”
-Jay-Z Responds to Beanie Sigel
-”Beanie Sigel Says If Jay-Z Dont Call Him…”

Written by Brandon

November 6th, 2009 at 2:01 am

Posted in Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z

It’s All In the Details: Comments on Specific Parts of Some Rap Songs

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Man, it’s 2009 and between months and months of hype and then the imminent album leak, nothing’s interesting and it’s all boring before the first album cut even finishes. Who has time for entire songs? And who has time for entire songs reviews? Here’s reviews of parts of songs, mostly good parts. Maybe a recurring feature here, we’ll see…

-RZA’s “We soldiers…” coda on “Black Mozart”
off Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

RZA’s high-pitched but gutteral wail of a chant that ends “Black Mozart” brings a flood of palpable pain into the song and the album, something it kinda lacks overall. It’s like RZA found an old blunt of ODB’s behind a monitor or something, smoked it, and the saliva ghost of ‘Dirty–his exuberance, his pain and confusion, his deep pontificating on the er, “struggle”–possessed RZA and he ran into the booth and cried this out. Because rap’s so sissified now (and it just is, sorry, it is) it’s easy to repaint all those St. Ideas and Timbs, gritty-beat makers as ineffable hard-asses but in all that music is obviously a lot of pain, and sometimes they even let it seap into the music explicitly; RZA bring some of that back on “Black Mozart”.

-Beanie Sigel’s biblical syntax on “Run to the Roc”
off The Broad Street Bully

Beans adopting a sort of absurd but strangely affecting mess of Biblical talk (lots of “thy” and words like “wrath”) shows you how seriously Jay Z’s dropping of “The Roc” is for those involved. “Street code” is doctrine for better and worse, and when you violate that, it’s over for you. But it also hurts because there’s more at-stake than just a bunch of feelings (and now empty wallets) but like an entire belief system. For Beans and company, the dismissal is tragic and mythic and all that, an ultimate violation and sign of disrespect. Biblical. Shakespearan. All that smart-person stuff applied to things to legitimize them. Notice how this is still threat-rap and tough-talk, he doesn’t explain why because he doesn’t have to explain it. It just is. The shit’s doctrine.

-Jay-Z’s revelation that his teacher was a dick on “So Ambitious”
off Blueprint 3

“I felt so inspired by what my teacher said/Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer-head/Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids/’specially when all I did was speak in class…”. If there’s an actual theme or like, thesis to BP3, it’s Jay Z actually feeling grown-up, no longer chasing respectability or plain old comfort, just being a fully-functional adult with a wife and responsibilities and shit. With this comes, it seems a deeper realization of his environment, one he once took for granted, also bubbles to the surface. And so, Jay’s really thinking about how having some jerk-off teacher tell you that you’re doomed isn’t normal or really acceptable. Obvious to a lot of us, but maybe not so if it’s how every fucking idealist-turned-nihilist “educator” treated you your whole fucking school career. The line clearly stung, he’s rapping about it years later, only now he’s sort of got it–rap as psychoanalysis.

-The title of Robert Glasper’s “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)”
off Double Booked

A good jazz song with a particularly affecting or smart title can somehow make it even better: “Just Friends”, “Idle Moments”, “Mandrake”, “Fables of Faubus”. That said, this has led to a lot of musicians trying really hard to be clever or insightful (a ton of puns, pseudo-poetry, etc) but “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” is like, haiku-perfect. There’s nothing explicitly “country” about the song, no twang or grafting of folk/country melodies here, but there is a certain ease and comfort, a rolling along feeling that indeed, invokes the cliches of a somewhat derisive adjective like “country” but turns them into the strengths big-city fucks are too cool for. A jazz tune for provincials. Cooly confident, but not stupidly prideful either. Robert Glasper’s from Texas.

further reading/viewing:
-Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of OBD by Jamie Lowe
-Harvey Keitel’s wail in Bad Lieutenant
-”The Documentary” by a bunch of the XXL Staff
-Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Hollywood Unreality Gets Around to Reality Rap…

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For the same reasons I avoided ‘Control’, I’ll probably avoid ‘Notorious’, unless I hear really great– or really terrible– things about it. Nevertheless, stills like the one above seem really depressing. I know, I know, it’s a big dumb Hollywood biopic but those stills, with essential unknowns as Biggie and Faith Evans make it feel more like, some terrible cash-in made-for-TV bio that would’ve premiered within six months of Biggie’s death and somehow incorporated “gangsta rap” into the title. The plan was to find unknowns as to not overshadow the real Christopher Wallace and company, but if it’s going to be a big, dumb Hollywood biopic, at least fill it with big, dumb Hollywood actors, not arguably less attractive, melty-looking versions!

Like many recent biopics, ‘Notorious’ is riding on its approval from friends and family to convince possibly cynical fans that this movie’s worth their time and will be “true-to-life”. The worst people to look to for an interesting or objective view of Biggie would be those closest to him! It’s funny that the cast is not star-packed except for Angela Bassett, who plays Biggie’s mom. With people like Puff Daddy still in power and you know, producing the movie, don’t expect any hard-hitting revelations about Puffy’s relationship with Biggie or the entire Biggie/Tupac-East Coast/West Coast feud, because all the people involved– and partially responsible for the deaths of two rap legends– are still alive, making money and proudly “squashing” those old beefs that killed their friends and business partners. I’m again reminded of a quotation from film scholar Ray Carney who had this to say about the concept that a movie is good, real, or accurate if those actually involved in the real-life version approve: “Spielberg bragged that Holocaust survivors were proud of Schindler’s List, and World War II veterans loved Saving Private Ryan. That’s not a virtue but a vice. All it means is that he let them wallow in their own clichéd views of themselves.” And wallowing in cliches is exactly what the biopic genre does.

The trend to grab on to the lives of very popular and very troubled artists and turn their life into a simpleminded, linear, idealized–or unidealized idealized– two hours isn’t anything new, but the subgenre’s recent popularity is why we’re now getting a Biggie biopic and why we’re getting a cast of look-alikes: these movies are not interested in working-out the life of the musician at their center, but continuing to bask and in part, cash-in on the image of that musician. We’ll get a narrative that bounces from iconic Biggie scene to iconic Biggie scene with pitch-perfect recreations of the ‘Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems Video’ or maybe, Biggie near a bodega in Bed-Stuy, freestyling to a surprised crowd, but it just won’t mean much of anything. I harp on this cast-someone-who-kinda-looks-like-the-guy logic because it shows just how silly and image-oriented these biopics are. Isn’t it a bit silly to watch ‘Walk the Line’ and see an actor with dyed hair doing a Johnny Cash impression? Was that movie really well-reviewed and respected when it literally has a scene where June Carter literally says to Johnny: “You can’t walk no line!” Can we expect a scene where a groupie whines “Oh, Biggie give me one more chance”?

At the same time, I’m not on some ‘I’m Not There’-type abstract bullshit either because that’s silly for its over-wrought metaphorical casting, just as Hollywood versions are silly when they find a fat dude who can sorta rap to play Biggie, or feel the compulsive need to slap a witchnose on Nicole Kidman for her to play Virginia Woolf. I guess I’m saying some Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon thing, where it’s close enough to not be absurd or too artsy-fartsy, but it’s more finding the actor or person that can embody and interpret that real-life version and not just do a pretty-good impression. I don’t think it would work for how literal-minded ‘Notorious’ probably will end up being, but I still think the best and most interesting choice would’ve been Beanie Sigel.

The casting of Sigel as Biggie would add a realistic edge that is less about looking realistically like Biggie and more like grabbing some of Biggie’s emotional character. Beanie’s neither a heir to the Biggie throne, or too highly indebted to the rapper, but he does have some of that same mix of vulnerability and anger and for you literal-minded dopes, he’s fat enough. Beans is also a pretty impressive actor himself. While he’s yet to be cast in anything that Dame Dash hasn’t been producing, his performances in the ‘State Property’ movies are convincing and real when they really don’t need to be. My fanboy dreams have long planned a kinda brilliant acting career for Beans, especially when Dash Films made its few moves out of the straight-to-video rap movie armpit and aided in the production of the nothing-great but pretty good ‘The Woodsman’ and the bonafide new-generation hip-hop classic ‘Paid In Full’, (which features a genuinely amazing performance by Cam’ron, mind you). Imagine a Biggie bio made by people who really, really care about the guy, who get ‘Ready to Die’.

Get rid of that Hollywood shine and idealization we all know it’ll have and replace it with the still-attractive but way more realistic lensing of someone like Rik Cordero and maybe narrow the plot down to a very small part of Biggie’s life, or even focus exclusively on his early career leading up to ‘Ready to Die’ and flash-forward to those fateful final months- like, start the final part with Biggie’s car-crash…I don’t know, just anything but another bio-pic which will race through his early life, define his career by re-creations of stuff we already know is career-defining, and end it “tragically”…

Some Other Half-Baked Movie Ideas for Beanie Sigel:
-‘Bird Lives!’ – A Charlie Parker Biopic: As a kind of rebuke to the awful, awful, awful, ‘Bird’ by Clint Eastwood– perhaps, the quintessential biopic– I began fucking around with some ideas about a more thoughtful and realistic movie about Charlie Parker. With Beanie as Parker, and the movie focusing on the last few weeks of Parker’s life, not to dwell in his junkie-hero persona, but to ground the movie in Bird’s self-destructiveness and then even at his worst, show him as human and humane, I think a more realistic image of him could be attained. By skipping out on his career and life, played-out scenes like his first big gig or him practicing non-stop or even his first shot of heroin, would be avoided. As so many YouTube videos of a probably-on-purple Beanie would show, he could do fucked-up junkie well, but I can also imagine him doing the humorous side of Parker that biographies have acknowledged with equal honesty. My favorite Parker story is recounted in many places but maybe most famously in the Ken Burns ‘Jazz’ series and it’s Parker, playing Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ to a group of hipster-red out, Bird-worshipping ‘bop heads who all dismiss it as “redneck music” and can’t understand why Parker insists on playing it over and over. “Listen to the stories” he tells his worshippers; I think Beanie Sigel could sell a line like that pretty well.

-‘Untitled Homeless Movie’: One rainy afternoon, like four years ago, I was watching ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and there was this amazing story about a white tennis instructor in Boca Raton who’d befriended a black homeless guy who to the instructor’s rather uptight family, was not only disturbing but maybe even something of a confidence man. The tennis instructor and the homeless guy became good friends, with the instructor eventually allowing the homeless guy to move-in to his rather nice apartment and bringing the still-stinks-like-he’s-homeless homeless guy to the home of his parents for dinner. The instructor began spending lots of his own money to help the local homeless and pretty much became a part of the homeless culture. Eventually, the instructor went missing, his car found parked in a nice neighborhood, his wallet, ID, and keys, on the driver’s seat. The homeless guy– now living full-time in the instructor’ apartment– had not seen the instructor in weeks. This presumably true story seems to be, a pretty entertaining way to address the white liberal’s relationship with a downtrodden culture and with Beanie Sigel as the mysterious homeless guy– mysterious because he’s crazy, not some Bagger Vance crap– could add some interesting ways to address white interest in “blackness” and hip-hop culture. It could easily be a satire, but I’d like to see it a little more straight, with the white guy being genuinely intrigued and affected by it all– enough that he’d get rid of his former life– but still coming off a little absurd. I had this idea in like 2004, when Roc-A-Fella was still a thing and so, I imagined a weird, hip-hop instrumental score by Kanye West or even just a bunch of Kanye instrumentals as the score.

-‘Song Cry’: Once again, an idea I had back when The Roc was real but were still making garbage like ‘Paper Soldiers’ like they weren’t real. Imagine a movie version of ‘Song Cry’, but starring Beanie because it would keep it in the Roc family and Beanie’s just more real in personality and look than any actor who would try to look hard or of “the life”. For some reason, I always imagined ‘Song Cry’ as being about a relationship but Jay’s contrast of his rise to success with the distance in his relationship related to the ‘Scarface’-like success of a drug dealer. Think ‘Godfather II’ or plenty of other gangster movies where the couple pulls apart as more and more money comes in. On ‘Song Cry’, Jay makes this reality a little more tragic and it totally works and is very cinematic: “We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather/So, now we travel first class to change the forecast”. An early romantic scene of the two in the rain, is contrasted with a later scene of the two, now on a plane, flying somewhere exotic but hardly giving a shit. The movie that would come out of ‘Song Cry’ could be full of these like cinematic doubling of scenes; a kind of epic-ish drug-dealer out-of-love story, but starring a kinda grimy Beans instead of like, Denzel Washington done-up to look kinda grimy.

Written by Brandon

April 2nd, 2008 at 8:14 am

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Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me 12’ Single

I wrote this early last week, before my friend Mike killed himself. The last thing I talked about with him was making a video for this metal song he was working on and the ‘Mac 10 Handle’ video. We both related to it. Sometime after that, between Monday night and Tuesday night, he pushed his couch against his apartment door, watched the movie ‘Thief’ (or just put it on), and put a shotgun in his mouth. That is all I know right now. I love you Mike.

I found the greatest thing ever this weekend: An original ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ Single! (See above images of the ‘No Trivia’ “staff” posing with it…). Obviously, the song is great, one of the rap songs that could be considered “perfect” but what really puts this over the edge is the design of the sleeve. A cheap-looking font outlined in black, the name of the group at the top, song title at the bottom, and in between, the boys in front of an ambulance looking awesome but definitely not “cool” and not even particularly “gangsta”. Their clothes in particular, are worth noting: Scarface wears a lime dress-shirt without a tie with the top button buttoned, Bushwick is in hospital scrubs, sitting in a lawn chair, gripping a mobile phone, with an almost-regal look on his face and Willie D. is rocking this really incredible empire-collar jean-jacket with the arms and front shredded. It’s the same stuff they are wearing on the cover of ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’ and the whole design is just a variation on that design but without the shock-value of that album cover. This single does not expose Bushwick’s missing eye, it is tastefully covered, so you just get Scarface, Willie D., and Bushwick not looking tough, not even necessarily sad, just kind of worn-out. It’s like, day-after the tragedy.

Over and over, rappers reference ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ when they create a particularly honest or confessional song or album. Think of Biggie’s ‘One More Chance’, essentially a song of sexual conquest, interrupted for a few moments by the very-real paranoia most of ‘Ready To Die’s other songs are obsessed with: “Is my mind playin’ tricks? Like Scarface and Bushwick/Willie D havin’ nightmares of girls killin’ me.” Although that’s the only explicit reference (I think), the influence of Geto Boys permeates ‘Ready to Die’. Recently, there’s Clipse album-closer ‘Nightmares’ with Pusha-T’s verse beginning with a direct quotation from Willie D: “I make big money, I drive big cars/Everybody knows me, it’s like I’m a movie star”. And very recently, there’s ‘Mac 10 Handle’ by Prodigy which begins “I sit alone in my dirty-ass room/Staring at candles, high on drugs” but my favorite ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ intertextual reference is Beanie Sigel’s ‘Feel It In the Air’ from 2005’s ‘The B.Coming’.

‘Feel It In the Air’ is the only ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’-referencing song that even comes close to having the emotional weight of the original. It’s pretty much impossible to explain something without ruining it (which I think I do with this entry) but I’ll try. Let’s start with the beat, which I always forget is produced by Heavy D. It’s pretty much a conventional “sad” beat (slow tempo, mournful sax) but the “I can feel it in the air” singing adds something strange to it and Sigel’s rapping fits perfectly. Beanie’s slow-rapping is not to indicate that the song is “poignant” (ala’ “introspective” Jay-Z) it’s because he’s just sort of resigned to feeling shitty. Sigel alters the Scarface line, changing it to: “I sit alone in my four cornered room starin’ at hammers/Ready to go bananas” changing the lyrics in a way that makes them even more disturbing and adding a kinda-corny line like “ready to go bananas” that actually works better than thinking of something clever. It’s like those that hating-on Prodigy’s ‘Mac 10 Handle’ because arguably, it is not “lyrically” up to par with the best Mobb Deep tracks. Sometimes, being clever or articulate isn’t necessary and I’ll certainly take honesty over “lyricism” if it makes me actually feel something. Following up his Scarface-quoting, Beans makes the Scarface connection explicit in the next line when he says: “Two vests on me, two techs, extra clips on me/I know my mind ain’t playin’ tricks on me.” The reality/paranoid-hallucination division is broken, his voice in the song is so out-of-it he’s adamant that his hallucinations are real and maybe they are? Those lines also remind listeners that the rhyming words with the same word has been a Beanie trick since ‘The Truth’ so don’t blame that shit on Dipset! Beanie however, uses the rhyming the same word trick for maximum effect, as his rhyme scheme deteriorates the same way that his mind seems to be going away. The song does a good job of reflecting Beanie’s state of mind, he goes from conventional rapping, to same-word rapping, and finally allows his verse to devolve into non-rhyming lines: “Read they body language/85% communication non-verbal, 85% swear they know you/10% you know they soft, man, the other five…time to show you, just know you.” When he trails off at the end, it’s hard to even know what the hell he is talking about. The song stops being about paranoia and mental instability because the song really does, temporarily, not make sense, it actually becomes unstable.

Like many other rappers, Sigel returns to the original lament ‘My Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me’ to illustrate his feelings of self-destruction. These feelings of self-destruction that remind me of unstable relatives, friends of friends that offed themselves, or my own problems and so, the songs do work on some level that is closer to being “universal” or humanistic, not specific to the plight of the crack-dealer or gang-banger. I think that’s significant because the fundamental flaw in discussing rap music seriously comes from the moronic perspective that it is only worth discussing from the “black CNN” perspective and not the same way in which one may listen to a sad rock or a elegiac jazz composition. If I’m feeling “emo”, I’d be as likely to listen to certain dark or depressing rap songs as I would Joy Division or Charlie Parker.

Brandon’s Ten Sad Rap Songs

1. Da Summa – Triple Six Mafia (from ‘Mystic Stylez’)
2. Mind Playing Tricks On Me – Geto Boys (from ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’)
3. Tha Crossroads – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (from ‘E. Eternal 1999’)
4. Reunion – Slum Village featuring J. Dilla – (from ‘Detroit Deli’)
5. C.R.E.A.M – Wu Tang Clan (from ‘Enter the Wu Tang’)
6. Runnin’ – Pharcyde (from ‘Labcabincalifornia’)
7. Feel It In The Air – Beanie Sigel – (from ‘The B.Coming’)
8. T.R.O.Y – Pete Rock & C.L Smooth – (from ‘Mecca & The Soul Brother’)
9. All That I Got Is You – Ghostface Killah (from ‘Ironman’)
10. Family Business – Kanye West – (from ‘College Dropout’)


-Beanie Sigel – ‘Feel It In the Air’ Video.

-Bushwick Bill – ‘Ever So Clear’:The song that describes in amazing clarity and sanity, how Bushwick lost his eye. No “cry for me” bullshit in this one, no melodrama, just how it happened. From his underrated ‘Little Big Man’ solo album.

‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ Video:Probably the best rap video ever made.

-‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ Star Wars Video: Someone made a really amazing remake of the video with Star Wars figures. It’s ridiculously well-done and it manages to be really funny without being ironic or mocking the song or video.

By the way, I found that single here, ‘The True Vine’; this really great record store that just got-in a shitload of 80s and 90s rap singles. If you’re in Baltimore it’s worth going over there.

Written by Brandon

February 7th, 2007 at 11:01 pm