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Living With Yourself: Gucci Mane’s The Appeal


The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted is better than Jewelry Selection, not as good as Mr. Zone 6, and far more concentrated and mixtape-like than The State Vs. Radric Davis. There aren’t a lot of guests (far fewer than The State) and the slightly outside of the Fatboi/Zaytoven wheelhouse production pushes Gucci in interesting, near new directions: Soulja-boy-like sad triumphalism on “Makin’ Love To The Money,” relationship raps meeting up with Four Tet-like backwards weirdness (and some ghetto-tech chants and Ray J?!) on “Remember When,” and the closest Gucci can get to chillaxed yacht rap on the “Haterade” and “It’s Alive.” Then there’s “Dollar Sign,” which is Gucci being very wacky (“I’m so fuckin’ paid I just bought the dollar sign”) and meter-obsessed (“so I keep her, feed her treat her like a diva”), which is exactly how we like him. The Appeal is easily the most head-down, straight rapping-est release from Gucci since From Zone 6 To Duval.

Back when The State Vs. Radric Davis was released, it was common to compare it to Tha Carter III in that it was an exciting, rap-nerd zeitgeist-grabbing, masterful major label mess from a mixtape rapper everybody thought couldn’t deliver. The Appeal though, is like Tha Carter II, which means Gucci’s traveling backwards, away from event music (or his best approximation of it) and back towards just quietly, confidently rapping really, really, well.

This rather modest approach fits well with the loose, concept of maturity and comfort with comfort that permeates The Appeal. A sober epiphany (“I fought the law and the fuckin’ law won.”) on album opener “Little Friend” redirects the song’s Scarface-isms and Gucci’s whole tone shifts to a laugh to keep from crying confession: “I could’ve been a doctor, I should’ve been a lawyer, I got to court so much I could’ve been my own employer.”. That’s a line just dying to be phrased differently and delivered as a boast, but Gucci holds back. “Remember When,” which really should just be a disaster, is a love-song (“I met a girl so real that there’s no need to run no game on.”) and that politely-honest approach continues into “Haterade,” where Gucci, in the middle of a particularly strange, fast-slow, mealy-mouthed verse confides “I ain’t hard to please baby. come choose me.” And there’s album-closer “Grown Man” which I talked about here already. All this quasi-mature talk works because Gucci hasn’t changed his approach to rapping one bit and hasn’t necessarily abandoned the stuff he made his name rapping about (putting “Brand New” and “Weirdo” right before “Grown Man” is sequencing genius) either–he’s just a little more willing to reflect. This is the anti-Blueprint 3.

Written by Brandon

October 1st, 2010 at 7:25 am

Posted in Blueprint 3, Gucci Mane

Don’t Wrap Up Rap Just Yet: G-Side

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Did you see that interview with Tyler Perry on 60 Minutes last Sunday? Probably not, but Perry called his infamous character Madea, “bait”: “Disarming, charming, make-you-laugh bait so that I can slap Madea in something and talk about God, love, faith, forgiveness, family — any of those things.” The beats on BP3 are bait like that.

Visceral, in-the-now slabs of synth and Euro-house party sounds so that Jay-Z can slip his grown-ass man insights onto a new album. It’s more than “mildly entertaining” as Sasha Frere-Jones said in “Wrapping Up”, it’s a deeply affecting album about standing between two worlds and wisely inching towards the smarter, less “cool” choice.

Hunstville, Alabama’s G-Side released an album full of beats not all that different from those weirder ones on BP3 and they did it nearly a year before Jay and they didn’t reach out to 500k-a-beat business buddies, they were holed-up with their town’s avant-rap geniuses the Block Beataz and crafted Starshipz and Rocketz, a perfect album about looking forward and cringing as you look back. The fluttering synths, the stuttering 808s, the waves of weird space-noise running through their songs are not there to reflect what’s going on in New York City clubs–or on sites like Discobelle–but to musically manifest transcendence. Space and retro-futurism as escape from all that bullshit.

Album-ender “Run Thingz” is basically all-out rave stuff, it doesn’t slow the BPMs down all that much and it doesn’t remove the airy edges of the electronics–as is the production habit on BP3–and the verses, from ST 2 Lettaz and Clova, use their current success and parlay it into rap-it-so-it-happens utopianism: “I stay trill like ST/They put a lock where my soul be/And found a way to break free/Starshipz that’s the dedication”.

It’s a long way from ST’s killer first lines on “Youth of the Ghetto”: “Momma stay gone, Daddy’s been gone, lights ain’t on so I had to get grown/No TV, can’t watch The Flintstones/So I went outside with them boys and flipped stones.” You’ll notice that rarely are G-Side rapping in the present-tense about hustling. They’re not that much different from Jay-Z, only their concerns are, even as they float around in space, much more grounded. It’s the production sound and trends of the ‘aughts wrapped in earthy, deeply sincere rhymes. The stuff Frere-Jones praised Gibbs for, just not as wrapped up in niche sound of rap’s past. Looking into the past and then dragging the past into the future.

Their latest project, Huntsville International comes out on November 9th and in title alone, shows these hyper-specific regional rappers talking to the world. It’s named after their hometown’s airport, but it’s also a reference to the group’s broader scope. Since the release of Starshipz, the group’s travelled up North and West and across the Atlantic, picking up new ideas and sounds, all now to be rolled-up in their forward-thinking space-age country rap tunes.

further reading/viewing:

-”Wrapping Up” by Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker
-”Das Racist to Sasha Frere-Jones: Stop Killing Rap”
-”They Don’t Really Dance: G-Side at Guilford College” by ME
-”Artist Spotlight: G-Side” from KevinNottingham.Com
-Tyler Perry on 60 Minutes

Written by Brandon

October 29th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Blueprint 3, G-Side, Jay-Z

Ten Favorite Moments on Blueprint 3: Part Two


6. Swizz Beatz Destroying “D.A.N.CE” And Putting It Back Together

Every Jay Z album since Blueprint has been an event in part, because you were waiting to hear the production: What producers, what samples, how they’re flipped, etc. There was always a big surprise or two and here, it’s Swizz Beatz grabbing Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E” and slicing it into a hundred pieces, rendering it close to unrecognizable. There’s these shards of the original, like a syllable of the hook popping-up in the verse, these weird, downward-falling “Beat It”-esque chunks of bassy synth, etc. This is just a dude in his studio completely destroying a song and having fun using the weirdest chopped parts and seeing if he can get away with it–he does. It’s also “hipster rap” done right, broadening your samples arsenal then treating it no different than some old Stax 45.

7. Jay’s Conflicted History Lesson on “A Star is Born”

Make no mistake, this song’s not a homage to the rap history before and after Jay’s debut, it’s a cynical, slyly dismissive diss song and comment on the fleeting rap scene of the Web 2.0 world. Rappers are disposable, they’ll stop being relevant…unless they’re Jay Z. The message is downright loathsome really, awesomely loathsome though. If Daniel Plainview were a rapper, this is how he’d talk about his peers. Still, like the 9-11 metaphor–itself a piece of history Jay takes full, obnoxious possession of–simply by going for it and committing to the concept, some slivers of fun and reverence peak through. The points where his attempt at “objectivity” totally break down–the clever suggestion that Wayne needs to get his shit together (“I’ll applaud him, if he keeps going”), the implicit speculation of Drake’s ability to be a star, and especially the line about Prodigy–are fascinating. Speculative rap nerds can spend hour with this pithy history lesson reading all kinds of shit into it.

8. When “Venus Vs. Mars” Ends

“Venus Vs. Mars” ends up being pretty fun once you listen to BP3 enough, but it’s also just kind of…icky. And so, when it ends, the album is better for it, but the real reason “Venus Vs. Mars” fading-out is a top-ten moment is because it has this time-traveling feeling to it–it’s a three minute song that feels like it’s 45 seconds. And when it ends, you’re like “Huh, what?” for a moment or two. In part because Jay digs-in and really focuses on the song’s dopey lyrical conceit, but mainly because Timbaland’s beat, a lurching, low-energy, low BPM, electronic groove wraps around your ears, making you lose all sense of time. Dance music and electronic music can do this: Confuse your brain, making it unsure whether the song’s been playing for a few minutes or a few hours. Timbaland’s a master of this…when he isn’t making perfect avant-pop bangers.

9. The Slow-Rising Horns on “Already Home”

Kanye and No I.D’s production on most of BP3 is really what holds it together. Despite the bad sequencing, the album eventually finds its way back to their big, loud, but strangely immaculate beats and that, coupled with Jay’s interest in being honest, works. Really, “Already Home”, just as a piece of music, is gorgeous–all about tension and release, strings pinging back and forth and then stopping, low hums of horn that turns to a swell of mournful but victorious joy. A lot of the tracks also have these weird mumbles of voices in them, a stranger, more subliminal version of Kanye’s obsession with Leslie West of Mountain’s wordless mumbles he was tossing-in everything a few years ago. But those horns, the way they rise above the rest at peak moments, the way they’re talking to some strikes of piano or keyboard…wow. It’s the feeling of comfort and warmth and sincerity. The feeling of BP3.

10. Jay Z “living life like a video” in “Young Forever”

Jay drums up some utopian vision of success that exists only in music videos. A vision of success that’s then projected onto MTV and BET to a bunch of kids that’ll then aspire to the same kind of success. They’re probably not aware that this kind of perfection only exists in the video–the completed project at that. If you’ve ever been on a music video set, it’s an ugly, boring, awkward bunch of hours, all spent obsessively making it seem like it’s the total opposite of ugly, boring, and awkward. Jay’s rapping a music video treatment here and he’s really knowing about it, blowing-up the unreality like Hype Williams, then exposing the complete unreality of it all but yearning for it anyway. Jay’s no longer rapping wish fulfillment, he’s rapping about that untouchable whatever whatever, willing it to existence in his mind alone and realizing that sometimes, that’s enough. The idea can be as important as the reality. A strangely perfect ending to the album.

further reading/viewing:
-”Jay Z’s Midlife Crisis Is Over” by Zach Baron
-”Parse Some Bars: Forever Young” from Rockabye Review
-”Plato’s Idealism” by Dmitry Pisarev

Written by Brandon

September 9th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Blueprint 3, Jay-Z

Ten Favorite Moments on Blueprint 3: Part One

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1. The Beat on “What We Talkin’ About”

A big, swooshing, synthy soundscape anchored by some stumbling, awesomely limp Kanye drums. Could be from a Jeezy album cut or a Vangelis soundtrack (which are basically the same) and either way, it’s open-spacey enough for Jay to just kinda go off on any and everything. Rap’s at its best when it’s either obsessively, perfectly formal and cohesive or when it’s a big, weird mess. “What We Talkin’ About” is the latter: Jay rapping distinctly grown man shit over production that’s trying in every way to sound hyper-contemporary.

2. What There “Ain’t nothing cool” About On “What We Talkin’ About”

Amongst many of Jay’s winning qualities, it’s his understanding of balance that will keep him relevant. That’s to say, getting serious and all guidance counselor-like in your raps, when you don’t do it all the time, holds more weight: “Ain’t nothing cool about carryin’ a strap/About worryin’ your moms and burying your best cat/Talkin’ about revenge while carrying his casket/All teary-eyed about to take it to a mattress-”. This stems from experience and gained knowledge. Jay’s not speaking in platitudes there.

3. Extended 9-11 Shit-Talk Metaphor on “Thank You”

Just an impressive piece of visceral writing, touching on sense and action and weaving it into a moment-to-moment narrative: “I was gonna 9-11 them but they didn’t need the help/And they did a good job, them boys is talented as hell/Not only did they brick they put a building up as well/Then ran a plane into that building and when that building fell/Ran to the crash site with no mask on and inhaled/Toxins deep inside they lungs until both of them was filled/Blew a cloud out like a L/Into a jar then took a smell/Because they heard that second-hand smoke kills.” The genius of this is that though he egregiously uses 9-11 for some shit-talk, his attention to detail–moment-to-moment it gets uglier with each line–touches on some of the chaos of the real event.

4. “Empire State of Mind”s Glorious Chorus

There’s this cornball, guitar chug stuck in this otherwise formalist, super-respectable song and who knows why it’s there, but it’s a good cue just how out-there explosive the hook on “Empire State of Mind” is gonna be. Wrapped up in the hook is not only Jay’s success but all the stuff that led to it and that’s very, very different from many of his recent “I’m rich now” songs which were fully concerned with the moment. As if wealth and comfort were proof enough for him to do and say anything and to address his poor kid past, crack-pushing career, his buncha years as a nobody rapper, on a level more complex than “I used to be this and now I ain’t” is beneath him. Here he’s finally navigating two worlds with the same level of detail and acceptance. Real grown-man stuff.

5. Jay’s “Probably” on “Real As It Gets”

“Now I eat quail, I’ll probably never go to jail”. The quail line is just plain hilarious–a straight-faced parody of food-as-materialism in rap–and the jail line is just devastating. It’s that “probably”. Like even at forty with a shit-ton of money and success and everything else, Jay can’t for sure say he won’t end up in jail. He’s touching on the “street” shit still rolling around in his brain–for anyone that’s ever lived recklessly, the appeal’s always there–and acknowledging his own like, latent self-destruction. There’s also something about BP3 that has Jay not only dealing with his past, but his blackness, something he either avoids–because he’s something of a like hyper-capitalist Neo-Con and can’t acknowledge multi-culti nonsense–or reaches for (like his street-cred references), just to short-cut thoughtful discussion. But throughout BP3, there’s something about realizing that he’s still a black dude in America and being mad-rich matters…and just doesn’t at all. This coupled with the many, joyous references to Obama’s election and sometimes clunky, but politically-minded lines like “It’s 2010, not 1864″ (from “Off That”), develops BP3’s strand of terse but wise commentary on race in America in 2009.

further reading/viewing:
-”Ten Favorite Moments” on Kanye West’s Graduation by Tom Breihan
-”Citizen Jay Z” by Armond White
-Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
-The All-American Skin Game or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and Short of It 1990-1994 by Stanley Crouch
-Wikipedia Entry for 1864

Written by Brandon

September 8th, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Blueprint 3, Jay-Z