No Trivia

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Links and Lots of Stuff Unrelated to Rap…

First, shameless plug…if you haven’t checked out my article at, please do.

Second, I got a cool link about my Kanye entry over at film critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s super-amazing House Next Door. It means a lot because to be linked by anybody is nice but especially because Seitz, a former film critic for the ‘New York Press’, along with Armond White (still a critic for NY Press), are two of the first writers I ever read that seemed fearlessly intelligent. I was in 8th grade when I got the internet, exposing me to movie stuff beyond what my local library and ‘The Baltimore Sun’ critics had to offer and these guys blew me away…still do.

I feel like an outsider for a number of reasons among bloggers, particularly rap-bloggers, the foremost reason being I’m not really like, a fan of journalists, especially music writers and I’m not internet-saavy. Breihan and Noz were the only guys that made me think “I want to do this!” and the other two journalist-types really would be Seitz and White. I’m an old-fashioned pretentious douche so my writing influences, if I were to be honest, pretension be damned, would be like, D.H Lawrence, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Ruskin…but it’s really the two music writers and film critics mentioned above.

-Souled-On Music also gave me a nice link. It feels self-important to “thank people” but it means more than I can really explain when people link me or give me a compliment about the blog. It’s also pretty great to see that I have a decent-sized group of readers/fellow-bloggers who always expound and complicate things in the comments section.

-The Ed Zone (from Baltimore’s City Paper): A very interesting article about a very interesting man connected to Baltimore. Ed Norris, actor on ‘The Wire’, former Police Commissioner, current radio talk show host, held a press-conference announcing his crime plan in response to our pretty-much totally retarded mayor’s non-crime plan.

I generally try not to get too emotional or sincere about political issues but the rising murder-rate in Baltimore is nothing short of tragic. I was discussing it with my father the other day and just the thought of so many lives lost, due in large part, to state government incompetence and disregard, brought me to tears. It truly isn’t fair and its criminal the way this issue is being ignored or downplayed.

-Cute Overload: Pretty self-explanatory.

-‘We Want Weezy’: This is so amazing and it has nothing to do with being a Lil Wayne fan or non-fan. Despite what so many Wayne stans seem to think, I don’t hate the dude. My entry just said he isn’t “Great” and I tried to say it in a way that is a little more respectful than the way Dallas Penn said it.

But yeah, this guy making an entire album of Weezy parodies is incredible. Like ‘Outsider Art’ incredible. It would be easy to make a parody SONG but to do a whole album, wow. Also, it’s so well-done and accurate, yet hilarious, it moves beyond being malicious or anything. I personally like ‘I Need Baby’ and ‘Because of Baby’.

Please Rent: ‘Holy Mountain’

The above clip is from this movie ‘Holy Mountain’ by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s really great. You should rent it. I’m generally opposed to artsy-fartsy hippie shit but this movie somehow, did it for me. It’s ultimately kind of about how all that mystical stuff doesn’t mean jack and it has a never-serious tone mixed with a less harsh, less self-important instructive side. To me, it seems like a lot of people have snatched a lot from it. I think unlike other surreal or “experimental” directors, Jodorowsky cares about people and his movie’s contempt is slightly different than most movies as he has less contempt for his satirical targets and his audience because this movie is never boring or tedious or even that obvious.

I may go buy the box set because I’ve never seen his other big movie ‘El Topo’ and it comes with the soundtracks as well, and the ‘Holy Mountain’ soundtrack by Don Cherry was great, especially this broken-saxophone lamenty-esque song that played as the Woman whose planet is ‘Mars’ climbs out of bed with her bald, lesbian lovers.

-‘Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America’: THIS MOVIE LOOKS AWESOME. Too bad it will NEVER play anywhere really. The trailer posted here makes it seem even better.

Written by Brandon

July 1st, 2007 at 2:00 pm

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Links & Lists

I’m in Roanoke, VA for the summer, beginning my Masters in ‘Screenwriting & Film Studies’ which is exciting but also annoying because seriously, the only thing I hate more than “hip-hop heads” are people into “Film” (sorry guys, but they are MOVIES). At least hip-hop heads have good taste, you know?

So yeah, I’m a little busy, so you get a fake post…

-‘Political Song for Paris Hilton’(from ‘Voguing to Danzing’)

“Also, we’ll need a rapper. Have you met Lil Wayne? Dude’s put out 125 mix tapes this year so far, never seems to sleep, and is apparently down for whatever. I know this because on a whim I sent the teen pop, zydeco, and bluegrass mixes of this song to his email addy – along with a zip file of Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow – and a month later I got a freestyle tape from the guy where he’s freestyling about hobbits and unicorns and shit. I mean, he’s rhyming about buying coke from Shrek and hunting gnomes and Emerald City detainees testifying before Judge Wapner! Apparently our collabo – I Can’t Feel MySpace – has been downloaded 2,899 times, so even though you’ve yet to put your inimitable stamp on the track, it’s already blazin’ hot on the streets! Or Same thing.”

- ‘The Beauty of Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls’(from ‘Excite the Feds’)

“Kingston gets involved in a relationship, goes to jail (OK, maybe that’s not so innocent) and then tries to work it out with the beauty. Of course, it doesn’t work and he’s “suicidal” over what she does to him – mentally, physically, etc. I’d like to think 99% of men were once at that point. Incarceration aside, the topic at hand is refreshingly blithe and universal. And just like Lil’ Mama’s excellent single “Lip Gloss,” Kingston uses no double entendres or blatant sexual euphemisms to appeal to an older crowd, making the song pure and that much more enjoyable.”

‘He Was Right, You Really Can’t Tell Him Nothing’(from ‘Until the Train Stops’)

“Kanye West is the most relevant rap artist in popular music today. Well, Timothy Mosley might argue otherwise, but he transcended rap—i.e. got sick of it—a long time ago. Then again, I’m sure ‘Ye would be disillusioned with rap too if he was surrounded by rappers the likes of Magoo and Sebastien (familial ties or not). But forget Curtis “Interscope” Jackson, and forget President Carter. Definitely forget Weezy F. Baby (please say the Baby!), who for all his recent MF Doom-meets-French surrealism-meets-southern-fried-rap verses has yet to make a meaningful dent outside of rap (though this could well change with Tha Carter III). Kanye is the one working with pop artists—and making good music with them—and is probably the only rapper under the lens of the mainstream who can honestly claim to be making important music. So Kanye West Singles are important events, and lend themselves to be endlessly critiqued. Because it’s not just the forthcoming Graduation that’s riding on the success of his singles—hip-hop is too.”

‘Astounding New Theory On Why Rap Sales are Sinking’(by Sacha Orenstein, from ‘Oh Word’)

“But I have a radical new theory. Something that’s going to crack this case wiiiiide open. This is something the industry has never even contemplated before. It’s proof that rap can be fixed if they listen. But what I’m going to say now will rock music to its very core…All current rappers are douchebags.”

‘Puritan Blister #27′(by William Bowers from

“A guy in Cosby sweaters with an appalling toupee, who talked constantly of Elvis’ singularity, had lent me his vinyl copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be, which I replayed and replayed, and which spun themselves in my brain while I did chores or rode to the corner store for bubble gum cigarettes on my thin, banana-shaped skateboard. After my mom broke up with him, he came by for the albums with a dour expression, refusing to enter, and making me pass him the records through the cracked screen door.”

Dunno if this is interesting to anybody but one of the hardest things about moving for only six weeks, was choosing which records to bring. I tried to make the rule “bring only 25% of your collection” but I ended up, somehow, bringing less than that. Anyways, I thought it was interesting to somebody, somewhere. I know I love lists no matter how boring or banal…

-Pete Rock – Petestrumentals
-Field Mob – So What Single
-Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
-J Dilla – The Shining Instrumentals
-Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full
-dead prez – R.B.G
-Death Comet Crew – This Is RipHop
-Common – Resurrection
-Del Shannon – Runaway
-Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – Tarkus
-Gastr Del Soul – Camofleur
-Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me Single
-Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
-Arthur Russell – Calling Out of Context
-Arthur Russell – World of Echo
-Keith Fullerton Whitman – Schoener Flussengel
-Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff
-Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
-Outkast – Elevators Single
-Nice & Smooth – Sometimes I Rhyme Slow Single
-Mount Eerie – With Wolves/In the World Single
-New Order – Substance
-Charlie Parker – Bird Is Free
-Camel – Rain Dances
-David Bowie – Heroes
-Gene Pitney – Looking Through the Eyes of Love
-Charlie Parker – Archive of Folk Music: Jazz Series Vol. 2
-Talk Talk – It’s My Life
-Donny Hathaway – Extension of a Man
-Fennesz – Live in Japan
-Goblin – Dawn of the Dead OST
-Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 1
-Sven Libaek – Inner Space Compilation
-Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time
-Christopher Cross – Self-Titled
-Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
-Camel – A Live Record
-Spinners – Mighty Love

Written by Brandon

June 18th, 2007 at 7:20 pm

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On ‘The Sopranos’ Ending…

My connection to ‘The Sopranos’ has primarily been as a bonding experience with my father. I’ve enjoyed watching him enjoy the show a great deal more than I enjoy the show itself. ‘The Sopranos’ seems to be one of the few things he seems really interested in; it gets his gears turning and often leads to actual conversation. I withhold my snarky comments because all of my qualms with the show are personal taste.

I dislike the smarty-pants intertextual references and the super-obvious, mildly clever ironies. For example, in an episode a few weeks ago, we saw A.J and friends sitting on a porch listening to rap music only to then, a few minutes later get into an altercation with a black kid, wherein they beat him up and call him a “nigger”. Very clever. This same episode featured Tony driving around listening to ‘The Departed’ soundtrack and even having the characters fucking comment on how good the soundtrack is. I find it all a bit too much. I’m not into “clever” dialogue and bad-ass music cues and cool, shock violence (Phil Leotardo run over by an S.U.V) but watching it with my father is very fun.

I see why he enjoys the show even if it has me internally rolling my eyes. Occasionally, the show does something genuinely moving and amazing and that, coupled with connecting with my father, makes it “worth” watching. This week, in the final episode, I sat there amazed and moved by the same final scene that pissed-off so many others.

When something ends ambiguously that is how it is supposed to end. That is to say, there is no definitive ending that you are supposed to go back and “figure-out”. This is the biggest misconception about ambiguity, that it is a throw down by the creator, that it is a puzzle you are supposed to interpret and solve. No, the point of an ambiguous ending is ending it, cutting it off before anything definitive has happened, leaving the possibility of anything happening. When people read into the ending as Tony is shot, it is no more valid than suggesting that he’s about to be abducted by aliens or that the onion rings were poisoned.

Tony is probably going to die, be indicted, or keep on living the same half sad-ass life he’s been living since the show premiered. What more do you need to know? We live in an intellectually-corrupt film world where puzzle pictures like ‘Memento’ or ‘Old Boy’ are considered “genius” and unearned, cynical endings are embraced. If the episode ended with Tony getting a bullet in the head or Tony being pulled-off by the feds it wouldn’t be any less ambiguous because then you’d want to see how he reacts or his family reacts or what happens and none of that could be summed up in a single episode or even, a single season.

At the same time, I’m sympathetic to those frustrated by the ending. Not for the reasons that it isn’t satisfying because if you have a working brain, it’s pretty perfect, but because the exact presentation of that ending could be better. I am not frustrated by nothing happening, I’m frustrated by David Chase’s inability to not be “clever”. It is apparently impossible for Chase to resist sticking in a few weird things to drum-up multiple interpretations.

The first one for me, which does not seem to be addressed by anything I’ve read, is when Tony first enters the diner. He walks in, scopes the place out and then we cut in for a medium close-up of Tony’s face. Strangely, the next cut is a basic film-school “no-no” as it cuts to a wide-shot of Tony sitting-down. The wide-shot seems to be from the angle shown in the previous shot where Tony scoped-out the diner. It is subtle but anyone aware of editing can’t help but read the succession of shots as Tony entering the diner and watching himself. What does this mean? I don’t know but given Chase’s reputation, it may lead some viewers into thinking it’s a strange dream sequence or out-of-body experience.

I think the tension built through the scene is wonderfully done and playfully suspenseful rather than obnoxiously so. We are truly in Tony’s brain during the scene, as each person entering the diner is anticipated because it’s someone about to ice him or it’s one of his family members. Even after watching the end a dozen times, I still find myself feeling weird when the Members Only jacket guy slightly turns towards Tony. I find myself going insane as Meadow tries to parallel park and keeps fucking it up. Where the scene fails and I think, why I sympathize with those disappointed by the ending, is that it cuts-off too early. I know this is the point but it would be equally effective and significantly less obnoxious if we were allowed to see Meadow come in and sit down and then given a close-up of Tony wherein his look is nearly ambiguous and then… roll credits.

The ending too, might even work if it simply played-out as it does but without the insanely pretentious moments-of-black-without-sound that precede the final credits. This too, feels like an affront; the fuck you or “joke” that so many have since accused Chase of doing. Cutting directly to the credits without music would again, serve the same purpose. It is not the ambiguous ending as a concept, nor is it any single aspect of the ending, it is the series of mild missteps that occur in the otherwise powerful ending that make it frustrating. However, even these criticisms are minor in comparison to the overwhelming strength of the final few minutes of ‘The Sopranos’.

I have not felt so emotional, so affected by a climax since Michael Mann’s ‘Miami Vice’. A series of well-orchestrated actions and shots illustrating how great and how fucked everything is, all set to Mogwai’s ‘Auto Rock’. My description, an illustration of how great and how fucked everything is, sums up the end of ‘The Sopranos’ as well. Only it’s all set to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ a song, that if drop your irony mask, can totally destroy you. It’s why David Chase is not a total idiot like Quentin Tarantino: he has moments of daring brilliance that move beyond clever-ness and into well-rendered emotional drama. Tony is holding on, you are holding on, I am holding on, all we can really do in this life is hold onto some belief about something, anything. The show has always wavered between ironic distance and true empathy with Tony and others and in this final scene, Chase makes the right choice, falling entirely on the side of empathy.

If the final scene must be “interpreted” on any level, I would move in the direction of saying the purpose of the scene is to put you fully in Tony’s brain; to fully empathize with him. For some reason, I’m involved in a pretty pointless debate about R. Kelly and pedophilia and really, my only point is, it is important to never forget the humanity of even the worst people. We need to relate to scumbags. That is what this final scene does and what ‘The Sopranos’ when it is successful, has been doing since Season One. Shit is complicated. Just because Tony’s a criminal and a killer does not mean he does not have deep feelings. Just because he fucks a stripper in Vegas (and countless others) does not mean he does not love his wife and family. That is what this final scene is about. We all have regrets and experiences and dreams and plans and they all weigh us down and freak us out and lift us up and keep us going.

Chase knows viewers will take-in every detail and gesture and magnify it because it is the last scene of the last episode. He takes advantage of this by making every gesture loaded with meaning, but not cutesy symbolism or puzzle-solving but pathos. It begins with the Journey song, those somber piano chords and lyrics invoking a “lonely world”, and continues when Carmela enters because we the viewers, know their relationship history. Tony may be comforted by his wife at this moment, glad to see her even, but it runs deeper than that because their marriage problems cannot be ignored.

To illustrate Tony’s paranoia but also to give us some kind of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’-esque sense of human interconnected-ness, we get shots of other diner patrons. Some looks like they might shoot Tony, others are there with family, others are on a date. The shots of the young couple laughing and smiling, which is shown more than once, holds a great deal of weight because it contrasts with Tony and Carmela’s deep, at-best bittersweet and at-worst disastrous relationship. That young, laughing couple, is what Tony and Carmela may have once been or maybe never were but wanted to be, it doesn’t matter- it’s just that the young couple are at a purer state of being; before shit starts to fuck up. Given Tony and Carmela’s age and their location in New Jersey, it’s possible that Journey was “their song” when they were dating. I know it was my mother and father’s “song”.

When A.J enters, right behind potential shooter in a Members Only jacket, we get the same feeling as Tony. Initially, it’s fear of the Members Only guy and then joy, at it not being a shooter (for now) and joy because he’s seeing his son. A.J sits down and Tony playfully hands his son a menu, touches his hand, and jokes about steak. This is what Tony and a lot of dads do to connect with their sons, fuck-around with them; it takes on greater emotional weight because Tony feels like it might be the last time he gets to joke with his son. Why Chase chooses to break this pattern by never giving us Tony’s response to Meadow I do not know. However, we are still put in Tony’s place as we see her attempts at parallel parking. Meadow’s poor parking, is presented as a foible, it’s nearly touching the way she tries to do it and keeps messing-up. She isn’t supposed to be an idiot, we respond to it the way Tony, her father, would, with frustration and impatience, mixed with sincere understanding and acceptance. A similar acceptance is shown when Carmela tells Tony that Meadow will be late because she is changing birth control. We see Tony, a father, a conventional one, reminded of the reality that his daughter fucks dudes. It does not make him angry, he understands!

I can’t help but connect the ending to my father, something of a Tony Soprano-type himself. Tony’s dignified resignation, mixed with an unflinching, hard-ass-ness and facing the facts; be it because he might get shot-up or that his son A.J is sort of a dope or that his daughter takes birth control, all reminds me of my father’s own mix of unflappable dignity and unintentional vulnerability. All this shit is goes on, you can feel it all, weighing down on you or keeping you alive or both and much more and at the same time, “real” life is just Journey and onion rings. While “regular” people chose to dismiss the ending as disappointing and nonsense and the television critics began thinking of witty one-line pans and random, anti-intellectual attacks, my father and I sat back, our minds half-blown because a television show we watched to laugh at and get-off on when someone gets whacked, maybe just sort-of defined exactly how we feel.

Written by Brandon

June 13th, 2007 at 7:51 am

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No Trivia Presents iPOD Week, Part Three: Death Mix.
To download my ‘Death Mix’ as a single mp3 click here.

About a month or so after the death of my friend Mike, Monique gave me a mix she made that, to put it simply, was about Mike’s suicide. It wasn’t a bunch of songs he liked or even really songs that “reminded” us of him; it was more of a narrative or story through songs, the feelings we had in the fall-out of someone shooting themselves and also some musical act of empathy getting into Mike’s brain and just maybe, maybe what he was feeling. It’s hard to explain. It was very affecting. Others write poems about their friends or make paintings or write songs, mix CDs worked as well…it moved me to make one too.

Monique and I discussed presenting what I’ve jokingly called “death mixes” for this iPOD week but a couple of hours ago decided it was not a good idea. She had more reservations than I. For whatever reason, I’m going back on that decision and presenting mine. I don’t think it will be “fun” reading but it’s gotta be at least interesting…

1. Goodie Mob – Serenity Prayer (from ‘Soul Food’)
I thought of this as a sort of ‘preface’ to the mix, just a quick piece of advice and acknowledgment of God or religion or spirituality because I feel that anything addressing death needs to also at least address religious-type things. This I felt, was particularly important on this mix because I am a vehement disbeliever and since the mix is in some way trying to be about (ahem) healing or understanding, me acknowledging religion would be a good idea. I’ve always been moved by the serenity prayer because of its connections to addiction and its sagacious truth. There’s shit you can control and shit you can’t and you better realize that and take care of your shit. Also, I can think of no one better than Goodie Mob and no album better than ‘Soul Food’ to present the mix of anger and empathy that I felt in the wake of Mike shooting himself.

At the funeral, I read a selection from ‘La Morte D’Arthur’ by Sir Thomas Malory, which invokes Jesus and questions of the after-life. I felt it was important to find something that did this instead of picking something super-personal. At the same time, I was reading it I was thinking about how I can only be moved by the writing as an idea not as truth. Two days after Mike’s suicide I was driving with my father discussing all of the events and he admitted to me what I expected for many years…that he too, wasn’t a believer. He told me about how, the night before, my mother had asked where my father thought Mike was; the word my Dad used was “wormfood”.

2. Pharcyde – Splatitorium (from ‘Labcabincalifornia’)
This is the true beginning of the mix. The Goodie Mob was like the scrolling text at the beginning of ‘Star Wars’ or something. The idea for this song was going back, to before Mike shot himself. It was supposed to invoke the strange feeling you often have with friends, having fun, like more fucking fun than you’ve ever had before but there’s something a little off about it and you sort of realize that and part of the fun is because maybe it is too much, maybe it is out of control…Life is nothing if the reality of death and wormfood are not constantly creeping in, to feel any other way is to be in denial. The song is about smoking weed and having a good time and joking around but it has sadness underneath it, particularly through the Vince Guaraldi samples in the beat. Perhaps it’s a bit too perverse but the word “splat” being in the title too seemed appropriate on a mix about a friend who took his own life with a shotgun.

3. Dmitri Shostakovich – Allegro Molto (from ‘String Quarter No. 8 in C Minor’)
This is supposed to be the point where I or even we, my friends, realized what probably happened. See, Mike hadn’t been answering his phone or emails for a few days which was odd because we all saw or talked on a daily basis, so we went up to his apartment to find his car caked with ice (all other cars had been scraped), a Chinese menu sitting in front of his door, and the sound of the DVD menu for ‘Thief’ playing loudly from his television. Repeated knocks were not answered and it was slowly setting in on all of us that something was really wrong. The strings are like a horror movie and that’s really what it was like. So horrible its over-the-top like the strings in this song, like, totally unreal. Mike’s fucking dead? What?

4. UGK – One Day (from ‘Ridin’ Dirty’)
The transition from the chaos of the Shostakovich to the sad, laid-back qualities of ‘One Day’ is a bit like the point where the death sinks-in and you still feel awful but you’ve accepted it…for me, it was leaving Mike’s apartment complex once the police officially told us they found his body and driving back home with my friends, not really saying much. Yep, it’s true one day you’re here and the next day you’re gone.

I cry every time I hear this song, I did before Mike died but now it’s even stronger. I know it’s different because Pimp C and Bun B are discussing the loss of friends often to street violence but their sentiments about death are universal. “I saw him once before he died, wish it was twice man” is exactly how I feel. Also the line, “So shit, I walk around with my mind blown in my fuckin’ zone” describes the feeling after someone dies and exactly the feeling I felt and still feel. When someone dies, especially to suicide, everyone is so fucking afraid of it, it’s annoying. They treat you like you put the shotgun in his mouth. They judge and get freaked-out because it’s a further denial of instability and chaos and insanity and death and all the shit they’d rather not think about.

5. Fabio Frizzi – Sequence 2 (from ‘Zombie OST’)
This is the sound of the couple of days after. Just feeling worn out, almost drugged…this has this great late-70s/early-80s warm synth tone that I love and associate with almost social-realest zombie movies like Fulchi’s ‘Zombie’ (from which this song comes) or ‘Dawn of the Dead’. The end of ‘River’s Edge’ one of Mike and all of my friends’ favorite movies sort of feels like this as well. I also think the synths have a strained quality that sort of sounds like the Shostakovich strings.

6. Lee Hazelwood – We All Make the Flowers Grow (from ‘Trouble Is A Lonesome Town’)
“Wormfood” in song form. This song was intended to interact with or even, counteract the vaguely religious aspects of the Goodie Mob intro. It is also here to counteract a certain melodrama or overwrought-ness that comes from this mix being so serious or even, self-serious. We all end up in the same place and the world keeps going and no one besides the people you know gives a shit. That’s reality.

The song is darkly funny but deadly serious as well, it’s resigned in a way, accepted the fact that there’s no God or order to anything and in that resignation, finds humor and at least, the strength to articulate that resignation and not get lost in it. It’s “just” a folk/country song but through Hazelwood’s voice and really smart lyrics, you can tell that he isn’t trying to shock you with his “wormfood” assertions, it’s the kind of belief he’s earned.

7. Ekkehard Ehlers – John Cassavetes 2 (from ‘Plays’)
I thought of this song as representing the viewing and funeral aspects of going through Mike’s suicide. Like the Shostakovich, it’s string-based and like that song I feel it’s a little over-the-top, a little unreal which is exactly what it’s like to be carrying your best friend’s coffin with your other best friends…and it just keeps going, you lose a sense of how long you’ve been listening to it or when it is going to end. The experience of listening to it is to be constantly in-the-moment, temporal, which is all you can do when something really horrible happens. You’re being led around and anything can trigger bad feelings and you’re in a room or a cemetery brought together because of someone’s death and one moment you’re talking to someone about him, the next you’re giving a hug to someone you barely even know, and the next you’re laughing your ass off telling some story about some hilarious shit he once did.

8. Goodie Mob – I Didn’t Ask To Come (from ‘Soul Food’)

The strings in this beat I thought, sort of continued the strings of Ehlers’ song. I know Goodie Mob are rapping about the impoverished and true victims of an unsympathetic system but there’s an emotionally-honest aspect to them that is perfectly kept in-line with their anger and insight. Cee-Lo’s verse is the obvious connection, as he describes attending a funeral: “As he laid in his final resting place/He has such a peaceful expression on his face” I don’t know if he intended to suggest it but I’ve always read that line as being about surprise and then reassurance in that surprise: Surprised that the corpse of his friend has a peaceful expression. I recall entering the funeral home and seeing, from outside of the room, Mike’s open-casket, a bandage over his eyes because (to be real) the shotgun blast probably ripped them out of his head. He didn’t have a peaceful expression but it was still a surprise to see his face becuase it wasn’t anything how I’d imagined it to look because you can’t really imagine what it will look like. It didn’t matter that he has tons of makeup on and that his forehead had an extra like, two inches on it because they had to sort of glue the top of his head back on, at least I was seeing his face one more time.

9. Talk Talk – New Grass (from ‘Laughing Stock’)

The transition here is mainly through the drums, so it’s like the beat of ‘I Didn’t Ask To Come’ morphs into the soft, near-jazz drumming of this Talk Talk song. I don’t even know what the hell the lyrics are to this song, they are more like a mumble and that allows one to project any kind of pathos one wants to project. The progression of the song, its slow build of piano and guitar and vague electronics felt to me, like the process of adjusting to life without your best friend. The song is never about like, absolution or something, at points it comes back down, like 3:20 in when the piano takes control for a few moments, and that’s like, just when you think you maybe sort of kind of have it figured out, it hits you again: “Fuck…”

10. Love – Be Thankful (For What You Got) (from ‘Real to Reel’)
Sort of an obvious pick, at least in message, but I liked the idea of going back to the didacticism of the intro track. Basically a secular version of the Serenity Prayer.

Written by Brandon

May 18th, 2007 at 5:24 am

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The Worst Jay-Z Concert Ever

I had this dream the other night and in it, I attended this Jay-Z concert but it was in this crappy church basement, with wood-paneling and yellowed tiles and dark, brown folding chairs in rows and flickering fluorescent lights. I am in the front row with four of my friends, looking at the rather spare “stage” and by stage, I just mean an area where the 10 or so rows of fold-out chairs aren’t lined up, leaving an empty space for a performer. This space is occupied by a table for a DJ and in front of the DJ, a little television, like 20 inches, on a stand on wheels; the kind your Science teacher would wheel-in when you got to watch an episode of ‘Bill Nye’. On the television is a blank power-point template, with a light sky-and-clouds background and a blinking cursor. When the show begins, Jay comes out in a ‘Reasonable Doubt’ style suit and the lyrics he raps pop-up on the television like a power point. Each line appears and then the next line appears below it and every four lines, the lyrics disappear for the next four lines. My friends and most of the other people at the show look at one another like “this is really terrible, right?” but for some reason I’m totally entranced, as if the show is at Madison Square Garden.

The whole show is so low-rent and everybody knows it, including Jay-z. He just raps over instrumentals supplied by a DJ, as his lyrics pop up on a shitty power-point. Late in the performance, Jay stops and speaks to the crowd telling them he is going to reveal a new song and proceeds to perform a ’99 Problems’-esque song, ’99 Problems’-esque in the sense that it was this “heavy rocker” with sampled guitars, but the guitars were not from Billy Squier but from the most obnoxious Marilyn Manson song, so it has this really bad tone and generally embarrassing nu-metal feel. As the song begins, the television screen switches from power-point lyrics to this cartoony image of Morbius from Spiderman, done in this cheap animation style, literally this image. The Morbius cartoon is shown in close-up on the screen and his mouth opens and he’s supposed to be cackling, but the animation style is like, really choppy, like when you’re robotripping or something, so the mouth just sort of hangs open bearing sharp teeth and the entire upper-body and head of the cartoon just kind of move up and down. Then, Jay begins rapping over the nu-metal guitars and the walls open up, as if they were made to break open and this like, fake-looking futuristic machinery moves in and out of the breakaway walls and the lights start flickering…imagine ‘Judge Dredd’ as a broadway musical. So now, Jay is rapping over nu-metal, the walls are opening up and going futuristic and there’s a weird loop of a vampire cartoon on the television and this goes on for a few minutes and then the song goes into this extended breakdown, like classic Iron Maiden and the lights dim and Jay steps back, nodding to the breakdown while the doors to the church basement open and this guy dressed as Nosferatu walks in. The Nosferatu costume is ridiculously well-done, like Hollywood horror movie quality and it has like chains and spikes and shit like some stupid Clive Barker design and Nosferatu walks around the audience to scare them I guess, but no one really knows how to respond and after about two minutes, Nosferatu exits the room and the beat drops again and Jay finishes the song. Then, the lights come back on and the wall closes up and Jay ends the show with ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’ but for some reason, the bassline from ‘Ain’t No Nigga’ is poorly inserted into the song.

The final part of the dream is my friends and I, driving home with everyone just sort of like “what the fuck was that?” but I’m in denial about it and this leads to legitimately heated arguments with my friends about why it wasn’t a bad show but inside, I know everything I’m saying is just bullshit…so yeah, explain that one. Any internet Freuds can step forward…I think it’s about how I want to bang my mom.

Written by Brandon

March 16th, 2007 at 7:00 am

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Notorious B.I.G Death Day
On this Biggie death day, many other places can give you better and more fitting retrospectives, BET is running an evening of programming and this month’s ‘XXL’ and ‘The Source’ have commemorative articles, but if you’ve already digested his music, I think the best place to go is Cheo Hodari Coker’s ‘Unbelievable; The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G’. This book does not seem to get enough credit for being a legitimately excellent and intelligent biography. As far as I know, it’s the only Biggie bio so maybe there’s nothing to compare it to or maybe it’s because it’s published by ‘Vibe’ and is big and glossy and therefore taken less seriously. Either way, this is all unfortunate because Coker’s biography provides not only a factual account of Christopher Wallace’s life but makes his death nearly palpable.

I recall sitting in a grocery store parking lot, in the rain, in Dover, DE, waiting for my girlfriend to get off of work, finishing the book and just feeling kind of empty. I had never thought too much about Biggie’s death because I was only 11 when it happened and all I knew of Biggie were his cool videos and my 20 year-old uncle listening to a ‘Hypnotize’ cassette single every time I drove around with him. It was only years after his death that I began to appreciate the music, so Biggie’s death was “a given”. It didn’t feel that different from getting into music from the 60s or 70s where you know there’s only a limited discography to delve into. Paradoxically, it was Biggie’s acknowledgment of death and self-destruction that affected me but somehow, the full emotions of the events didn’t connect to the actual death of the creator of those words until reading ‘Unbelievable’. I knew the “East Coast/West Coast feud” was retarded but Coker’s book really portrays how moronic and disturbing it was. The persistence in which Biggie seemed to dismiss the feud but was still caught up in it are, and I use this word advisedly, tragic.

Coker has apparently written a screenplay about Biggie’s life and he’s certainly the best one to do it; ‘Unbelievable’ is wonderful at dramatizing real events and turning them into “scenes” without sacrificing the real-life feeling of those events. That is to say, one gets the feeling of truth throughout the book but the hand of an author organizing a man’s life into a readable text is invisible. There’s a particularly affecting scene, wonderfully presented by Coker, where Biggie feels the repercussions for insulting (of all people) E-40. Apparently, Biggie, for an interview, “was asked to rate different rappers on a scale of one to ten” and “when asked about the Sacramento rap mogul”, Biggie (probably joking) gave him a big, fat zero (160). Months later, Biggie performed a show in Sacramento and after the show, was confronted with “twenty or thirty riders” on behalf of E-40 (160). Coker describes the scene primarily through quotations from DJ Enuff, but cuts-in with two significant lines of dialogue that highlight Biggie’s subtle form of bravado, the very thing that differentiated him from other rappers:
“My people is here,” E-40 told him.
“Yeah, I see them,” said Big. (161)
Coker’s book is full of well-wrought scenes like this one. Scenes that are based in real events but are elevated to an emotional level through Coker’s organization of quotations, facts, and tight but effective prose. Coker also has a firm grasp on his rap history and maintains an even-handed approach to Biggie’s life, presenting his inconstancies and negative aspects without “exposing” him, while taking a tough, but even-handed approach on the still-loaded East/West beef. I can’t really explain how rewarding this book is and I would encourage anyone that has not read it, to do so, particularly over the weekend that commemorates the man’s death. It would be a more fitting tribute than the questionable ‘Greatest Hits’ just released by Bad Boy.

“Questionable” however, seems to be the norm on anything related to Biggie. There are way too many “incompletes” in the rapper’s life, extending beyond the fact that his life was left incomplete when he was murdered at 24 (24! Think about that!). Obviously, there has been no conclusions related to his murder and whether one is interested in “justice” or not, the inconclusive aspects of the crime are pretty fucked-up. There’s also the legal weirdness with ‘Ready to Die’ which keeps Biggie’s best album and indeed, one of the best albums of all time, out of the hands of interested listeners. Recently, a rather idiotic list called ’The Definitive 200’ was published with the #59 spot belonging to ‘Life After Death’. I won’t complain about these kinds of lists nor will I suggest it as any kind of validation for rap that Biggie made the list, but I must say it is odd to choose ‘Life After Death’ over ‘Ready to Die’. Perhaps it has something to do with the legal limbo or whatever you want to call it, of ‘Ready to Die’ (the list is put out by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers), but it may also have to do with the tendency of music-types to prefer slightly inconsistent albums by artists rather than their truly, consistently great albums (‘Thriller’ over ‘Off the Wall’, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ over ‘Innervisions’, ‘Exile on Main Street’ and ‘Let it Bleed’ as the highest-ranked Stones albums…). This kind of music-critic misinterpretation of an artists’ work is nothing new and it is even less surprising in relation to the rap world but the consistency in which aspects of Biggie’s musical career seems to get the shaft is particularly depressing. Think of that iTunes commercial where all of the musicians cram into a phone booth (Iggy Pop, Snoop, Bootsy Collins, Little Richard etc.) and then just as their all crammed in, we see the back of some guy dressed as Biggie and Madonna in her weird, Britishigan accent cries out “Biggie!” and its very funny because Biggie is fat. Of course, he’s also dead so it’s sort of weird and borderline offensive and would never happen with a dead rock music legend. Not that any of this matters too much, it just sort of stings, you know?

-Coker, Cheo Hodari. ‘Unbelievable.’ Three Rivers Press: New York, 2003.

Written by Brandon

March 9th, 2007 at 7:39 am

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‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 07.

I have my whole family watching this show. My parents who are in their 40s, my 15-year-old sister, and my twenty-something friends all gather in my parents’ living room each Monday at 10 pm. On weekends, my girlfriend who doesn’t have cable at school, comes here and we all watch it again. I’m probably becoming one of those annoying people who mentions their dead friend anytime they get the chance, but since my friends’ suicide two weeks ago, the only constant in any of my friends’ or family’s life is ‘The (White) Rapper Show’. I know, at least for that hour, I’ll be entertained and have something to pick apart and discuss besides why my best friend blew his head off.

This show is just good. It has all of the seedy and exploitative aspects of reality television with some additional aspects that make it insightful and discussion-worthy. All of this is mixed together without being “have your cake and eat it too”, as in, it doesn’t suddenly redeem itself from reality television cynicism with a touching ending. The unsavory and the kinder moments are closely connected, often right after one another and sometimes at the same time. Jus Rhyme’s painfully sincere political statements make me roll over laughing but the dude never gives up or just doesn’t give a shit: How can that not move you on some level?

Last night’s episode was probably the best episode of the season, which is weird because there was literally no tension. Jus Rhyme was eliminated before the show began. I think Serch had a bit of a hand in getting Jus out of there because $hamrock’s performance was definitely the worst but it would be too outrageous if Jus Rhyme’s luck didn’t finally run out. Serch’s slight manipulation of the outcome actually helps because it connects the show to the more questionable aspects of reality television. Those connections to more conventional reality TV are as necessary to the show’s success as the elements that separate it from something like ‘Flavor of Love’. Even if $hamrock sucked in the battle, he is modest and fairly creative and better upholds the ideas of the show than Jus Rhyme. $hamrock has a pattern, beginning with his ‘White Guilt’ verse a few episodes ago, of being even-handed about issues of race. $hamrock is not apologetic about being white but is also mindful of his place as a white rapper. He is intelligently skeptical of certain racial “givens” without being rude. When Serch, who really becomes a mentor to the rappers in this episode, tells them they “can’t make fun of [black battlers'] blackness” $hamrock thinks of a few battle-lines that flip racial expectations. Serch’s reason for not making fun of their blackness is that the white rappers are “coming from outside of the culture” but when we see the crowd at Saint Andrews, it is at least 30% white and not only white, but many audience members are (gasp) hipsters! There’s a hilarious shot of some white chick that looks like she majored in French or Peace Studies or something, shaking her head in disapproval at Jus Rhyme. Ridiculous.

“Nobody is setting up a program in unemployed studies, homeless studies, or trailer-park studies, because the unemployed, the homeless, and residents of trailer parks are not ‘other’ in the relevant sense.”-Richard Rorty (80).

When the white rappers meet the locals at the trailer park, it’s incredibly entertaining but also a confrontation with the real that is never, ever, shown on television now that ‘COPS’ is no longer a phenomenon. The crazy lady in too-short shorts, the scary-as-hell-but-kinda-friendly black guy, the guy just walking around with a fishing net and a framed fishing magazine (is he on the cover?); this is not “ghetto fabulous” or Trace Adkins’ version of white trash. To temporarily idealize these people, they probably all get along in the trailer park much better than racially diverse people on most college campuses. Buff Black Man doesn’t perceive being called “Tupac” as racist and I’m sure everyone treats the crazy lady like she is crazy and none of it is that big of a deal. Yeah, these people probably beat their kids or do meth and the whites probably toss the word “nigger” around but there’s still a weird, complicated civility at work in a place like that trailer park. No doubt Crazy Lady knows who Tupac is because she has a “wigger” son.

On Friday, I was at this Salvation Army in Newark, DE and a woman very much like Crazy Lady stood in front of me in line. As the stuff she was buying was being rung up she had to run out to her car to get her wallet. She went outside to her car, came back in and somehow forgot why she went out there because she returned without her purse, then, she went back out, only to return to tell the cashier, who was an ornery 60ish gay black man with blonde hair, that she didn’t have her credit card and couldn’t pay. She pleads with the Old, Gay, Black cashier to hold her stuff but he angrily refuses and argues for a few moments before, yes, an undoubtedly mildly-retarded white worker with dreads (?!) finally agrees to hold the stuff for her. The real-life Crazy Lady thanks the dreadlocked tard and walks out, but not before she reaches over and picks up the record-box-set I was buying and told me: “That’s a real nice chessboard”. Oh yeah, and the whole time some kind of reggae mix CD is playing really loudly and I assume Gay Black Man made the CD because no company would sell such a confused compilation. The CD segued from Shaggy to Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ to some non-‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ Baha Men track and back to Desmond Dekker. Try to explain that to somebody. That is what ‘The White Rapper Show’ explicitly presents with the trailer park sequence or moves towards when it puts weirdos like 100 Proof, G-Child, or any of the rappers on television and dares to show them humanely.

The final episode is next week. What will I do when it’s all over?

-Rorty, Richard. ‘Achieving Our Country’. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

Written by Brandon

February 21st, 2007 at 8:07 am

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‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 06.

I really don’t know what to think of John Brown. I really love the guy but ultimately I’ve been duped. Most people have hated on him for being totally full of shit and I guess I’m finally ready to admit that he is. This video pretty much defines him as everything Persia and now, $hamrock say about him: He’s what is wrong with rap music, he’s a liar, he’s not that good of a rapper, etc. However, while being a complete liar, John Brown is also the most realistic cast member on the show.

I respect Brown’s ability to have no qualms with the business aspect of being a rapper because too many rappers or just artists in general, deny that very crucial money-making aspect. If you’re not in it for money, why aren’t you rapping in your basement? Brown’s whole “I’m not a rapper. I’m an entity” thing, as well his style in the aforementioned video, reminds me of Young Jeezy’s “I’m not a rapper” mantra. I’ve always defended Jeezy’s assertion because I saw it as Jeezy being brutally honest about the business aspect while also being kind of modest about his obvious artistic ambitions. I’ll admit the dude can’t really rap but he’s certainly artistic in his interest in making a cohesive album and consistent product. I’m very weary of romanticized notions of the artist. I don’t believe in someone unequivocally “expressing” themselves so it’s refreshing when someone refuses to be called an artist. In ‘Leather So Soft’ there’s that line where Lil Wayne says “Then I get in the booth and let my soul bleed”; exactly the kind of self-important “I’m expressing myself” bullshit I hate.

So, like Jeezy, even if he sets himself up as the ultimate hustler, John Brown has some real things to say; he seems like a pretty perceptive and concerned guy. He is clearly more self-aware than the rest of the rappers and is sympathetic enough to be embarrassed for his fellow cast members when they are being clowned or clown themselves. When Jus Rhyme invites Brown to go along to dine with N.O.R.E, he has that panicky look on his face and is sort of embarrassed that he’s been picked. It’s like middle school where you’re nice to some nerdy kid because everyone gives him too much shit and then he gives you an invitation to his birthday party or something and someone in the class sees it and you’re just like “I’m not friends with that guy, seriously, I’m not.” Even John Brown’s screw-ups seem contrived as some form of publicity or expression or both. When he says that stuff about Clear Channel it was his semi-subtle way of telling Miss Jones and her group of vultures to shut up. The Hot97 trip was a debacle and not because John Brown was a retard. Like every black morning radio host, Miss Jones loves easy targets. The white rappers’ sincerity for the most part, keeps them afloat because they (except for John Brown) know when to shut up or take it as a loss. Either way, it’s still sad to see people being so cruel and worse, to see anybody, not just our beloved white rappers, totally defer to somebody, anybody. It just gave me a really sick feeling.

The event made me think of this time I was driving and a car in front of me struck a deer. The deer flew up in the air and hit the ground. With all four legs broken, it tried to get up, and instead, it just did that Curly from the ‘Three Stooges’ floor spin on the asphalt. This was so upsetting because out of fear or some weird obligation I don’t think animals really grasp, the deer seemed aware that the cars were all stopped, waiting for him to waddle off into the woods. I just wanted to tell the deer to lie down or even get out of my car hold it down; all these cars could wait or something…The Miss Jones part of the episode gave me a similar gross feeling because we were witnessing a group of people completely powerless just like that deer, the white rappers were more concerned with what they should do than what they wanted to do. No matter how wack some of the rappers are, they don’t deserve Miss Jones’ bullshit and worse, when they sort of succeeded, as when $hamrock gave them a decent freestyle but slipped on the station number, she told him he “failed”. What the fuck was that? At least Lord Jamar or Just Blaze’s assholism was relatively brief.

Well, in the end, Persia goes. I was really hoping it was going to be Jus Rhyme because he’s plain awful and it was totally fair, not cruel, when Serch put it to him like this: “I think you’re very fortunate that you didn’t go into the ice chamber earlier because I don’t think you would have lasted the first ice-ice chamber elimination. That rhyme was horrible.” Had Persia made any attempt to sell her rhyme, even if she forgot it three times over, she’d probably still be on the show and it wouldn’t have been any kind of injustice to Jus Rhyme. Next week: Insane Clown Posse!

Written by Brandon

February 14th, 2007 at 9:52 am

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‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 04.

It took the show four episodes, but they finally made that Guy-In-a-Bug-Suit funny by showing him get-down at the strip-club. And oh yeah, Just Blaze is a dick. I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the guy because lately, he’s on this totally boring incorporation of “real” instruments into his beats kick…On the show last night, he just seemed full of himself. Coming in and telling 100 Proof his style isn’t good, at the point in which he did, isn’t going to do anything but ruin his confidence. The same with telling Sullee not to read off the page. Plus, I’ve definitely seen footage of real rappers holding lyrics sheets, so what is he even talking about? And even if Just is right, anybody could step-in and do that. Then, after all of Just’s snarky comments, he gives in and says they did better than he thought, an obviously back-handed comment. He couldn’t even give these guys an enthusiastic “Just Blaze!”? Come on.

I think Jay-Z comparing this guy with DJ Premier really fucked him up. Who can forget this legendary quote from Just: “I could rap right now if I wanted to. I rap probably better than most rappers”. Did that ever make XXL’s ‘Negro Please’? And they say Kanye West has a big head. At least Kanye doesn’t pretend to be humble. The whole thing reminds me of an old episode of ‘MTV’s Making the Video’, I think it was for No Doubt’s ‘Ex-Girlfriend’. I watched it to see Hype Williams in action and was disappointed to see a lazy, fat dude sitting in his director’s chair half-speaking direction and letting his D.P do all the work. That’s exactly how I felt about Just Blaze in this episode. In fact, Just and Hype are pretty similar, both are pretty good but much too lazy and rely on gimmicks and their reputation to get them through some pretty unforgivable bullshit (‘Show Me What You Got’, that Nike commercial everyone is in love with this week).

Ultimately, Just looks foolish because neither team’s song ends up being terrible, although when you see the making-of it’s pretty hilarious. I want to make fun of Blue Team’s ‘One Night Stand’ but my friends and I were all singing “That’s what it is/So it is what it is/Toniiighht” within seconds of hearing it. That’s gotta count for something. It also seems like Red Team had a better engineer or something. Blue Team’s song didn’t sound like it was produced at all, it was mixed poorly and really did sound like something on a mixtape.

Placing the club-song competition in a strip club and choosing Kool Keith, maybe the only guy that sings about strip clubs but has never had any of his songs played in a strip-club, to judge the contest was unexpected but interesting. It isn’t what viewers would expect and fits with the show’s conscious attempt at being even-handed and also contrarian with rap history. Each episode seems to consciously incorporate up-to-date rappers with significant rappers from the past or distant past, always fucking with expectations. It’s a fair-minded and hardly bitter approach to presenting rap music that is truly discerning in whom it pokes fun-of. That’s why Jus Rhyme doesn’t get any effort points for his “political rap”; he’s exposed for the jack-ass he is. He’s everything that is wrong with so-called “political” rap. “Political” rappers think they know everything; they aren’t even expressing themselves as much as they are trying to tell you how to think. Their music is more oppressive than the most misogynistic rap song. I’ve been holding out on this but Jus is the wrong kind of Ethnic Studies prof’s wet dream. He totally defers to what he is being taught and as 100 Proof insightfully put it, “harbors… an extreme amount of white guilt” which many Ethnic Studies professors misinterpret as racial understanding.

I teach 11th grade English and I was telling some of my more eager-to-please students that I am not big on “A-students”. What I mean by “A-student” I went on to explain, is students that follow the rules, say the right thing, but don’t have a single insightful or new thing to say. Jus Rhyme is something of an A-student. Had 100 Proof not stepped-in, Jus Rhyme would be perfectly okay with saying there’s a problem with “whiteness”. Wow. This show just gets better and better. Seriously though, it really does. The scenarios and contests are increasingly well-done and the show seems to have found its balance between taking the rappers seriously and allowing them to make asses of themselves rather than place them in super-obvious situations that would make anybody look foolish. Next week’s episode looks nuts! Somebody laughs at Serch! Between this and J.T Yorke’s death on ‘Degrassi’ television rules everything around me.

Written by Brandon

January 30th, 2007 at 7:41 am

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The Mixtape Crackdown and File-Sharing

Everyone has heard about this by now. My initial response was the same as everybody’s: outrage. It’s a pathetic choice by a pathetic, out-of-touch association and yeah, those news reports were messed-up, basically racist, and definitely rap-a-phobic. However, if this is to have a happy ending I think people are going to have to look at it more reasonably. This stuff was totally illegal and only accepted because before, it wasn’t so flagrant.

The argument for mixtapes harming record sales is tenuous but not non-existent. For example, before Mixunit removed all of their mixtapes on their site, I was looking at the latest volume of ‘Purple Codeine’ because it has a bunch of unreleased Jeezy tracks (presumably from the same sessions as ‘The Inspiration’) but also because it has ‘Throw Some D’s’ on it. Five years ago, if the average music listener wanted ‘Throw Some D’s or any hit song, they would just buy the whole album, now, between iTUNES, illegal file-sharing, and mixtapes, there’s no reason to buy Rich Boy’s CD. Everyone benefits except the actual music industry. I don’t care but I can see why the industry would. The RIAA hasn’t succeeded in going after file-sharing or increasing CD sales, so they’ve gone after something that has a lot less impact: mixtapes. What else is new? You can’t find Bin Laden, so you enter Iraq.

I would say that the file-sharing controversies and how both the RIAA acted and how music dorks responded, would be a good lesson on how this mixtape stuff should not be handled. Let’s go back for a moment and recall the glory days of Napster…

I was in 10th grade and spent hours on my 56k connection downloading random songs. Then, I got a cable modem and would spend a few minutes after school just downloading whole albums of anything that seemed interesting. Brian Eno’s 70s albums? Click. Tribe Called Quest’s entire discography? Click. Then, bands like Metallica complained and I thought they were a bunch of whiners but I couldn’t front and say they didn’t have a point. The file-sharing crackdown pissed me off because it really did make me buy more CDs: I suddenly had access to all of this stuff and would often go buy it! This was the argument that many (including myself) made and at the time, the numbers proved us right: file-sharing did not negatively affect CD sales. But the argument isn’t true anymore because now everyone knows about file-sharing. Stroll through any large parking lot, look into a few cars and you’ll see a couple of CD-Rs resting on the seat or look at the sun visor and one of those faggy-strappy CD holders will be full of CD-Rs.

I have no facts to base this on, but I’d argue that what made CD sales drop was the increasing normalcy of file-sharing coupled with the rising significance of iPODS. Although, iPOD has found a way to offer “legal” downloads, anyone under 30 years old with an iPOD has some illegally downloaded files. Before iPODS, file-sharing, although not that much of a hassle, was still a pain in the ass. Too much of a pain in the ass for the average music listener. Now, your friends’ albums as well as both legal and illegal mp3s can just be quickly loaded onto your iPOD and you can take your music in your car, to a party, for a jog, whatever. The combination of file-sharing and iPODSs has probably negatively affected CD sales, hence the delay between file-sharing’s popularity and declining music sales. Of course, because iPOD essentially plays the game and because they are so damn popular they’ll never be accused of harming music sales. Again, what else is new?

When Napster was shut-down, people should have just admitted file-sharing was downright illegal instead of coming up with a million bullshit reasons why it was okay. People tried legal jargon while others just made moronic assertions about anarchy. Notice how then, the target being primarily white, rock music nerds, the screams were of how file-sharing was an example of “anarchy” and government oppression of such ideas, while the victim of this mixtape stuff is primarily a black or a racially-aware audience, so the screams are of racism. In times of crisis, you can always depend on opportunism to overcome honesty.

I recall attending the New Jersey Wu-Tang show the night before ODB died and being next to a dude who puffed joint after joint. This was in the Meadowlands, so it was inside, and he was probably ten feet from an usher but nobody busted him because in a situation like that, it just sort of becomes okay to smoke-up if you keep it under control. He was only reprimanded when he took his joint with him to the bathroom. I’m assuming the same is true in places like Bonarroo or even Jimmy Buffett concerts. I imagine that if suddenly, someone spiked a vein and started shooting heroin, that usher who has been ignoring clouds of weedmoke, would suddenly walk over like, “Hey, not cool.” DJ Drama is shooting heroin in the Meadowlands while all the others are smoking weed.

The guy made his fame off of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ and there’s no way he isn’t making money. I know he is because I was in a Best Buy in Baltimore City and saw a CD version of ‘Dedication 2’, with a conventional jewel-case and all. If you go to any FYE type store, you’ll stumble upon a couple of ‘Gangsta Grillz’ selling for retail price. It was only a matter of time. It is disturbing that the RIAA may really not understand the difference between bootlegs and mixtapes, but what else is new? Rap music is ridiculously popular while also being incredibly subversive. That’s a huge reason why I enjoy it and why I’m only annoyed and not appalled by those few dinosaurs left who still refuse to consider it music. It’s really hard to understand. Furthermore, a lot of rap writers and musicians are megomaniacally protective of their “culture” be it through one of the many forms of rap elitism or arguments based on identity politics that don’t allow whites to comment insightfully upon it. So, no one can get angry when a bunch of square white guys that certain, self-appointed representatives of “the culture” have alienated, don’t understand mixtapes. You can’t expect the average person who isn’t aware of the hyper-complex, performative aspects of rap, to understand that just because a mixtape has gun sound-effects on it does not mean that the DJs are criminals. It’s obvious to me but maybe not so much to someone who doesn’t even understand how a mixtape is different than a bootleg. So, as Noz said, “Know Your Enemies” but maybe sympathize with them too.

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2007 at 4:41 pm