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Favorite Album Tracks Pt. I & The Changing Nature of the Single

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So, this year, my sorta kinda notable presence on the internet and my few reviews for the Baltimore City Paper got me involved in contributing to some notable Top 10 lists, (Links will be up when they are published). Like everyone, I totally get-off on list-making and it’s really cool to be asked to contribute, especially when one sees your vote have something of an impact. On the City Paper’s list, my putting ‘Underground Kingz’ at #1 certainly aided its appearance on the Top 10 and I could also smugly sit around all cool-like because of just how many of my albums didn’t make it.

The weirder lists were ones for Idolator and Pazz & Jop which asked for a Top 10 Singles List. It was hard to remember singles and exactly when they came out and in the past, people just listed good songs from that given year, so it was a little confusing and overwhelming and I’m pissed that I forgot about Baby Boy Da Prince’s ‘The Way We Live and a little upset I didn’t even consider Thicke’s ‘Lost Without U’ but just pouring over the list as I did, was good because it got me thinking about what is and isn’t a single in this weird internet age that is both amazingly democratic and hermetically-sealed.

Obviously, anything with a music video or on the radio is a single. But then, what about Satellite Radio, which I listen to more than regular ol’ radio these days? Was ‘Circles’ by Crime Mob a single? I was on the satellite rap stations this summer and it got a video like two months ago, but I don’t think it got any play on FM rap stations. Did it become a single because internet nerds were ranting about its greatness? I know we internet types like to imagine our impact on everything is greater than it is, but there’s something to it in certain cases. When a tastemaker like Noz posts something about the greatness of ‘I’m a J’ – and that song truly is great- does that in effect, become a single? When a song is posted on Nahright or XXL’s Bangers section, do those become singles? It becomes weirder because although those are internet websites/blogs, they are both closely tied to the industry and in that way, function like the radio dropping a new single. Can you consider ‘Glitter’ and ‘Just Us’ by Cam’ron singles? Those songs felt like it to me and I heard them a lot more than legit singles. Baltimore literally has no conventional “hits” stations and my SIRIUS radio continually bounces between Howard Stern and SHADE45, so the only time I ever heard Britney Spears’ single was when I actively sought it out. ‘Gimme More’s really good too, in case you’re wondering. The beat is awesome and kinda gross and dirty and uncomfortable, just like Britney Spears!

So yeah…what’s a single these days? My rule, outside of the conventional understanding of the single was anything that was used to promote an album…which made stuff like ‘Just Us’ by Cam’ron count. Plus that song’s too good not to appear on any list of songs or singles or iTunes downloads or whatever the fuck. I avoided a lot of 2007 wrap-up due to working way more than I usually do, and also because others do it better than me and my list would be more of the same shit. So, here’s a list of my favorite non-single tracks- “honorary singles”- or, songs that got as much play on my computer, iPOD, etc. as proper singles…‘Weightless & Horizontal’ by Jesu off Conqueror: The first track on this album, also called ‘Conqueror’- feels like it would be the single, if albums like this had singles, so it’s an easy choice and instead, I went with this track, ‘Weightless and Horizontal’. This track’s the centerpiece of the album, the perfect mix of near-heaviness, My Bloody Valentine-ish glory, and whiny vocals that totally work. ‘Weightless and Horizontal’ is also the point where ‘Conqueror’ moves into being the oppressive, cut-your-wrists-blow-your-head-off sound it seems like Broadrick intended. Before this point, the album is good and moody but it reminds me of like the over-emotional-ness related to like driving to party held by some chick you want to bang or something, not the “wrist-slashing experience” type of emotions it hopes to invoke.

I like the way-too-honest and sorta bad lyrics here because well, they are really sincere and I’m into that sort of thing. Especially good the way they lyrics bounce between total nihilism (“I’m way past trying”) and over-emotive blame and frustration: “You’re always leaving.” Mix truly emo shit like that with bad-ass riffs and a great quiet-loud dynamic and you got one of the best songs of the year.

‘Go To War (featuring Lil’ Scrappy and Pimp C)’ by Crime Mob off Hated On Mostly: ‘Hated On Mostly’ might be the best album title of the year and for straight-up party fight rap, this album wins hands-down. I figured it would keep me sated until the new Three-Six album, but with that perpetually delayed- ‘Da Last 2 Walk’ is now scheduled for fucking March- ‘Hated On Mostly’ maintains its relevance. ‘Circles’ is the “single” to vote for while ‘Rock Yo Hips’ was good, it’s by far the most digestable track- otherwise, ‘Hated On Mostly’ is a pretty sick album.

Production-wise, it’s all in-debt to Crunk and proto-Crunk and all, but it sounds individual enough to still stand-out. The beats are often rooted in really weird, atonal sounds that sound like they were loaded into a drum machine or sampler and then pounded-on for four minutes. There’s some poor man’s Lil Jon “Yeah!” keyboard sounds but there’s also this theremin-ish whir and some supertight, like totally electronic near-Kraftwerkian metallic pulses and bleeps. The severely underrated Crime Mob girls actually sort of suck on this, sounding out-of-breath and bleating out their verses, but dearly departed Pimp C owns the track; “Fuck how you feel” was my mantra for 2007.‘My Rain’ by Boris with Michio Kurihara off Rainbow: So, you guys know that Boris aren’t that good, right? Their first three albums are pretty great, but they’ve slowly done the same thing many of my favorite rappers have done in terms of pandering to their indie-rock cool guy audience. Their more conventional heavy-rock albums are pretty silly but kewl kids like em…I grabbed ‘Rainbow’ up because it was a collaboration with the dude from Ghost (yes, Boris featuring Patrick Swayze) and it’s pretty good. Still, derivative but it does it for me every once in awhile. The best tracks are the blissed-out, on-painkillers near-jams because they don’t have much of a precedent while say, opener ‘Rafflesia’ sounds like Candlemass and just makes me want to go get my copy of ‘Epicus Doomus Metallicus’ and beat-up Boris and especially their fans who would make fun of me for liking Candlemass.

This is the American version of ‘Rainbow’ and replaces the ending stoned-out track ‘…And I Want’ with ‘No Sleep ‘Till I Become Hollow’ which totally changes the albums’ feeling; oh well, there’s still ‘My Rain’ which is my favorite Boris track in years. I like that it sounds like ‘Stay’ by Lisa Loeb or something (that’s a good thing) and it’s just perfectly fragile, not twee or cute, just sad and resigned.

I’ll finish this up over the next few days. I’ll end with ‘Bet On It’ from ‘High School the Musical 2′ because this song is great; better than any of those Justin Timberlake songs the kids are talking about so damned much:

Written by Brandon

December 26th, 2007 at 6:22 am

Posted in Boris, Crime Mob, Jesu, Lists, Pimp C

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Crime Mob’s ‘Circles’ Is A Great Song.

For some reason, I didn’t write about Crime Mob’s ‘Hated On Mostly’ when it came out because I didn’t feel like getting into debates about “real hip-hop” and “minstrelsy” even though I basically started one here, but that’s how I roll, right? Anyways, ‘Hated On Mostly’ isn’t great but it’s quite good and as the initial excitement of ‘Return of the Mac’ and to a lesser extent, ‘Waitin’ To Inhale’ wears off, ranking ‘Hated On Mostly’ right alongside doesn’t seem quite as outrageous. ‘Circles’ seems to be getting some radio play and a whole lot of satellite radio play and it, more than any other track on ‘Hated On Mostly’ could appeal to those generally dismissive of stuff like Crime Mob.

The song, produced by Dirty Doc Jam, was previously used on some mixtape-only (I think) Gangsta Boo track, and samples the Friends of Distinction’s ‘Going In Circles’. Rooted in a derivative but still well-done chipmunk-soul approximation, the track really moves due to wise changes in beat and subtle production touches. It begins quietly, the chipmunk soul barely audible, slowly increasing in volume. It is drum-less, just an extended section of the original song in chipmunk mode for the first thirty seconds or so. The song finally begins when the Southern drums come-in, accompanied by ‘Going In Circles’s wobbly bassline which Doc Jam weaves in and out of the beat, mixing it low-to-silent during a ‘Stay Fly’-ish stuttering of the “round and round” part of the Friends’ chorus and then bringing it right back even louder and more lively when Lil J starts his verse. The baroquey strings of the original also go through the verse but cleverly change from emotive during Lil J’s verse to swelling and bathetic during Princess’s. The chipmunk-soul chorus is bypassed when moving from verse one to verse two, perhaps because Lil J’s 16 bars, while introductory in the sense of telling you this isn’t a “beat your ass” song from Crime Mob, is really underwhelming.

The horns heard during the first verse are also removed for Princess’ but after her verse, the horns, the strings, the wobbly bassline, the chipmunk chorus, and an additional chipmunk vocal sample, all show up for an extended chorus that feels more like a bridge due to its length and added power. The sample is finally allowed to breathe for this bridge/chorus thing and then, when Diamond comes in, it is appropriately strangled by the conventions of Southern shout-rap and production. The production is like ‘International Players Anthem’ or ‘Stay Fly’ (both produced by Three-Six Mafia, which Crime Mob’s sound is totally derivative of) in its ability to bridge the contemplative, soul-sampling New York style with the in-your-face immediacy and simplicity of Southern rap. I sort of see it as a concession to another region but ultimately, the song benefits and ideally, it might attract the attention of those less willing to sit through songs by the guys who made ‘Rock Yo Hips’.

Earlier in the week, I tried to unpack the pros and cons of 9th Wonder and others’ Pete Rock-fixated production, ultimately finding the revivalist style to be ineffective; It rarely makes excellent music, it rarely makes terrible music, it just sort of sits in the middle. I think ‘Circles’ may actually be one of the better Pete Rock approximations of late. It has Rock’s subtle complexity down, the way one must, with each verse and chorus, change it up a bit, never letting the listener feel totally comfortable. It also gives agile and even, semi-agile rappers a lot more room to have fun and be interesting and here, Crime Mob, especially the girls, respond in-kind.

Crime Mob do a good Three-Six Mafia impression just as Joell Ortiz or Little Brother do a good boom-bap impression. Like those artists, when moved slightly out of their comfort zone, Crime Mob can do something a little more interesting. I’d add, that just as Little Brother’s Southern roots and great sense of humor separate them from well, the Joell Ortiz-type boom-bap revivalists, Crime Mob’s female rappers separate the group from being uninteresting. While Three-Six’s female rappers just rapped the same as dudes, kinda tagging along, Crime Mob’s females dominate every song, precariously balancing their femininity while never using their gender as a schtick.

Most female rappers do their best tough-male interpretation (which never works), isolate themselves by exclusively focusing on female issues, or go bo-hoe-mian, super-sensitively rapping a feminist, socially “concious” bit that’s already annoying when male rappers do it. The last kind of rapper is perfectly parodied on Ghostface’s ‘Wildflower’ which begins with an anonymous female MC rapping some typical over-confident bullshit: “I’m mind-shockin’, body-rockin’/Money-makin’, earth-shakin’/Sittin’ high, lookin’ fly, drinkin’ on the best wine-” Ghostface then comes in with full-force, not on some contrived passion but serious, earned hunger, nearly screaming: “Yo bitch, I fucked your friend/Yeah, you stink hoe-”. Haven’t you wanted to say that to any number of piss-poor female MCs at an open mic, getting by and earning respect only because they’re broads?!

Perhaps it’s because ‘Circles’ forces the rappers to be vulnerable and females can more safely navigate into the world of admission and weakness, but Lil J and Killa C are the ones adopting the persona while the female rappers give off an amazing mix of confidence and vulnerability and everything in between. Killa C just talks about thongs and a five-hour fuck session, while Lil C drums-up the default guy response, only for a moment, shifting away from it with the line “I’ll be the first one to listen” but eventually devolving into dumb-assed threats of physical violence. Princess’ delivery on the other hand, doesn’t waver, adding a tinge of palpable anger to her mature concerns about being with basically, a lying jerkoff. She isn’t desperate, she asserts, she just wants this dude to be real. If he doesn’t love her, that’s fine, just why the fuck would you say it if you don’t mean it: “I don’t read between the lines/So, you need to get to talkin’/Spell it and out and make it clear/Don’t tell me what I wanna hear”. In a way though, Princess’ verse and Diamond’s (which I’ll get to in a minute) saves Lil C’s and makes Killa C’s irrelevant because it positions the males as two voices in an ongoing male-female dialogue. Here, the girls just end-up winning the debate. Even if their verses aren’t in a direct-address with one another (although they are on the song ‘Don’t Need Ya’), the strange mix of the male and female perspective on every song, complicates the songs a great deal.

Speaking of which, the complication award goes to Diamond, who really, should just drop the rest of Crime Mob, or steal their beats and make a solo album. Male rappers have a script when describing love. First, they lovingly or objectifyingly describe the woman’s assets, then they say something about how she gives him the space he needs, and they invoke children or marriage. Female rappers generally provide light allusions to sex, some compliments to the guy’s physique, but generally focus entirely on the mental feelings love brings on. Diamond’s verse merges thosee physical feelings of sex with the mental feelings of love, making the verse way different from love-song conventions but way more realistic. She describes the increased connection sex brings on “Now, my body once I got him/Fulfilling all my needs/He had me fiendin’, obscenin’/I mean it-” but she then, does not separate the feelings from sex or somehow suggest she has grown beyond or “above” well, fucking. The last few lines pretty much describe a female orgasm: “He got me going’ in circles/As dizzy as I wanna be/Down through my toes deep into my soul”, and then she ends, with the very-honest and sincerely delivered “Man, I want him badly”. ‘

The song is sexual in a way that is really visceral (“just smellin’ his breeze”) without being Lil Kim obscene or shockingly “dirty”. It has a 1950s rock music quality in its ability to be dirty and innocent and this is brought to a girl-group level of bad-boy obsession because the middle of Diamond’s verse seems to be about her being under-aged: “I really want him, yes I want him/But the law disagrees/Our love’s illegal, certain people/Man, I wish they could see me/He got me goin’ in circles…” It adds a weird level of the sex technically being rape but nevertheless, it remains a well-wrought portraint of angsty, immediate, teenage sex and love, something that is rarely addressed anywhere with anything resembling accuracy or sympathy. On par with as I said before, old 50s songs, or maybe a movie like ‘River’s Edge’ or Charles Burns’ graphic novel ‘Black Hole’…

Wow. Not bad for a group of supposed “minstrels”…

DocZeus in the comments section dropped the bomb that Diamond’s verse is probably about weed, which makes me look like an over-analytical asshole.

Also, Noz posted the original Gangsta Boo song (from which the ‘Circles’ beat came) with some background info.

Written by Brandon

July 6th, 2007 at 4:01 am

Posted in Crime Mob, the South