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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

Top 10 Non-Album Tracks Pt. 2

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‘Stress’ by Justice off : I love Justice the way I love my Nike Vintage Runners as like an example of hipster douchebag effrontery so extreme it becomes great again. And like those vintage runners,’†’ is great enough that its context or fans or what it may or may not represent just stop mattering. Justice are the great part of the French, the side that realized that Jerry Lewis is really fucking funny and that Poe can’t really write well but his stuff is really interesting and smart in its own way…more Derrida than Foucault, more Barthes than Baudelaire…you know??!!

‘D.A.N.C.E’ is a fun track but like a lot of singles from kinda out-there albums, it’s sort of an anomaly on the record…’Waters of Nazareth’ is a more telling single but was previously released as a stand-alone single, so I’m going with ‘Stress’ which comes before ‘Waters’ and is the point where ‘†’ gets really crazy again. The dentist-drill breakdown, the stiff poor man’s ‘Thriller’ drums, the way the trick of letting the beat like really fucking drop is used a couple of times in the song and is still exhilarating, and this randomly placed shard of static noise throughout, it sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a Romero Mall Zombie dance party or a bunch of Jersey dudes pumping their fists and pouring water on one another in some kinda gross club or my dumb-ass driving to work.

‘Top Drop Dyne Remix’ by UGK off Underground Kingz: This is the version of ‘Top Drop Dyne’ that follows-up disc 1’s closer ‘Trill Niggaz Never Die’, I just put it through Cool Edit and turned it into its own track. It’s representative of how dense and overwhelming ‘Underground Kingz’ can be: When a track like this is relegated to a hidden track at the end of the first disc, you made a fucking solid album. The number of Southern rap tracks that use clean-ish like near-hair metal guitars must be entering triple digits, but it doesn’t really get old and its one of the more non-soul samples that generally succeeds.

I was sort of in denial of it when this album came out, but yeah, overall, Bun B is a little disappointing on ‘Underground Kingz’, especially- unfair as this might be- when you compare it to anything he drops on ‘Ridin’ Dirty’. Maybe it’s my fanboy justification here, but it seems like Bun’s underwhelmingness(?) was on-purpose. With Pimp C getting out of jail and this being the first genuine UGK release in awhile, it was Pimp’s turn to shine. This, of course takes on even greater meaning because of Pimp’s death (it’s still crazy to type that out, that Pimp C is dead). On this track in particular, Pimp’s Southern whine sounds even more extreme and confident and it’s great that he not only addresses his annoyance with East-Coast elitism, but takes time to address the fact that he gets shit for addressing East-Coast elitism. Ending his verse with “get your fingers out your ass, bitch!” is about as unapologetic as you can get.

‘Can’t Say No (featuring Trick Daddy’ by Kanye West (unreleased): The best Kanye West song since the shit from ‘College Dropout’? This song should be the blueprint for how Kanye could continue to do different stuff with his beats but not be out-there in this predictably “out-there” way. The beat mixes chipmunk soul with some total retro dance-party bump that people like M.I.A or A-Trak and stuff are into. But over it, instead of funny rap sloganeering, Kanye gives a totally sincere verse that apes the content of ‘Spaceship’. What exactly is this song? If Trick Daddy’s verse didn’t mention ringtones and gas prices, I’d swear it’s from like 2003 and on one of those pre-’Dropout’ mixtapes.

Similar to the opening track on ‘Graduation’, Kanye’s sloppy rapping and embrace of his normal speaking voice, gives one a feeling of like, slowly moving into something shitty or at least, not so fun. When he says “Wake up, new day, same shit” his voice feels like he really is waking up to deal with some bullshit. The stuff about not only wanting to quit but come back and “go postal” and the whole idea of “tak[ing] shit too far” nods toward the very real frustration turned self-destruction you feel working some annoying job. Cynics can say Kanye’s day isn’t like that anymore and maybe never really was, but his ability to articulate those feelings in a way that is ultimately, inspiring, matters more than whenever was the last time he worked at the GAP or something; he clearly remembers those feelings well.

Written by Brandon

December 28th, 2007 at 12:09 am

Post-Purist Sampling

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Joseph Schloss’ great book ‘Making Beats: The Art of Hip-Hop Sampling’ has a section that outlines the Purist’s Seven Rules for Sampling. I wish I had a copy of the book in front of me because that would make this post way more effective but I don’t. That’s the thing I miss most about college, not the parties and easy-to-attain drugs, but a solid, reference library…basically, Schloss’ lists makes explicit those sampling rules anyone with a working knowledge of rap and samples takes for granted.

I never think too hard about sampling on any kind of ethical level until a sample jumps out at me as being particularly “bullshit” or I’m forced to defend sampling as a concept. Recently, I was struck by the odd mixing of worlds that became Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’ and Justice’s ‘†’. Kanye samples Justice’s biggest influence, months after he insulted the group, while Justice, make an electro-ish, dance music that uses samples in a way that resembles a classic rap album and even includes a a rapper on one song. Kanye’s sampling of Daft Punk is Puffy-like in its simplicity and obviousness and from a purist perspective, it seems fairly offensive. Justice’s samples are generally more brief and subtle; the purist would applaud these French hipsters.

Yet, something struck me as messed-up about this dichotomy and it became really clear on ‘Phantom Pt. 1’ and ‘Phantom Pt. 2’ by Justice (I was also reminded of this by Daniel Krow’s sampling entries). ‘Phantom’ samples probably one of my favorite songs of all-time, ‘Tenebre’ by Goblin (from the ‘Tenebre’ soundtrack) and does it in a way equally obvious as Kanye’s looping ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. While Kanye’s sample never bothered me on any sort of “ethical” level, Justice’s use of ‘Tenebre’ does. The main reason is that I’m not sure how many people even realize that those ‘Phantom’ tracks are based on samples, particularly because the sample is from an instrumental, electronic track, so it sort of just fits right in. There’s something cheap about the song, playing a barely-sampled, really dope-sounding song to a bunch of club types that will indeed respond to its dopeness but choosing a song obscure enough that very few of them will go “Hey, that’s Goblin!”.

Perhaps an equal amount of people aren’t aware of Kanye’s use of Daft Punk, but Kanye seems to have taken great pains to make his sampling explicit. He put the group in the video and has referred to them in numerous interviews. Furthermore, his intended audience, seems to be “with-it” rap-type nerds (I recall producer Black Milk referencing Daft Punk a year or so ago) that already know Daft Punk or will search out the source of the sample, and mainstream pop/rap fans with little interest in musical minutiae. For them, the sample source hardly matters. This defies previous understandings of sampling ethics. It now seems ethically appropriate to sample something obvious and arguably played-out, for although it is audience-baiting it is significantly less disingenuous.

This is undoubtedly the opinion that could only come from someone too young to be totally offended by the Puffy era of sampling. The apotheosis of sampling is undoubtedly the early Golden-age era which birthed the Bomb Squad, Pete Rock, DJ Premier and many, many, others. At the same time, but relegated to smaller regional genres, at least at first, is the extension of sample lengths and the open-ness towards interpolations of older songs. What was once kind of regional becomes super-common with Dr. Dre and others.

Dre’s George Clinton samples to me, are similar to Kanye’s Daft Punk sampling in that, the extension into popular rap excuses the obviousness but say, the RZA’s sampling, although classic and probably my favorite of all-time, feels a little cheap for its adoption of obscure or relatively obscure music and relatively minimal sampling: Wasn’t it just a little disheartening when you heard that Charmels song that is the basis of ‘C.R.E.A.M’? This is not to discredit any of these producers but it does really sort of complicate what defines a fair or ethical sample.

The ultimate rule is (and should be) fuck ethics if it sounds cool and to me, the Puffy era, for all of its “bad” deeds, did make producers more okay with this feeling. Maybe it’s why we get so many great beats but fewer and fewer great rappers. The rules for a rapper have still not been broken-down, the Rakim style is still mindlessly imitated and the ad-lib kings just made an end-run about the rapping part of rap; no one has really gelled the two together, although an argument could be made that Kanye and Lil Wayne are these weird transitional figures…I’m not so sure yet.

But back to sampling and Puffy’s positive contributions to music- Just Blaze and Kanye West, producers that were equally influenced by Puffy as they were by Pete Rock, got their start with Harlem World and moved onto Roc-A-Fella where they basically made more acceptable, more awesome songs in the vein of Puffy’s style. Is there really that big of a difference between Puffy’s super-obvious samples and say, Just Blaze’s sort-of obvious ‘Move On Up’ sample on ‘Touch the Sky’? Now that sampling is commonplace in everything from Coldplay sampling Kraftwerk to JR Rotem sampling something as “timeless” as ‘Stand By Me’ it is context that determines a sample’s ethical “legitimacy” and not a group of static, easy-to-apply set of cratediggers’ rules.

Written by Brandon

September 5th, 2007 at 6:20 am


In Defense of Uffie.
For those who don’t know (or don’t care), Uffie is the 18 year-old, white, female, pretty-much universally disliked “rapper” for the infamous Ed Banger records. I put “rapper” in quotation marks not to demean Uffie’s rapping skills (although they are almost non-existent) but because Ed Banger records is a French electronic music label with little to no connection to mainstream or even underground rap. It specializes in wonderfully aggressive and contrarian dance music. So yeah, this is some goofy-ass uber-white person shit but I promise, it does still relate to the rap music I generally talk about…

On the track ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’, from Justice’s album ‘†’, Uffie raps in a light, girlish but aggressive attempt at the Roxanne Shante style. The topic is well, partying and she drops such polarizing lines as “Out on the streets all the taxis are showing me love/Cause I’m shinin’ like a princess, in the middle of thugs”. The song seems to interrupt just about every critic’s enjoyment of the album and the consensus seems to be that Uffie is a complete idiot. I could explain why she’s an idiot (if you haven’t already figured it out), but this Pitchfork review of Uffie’s single ‘Pop the Glock’ does it pretty succinctly.

Let the hipster-hating polemic begin, right?

Nope, sorry. I think Uffie is much more interesting than anyone is giving her credit for. She complicates knee-jerk responses to hipster-ism by developing a persona that is almost too-easy to goof-on. Nearly everyone who encounters her, especially as the annoying chick on Justice’s album (Personally, I find ‘DVNO’ way more annoying) seems to take her bait. The same people who celebrate Ed Banger’s contrarian dance music miss the contrarianism of Uffie’s chick-rap-hipster persona.

She baits and confronts anti-ironists like myself and that is quite different than if she were just a plain old hipster ironist. In certain ways, her persona is constructed similarly to the “gangsta” rappers she ironically mimics and finds inspiration in. She fully understands the weird dialectic of rapper; one that moves between a self-created, semi-sincere persona and a detail-oriented reporter of their lifestyle. Recall that oft-quoted line that rap is (or was…) “the black CNN”. Just, Uffie documents the realities of Parisian club-going hipsters instead of inner-city plight and violence…

The “black CNN” metaphor is inaccurate. Originally used to explain the social importance of rap music, it simplifies the rapper’s complex stance to their environment. The rappers documenting the “reality” of their lives were almost always involved in that “reality” (or fronting like they were involved), so they were more like the black Truman Capotes or Hunter S. Thompsons or something. Most were not “reporting” in a conventional, objective sense but doing a strange, hyper-complicated mix of first-person, subjective storytelling and a brutally honest, few-steps-back-from-it-all-but-still-rich-in-detail objectivity. Even N.W.A at their most cartoonishly over-the-top, do not completely vindicate the violence they enact in song. The dirty, hilarious, gross, messed-up, ecstatic details still seep through and any thinking listener won’t leave the song only wanting to jack a cop. The compulsive need to tell the truth among even the most “ignorant” of rappers outweighs attempts at idealization and justification. This chick, Uffie does that too. She too is profiling a “scene” and its attitudes, but she renders that scene realistically, almost anthropologically.

On the song ‘‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’, in her purposefully-wack rhyming style, Uffie describes the night’s partying as it moves out of the club: “You and me, c’mon lets take it to the next level/Let’s all go to the hotel pool as we finish the bottle/Maybe kiss and don’t tell, it’s the rule around here/You must have put me under a spell, I lose control when you’re near”. The first line, where she asks some kind of male suitor (probably with an ironic moustache, no?) to “take it to the next level” is undercut by the second line, where the “next level” is partying at a fucking hotel pool! Finishing the bottle, hotel pool, and her little-girl delivery of these attempts at sexual provocation add a sort of gross, realistic feeling to it all. It’s decadent in the worst sense of the word. R. Kelly songs have a similar feeling. ‘Ignition Remix’ or that ‘Make It Rain Remix’ where he compares his taking-of-women to his room to a cavemen dragging a woman to a cave…Not exactly glamorous!

Adding to this lame-ish decadence (because its 2007, so her decadence is passé), she adds the come-on of making-out, but with an unsexy qualifier (“maybe”) and explicitly referring her actions as basically, predictable: “Kiss and don’t tell, it’s the rule around here.” There are rules to her decadence! The making-out is also empty because it is “kiss and don’t tell”, temporary; something kept-quiet. Then, at the end, either complicating or conflicting with her assertions that this is just some kind of brief fling, she tells the guy “I lose control when you’re near”. That line, along with the “next level” line seem like the meaningless ideal dialogue Uffie and friends engage in to get what they want and sandwiched between it, the reality (we’re just going to a pool.this means nothing.don’t tell anybody). When it comes to sexual behavior, “hipster” and intellectual types have a way of presenting their sexual irresponsibility as “with-it” or “open-minded” but here, Uffie presents it in a way that does not represent freedom or open-mindedness, it’s just the norm. She deals with sex like a rapper; doing whatever she can to get a nut.

Hipsters’ strange embrace of hip-hop culture as ironic performance only applies to Uffie in part. While Uffie more than indulges, adopting hip-hop slang and clothing (see above) it is rooted in appreciation. Naïve, delusional, retarded, misdirected ,WHATEVER- it is developed into something more than ironic appropriation.

She’s stolen a lot from the image-creation of rappers. Like a rapper, she has a distinct and polarizing personality, part-real and part contrived, which is used to portrayal the realities of her life. Check-out this interview; the difference between her musician persona and real-life personality is clear. She is not the goofy, obnoxious brat she plays on ‘Tthhee Ppaarrttyy’ but an articulate, aware, unpretentious artist. It was jarring when I saw this interview, the same way it is jarring when the scary “gangsta rappers” revealed themselves as really fucking smart, “articulate” dudes.

Also, ironic hipster or not, Uffie knows her music history. She is well-aware and indeed, in her own way, sensitive to that which she quotes, copies, parodies, and steals. On ‘Pop the Glock’ (the most immediately egregious of her songs) she swipes her flow from Audio Two’s ‘Top Billin’ and paraphrases when she punctuates her verse with “and if you understood, would you?”. There are also references to Miami Bass, Crunk and Grime, all of which share a lot of sonic similarities. Her being from Miami does give her some regional “credit” if indeed, that’s your litmus test for whether someone is bullshit or not…

While it is her most problematic song, ‘Pop the Glock’ also shows the extent of Uffie’s relationship with rap and hip-hop culture. The song is exactly the kind of retarded hipster-ism so many of us are chomping at the bit to rip-apart, but the actual song isn’t what you think. Yes, the chorus is “pop the glock” repeated over-and-over and the song is punctuated with gunshots, but the topic of the song isn’t anything about popping glocks or any thug referencing, parodied nor appropriated. Uffie just raps loosely connected braggadocio that always loops back to her sing-talk “pop the glock” rendering the titular line, the one you’re just waiting to get pissed about, into nonsense. Did I mention she raps this song and only this song in a faux-British accent?

So… she’s a white chick who has lived all over the world, born in the American South, currently residing in Paris, making music that is a mix of old-school rap music and electronic music (itself rooted as much in the sounds of Mantronix as Aphex Twin), rapping in an unabashed girlish voice (no contrived rapper drawl) in a British accent! So yeah, I mean the levels of irony are mind-boggling and for that, I could criticize her but I think the weird, double-binded irony mixed with explicit inauthenticity ends up sincere.

Maybe it’s the British accent but I immediately thought of Mick Jagger, another white musician who flirted with levels of racial and cultural irony. Jagger often falls into a near-Minstrel black affectation and is equally willing to drop an over-the-top redneck voice, but it’s done in some weird over-the-top way that is ultimately, homage. It’s complicated, but in his 33 1/3 book on ‘Exile on Main St.’ Bill Janowitz makes a pretty good attempt at articulating Jagger’s complex stance in relation to his influences:

“The narrative voice operates on multiple levels. Some critics might have considered the Rolling Stones’ history of copping African-American music as a kind of cultural exploitation, similar to that practiced by all-white minstrels companies. But Jagger is in on the joke; the Stones themselves could be misconstrued as an updated minstrel show …[but] Jagger would certainly have been sensitive to such matters [of minstrelsy]. He does not let any self-consciousness impede on ‘Sweet Black Angel,’ though; rather, he displays a solid confidence in his own motives.” (113)

Uffie too, subtly informs her listeners of her motives by wrapping it in a great deal of sub-text and history. Like Jagger, the confidence comes through because she isn’t afraid of misinterpretation. No one would mistake her for a “real rapper”. Her voice contains no rapper-like affectation of either “hardness” or “blackness” and on ‘Pop the Glock’ she tries to get even whiter with that British accent. Her rhyme style too, is purposefully poor, avoiding any attempts at being “lyrical”. The electro and IDM-sounding production avoids condescending attempts at actual rap beat-making. The aggressively avant-garde “beats” of the Anti-Con guys or even El-P, especially in his blasphemous invocation of the Bomb Squad is waaaaaaayyy more offensive than Uffie.

This is all really-fun to break-down and analyze, but is Uffie any good? Well, no. Other than her track on the Justice album, which works because of its sequencing on the album, Uffie would probably best work as some kind of like, weird, Undergraduate thesis or independent project for a ‘Women’s Studies’ class or something. Pretty fun and engaging to talk about, but not music that will last. However, that too fits with Uffie’s persona of making music for parties and clubs. It is only her connection to the indie and experimental world that somehow “demands” her music be significant. Most of do not ask Cassie or Rihanna or even “rappers” like Jim Jones to be relevant, why must Uffie? Just as we praise the best mainstream artists, especially rappers, for injecting the cold, cold world of mainstream music with some heart and honesty, we should praise Uffie (and the Ed Banger crew) for injecting the “hipster” world with “meaningless” music. Be it the pseudo-literary world of the Decemberists or the intertextual, faux-clever mash-ups of Girl Talk, hipster music needs to stop trying so hard or try hard at not trying hard.

-Janowitz, Bill. ‘The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St.’ Continuum: New York, 2005.

Written by Brandon

July 16th, 2007 at 8:13 am