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Independent Weekly: Out Of Jail And On Tour, Lil Wayne Again Has Something To Prove.

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Obviously I wrote this before Sorry 4 The Wait dropped, which by the way, is pretty fun but also nothing too special. Then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be more than a one-off so stop being such dicks about it. Anyways, here’s something about Lil Wayne’s post-jail radio output which has been consistently excellent and something we’re all taking for granted. Even “How To Love” has its charms! I was also trying to wrestle with the idea that jail had a positive effect on his rapping because well, nothing positive comes out of the American justice system, but Wayne does seem to be rapping like 2009 and 2010 never happened, so…

Lil Wayne’s a superstar in an almost old-fashioned sense—you can buy a poster of him at Kmart and his T-shirt at Hot Topic—but he’s not too interested in playing the fame game on anybody else’s terms. Tha Carter III’s success came after three-plus years of constant recording (he gave away hundreds of songs for free before everyone was doing that sort of thing) and a ubiquity achieved by handing guest verses over to anyone who asked. He worked really hard on that glut of material, too, often running away with the songs on which he guested. Along with a reputation as a kush-smoking, syrup-drinking workaholic, the ridiculous output transformed Wayne into some sort of outsider artist—the Henry Darger of this rap shit…

Written by Brandon

July 14th, 2011 at 6:09 am

Spin: “Assessing Lil Wayne’s Post-Prison Comeback.”

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The first installment of my weekly hip-hop column for Spin’s website is up, and it’s about Lil Wayne’s post-jail verses and the rather brilliant and touching way he’s confronted his jail-time. Namely, by not getting all sad-sack rapper about it and just rhyming really well. Read it! Argue about it! Thanks!

Though psychologically damaging and probably not all that reformative, prison isn’t a bad career move for a rapper. It feeds the hype machine, can help with street cred (which does still matter, even in this Officer Rick Ross era), and preps everybody for a big, got-through-it-all comeback.

See: Gucci Mane, at least until time in jail outweighed time spent in the recording studio. Also, T.I. on “I’m Back,” but less so on No Mercy, the rapper’s triumphant return that never was because dude got busted for smoking weed in broad daylight and went right back to jail (No Mercy was originally titled King Uncaged). Okay, so doing time is good for rappers who can stay on the straight and narrow once they get out, and make some good songs. It doesn’t work if people don’t give a shit about you, and that’s why Shyne has been out of luck since his release in 2009.

But people really give a shit about Lil Wayne. That’s why even his disastrous butt-rock experiment Rebirth went gold, and why I Am Not A Human Being, a decent odds-and-sods collection soaked in Drake guest spots, released while Wayne was in Riker’s Island for eight months on a gun charge, did pretty well too…

Written by Brandon

February 11th, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Lil Wayne, Spin, Spin column

Village Voice, Sound of the City: “So Just How Homophobic Is Rap In 2010?”


Things I couldn’t find a place for in this article….Z-Ro’s “no discrimination” verse from “T.H.U.G” that mentions “lesbians and gay men.” The last verse of Pimp C’s “Shattered Dreams” where he tells gay people, “do your thing, because can’t no man tell you what’s wrong or right.” Also that Lil Wayne, like Tupac before him, dresses in a kind of “drag-king” style clearly swiped from the working-class lesbians of his city (incidentally, Tupac’s from Baltimore, the home of out Club vocalist Miss Tony). The write-up’s stronger for not having those tangents, but they’re worth mentioning I think. Not to play a “name your favorite anti-homophobia reference in rap” game but to totally play, “name your favorite anti-homophobia reference in rap,” what are yours? I’ve long had the idea to do a “gay week” on this blog that really break down the many direct and sideways contributions the gay community’s provided for hip-hop. May still do it one day. Yeah, the article’s below as usual:

The familiar conceit of this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine article “Sissy Bounce: New Orleans’s Gender-Bending Rap,” goes something like this: There are some gay rappers in New Orleans. Rap’s usually really homophobic. That’s crazy, huh? Contrasting the apparently enlightened attitude of New Orleans bounce with mainstream hip-hop’s homophobia in order to wrap a chin-scratching, Times-friendly thesis around a rowdy, obscene style of Southern dance music is probably good for the genre’s visibility. And the assertion that rap is gay-unfriendly is so well proven by now that the piece’s writer, Jonathan Dee, doesn’t even deign to provide any examples to support it. Fair enough: hip-hop’s track record, when it comes to addressing homosexuality, is abysmal. But do we really know for a fact that rap remains completely unenlightened, circa 2010?

In the eighties, hip-hop was venomous toward gays: think Big Daddy Kane’s “anti-faggot” law from “Pimpin Ain’t Easy”, or Public Enemy’s “The parts don’t fit/Aww, shit” aside from “Meet The G That Killed Me.” In the nineties, rap’s signature was the hard-ass “faggot”-filled vitriol of groups like Wu-Tang and the Lox. Along with today’s lunkheaded leftovers from those two decades, there are still songs like “MC Hammer” off Rick Ross’ Teflon Don, wherein the Boss tells listeners “credit card scams [are] for the faggots.”

Written by Brandon

July 29th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Protecting Rappers From Themselves (and Protecting Rappers from the Guys There to Protect Rappers from Themselves)

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The obvious but worth repeating part first: If you’re a big-time rapper and you make your reputation talking about your weed and your guns, even if you do it really creatively (Wayne or Gucci) or like, render the uglier details of it all particularly well (Wayne, Gucci, or Lil Boosie), you’re going to be a fucking target. Not saying it’s fair, not saying it isn’t just flat-out racist–it’s also rockist–but it’s true.

The less obvious part: These arrests are indeed, a mix of stupidity and misread privilege, but it’s also a kind of nihilism that doesn’t go away just because now a whole bunch of people know who you are and you got songs on the radio. If there’s any “positive” to say, Gucci going to jail or the ridiculous amount of hip-hop deaths every year, it’s that in some roundabout way, it’s but one more way that hip-hop calls attention to a lot of the dirt swept to the side or ignored in this country:

How fucked it still is to be black or poor or poor and black. How “the bootstraps” stuff sounds good and inspiring but ignores all those years it took to pull up those bootstraps and all the scheisty, shitty people it put you into contact with that don’t just go away, or your awful diet, or the doctors you never visited because you didn’t have any dough or health insurance, or the generations of family that didn’t even have the possibility for bootstraps-pulling and you’re literally inheriting their health problems…all that stuff doesn’t go away once your life is Bill O’Reilly approved.

J. Dilla’s death to lupus, Baatin’s battle with mental illness and his recent death, speak to the plight of the black lower-class–and if you got an imagination, the lower class as a whole–as much as say, [INSERT RAPPER HERE] getting shot.

And still, there’s some uncomfortable something else coursing through these arrests. Namely, it’s the very clear way that labels are scooping up these guys, promising them money–because they already have fame–and slightly, over time, shifting their style and approach to rap–in a sense marketing them–to make them more “pop”, while doing none of the stuff to stop them from getting arrested and then, slowly but surely dropping them.

Perhaps you saw, “Lil Wayne’s Sizzurp-Guzzler Blues”, from The Village Voice two weeks ago. It describes the weird way that the Lil Wayne documentary The Carter went from a doc playing at Sundance, to a doc “mysteriously pulled” from Sundance, to one that Wayne’s record label says Wayne himself no longer approves, to a quiet release on iTunes and DVD.

What’s implied in the article and what seems pretty obvious to anyone following the doc’s story since Sundance, is that a verite-style documentary that shows Wayne smoking a lot of weed and drinking a lot of purple, is no longer a good look for the rapper whose face is now slapped across T-shirts in Hot Topic.

That it’s all wrapped-up as if it’s Wayne himself who has an issue with the documentary is where it gets really problematic. It also recalls all that weird internet stuff Noz dealt with in regards to Gucci’s label, which claimed that it was Gucci himself opposed to these leaks. Now, it’s hardly inconceivable that a year or so after Wayne smoked tons of weed on camera he feels kinda strange about it and it’s very possible that Gucci himself doesn’t want his big album to leak, but there’s something more nefarious going on here too. It’s a label no longer speaking for the rapper but speaking as the rapper.

And it also seems to be a label, coming from a place of authority, and providing misinformation to a rapper–telling Wayne this looks bad for him, telling Gucci about the concerns about leaks–that the rapper will no doubt take very seriously. That then gets translated into “Wayne doesn’t approve of this documentary”/”Gucci doesn’t want any leaks”. It reminds me of the many Boosie interviews like this one back when Superbad came out, where Boosie mentioned the album’s “for the ladies” slant–because women buy albums apparently–and it’s solidified by this interview where he basically reveals all the bullshit smuggled onto Superbad.

There’s also the effect on the music itself. Boosie can attest to how Superbad was compromised, and something like Gucci’s “Spotlight” is now just to be expected–though the return of the Plies version of “Wasted” and the relegating the OJ version to an iTunes EP, sounds like a wholesale dumping of Gucci’s weirder, regional aspects–and even Wayne’s No Ceilings sounds like a once-wild rapper tied-down, those limits self-imposed or not, but most certainly rooted in a slightly kinder, less harsh, more palpable version of weirdness than the syrup-sipping “pussy monster” of a few years ago.

These are labels that signed these guys for the very things they’e now being advised to temper or toss out altogether. Now, this is all speculation, but as these rappers go to jail, this image of a label deeply concerned with the whims of their artist–preventing negative documentaries, staving-off leaks–just seems ridiculous.

And you know, it sure would help if these guys would figure their shit out, bizarre, made-to-doom-you, draconian probation violation laws or not.

further reading/viewing:

-”Lil Wayne’s Sizzurp-Guzzler Blues” by Jed Lipinski from Village Voice
-”Music Reviewer’s Blog Suspended for Promoting Music” from Techdirt
-TSS Presents Fifteen Minutes with Lil Boosie
-”Dirty World (Lil Boosie Interview) by Maurice Garland for Ozone Magazine

Written by Brandon

November 23rd, 2009 at 7:12 am

UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE: Lil Wayne in Raleigh, NC 08/08/09

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So, I was asked by a paper to attend the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ tour and review it, but then the piece never ran and no one will tell me why, so here it is. It’s a good reminder of why, despite rawk-star trappings right now, Wayne’s still wonderfully weird and the only guy to pull something like this off.-b

Following a fun, but perfunctory performance from Soulja Boy, and a head-down, straight rapping set from Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, the star of the “America’s Most Wanted Tour”, which came to Raleigh’s Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion a couple Saturdays ago, took the stage amidst a flurry of samples from Scarface and a screen projecting a psychedelic collage of eyeballs. The self-declared “best rapper alive” immediately let-out an unhinged freestyle (“Cannon”) before segueing into mega-hit, “A Milli…which is also an unhinged freestyle.

See, that’s the thing about Lil Wayne: There’s no difference between the rote (samples from a tough-guy rapper-approved classic, playing the hits) and the rarefied (a trippy eyeball video, endlessly thrilling nonsense raps)–it’s all awesomely muddled. This was a big, outdoor show where it often felt like the audience indulged the performer.

Because he’s at his best when he’s impulsive and scatter-brained, indulgence is less of a problem than it might seem. Remember, Wayne is a guy who–though he’s been rapping and making hits since the late 90s—carved out his one-of-a-kind path to pop stardom via quasi-official “mixtape” tracks that more often than not, consisted of hook-less, structure-less, oddball rapping. Part of the enjoyment of listening or seeing Wayne is the experience: the high-highs as well as the distracted asides.

Even though the performance was anchored in mixtape songs and hits from last year’s Tha Carter III, it was also mired in Wayne’s most recent whims, namely his underwhelming Young Money Crew—made more underwhelming here by the absence of breakout star Drake—and an interest in middling alt-rock, the apparent sound of Wayne’s upcoming album this fall, The Rebirth.

The Young Money Crew was easy to ignore, dropping in for a verse and rolling out, but nearly every song was revamped to fit Wayne’s newfound embrace of rawk. The transformation of well-known skittering beats to recycled butt-rock riffs isn’t as jarring or awful as it sounds, but it wasn’t great either and it didn’t help that right before, Young Jeezy expertly performed a set informed, but not reconfigured, by a live rock band.

Jeezy didn’t throw out the end-of-the-world stomping synths of his albums, he just had a band that tossed-in skronks of horns and slabs of guitar shredding overtop of them. Whammy-bar dangling, Jeezy’s guitarist punctuated “Who Dat”, a snarling beat from last year’s The Recession, with a chunk of strangled guitar, bringing a palpable sense of chaos to a purposefully no-frills, worker-bee rap performance.

And when the live instruments fully took over Jeezy’s set, it was at the end–a kind of coda to the Atlanta rapper’s show. Jeezy’s guitarist stepped forward and approximated Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which shifted into Jeezy’s Obama-inspired, “My President”. There wasn’t any rapping though, Jeezy thanked the crowd and walked away, letting an instrumental play out, back-up singers howling out the defiant, conflicted chorus: “My president is black/My lambo is blue/And I’ll be godammned if my rims ain’t too”. It was absurd and arrogant and moving all at the same time.

Wayne’s performance was entirely made-up of confusingly awesome stuff like that, bouncing between sensational and stupid and then blurring the line between the two. There were a few moments of stirring clarity, particularly an almost spoken-word (read: respectable) performance of “Let the Beat Build” that seemed to suggest the ease in which Wayne could put on a “good” show, but moments like that gained power precisely because other moments were so transcendently nutty.

He performed “I’m Me” with the word UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE flashing behind him, indulged in an especially raucous mini-suite of mindless raps (“I Run This”, “Always Strapped”) with Cash-Money mentor Birdman, and endlessly two-stepped around the stage, getting the crowd to shout back his nonsense couplets (“I’m a great dane, I wear eight chains!”). The show didn’t make a lot of sense but that hardly matters—Wayne’s adept at making something monumental from a mess.

Written by Brandon

August 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 am

Drake: First You Get the Hype, Then You Make the Controversy, Then You Get the Women…

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Upon hearing of Drake’s tumble, flashes of a kind of Putney Swope absurd, Wag the Dog cynical set-up rushed through my head: Drake never gets up from his fall, becomes a wheelchair-bound rapper, and the divide between actor Aubrey Graham, his character Jimmy Brooks, and his rap persona Drake completely melt away and he becomes an even bigger star. And really, a few days later, that sequence of events doesn’t even seem that far-fetched. The problem with Drake’s not that he isn’t very good, but that his every career move seems wrapped in the quietest of controversies and hype-building–never enough to alienate, just enough to maintain that crucial “buzz”.

This isn’t a surprise or anything, given the weird, new-ish media machine rolling through the radio and internets, but when Drake took that spill on-stage earlier in the week and it immediately became not only gossip/rap blog fodder, but a series of comments on just how Drake “took a chance” performing with a bad knee–as it it were all for his fans, and not the damage dropping-out of a tour just as he’s on the cusp would’ve done–we’re entering like, Entertainment Tonight style “reporting”–chunks of P.R thrown out there like they constitute an actual “story”.

A key to Drake’s success is the ability to consistently court mini-controversy and maintain a level of interest/hype almost completely separate from the music. And his injured leg is embodies this quite well. Though a deeply cynical/paranoid part of me could get into accusing it all to be faked, it certainly wasn’t. But what was at least, rather contrived is the contextualizing the fall as Drake’s devotion to his fans and whether intentional or not, the knowledge that anything sorta weird like dude collapsing is gonna have the internet going nuts.

So, Drake falling creates content for blogs, the possibility for exclusivity (who posts/gets the first picture or video of the collapse), and allows Drake to then talk/blog about the fall for the next few days, continually mentioning the tour, pushing his singles/album, and looking like a real trooper. Where, at one point, this sort of thing was an embarrassment or something to quiet down, it’s now an opportunity for some extra press. Not totally convinced this is even a bad thing, it’s certainly more honest (in a way), but this awkward embrace of “all press is good press” is strange nonetheless and something Drake’s an expert at using.

This kind of sub-controversy courting started at the BET Awards, where he performed “Every Girl”, along with the rest of the Young Money Crew, sitting on a stool for much of it, and towards the end, surrounded by pre-teen girls. The stool-sitting, presumably the first rumblings of his injured leg, but it had the odd effect of hinting–whether intentional or not–to his crippled character from Degrassi and also, both put him on the stage with the rest of the more swarthy Young Money and separated him just a little bit. It seemed to be saying, “Hey this is rap but it’s not rap either”.

The end of the performance too, surrounded by pre-teen girls, while ill-advised given the “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world” hook of the song, seemed to be again indicating Drake’s safe-ness (something he’s awesomely confident in). There are already plenty of Dads I’ve talked to that end up spending part of their night watching Degrassi re-runs with their ten year-old, pop-rap radio obsessed daughters precisely because Drake’s on the show. This is clever. While a sitcom in the vein of Hannah Montana starring Drake would never really work-out, with Drake, there’s already one, getting constant plays on paid cable.

The pre-teens surrounding him, was less a sexualization of pre-teens–though it most assuredly was that too–than a quick way of catering to a demographic hip-hop can rarely court so explicitly. That said, once the controversy started about the unfortunate combo of the pre-teens and “Every Girl”s chorus, a mini-controversy developed and that’s good for Drake too.

This after-the-fact, after-the-blog-hits apology is what Asher Roth courted, though in a more obnoxious way. When you have a label or even just a powerful A & R behind you, ill-advised Imus references on Twitter, critiques of “Black–African rappers”, or rocking a Larry Bird jersey, don’t become problems because nine minutes later, there’ll be something else to posted on all the blogs…and there’s no big-time media covering this shit anyway, so it hardly matters.

The next example, the video for “Best I Ever Had”, which while really brilliant–it looks great and continues director Kanye West’s interest in varied female body image–was clearly developed to confuse and bother a whole bunch of people. Again, not enough that anybody would come out poorly–this is Drake, etc. exploiting music fans’ and writers’ apathy and aversion to anything politically engaged–but just enough that it’d get some debates on Twitter or Facebook. With the setting of a high-school gym, there’s also again, bizarre, sideways hints at Drake’s come-up: Cornball Canadian soap Degrassi.

Drake though, is also sorta separate from the internet/blogosphere hype monster. Unlike Asher Roth or Wale or Kid Cudi, Drake’s struck a nerve with people; real actual people, some without wireless routers. He’s on the radio. Notice how even Cudi, who had a bonafide hit, weird enough to be cool but oddly catchy too, didn’t become ubiquitous or talked-about through “Day N Nite”–DJs didn’t even get his name right, they kept calling him “Kid Cooty”.

Being a child TV star presumably gave Drake some connections and being a Canadian child TV star helped him not become totally suspect, but he got some quick co-signs by rappers like Wayne and Kanye–and by co-signs, not in-your-face, on-the-spot video camera “Yeah he’s dope” asides like Asher Roth–and he knows when to shut the hell up. Probably because he began as an actor, we’ve not seen a lot of Drake Twitter or MySpace blog freak-outs, and probably because he has hits and isn’t quite as desperate for promotion of this kind.

And his songs are just better. Contrast “Best I Ever Had” or “Every Girl” with Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite”–the sole blog-rap hit. “Day N Nite” is an excellent song and one that secretly creeps up on your ears months later, but it’s a weirdo one-shot that’ll never happen again. The 2009 rap equivalent to Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”. The only difference being, in 2009, kids won’t be exposed to Cudi’s contrived but mind-blowing enough for twelve year old wandering sing-raps, they’ll grab the single off iTunes and never pick-up Man on the Moon (not that they could, it keeps getting delayed).

“Best I Ever Had”, a kinda cornball love-rap, Slum Village’s “Selfish” sucked of its weary experience, is still catchy and fun enough and “Every Girl”, wisely aligns Drake with a Lil Wayne and a crappy crew–but a crew nonetheless–providing the illusion that Drake’s not as ubiquitous as he really is–this song’s not Drake, it’s the Young Money Crew! None of these are masterpieces, but they aren’t trying to be either.

Drake though, besides having those hits–and a kiddie version of street buzz–has found a way to more casually keep people talking. He stumbles into controversies, he explicitly hints at his very uncool past, making him critic proof. It’s like, rather than not acknowledge the loathsome qualities of one’s personality, you might as well just sorta quietly flaunt it, and hopefully get some blogs blabbing on and on about it. Awesomely 2009 it seems.

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Drake, Lil Wayne

GRAMMY Thoughts: Hip-Hop Matures Without Getting All "Mature"*


Like some weird, natural version of “bling”—mind the quotes—M.I.A moved through the stage subtly flaunting her in-stomach child…something universal and oddly, also way more jarring and discomforting to most than a diamond Jesus piece. M.I.A created a wonderful too-real moment, invoking body issues, TV standards and practices (recall when Lucille Ball was pregnant, the word couldn’t be uttered), and the right kind of fuck-it-all “this is my child!” pride all at once. It was “hip-hop” in that stupid nebulous sense of the word meaning “awesome” or “not giving a shit” and whatever else you want it to mean.

Like so much of hip-hop, it was about aggressively flipping the expected and making a salient–if easy to misinterpret and kinda confusing–point. And Kanye, Jay-Z, Wayne, and T.I upended expectations by waddling out like the forever cynical Rat Pack, dressed nicely, moving politely, but spitting out a song that good or bad, is sonically, a sick slow burn posse cut.

I called the beat “Unicron on his last legs”. Live, it was more some acid-trip Vegas shit, with a synth-line turned into a guitar-line ripped from Kanye’s hard-edged beats like “Two Words” but no less a little terrifying, especially when it was still being rapped with a casual effrontery, an “I’m in a dirty ass rap club not the Grammy’s” attitude that was still reverent enough of the whole spectacle.

We’re used to this and way weirder stuff but remember, this is the Grammy’s we’re talking about and so, pleasantly and politely performing a song like this, as an art-pop (versus Kanye’s Pop Art) indie star nine months pregnant wanders across the stage is pretty fucking subversive. And like, Erykah Badu twitter-ing her pregnancy, the performative aspect of the M.I.A made it more beautiful, more real, less contrived. A group of black rappers rhyme atop a pregnant London/Sri-Lankan bleating out a hook; that’s something a little more real and a little less showbiz. Coming not long after that inexplicably bizarre Katie Couric interview with Lil Wayne, it’s fun to see the unfortunate clichés and exorbitancies of hip-hop so finely fucked around with. The disconnect between what’s being said about rap and what rap is grows wider.

Wasn’t it absurd to see Ms. Katie wheeling out the cringe-inducing “He’s got the teeth and the tattoos” spiel for a rapper like Wayne? As her awful set-up before the humanizing punchline began, we see images of Wayne and he’s not looking “gangsta” at all. He’s rocking brightly colored BAPE or he’s pacing around the stage sheepishly smiling in V-neck wearing a tiny backpack. Couric’s conceit–I’m going to humanize this horrible in your eyes rapper—seems no longer absurd just to rap fans. With Wayne, there’s not that much to “get over” even if you are an outsider, as he’s not hoodied or mean-mugging or anything. The interview confirms your expectations, it doesn’t negate them.

Similarly weird (and even more relevatory) than “Swagger” was Wayne’s performance of “Tie My Hands”. It’s tough to make a song clearly about Katrina as images of Katrina project in the background and not seem really obvious, but Wayne did it. The light jazz re-interpretation of the already light Carter III version works in hooking non hip-hop listeners and also, acts as brilliant counter-point to the explosion of New Orleans music history that makes the history Katrina wiped away more palpable. He’s starts with the pained devastation of his own Katrina yelp and ends with the pleasures of the past by resurrecting them live. That’s some Dungeon Family, Ralph Ellison “that same pleasure and pain” type shit.

Even as T.I yelped out his verse before he’s going to jail for some real dumb shit and Lil Wayne’s still pushing purple like it’s not dangerous drug that’ll stop your heart and uh Kanye’s rocking a , hip-hop’s maturing without losing its plurality.

*It’s important to note that the most maturing though, was going on in the “indie” world as back when Kanye was annoying because he thought his soul beats needed Jon Brion’s unfortunate strings and mellotrons and chamberlains and shit, not annoying because he thought it next-level to sample Urban Outfitters in-store music staples, he was just as interested in people like M.I.A. Then though, M.I.A wasn’t interested in him. M.I.A rejected Kanye West’s invite to appear on Late Registration.

This is a fascinating end-note to Noz’s A Labyrinth, A Maze (2) in the sense that it muddles the whole “issue” further and further. One thing’s clear—the choice is yours whether it’s good or bad or anything—shit is reversed or flipped or some shit. Usually you know, it’s the mainstream artists that are behind on the times, no?

What’s changed other than it’s way more acceptable—because of Kanye’s fervent pushing of genre, borders, style the whole deal—to be a so-called indie artist and appear on-stage with Kanye West is now, there’s a lot more money in it. Or Diplo told her it was cool or Nylon magazine. Or maybe the whole “I’ll be preggers while I do it” was her London-born, third-world affected version of bucking the system? Intentions don’t matter much when it works and on the Grammy’s Sunday night, M.I.A—and the “Swagger” crew—made it work.

Written by Brandon

February 11th, 2009 at 8:18 pm

How Big Is Your World? New Good Rap.

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-Bobby Creekwater “I Mean It”
“I Mean It” is free on Bobby’s Myspace

“I Mean It” isn’t a masterpiece or anything but it’s got the same appeal as all the best rap that contains actual rapping. It doesn’t matter what Creekwater’s saying or really, how he’s saying it, just that he’s going in with rapid-fire raps about everything and nothing without trying-too-hard, “Yo, I’m going in on this one” indicating and just making something dope. Like so many actual rapping raps from the Golden Era too, “I Mean It”s simply about how dude is awesome or “real” but Bobby’s found a slightly less played-out way to talk about how “real” he is, framing it around word-is-bond type chants that flaunt genuine real-ness: Honesty, integrity, sincerity. He laconically drawls out, “If I say it-” and then desperately asserts,”I mean it, I really mean it” because he’s floating around on SHADY Records without a record release date and outside of sheer talent–which sure as fuck doesn’t necessarily sell records–it’s the only gimmick he’s really got. Sincere conviction’s a good gimmick though.

-Lil Wayne “Prom Queen”

This song gets better–the worst of it’s those corporatized post-hardcore guitar strums, Wayne’s rocker grunt, and the subsequent unfortunate cascade of P.O.D-heavy guitars that would score a date-rape on Degrassi: TNG. From there, it never like, gets good but it’s better than “Lollipop” if only because Wayne’s weird, half-ideal, half-bitter tale of a nerd who wanted to get it with sadly beautiful titular Prom Queen is really bizarre and affecting. Wayne’s a free-verse freaky freak I know, but he’s a really great storytelling rapper in his own way too and he uses it (and wastes it) on “Prom Queen” expertly. “She tried to keep em entertained/When they can hardly re-member her name…” is the same kind of melodramatic empathy for the rarified shitty hand chicks get dealt that you get on his “Sweetest Girl” remix or any time he opens up and talks about his Mom. Then, he matches it with the bitter vengeance that only a sensitive, rejected nerd can have with those lines about her “crying, sitting outside [his] door”.

-Soulja Boy “Hey You There”

Whether he tries hard at rapping or not, Souljaboy’s iSouljaBoyTellEm is a ridiculously solid album that does exactly what it sets out to do really well. Rappers I actually like don’t make albums as entertaining as this or as weird and homegrown as “Hey You There”. Souljaboy’s little intro thingy basically explains how they made this song–some goofy-accented Mall Cop yelled “Hey! You there” and they, inevitably clowned on him for the rest of their time tearing the mall up, then went home and made this song. Produced by Souljaboy himself, it’s this really insane intertwining of voices and the simplest of percussion (cymbal, snap, 808 thump) and it just keeps going and going for-fucking-ever! What “should’ve” been a weird interlude or even skit, rambles on for almost four minutes and gains something through the indulgence. It’s sort of hypnotic and you only get pulled out of because there’s a fart joke, a Rick James reference, or something wonderfully juvenile like that.

-E Major & DJ Impulse “Paper Runnin”
“Paper Runnin” with a remix is available from Undersound Music

Woozy washy synths, E-Major’s mournful ode to the paper chase and random vocal manipulations overwhelm the dance-ready club break that shuffles–but never explodes–underneath “Paper Runnin”, making it some weird not-quite club, almost ambient hip/trip-hop/house track (or something?). Nowhere near as dense as the Block Beataz, but similarly drunk and “fuck a club” music avant weirdness that would totally bang in a club, or close to the beats on It Is What It Is and parts of Crack–which I’ve taken to calling “Tim Hecker beats”–”Paper Runnin” is especially vital because it’s two people from the wonderfully incestuous Baltimore hip-hop, dance, and club scenes dropping a hard-to-categorize joint like this at a time when “Bmore club” has become a formula for don’t-even-know-they’re-cynical-about-it, out-of-town artists and DJs. Towards the end, when the song’s sounds further devolve and fumble into one another, there’s a few moments of laser effects, malfunctioning drum stutters, and E’s chant that’s particularly glorious and easily, the best, weirdest musical moment of the young new year.

-College “The Energy Story”

Like Jonas Reinhardt’s also a little slept-on self-titled release from last year, College’s Secret Diary does basically one thing and does it really well for an entire album, with little interest in who will get it and how. Unlike Reinhardt, College isn’t locked-up in some old-fashioned Stockhausen-like lab of big-ass computers and farting electronics, he’s trying to make sad, happy, simple music that grabs from 80s electro less for day-glo irony and more for hazy, bittersweet emotions. “The Energy Story” is one of the less one-note sounding songs of the album, but it’s a good introduction, with a simple melody and an uncluttered mix of keyboards and drum machines that still somehow, have that recorded from a degraded VHS layer of warmth around them. The vocals are fighting against something, quivering and almost getting to a point of really singing but never totally getting there, instead huddling up in the same limbo as the music, somewhere between dancey and depressed, immediate pop and foggy avant-garde–the wonky emotions of the 80s movies and culture College is all about.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2009 at 7:40 am

Final Notes on Post-Lyricism

one comment

A bunch of stuff that couldn’t find its way into the three “essays” but seems interesting and/or worth discussing and a few times, makes more sense than the “Post-Lyrical” entries…

“Post-lyricism” like all obnoxious terms, comes more out of a pragmatic want/need to discuss something than actually trying to be accurate. Like the apparently on-going fear and concern of “post-Modernism” in culture, within the rap world, what’s currently going on in mainstream or even semi-mainstream hip-hop freaks a lot of old fans out and kinda reminds me of reading old or new diatribes against “post-Modernism”. Also, like “post-Modernism”, “post-lyricism” is sort of a non-sense term that’s both all-encompassing and doesn’t really refer to anything.

Rap is and basically has to be “post-positive”. Here’s a wikipedia link to Positivism. Rap, as a “black art” primarily is post-positive because the argument made by most intellectual types that study and discuss black arts is that for so long, the concept of black people even making art was considered absurd and even offensive, that all black arts must oppose and conflict with conventional concepts of art, “beauty”, etc. This is fun to bring up because so many of the people that find themselves stuck on “lyrics” or “intelligence” or whatever in terms of determining what kind of rap is “good” and “bad” are kinda playing themselves by applying positivist terms to an art form that’s totally beyond such terms.

If we’re going to take rap seriously–which all bloggers do, even when they pretend not to–then we are taking popular culture seriously and if we’re taking popular culture seriously, then it’s sort of dumb to apply one’s subjective opinion of what makes something “good” onto it. That’s to say, if you’re gonna be some fucking aesthete about rap and hip-hop then you’re retarded. If something resembling conventional definitions of “quality” or some Platonic ideal of good’s what’s on your mind, go listen to like, Shostakovich or some shit.

As jay eff kay said in the comments section, the current era of rap–which I’ve selfishly dubbed “post-lyrical”–is still working itself out and gestating. To compare it to past ages which had more time to build and are in effect over, is sort of pointless. In that case, “post-lyricism” is figuring itself out and throwing shit out there and seeing what sticks. This is both exciting and endlessly frustrating. In time, the artist and musicians will figure it all out and keep going with the stuff that isn’t totally terrible or silly or has no shelf live and drop the stuff that does. In just the past few years, you can see how auto-tune went from being the thing that wannabe pop-stars did to stream-line their albums, to a goofball production trick, to an R & B staple, to maybe even something that can be meaninful or affecting (certain T-Pain songs, Kanye’s “Put On” verse and “Love Lockdown”). Auto-tune is now being used like “reverb” or something. Personally, I’d like to see it go away all together, but its use hasn’t been stagnant, even if it has devolved into another musical cliche.

On bad lyrics. There’s a difference between whatever-ish similies and some of the lyrical turds that Kanye or Lil Wayne drop. One’s a kind of place-holder between more poignant and successful lines–and in that case, connects my “rap minimalism” rant in Pt. 3 to an older tradition–and one is an active seeking-out of groan-inducing joke one-liners. There’s a sense of fun to these bad one-liners and it can be traced back to the earliest rap and stuff like “and the chicken taste like wood”. The bad lyric-dropping too, seems to be something of an extension of what was once called the “bling bling” era and before that, the beginning of rap when wearing crazy chain and looking outrageously fly and all that was a part of the culture. The implicit message of dressing out-there and handling over-sized chains was in part, something about looking absurd and being powerful enough to pull it off or just plain not giving a fuck. Making even your music this absurd and out-there is again, not something I’m too into or excited by, but I think that’s what’s going on when Kanye jokes “whipped it out I said/Bet you’ve never seen snakes on a plane”.

Blame the critics. The internet, file-sharing, and all this other good stuff has made the borders between genre significantly more porous. This has led to musicians, especially rap musicians, to be as exposed to numerous genres and musical ideas as the sophisticated or pseudo-sophisticated critics writing on the music. For many years, rock critics reviewed rock music and rap writers wrote about rap and only the smartest like say Ego-Trip really got how to bridge the two and not come-off as a jerkoff. Not anymore. Now, pretty much every critic listens to everything. So, the same guy who listens to bullshit like Of Montreal or something, is also Google Blog-Searching the new T.I album. In one way, it’s wonderful and democratic and all that. In another way, it’s horrible because in my opinion, you can’t really make any sense or have any kind of refined taste and like both of those things.

The most hilarious way that this has manifested itself is in rap writers and rap bloggers who often dip their toes into the indie rock pool and so, you have guys who complain about how rap’s not like Mobb Deep anymore and then are going to tell me Wolf Parade are the shit. Guys who make fun of Pharrell or Kanye for dressing like homos and then go watch the guy from Of Montreal rip-off David Bowie. Besides the kind of unfortunate racism inherent in these expectations, it’s also not a surprise when rappers would respond to taste-making critics and follow through. So, quirk and tween-ness and overall sense of juvenile fun is celebrated and embraced in indie rock–basically a mainstream genre now mind you–it shouldn’t be a surprise that rappers would start to employ a similar sense of all-out fun and goofiness in their music. This again, explains jokes and one-liners as being really pervasive in rap.

Another point that’s been brought up a great deal is how rap is, in some ways, moving back to its original “roots” of facilitating dancing and partying and first and foremost, entertaining. I’m not totally comfortable with the comparison but there’s some truth there. The biggest difference of course, is that simply by MC-ing and breaking and all that stuff, even when it wasn’t explicitly political or “meaningful”, the simple act of doing those things made it political. The same can’t be said for Kanye West.

Still, this sense of a return or homage to earlier and the earliest era of rap is kind of palpable. The same way early rap moved between different areas and art circles, rappers like Kanye or Wayne are collaborating or sampling other genres, working with those artists, and coming up with something newer and different than what’s come before. For better and worse, post-lyrical rappers are really open-minded, reaching and grabbing from all different places to forge something new.

Now, let’s never speak of this again.

Written by Brandon

October 7th, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Rap’s Post-Lyrical Phase Pt. III: What’s the Point of Post-Lyricism?


First, before reading this or uh, in addition to reading this, go back and read the comments in the other two parts which totally take this discussion in places I hadn’t thought of or connected. My apologies for not being able to more actively engage the comments like usual, I was too busy buying comic books this weekend.

As suggested in the first part of this, the point of “post-lyricism”–whether it knows it or not–is a sort of total breaking away of “the Nas formula”. There are plenty of flaws in calling it “the Nas formula” (the formula certainly existed before Nas) but it’s also an easy way to communicate the kind of lyricism that’s both undeniably great and simply not happening as much anymore (certainly not on the radio) and not really working anymore either.

The word “formula” too, is used advisedly, not as any kind of slam against Nas, but to note the way the signs and signifiers of Nas and company’s type of rapping has devolved into a bunch of things you can do to get a lot of dumb people (which is most people and therefore, most raps fans, including “serious” hip-hop heads) to think you’re good or celebrate because it opposes say, Soulja Boy.

Certainly, it isn’t this simple and the assertion I’m about to make’s a little too cynical, but following or not following “the Nas formula” is in part, an economic choice. And not in the sense of rapping like Nas makes you “serious” and not rapping like Nas makes you a sell-out. In the current rap climate of declining record sales and all that crap, choosing to rap in one way or the other determines your rarified audience. Take someone like Immortal Technique, who no doubt, thinks he’s in the vein of Nas or something. His choice to be in some ways “throwback”, along with his contact, has given him a very specific and dependable audience of nostalgics and left-leaning rap fans (these categories of course, overlap a great deal).

When there’s some college open mic or when your favorite college radio rap show opens the phones for listeners to kick a free style, following “the Nas formula”, if you’re not completely wack, will get you a lot of love right off the bat. By following “the Nas formula” you court a small, but powerful and devoted groups of listeners that will like you. In many ways, “the Nas formula” is easier and safer too. Who knows where the hell say, T-Pain came from, but if you stuck him on any stage as an unknown, he’d get laughed the fuck off the stage! Now, that could be used as evidence that it’s absurd this rappa ternt sanga’s so big right now, but it also points toward the way very popular music is often weird and uncool before it’s popular.

Even the Soulja Boy-style fan of rap music, when confronted with “the Nas formula” in person or without the context of it being hot or not on MTV or the radio, will respond positively to this tried and true formula, because it’s still what kids do in middle-school when they’re “freestyling” with their friends. Of course, stick that freestyler in the studio with access to some real equipment, maybe some background singer girls, and corporate pressure to make a hit and he won’t make the next “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”.

The economic choice in rejecting “the Nas formula” isn’t really worth going over, is it? Slower, simpler, makes it easier on the ears, more crossover appeal, etc. etc.

While many would be quick to defend “Nas formula” rappers as not making so much of an economic choice, but as keeping it real or true, that argument or that simple argument rather, can’t be made for the post-lyricists. And no doubt, a lot of rappers (or “rappers” if you want to be a dick about it) adopt the post-lyrical style out of a lack of talent or creativity of patience, and while the tone of this makes Kanye and Wayne into hyper-innovators that they are not–as I said, they’re kinda hopping onto a trend, they just happen to be more famous–there is a sense that a whole bunch of rappers are simply not interested in doing “the Nas formula”. Whether they lyrically have the talent to do it or not is not the issue, at least for me. It’s probably true that Picasso couldn’t paint like Titian or some shit, but who cares and we save the discussion for ‘Post-Modernism in Art 101′ or some shit.

In many ways, “post-lyricism” can be stuck on Andre 3000. Certainly one of the brightest and more lyric-oriented rappers from any region, Andre’s also been pretty weird and out-there since the first Outkast album. Over time, he increasingly played with meter and rhymes and adopted a purposefully rambling, off-topic style, all while remaining, for the most part, conventionally “lyrical” or lyrical enough to not be labelled wack by anybody.

Take a listen to ATLiens, the album before Outkast got rock-critic “weird” and were just weird and an inarguable rap classic no matter where you’re from. Sure, it contains plenty of brilliant lyrical moments resembling “the Nas formula”, but it’s also got plenty of purposefully bad similes (“tight like nuts and bolts” from “Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)”), or tangential near-non rhymes (“Elevators”). His recent “return” to rap, which some people perceive as “overrated”, dives further into these post-lyrical tropes and comes out at times awkward or weird, but always affecting.

The moments of conventional, “Nas formula” brilliance are punctuated by stranger rhymes, jokes, nonsense, and round-about ways of expression. From the conventional “lyrical” definition, Andre’s inconsistent, but all those inconsistencies and idiosyncracies are being used towards a greater point/message/feeling whatever and wouldn’t resonate half as much if he stayed within the bounds of “the Nas formula”. Take Ghostface’s work outside of the Wu since Supreme Clientele and you’ll find a greater breadth and depth of emotion than is found on even really real shit like “Tearz”. What those two greats did was take parts of “the Nas formula” and build upon it and occasionally, fall back on it.

Of course, you’ll get barely anybody complaining about Andre 3000 or Ghostface they way so many complain about Kanye or Lil Wayne, but their post-lyricism comes out of Andre and Ghost’s post-lyricism. It’s got even less to do with “the Nas formula” and therefore rhymes less and takes the lyrical carnival games and joke punchlines to even goofier places. And still, despite what their detractors say, Kanye and Wayne can still drop a brilliant line or verse and are quite good at moving from the obnoxiously dumb to the really poignant.

Worshippers of “the Nas formula” might call this inconsistent but that’s sort of the point. Additionally, there’s some added level of emotion to these lines because they’re dropped in between a lot of shit talk and cutesy douche-baggery. You’re caught in a loop of the latter two things for a bunch of lines or even a few songs, and then Wayne drops something like his domestic abuse reminisce in “Playing With Fire”–”Remember when your pussy second husband tried to beat ya?/Remember when I went into the kitchen, got the cleaver?”–or another obnoxious Kanye song about why fame and money sucks stumbles into a lyrical, almost like conventionally poetic line like, “You’re on the other side of the glass/Of my memory’s museum”. Because it’s not hot line after hot line, or even poignant emotional detail after poignant emotional detail, the ones they focus on have added weight.

In the past, I’ve called this “rap minimalism” and it works a lot like Minimalism as a music genre in general. Basically (and I’m super simplifying here), through repetition, the slightest variation takes on greater meaning or importance. Clipse are certainly rap minimalists–and sorta post-lyricists too–because they fall back on almost nonsense punchlines and repetitive material, but every once in a while, the guilt and world-weariness fumbling around in the background gets really clear for a verse or line. We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2 is pretty much a whole album of post-lyrical tropes (although delivered in “the Nas formula”) until we get to Malice’s “All the money in the world…” verse on the last track, “Ultimate Flow”.

Young Jeezy, a more clear-cut example of post-lyricism, is pretty much not even rapping most of the time, so that when he does enter something resembling flow or reveals something, it means a lot more. For whatever reason, Jeezy’s “They lock us in cages/The same nigga that’s a star when you put em’ on stages” is something that more than one teenager has brought up to me as a line that made them think.

So, the point of “post-lyricism” outside of some general want to move away from “the Nas formula” is to in some way or another, take bits and pieces of “the Nas formula” and meld it with less tried and true lyrical formulas and create something new, which has the emotional resonance and effect that “the Nas formula” once had. There’s no denying that rappers of the “Nas” mold are simply not engaging new and younger listeners to rap, while Kanye and Wayne certainly are. And for all that’s annoying or terrible about them to dudes like me and most of my readers that grew up on “the Nas formula”, they are in their own way, as bizarre and rarified as any of those inexplicable Golden Era personalities that also had some pop appeal.

Written by Brandon

October 2nd, 2008 at 4:01 am