No Trivia

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25 Best Rap Songs, 2010.


  • Big Pokey, “Keep On Pushin” (freestyle over Bun B’s “Pushin”)
  • Big Remo ft. David Banner, “Wonderbread”
  • Bun B, “Let Em’ Know”
  • Cali Swag District, “Teach Me How To Dougie”
  • Curren$y, “King Kong”
  • DB49 ft. G-Mane, “Can’t See”
  • Diddy-Dirty Money, “Someone To Love Me”
  • The Diplomats, “Salute”
  • Droop-E ft. 1st Place & Work Dirty, “Hungry”
  • E-40, “Back In Business”
  • Fabo, “Put Some Gik”
  • G-Side ft. Chris Lee, “Money In The Sky”
  • Gucci Mane, “Dats My Life”
  • Lil B, “The Age Of Information”
  • Lil Wayne, “I’m Single”
  • Little Brother, “Tigallo For Dolo”
  • Los, “Stand The Rain”
  • Mullyman, “MULLY!”
  • Rich Boy ft. Yelawolf, “Go Crazy”
  • Roscoe Dash ft. Soulja Boy, “All The Way Turnt Up”
  • Soulja Boy, “First Day Of School”
  • ST 2 Lettaz, “It’s Ova” (freestyle over Drake’s “Over”)
  • Starlito, “Tired Of Being Tired”
  • Yelawolf ft. Rittz, “Box Chevy”
  • Z.O.M.E, “Mars Ball”

Written by Brandon

December 24th, 2010 at 4:17 am

Posted in 2010, Lists

No Trivia in XXL’s 100 Best Hip-Hop Websites


Comments have been disabled so this doesn’t seem like some kind of back-patting party or something. Finally held the new XXL in my hands and read the very kind comments on my blog (“Better known as No Trivia, Soderberg’s blog gives rap the kind of intellectual, analytical respect is deserves.”) and the other ninety-nine picks. It’s a different thrill than seeing my byline in-print and we’re all supposed to be too cool about this stuff, but damn, I’m honored.

XXL, besides being a magazine I actually read from time-to-time–there was a time when my sanity was kept by the routine of picking up XXL, Wax Poetics, and Film Comment after work on the days they came out–is one that’s sorta active in the blogging world, so the list means a bit more? And not just because I’m in it. But because a big, giant, alphabetical list of dope blogs and websites is the proper way to advise someone on how to figure out the rap-blog world. The magazine’s also always printed kindly letters from inmates and for a while, I was shipping out copies of the magazines to prisons, helping the children, wives, and girlfriends of the incarcerated help their in-fucking-jail loved ones…so in some weird way, my stupid name being in the magazine in any form means a lot on that level too. Thanks to XXL and Ben Detrick.

Written by Brandon

December 3rd, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Lists, XXL

Village Voice, Sound of the City: "Jay-Z’s "D.O.A" and the Five Auto-Tuned Songs (Among Many) That Prove Him Wrong"

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“Released late Friday, Jay-Z’s new single, “D.O.A (Death of Auto-Tune),” from the now thoroughly-announced The Blueprint 3, is less a Martin Luther-like cry for hip-hop reformation than an awkward slab of concept rap. The concept: That a new Jay-Z song about rap’s current “lack of aggression” and tight jeans, over a jagged No I.D. beat of choked clarinet and wailing guitar, simply by existing, represents the death of auto-tune.

That’s the idea anyway. Really, the song is just a new way to say “this is that real street shit”–e.g., this is that death of auto-tune shit. It’s a gimmicky song that sets out to destroy Rap & B’s latest gimmick. The stunt is reminiscent of Hip-Hop Is Dead, the rap-killing album by Jay-Z’s good buddy Nas, and Jay’s own American Gangster, which found businessman Jay-Z painted into a corner in which the only way to return to reliable gun-talk was to wrap it around a movie tie-in conceit.

In the two days or so since the song was released, “D.O.A.” hasn’t yet killed the vocal manipulation trend–and it probably won’t, ever. As VIBE’s Sean Fennessey pointed out, HOT97–where the track debuted to the ritual flurry of Funkmaster Flex sound effects–was playing auto-tuned Ron Browz productions within a half hour of letting “D.O.A” out into the world. Can you kill something that parodied itself from its inception? When T-Pain’s collaborating with joke-rappers Lonely Island and um, Death Cab For Cutie have half-jokingly spoken out, you’re late to the game. At this point, the only thing more obnoxious than auto-tune is being categorically opposed to the trend…”

Written by Brandon

June 8th, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Pazz & Jop Stuff

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Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop is up. If you love lists, there’s plenty of them here and that’s what makes it so fun to read. Even as the Top 10-ers are fairly predictable–as they should be, the list’s supposed to find common ground–you can view every voter’s list and stumble upon some song or album you dismissed or didn’t know existed. My ballot’s below:

1. Ocrilim Annwn
2. Glen Campbell Meet Glen Campbell
3. M83 Saturdays=Youth
4. E-Major Majority Rules
5. The Sea & Cake Car Alarm
6. Kanye West 808s & Heartbreak
7. ABN It Is What It Is
8. Mount Eerie Black Wooden Ceiling Opening
9. Aidan Baker & Tim Hecker Fantasma-Parastasie
10. Lil Wayne Tha Carter III

1. Bun B featuring Rick Ross, David Banner and 8 Ball & MJG, “You’re Everything”
2. Rick Ross featuring Nelly and Avery Storm, “Here I Am”
3. Ryan Leslie, “Diamond Girl”
4. Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West, “Put On”
5. Nappy Roots, “Good Day”
6. Sigur Ros, “Gobbledigook”
7. Bishop Lamont, “Grow Up”
8. Devin the Dude featuring LC, “I Can’t Make It Home”
9. Outkast featuring Raekwon, “Royal Flush”
10. Lil Wayne featuring Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer”

Two of my quotes are in there too:

“Nothing’s dead in hip-hop when every cool DJ and electronic freaky-freak remixes Lil Wayne and producer Bangladesh’s “A Milli,” and the original, monster radio hit’s still weirder and crazier.”

“Ocrilim’s Annwn should probably get closer to 90 points, if that was allowed. A big, dumb, obnoxious, out-there, tries-too-hard, and still successful masterpiece like Berlin Alexanderplatz or Infinite Jest or something. Every year, certain very-good artists will make certain very-good critics’ lists, but this is a genuine, incomparable standout. The opposite of the mannered metal of the “doom” sub-genre, Annwn takes the awesome, orgasmic part of metal—the face-melting solo—and stretches it out forever.”


Written by Brandon

January 21st, 2009 at 2:32 am

Posted in 2008, Lists, Pazz and Jop

Fresh Cherries From Yakima: Best Baltimore Songs 2008

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Baltimore, my hometown–and the place I’m currently about six hours away from–is like all cities, way more than the stuff “outsiders” know it for: Home of The Wire, crab cakes, murder-rates and blah blah blah. Towson Town Center, a mall in one of the wealthier, douchier parts of the county has a kinda new hipster skate type shop in it and on the dressing room doors are pseudo-graffiti done with marker; one says “Charm City” and one say “Bodymore” both done with the same aplomb.

Art school kids—including members of Bmore-repping Wham City—list their location as “Bodymore, Murdaland” on their blogger profiles and drink National Bohemian (Baltimore’s beer) forties; a kind of novelistic detail of appropriation and misunderstanding: Is anything lamer than a 40 ounce of beer, not malt liquor?

Of course, it’s that stuff too. Every city’s really dumb and that makes it great too. But Baltimore seems really weird or like, especially weird. Or so I’d like to think.

More than the psychedelic vomit crayola Dan Deacon weird, it’s blue collar bars full of rich assholes, poor whites and blacks, and totally-out gay people all bitching about their work day together weird. As weird as lo-fi spastic club music that the hardest, thugged out dudes go buck wild over. As weird as this video shoot I covered in the spring.

The video was unfortunately aborted, but the day in a basement club that was kinda actually nice and Tony Montana garish too was beautiful for the lack of tension as well as the plurality of people just hanging out.

A dude my girlfriend complimented for his De La Soul NIKEs smiled and immediately admitted they were fakes. Baltimore hip-hop stalwart Sonny Brown, who suffered a stroke earlier in the year and was nursing a bum leg, raced around a bar announcing to anyone and no one how hopped-up on Red Bull he was. A couple a skinny Baltimore hipsters were part of the video’s crew. The video’s dancers taught the kids of rappers and hangers-on some simple dance moves. A crew of goofball rappers stopped by a liquor store at noon then circled the block to hit-up the Starbucks at the other end of Charles Street soon after. That’s Baltimore weird. (Click for the songs!)

Written by Brandon

December 22nd, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Books To Send Incarcerated Loved Ones


A quick, Monday morning follow-up to last week’s “Holiday Tip: Sending Books to Incarcerated Friends & Family”

Anything by Donald Goines. It’s part snobbery and part less time to read any and everything that interests me, but I’m simply not up at all on recent so-called “street fiction” and although I’m sure there’s some interesting ones out there, so much of it seems pretty retarded. Goines has enough trashy violence and sex in his books but he’s a really smart and insightful writer and he gets into the fucked-up thinking of criminals in a way that’s harsh but always sympathetic.

The obvious choices seem to be Black Gangster and White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief, but I’d suggest the four books that if Library of America were smart, they’d have combined it into one nice hardback and called it “The Kenyatta Tetraology”: Crime Partners, Death List, Kenyatta’s Escape, Kenyatta’s Last Hit. It’s basically a typical Goines novel that spirals out from low-life criminals into a like utopian, cult-leader drug dealer legend named Kenyatta, and moves from Detroit, to Los Angeles, to Vegas by the final book.

Anything by Iceberg Slim. Pimp is the one everybody goes to and it’s an interesting read, but my suggestion would be Airtight Willie & Me, a bunch of kinda connected short stories that deal with “the life”. Even more than in Pimp, there’s the sense of Slim being right there telling you all this crazy, funny, horrible shit. I think the book has a lot of re-readability because it has the same “there’s no way I caught every detail” that you feel when someone’s telling you stories from their life.

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien seems to have become required high-school reading and generally kids seem to like it. While that may sound condescending, comparing prisoners to teenagers, it’s in part a good comparison however frank it is, and a decent arbiter as to the book’s fairly wide appeal. Again, I think it’s silly to give prisoners books about prison but a book about being in the military has enough like vague connections to the lack of freedom and regimented life of a prisoner to comfort them on that level. There’s also the genre appeal–this is onstensibly a war novel–and that too is a good way to sneak in some more interesting or emotional stuff that isn’t too schmaltzy.

“The Barracks Thief” by Tobias Wolff is similar in a lot of ways to The Things They Carried but it’s explicitly about the desire for freedom and also the way males bond through self-destructive impulses and just plain, old destructive acts. Again, I think this is the kind of “therapy” and edification that prisoners need as it both speaks to them and shows enough of the ugly, silly side of their actions to make them think about some shit. Like O’Brien, Wolff’s prose is really smart and at times beautiful but also direct and simple, which is just something I prefer and again, makes it easily digestable for prisoners.

“Classic Crews” by Harry Crews. Bukowski is something that every once in awhile a pierced girl will send to her fuck-up brother or something, but I can’t properly recommend Bukowski’s work because I’ve never been able to get through any of it. From what I’ve gathered, Harry Crews is basically a smarter, more disciplined, but equally like hard-ass, blue collar intellectual writer guy. Classic Crews has Crews’ memoir of his childhood in it, The Gypsy’s Curse which I’ve never read, and The Car which is this crazy story about a dude who works in a junkyard and literally eats a car (a Ford Maverick to be exact). The novel’s surreal and weird but doesn’t lay on the profundity or symbolism too thick and Crews surrounds the weird tale with small, humane details of blue-collar life.

“Soul On Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver is the only true “prison book” on this list, but it’s way more out-there and complicated than most prison letters type books and it’s also in a way, it’s more immediate and simple too. Cleaver’s really honest and unabashedly so, and while plenty of people would think its bad for a prisoner to read a book where in the author half-justifies raping a woman or espouses hate speech…well, there’s not a lot of honesty in prisons from anybody and I think this book would shock anybody “on the inside”. Cleaver’s also, first and foremost, a radical individual, and his book is mainly outlining the path in which he finds everything to be bullshit for one reason or another. Whether he’s explaining how he learned about law in prison or why he rejected Elijah Muhammad for Malcolm X, there’s this core sense of discernment that anybody could learn a thing or two from, even if Cleaver’s beliefs don’t line-up with your own.

“Cash” by Johnny Cash is a book another book that could be a go-to for pretty much anybody. It’s sort of the ideal prison book too because it’s fairly long, is about redemption and full of Christian stuff, and is by Johnny Cash who everybody likes and has obviously, stuck up for the imprisoned for his whole career. Personally, I find this book to be a little disappointing and frankly dishonest, but Cash is also incredibly smart about balancing ugly details and confessional stuff without lapsing into victimhood. He also doesn’t tell you his story in straight order which helps with readability and I think, makes it easier to return to the book or just randomly open to a page and start re-reading.

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy is this book everybody’s read by now, which makes it a good candidate for sending to someone in prison–odds are, they’ll like it–and like everything on this list, it’s first and foremost entertaining or engaging and sort of smuggles in some emotional or “guidance” type stuff. I basically think smart genre fiction is the ideal for prison reading because it’s not trashy or the kind of thing you can read in a few hours, but it has enough fun or plain-awesome stuff to keep one’s attention. End of the world, apocalypse type shit is always pretty cool and McCarthy wraps around it, a bunch of philosophical and what-if? stuff that can’t help but lead to introspection. Also, the father and son aspect is clearly very affecting, especially for males, either thinking of their own father or being a father, or both.

“True Grit” by Charles Portis is a weird Western but not like, psychedelic hippie Western weird and so, it follows the genre fully enough to engage most people, but isn’t another one of those Romance novels for men-type Western paperbacks. The biggest flip of Grit is the main character Mattie Ross is female, but there’s also legendary hard-ass Rooster Cogburn-played by John Wayne in the movie version–to even out her playful narration. True Grit’s a revenge story that delivers and so, it isn’t on some super-sensitive “revenge is bad” type shit, but it also isn’t about the Biblical glory of revenge nor is it the Peckinpah-like self-destruction that revenge brings; it’s morally complex and as much about fervent sticking to your guns (literally) as it is change and adaption.

“Behold a Pale Horse” by William C. Cooper is for whatever reason, this insanely popular book. Depending on the strict-ness of a prison, this might somehow be considered something they would ban and others might be weary of sending an incarcerated loved one a book that’ll encourage paranoid, conspiratorial thoughts, but I think it’s best to just go for it and not worry about protecting anybody.Behold’s a book that can again, entertain the reader for a really long time and because it’s full of documents and sorta in-depth coverage of secret societies and UFOs and shit and there’s really no way to grasp everything in the book in a single read.

Written by Brandon

November 24th, 2008 at 6:20 am

Posted in Lists, books

Favorite Album From Each Year of My Life

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Don’t sleep on my throwback Cardinals (???) long-sleeve T. I was this total baseball history nerd in second grade, so maybe I got this for like the Stan Musial factor but my guess is it was more like, on clearance at ‘The Sports Authority’ and my dumb-assed grandma knew I liked old baseball and picked the shit up. Oh yeah- this “Favorite Album From Each Year of My Life” thing…everybody’s doing it, so here’s mine. With a bonus rap-only list.

1984: Husker Du ‘Zen Arcade’
1985: New Order ‘Low Life’
1986: Arthur Russell ‘World of Echo’
1987: Saint Vitus ‘Born Too Late’
1988: My Bloody Valentine ‘Isn’t Anything’
1989: Beastie Boys ‘Paul’s Boutique’
1990: Bathory ‘Hammer Heart’
1991: Talk Talk ‘Laughing Stock’
1992: Pharcyde ‘Bizarre Ride II’
1993: Sleep ‘Holy Mountain’
1994: Common ‘Resurrection’
1995: Goodie Mob ‘Soul Food’
1996: UGK ‘Ridin Dirty’
1997: Wu Tang Clan ‘Forever’
1998: Outkast ‘Aquemini’
1999: Jim O’Rourke ‘Eureka’
2000: D’Angelo ‘Voodoo’
2001: The Microphones ‘The Glow Pt. 2′
2002: Cody Chesnutt ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’
2003: Kevin Drumm ‘Land of Lurches’
2004: Kanye West ‘The College Dropout’
2005: Horse the Band ‘The Mechanical Hand’
2006: J Dilla ‘Donuts’
2007: Jesu ‘Conqueror’

1984: Run DMC ‘Self-Titled’
1985: Mantronix ‘The Album’
1986: 2 Live Crew ‘Is What We Are’
1987: Eric B & Rakim ‘Paid In Full’
1988: Slick Rick ‘The Great Adventures Of…’
1989: Beastie Boys ‘Paul’s Boutique’
1990: King Tee ‘At Your Own Risk’
1991: Nice & Smooth ‘Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed’
1992: Pharcyde ‘Bizarre Ride II’
1993: De La Soul ‘Buhloone Mindstate’
1994: Common ‘Resurrection’
1995: Goodie Mob ‘Soul Food’
1996: UGK ‘Ridin Dirty’
1997: Wu Tang Clan ‘Forever’
1998: Outkast ‘Aquemini’
1999: MF Doom ‘Operation Doomsday’
2000: 8ball & MJG ‘Space Age 4 Eva’
2001: Dungeon Family ‘Even in Darkness’
2002: GZA ‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’
2003: Jay-Z ‘The Black Album’
2004: Kanye West ‘The College Dropout’
2005: Three-Six Mafia ‘Most Known Unknowns’
2006: J Dilla ‘Donuts’
2007: Kanye West ‘Graduation’

Written by Brandon

July 12th, 2008 at 8:22 am

Posted in Lists, lazy post

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. IV

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-What Rappers Talk About When They Talk About Getting That PaperTwo of the more invigorating songs of the year were Rich Boy’s ‘Let’s Get This Paper’ and Born Wit It’s ‘Stack Paper Up’ (which Tom Breihan has been rightfully praising for like, 5 months now). Both songs made very clear something I’ve been trying to explain to “real” rap fans and the average dumbass who complains “rap’s just all about making money, it’s stupid” for years. Namely, when rappers talk about getting money or stacking their paper up or whatever, they are talking about escape and freedom and well, transcendence (really!). If you’re the kind of dope that’s going to bemoan this reality still as some kind of horrible byproduct of a capitalist society or some shit, then you’re hopeless, but if not, bear with me.

Now, I don’t know if you guys knew this, but rappers are sort of really into looking cool and not embarrassing themselves and you know, because their form of expression is words, they like to be sort of clever or complicated with what their saying (even Soulja Boy was apparently talking about busting on a girl’s back or something…). When Jay-Z and Nas squashed their beef, they didn’t drop a speech like, “we’ve grown to accept and respect one another”, they told the crowd something to the effect of “Stop all this beef, let’s make money.” Of course, making money was a part of it, but undoubtedly, it was deeper than that. I’ve said all this before, but basically…rappers don’t want to sound like hippie-dippie idiots, so instead of being like “I’ve matured” or “We’ve come to accept our differences”, they say “Let’s get this money!.”

In ‘Let’s Get This Paper’s scary, stuttering synths and like near-’The Thin Red Line’ choir noises, sort of captures the mix of defiant anger and desperation found in the quest to get the fuck out of your stupid surroundings and to some extent, the shitty world in general; that’s why Rich Boy’s anger goes towards the complacency of his friends and community, white supremacy, government corruption, and all other forms of bullshit and hypocrisy. You get money and then you’re out. You don’t have to deal with it anymore. ‘Stack Paper Up’ meanwhile, is about the potential for escape from the same everyday bullshit but extends it to a concern for those around you in hopes that your money or success can help others as well; even if it takes you down, maybe you’ll help somebody else.

Putting this genuinely triumphant message atop the mournful strings from ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is pretty much genius- even if it a little goofy- because Born Wit It are acknowledging and trying to get beyond the same world-weariness of the Verve’s forever-quoted-in-high-school-year-books message and also, its defiant because due to sample-clearance issues, the song will just never get a true release and so, it’s sort of like this sincere Public Service Announcement rap song (Non-Profit rapping or something).

-Wow, Jay-Z Really Is the Ultimate Hustler
What It Was: Jay-Z, having backed himself into a corner by making a “mature” rather than mature “comeback” album, realizes he can’t just go back to talking about murking people and drug-dealing without sounding like he’s full of shit, so he claims inspiration from a pretty-stupid Hollywood gangster movie and calls its a “concept album” even though the first single is on some like, early RUN DMC shit and apes Rakim’s flow which has nothing to do with the 70s-setting of ‘American Gangster’. Then, this big single is relegated to a bonus track- probably because Jay realized it didn’t really fit the ‘American Gangster’ concept- and we get a bunch of lame 70s soul-beat approximations…Fuck Jay-Z.

What It Is: People who don’t really listen to rap put it on their year-end lists but pretty much everybody else got sick of it pretty quickly, which is a good thing. The video and even just the concept of ‘Roc Boys’ is so disgusting I still get angry about it. Okay, so the dude who made it his persona to be a ruthless piece of shit businessman, turns himself into the piece of shit businessman with a heart because this ‘American Gangster’ pseudo-concept demands it. How do the real-life “Roc Boys” from Dame to State Property and beyond, feel about this? Lines like “Thanks to all the hustlers, and most importantly you, the customer” are more amoral and obscene than anything Jeezy’s ever said. Fuck Jay-Z.

(‘Blue Magic’ flavored Vitamin Water made by Jesse Reese. Thanks.)

-Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ and Median’s ‘Median’s Relief’
What It Was: Two of the most consistent rap albums of the year came out of the Hall of Justus crew. ‘Median’s Relief’ was a thoroughly entertaining and smart group of songs that follows the “underground” blueprint well enough without seeming like it was by-the-numbers underground rap. Even the super-embarrassing lyrical games like ‘Personified’ get by with hot beats and Median’s sincerity. There are few total classics on here as well…‘How Big Is Your World’ and ‘Right Or Wrong?’ which I’ve talked about already (see the links) and a very effective kinda-sequel to ‘Pac’s ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ called ‘Brenda’s Baby’.

Little Brother’s ‘Getback’ was the kind of thing that never happens when a band changes or suffers label drama: they actually learn from their mistakes! The humor and personality is put to the forefront without sacrificing a certain degree of didacticism that seems important to Phonte and Pooh. The only song that really annoys me message-wise is ‘Breakin’ My Heart’ because it’s pretty much total bullshit for a group of rappers that demand people take responsibility for their shit to write a song that justifies cheating: “A woman’s life is love/A man’s love is life”. I think the most rewarding way to listen to ‘Getback’ is to see it as a kind of corrective to all the moronic rap on the radio but instead of smugly shitting on it as they did on ‘The Minstrel Show’, they wisely steal from this or that rap trend, spruce it up, and make it smarter. The beats are still Little Brother, but they have a focused R & B element to them and some of them genuinely bang in like a mainstream radio way. This is the album these guys should’ve made when they had major label support.

What It Is: Can someone explain how people praised Lupe Fiasco’s album but barely cared about either of these? How is basically ripping off Kanye West’s album and being even more of a twat than Kanye end up with you being celebrated as a great “real” rapper?

-Wow, Radiohead Really Are the Ultimate HustlersWhat It Was: I know this isn’t rap but I didn’t get a chance to bitch about this when it came out and it’s been bugging me ever since, so bare with me…Praising Radiohead for their “revolutionary” distribution of ‘In Rainbows’ is the same as praising Al Gore for being super eco-friendly (if he even was super eco-friendly): When you’re fucking loaded, it’s easy to go out on a limb and do something like this.

Radiohead haven’t released a real album since ‘Kid A’. They quickly followed-up the kinda polarizing ‘Kid A’ with ‘Amnesiac’, which was rock-ish enough to get some of those ‘OK Computer’ fans back, but still “weird” enough to seem cool and of course, it had that built-in cover-our-asses excuse of it being a collection of outtakes. ‘Hail to the Thief’ was also more a collection of song than an album but Radiohead made it a big deal by typing cryptic announcements in all-lowercase and waiting too many years for what was basically a “meh” set of songs. So then, “out of nowhere” comes ‘In Rainbows’ but it’s not really out-of-nowhere because Radiohead have a sick internet fanbase that discusses and analyzes every new song they perform live, so before it even came out, the group knew what their fans thought of certain songs, making ‘In Rainbows’ in its own way, as market-tested as ‘High School: The Musical’ and with this whole “download for any price” gimmick to boot!

What It Is: Who even cares. I’m sorry guys, this year-end recap thing was supposed to be a quick thing because there wasn’t a lot going on in rap right now, but it’s really getting out of control. “What It Is?”, well it’s a Radiohead album that everyone creamed over even though its not that good or interesting and hardly cohesive as an album. Look for my next post to be a non-2007 rap recap.

-The Return of Andre 3000!
What It Was: Throughout the second half of 2007, Andre 3000 started creeping up on remixes and guest verses and dropping really sincere and creative verses that you know, are not as great as some of his past work (but what is?) but will more than do…I was reminded of that line on ‘Champion’ by Kanye where he pretty much calls Lauryn Hill out for no longer rhyming and suggests that it’s not only a disappointment to her many fans, but like, an ethical issue. Andre’s always been the voice of reason in rap; an ethical but never “knowing” reactionary. Let’s look at those verses…

-‘What a Job’: Andre is one of the biggest influences on the current incarnation of Lil Wayne and Wayne’s taken Andre’s sincerity, willful weirdness, over-enunciation, purposeful mispronunciation, emotionality, bad similes, and everything else, and as is often the case with the smarter veterans of any genre, Andre’s maybe bit the biter and took some of his influence back from Wayne, most evidently in his near-robot flow on a lot of these 2007 verses, especially ‘What A Job’.

Andre’s bitching about file-sharing never feels too annoying because the song is about rapping as a job without ever being a song that bitches about being a rapper and also because Andre’s always had this very moral, instructive side to his rhymes; it makes sense that file-sharing bothers him. I love how he sings the middle of this verse almost like, tempting us or teasing us with returns to ‘The Love Below’…The other side of Andre’s persona is the side that is incredibly empathetic- notice how often he’s talking about what someone “is going through” or being in somebody else’s shoes and other well-worn but wise cliches of sympathy and empathy. The portrait of the couple that encounters him and their romantic history presented through the Outkast discography is like a smart version of bragging: Not how many albums he’s sold but how much they mean to those that purchased them.

-‘Walk It Out’ Remix: Andre’s taking a very open-minded and pragmatic approach to his return to rap…jumping-in with all the Southern rappers- good or terrible- that are now so popular in part, because of him and dropping his own observations and criticisms without making it seem too obnoxious or old-man-ish. Even his harshest observations (“your White-T looks to me/More like a night gown…) are clever and ultimately rooted in hope, as he suggests cutting-it “two sizes down” so they can look like “the man that [they] are or could be-”. His critique of the current car obsessions is particularly brilliant in the way it travels into a mini-tangent on the history of mass production and suggests a celebration of hard-work and craft, not image without being on some obnoxious Talib Kweli-like “I’m real” bullshit…

-‘You Remix’: Tom Breihan compared this verse to the cloying cuteness of a Wes Anderson movie and he’s pretty much correct but still, although gimmicky, providing the image of a rapper in ‘Whole Foods’ is refreshing in this very, very, stale rap environment. Andre’s also a master of the in-rap tangent, as he stumbles off-topic for a brief mention of the silliness of the phrase “went down the wrong pipe”. As he said on ‘Aquemini’: “Sorry y’all, I often drift…”. The conversational flow and syrupy sweetness of this verse works because it’s on this romantic R & B song and so, it’s in part, a good example of a rapper matching the song, you know, doing what a rapper’s supposed to do. How many R & B remixes have some absurd rapper spitting hard-ass stuff under this beat made for 16 year-old girls?

-‘Throw Some D’s Remix’: Perhaps Andre’s most affecting verse of the bunch. Rich Boy’s song has a sort of implicit melancholy to it, but Andre brings that to the focus and touches on the danger of hood violence and dope-dealing: “He could die/Any second how much long it gonna take?” The part about the “boys in blue” coming in is particularly masterful in the way that it contrasts the attitude of the cops with those in the house whose door they are kicking in (“but we do care who they shoot/So we do what we must do”) and then, describes a scene that has a sort of dark comedy to it, as we imagine the cops coming in one door and then those running from them, having to change their escape; it has a like Three Stooges quality to it. Andre makes his tangent or “drifting” a part of the plot of his verse: “So we act like we run track, then we run straight to the back/But they comin’ from the back, so we run back to the front…”.

-‘International Players Anthem’: This is perhaps the best use of Andre’s happy-optimistic persona as it is most clearly being used to represent a pre-marriage optimism to be contrasted with the other verses. The verse is genuinely sweet but still pinned to the ground. Don’t forget his line about “wetness all around” which is actually pretty obscene and later in the verse when he adopts the voice of his more cynical friends: “If that bitch do you dirty…”.

His use of the word “bitch” here and in some of these other songs is really interesting. It’s an acknowledgment of the anger and reality of the world, which he temporarily jumps off of for these verses, but it’s always there. I’m reminded of his verse on ‘Mamacita’ about how if “niggas all dogs/What that make broads?” which ends with the even-scarier because it’s coming from the usually respectful, right-minded Andre (voicing a woman, no less), instructions to “Grab her by her neck, throw her on the wall/Say, “Bitch don’t ever disrespect me never not at all”. I’m not advocating abuse (and Andre isn’t either) but he is suggesting a certain degree of respect and confidence and ability to stand-up or fight back.

-‘Da Art of Storytelling Pt. 4′: This verse feels the most like real rapping and still manages to move through a rejection of all the worst rap cliches. He notes how disgusting the recent “make it rain” trend is in light of real poverty, the celebration of violence with the reality of street violence and maybe even a reference to the the Iraq war, and how uncool it is to fuck another dude’s girl: “Call me when ya’ll break up/ I don’t fuck nobody bitch and never on the Jacob.” Even though it’s some self-important rap condescension shit, he’s says it right, so I’m totally on his side when he says “club” in a way that seethes with contempt and his rejection of car odes by refusing to say what he’s driving in- “I’m in my whatever bumpin’ NWA…”- is clever and a subtle way to decry rap materialism.

What It Is: An Andre solo album seems imminent and I’m excited. My biggest fear is that these corrective verses will get annoying when they don’t have such an explicit contrast, but we’ll see. Let’s hope he gets personal as well.

Written by Brandon

January 29th, 2008 at 6:19 am

Posted in 2007, Lists

2007 Rap Recap: What It Was, What It Is Pt. III


-Cam’ron on ‘60 Minutes’
What It Was: Doing exactly what makes us love him, Cam’ron goes on ‘60 Minutes’ and makes such an ass of himself that it like, doubles back on everyone’s favorite probably-homo ambulance chaser do-gooder Anderson Cooper and makes Cam’ron look like the complicated comedic genius we know him to be. This is the proper response to “hard-hitting” stories that strive for soundbite simplicity: don’t even give them the satisfaction (“I’d probably moooovvee…”).

What It Is: Cam’s made a career of making him self look so foolish that it’s clear he doesn’t give a fuck- purple and pink, fur, rapping over lame samples, pathetic beefs- and this year, ‘60 Minutes’, that Youtube video in front of the kinda shitty pool in his boxers, and a not-bad double-CD mixtape that at the least, yielded ‘Just Us’, one of the best songs of the year…not bad. In his own crazy way, in 2007, he beat Jay and 50.

-Ed Banger’s Uffie: Inexplicably Missing from XXL’s ‘Leaders of the New School’!
What It Was: Everyone hates Uffie but loves M.I.A, explain this one. Actually don’t, you’ll only play yourself. M.I.A masquerades as a third-world revolution while wearing American Apparel leggings, Uffie’s just sort of hanging-out and quietly releasing these weird, deceptively stupid half-rap party songs. ‘Dismissed’ off ‘Ed Banger Vol. 2′ was her version of every real rapper’s hater response song, but she sells-it and takes the same attitude as Z-Ro or Scarface and calls said haters “faggots” and rather than explain herself, outrights lies by claiming: “Oh that girl is so hot, she’s never touched any glock/Bitch, if you only knew, yes I have fuckin’ popped”. “Lyrical” types should pay attention too, because that line is on the same complicated word-reversal shit as say, Chuck D’s talking about how his uzi weighs a ton, meaning his microphone but maybe meaning his uzi? Then there’s her guest-spot on the Justice album. On ‘The Party’, which has the same sense of ugly details as actual reality rap, it’s just Uffie’s reality is clubs and hotels with obnoxious hipsters friends.

What It Is: I’m the only contrarian douche taking this chick seriously and she’s set to release an album and it probably won’t be very good and will have like three good songs on it, which makes it about as good as ‘Kala’!

-Album of the Year: UGK’s ‘Underground Kingz’

What It Was: ‘Underground Kingz’ is exactly why I love rap. It’s a huge mess of songs that are offensive and brilliant and honest and political and emotional and just fucking great. The album functioned as a way of reminding listeners of the roots of all this Southern rap- terrible or great- that dominates the radio, while also looking beyond the region in a way that well, so-called “real” rappers aren’t even doing. Plenty of Southern rap legends show up to guest rap and produce, as well as surprises like Dizzee Rascal and Talib Kweli and ‘Next Up’, which although better in-theory than in execution, puts Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap along with Pimp and Bun, over a beat by Marley Marl! The best example of old-ass whiny rappers putting their money where their mouth is since those really amazing ‘Where Are They Now?’ remixes by Nas (which, I regrettably forgot to write about in Pt. I of this…).

What It Is: ‘Underground Kingz’ grows even more rewarding with its purposefully-overwhelming two discs of music. The death of Pimp C turns the album from a late-career return to the finale, which is unfortunate, but there are worse ways for UGK to “end”…

-Not a Bad Year for Old Rap Nerds
What It Was: Nas’s ‘Where Are They Now’ remixes, that aforementioned Marley-Marl produced, Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap featured UGK track, Percee P’s ‘Perseverance’, a new Witchdoctor album, Prodigy’s ‘Return of the Mac’, new Wu Tang, Scarface’s ‘Made’, Andre 3000’s rap return, as well as re-release type stuff like a new DVD for ‘Wild Style’ and an official release of Charlie Ahearn’s ‘The Deadly Art of Survival’, CD re-releases of Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Death Mix’ series, J Dilla’s ‘Ruff Draft’ coming to CD and I’m sure some stuff I’m forgetting or didn’t know was around.

What It Is: With record sales getting increasingly terrible, the possibility of only appealing to niche audiences is no longer frowned-upon but sort of the future of music sales, albums by guys that shouldn’t be but are considered “old” will keep happening.

-Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’
What It Was: Yeah…for what I thought about it, check out “Kanye West Week” parts 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11.

Everything that was or is annoying about ‘Graduation’ is the stuff that reminds me of ‘Late Registration’ especially the aspect of it not really coming together as an album. But unlike, ‘Late’, there aren’t a whole lot of turds on ‘Graduation’. Other than the still not-funny or entertaining ‘Drunk N’ Hot Girls’, every song on ‘Graduation’ is good and wouldn’t sound strange on the radio, which is really quite impressive. The songs work as some weird mix of deep album cut and hit single.

What It Is: Even four months later, little sonic details and smart stuff is revealed to me when I listen to ‘Graduation’. There are these all-over-the-place synth gurgles under T-Pain’s triumphant chorus, the crazy bassline on ‘The Glory’ still kills, etc. etc. There’s also smaller shit like the connection between Kanye’s meaning of the phrase “the good life”, ‘Graduation’s vague effront to thug rap, and the more conventional use of the word “the good life” as a kind of euphemism for the criminal lifestyle, is but one more way that Kanye really is trying to reverse some of the lesser aspects of post-Puffy idiot rap (even as he takes a great deal of influence from the guy). Reading around the internet a few weeks ago, I read of how Labi Siffre, the artist sampled for ‘I Wonder’ was openly gay and of course, connected that to Kanye’s ongoing discussions of homophobia in the rap world. It’s these little details that keep ‘Graduation’ fresh…

- R.I.P Big Moe
What It Was: Big Moe is the kind of minor rapper that never wanted to and never got a lot of success and he’s the kind of guy that a lot of people didn’t know but he’s important and even crucial to a small group of devoted Southern rap and S.U.C fans. R.I.P Big Moe.

What It Is: The best way to remember Big Moe is to immediately download ‘Streets Ain’t Right Flow’ posted by Noz: R.I.P Big Moe.

Written by Brandon

January 25th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Posted in 2007, Lists

Pazz & Jop 2007

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Village Voice posted their Pazz & Jop poll this evening. Here’s my ballot, it’s the same as my Idolator poll though. Both of my comments were also printed:

on Kanye’s ‘Graduation’ from ‘The Top 10′: “Those who don’t listen closely hear even more of Kanye’s ego-tripping, but Graduation is about how fame, fashion, and girls are fun and all, but really, not that great.”

on Justice’s ‘†’ from ‘That Which We Cranked’: “Justice’s music has roots in French house, but the influences extend to jagged Michael Jackson rhythms, all-treble-no-bass black-metal fuzz, a seemingly genuine hint of Christianity, and, well, everything else ever: Cross begins as a Daft Punk derivation (“New Jack”), becomes hipster effrontery with the one-two punch of “The Party” and “DVNO,” and then morphs into an all-out George Romero dance party for the undeniable trilogy—all this God stuff can’t be a coincidence—of “Stress,” “Waters of Nazareth,” and “One Minute to Midnight.” Justice are the side of the French that loves Jerry Lewis and Edgar Allen Poe, the side that’s daringly anti-elitist. To get real fancy about it—something the group would never do—Justice are more Barthes than Baudrillard?”

Written by Brandon

January 23rd, 2008 at 4:54 am

Posted in 2007, Lists, Village Voice