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Dat Gif & No Trivia present…PLEASANT EXPERIENC




Strategic vigilantes, social malcontents, and the internets’ number one purveyors of the low-brow aesthetic Dat Gif, have teamed-up with No Trivia, supreme defender of Chillwave, for the ultimate chillwave experience, mixed by FIFTHS. 3 Hours. 53 Songs.

Written by Brandon

November 1st, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Chillwave, mixtapes

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Written by Brandon

October 29th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

leave a comment Article: When They Reminiscence Over Mixtapes

“I miss mixtapes. I miss the bad cover art and the slim cases. I miss how cheap they are, I miss the shouting and gunshots peppered throughout otherwise listenable tracks, and I miss having to hunt them down, going in and out of stores that still advertise “Pagers”, having no clue which ones they’ll have or if they’ll even have any. I even miss the anonymous rappers that often show up on an otherwise good track and ruin it by rhyming the end of each line with the same word. Who is to blame for the hole in my heart formerly occupied by mixtapes? We all know the answer to that one.”

Written by Brandon

July 9th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

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Can’t Tell Me Nothing Mixtape Part Three: Tracks 13-25.
13. Young Folks
I’m not that interested or excited by this song, I hope that it’s really this short and this isn’t a snippet. It isn’t terrible but if this is the other track Kanye’s leaking to get listeners excited about his album, well, it isn’t working. However, I guess there’s not really any indication that this is even supposed to be a track on ‘Graduation’, I hope it isn’t.

14. Interviews
This song actually works better if this long-ass Kanye rant is a part of the song. It feels right that Kanye would go from a sing-songy rap to a flat-out rant and as I’ve said a few times now, Kanye’s speaking voice has a rapper-like rhythm and enthusiasm to it anyways. The college student playing Christ in a play/ Kanye portraying Christ on a magazine cover comparison is pretty disingenuous but when Kanye discusses how he’s “not political” I think he’s being totally sincere.

Kanye calls himself “social” and “emotional” rather than political and that’s pretty accurate. As I’ve suggested in discussing Kanye’s so-called “hypocrisy”, he’s not a man of principles which if you’re political you sort of have to be. Instead, he is concerned with the effects of policy and action on people. His perspective on corruption is not rooted in political principles or ideals but in its direct, negative effect on others. It’s worth nothing that Kanye said “George Bush does not care about black people” and not something more extreme. Caring, sympathy, empathy are the concerns of many of Kanye’s songs be it the “single black female addicted to retail” of ‘All Falls Down’ or his own mother, hurt by another boyfriend on ‘Hey Mama’. Kanye ends this track emphasizing his care for “people” and I think he means it, but what sounds like an improvised rant is clearly thought-out because Kanye’s rant about “people” segues directly into the Common track ‘The People’.

15. Common – The People
The transition from Kanye talking to the organ sounds that begin this track is really powerful. More impressive and affecting than a transition on a mixtape ever needs to be; my big fear is that this mixtape will be more enjoyable and better structured than ‘Graduation’ and I don’t think that is unreasonable given my feelings on ‘Late Registration’.

All of these beats for Common are ridiculous; too bad they are sort of wasted on Common. On this one, I really like the elevator music-sounding keyboard part. Common’s self-righteousness is truly mind-boggling. When he says “I look on the bus at them [the people]/When I see them struggling, I think how I’m touchin’ them/The people-”. So…Common looks at a bus of “struggling” people and his thought is how he’s affecting them with his music? First of all, that’s a load and it shows just how disconnected with “the people” Common really is. He’s like John Kerry or something. The “average” person, (which I guess is what Common is referring to), gets more enjoyment out of Huey and DJ Unk than a song full of clichés about the struggle and such…

16. Big Sean – Get’cha Some
This might be a better example of what I was talking about on the GLC track. I don’t know who Big Sean is but he’s already telling me how rich he is; I don’t get it. Not a bad song and exactly the sort of thing that is made for a mixtape but nothing more.

17. Consequence – Don’t Forget Em’

I ripped on this album, mainly because I was disappointed and I still think it was just tossed together but this song is really good. It’s very moving and sad, Cons’ like half-resigned half-excited rapping, is very moving. It is also easier to take when cut down to three minutes because you get less of the crappy 50 Cent-ish chorus. The song also sounds really weird, like it sounds recorded in an asshole or something. It sounds distant, like it was recorded off the radio, ‘Two Words’ from ‘College Dropout’ has a similar “raw” sound.

18. Sa-Ra – White! (On The Floor)
Not much to say about this. Not very good. I don’t really get Sa-Ra, especially because they dress like and seem to consistently refer to themselves as “creative” or “next level”. They just aren’t creative or next level, the Neptunes or Timbaland, even Jazze Pha make similar shit that is a lot more fun than this.

19. Because of You (Remix)

Wow. For some reason Kanye’s verse here really kills me. Like, brings me to tears (this is where I say no homo). It’s presumably addressed to his wife which is legitimately touching and I think it discusses the conflicts that just about every guy or girl feels; like, even when you’re in love you’re still a piece of shit thinking about other girls or guys and maybe even cheating. Shit is complicated and Kanye does a good job addressing that without ever becoming defensive and the corniness of it comes out of legitimate feelings of love instead of what he’s “supposed” to say. His verse goes beyond any clichés of a love song, it almost sounds like something he might write for a girl and rap just to her, too embarrassed to reveal it to the public.

I wonder if Kanye’s pending marriage hasn’t had a significant effect on his recent deeper reflection. On this mixtape, he seems pretty honest, as when he admits to being high “off that drug called fame” as he does on the ‘Interviews’ tracks that follows ‘Young Folks’. I know I’m on some Perez Hilton type shit here but my assumption is Kanye actually likes his fiance? I remember thinking that because, although she’s pretty hot, she’s like attainably hot, and if he was finding a trophy-type wife he probably could have found someone “hotter”, so they probably really do get along.

20. Buy You a Drank (Remix)

This goes along with the marriage stuff on the ‘Because of You Remix’ because its Kanye outlining what he is interested in. Again, it’s really a verse about devotion and commitment: “Fuck a drink/I’m a buy the bar if you’re worth it”. I don’t know how into groupies or any of that shit Kanye was but he seems to have learned or already knew how empty and well, easy it is to just get girls. He’s looking for a challenge which he says explicitly: “And I don’t want no girl that’ll answer to “Hey yo”/Make it more harder, make me put some work in.”

The pacing and mixing of this mixtape is excellent. I like how we only get Kanye’s remix verse and then the chorus and about a minute of the main performer on the song instead of the entire remix. For repeated listening this really pays off. The transition from this to the ‘Throw Some Ds’ interlude is perfect. The ‘Because of You’ and ‘Buy You A Drank’ remixes also act as a contrast to the gleeful misogyny of the ‘Throw Some Ds’ remix.

21. Throw Some Ds (Interlude)
22. Throw Some Ds (Remix)
23. Tony Williams – Dreaming Of Your Love
24. Really Doe featuring Jennifer Hudson – Magnetic Power
25. PM – Hater Family

Sorry, I’m stopping here. These posts are way too long and kinda shitty. You all know about the ‘Throw Some Ds (Remix)’ and the last three tracks on the tape are pretty weak really. The Tony Williams track is pretty good, especially the vaguely Morricone-esque beat/sample but not much else to say about the other two.

Written by Brandon

June 8th, 2007 at 7:06 am

Posted in Kanye West, mixtapes

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Can’t Tell Me Nothing Mixtape Part Two: Tracks 6-12.
6. Common featuring Kanye West – Southside (Snippet)
This song is proof that Kanye can do what I want him to do. The real issue is, for me as a fan, accepting that he isn’t interested in doing much of anything that overtly recalls ‘College Dropout’. He gives these amazing beats to an over-the-hill Common and dicks around with losers like Jon Brion and apparently, Chris Martin of Coldplay…nothing I can do about it. I think Kanye is so concerned with “innovating” that he jumps to “new” ideas more frequently than he really should. Being innovative was never something Kanye was credited for anyways. He could have rode his ‘College Dropout’ flow and production style for at least two more albums before it would have been boring.

When this beat goes to the chorus, there’s this subtle soul-singer sample (Gil Scott Heron?) that stands out a little more each time I listen. The bridge or whatever you’d call it, with the “Southside!” chants and other weird stuff is a total surprise, like the “take em’ to church” part of ‘Never Let Me Down’. I just don’t think Common really “deserves” this, you know? Common has always dropped the occasional turd of a simile or punchline, but with age they seem to get dumber and dumber.

7. Common – The Game
The drums on all of these Common songs sound similar to the drums Kanye used on literally every track ‘College Dropout’ and before. They sound cut so short they don’t really resonate, they just sort of pound or knock, it sounds very strange. Here, he seems to be using a similar style but with some studio effect on them…the reason I discuss drums is because these Common tracks were supposed to be in homage to J Dilla but they really don’t sound anything like Dilla’s drums, which are always really thick and loud. Dilla also used really weird rhythms and stuff and Kanye never goes there, which goes back to my point of Kanye not being an innovator. Kanye is less an innovator and more a focused and rarified artist. I think he is the kind of guy that should probably mine the same territory for the rest of his career and slowly open himself up to new ideas rather than leap into the studio with anybody and everybody. Kanye’s too open-minded.

8. Porno Interlude
This is hilarious. Kanye just having fun, talking about how some aspects of his career would have been compromised had he gone to the AVNs. This is why I prefer Kanye’s version of politics to that of Common’s or Talib Kweli’s. He is not interested in projecting a singular image; he understands pluralism and even, hypocrisy as a crucial aspect of living. Honesty and expression dominate his views, not a given set of political views or beliefs. Kanye’s also just a really great speaker, like a stand-up comedian or some kind of blowhard talk show host. Notice the way, just as he begins to tell the imaginary story of how he’ll sneak into the AVNs in disguise, the beat he is talking over, slows down, sort of sounding like a spy movie soundtrack.

All of the porno talk on this mixtape seems in reference to the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview which Kanye discusses on track 14 ‘Interviews’. I get the impression Kanye’s porn obsession was more of a joke than a reality and because ‘Rolling Stone’ didn’t get the joke or chose not to get it, the porn obsession has followed him around. It says something about where Kanye is at right now that he’d just sort of joke about it and/or explicitly acknowledge it than waste time trying to correct or fix the problem. He knows why that would make him look like more of an ass.

9. 88 Keys featuring Kanye West, Malik Yusef – Stay Up (Snippet)
Another skewed perspective on wealth, as he raps sympathetically about an apparently wealthy guy who can’t get a boner. Not bad, not really much to say, when Kanye ends his verse by going ‘Borat’ (“now y’all can have sexy time/It’s niiiicce!”) its really hilarious. I’m assuming the spoken-word stuff is supposed to be a joke, right? This little snippet is encouraging because it shows Kanye and friends doing whatever the hell they want. Also, these songs all transition into one another perfectly.

10. Talib Kweli featuring Kanye West – In The Mood (Snippet)
Talib Kweli should just retire. I don’t hate him, Black Star, ‘Reflection Eternal’, and ‘Quality’ are all pretty great, but his already grating personality has become more apparent as he keeps reaching for semi-mainstream fame. This song is just gross. Can you imagine Talib with a girl? I don’t know, it just seems like it would be really embarrassing, like a bad blind date Lisa Bonet might encounter on ‘The Cosby Show’. Talib is a nerd, he is not a mack and his attempts at being one are obvious. He and Jus Rhyme from ‘The White Rapper Show’ share the same dead, painfully sincere personality. The worst line here is “I know you into me, so let me get into you”…I usually don’t care but when you put yourself on a pedestal like Talib Kweli I can’t help but point out a certain degree of misogyny he has when talking about women in songs. Here, he seems date-rapist impatient (“let’s stop talking because this feels like an interview”) and it reminds me of a middle schooler trying to talk about women the way he thinks his older brother would.

11. Fonzworth Bentley featuring Pimp C. and Lil Wayne – C.O.L.O.U.R.S
Sort of just this Outkast rip-off but I kind of like it. I think this song would do better if it were only Fonzworth, the guests add very little and the song could afford to be a little weirder, not anchored in anything resembling rap reality. This song is not good but it stands-out because there’s just no way rap will take this guy seriously and I think that probably makes Kanye sort of sad. He grew up on the rap of the 90s where in a lot of ways, the rule was “anything goes” and all kinds of weird rappers and personalities had hits and showed up on MTV.

Kanye’s mega-fame has been confusing because he is something of a rap weirdo himself. He clearly finds a great deal of influence and inspiration in the rap eccentrics of the 90s, be it Ol’ Dirty Bastard or Chi Ali or Pharcyde or Ma$e’s marble-mouth sort-of flow and other than a few ‘Late Registration’ stunts and incidents, Kanye’s always been interested in joking around and not taking himself too seriously. I think his supposed egomania is drenched in irony and only the willfully retarded miss-out on the joke.

12. Kid Sister featuring Kanye West – Pro Nails
The kind of track mixtapes are made for…this song is really entertaining and weird but I’d never think to buy an album by Kid Sister. Kanye’s rapping on this track is very weird, an attempt at an old-school flow that comes off as awkward as ‘Fergalicious’. The chopped-and-screwed-esque chorus and the authentic-sounding old electronics are spot-on, never smelling of ironic homage. It’s a shame Kid Sister’s flow and style are about as sincere as Spank Rock…

Written by Brandon

June 6th, 2007 at 4:46 am

Posted in Kanye West, mixtapes

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Kanye West – Can’t Tell Me Nothing Mixtape Part One: Tracks 1-5.
1. Friday Morning, May 25th 2007 (Intro)
Kanye actually sounds excited here. Throughout the mixtape, Kanye has a way of talking/babbling over a song or beat and kind of matching its mood, as if he were rapping. Here, his enthusiasm and shit-talking matches the energy of ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ by Daft Punk. Talking over the Daft Punk song he will sample for the second track, is like exposing the seams of his music. I think because Kanye is sampling something a part of his audience may not be aware of, he feels it necessary to introduce the song as it originally sounded. It’s like citing his sources. It also kind of demystifies the music-making process which fits because the mixtape has a loose “theme” of the not-so-glamorous side of music and fame and all that good stuff.

He’s exposing the seams of a world that, despite the fact that we regularly see pics of some celebrity’s pimply pussy, still feels unbelievably glamorous and exciting. Kanye’s always discussed this, but at points on this tape, he implicates himself in a way that moves beyond self-consciousness and into self-criticism.

Kanye’s humbled again. He seems to really feel foolish for some of his ‘Late Registration’ P.R antics and it’s given him something to prove just as he had to in making ‘College Dropout’. Joey over at ‘Straight Bangin’ said: “College Dropout was a record that [Kanye] had to make; Late Registration was something that he could make.”

2. Stronger (Snippet)
I was a skeptical of sampling Daft Punk because it is unnecessary and purposefully “weird”, but this song or snippet is good. A full version has leaked but it has uber-douche Tim Westwood all over it so I haven’t even fucked with it…after Kanye says “cause that’s how long I’ve been on ya” and the beat begins, it feels super-dramatic, like the beat dropped twenty stories down. Kanye sounds alive on these songs, excited and even a little angry but not self-righteous. When he asks “do anybody make real shit anymore?” it sounds like the anger of a disappointed fan, not an arrogant artist. When he says “bow in the presence of greatness” these great synth stabs come-in; it’s very powerful.
I’m sure its offensive to a lot of rap fans, but even before Kanye really began to ride the spiritual crap, I’ve felt that his rap is the most “spiritual” since Goodie Mob. He has a way of using tension and release in a way that often feels truly overwhelming. You know how Goodie Mob often give you a couple verses before finally getting to this transcendent chorus? Well, I think Kanye has a way of doing that with subtle production touches.

3. CRS – Us Placers
Wow. I would have never thought this was a good idea but this song is really great. My favorite on the tape. The sampling or really, looping of the Thom Yorke track, is used in a way that isn’t show-offy like “hey, we’re sampling Radiohead!”. It made me go find the original Yorke track the same way an old RZA beat would make me look for whatever New Birth track was being sampled. Unlike those great soul samples, which work in their own right, Yorke’s ‘Eraser’ is pretty much a waste of time. The most striking parts of ‘Eraser’ are found in ‘Us Placers’.

See, the problem with rock music (which is still what Yorke is doing) is that it is too simple. Yorke gives you a single emotion and extends it for an entire song, just sort of whining and moaning through it all; after the first minute, I have it pretty much figured out. When you put three different rappers over it, pondering fame from their rarified perspectives, it’s even more powerful than one guy whining pseudo-poetic nonsense because all the ideas bounce and attack one another, leaving little resolution but a lot to consider.

Lupe Fiasco goes Don DeLillo as he previously did on ‘Daydreamin’, simply listing material things to show you how gross they are. On this track however, he seems legitimately saddened by them as opposed to being too good for it all. What he mentions is a little more poignant as well, “Mexican floral arrangers” and “someone to take the rap so I stay stainless” stood-out for me. Kanye’s verse is incredibly poignant, discussing the rather-sad concept of the “almost famous” again, pointing towards the fucked-up aspects of fame. Think about it. Most people, if they are lucky, have the fortune to be quickly chewed-up and spit-out by the entertainment business. Those are the lucky ones. I love Pharrell’s rapping, I really do; who cares if he’s not technically good or if he’s sort-of ripping off Slick Rick. His sensitive college-dude form of spirituality (“earth’s got gas/When it burps its fine”) quickly gets serious when he addresses the Virginia Tech shooting.

So…you have these three guys taking a sober, darker look at fame or just, life and its all tied together by Thom Yorke’s chorus (“the more you try to erase me/the more, the more that I appear”) which becomes a rumination on fame and material wealth. The more shit you buy or the more shit you talk, none of it will make you feel better, it all makes the pain more apparent.

4. GLC – I Ain’t Even On Yet
Tom Breihan mentioned the impressive transition from ‘Us Placers’ to this song and I’d add that the entire mixtape really moves. Kanye keeps the track-lengths down by giving you snippets or chopping a verse here and there, but he also really presents a mixtape with a vision behind it. As I’ve been harping on, there’s this whole “fame’s not what you think it is” theme going on and there’s also a sonic consistency to most of the music. The sound is more electronic, clearly indebted to the South, but Kanye’s interests in arranging and borderline over-production still stand-out. The whole tape reminds me of Kanye’s pre-‘College Dropout’ mixtapes which were released around the point where Kanye could give like, anybody a beat and out would come a pretty great song (anybody remember Bump J?). I’m not even sure if this is a Kanye production, but that isn’t the point; everything on this tape sounds of the same genetic code.

Kanye’s understanding of counterpoint and contradiction are often discussed but it’s usually oversimplified and turned into the same kind of crap Tupac apologists cite as “complicated”. What Kanye can do well is, toss-in many related but often contradictory ideas and then, temporarily resolve them. His music, often verse-to-verse is like a timeline of experience, how he once felt about something, how his perspective has changed and how he’s embracing and fighting that change. Following ‘Us Placers’ with one of his up-and-coming weed carriers bragging about the shit that was just explained as meaningless is really interesting. AND…GLC’s song is at least in part, as the title would suggest, about the absurdity of a weed-carrier rapping about being famous, so it’s all legitimately hard to figure out, which is good.

5. Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Yeah…I like this song. It has some bad lines and stuff but overall it’s really, really, good. Nothing on the radio sounds like this. It’s full and dense; the drums and electronic qualities sound like something off of Jeezy’s ‘The Inspiration’ and it makes me remember what excited me about that album when it came out. There’s an undeniable power to those thick synths; they work like strings only less pretentious and more danceable. There’s plenty to dislike about Jeezy but I appreciate his work ethic and it paid off in that he made a great album with ‘The Inspiration’. He obviously sort of lifted the college stuff from Kanye, calling his albums ‘Thug Motivation 101’ and ‘Thug Motivation 102’ but he also lifted sonic consistency and pacing from Kanye. I know ‘College Dropout’ isn’t the first cohesive rap album but when it came out, it felt like a breath of fresh air and it’s cool that Jeezy feels its influence.

Written by Brandon

June 5th, 2007 at 6:15 am

Posted in Kanye West, mixtapes

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Why Lil Wayne Is Only Sort-Of Good…
The release of ‘Da Drought 3’ has only exacerbated the on-going debate about Lil Wayne: Is he a great rapper or a complete joke? Like most debates, it too-quickly devolved into factionalism and the actual answer lies somewhere between. Only the willfully closed-minded couldn’t find something about Lil Wayne to like and only the willfully open-minded (which in reality, is just as bad) could think he’s anything close to a great rapper. I think Wayne’s positive abilities are for the most part, apparent, so I’d like to take some time to explain why Lil Wayne isn’t great while staying free of knee-jerk hatred…

So, real quick- there’s plenty to like about ‘Da Drought 3’. Lil Wayne is never boring and seems truly excited to rap. How many rappers remix a song they were already on, as he does on ‘We Takin’ Over Remix’? Weezy’s oft-quoted “…great Scott!/Storch can I borrow your yacht?” line is hilarious and self-deprecating. He throws-down his celebrity by saying he knows Scott Storch (which is only sort of cool to begin with and I think Wayne knows that) but he is also asking to borrow the dude’s yacht, meaning Wayne has no yacht of his own and if he’s not doing all that, then he’s just sort of making fun of Storch’s recent “new money”-esque fame which is also pretty great, right?

The “mixtape” has countless moments like this but I don’t know how far that will take him. He’s fun to talk about and discuss but listening to him doesn’t feel quite as fulfilling. On the Ciara remake ‘Promise’, Wayne conjures a funny mix of sincerity and creepiness but I’m not sure if it’s any good. Therein lies the problem with Lil Wayne: his ideas are better in explanation than execution. Paradoxically, rappers often get more praise for what they try to do, even if they fail, than when they actually accomplish what they set out to do. That is because a weird idea that is fully-developed, ends up pretty complex and therefore, harder to pinpoint in an 800-word review.

Devin the Dude’s mix of sincerity, comedy, and creepiness is so well-rendered, so weirdly detail-oriented, that explaining it almost always feels like you’re slighting the Dude. Wayne on the other hand, can be explained in writer-ly sound bites because what he is trying to do is never actually fulfilled in the song. There’s enough there to be impressed by, but it never gets too complex, allowing writers to project whatever they want upon the songs. Rather than stuff that is actually good, writers often like stuff that is good “in theory” and Lil Wayne is good in theory.

It is one thing to make a bunch of really sick mixtapes but it’s another thing to drop really great albums. This may sound like the “if he can’t freestyle he’s not a great MC” rule but I chalk Wayne’s lack of classic albums to one thing: fear. Afraid to alienate any aspect of his audience, he tries to precariously balance between rap radio and weirdo rap-nerd “lyricism” often using his albums for more normal stuff and mixtapes for the weirdo stuff. Everybody wins on this deal except Wayne himself, who seems a bit uncomfortable on either side.

The mixtapes complement Wayne’s numerous guest-spots and meh-to-good albums. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it feels like he’s too concerned with maintaining a certain level of fame and success to go all-out on an album, so he goes all-out on a mixtape and gets a lot of praise for it. The only mixtapes people care about are the good ones! There’s not a lot of pressure to make a good mixtape because most of them are horrible! Expectations are lowered and when you make one that is even kinda listenable, it stands out.

He’s having it both ways and that actually prevents him from being a truly great rapper. He sounds perpetually compromised, never sure whether to talk about eating a star or eating pussy and somehow unable to reconcile the two. At the same time, it’s why he might be able to become a great rapper. The greatest rappers maintain a sense of balance between so-called “true” fans and pop music fans but right now, Wayne’s is less a balance and more, a schizophrenia.

He has a hard-time navigating between personas; his lyrics are either some crazy surfer stoner shit or the same ‘CASH-MONEY’ style gun talk he’s been spitting for years. I don’t mind either, I can enjoy both, but it seems like Wayne either wears one hat or the other; he has a hard time synthesizing the two the way Wu Tang or even, Dipset can. It doesn’t feel like a rapper in-transition or anything, it’s a rapper with two discordant personalities, both of which often feel a little contrived. I think everyone’s assumption is that the weirdo stuff is more sincere than the gun-talk but I question the intentions of both.

Remember, a year ago when ‘Hustlin’ and ‘Kick, Push’ were two of the bigger songs on the radio? Knowing I’m “supposed” to be happy something like ‘Kick, Push’ is on the radio, I still couldn’t help but think: “I’m not sure which of these guys is more full of shit…” I get the same feeling from Lil Wayne, I feel obligated to embrace some of his stuff but I still can’t drum up the right amount of enthusiasm. Whether he’s rapping for the Pitchfork set or gun-talk it feels kind of calculated.

Written by Brandon

May 31st, 2007 at 4:29 am

Posted in Lil Wayne, mixtapes

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Stop Fronting: ‘Return of the Mac’ and ‘Blood Money’

I only half-understood the uproar when Mobb Deep signed to G-Unit. They were pretty much done already. I wasn’t expecting anymore interesting music from Mobb Deep for the rest of my life. There would always be ‘The Infamous’ and to a lesser extent, ‘Hell on Earth’ and ‘Murda Muzik’. Signing to G-Unit was a depressing but obvious economic choice for a group that probably needed to do something if they were going to stick around. Not to mention, any accusations of selling-out were pointless because Mobb Deep were totally honest about how it made them richer; they didn’t try to justify it at all. They got G-Unit tattoos on their hands and started telling everyone how much more money they were making. I mean, they called the album ‘Blood Money’. That says more about their choice to sign than any of us fans crying “sell-out” could say. If it took ‘Blood Money’ to make ‘Return of the Mac’ well I’m not complaining. I get a good album and these guys have a lot of money. Everybody wins, right?

Well, not everybody. Somehow, even after making a pretty great album Prodigy is getting backhanded compliments because many see ‘Return of the Mac’ as an “apology” for ‘Blood Money’. This is fan projection more than anything else. This is probably the album Prodigy has wanted to make for a couple years now but label bullshit and the very-scary and very-real need to stay “relevant” pushed him away from those goals and towards mediocrity. Signing to G-Unit guaranteed him money and I assume, a level of comfort, giving him the freedom, time, and a renewed confidence to make something like ‘Return of the Mac’. I don’t think one could exist without the other. Prodigy even makes this clear, incorporating a few references to 50 and G-Unit throughout the album.

Often, these references feel out of place, stuck in there just to antagonize hatin-ass fans like myself, making it harder to separate Prodigy from G-Unit. When I first heard ‘Mac 10 Handle’ a few months ago, the line “I’m so impulsive/I start gunnin’ right in front of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” made me think of the bowdlerized verse from ‘Pearly Gates’. I willfully interpreted it as some kind of subtle fuck you to 50 or something. The reality is probably more complex. Indeed, that line is on ‘Return of the Mac’ because he can say it, it is a declaration of “freedom” but I don’t think that means it is in any way in opposition to ‘Blood Money’. ‘Rotten Apple’, one of the discs best tracks, shares its name with Lloyd Banks’ last album and on ‘Take it to the Top’ among a verse that at least content-wise, recalls the angry depression we expect from Prodigy, he says “You got some stomach on your Nikes/I got blood on my G-Units”. Just as we get into the kind of “gully” stuff we expect from Prodigy, he still tosses in a reference to G-Unit, not allowing the listener to totally distance ‘Blood Money’ Mobb Deep from the Mobb Deep we know and love and sort of hear on ‘Return of the Mac’. In that way at least, this is as uncompromising as ‘The Infamous’.

On ‘Stop Fronting’, the obvious fuck-you song to haters, P brags: “I’m on tour with Mobb Deep/We out in Japan, Australia then we doing Madison Square/Then it’s right back on the road with 50 and Em/Rappers upset we last more longer than them.” While P’s logic is a bit off, I think most people aren’t jealous of Mobb Deep but sort of feel sorry for them, it still continues his uncompromising take on signing to G-Unit even as he makes the music that defines pre-G-Unit Mobb Deep. If you loved Prodigy for rapping about robbing and people and not giving a fuck, well then you can’t be too pissed when they really didn’t give a fuck and signed to G-Unit. What makes ‘Return of the Mac’ striking is that it even exists that, just as it seemed like everything was over for Mobb Deep, Prodigy comes back and show he doesn’t give a fuck by singing to G-Unit and that he really, really gives a fuck by making something as good as ‘Return of the Mac’. Artists almost never come back from “selling-out” and make something good. Granted, signing to G-Unit didn’t do wonders for their career but from what I’ve gathered, they are pretty comfortable and it is when someone is comfortable that you can assume they’ll stop making interesting shit or take chances. It seems as though Prodigy has found a way to give and take, making money and making something with integrity. Fuck a ‘Kingdom Come’, ‘Return of the Mac’ is grown-man rap because Prodigy has totally accepted the reality that art and commerce are mixed. When Jay-Z tells you “30 is the new 20″ he doesn’t believe it as much as he thinks by making it a single he can will it to be true. Prodigy has no interest in justification or explanation because he doesn’t need to, the same personality that brought you ‘The Infamous’ and ‘Return of the Mac’ is also hanging out with 50 Cent and not being okay but at least, accepting shit like his ‘Pearly Gates’ verse being changed. That’s just how it goes.

Even those that want to connect this “mixtape” with independence, be it the uncensored nature of Prodigy’s content or the literal independence of KOCH Records cannot completely do so because there’s currently a ‘Best Buy Exclusive’ version of ‘Return of the Mac’ featuring three bonus tracks (‘My Priorities’, ‘That’s That’, and ‘Last Words’). A mixtape, on a non-major label, that allows an exclusive version of that mixtape with additional tracks to be sold at a chain-store. That is the weird world of the music industry, where the porous borders between independence and major labels, integrity and selling-out, exist. Good for Prodigy for taking advantage of it rather than simply bemoaning its existence or hating on the South or plenty of other bullshit moves. It’s not 1995 anymore. As I type this, I’m watching BET’s ‘Rip the Runway’ and I just saw 50 Cent introduce Rakim who rapped a bunch of classics while models presented the new G-Unit Clothing line. The show’s ending now and over credits, an Eric B and Rakim medley plays. Who cares about the context! That just happened (no Ricky Bobby)!

Written by Brandon

March 30th, 2007 at 3:15 am

Posted in G-unit, Mobb Deep, mixtapes

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The Mixtape Crackdown and File-Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Brandon

January 18th, 2007 at 4:41 pm