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Archive for the ‘Pharrell’ Category

“Tang Golf” vs. Pharrell’s “Liquid Swords”


Or: “How Everything Wrong With Rap Right Now Can Be Unpacked Via Two Of The Odd Future Kids Rapping Over “4th Chamber.”

So, you’ve got Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats, part of the oft-compared to Wu Tang crew Odd Future, confirming their fans’ lunkheaded, connect-the-dots hype/mythology in the laziest way possible: Rapping (not even that well, mind you) over a beyond-classic RZA beat. It makes sense. Too much sense.

Then there’s Pharrell, a pop-rap genius producer, known for a goofy falsetto and lumpy verses here and there. For 2006’s In My Mind: The Prequel, he teamed up with DJ Drama, a dude from Philadelphia who made a name for himself compiling Southern hip-hop mixtapes. Together, they made one of the weirdest entries in the trap-rap mixtape series. It nods to Pharrell’s backpack rap origins just because, but mostly features raps about high-end fashion and models over Young Jeezy hits and 80s and 90s rap classics. Pharrell raps over two Liquid Swords productions. This is how dude promoted his solo debut. Think about that.

Now, it’s the next-big-thing iconoclasts that tow the party line–almost expertly so. Pharrell took that line and bent it back on itself until it was a big continuum of hip-hop: Backpacker shit, trap-rap, gritty NYC stuff, moody synthy pop-rap and more. It’s really this simple: Pharrell violated the sanctity of Liquid Swords much better.

As I (and others) said before, perhaps Odd Future are best understood not as iconoclasts out of nowhere, but subversive opportunistic shitfucks toying with the system from the inside, exposing Nahright and 2DopeBoyz as ad whores, highlighting the boring biases of the bleeding edge tastemakers, and showing the goon from Gorilla Vs. Bear to be one more guy who suddenly starts writing in rap slang when he blogs about hip-hop!!!!!.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2011 at 1:08 am

In Defense Of The Neptunes.


There’s a new N*E*R*D record out, which means another chance to use that band’s crappiness to perpetuate the myth that The Neptunes have fallen off. The production duo’s decade-long, weirdly loved, ridiculously indulgent singer-songwriter rap project has little bearing on their supposed inability to make hits like they used to though. Presumably, Williams and Hugo no longer have to make bangers anymore, so they don’t. They spent way too long as worker-bee, radio-pleasing producers, and want to do other stuff now.

Also, their sound, that Neptunes sound, wouldn’t work on a mainstream level anymore. “Showin’ Out” from Til’ The Casket Drops is as potent as “Grindin” was in 2002, but “Grindin” wouldn’t be a hit in 2010 either, so what are they to do but follow their muse?

The still not exactly substantiated “break” between Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo also plays a part in the lowered respect of The Neptunes’ recent output. It’s clear that they occasionally work without one another and though their work is always credited as “produced by The Neptunes,” certain songwriting credits feature only one of their names (Williams only on Hell Hath No Fury and In My Mind, Hugo on most of Kenna’s work) and this leads to lots of speculation. Strangely, it’s resulted in a reconsideration of Williams’ appeal, suggesting that Hugo was the true mastermind, even though Williams continue to make sorta-hits, no one cares about Kenna, and the stuff where they’re undeniably working together, such as N*E*R*D, is laughed-off by the people who yearn for the days of “Virginia” or “Young’n (Holla Back)”.

Williams and Hugo also aren’t the most savvy spokesmen for their music and so, they don’t exactly control their context like other musicians. Hugo rarely talks, and Williams, even when he’s in “black Carl Sagan” mode, doesn’t really philosophize about his beats in interviews. There’s no clever prepping of listeners for sonic seachanges and they refuse to treat their work as capital-A art like Kanye West. The Neptunes unfortunately, arrived a little too early to explain away their mistakes or weird indulgences as “experimenting” (even N*E*RD was presented as their stadium rock-pop project), and they’re suffering for that now. The Neptunes’ sonic peer, in terms of importance and sophistication is Timbaland, and both production juggernauts belong to an earlier craftsman-like producers who understood that being a genius was just part of the game, not something you reminded people of in every interview. The sound was quietly tweaked over time.

And that’s exactly what The Neptunes have been doing since 2004 or so: Subtly steering their sound away from the “Superthug” model. The Neptunes have remained as willfully weird and focused in the second half of the 2000s as they were in the first, only The Neptunes “sound” became this lounge music-like, blissed-out, easy listening stuff full of empty-space cheez, which doesn’t sound all that different from the spacey, chillwave vibe that’s been celebrated in the rap underground over the past year.

The current, unfairly disparaged Neptunes sound begins with Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Anchored by Pharrell’s ridiculous croons and alternating between spare, almost nihilistic rhythms and on-some-other-shit, pulsing new-age synths, it’s the point where making music that ripped in a club stop being important to them. 2005’s “Can I Have It Like That,” the first single from Williams’ supremely underrated 2006 album, In My Mind is both an egregious derivation of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and a much better song. Also: Beanie Sigel’s “Don’t Stop” and Twista’s “Lavish.” 2006 brought hard-hitting but hollow, pulsing, minimalism to Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury, “Partners For Life” from Diddy’s Press Play, and Pharrell’s solo album, In My Mind which Sean Fennessey of Pitchfork called “yacht rap”. Though he meant that as a dig, I think that’s exactly what Williams was going for: absurdly comfortable, laid-back hip-hop.

In 2007, The Neptunes found the only guy goofier and more Vegas ridiculous than they were: Robin Thicke. A few years later, the radio’s surrounded by Bruno Mars and Colin Munroe types. In 2008, they gave Madonna a ton of beats for her disastrous Hard Candy (that title embodies The Neptunes’ much-maligned, post-”Drop It Like It’s Hot” sound: tough but sweet) and Common some space-rap boom-bap on Universal Mind Control. The Neptunes in 2009 are best represented by Jay-Z’s “Ambitious,” a comfortable ending-credits slow jam, and Clipse’s “Popeye’s (Back By Popular Demand),” a jazzy-wazzy hard-hitting beat reaching for Lord Willin’ and not getting there but getting somewhere pretty cool anyways.

Currently making its rounds on Sirius/XM is Gucci Mane’s “Haterade” featuring Nicki Minaj. “Haterade” doesn’t even have much to do with the hard-pop of “Milkshake” or “Hot In Herre,” let alone “Superthug” but that’s a good thing. Pharrell croons Deepak Chopra-inspired loverman stuff over a glowing, glob of keys and synth pulses, and the snapping, clacking drums are there enough but spare enough for Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj to comfortably do their thing over. It’s a great song.

Written by Brandon

November 8th, 2010 at 4:08 am

Posted in Neptunes, Pharrell

How Big Is Your World? Good Rap Songs.

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-Common featuring Pharrell ‘Announcement’
Click here to download ‘Announcement’
First, there was the ‘Planet Rock’/electro homage ‘Universal Mind Control’ and now there’s the Biggie-aping ‘Announcement’. That rubbery, back-and-forth guitar, Common switching up some lines but totally mimicking Biggie’s flow on ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’, as well as a quick reference to ‘Me & My Bitch’ (and a Puffy reference by Pharrell), it seems like maybe this new Common album will be some kind of hip-hop history lesson or something? The beat does a better job of sounding like an old, classic beat while retaining producer signature than Kanye’s weirdo Dilla attempts. The female “Uh!”, the guitar-sound approximation of ‘Just Playing’s bassline sound close enough to connect to the Biggie rarity, but there’s also some crazy cornball fluttering synths, and crazy marching band booms that every half-perfect, half-annoying Neptunes production has.

The rap history thing’s half cool because it’s not like Common’s saying anything interesting anymore (and he’s out-rapped by Pharrell here), but it’s annoying because this is the dude that in ‘94 was half-shitting on dudes like Biggie for ruining hip-hop, but uh, ultimately it’s sort of exciting. Still, it’s important to remember that the past two Common albums had these great singles and then were an album of boring, meandering turds, so, we’ll see, but so far, this hip-hop history concept is a good look. As usual though, ‘Invincible Summer’s already conceptually muddled because you know, it’s release date is in the fall?

-B.O.M.B ‘Over Here’
Click here to download ‘Over Here’
This song’s just no bullshit. Under three-minutes, these really tight drums, and justB.O.M.B–”Baltimore On My Back”–rapping straight-forward stuff that’s spare and direct and descriptive and nothing more or less. There’s a good mix of influences here as well. Like so many smart thugs, he owes a great deal to ‘Pac, but there’s some golden-age New York influence in his delivery and the beat–especially those Primo-ish drums–but it’s aware and internalizes more recent rap trends. The all-keyboard aspect of the beat, the purposefully simple and immediate lyrics, and the filling it all-out with ad-libs, show a relatively traditionalist rapper that didn’t turn the radio off in 1998.

This is from B.O.M.B’s ‘Testers’ EP which came out in May and sounds like what a lot of good rapper’s albums would sound like if the just cut-out all the crap and only gave you good songs. More rappers need to release EPs. For awhile, mixtapes had the casual, tossed-off effect of EPs but they got bloated or just terrible quick. The EP is an ideal introduction to a new rapper and B.O.M.B’s smart to take advantage of it as a way to release music. The other really-great song ‘Sunday’ from the EP can be found on Al Shipley’s Government Names blog. I met B.O.M.B and talked to him for a few minutes a few months ago and he just gave me a copy of his CD which you’d think is the kind of thing more rappers would do but they uh, don’t.

-Flying Lotus ‘Parisian Goldfish’
Click here to download ‘Parisian Goldfish’
Is this song based on the cowbell breakdown from New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’? I even sent Flying Lotus a fucking MySpace message about it because it was bugging me so much. He didn’t answer. There’s a noisy, weird side of Flying Lotus’ work that should get more attention than post-Dilla/Madlib knob twiddling. The best electronic music’s all about feeling and atmosphere. It’s silly to listen to mid-tempo beats when there’s not someone rapping on them. The big joke of Lotus’ ‘Robo Tussin’ remix of ‘A Milli’ was that his weirdo synth-fart bliss-out still wasn’t as weird as Bangladesh’s original. Maybe that wasn’t the intention and Lotus is just unfairly categorized with think they’re next-level “producers” like Madlib or Prefuse 73 because ‘Parisian Goldfish’ is pretty amped-up and ready for a party. No contemplation or head-nodding to this song necessary.

Everything’s sort of maxed-out and a little full of static and squelchy and anchored by this cowbell workout break that Lotus puts every production trick over. It gets chopped-up, it awkwardly repeats, he adds more sounds over top of it, and he piles the break atop itself into a mechanical CD-skip-like repetition and then takes it away to just play the loop to glorious effect a minute and fifty second or so in.

-ABN (Z-Ro & Trae) ‘Still Throwed’
Click here to download ‘Still Throwed’
Imagine ‘Get Throwed’ from Bun B’s ‘Trill’ but with Z-Ro doing more than the hook and Trae rapping instead of Pimp C, Jay-Z, and Jeezy and then some Linkin Park-ish keyboards all over it. Between this and the Linkin Park-ish ‘Shoot Me Down’ from ‘Tha Carter 3′–but pretending Busta’s ‘We Made It’ never existed–maybe Linkin Park are sort of good? Don’t front on that ‘Numb/Encore’ “song” either. This song’s interesting in contrast with the ‘Trill’ version in the sense that everything’s just down a few notches.

The chugging guitars are mixed lower, and the stoned, bubbling electronics of the original no longer flutter in the background, they’re slowed-down but louder and darker. ‘Get Throwed’ was a party song about getting high, ‘Still Throwed’ is a few years later, doing the same thing and it not being fun anymore…which is pretty much what every Z-Ro and Trae song’s about. The key lyric here is Z-Ro’s list of “same old”s, especially “strippers at the club dancing on the same old poles”. It’s not a surprise coming from Z-Ro, but this sense of being just as bored and disinterested by those three big, stupid hip-hop ideals of cool and power (drug dealers, girl, strip clubs) is really smart and honest. It’s like when he raps about treating lesbians and gay dudes properly on ‘T.H.U.G’. I’ve never been that into Trae and next to Z-Ro especially, Trae’s gruff voice sounds jarring.

-Ratatat ‘Black Heroes’
Click here to download ‘Black Heroes’
Ratatat’s schtick is pretty simple: Make every instrument sound like a synth or just be a synth, harmonize that shit, and make it sound like the music in a sad part of a video game. The closer of their latest album ‘LP3′ is the particularly affecting ‘Black Heroes’ and it really does bring up the feeling of like, a film-strip you’d watch in history class about the contributions of African-Americans. Imagine poorly-pencilled sketches of Marcus Garvey and Rosa Parks moving past to the tune of this song. This YouTuber had the right idea accompanying the song to an image of the Tuskegee Airmen. I think ‘Black Heroes’ is trying to get at like the pure immediate sense of the triumph of history and victory that you can get into when you’re in like 3rd grade and Howard Zinn doesn’t mean anything yet.

Because of their Brooklyn roots and love of all things electronic and video gamey, Ratatat are often seeen as ironists but there’s really nothing ironic or funny about their music. They use all those sounds to move towards some weird, off-kilter sense of warmth and sincerity. These are kids who cried at the ending to Adventures of Lolo 2 and just took the beauty of electronics for granted. They’re way beyond the played-out Kraftwerk-ian sense of “we’re all mechanical and without emotions” and electronics will comment on that trope; it’s sort of the same thing T-Pain’s trying to do or Kanye does on Jeezy’s ‘Put On’.

Written by Brandon

July 29th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

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3. Pharrell – In My Mind – Once you listen to ‘In My Mind’ without tbe expectation of fifteen tracks of ‘Hot in Herre’ and ‘Milkshake’ and instead, enter into this new-age, Micheal Jackson, rap/soul trance, you realize that Pharrell made some kind of misunderstood masterpiece. Pharrell isn’t a great rapper or singer, but it all works. He says witty things and sincere personal things (he was in marching band, he longs for teenagers, he masturbates with bras). The album sounds like you’re in Pharrell’s brain which is exactly what the title suggests.The feeling is, Pharrell doesn’t seem to be worried about looking lame or seeming weird. R. Kelly and Cody Chesnutt are the only r & b singers I can think of that seem perfectly okay with singing totally weird shit that is at least half-serious. If you look at the inner sleeve (the one that holds the record) of ‘Thriller’ you’ll see these two bizarre Daniel Johnston-esque sketches drawn by Micheal Jackson. I think Pharrell touches some of that un-self conscious weirdness on ‘In My Mind’. Most r & b singers, oddly enough, are less soul-bearing and emotional than rappers. Just about every singer fully inhabits some infallible “mack” persona, where the only thing they ever sing about is getting girls. Usher’s ‘Confessions’ may have been “soul-bearing” and maybe truly confessional, but he was basically confessing to cheating and a sex addiction; while in confessional mode, he’s still bragging because its still about getting-with women. Pharrell recounts a story in ‘That Girl’ about wanting to take a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas but the girl is disinterested. In one way, it’s Pharrell just bragging even as he’s being dumped (he has money to randomly fly to Vegas) but it’s also about how sad it is when someone loses enthusiasm or can’t be spontaneous. This is the same song that has the simple phrase “but it wasn’t like that, back when I met her” which pretty much sums up how everything eventually turns shitty. Rappers get so much crap for being misogynist or self-serious but they are a lot more apt to be emotional, confess, or make themselves look kind of like losers. Although it seems to be hated on, ‘Girl’ by Paul Wall is the perfect example of the kind of sad soul song that r & b singers never touch anymore.

Pharrell’s on some kind of deconstructive trip with the production and track sequencing, totally blurring the lines between hardcore rap and soft r & b and showing how the two are weirdly connected. The album is conceptually muddled in that there is not a true rap side and r & b side, but that makes sense. What even constitutes rapping and singing on ‘In My Mind’? Are ‘Best Friend’ and ‘You Can Do It Too’ rap songs? There isn’t an answer to that question, that’s the point. The general movement into soul begins with ‘Best Friend’ and is in full-effect by ‘Angel’ but is complicated when we get Pharrell singing on songs that have rappers-guests like Jay-Z and Pusha-T. It’s all muddled in a good way. Pharrell is wise to return the album in the direction of rap for ‘Number One’ and ‘Skateboard P Shows You How to Hustle’ because the album suffers something of a lull after ‘Young Girl/I Really Like You’ particularly through the just plain-gross ‘Take It Off’. So yeah, I can’t really front and say this album is perfect, but I do think it is really weird in a really good way, not in a “Pharrell has lost his mind” way as some think (Pitchfork gave it a 3.9!). When Andre 3000 channels Prince or Funkadelic, everything about it is derivative. Pharrell’s debt to M.J is pretty huge but by refusing to reject all of his rap qualities, Pharrell comes off sounding original even when it’s clear he’s stealing from M.J. I recall an interview on 92Q around the time ‘In My Mind’ was released. Pharrell described the album as being an album full of tracks like ‘Human Nature’; presumably meaning, no obvious hits. That’s a better explanation of ‘In My Mind’ than I can think up, it just depends on how excited or scared you are of an album of 15 tracks that sound like ‘Human Nature’.

Written by Brandon

December 24th, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Posted in 2006, In My Mind, Pharrell