No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Raekwon’ Category

“Monster” vs. “Runaway Love”


Whether it was putting Jay-Z and Talib Kweli on the same song (back when that was as weird as Raekwon and Justin Bieber), celebrating his contradictions (“first nigga with a Benz and a backpack”), calling out the president on live television, or idiotically racing up to the stage to explain why Beyonce’s better than Taylor Swift, Kanye West’s pop provocateur tendencies have always been as important as the music itself. He’s just become more of a dick about it.

Or rather, he was more of a dick about it. West’s recent works—as in really recent–have been music events first and pop cultural moments second, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t conceptual edges to what he’s doing, he just isn’t footnoting the shit out of it to make sure audiences know it’s a big, thumping statement. So, he drops the video for “Power,” an attempt at art with a capital “A” and one that wrestles with age-old themes of vulnerability and hubris, right after an episode of Jersey Shore but doesn’t harp on that part of it at all really.

And now, he constructs a funhouse mirror version of a DJ Khaled posse cut called “Monster” wherein every aspect of the song is funneled into making Nicki Minaj sound as exhilarating as possible. Then, a few days later, he pairs Raekwon with Justin Bieber on a remix of Bieber’s “Runaway Love.” Both songs are very good and full of musical and lyrical details to obsess over, but they also don’t topple over from the conceptual context West stuck on top them–and at this point in West’s career, that’s pretty novel.

“Monster” works, first and foremost, as a posse cut–at least as its understood in 2010—but one that slowly unravels itself until it exists strictly as a platform for the oft-debated (is she great or is she terrible?) Nicki Minaj to really rap her ass off. Kanye’s a genius at this juggling of disparate guests, and it isn’t just that he put Minaj next to Rick Ross and Jay-Z, but that Minaj gets the final third of the song to do her thing, so that she simply can’t be ignored or laughed off.

Then there’s this “Runaway Love” remix, which sounds like a joke song uploaded to the blogs on April Fool’s day (Justin Bieber – “Runaway Love Remix” featuring Kanye West and Raekwon) but is indeed, very, very real. Part of the joy of this song is indeed, that it exists, but that fun would wear off in only a few moments. Kanye’s brilliance here is that he made a song out of joke he made on Twitter, remixing Bieber’s “Runaway Love” the way a rap producer in the 90s would’ve remixed it–by turning it into a new song–and then finding some strange balance between a hard-edged hip-hop track and um, a hard-edged hip-hop track that has a good and proper place for Justin Bieber’s teenage yelp.

It helps that Bieber’s actually a talent. He’s got a really interesting, specific voice that genuinely sounds great, and it’s just fit for remixing (ask Baltimore’s ). On “Runaway Love” Kanye employs the kid’s plaintive chirp the way on one of those numerous classic house remixes: as a strangely isolated thing of perfection in an otherwise jagged soundscape. Also, by surrounding the shards of the original with edgy, straight-rapping, it feels like Biggie on the “Real Love” remix or something: a jarring, odd but effortless fusion of sounds that shouldn’t have much to do with one another but hey, kinda work!

The best thing about “Monster” and “Runaway Love Remix” though, has to do with the fact that neither of these songs have an intended audience. They’re both the “little bit of everything for everybody,” market-researched singles as of late, reduced to absurdity. Every element of “Monster” moves towards Minaj, which will excite a certain fanbase, but utterly baffle a far more significant group of listeners. And really, who is the Bieber remix “for”? Kanye and Raekwon share some fans sure, and West and Bieber wander around on the same increasingly desiccated pop landscape, but the song seems designed to confound listeners from both the Raekwon and Bieber camp and perhaps ideally, expose fans of one to the other, and move every listener out of their comfort zone.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 6th, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Recreating Zeitgeist: The Problem With OB4CL2

leave a comment

At some point in the past bunch of years, Raekwon, and company bought into the idea of 90s New York hip-hop pushed by weren’t-even-there nostalgics and not you know, what it actually sounded like. Because rap got kinda fruity, New York rap was been retrofitted into being nothing but hard-ass aggression and tough-talk. No knowledge. No insight. Just pithy, gritty storytelling. Timbs and 40s. “Cracks and weed”. Sprinkle in some Kung-Fu samples, some Killer clips and resurrect Papa Wu and you’re there. Not that all those things weren’t a part of Cuban Linx’s success, but that’s not all there was.

And yeah, occasionally, the sheer ugliness of the details boils over and the Wu’s veteran status–heard in their voices even–works for them, like they’re aged soldiers and all the shit and violence they saw and occasionally implemented is flashing before their eyes at 38–the weight of it all heavy upon them–but that byproduct of the shit-talk isn’t investigated any further. That, coupled with the lack of a narrative makes the whole thing pretty toothless. Lots of stomping around but not much more.

The overdose of tough-guy rhymers, each digging as deep as they can and dredging up the most fucked-up images they can (but one of many examples: “They found a two year old, strangled to death/with a love daddy t-shirt/ in a bag at the top of the steps”) to really no end at all is depressing–just not in the intended “shit’s real” sense. This shit’s not real.

Not that these guys should be “above” anybody or anything, but there’s something very telling about tossing on some guest-spots from way more conventional street rappers like Beanie Sigel and Styles P and pretending they share an aesthetic. Rae and Ghost are like those guys, but they’re also way more tripped-out. They’ve conveniently forgotten about that and that’s the tough part. 90s rap’s being rewritten here. Like one of those concerts where a 60s guitarist, a 70s butt-rocker, and an 80s virtuoso share a bill: It makes sense but it doesn’t.

Maybe it’s the surprisingly wizened words of BP3 echoing even as I try to move my way through Cuban Linx 2, but there’s something kinda sad about Cuban Linx 2. Sad the way real street dudes at 40 are. Mean-mugging their way through life, be it a guy they’re about to beat the ass of (probably for like $22 dollars) or the clerk who asked for an ID along with their credit card when they bought Guitar Hero 5. Cubax Linx 2 is street dudes turned superstars bending over backwards to sound like street dudes again and doing an okay job and patting themselves way too hard on the back for doing so.

further reading/viewing:
-”The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (A.K.A How M.O.P Won)” from Unkut
-Clip of Wu Tang in Japan from The Show

Written by Brandon

September 11th, 2009 at 4:03 am

Posted in Raekwon, Wu Tang

Aging Gracefully

one comment

So, Juicy J’s recently released two modest-budget, DV videos with an eye for the details of the streets. Swelling with super-specific hometown pride, “North Memphis Like Me” bubbles over with the character of Juicy’s birthplace–this is hyper-regionality; the kind that can’t be turned into a movement by some A & Rs.

Then there’s “Let’s Get High” (DIRECTED BY JORDAN TOWER), sorta the opposite of “North Memphis Like Me” but not really. Full of the same gritty reality but it’s deeply, disturbingly insular: Juicy wandering around a parking lot smoked-out.

-”Niggaz Ain’t Barin’ Dat”

Above is “Niggaz Ain’t Barin’ Dat” off Underground Vol. 1, a collection of Triple-Six demos or early works or something (it’s subtitled “1991-1994″) that you should go out and find if you’ve not heard it already–it’s fairly easy to find “Used” in your hometown’s record store, if your hometown still has a record store. If it doesn’t, it will be at your mall’s FYE…priced at like, 17.99.

I think Underground Vol. 1 is fairly prevalent in the used bins because a buncha people’ve bought it thinking there would be something like “Sippin’ On Some Syrup” or “Stay Fly” on there and not like, proto-Glitch, fuzzed out electronic weirdness that doesn’t even always have rapping on it.

There’s precedent here for sure (DJ Spanish Fly’s loops, Screw music’s bliss, etc.) and this is surely rap music, but it’s wrestling around in the same sonic arena with weirder, more explicitly strange electronic and sample-based music of the time (Gas, The Orb, Loop) and of right fucking now (Skaters, Tim Hecker, Block Beataz).

It’s more like hearing the earliest, in-the-garage, fuzzed-to-hell demos from Mayhem or Satryricon or something. That “something” being the really obvious influence that I threw out a moment ago: DJ Spanish Fly.

So yeah, it’s rap music too and if you’re listening hard enough, isn’t all that different from “Syrup” or “Stay Fly”. Hidden within there is all the stuff that made those classics. That’s to say, there’s not exactly a way to be “disappointed” by this collection unless you’re a complete dolt. And though Three-Six have certainly dropped the ball here and there, they don’t have a “worthless” release in their discography and the story of how their sound travelled from clunky loops and delicately crumbling synths to still pretty nutty but more digestable beats is one of the most fascinating in hip-hop history. Namely, because it’s organic–or relatively organic, don’t wanna idealize anybody here.

Same way say, the Velvet Underground went from avant-garde to MOR in like five years. It didn’t have too much to do with record sales.

And in a sense, it’s the antithesis of how Jay Z ends up with the sonics of BP3 and it’s the complete opposite of Raekwon’s facsimile of 90s New York rap. Three-Six roll over current trends and pick up tiny pieces (a tinge of auto-tune, a slab of chipmunk soul) and find a proper–or fairly proper–place for it, they don’t “reinvent” themselves and even when they do, they don’t fucking announce it. And because their sound is always moving forward, they can jump back to ‘95 seamlessly, so it doesn’t sound like they’re trying real hard–so hard that, like Rae and company, it leads to an album that sounds like the idea of what 1995 rap sounded to someone who wasn’t there when it happened than how it really did sound.

further reading/viewing:
-Mythologies by Roland Barthes
-DJ Spanish Fly’s MySpace
-”Hypnagogic Pop” by David Keenan from Wire Magazine #147
-Sway visits DJ Paul in the Studio

Written by Brandon

September 7th, 2009 at 4:53 am

It’s All In the Details: Comments on Specific Parts of Some Rap Songs

leave a comment

Man, it’s 2009 and between months and months of hype and then the imminent album leak, nothing’s interesting and it’s all boring before the first album cut even finishes. Who has time for entire songs? And who has time for entire songs reviews? Here’s reviews of parts of songs, mostly good parts. Maybe a recurring feature here, we’ll see…

-RZA’s “We soldiers…” coda on “Black Mozart”
off Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

RZA’s high-pitched but gutteral wail of a chant that ends “Black Mozart” brings a flood of palpable pain into the song and the album, something it kinda lacks overall. It’s like RZA found an old blunt of ODB’s behind a monitor or something, smoked it, and the saliva ghost of ‘Dirty–his exuberance, his pain and confusion, his deep pontificating on the er, “struggle”–possessed RZA and he ran into the booth and cried this out. Because rap’s so sissified now (and it just is, sorry, it is) it’s easy to repaint all those St. Ideas and Timbs, gritty-beat makers as ineffable hard-asses but in all that music is obviously a lot of pain, and sometimes they even let it seap into the music explicitly; RZA bring some of that back on “Black Mozart”.

-Beanie Sigel’s biblical syntax on “Run to the Roc”
off The Broad Street Bully

Beans adopting a sort of absurd but strangely affecting mess of Biblical talk (lots of “thy” and words like “wrath”) shows you how seriously Jay Z’s dropping of “The Roc” is for those involved. “Street code” is doctrine for better and worse, and when you violate that, it’s over for you. But it also hurts because there’s more at-stake than just a bunch of feelings (and now empty wallets) but like an entire belief system. For Beans and company, the dismissal is tragic and mythic and all that, an ultimate violation and sign of disrespect. Biblical. Shakespearan. All that smart-person stuff applied to things to legitimize them. Notice how this is still threat-rap and tough-talk, he doesn’t explain why because he doesn’t have to explain it. It just is. The shit’s doctrine.

-Jay-Z’s revelation that his teacher was a dick on “So Ambitious”
off Blueprint 3

“I felt so inspired by what my teacher said/Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer-head/Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids/’specially when all I did was speak in class…”. If there’s an actual theme or like, thesis to BP3, it’s Jay Z actually feeling grown-up, no longer chasing respectability or plain old comfort, just being a fully-functional adult with a wife and responsibilities and shit. With this comes, it seems a deeper realization of his environment, one he once took for granted, also bubbles to the surface. And so, Jay’s really thinking about how having some jerk-off teacher tell you that you’re doomed isn’t normal or really acceptable. Obvious to a lot of us, but maybe not so if it’s how every fucking idealist-turned-nihilist “educator” treated you your whole fucking school career. The line clearly stung, he’s rapping about it years later, only now he’s sort of got it–rap as psychoanalysis.

-The title of Robert Glasper’s “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)”
off Double Booked

A good jazz song with a particularly affecting or smart title can somehow make it even better: “Just Friends”, “Idle Moments”, “Mandrake”, “Fables of Faubus”. That said, this has led to a lot of musicians trying really hard to be clever or insightful (a ton of puns, pseudo-poetry, etc) but “Yes I’m Country (And That’s OK)” is like, haiku-perfect. There’s nothing explicitly “country” about the song, no twang or grafting of folk/country melodies here, but there is a certain ease and comfort, a rolling along feeling that indeed, invokes the cliches of a somewhat derisive adjective like “country” but turns them into the strengths big-city fucks are too cool for. A jazz tune for provincials. Cooly confident, but not stupidly prideful either. Robert Glasper’s from Texas.

further reading/viewing:
-Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of OBD by Jamie Lowe
-Harvey Keitel’s wail in Bad Lieutenant
-”The Documentary” by a bunch of the XXL Staff
-Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Ecstatic Truth: The ‘Only Built For Cuban Linx 2′ Advertisement

leave a comment

The image above is from Floodwatch by way of Unkut. When I saw this ad/teaser/whatever I got really excited for reasons I’ll describe in a moment but what I initially did was connect it to this quote from Shots Ring Out’s article:

“Gloss is dead…Well, mostly. This would seem to effect rap more than anything. The rock kids are fine with a DIY aesthetic (or a faux DIY asthetic). Maybe crossover stars like Timberlake (or even Kanye) can get away with big budget affairs as they will get enough exposure to justify the cost. Everybody else needs to realize that shooting it with a cell phone and uploading it to YouTube is good enough.”

I’m not excited about ‘Cuban Linx 2′; I never even think of it because I really don’t think it will be anything more than “okay” and while this ad doesn’t get me excited about the album it does get me excited about, well, this ad and that’s enough for now.

The simplicity and low-budget-ness of the ad have the effect that a glossy, well-lit, maybe even kinda photo-shopped image just can’t. It looks like it was shot on the floor of a High School or something and has this great florescent-lights-from-above flare that a certain kind of obsessive “professional” would avoid or remove in post-production. There’s way too much cocaine and although we know (or assume) real coke isn’t used in video shoots, there’s a certain charm to how much and just how fake this cocaine looks. It doesn’t matter if it’s fake because we know it’s a posed picture and the ad wisely doesn’t waste it’s time trying to to achieve realism, it’s just real because of it’s messy, simplicity. Part of the simplicity is it’s use of cliches. The cocaine, the guns, the hoodies, it is all familiar but rendered in a way that is real and palpable and works within expectations without becoming a tested-with-an-audience PRODUCT.

Because this is an ad for Raekwon it gets bonus points because we know Raekwon could easily make a conventional, mainstream-looking “attractive” poster and get away with it. However, it’s also worth noting that there’s just something really genius about this image and design and I feel it extends beyond the DIY or “faux-DIY” aesthetic discussed by Shots Ring Out. If I saw this nailed to a lightpole in Baltimore it would pique my interest just as well (probably more, actually). I say that because this isn’t just a famous rapper “going back” and co-opting a low-budget style, it’s done with the same kind of cohesive but ugly genius that Wu Tang have honed since the beginning. The ‘C.R.E.A.M’ video isn’t just a cool low-budget video (the way ‘Protect Ya Neck’ is), ‘C.R.E.A.M’ uses the low-budget feeling to its complete advantage; it becomes it’s own, like style and not just “the best we could for a couple grand”.

Popular music and all popular art is inevitably tied to money and as a result, that “D.I.Y” sense, that acceptance of sloppiness, and messiness is a negative. It’s a ruse to keep weird people, people who don’t play the game (like Wu Tang) out- but occasionally, as Wu Tang’s 90s popularity suggested, this aesthetic breaks through. In a way, stuff like Soulja Boy and his Youtube popularity is a similar breakthrough Soulja Boy uses the Youtube aesthetic of his generation just as this ad uses a real location and uses people (is the coke-covered guy Rae? I can’t tell) that have some connection to that location, but still poses them without totally losing that sense of reality. It plays the corporate game of giving a specific audience exactly what they expect but unlike most corporate product, it gives the audience a little more than escape or fiction.

It also makes me think of many early 90s Southern rap covers more than it does 90s East Coast designs. The cover of ‘Mr. Scarface is Back’ in particular, in its ability to create a scene that is obviously staged but through well-wrought detail, feels even more real than maybe, an actual crime photo of a deal gone wrong. German movie director Werner Herzog called it “ecstatic truth”: “ecstatic truth…is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization” (301). Herzog is famous for taking his professional film crew and actors to some real-life crazy location and you know, making a movie. The truth, the reality is there in the location but he’s still altering it because he’s constructing some kind of fictional movie around it. Even if he uses “non-professional” actors, as in you know, he uses real Peruvians as the natives of Peru, they are in a movie, they are acting. So, there’s some weird unreality to the reality? Does that make sense?

This isn’t just fiction, staged and fake, there’s something weird going on. This little ad isn’t documentary real, it isn’t Hollywood staged, it falls somewhere in between and in a way, outside of that. It’s the same thing you get on the “skits” peppered throughout the classic Wu Tang albums, those snippets of conversation and argument, some of which are clearly just recorded conversations and some of which are ridiculously well-acted scenes and a few of which strive for some conventional, Hollywood sense of acting and melodrama but never fully embrace any of those distinctions.

-Cronin, Paul, ed. ‘Herzog on Herzog’. London: Faber & Faber, 2002.

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Raekwon, Wu Tang