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The Quiet Return of Cam’ron


If there was any doubt as to who is the true weirdo of Dipset, Cam’ron’s recent return in the form of a weird, near-Andy Kaufman-like video and two equally bizarre songs (‘Glitter’ and ‘Just Us’) should settle things. Jim Jones is hanging out with Rick Rubin and Juelz Santana is showing up on good but sorta “meh” songs like DJ Khaled’s ‘Brown Paper Bag’. Other than Hell Rell’s wonderfully retarded album cover, the obnoxious flair that made me love Dipset is gone, until now, with this recent wave of purposefully underwhelming and depressive Cam stuff.

In the aforementioned video, Cam literalizes his absence by compiling a bunch of faked “Cam sightings” videos, making himself like some kind of Rap Sasquatch or something. The videos are obviously fake and really hilarious as the cameraman in pretty much everyone of them, is like “Yo, that’s Cam!”. Be it Cam talking to a friend at like 1 in the afternoon next to a kinda crappy car or grabbing the ass of a kinda fat chick, this is obviously supposed to be funny. Later in the video, the cameraman chases Cam to a rooftop and Cam proceeds to pop-up like the goddamn Batman and shoot the guy! Perhaps the best part is towards the end, as we see Cam’ron in Halloween-style Army Fatiques (with helmet!) aimlessly wandering around a graveyard, as a chopped-up-so-he-says-bad-things audio file of the President plays and then segues into the fucking theme from the A-Team! It’s really great and it’s also fun in the way that it really plays around with Cam’s image as a fallen rap-soldier and a guy who has lately, out of embarrassment avoided the spotlight.

Cam has totally embraced the image everyone now has of him, as this wounded, in-over-his-head rapper that maybe ruined his career in un-winnable beefs, embarrassing Youtube taunts, and silly ‘60 Minutes’ interviews. God only knows what is truly in the heart of Cameron Giles but all of that stuff to me, seemed like classic Dipset pranksterism that because people took it seriously at all, got a little out of control and now, rather than fight it or try to over-explain himself, Cam’s “comeback” is in the form of playing off his damaged ego, dodgy musical output, and hints of being batshit crazy.

On that first leaked track ‘Glitter’, he’s heard ending his chorus with “I shine…” in a way that’s like Al Bundy recalling his Polk high days without totally giving in to resignation because it’s still “I shine” and not “I shined”, you know? The chorus, spoken by “a two year old in a diaper…filled with shit” who asks why he’s wearing so much jewelry is a pretty weird way of reminding listeners that he’s got a lot of diamonds: To a two-year old, diamonds and shit probably look pretty silly, so it’s sort of subtly mocking. The detail that the diaper is “filled with shit” is unnecessary but adds a reality that plays against but ultimately works along with Cam’s cartoonish persona. For the first leaked track from your mixtape, to sound so down and continually return to this image of something filled with shit all over a really great beat, that is sort of slow, almost ambient-sounding with drums that certainly sound defeated, is telling.

The track that seemed to pop-up yesterday, ‘Just Us’ sounds even more desperate, based on a sample of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. The Journey song has been forever recontextualized by the series finale of ‘The Sopranos’ and Cam is playing into that at least a little bit…this image of a getting a little older, made too many mistakes, sorta paranoid Tony Soprano would certainly resonate with Cam. At the same time, it fits right in-line with Dipset’s long history of sampling out-there, super-obvious songs. A few people made snarky jokes about how it probably wasn’t a good idea for Cam to name his first leaked track after a song that is synonymous with Mariah Carey’s initial fall from grace but again, I can’t help but think Cam’ron is aware of this and playing off of it; Cam is either in or creating the image that he’s in his ‘Glitter’ period.

On ‘Just Us’, Cam somehow reaches into that Journey song and pulls-out an appropriate amount of sadness. Jones, Juelz and whoever else is/was in Dipset can all make good or fun songs and they can do hilarious or weird but it’s really only Cam that has the talent or the awareness to throw in some really affecting stuff as well. The image of it just being “just us” contains that heart-on-the-sleeve, end-of-the-world romance that Journey lifted from Springsteen and moved it into the world of melodrama, Cam grabs onto it and takes it even further. That first verse where he describes meeting the woman “who hates a pusha” is straight out of Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’ or something and Cam’s lists of the woman’s problems are well-wrought: breast cancer, son has sickle cell, etc. The whole song is full of lines and details like this that I won’t take the time to explain (just listen to the song!) but it’s all weirdly affecting and darkly funny. The emotion and comedy is best conflated when he describes Brenda, who is 31 (is there a sadder, more-real age than 31??) and then says he “gave her a sanchez, yeah a dirty one” and like that, anything you maybe felt about the song is changed. Cam is purposefully making himself look like an ass, playing with recent pop-culture images of self-destruction, and his own mistakes and making failure a new part of his persona.

Written by Brandon

October 31st, 2007 at 7:33 pm

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On ‘The Sopranos’ Ending…

My connection to ‘The Sopranos’ has primarily been as a bonding experience with my father. I’ve enjoyed watching him enjoy the show a great deal more than I enjoy the show itself. ‘The Sopranos’ seems to be one of the few things he seems really interested in; it gets his gears turning and often leads to actual conversation. I withhold my snarky comments because all of my qualms with the show are personal taste.

I dislike the smarty-pants intertextual references and the super-obvious, mildly clever ironies. For example, in an episode a few weeks ago, we saw A.J and friends sitting on a porch listening to rap music only to then, a few minutes later get into an altercation with a black kid, wherein they beat him up and call him a “nigger”. Very clever. This same episode featured Tony driving around listening to ‘The Departed’ soundtrack and even having the characters fucking comment on how good the soundtrack is. I find it all a bit too much. I’m not into “clever” dialogue and bad-ass music cues and cool, shock violence (Phil Leotardo run over by an S.U.V) but watching it with my father is very fun.

I see why he enjoys the show even if it has me internally rolling my eyes. Occasionally, the show does something genuinely moving and amazing and that, coupled with connecting with my father, makes it “worth” watching. This week, in the final episode, I sat there amazed and moved by the same final scene that pissed-off so many others.

When something ends ambiguously that is how it is supposed to end. That is to say, there is no definitive ending that you are supposed to go back and “figure-out”. This is the biggest misconception about ambiguity, that it is a throw down by the creator, that it is a puzzle you are supposed to interpret and solve. No, the point of an ambiguous ending is ending it, cutting it off before anything definitive has happened, leaving the possibility of anything happening. When people read into the ending as Tony is shot, it is no more valid than suggesting that he’s about to be abducted by aliens or that the onion rings were poisoned.

Tony is probably going to die, be indicted, or keep on living the same half sad-ass life he’s been living since the show premiered. What more do you need to know? We live in an intellectually-corrupt film world where puzzle pictures like ‘Memento’ or ‘Old Boy’ are considered “genius” and unearned, cynical endings are embraced. If the episode ended with Tony getting a bullet in the head or Tony being pulled-off by the feds it wouldn’t be any less ambiguous because then you’d want to see how he reacts or his family reacts or what happens and none of that could be summed up in a single episode or even, a single season.

At the same time, I’m sympathetic to those frustrated by the ending. Not for the reasons that it isn’t satisfying because if you have a working brain, it’s pretty perfect, but because the exact presentation of that ending could be better. I am not frustrated by nothing happening, I’m frustrated by David Chase’s inability to not be “clever”. It is apparently impossible for Chase to resist sticking in a few weird things to drum-up multiple interpretations.

The first one for me, which does not seem to be addressed by anything I’ve read, is when Tony first enters the diner. He walks in, scopes the place out and then we cut in for a medium close-up of Tony’s face. Strangely, the next cut is a basic film-school “no-no” as it cuts to a wide-shot of Tony sitting-down. The wide-shot seems to be from the angle shown in the previous shot where Tony scoped-out the diner. It is subtle but anyone aware of editing can’t help but read the succession of shots as Tony entering the diner and watching himself. What does this mean? I don’t know but given Chase’s reputation, it may lead some viewers into thinking it’s a strange dream sequence or out-of-body experience.

I think the tension built through the scene is wonderfully done and playfully suspenseful rather than obnoxiously so. We are truly in Tony’s brain during the scene, as each person entering the diner is anticipated because it’s someone about to ice him or it’s one of his family members. Even after watching the end a dozen times, I still find myself feeling weird when the Members Only jacket guy slightly turns towards Tony. I find myself going insane as Meadow tries to parallel park and keeps fucking it up. Where the scene fails and I think, why I sympathize with those disappointed by the ending, is that it cuts-off too early. I know this is the point but it would be equally effective and significantly less obnoxious if we were allowed to see Meadow come in and sit down and then given a close-up of Tony wherein his look is nearly ambiguous and then… roll credits.

The ending too, might even work if it simply played-out as it does but without the insanely pretentious moments-of-black-without-sound that precede the final credits. This too, feels like an affront; the fuck you or “joke” that so many have since accused Chase of doing. Cutting directly to the credits without music would again, serve the same purpose. It is not the ambiguous ending as a concept, nor is it any single aspect of the ending, it is the series of mild missteps that occur in the otherwise powerful ending that make it frustrating. However, even these criticisms are minor in comparison to the overwhelming strength of the final few minutes of ‘The Sopranos’.

I have not felt so emotional, so affected by a climax since Michael Mann’s ‘Miami Vice’. A series of well-orchestrated actions and shots illustrating how great and how fucked everything is, all set to Mogwai’s ‘Auto Rock’. My description, an illustration of how great and how fucked everything is, sums up the end of ‘The Sopranos’ as well. Only it’s all set to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ a song, that if drop your irony mask, can totally destroy you. It’s why David Chase is not a total idiot like Quentin Tarantino: he has moments of daring brilliance that move beyond clever-ness and into well-rendered emotional drama. Tony is holding on, you are holding on, I am holding on, all we can really do in this life is hold onto some belief about something, anything. The show has always wavered between ironic distance and true empathy with Tony and others and in this final scene, Chase makes the right choice, falling entirely on the side of empathy.

If the final scene must be “interpreted” on any level, I would move in the direction of saying the purpose of the scene is to put you fully in Tony’s brain; to fully empathize with him. For some reason, I’m involved in a pretty pointless debate about R. Kelly and pedophilia and really, my only point is, it is important to never forget the humanity of even the worst people. We need to relate to scumbags. That is what this final scene does and what ‘The Sopranos’ when it is successful, has been doing since Season One. Shit is complicated. Just because Tony’s a criminal and a killer does not mean he does not have deep feelings. Just because he fucks a stripper in Vegas (and countless others) does not mean he does not love his wife and family. That is what this final scene is about. We all have regrets and experiences and dreams and plans and they all weigh us down and freak us out and lift us up and keep us going.

Chase knows viewers will take-in every detail and gesture and magnify it because it is the last scene of the last episode. He takes advantage of this by making every gesture loaded with meaning, but not cutesy symbolism or puzzle-solving but pathos. It begins with the Journey song, those somber piano chords and lyrics invoking a “lonely world”, and continues when Carmela enters because we the viewers, know their relationship history. Tony may be comforted by his wife at this moment, glad to see her even, but it runs deeper than that because their marriage problems cannot be ignored.

To illustrate Tony’s paranoia but also to give us some kind of ‘Mrs. Dalloway’-esque sense of human interconnected-ness, we get shots of other diner patrons. Some looks like they might shoot Tony, others are there with family, others are on a date. The shots of the young couple laughing and smiling, which is shown more than once, holds a great deal of weight because it contrasts with Tony and Carmela’s deep, at-best bittersweet and at-worst disastrous relationship. That young, laughing couple, is what Tony and Carmela may have once been or maybe never were but wanted to be, it doesn’t matter- it’s just that the young couple are at a purer state of being; before shit starts to fuck up. Given Tony and Carmela’s age and their location in New Jersey, it’s possible that Journey was “their song” when they were dating. I know it was my mother and father’s “song”.

When A.J enters, right behind potential shooter in a Members Only jacket, we get the same feeling as Tony. Initially, it’s fear of the Members Only guy and then joy, at it not being a shooter (for now) and joy because he’s seeing his son. A.J sits down and Tony playfully hands his son a menu, touches his hand, and jokes about steak. This is what Tony and a lot of dads do to connect with their sons, fuck-around with them; it takes on greater emotional weight because Tony feels like it might be the last time he gets to joke with his son. Why Chase chooses to break this pattern by never giving us Tony’s response to Meadow I do not know. However, we are still put in Tony’s place as we see her attempts at parallel parking. Meadow’s poor parking, is presented as a foible, it’s nearly touching the way she tries to do it and keeps messing-up. She isn’t supposed to be an idiot, we respond to it the way Tony, her father, would, with frustration and impatience, mixed with sincere understanding and acceptance. A similar acceptance is shown when Carmela tells Tony that Meadow will be late because she is changing birth control. We see Tony, a father, a conventional one, reminded of the reality that his daughter fucks dudes. It does not make him angry, he understands!

I can’t help but connect the ending to my father, something of a Tony Soprano-type himself. Tony’s dignified resignation, mixed with an unflinching, hard-ass-ness and facing the facts; be it because he might get shot-up or that his son A.J is sort of a dope or that his daughter takes birth control, all reminds me of my father’s own mix of unflappable dignity and unintentional vulnerability. All this shit is goes on, you can feel it all, weighing down on you or keeping you alive or both and much more and at the same time, “real” life is just Journey and onion rings. While “regular” people chose to dismiss the ending as disappointing and nonsense and the television critics began thinking of witty one-line pans and random, anti-intellectual attacks, my father and I sat back, our minds half-blown because a television show we watched to laugh at and get-off on when someone gets whacked, maybe just sort-of defined exactly how we feel.

Written by Brandon

June 13th, 2007 at 7:51 am