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Aging Gracefully

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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

How Big Is Your World? Some New Rap

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-DJ Paul featuring Lord Infamous “She Wanna Get High”

You know that Todd Barry joke about how musicians always talk about how, on the next album, they’re gonna go “back to their roots”? Well this is Three-Six actually doing that—terrifying production, bad-ass album cover, lots of Lord Infamous—and better yet, not hyping it or promising anything special. Especially welcome is a return to the group’s odd social observation, where they for no reason necessary touch on some sort of wise reality of life and then base entire demonic club raps around it. Here, it’s how some vaguely “artsy” quiet chick’s pretty fucking nuts and’ll be really into “bumping” whatever’s passed their way, which is kinda true. Shit, it’s not Dreiser or nothing but it shows Paul’s thinking about stuff.

The vague Bollywood influence on the beat here is how Three-Six once sold-out, not by diving into a trend and losing themselves a la “Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)” but grabbing some tiny piece (usually the wrong piece too) of a trend and thinking that would be enough to make them superstars but not giving a shit when it doesn’t. Don’t doubt “She Wanna Get High” was made in light of Slumdog Millionaire’s success or M.I.A’s increased prominence.

-Gucci Mane “1st Day Out”

Titled “1st Day Out” instead of “I’m Back Bitch”, the song goes from another brilliant tiny details, funny punchlines Gucci/Zaytoven song to a moving, hard-headed description of his first day out of jail–It starts with “a blunt of purp”—that’s also, still a brilliant tiny details, funny punchlines Gucci/Zaytoven track. Those laundry list of cars and weapons and wealth are less Gucci talking shit and more an inventory of all the crap he’s not been around since he was gone or upon returning, is making sure is all still there. And the beat’s as paranoid and gleeful as Gucci himself.

The rest of the Gucci Glacier tape’s new-old songs and it would seem, upcoming collaborations, but it sounds a bit like the point before the point where Gucci stops being Gucci. Hopefully that’s wrong, but this is less the Black Eyed Peas coming to Gucci and more Gucci trying to enter into the world of regular “popular”, “good” rappers which means not being quite as interesting and sort of sounding like a guy who wants to be famous.

-Ciara “I Don’t Remember”

The new Ciara album’s bizarrely dated, like it should’ve dropped in 2007 when retro-futurism and House shit still felt sort of interesting and hadn’t reached its apotheosis with soul-less art student Pop from Lady Gaga. When the uh, fucking Chris Brown feature shows-up, it’s like “Really? You sure this album came out this week and not this week last year? You know he like, beat the hell out of his girlfriend a minute ago…” And then, Fantasy Ride ends with “I Don’t Remember”, a way too real “I got drunk and blacked-out” ballad.

“I Don’t Remember” is irredeemably confused and detail-oriented, like there’s no way to come out of this song not feeling fucked-up and sad and you just want it to stop really. It’s the running, morning-after monologue you have with yourself as you half-recall all the dumb shit you did or maybe didn’t do while drunk last night, only Ciara was maybe even raped?! Polow Da Don’s beat is wisely under-cooked and when it sort of builds-up, you don’t want it to because it’s just making the ugly truths of being drunk of your ass louder and more palpable.

-Benny Stixx “Being That Drunk”

The connection between this and “I Don’t Remember” was a coincidence, these are just the tracks I’m thinking about or listening to a lot this week (although this entire group makes a good mix, mail me, I’ll send you a zip if you want), but this is just a Baltimore Club expression of the same feeling. Ciara’s sort of quoting the melody and desperation of Mariah Carey’s “Hero” on “I Don’t Remember” and Baltimore’s Benny Stixx consults Petey Pablo for a dance song not as concerned with the girls in the club, rocking-off, or what brand of sorta kinda pricey liquor’s being ingested, but with the fucked-up feelings that fuel it all. When Baltimore Club takes-on the everyman confusion and minor failures of life (most famously: Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away”), it’s particularly invigorating.

Musically, “Being That Drunk” does all the right things as well, following the Club music blueprint when it should and going left-field at all the right moments too. The sparks of raucous vocals yelling-out “Yeah” and other gutteral shouts of approval and encouragement and the main shuffle of drums tie it to tradition but then, he bravely lowers the BPMs a tiny bit and there’s these weird-ass bells that zig and zag around Petey Pablo’s sing-song flow, like “Born to Run” turned Club.

-Camel “Skylines” (Live BBC Sight & Sound Concert)

Camel are one of those weird, straggler Progressive Rock groups, not quite artsy enough to get picked-up by avant-music fans and not straight-forward and poppy enough for Classic Rock, they’ve just sort of been loosely forgotten about or at least, slept-on. Let’s hope Camel’s straggler status is more appreciated now and thanks to this month’s reissues of Raindances, A Live Record, and Moonmadness, that might happen.

This is a live bonus track of “Skylines” but the joke about Camel is they’re these precise, jazzy weirdos and so they don’t do anything live except play a little faster and strike the drums a little harder. But their live sound is also just different enough to help them out a lot–if you get one Camel release, get A Live Record. The warmth of their music’s a little warmer and they can’t keep to metronome-timing quite as closely and so, these little peaks of humanity push through. “Skylines” just begins on one wandering sound of warmth, bounces to another, pauses for a beautiful whoosh of synths, punctuates the whole thing with proto-Drill n Bass drums, and wraps up. Not perfunctory by any means, but just like awesomely, transcendently, dipped in morphine, work-man like music. If you like Ratatat or Lindstrom and don’t like this more, you’re bullshit.

Written by Brandon

May 8th, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Three-Six Mafia & Juvenile "That’ll Work" (Produced by Alchemist)

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A-Team horns blast through the beginning of this beat and you’re like “Just another Alchemist almost-banger on some blissed-out blaxploitation shit…”, only it’s not because it’s taken over by sparks of something less analog: the theme from Halloween sent through Terry Riley synths (or the Phantom of the Opera drunk on Vault energy soda), pieces of Percolator drums, digital fuzz clipping in and out, and a chunk of very rigid and unfunky flickering back and forth bass. Where did this come from? This isn’t totally from left-field or anything but it’s pretty nuts.

Alchemist’s always had this kind of shit in him, but he’s never gone this far in sort of kind of rejecting his “style”, even if the rejection lasts only until Prodigy needs some more middling soul-bangers–although “Death Wish” on Jada’s album was on some other shit too.

“That’ll Work” though is cool because it’s made-up of the same elements that’ll be on the next Dilated Peoples album just stretched-out or chopped-up to a very different end. There’s a funk bassline, it’s just been destroyed and reorganized to stutter and flip-out instead of glide along…there’s patches of some ethereal probably-from-an-Italian-movie-OST vocals, just it comes in for like a quarter of a second–in only one of the speakers–and then trips out of the way. Even the sexy moans and hook might have their origins on one of those “Porno Sounds” break records.

Alchemist’s beat sounds like an attempt to match the menace and energy of Southern rap using the New York rap tools to do so. Or flashback to a time when style and sub-sub regional genres didn’t have to be protective and properly defined and wrapped up inside themselves and this could just be an early 90s Memphis or Bronx record.

Rapping-wise too, Three-Six and Juvenile are slightly out of their comfort zone, but out of it enough to where they’re challenged and interesting shit happens, not so far out that they’re no longer doing them. Juvie especially…maybe it’s that ficky-ficky quarter of a bassline that’s like a Dilla/Busta joint but it’s got that same kind of weird feel, but it’s Juvenile and Alchemist which makes a lot less sense.

Written by Brandon

April 30th, 2009 at 7:02 am

Sell-Out Songs that Hedge Their Bets

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Despite Three-Six Mafia’s growing fame for the wrong reasons–like an Oscar they shouldn’t have won and a really exploitative reality show– early signs of ‘Last 2 Walk’ were still promising. The new tracks were either good enough (‘Suga Daddy’, a collaboration with the Crime Mob girls) or just great (‘Doe Boy’s flange-crazy outro, ‘Like Money’s Godzilla-stomp). Even ‘I’d Rather’ featuring DJ Unk–the only one of these “singles” to actually make the album’s final cut– wasn’t on some ‘Walk It Out’ shit at all!

Then came ‘Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)’ an unquestionable cash-in on the auto-tune Akon/T-Pain takeover. It’s the kind of song pumped-out under record label pressure for a big hit that, because it was pumped-out to be a big hit, will never be one. The whole thing’s doubly depressing. It shows how desperate Three-Six want to be really big and the cluelessness of their record label. Moved into a bigger pool of fame and expectations because of a song called ‘It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp’, and best-known for songs about staying high and sipping syrup, knee-jerk label reaction was still to couch the group’s harder elements behind mega-clean vocodo-tune shine and ignore an almost-two decade career that precariously balanced mainstream popularity with street-level success (that’s the ideal model now that record sales are down, I thought…). ‘Lolli Lolli’ verified skepticism of ‘Last 2 Walk’. It seemed clear that the album’s early tracks had all been scrapped for an increased focus on OK Magazine collabos with Paris Hilton and Good Charlotte and maybe sorta quickly jump on the success of Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’.

‘Last 2 Walk’ finally saw release this past Tuesday and it’s neither the smash-it-up consistency of ‘Most Known Unknowns’ or 20 tracks of ‘Lolli Lolli’. It’s incredibly messy and all over-the-place, but it’s just a mediocre Three-Six album, not another hard-ass classic, and not the crunk, auto-tune, Hollywood/hood rap cash-in it could’ve been. If there’s a problem with ‘Last 2 Walk’, it’s that it tries so hard to not sound like Three Six haven’t gone Hollywood, that it comes off contrived integrity. Like, what two talking-head dopes for NPR would think an uncompromised Three-Six album sounds like. But whatever. ‘Last 2 Walk’ ultimately comes out way better than most of the fans I talk to expected it to (and it’s good to know that a Eightball and MJG, Al Kapone, and fucking DJ Spanish Fly songs exists).

Most interestingly, however, is the way ‘Lolli Lolli’s stuffed at the very end of the album, after a long-as-shit and hilarious ‘Outro’ and right before a remix of an unfortunate but not-awful, Good Charlotte collaboration, ‘My Own Way’. The song’s also weirdly contextualized by ‘Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body) Intro’, a sixteen-second skit between DJ Paul and Project Pat where they basically are like “Whew, time to go to the strip-club!”. Then, the song plays.

Stuck at the end of the album, and sort of subtly out-ed for being their big, dumb, sell-out song by the guys themselves, ‘Lolli’ doesn’t interrupt the flow or classic Three-Six sound on the album; it’s almost out of sight, out of mind. Still slapped on there for those few people who bought the album for this single, but not really a part of the album–it’s labelled as a “bonus track” on Amazon, for more “bonus” track fuckery see ‘Carter 3′ and ‘Late Registration’ but that’s a whole other post.–and therefore, not too offensive to die-hard fans.

It’s a bullshit compromise but it might be necessary for musicians to survive and it’s better than ‘Lolli Lolli’ fumbling between say, ‘Rollin’ and ‘Click Bang’ and being a total bonerkill. I’m reminded of the oft-discussed Roots/Fall-Out Boy song ‘Birthday Girl’. The Roots obviously have a more purist fan-base–although musically, the Roots and Three-Six’s devotion to mining their own sound album after album is really similar– and so, ‘Birthday Girl’ wasn’t so much ignored as it was totally shit-on by tough-minded fans (and pathetically defended by OkayPlayer dickriders). Within a week or so of all the fan derision, ?uestlove back-peddled and said ‘Birthday Girl’ wasn’t necessarily going to be on ‘Rising Down’ from the start and now, that possibility was official: It would be the “international single” and an iTunes exclusive. ‘Rising Down’ was better off without ‘Birthday Girl’, hopefully the Roots made some cash off of completist Fall-Out Boy fans that bought it on iTunes, and I’m left with the vague feeling that I got hustled by a group whose plans to sell-out blew-up in their face…

Written by Brandon

June 27th, 2008 at 6:03 pm

How Big Is Your World? Some Good New-ish Rap Songs

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-Playaz Circle featuring Lil Wayne – ‘Duffle Bag Boy’
Click here to watch the video for ‘Duffle Bag Boy’.

I could talk about the beat, I could talk about Playaz Circle’s ridiculous enthusiasm, but it’s Lil Wayne that makes ‘Duffle Bag Boy’. He doesn’t even rap, he just croons the chorus but I think I may prefer Wayne the singer (I’ve read about his Whitney Houston covers when performing live). What Wayne does on ‘Duffle Bag Boy’ is repeat the chorus with the same amount of chaos and fun as he does on his freestyles, croaking, crooning, and squeaking it out, a little different every time. It’s a typical music “trick” (deliver the chorus with increased passion each time) found on plenty of rock and soul songs but less on rap and pop songs. On rap and pop, the chorus following each verse is either repeated to sound as close to one another as possible, or the same chorus is pasted in, giving the song a symmetry between verses that makes it go down even easier. Wayne makes no such attempt at symmetry on ‘Duffle Bag Boy’ with the hook/taunt “Now go and getcha money little duffle bag boy” sounding and feeling different depending on his delivery. He sounds mocking on one chorus, forceful (as if he were ordering someone around) on another, and like it’s his last, dying words on the other.

It’s also long-as-shit for a hook, especially in the ad-lib crazy world of rap radio: “If I don’t do nothin’ I’m a ball/I’m countin’ all day like a clock on the wall/Now go and getcha money little duffle bag boy/Get Money!/Now, I ain’t never ran from a nigga/And I damn sure ain’t about to pick today to start runnin”. He even throws in that “Get money” ad-lib almost as an after-thought and not you know, the basis for a fucking song. Also, having a respected rapper sing the hook is a good idea for maintaining the balance of the song. There’s no awkward jump from “street” raps to Akon or female R & B singer and then back again.

And finally, add this song’s video to a growing list of great Southern rap videos that eschew narrative for a realistic but still exciting “day in the life…” or “here’s a few hours in the life of…” structure. ‘Stay Fly’ and ‘Throw Some Ds’ being the best ones…This one isn’t half-bad either- rapping in front of a ‘Stop N Shop’? That’s so good! Just one more way that the mindless anti-Southern rap types miss the point. With rap as big and grotesque as it now is, it is a political act to rap in front of a gas station.

-Median – ‘How Big Is Your World’
Click here to download ‘How Big Is Your World’.

This beat for Justus League rapper Median is a great example of 9th Wonder’s impressive production abilities. 9th really does get too much shit, undoubtedly his sticking to an archaic program like Fruity Loops and using soul samples that anybody could make into something awesome is cheap, but he’s one of the few “Underground” producers that actually produces. By produces, I mean he doesn’t just chop samples and organize them into beats, but does these little things that your ears may not even realize are happening but make you fall in love with a song. On ‘How Big Is Your World?’, it’s that slight change-up on those snares at the end of the measure or or the way he pulls that single-note pulse sound that echoes throughout into the forefront for the chorus and then drops it back into the warm, 70s soul haze for the verses. The thing that really made me go crazy about this song, production-wise, was that weird, crumbling, bassline that sounds like it’s both nimble and quick but being played by a guy wearing gardening gloves or something…plenty of producers can chop a good sample or make a hot loop, but most don’t waste their time with perfect mixing and other subtle details.

The song is an appeal for cognizance in the form of a non-judgmental but challenging question “How big is your world?” and ultimately, a song about self-reflection and moderation. Who are you affecting and how? Have you considered the consequences? The first line of the song, is the kind of too-easy to mock “concious” rap lyricism (“a tree died for me to scribe on this looseleaf”) but it’s also a microscopic understanding of one’s effect on the world and kind of loaded because fuck, you can’t not write on paper, so it goes beyond blame or prevention and into inevitability.

He sort of continues this sense of making rappers think of their effect on the world, be it the tree that made the paper bound in their notebook or the self-involved beefing that is so pervasive in rap, contrasting it with world events that you know, actually matter: “World trade terror/Now that’s true beef”. There’s a sincerity that begins with that smart demand for self-reflection and continues as the song bounces between the personal and the political and really does conflate the two. Median’s mother seems to be the (sorry) median where the person and political meet, as his voice quivers impassioned when he describes her living situation (“Now we got killers where my Momma be”) or her fucked-up working conditions (“Tryna get my mom out the factory job/Arthritis in her hands be makin’ her wrists throb”). It’s clear that she functions as a working-class everywoman as much as Median just giving you some affecting autobiography. I immediately thought of my retired Grandmother who still has arthritis because organizing greeting cards in Rite-Aids for 30 years sucks ass and Hallmark gave her a pretty shitty retirement plan.

Median also does the Kanye West thing that is quickly devolving into cliche, hinting at one’s flaws but I find them moving and real nonetheless. When he admits he was basically too busy “trying to find a freak” to concern himself with world politics, I’ll buy it. His half-joke about the other side of his personality, the “the one you’ve seen if [he's] ever played your ass” too is real without sounding forced. Those assertions too come across better because of Median’s flow which has a little of Lupe Fiasco’s “well-spoken but SASSY” style to it but is also quieter and more modest.

-Three-Six Mafia – ‘Like Money’
Click here to download ‘Like Money’.

With all the talk of Kanye or Timbo’s futuristic production, DJ Paul and Juicy J drop a beat as “next-level” as anything on ‘Graduation’ or ‘Futuresex’. The high-pitched scratching, catchy guitar riff, and to-be-expected hyper-complex drums programming that counters and complements itself, are all forced through this oppressive layer of flange and echo that destroys anything you listen to before or after it. Dig those clipped “drums” that coincide with DJ Paul’s “I look-I look”. I say “drums” and not drums because I don’t even think that’s any kind of conventional percussion, it’s like they threw some of Ben Burtt’s ‘Star Wars’ sound effects into the ol’ MPC and went crazy. I don’t think any rap group out there can match Three Six’s integrity. Dudes win an Oscar, get a reality show, and still make songs that sound like this. You know that crazy outro freak-out on ‘Doe Boy Fresh’? Well that’s what this whole song sounds like.

These guys sure do have a funny way of selling-out. Juicy J’s verse about doing coke and being paranoid is great as usual and really sort of off-sets one’s expectations of the song about money, from guys who really seem to be getting paid now that they have an Oscar. I’m not saying it’s some Kanye-ish “money doesn’t make everything great” statement but I’m not saying it isn’t either. What pushes Three Six above so many other Southern party-rappers (besides their production) is how weird and disinterested in being cool they are. Outdated slang, weird-uncool chants (“just look at me dummy”??)…you get a real sense of who these guys are and how they speak and think through their music.

There’s also a version with The Game on it that I think will show up on the album but I haven’t fucked with it because this version is too good.

-Bruce Springsteen – ‘Radio Nowhere’
Clickhere to watch the video for ‘Radio Nowhere’.

Not a rap song but I won’t front- I like this song. “The Boss” along with probably U2 and Led Zeppelin, are responsible for my general contempt for “rock n’roll” and inability to ever fully embrace it. In the past few years, I’ve grown something of an affinity for Springsteen and repeatedly tried to get into his music. I’ll hear a song, seek out the album and quickly grow tired of his forced accents, condescending idealization of the working-class, and E-Street overproduction…I dunno, Springsteen is just kind of a goon be it his all-American rocker phase or his poor man’s Dylan phase that elitist fans cite when jokes are made about “Clarence”…

So, funny I’d enjoy this song because it’s sort of this old-man rocker that even focuses on the theme of radio’s demise and goofily invokes America (“the last lone American night”) but the guitars totally do it for me. It reminds me of The Replacements or something, that kind of uplifting but depressed sound; it’s got a good tone which is important on a rock song. Springsteen also totally sells the song, delivering it with enough passion to match the guitars, those fucking guitars! You know it’s a good riff and a good tone when it’s able to recover the song after a saxophone solo!

When he sings “I just wanna hear some rhythm” it’s desperate, like Michael Stipe ‘Country Feedback’ “I need this” desperate but it’s not you know, pathetically desperate more like, “Godammit, I wanna hear this, right now” which to me is easier to relate to; it’s the same hard-ass vulnerability of Weezy’s “I ain’t never ran from a nigga/And I damn sure ain’t about to pick today to start runnin”- BUT…If all Brucio wants to hear is “some rhythm” then why doesn’t he just Crank Dat Soulja Boy?

or crank dat Ryu?
or (my favorite) crank dat Lion King?
or, I know he’s getting up there in age, so maybe he should crank dat Grandpa?

Written by Brandon

September 24th, 2007 at 6:35 am

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DJ Screw – Anniversary Day.

“On ‘Anniversary Day’, Screw’s work perfectly compliments the lyrical visions and sonic soundscapes. Equal parts hypnotic and narcotic, this tape sounds as serious as impending doom…with an apocalyptic legacy, but also as vital as what is out there today. Call it a fitting soundtrack to today’s times.”-from the back cover of ‘Anniversary Day’

Everyone is familiar with chopped-and-screwed music; its commonplace to get a generally weak chopped-and-screwed “bonus” disc when you buy any number of southern rap albums. ‘Anniversary Day’ which just seems to be Point Blank’s album ‘The Bull’ under a different name, isn’t one of those sounds-like-they-were-screwed-in-a-few-hours discs, it’s something totally different. I bought it about a month ago, primarily because of the cool cover, the description quoted above, and a working knowledge of DJ Screw. I just had a good feeling about it. It’s since become one of my absolute favorites, not music you enjoy, not music that sounds cool, but music that really does feel vital, that doesn’t seem like it will ever leave your collection.

First, this incredibly strange and powerful and downright fucking scary album shows you just how weird regionalism can be. What I mean by that is, when places are cut-down into their hermetically-sealed subcultures, be that subculture outlined by state lines or street numbers or how you dress, some really strange stuff can be commonplace. DJ Screw apparently made millions of dollars off of these tapes and it is very, very strange to think of something resembling a lot of people driving around, listening to this stuff. I immediately think of Baltimore’s own John Waters and how some of the most square and conservative (with a lower-case C!) people have seen his early, super-weird films, which means they’ve seen a transvestite eat real dog shit or a guy open and close his asshole to the tune of ‘Surfin’ Bird’…everybody in Baltimore knows of John Waters. That’s weird just like it is weird that anything resembling a significant amount drove around enjoying screwtapes.

On the topic of regionalism, screwed music is just one of many equally popular and equally bizarre forms of Southern production. The doom and gloom is way more obvious in chopped-and-screwed but it shows up in the buzz-saw synths of ‘Pop, Lock, and Drop It’ or the sicko marching band sounds of Crime Mob. Three-Six Mafia, when they were Triple-Six-Mafia sounded satanic and rapped satanic and while “my cross turns upside down” has turned into ‘Ass & Titties’ and a reality show, the music has never lost sight of that menace. I think people respond to Southern rap not only because it is undeniably fun but also because, whether they realize it or not, there is a disturbing air of menace to the music.

There’s something very harsh in so much Southern rap, a harshness that outweighs its lyrical shortcomings and still allows the music to emotionally affect the listener. All of the best dance and party music does not stop at just being good for booty shaking, it’s often political or social or emotional or just something else. Southern rap does this too. An initial hearing may get you dancing but each listen can unravel layers of sadness and joy, or awkwardness or death or whatever.

The music sounds like what its actually like to party or club. It isn’t the time of your life exactly, it’s fun but weird, anything can happen, good or bad. Drugs and alcohol are of course, a crucial part of partying and Southern rap often matches the feeling one has after too many shots or too many hits or both and then some- nowhere is this more apparent than in the music of DJ Screw, which is pretty much completely designed to be listened to with sips or purple or syrup or sizzurp or whatever they call it in your town.

While it’s hardly the party music of pre-crunk or crunk music, screwed music was designed for listening while messed-up or driving around, which is most people’s definition of a “party” anyway. The music, like club music or any kind of music really, is developed and created with the thought of being listened to under very specific conditions. Everything about this music points in the direction of blowing your mind wide open as you nod off from too much of something you’re not supposed to ingest.

The music isn’t exactly fun, or rather, the fun is firmly rooted in the danger, confusion, and abuse that the drug brings on. Purple is a drug beyond recreational fun and escape, because for an hour or so, it sends you into some limbo between painkiller-esque relaxation and end-of-the-world fear. There’s something truly apocalyptic-feeling about ‘Anniversary Day’ and unlike most contemporary party/hang-out Southern rap, the lyrics add to rather than conflict with this feeling.

On the first song on the album, ‘The Bull’, the chorus is “I ain’t crazy I’m just ig’nant” which shows a ridiculous amount of emotional understanding. ‘Straighten It Out’ a song about going to prison and getting-out, is equally honest. My favorite line is “Hell, three years ain’t that long/It’ll give me some time to write a whole lot of songs”; the kind of thought any creative person seriously confronting prison-time would think. ‘After I Die’ which has some dinosaur-stomp record scratching and a drunk-off-its-ass horn part, envisions Blank’s (or his narrator’s) death and just how little it will really matter: “My son don’t know about the tragic/He just crying because they won’t let em’ play in my casket.” This shit isn’t club friendly, its not really anything friendly; one can’t “enjoy” this music by any conventional definition of “enjoy”.

I recall once, partaking in way too much of said drug and seriously feeling like I was going to have a heart attack. Sweat was pouring from my face, the space between my lip and nose (your face taint?) was moist, sweat was getting in my eyes, and I was inside, mid-winter. I peeled myself off the couch of my friend’s and stumbled into his bathroom where I proceeded to lie on the floor as my heart beat so fast it felt like it was going to dislocate my shoulder. DJ Screw’s death was on my mind as I put my face on the tile because at that point, I was half-convinced I was maybe going to die of a purple-induced heart attack. I slowly decided I wasn’t going to die but probably needed to go to the hospital and eventually, after fucking crawling into my friend’s yard, I cooled-down and felt close enough to a human to go back downstairs and watch the rest of the episode of ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’they were watching. That is what this album sounds like. This constant pull between lucidity and total fucked-up-ness. When your ears finally adjust to the syrupy-thick slowness of the tracks, Screw will give you a track that’s a faster pace or he’ll throw in a scary sound effect (a phone dialing on ‘Wreckless’, a glass breaking on ‘Wanna Get Tha Blanksta’) or he’ll just keep bringing back a poignant or well-delivered line until it seeps into your mind and makes you feel like the walls of your room or the interior of your car is going to collapse on top of you.

Written by Brandon

June 11th, 2007 at 7:29 am

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‘Adventures in Hollyhood’: Not As Bad As It Could Be.

I finally caught an episode of the Three-Six Mafia reality show ‘Adventures in Hollyhood’. The Spring break teaser, featuring a bunch of college bitches giving Paul and Juicy cunty looks for 30 minutes was pretty depressing. That episode, coupled with Tom Breihan’s entry pretty much verified my fears about the show being typical reality-show fare. Breihan’s post caused a fairly interesting message-board debate that began when a few people snarkily asked: How could one be surprised when a group like Three-Six Mafia are portrayed on television as dumb and clownish? Breihan’s actual point was simply that the show does little in presenting them as anything more than goofs who had success fall into their laps. In reality, Three-Six Mafia are hardly the music industry n00bs that reality-show editing shows them to be. They have remained consistent and highly visible for more than a decade; their devotion to making music is inarguable. What can be debated and sort of was debated in the comments section, is the artistic qualities (or lack thereof) of Three-Six Mafia. I was surprised to find that this week’s episode of the show, whether intentional or not, did reveal some insight into Three-Six’s creative processes or at least validated them as human beings.

To begin, yes, there are plenty of problems with ‘Adventures in Hollyhood’ beginning with the title and extending to, Three-Six’s “assistants” Computer and Big Triece, who have something of an ‘Amon N’ Andy’ routine going on, but the episode I saw where Paul and Juicy prepare an artist showcase through Warner Brothers, didn’t seem particularly bad or offensive. If anything, Juicy J and DJ Paul came off looking pretty good. Certainly they are presented as being much more new to the music and even Hollywood game than they really are but even so, the show, like some of the early episodes of ‘The White Rapper Show’ can’t remove the subjects’ dignity no matter how hard it tries. I know…I know…a bunch of assholes and a guy that raps worse than Weird Al will say “Three-Six Mafia? Dignity?” but bear with me here…

The sort of reoccurring joke of the episode is Computer and Big Triece, popping up like the black comic relief in a Hollywood comedy, to present their questionable rapping and writing abilities. We see them chanting “Whatcha starin’ at? /I ain’t a mirror” in their bedroom and we see them embarrassingly performing this chant and nothing more (no rap), in front of a bunch of people who immediately realize it’s garbage. Later in the episode, they present two hooks “Don’t step on my feet/ I won’t step on yours” and “Where I’m at?/In the hood/Where I’m at?/On the corner” which are met by laughs and dismissals from Juicy and Paul. In an earlier scene, Paul plays a legitimately hilarious beat made up of fart samples, telling the assistants to rap on it. What is interesting is how both Paul and Juicy at the same time, without hesitation, can dismiss these guys’ songs, showing that there’s some aesthetic understanding between the two. The line between Computer and Triece’s hooks and those recorded by Three-Six Mafia is rather thin but it does exist and it has been internalized by Juicy and Paul.

The scenes of Computer and Triece’s music try-outs are probably set-up, written by a room of writers along with Paul and Juicy and Computer and Triece, but “fake” or not, they present an interesting contrast. Computer and Triece are the embodiment of what many think Three-Six Mafia are like. Actually dumb, actually irresponsible…Paul and Juicy are shown dealing with Computer and Big Triece, having to force them to act responsibly. DJ Paul simply tells them “Y’all gotta cut this crap out” while Juicy J takes some of the blame, admitting that he encouraged the jokes but now it has gone too far. “Too far” is not the phrase many would even expect to be in the vocabulary of Juicy J. It might even seem like a paradox coming from the guy who wrote ‘Tear Da Club Up’ but it shows why they are not exclusively the crazy thugs they portray on record. This proves that they are indeed, on some level creating something, thinking about the music they make: they know what it isn’t when they hear it. When Lil Wyte is trying to write a new song for the Warner Brothers showcase, he tries out some lyrics for Juicy and Paul and when one song invokes “hip hop” they immediately shake their heads, informing him that most people don’t want to hear songs about hip-hop, which is of course true. This aesthetic could be cynically interpreted as “songs about hip-hop don’t sell” but I think it has more to do with the navel-gazing aspects of such songs. Paul and Juicy are wonderfully populist in the sense of concerning themselves with what will sell but always on their own terms. This is why they are okay with the song Lil Wyte eventually performs being about “slappin’ a sucka” or something like that. It is why the ‘Doe Boy Fresh’ video is some weird comment on rap being co-opted…if these guys are only interested in selling-out, they do a pretty horrible job.

Written by Brandon

April 18th, 2007 at 12:48 am

Posted in Three Six Mafia