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The Most Random Rap: Pizza Connection – "Free John Gotti"


Yesterday, on the Howard Stern show, clips from a rap song called “Free John Gotti” by a group called Pizza Connection, consisting of current Stern show writer Sal Governale and some other goofyball Italian teen into hip-hop living in Long Island in the early 90s, was played and endlessly clowned. If Sal and his Pizza Connection buddy ever got some tapes or records pressed of this, it’d be some kind of “Oh my god” random rap collector’s item. Some guy in Japan would drop $40 bucks on it.

“Free John Gotti”s got a real hip-house influence, by which I mean, it has some cornball keyboard lines and some god-awful Big Daddy Kane approximation hyper-enunciated raps over top of it. That said, it’s a pretty fascinating misreading. Two ethnic Long Island kids reaching into all the politically-minded hip-hop of the era and grafting it onto the culturally protective, gravely misinformed dinner-table talk of their parents.

I also included the audio from the show, because of the heavy thicket of context you get via Sal Governale when he’s grilled about this bizarre song. In terms of perception about hip-hop and snitching and politics, this is fun for showing the way every tightly-knit group of peoples has very similar, self-destructive and self-preserving codes about snitching and protecting one’s own, etc. Also: Pizza Connection is a dope fucking name.

further reading/viewing:
-”Chicago Hip-House Documentary 1989″ off YouTube
-”I Pissed On a Girl” by Sal Governale
-”My Wife” by Sal Governale
-”The Departed & “Thief’s Theme” by ME

Written by Brandon

September 10th, 2009 at 4:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Madlib, Cutting-Edge Producer.


Noticed that Madlib’s on the cover of the latest issue of Wire magazine and this, coupled with the hub-bub about Passion of the Weiss’ whatever whatever “Top 50 Rap Albums of the 2000s” list has me thinking it’s 2003 again–when you know, making an argument for why rap that wasn’t exactly capital-R rap was just as awesome was a new enterprise or something. When I’d have to explain to people that got in my car that indeed, my enjoyment of Three-Six Mafia wasn’t just because I hadn’t yet been exposed to El-P and The Roots. It was years-festering frustration with that sort of thing that really got this blog rolling.

Anyways–why isn’t Zaytoven on the cover of Wire? Bangladesh for “A Milli” alone? Or if it’s legacy, well I already bitched about Juicy and Paul covering the magazine. Surely that shit’s roving around the sounds of Reich or Riley (and Rubin and Rick Rock and RZA too) much more than Madlib’s stoner boom-bap. Imagine Dilla without the craft or the context. The point is, rap’s really weird and awesome and still kinda folk-oriented because it’s often in the mainstream or close to mainstream that all the brain-busting stuff’’s going on.

That’s to say, totally normal people are dancing every night to the melancholy electronics and sound-effect percussion of “Turn My Swag On”…and obsessing over the wordplay of Gucci or Lil Wayne. Even something like the layers of corporate-sheen synths heard on a Runners track has more in common with a group like The Skaters (also featured in this month’s Wire) than Madlib’s stuff.

Ignoring this hyper-mainstream avant-garde or wandering around it to celebrate Grind Date or the mannered dystoproduction of El-P or the third-generation mumbles of Aesop Rock or MF Doom, is odd when an avant-garde and a sincerity deeper and kinder’s no longer bubbling up out-of-reach on cassettes and mixtapes but becoming the dominant musical force for the entire decade.

It’s similar to the critical think-pieces that highlighted “the death of irony” or a “new sincerity” in art during the 2000s as if being sincere and real, not being ironic, wasn’t how much of the world has lived for most of time. Suddenly, Madlib or El-P grafts some explicitly weird weirdness onto their beats and the motherfuckers doing this in their basement for years get pushed to the side. De La twirl around in their own assholes and people gulp it down like its Buhloone Mindstate. Huh?

This isn’t anything new, but it’s an extension of something connected to the significance of provincialism/regionalism–it’s always been the provincials that create that new new shit–and the reality that regular ol’ people are the ones setting trends and it’s the hip, cool, and with-it that follow.

Written by Brandon

August 8th, 2009 at 4:34 am

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Missing From Rap: Goofball MCs

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The other day in an article about DJ Broke’s 90s hip-hop mix, Sasha Frere-Jones tossed-in as a kind of aside, that the “goofball” M.C, one of the definitive “types” in 90s hip-hop, is now “a category that’s almost defunct”.

Maybe I’m projecting, but I sense a deep sadness in that statement–more so than the mention of Redman and the lack of punchline rappers a few sentences later–and it’s something that saddens me too. It feels like a further stamping out of original voices and ideas, the removal of vulnerability or personal expression in an increasingly corporatized blah blah blah, and while that’s not all it is, it’s certainly a big part.

The biggest reason the rap goofball’s fallen by the wayside it seems, is because everybody’s trying to be funny or weird. When one of the biggest R & B songs on the radio’s called “Birthday Sex” and two of the biggest rappers are Kanye West (who got his start as conscious rap goofball) and Lil Wayne (who’s slowly developed into the weirdest pop star maybe kinda ever), and the elastic-flowed Gucci Mane is the street rapper, there’s not a lack of humor or personality out there, but there’s still something missing about today’s rap weirdos (versus yesterday’s rap goofballs).

What’s missing is risk. The current wave of less serious rap and R & B’s too in on the joke, too ironic in a VH1 “Best Week Ever” way and there’s really nothing at-stake or implicative about the music. There’s just no place in popular rap for actual jokes and self-effacing humor or unquantifiable weirdness and that’s a big problem. Everyone’s with-it, everyone’s told the rapper’s being kind of wacky or “really killing it crazy-lyrically right now” and while I’m less apt to think rap music overall is suffering, rap that lots and lots of people get to hear really needs some goofballs right now.

See, Count Bass D or J-Zone are cool and all, but some left-field rap jokers operating in an indie or underground scene just sorta make sense and don’t have the resonance or importance of say, a Biz Markie or ODB because they were (are?) fairly mainstream. Same reason say, Iron Man is more important than the next Kiarostami film, you dig? One has a real-world effect on stuff, one just doesn’t.

But the bigger problem at this point is that a rap goofball just can’t achieve mainstream success. Young Dro’s pretty weird, Fonzworth Bentley’s hilarious, Lil B’s batshit crazy, 88 Keys made a really fucking funny concept-album, but none of these dudes will be superstars or even want to be superstars and if you’re not a superstar in rap right now or you don’t have this week’s co-sign from The New Music Cartel, you’re dead in the water. And that’s a shame.

Written by Brandon

May 30th, 2009 at 8:57 am

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NO TRIVIA’S Dilla Donuts Month Starts Sunday


So, starting tomorrow February 1st, and into the early days of March, each day here’s going to be devoted to a different track from Donuts with thoughts by myself and some others. It should be fun and it’s not too late for every and anybody to contribute, either by e-mailing me your essay, anecdote, dream, freestyle, whatever or even just sticking it in the comments section. It should be fun.-brandon

Written by Brandon

January 31st, 2009 at 5:00 am

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Uptown, Downtown, and Blah Blah Blah

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The “difference” between say, Rammellzee or Fab 5 Freddie hanging out with Bruno Bischofberger or showing up at No-Wave shows and Jay-Z rapping with a Santogold hook or Jim Jones rapping over MGMT is deeper and sadder than Noz’s point that once, “those hipsters went uptown for coolness. Those rappers went downtown for money and exposure” and now it’s the other way around.

Namely, neither side, “cool” or “money-making” is doing a lot of inspired or interesting work. There’s this dreary toilet bowl apocalypse sound to Kanye’s “Swagger Like Us” beat and indeed, 808s turned out not to be a grab for the rockist, but a big, weird, album that doesn’t fit comfortable anywhere, but it’s not exactly innovative stuff. As for those “indie” artists, the work is even more derivative and uninspired. MGMT’s “Electric Feel” is on the same ripping-off the 80s shit as West, but at least West challenges your pop expectations a little bit.

This lack of innovation’s especially prescient in light of Noz’s uptown/downtown flip. The sense that all those rappers and B-boys got out of downtown was wealth and exposure caters to the reverse romantic myth that even the “Truest” hip-hop’s based on. Rappers even at their most artistic, feign capitalist nihilism, and art-rockers, even at their most capitalistic, feign artistry and as usual, the “reality” is somewhere between. The primary difference between this art-rock and hip-hop quasi-intermingling–quasi because it’s really one-sided but more on that later–seems to me that there’s nothing all that artistic going on from any of these turds. It’s all really ugly insider stuff, meant to entertain one another and the people who cover the music and nothing more.

The other difference, is that most of us weren’t there in 1981 and so, children of museum owners rocking Rammellzee’s shades or something, doesn’t piss us off in the same way that, hearing ODB’s Nigga Please in some boutique or talking to some kid who thinks he knows everything because he downloaded a Spice-1 record last week pisses us off. Rap was also less of a big dumb institution and so, I get the sense that it was all probably, just a little bit genuinely utopian back then.

People on both sides were less jaded and rap fans especially, weren’t these total protective cocksuckers about it. I’d love to hear some even-handed shit from anybody actually involved in the scene at the time, how did it reflect the pseudo-scene of today? How was it different? And I call it a “pseudo-scene” now because it has the illusion of a convergence of styles and ideas, but on the part of the artists involved, is very one-sided. That’s to say, don’t expect MGMT to ever show up on a Jim Jones record or Jay-Z on a Coldplay record. If it’ll make the rock side of this look potentially stupid or goofy, it isn’t going to happen. Rappers don’t give a fuck about “image” in that way; it’s why rap’s so great.

This supports as well as conflicts with the uptown for cool, downtown for money thing. Supports it, because there’s a clear focus on image and money and conflicts with it because, that old “scene” was full of genuine interaction and experimentation and not just taking the rich white artsy fartsy kids for all they got. Uptowners got a lot more out of the downtown scene than cash. Something like Death Comet Crew wouldn’t exist without the crazy, mindfully avant sounds of the white weirdos and of course, the death disco of KONK or something wouldn’t exist without hip-hop and disco and funk and stuff. History of that era too, has gone in the way of hip-hop, as more people probably know of “White Lines” than Liquid Liquid. Interestingly, the recent reevaluation of No-Wave and “post-punk” has been surprisingly fair and deferential to hip-hop’s influence, certainly less of a white wash than most rock histories.

This weird mix too, as wrongheaded as it might seem, does seem a little more sincere than cynics present it. I’m not sure that Santogold (or Jay-Z) will gain a whole lot crossing over from “Brooklyn Go Hard” and who’s baiting cool and who’s baiting cash is pretty muddled when it comes to M.I.A and Kanye West. The crossing of these two paths is more of a strange indulgence on the part of rappers to rep some shit that, however terrible, is the sort of stuff they’re rocking in their cars.

Fans of Santogold probably made a decision about Jay-Z a long time ago and her presence on a song won’t change that. Most fans of Jay-Z that don’t know who Santogold is, don’t give much of a shit on who’s whining out the hook. Also, the song’s pretty cool and Kanye’s dying battery synths and determined drums aren’t really some kind of indie concession or anything. So, this is all frustration and annoying in theory and has made for some decent music. But If you’re gonna get cynical about the song or just this whole weird scene in general, you have to dig deeper. Once you do though, it starts to get ugly and weird in a way that I can’t get behind.

This “indie” rock and popular hip-hop mixing and merging is no doubt inspired by the odd and problematic celebration of hip-hop–especially of the party/”ignorant” variety–by so-called “hipsters” and indie kids. Pitchforkmedia’s increased rap coverage over the past few years, hip-hop fashion entering places like Urban Outfitters, sites/magazines like THE FADER, etc. etc. For awhile, there was this weird disconnect between where the “average” hip-hop fan was reading and getting his information and those aforementioned websites that suddenly started bigging-up hip-hop to their readers, most of whom were complacent to enjoy Wilco and when it came to rap, that first Blackalicious album or something. In recent times, especially the past few years, artists, writers, and fans have gotten a little more savvy and it’s all started to mix and match.

I bet a lot of rappers, writers, and fans breathed a sigh of relief as they no longer had to pretend to be this or that. That’s to say, Kanye West or Jay-Z are kinda weird, nerdy dudes and there’s no way they were rocking rap in their cars all day every day and now, they got to kind of admit it. It’s big because it was one of those weird times where one’s personal interests happened to match-up pretty well with one’s fiscal interests.

We’re also getting to a point where almost two generations of people have grown up listening to rap on the radio and so, that along with the internet which makes music of any and every variety available, it was only a matter of time before hip-hop’s borders got as conventionally porous and fusion-ready as every other genre’s. I’m sure certain writers and editors really wanted to talk-up the new Three Six Mafia since 1995 but couldn’t justify the word space for doing so. Now they could.

However, this has taken an especially awkward and calculated turn more recently. I think what is now happening is the same kind of ugly, media support system/takeover that’s happened to the rest of the media when money’s to be made. THE FADER and Pitchfork announced a partnership late last year. That means, the two most hip-hop as well as white hipster friendly publications (one print, one online) are working together. THE FADER’s Senior editor is Julianne Shepherd, an ex-writer for Pitchfork (and a writer I like quite a bit). Peter Macia, online editor for THE FADER is also ex-Pitchfork (he penned this excellent, kinda important Little Brother review, among other things).

The average hip-hop fan probably doesn’t read either THE FADER or Pitchfork, but plenty of rap artists do (Kanye’s shouted it out, Clipse got all pissy about Tom Breihan’s Pitchfork review, Bun B mentioned THE FADER in a Metal Lungies interview), and a more obsessive kind of rap nerd surely peruses these sites. When I proposed a crossover between THE FADER and NahRight a little while ago, more than one commenter disagreed, but this recent discussion between Eskay and one of FADER’S editors Eric Ducker certainly suggests this divide between a certain kind of rap fan and another kind of rap fan gets thinner.

NahRight is the website for rap news and music no doubt, and it functions the way a magazine like XXL or Vibe (ex-Pitchfork-er Sean Fennessy is Vibe’s music editor) does, in that it’s the go-to mainstream place for populist but not moronic rap information. As this whole indie thing gets bigger, what a site like THE FADER or Pitchfork covers and what a site like NahRight covers overlaps more and more. That a guy like Eskay’s even talking to THE FADER certainly reflects the rumblings of change. Change that benefits both mainstream, populist hip-hop sites and semi-mainstream niche magazines/websites.

I don’t think there’s some vast conspiracy going on, but I do think that this hipster stuff’s being further encouraged and supported by websites and magazines of the rap and non-rap variety alike because it pulls in a certain kind of influential and easily swayed reader and “synergy” and stuff like that is all the talk. It sells more magazines or ad-clicks or whatever, the artists crossover, new artists have more places to show-off, and everybody in the industry wins a little, while listeners lose because they’re being fed stuff that makes a good blog post or article or story angle first (“Kanye sampled Santogold!”, “Jenny Lewis likes Lil Wayne”, “Charles Hamilton raps over the Offspring, that’s some real Girl Talk shit!”) and good music second.

Written by Brandon

January 10th, 2009 at 8:39 am

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HOW BIG IS YOUR WORLD?: Good Rap You Maybe Missed In 2008, Pt. 2

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-Devin the Dude featuring L.C “I Can’t Make It Home”

This got a lot of satellite radio play and I guess, was “the single” from the really underwhelming Landing Gear but it still seems slept-on. It’s in-line with all of Devin’s songs, a charming storytelling rap that furthers his scruffy fuck-up persona, but it’s way more palpably depressing. You got through the stoner loneliness anthem of “Doobie Ashtray” because it was kinda funny, had a Primo beat and was called you know, “Doobie Ashtray”, but “I Can’t Make It Home” is just a really fucking sad tale of drunk-driving. And not the fun drunk-driving or even the fun because you might die drunk/drugged driving but just like, a mistake from the beginning and you’re in it until you maybe glide into your driveway crooked or get pulled over; both options have the same odds of becoming reality.

The crooned chorus, the shabby melodrama of it all make the emotions behind it palpable. In some ways, a better illustration of the knowing but not smart enough self-destruction an author of minor victories and epic failures like Richard Yates mined than Sam Mendes’ adaptation of dude’s Revolutionary Road. What’s really devastating about it is how Devin’s so matter-of-fact about it, like a friend telling you what it was like to spend 24 hours in a psych ward or something…wizened and happy because now it’s at least all over.

-Zilla Rocca “The First Order of Business” (Blurry Drones Remix)

“The First Order of Business”, the best song on Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca gets remixed and turns the spastic hammering drums of the original into a hurricane of guitars. Sampling the Walkmen, Douglas Martin (Blurry Drones) does an appropriate garage-rock style of production, where there’s nothing fancy, just tried and true production tricks like lowering or raising the volume or slowing it down for a moment here and there…but Zilla doesn’t ever slow down, it’s just punchline after punchline in that great Philly accent he has.

The punchlines though too, carry some weird hard to explain weight that’s beyond “Oh. That was very clever”, although they’re clever too. They sort of resonate because it’s the goofy observations you make with your friends—bad typos in a text message, old-ass actors playing teenagers—or they just gel together, like when he lumps a series of Frank Miller references together and keeps going without pause, giving no time for that “oh shit” moment more self-aggrandizing rappers’ll slow down for. There’s an oddly affecting point where Zilla interrupts the fun rap to say “This was the worst year of my life-“ tells you he “salvaged it”, doesn’t explain why it was bad or how he changed it and keeps going and it’s all the more affecting because of the mystery and sort of hints that whatever that “worst” is fuels his rap fervor.

-Bobby Creekwater “Goodbye”

Was gonna pick “Goodbye” from this EP because I already talked this song up, but it’s not on YouTube and “Not Yet”–and the entire BC Era EP for that matter–deserve as much hype as possible. Guys like Bobby Creekwater, forever in label limbo, will never be a superstar no matter who co-signs their talent, are supposed to be this modest but all too often, their songs all end up about their money, their label, and girls and so, it’s cool that Bobby Creek’s asserting “I won’t forget where I came from”; it really does matter to him.

He also does a clever thing on this track of sort of sounding like over-enunciating Wayne on a verse, a determined pre-uses a thesaurus and figured out meter and got boring T.I on another, and also modestly reminding you that he’s not “T-Pain or Ye”. The beat though here and all of this EP is what makes it: Scrappy strings, crew vocals, some guy crooning somewhere in the background, and then atop it all typical Southern production stuff. The instruments reinforce the song’s feeling of low-to-the-ground loyalty.

-Illa J “Timeless”

I’m glad other people compared this song to D’Angelo because I was afraid that was like blasphemous or some shit, but that’s exactly what it sounds like but more importantly, what it feels like. The heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity of the song and mumbled singing of Dilla’s brother and music that has like, caves of black music history behind it in that piano jazz loop and simple drum beat that’s the root of every hip-hop song and also, a specific kind of stomping minimalism found only on Fantastic Vol. 1.

That I guess, is the “timeless” part of the title as Illa J’s part’s very much concerned with the right now, owning up to his lack of experience in a way that’s not on the defensive but like, “Look, I’m figuring my shit out, calm down”. On this song, Dilla’s legacy aligns with his younger brother’s inexperience perfectly, and the confidence and classic before we even heard it beat lets Illa relax and get real. One of the most intensely personal songs released this year.

I’ll be back after the New Year, have fun and be safe.-brandon

Written by Brandon

December 26th, 2008 at 5:49 am

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HOW BIG IS YOUR WORLD?: Good Rap You Maybe Missed In 2008, Pt. 1

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-Jay Electronica “Extra Extra”

The elegant click-clack swooping strings beat rides out for awhile before Jay comes in and when he does, it’s a jagged mix of brag talk, references to Hollywood space trash like K-Pax and the Star Wars prequels, Christian end-of-days terror-preaching and genuine Elijah Muhammad mathematics.

For cynics or business-minded rap fans (of which there are too many), this mix of so-called “high” and so-called “low” is Jay’s gimmick, his hook–just as Charles Hamilton’s got Sonic the Hedgehog or something—but tracks like “Extra Extra” aren’t hyping a mixtape or his album or anything, they’re additional flashes of brilliance from the only rapper whose lack of a physical album doesn’t make his hype absurd.

-Pete Rock featuring the Lords of the Underground “Best Kept Secret”

Old-ass rappers not sounding too bitter or trying to sound as they did in 1993, just having fun and not giving a fuck-which you know, is sort of exactly what they did in 1993. There’s obviously something inexplicably lasting about 90s New York boom-bap and it’s why something like Il Al Skratch’s Creep Wit Me while less objectively good than Mobb Deep’s The Infamous is still a kinda sorta classic. Boom bap is a hip-hop fan of a certain age’s comfort food, and it’s why guys almost twenty years in the game can still make really good songs like this one.

Scratched snippets of Lords records in their hey-day, the light piano and sci-fi vibes rolling around in the background, the from a flood-damaged record outro, and the “shh…the secret!” hook that’s as raw and catchy as any classic Lords joints, are the smaller moments that keep “Best Kept Secret” on your iPod long after most of Pete’s NY’s Finest got deleted.

-Pastor Troy “My Box Chevy”

Stupidly literal but like so many other car songs, also some weird metaphor for youth and longing and stuff, Pastor Troy’s “My Box Chevy” is really the only halfway happy song on Attitude Adjuster and it’s less happiness, than a memory with some fondness attached to it. The sense of genuine youthful waiting as he delays getting the best rims and wheels out of car nerd indecision and the economic reality of making his car nice, one piece at a time. By the third verse, the car’s complete, the reward, the envy of everyone around him, for better and worse: “…Told them boys/Don’t fuck with me…”.

The close to wailing guitars, Pastor’s chant of “my box Chevy” over and over and over on the chorus, and an eye for touching detail–“bought my Caprice from an old white couple”—though, turn it into one of the more personal and affecting songs of this past year. A perfect example of what can be done inside of genre and convention.

-Three Six Mafia featuring Pimp C and Project Pat “I Got”

This is probably the last year where they’ll be a big, stupid Southern rap party song with Pimp C wheezing on the hook and that’s pretty fucking sad. Sampling “Zombie Nation” or “Kernkraft 400”—I still don’t know which is the band and which is the song title—is a stroke of goofball genius that should’ve gotten someone’s interest.

When “hipster rappers” do junk like this it’s clever or ironic or whatever, when Three Six do it, it’s still considered ignorance? Juicy J and Paul could’ve just made a big stupid club rap song out of a big stupid club song, but they swipe the melody and the feeling of the song and still wrap their skittering drums and synths around it the same way they’d do a Willie Hutch sample. Halfway through, the beat slows down and morphs into some almost classic Three Six John Carpenter shit and it’s pretty incredible. Pimp’s chant goes from soccer hooligan triumphant to angry point out the obvious.

-Nappy Roots “Beads & Braids”

If Nappy Roots had kept up their early 2000s success, they probably wouldn’t be singing a touching, hard-ass exclamation of their friendship and loyalty to one another, but maybe that’s exactly why they aren’t as big as they once were- who knows. Between this song–competitor for rap song of the year–and their palpably uplifting single that didn’t get airplay “Good Day”, Nappy Roots did a cool thing of making reactionary hip-hop that wasn’t obnoxious or knowing at all. They could’ve easily turned their Ellisonian use of black Southern imagery into something goofball once the South got really popular and pretty stupid, but they didn’t, and they don’t even remind you of it, or rather, they remind you by doing instead of saying.

There’s still plenty of self-mythologizing here but a lightly knocking, piano-driven beat and straight, smart but fun rapping that’s ultimately about friends and looking out for one another is really affecting. Especially because the song’s not triumphant but matter of fact with a tinge of sadness, especially that fumbling, super-clean acoustic guitar on the outro.

Written by Brandon

December 25th, 2008 at 4:46 am

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Ripping off Armond White’s end-of-the-year “better than” lists for movies. I twittered my better than album list if you want to check that out…

-Bishop Lamont’s “Grow Up” > B.O.B’s “Generation Lost”

Both are curmudgeonly complaint raps from guys barely established—and co-signed to the point that they’ll never live up to the hype—but Bishop Lamont takes it personal and exposes his frustration in dozens-esque humor and sharp insight, which goes a long way. B.O.B, apes Andre 3k’s above-it-all whimsy, but doesn’t have the decade-plus experience or knowledge to sell it and sounds like a dick.

-Bangladesh’s “A Milli”" > Flying Lotus’ “Robotussin”

Lotus’ remix of “A Milli” is fun and fascinating as a rewrite (he skips over Wayne’s use of the word “faggot”) but it’s still nowhere close to as out-there and uh, “next-level” as the original.

-Lil Wayne’s “Mrs. Officer” > Plies “Bust It Baby”

The dumbest, goofiest rap and bullshit is usually the best. Either a rapper uses the R & B hook for contrast or he just gives-in and goes all the way with it, which Wayne does on “Mrs. Officer”. This is goofy storytelling rap that seems to exist only to Wayne could use the play-on-words kinda joke about “fuck the police”. Wayne’s grinning through this song, Plies meanwhile, is irony-free when he talks about his girlfriend’s nickname (“wet-wet”) and how she “messes up the bed sets”. This is a testament to Wayne’s star status: Even on the crap he more than holds his own.

-Outkast’s “Royal Flush” > Busta Rhymes’ “Don’t Touch Me (Throw The Water on Em)”

Both songs are great and both get the raised-on 90s rap hairs of our arms at full attention, but “Don’t Touch Me”s an invigorating but still depressing attempt to grab at something that’s forever gone. “Royal Flush” is old-man rap that isn’t “mature” but mature, updating and complicating the politics and empathy of old Outkast, but keeping the flow and fun of their early work just as well. Busta sells “Don’t Touch Me”, but you come out of it feeling a little weird because it’s exciting the way say, some aging dudes shirtless and screaming at a football game are exciting: “Wow they’re really going for it and I can respect that but damn…”

-Any Number of Jay Electronica Songs From This Year > Nas’ “Queens Get the Money”

Jay Electronica clearly owes a lot to Nas but here, the influencer becomes the influenced as Nas does his spit spittin-that-real-shit attempt over a Jay-produced piano loop and all you think is, “I wish Jay Electronica just rapped over this”. It’s a sign of internet hype and anti-hype but more importantly, Jay Electronica’s talent that, without a proper album but a mess of incredible songs, the best Nas song in a while doesn’t even need Nasir.

-Jeezy’s “Put On” > Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”

Kanye’s affecting whine on “Put On” works twice as well because of the contrast. The beat nearly stops, it at least slows down, and Kanye comes for a cry-out and changes the entire mood of the song. “Love Lockdown” slows down and ebbs forward when it’s supposed to and Kanye’s evasive lyrics—but not evasive enough that you don’t know he’s really sad—seem like your sulking friend that won’t just come out and tell you what’s wrong.

-E Major “The Next Episode” > Termanology’s “This Is How We Rock”

Primo’s beat is wasted on Termanology who, despite complaints about hip-hop’s downfall, brings nothing new to the genre himself. Like so many up and comers bitter before they’re allowed to be, Termanology’s whole life comes from rap records. DJ Excel channels Primo for “Next Episode”s beat and E Major turns a song about his love of hip-hop into palpable experience. In the first verse, an LL classic is E’s hip-hop origin (“LL’s “Rock the Bells” was so cold to me”) but two verses later, after some terse but affecting autobiography, “I Need Love” gets a mention because he relates to the emotions and the stone-cold rhymes.

-Rick Ross’ “Here I Am” > TI’s “No Matter What”

Just as the obviously-bullshit Rick Ross became a little more bullshit when pictures of him as a CO popped-up on the internets, “Here I Am” dropped. A sincere, honest song with nary a reference to dealing, namely a celebration of being nice to your girl, it’s the direction Raawwwss should move toward and was accidental damage control. Fraught with relationship realities both touching (“she used to fight with her moms/I sat her down, now she’s tight with her moms”, paying for her college tuition) and bittersweet (“cheated on her but we’re still gonna be together”), it’s realer real-talk than kilo sales and the perfect after a big, dumb rap image fully exposed. TI on the other hand, contrived “No Matter What” as a defiant response to his gun-buying idiocy and comes off cloying and R. Kelly obnoxious.

-Badu’s “Honey” > Everything Else on New Amerykah Pt. 1

The mannered murk of Badu’s album was a total boner-kill after “Honey”, which worked because of contrast–Badu’s singing and almost wailing, 9th Wonder’s beat kept it close to the ground. Approximations of cosmic slop with approximations of throwback all-over-the place singing makes too much sense. “Honey” looked forward and backward and wasn’t too good for the pop single, the rest of this album mistakes homage and muddled politics for a statement.

-Bun B and friends’ “You’re Everything” > TI and company’s “Swagga Like Us”

Running only on the steam of their own egos and fucked-up, wonderfully gross Kanye West beat, posse-cut “Swagga Like Us” sounds good and little more. “You’re Everything”s deceptively simple, with a beat that changes-up every verse to perfectly wrap around each rappers’ voice, and a happy-sad theme that celebrates the South and mourns Pimp C, it’s an understated “posse cut”.

Written by Brandon

December 23rd, 2008 at 5:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Tip: Sending Books to Incarcerated Friends & Family


Where I currently work, one my responsibilities is getting books purchased by the friends and family of inmates to the inmates themselves. Although it’s probably not a surprise to anybody really, prisons aren’t too helpful in presenting the ins and outs of sending loved ones packages and frankly, the family and friends of the incarcerated aren’t always willing to go the extra few steps necessary to guarantee proper delivery.

As someone’s who is both glad to help and someone who has wasted too many hours tracking down a package or being chewed out by a upset mom who didn’t give the right address in the first place, I can sympathize with the helplessness package-senders feel and the “Hey, I got other shit to do all day than find out where the bible you sent your convicted felon son ended up” cynicism those at the prison possess.

And so, with the holidays coming up, I thought I might share some information that’ll make sending a package to a prisoner as painless as possible. A Google search will give you a couple of sites and message board discussions with the “right” kind of information, but it’s my experience that there’s an attempt by the places that ship and the people that want to ship to sugarcoat or avoid the kinda fucked reality that you’re sending a book to your parent or spouse or child or best friend, and I’d like to avoid that.

I’m also well aware that most of my readers probably don’t need something like this but a) If it doesn’t apply to you, you’ll probably find it a little fascinating or b) You probably got someone in your family that’s a little dumber about these things and maybe my advice from experience can help you help them…


Books are the best bet in terms of entertainment for a prisoner because well, they’re pretty much all that you can ship. I don’t know anything about shipping anything other than books and all the people I’ve talked to who have tried to ship anything other than books have found out it somehow, for one reason or another, never got there.

While places like Amazon do indeed ship, the approach is going to be completely hands-off, outside of them shipping it to the address you provide. This is both just how it goes and the pragmatic reason that if Amazon held any responsibility for prison shipments outside of shipping, they would need to have a dude or five for every state that follows-up and deals with prison packages that somehow, never get to their destination…or are missing a book or two…or find the magazine they sent was leafed through heavily…and the pin-up is missing.

My opinion is, the best way to ship to a prison is indeed, to go through a business–prisons are going to be less suspicious and less scrutinizing of a package that was sent through someone and not just you going to the post office–but I would suggest finding a local bookstore that will do it for you. Any bookstore, especially the chains, that can order you books and ship them are your best bet.

Of course, it’s important to note that not all bookstores are willing to do this and that even within a national chain, some stores do it and others do not. Shipping to a prison is a big pain in the ass and it’s all a matter of if the store you’re asking feels it’s worth it and gets enough shipments to make it worth it. “Worth it” both in terms of making money but also, if they’re willing to deal with the physical act of shipping it and the possibility of you getting pissed off at them if the package doesn’t arrive on-time or never arrives at all. Which brings me to my next point…


Seriously. Whether or not it’s fair or right, if you can find a place in your town or not too far from you that’s willing to send packages out, you’re lucky. Be really nice and understanding. You should do this just because well you should, but you should also do it because frankly, if anything fucks up during shipping that is the shipper’s fault and not the prison’s, it can still be blamed on the prison. I happen to be a pretty nice and patient guy and I don’t take it at all personal, but you can’t bet that the person responsible for shipping your package out isn’t kinda vindictive and if you hassled them about the price of shipping or this or that, well they may put off that trip to the post office a couple more days.


-There will obviously be a shipping/handling fee. The general rule is a flat-rate and then, 50 cents to $1 for each additional book. Some places just do a flat-rate and a lot of the times, it’s really high–because they can make it high, where else you gonna go?–but most places seem to set it at like, $5 bucks or so.

-Keyword: Handling. Don’t get mad because you know it only costs $4 bucks to Media Mail a book somewhere. Realize that the “handling” fee too, is pretty real when it comes to prison shipment. Someone has to walk/drive the package to a post-office, wait in line, fill-out a confirmation form of some kind, etc. etc. Also, because prison shipment is so unreliable, there’s usually a lot of pieces of paper saved, photo-copied, kept in binders, etc. for each and every shipment so that the store can cover its ass when/if the package never gets there.

-Don’t demand it get there on a certain day or request specific shipping. Media Mail and Priority Mail is what most places will do because it’s the cheapest but also because it’s going to a prison and there’s simply no way to make a promise about which day or what time it will be given to the inmate. If you over-nighted a package to a prison, it still is going to be inspected and looked at by someone within the prison. Additionally, no prisons I’m aware of do anything with mail on weekends.

-You will probably need to buy all the books in the store. Bookstores are not post-offices. Don’t expect to buy one book there and then bring a couple others from this place or that. It’s a business and they need to make money. It’s also a weird, complicated, I guess legal precaution. Let’s say you buy a book and bring a few others in. The person at the register or the mailer isn’t going to look through every page of the book or anything. If you put any kind of correspondence or some object in the book, it’ll obviously cause problems.

-Have every piece of information pertaining to the address/destination ready! Name, inmate number and/or P.O Box, name of the prison, address of the prison etc. Even places that ship to prisons are not going to have any kind of reference material or prison address book and they probably don’t have the time or patience to look that crap up for you.

-You will need to supply all of your personal information. It needs to have a shipper name, address, and phone number outside of the store that’s sending it. Refusing to provide any of this information just causes problems and increases the ability for the package to get lost.

-Stores may have weird, unexpected rules about shipping. For example, a lot of prisons have a limit as to how many books and so, the store at one point or another may have heard that a certain prison only allows this many books at one time and have applied that as their general prison shipping rule even if it’s not true of all prisons. No pornography/sexually explicit is a rule a lot of stores have and unfortunately, what constitutes “sexually explicit” to a store might even mean like KING or MAXIM. Sometimes, it might even be a decision of the cashier/clerk you encounter and in that case, you’ll just have to accept that last week you sent MAXIM no problem and this week someone else is telling you that you cannot.

-If your package is rejected by the prison, you will probably have to pay a small fee that the store had to pay to get your books back. One example is that often, a prisoner gets out and the package arrives at the prison after that or the inmate’s been transferred. There aren’t forwarding addresses when you get out or get relocated and so, the prison just gives the package back to the post-office, refuses to pay, and the mail-man will come back to the store demanding like $3.33 or whatever; that cost will be then put back on you. Before you get mad, think of how much money could be potentially lost by a store if they simply took this cost upon themselves every time.

-Be aware that if you in any way, no matter how small, decide to ignore, argue with, or forego any of the stuff above, it could mean that your package will not arrive. It’s hard to be so frank and honest, especially with like, the mother of some kid in for cocaine possession or something, but that’s how it’s gotta be. The best bet is to follow the rule and adapt to them.


Every prison guard I’ve ever met has a story or two about getting a bottle or piss or shit thrown at them, or something equally awful and so, I have a lot of respect for the people that work within our prisons and don’t want to make any over-arching statements but well, prisons are mad corrupt; they just are. It sucks and it’s a fucked or double-fucked thing to think about when you’re just some person on the outside trying to maybe kinda brighten your incarcerated loved one’s day/week/month/year/life sentence, but it’s true.

For obvious reasons, all packages are opened and looked through and all letters are read and that’s to be expected. But what also happens more frequently than even most cynics expect is that the shit you sent never makes it to the person you’re sending it to for shitty, selfish reasons. If you happen to send a book that the person who inspects the mail maybe wants to read his or herself, they might just take it. They may flat-out steal it or they may find something about it that justifies it as something that “shouldn’t” go to a prisoner. If the cover has this or that on it, if they open it up to a page and they find a way to justify the material as violating this or that rule, the book’ll never get through.

And it sucks. But that’s just how it is. I’ve seen mothers frantically going through every one of their choices trying to make sure it doesn’t have this or that in it and it’s tough to explain to them that it’s fruitless. Sending anything to a prison is a gamble. But it’s a really wonderful gamble because at the worst, you’re out like $20 bucks and you can try it again, and if the books gets through–and don’t get it too twisted, most stuff gets through–it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever for someone in jail. I’ve talked to prisoners who got out and came to the stupid, corporate bookstore where I work to find me and personally thank me for sending out the book for their wife or girlfriend! Obviously, it means a lot to them.


-No hardback books! No big, heavy paper-backs either! Flat-out: They can be used to bash some other inmates’ skull in and even if your best friend or son isn’t that type of guy or whatever, a giant hard-back or 800-page paperback is considered a weapon. Avoid hardbacks altogether, only do relatively short paperbacks. If you’re sending some kind of big, long book, try to get it in the Mass-Market form. Mass-Markets are the small, like “beach-reading” size.

-No pornography, avoid sexual material. Pornography seems to be pretty much out, and if you want to send stuff like KING or MAXIM, just be able to accept the fact that it might not get there. Also, don’t send some weird, fashion-y photography/art magazine because it’s got titty in it and think the prison won’t pick up on it. You weren’t the first person with that idea.

-With magazines, they should not have any kind of wrapping or weird inserts in them. Most of the time, this is the sort of thing that a person within the prison will deal with but, it’s always good to be safe. Don’t have the stuff rubber-banded together or anything like that. Any of these weird anomalies on a bad day, might keep your package from ever getting to your loved one.

-Don’t write ANYTHING in the books. No cute messages, not even something you see as short and innocuous. When the package is sent at the post-office, even the person there will ask you if there’s any “written correspondence” because they also get angry calls from the mothers, fathers, and friends of inmates whose package never got there.

-Do not send more than three things at once. Generally, prisons do have some kind of limit on how much stuff a prisoner can get at once. If you send four books and the limit’s three, well the prison will hold one of the books for some amount of time. Again, they’ll eventually get that fourth book but it’s just one more weird thing to worry about and one more excuse for that additional book to get “lost” or well, actually get lost.


The most depressing thing about prison shipments is seeing the same bunch of books sent to every prisoner. When it comes to magazines, senders seem to do very well, but when it comes to books, it’s mainly religious stuff, some “street fiction”, mystery novels, and occasionally, some book explicitly about prison. While none of these are bad and most are fitting, it’s presumably a total bummer to be in prison, hear you get a package, and then the package is a fucking bible or some book that discusses the American prison system. Of course, if your loved one specifically requested these books, then you’re fine, but if you’re stepping into a bookstore to pick something out, avoid the bibles and social-justice books.

This decision to edify really does manifest itself in either, a) Family and friends trying to “change”/”convert” their imprisoned loved one or b) Trying to “open their mind” and turn them intellectual. It’s my opinion–and so, take it for what you think it’s worth–that this is really, really, awful. Moms grasping bibles and successful older brothers sending their younger, fuck-up brother a copy of Dostoevsky is pretty obnoxious. Send them something that might help them out or explain something to them, but the main focus should be entertainment and escape. Let the uh, months upon months (or worse) that they have to spend in fucking prison take care of the edification.

Anyways, tomorrow I’ll have my own list of book suggestions for sending. It’s a mix of books that have passed across my desk and I’ve thought “Woah, that’s something the inmate might enjoy” and some books I’ve thought about or have sent incarcerated friends and family…

Written by Brandon

November 17th, 2008 at 6:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Anybody know about this shit?

leave a comment

So, here’s why I’m ending “Baltimore Club Week” early. Sorry dudes, I don’t really have any money so anything about copyright infringement/violation freaks me out. If this was enacted by the artists involved, that’s kinda gay (I have the same area code as you dudes), anybody smart enough to understand this stuff?


Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog infringes upon the copyrights of others. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.

The notice that we received, with any personally identifying information removed, will be posted online by a service called Chilling Effects at We do this in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Please note that it may take Chilling Effects up to several weeks to post the notice online at the link provided.

The DMCA is a United States copyright law that provides guidelines for online service provider liability in case of copyright infringement. We are in the process of removing from our servers the links that allegedly infringe upon the copyrights of others. If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. See for more information about the DMCA, and see for the process that Blogger requires in order to make a DMCA complaint.

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Written by Brandon

October 17th, 2008 at 1:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized