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Archive for the ‘Waka Flocka Flame’ Category

Spin: “Children of the Grave, Rap Has Its Metal Moment.”


This week’s column: Waka Flocka Flame, Odd Future, and metal.

Last Thursday, skate-prick rap collective Odd Future signed off Tumblr and appeared on national television. Sporting ski masks with inverted crosses scrawled on them, and bouncing across a smoke-filled stage, Tyler, the Creator, the crew’s charismatic frontman, along with Odd Future point guard Hodgy Beats, performed their 2010 single “Sandwitches” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The morning after, the Internet — which basically birthed Odd Future as well as most interesting rap these days — celebrated the group’s bizarro entrance into the mainstream.

Many of the same people losing their shit over Odd Future on Fallon were also busy downloading Salute Me Or Shoot Me 3, a victory-lap mixtape from Waka Flocka Flame, which featured the same sort of headbanging, fuck-you-up rap that made his debut album Flockaveli a success last year. Less than a week after a Grammy Awards show that was proud to acknowledge only the kindest hip-hop (B.o.B, Drake, a once caustic now “recovered” Eminem), Odd Future’s off-the-rails TV appearance, plus a new batch of noisy aggression from perhaps the genre’s most polarizing figure, were welcome disruptions. Tyler, the Creator and Waka Flocka are anti-pop, sure, but they’re also interested in being just plain fucking scary. Think of them as the first truly metal rap stars…

Written by Brandon

February 25th, 2011 at 4:32 pm

No Country For Old Rappers


Director Morocco Vaughn shoots the beginning of “Bustin’ At Em,” and all the No Country For Old Men-referencing parts in a gritty, kinda beautiful style that’s perhaps perfected by The Motion Family but is just generally really popular right now. Very easily, Vaughn could’ve made a hand-held, art-movie-street-doc that’s smart, gritty, and tasteful. But that’s easy. Instead, Vaughn moved on and mixes it up with some very conventional “dudes in a warehouse” performance footage and some absolutely ridiculous CGI-soaked shots of Waka swatting bullets fired by video girls.

The idea that there’s a “good” or at least acceptable video that’s eschewed for something far more bizarre is really appealing. Rather than have one “smart” video, or two okay videos, Vaughn mixes styles and takes it all to the next level. He one-ups the now pretty rote, nicely-shot, hood video by merging it with a really clever and out-of-the-box crime movie reference. The warehouse performance footage is a throwback to a kind of spare, performance video that doesn’t really exist anymore. And he pumps the computer-assisted, ridiculous event video full of steroids. The CGI bullets have eyeballs on the end of them. Flocka is knocking the bullets down like King Kong swatting planes. His Fozzy Bear chain comes alive and swats some bullets too. This is Pen N Pixel in music video form.

When “Bustin’ At Em” is stupid, it’s really stupid, and when it’s smart, it’s really smart too. Vaughn and Flocka don’t miss the point of the crime movie they’re referencing, as is often the case when rappers reference Scarface or Goodfellas–they just reconfigure it a bit. “Bustin’ At Em” begins with wizened hood commentary that conflates the narration from No Country For Old Men with (as monique_r suggested), the somber, sincerity you get in the dramatic parts of a Tyler Perry movie. That pre-song monologue—nearly word-for-word from the Coens’ movie—cleverly doubles as a commentary on rap’s perceived, decaying values and lowered expectations, embodied by Waka Flocka Flame. So, it’s appropriate that Flocka portrays No Country’s cold-hearted, next-level killer Anton Chigurh.

Like Chigurh, who blew up a pharmacy to get pain medication, who didn’t use a gun but some evily-efficient, pressurized nail-gun-like thing to commit murder, Flocka wanders the rap scene not only breaking the rules, but obliterating the sense that there were rules in the first place. Dude doesn’t really rap at all, he shouts, grunts, and yells, and sometimes those shouts come out as couplets. But it works. This is the most knowing, character-identification in a video since Kanye West portrayed himself as the moody, bitter Tetsuo from Akira in the “Stronger” video.

Written by Brandon

October 13th, 2010 at 7:29 am

Salem, and Why It’s Never Been About Authenticity.


Salem make a gothic, syrupy kind of electronic music and the touchstones of their sound are the slowed-down, choppy drums and vocals of Houston screw music. On some songs, such as “Trapdoor” (the title itself, a play on the horror movie elements of their music and their love of coke-slanging “trap-rap”), the rapped vocals of the all-white, Midwestern group creep along, slurred, heavy with bass–like a DJ Screw freestyle. These quasi-raps are punctuated by the word “bitch,” threats of rape, and some clear pronunciation nods to Southern rap. Streets is “skreets” for example. A lot of people, like Christopher Weingarten think this is pretty offensive. A lot of other people, like Larry Fitzmaurice are just like, “nope.” Others, including the group itself—defend the vocals as simple, vocal manipulation.

Well, it’s not. The slowed down vocals do not only have the effect of bringing the vocalist’s voice down to stoned crawl, they make the white performer sound black. This, coupled with lyrics that are content-wise, what my grandmother thinks rap’s about (murder, rape, misogyny, repeat) and the problematic, conscious “hip-hop” pronunciations underneath that vocal effect, makes Salem’s music pretty egregious. This is a group of white kids who’ve screwed their vocals down to “sound black,” and then use that screwing-down of vocals to say things they wouldn’t–and couldn’t–say otherwise. Employing the word “minstrelsy” is controversy-baiting, but it also isn’t that far off.

Songs like “Trapdoor” also do a disservice to screw music and southern rap by reducing it to aggro-violence and tough-guy sexuality. There’s a communal joy in those DJ Screw freestyles. There’s a sense of humor and word-obsessive fun on Gucci Mane songs. And the production isn’t relentlessly dark. You don’t screw Junior’s “Mama Used To Say” if you’re trying to be all tough and scary.

When the “this shit’s offensive” discussion really started to pick up, it turned into a debate about “authenticity” when that was ultimately besides the point. Ignoring the musical issue (that King Night is much less sonically sophisticated than the stuff it’s ripping off), which has nothing to do with “authenticity,” there isn’t really any degree of “authenticity” that could justify these dopey kids changing their voices to sound like Project Pat and then, saying “bitch” a whole lot.

Plus, Salem are plenty authentic. If the game here is “authenticity=struggle” etc. well a group of midwest fuck-ups who had or have drug problems should be awarded some major points. My guess is that they feel like they relate to the “fuck the world” feeling of DJ Screw freestyles and Waka Flocka’s fight rap just like they relate to black metal’s nihilism. And that’s interesting! And awesome. Good to see artists reaching into music beyond what they’re “supposed” to reach into and also, it’s the internet era, age of information, etc. so really, why wouldn’t these Salem kids who clearly like Gucci Mane or Chicago Footwork cram it into their music? Fusion! Yes! For extra “authenticity” points, Salem hail from Chicago and Detroit and so, they have something resembling a direct connection and understanding of this stuff.

Only they don’t. The group really show their asses in this XLR8R interview. Salem’s Jack Donoghue calls footwork wunderkind DJ Nate’s music “smart,” but adds, “but I don’t think he’s trying to be clever.” DJ Nate is most certainly trying to be clever. That’s what sample-based dance music like footwork is all about: consciously flipping the weirdest, funniest, most dope sample in the coolest, smartest way possible. Heather Marlatt, photographed for the magazine in cornrows, describes her interest in “Juggalos” but not the Insane Clown Posse’s music, which seems the inverse of Salem’s interest in black music: who cares about the people, it’s all about the sounds, man.

Later in the same interview, John Holland dismisses the whole “hey, it’s fucking weird that these kids are making themselves sound like black guys” argument with this: “It’s not like we’re Elvis Presley…what are we robbing the music from a different race? Give me a break!.” That’s of course, exactly what these guys are doing. But that isn’t what’s troubling people about the group. It’s that inexcusable and naïve employment of the screw vocals for something far beyond a sonic effect.

Notice, that despite Salem’s “authentic” pedigree (ex-junkies and troubled youths, from the birthplace of at least some of their sounds, etc.) the group’s defenders rarely take the “authenticity” approach to justify the group’s music. Instead, they play the “post-authenticity” game, which steps around “there’s some racially problematic stuff about these kids” altogether. It says: none of that stuff matters anymore. The floodgates are open bro, get with the program! “Post-authenticity” starts to sounds a lot like “post-racial” explain-aways.

When the argument doesn’t go with the “authenticity is dead” narrative, it reaches for “authenticity never existed.” There will be references to “fakers” like Elvis Presley or Bob Dylan, either to deflect (as Holland did with XLR8R) or as some weird, precedent: music was never authentic and the rock n’roll from decades ago (and a very different America) straight-jacked a lot of music, so it’s acceptable for people in 2010 to do whatever they hell they want as well.

Brandon Ivers, who wrote the XLR8R piece, articulates that “post-authenticity” angle well: “Salem embodies a generation that doesn’t care about race, sexual orientation, authenticity, and a lot of other stuff that used to be a big deal.” There’s some irony in Ivers’ statement but he’s completely on the nose when it comes to Salem: they don’t care. And the music fans and critics embracing these clowns don’t care either.

Written by Brandon

October 12th, 2010 at 8:56 am

Flockaveli’s a Post-Crunk Masterpiece


Flockaveli is a post-Crunk masterpiece that fixes the failures of the angry pop-rap genre best known for raucous, high-energy hits like “Get Low.” That’s to say, the shit on Flockaveli’s actually out-there and horrifying, while Crunk got points for just being relatively rowdy. None of those Crunk songs, at least once it moved from Memphis to Atlanta and for all intensive purpose got incorporated, had Buck music’s menace, the weight of Bounce, or the relentlessness of the Hardcore Lil Jon occasionally referenced as an influence. Notice, “Smoke, Drank,” the Lil Jon production on Flockaveli, doesn’t even try to compete with the energy of the rest of the album, it’s just this weak, synthy thing.

Hold up though. This is not one more contribution to the contrarian rap-nerd echo chamber about how this is some shit you just gotta be on or else you’re clueless “mane”, because that’s not what this album is anyway. This is not a rap album, it’s a dance album. A really well put-together dance record that has the uncompromising spirit and worker-bee innovation common in the country’s many regional dance scenes, who despite their differences, are collectively investigating darker, druggier sonic territory for better or worse: The moaning stumbling juke of DJ Nate and others, Araabmuzik’s drum n’ bass MPC blasts, Moombahton’s slowed-fast grooves, Clams Casino and company’s production for Lil B, DJ Burn One’s Pimp C meets Aphex Twin country rap tunes, whatever the fuck Detroit Techno’s doing these days, the still-living and breathing Jerkin’ movement, Chillwave’s depressive dance style, the stacked-tracked terror of Baltimore Club’s youth scene, Witch-house’s middle-school goth thrills, woozy Huntsville trance-rap geniuses The Block Beataz…to you know, name a few.

Appropriately though, given rap’s ever-increasing fragmentation and Waka Flocka’s anti-social rap style, Flockaveli doesn’t belong to a region or scene, but almost entirely to the two minds behind the thing: Waka and producer Lex Luger. Nothing else sounds like this really. If these dudes were holed up in a studio somewhere, and not guys holed-up in a studio somewhere who’ve made a bunch of hits in a very short time, there’d be some wonky, vaguely descriptive name for what they’re doing on “Bustin’ At Em”–an explosion of guitar shards and stuck together drums–or “Grove St. Party”–all slinky synths fighting with layers of shouts and chants-and it’d be far more pretentious than “post-Crunk.” As it stands, here’s a terrifying, energizing party record that’s available at Best Buy in a musical climate that rarely ever lets stuff like this appear unadulterated in any form other than handmade mix CDs and .rar files. So, rejoice.

Written by Brandon

October 6th, 2010 at 9:03 am

Posted in Waka Flocka Flame