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Archive for the ‘Wu Tang’ Category

“Tang Golf” vs. Pharrell’s “Liquid Swords”


Or: “How Everything Wrong With Rap Right Now Can Be Unpacked Via Two Of The Odd Future Kids Rapping Over “4th Chamber.”

So, you’ve got Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats, part of the oft-compared to Wu Tang crew Odd Future, confirming their fans’ lunkheaded, connect-the-dots hype/mythology in the laziest way possible: Rapping (not even that well, mind you) over a beyond-classic RZA beat. It makes sense. Too much sense.

Then there’s Pharrell, a pop-rap genius producer, known for a goofy falsetto and lumpy verses here and there. For 2006’s In My Mind: The Prequel, he teamed up with DJ Drama, a dude from Philadelphia who made a name for himself compiling Southern hip-hop mixtapes. Together, they made one of the weirdest entries in the trap-rap mixtape series. It nods to Pharrell’s backpack rap origins just because, but mostly features raps about high-end fashion and models over Young Jeezy hits and 80s and 90s rap classics. Pharrell raps over two Liquid Swords productions. This is how dude promoted his solo debut. Think about that.

Now, it’s the next-big-thing iconoclasts that tow the party line–almost expertly so. Pharrell took that line and bent it back on itself until it was a big continuum of hip-hop: Backpacker shit, trap-rap, gritty NYC stuff, moody synthy pop-rap and more. It’s really this simple: Pharrell violated the sanctity of Liquid Swords much better.

As I (and others) said before, perhaps Odd Future are best understood not as iconoclasts out of nowhere, but subversive opportunistic shitfucks toying with the system from the inside, exposing Nahright and 2DopeBoyz as ad whores, highlighting the boring biases of the bleeding edge tastemakers, and showing the goon from Gorilla Vs. Bear to be one more guy who suddenly starts writing in rap slang when he blogs about hip-hop!!!!!.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2011 at 1:08 am

Recreating Zeitgeist: The Problem With OB4CL2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Brandon

September 11th, 2009 at 4:03 am

Posted in Raekwon, Wu Tang

Moving Image Source: The Devil’s Spawn, the MTV Legacy of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising

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So, over at the Museum of Moving Image’s website, a video essay by Kevin Lee and myself that investigates sixties underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s immeasurable influence on music videos is up. From Anger’s weirdo, Manson-family member scored Lucifer Rising to Hype Williams, back to 90s alt-rock and Wu Tang, to Hercules & Love Affair–all in nine minutes. Partially narrated in my fruity-ass voice. This video essay’s been awhile in the making and I’m glad to see it up and ready for viewing. Hope you enjoy it.

Big thanks to Kevin Lee for thinking of me and brilliantly editing and organizing the whole thing. You can watch it above or go to the website and watch it and read along. If you’ve never seen Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, well it is on Google Video.

Written by Brandon

August 17th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Corrective Rap: Ghostface’s "Computer Love"


From battling to sampling and anything that falls between, the roots of rap are in opposition. There’s always been a sense that indignant anger about misrepresentation, misinformation, or this-dude-did-that-and-he-shouldn’t-have type shit’s fueled the music of nearly every rap great.

But around the same time rap got actually kinda bad (1997 to the present), something changed. It suddenly got really annoying and even pathetic to hear your favorite rappers remind you how many wack emcees were out there. Maybe it was because you didn’t really want to be reminded of how bad it got, but also because it seemed kinda cheap to point out what’d become the obvious. This wasn’t the spirit of competition or anything, it plain preaching to the converted.

While Ghostface has occasionally been wrongheaded in this corrective fervor–calling out D4L for example–so much of his career since day one has been the right kind of oppositional or corrective rap. He’s always been more a “show” and not a “tell” rapper when it’s come to schooling other rappers, which makes his correctives more like a dialogue or exchange than simply, your favorite emcee bitching too much on record.

Even without it being semi-explicit on “Shark Niggas (Biters)”, it’s clear listening to Cuban Linx that the album’s something of a response or correction to Ready to Die. “If you thought Biggie was describing the life accurately…”, Ghost and Rae seem to be saying, “here’s what it’s really fucking like”. And they give you almost twenty tracks of obsessively detailed drug-dealer rap, with the same cinematic and emotional sweep as Ready while making it (arguably) even more palpable. The result: Two great records instead of one great record and a response record entirely contingent upon telling you why the first record was stupid.

Ghostface’s two most recent proper albums, Fishscale and Big Doe Rehab, had him returning to something resembling his mid-90s storytelling days and away from hyper-abstract wordplay or slice-of-life narratives of late. This obviously had to do with Ghost’s anger at the popularity of so-called “crack rap”, a sort of bastardization or gross misreading of the sub-genre Ghost had a big part in founding.

One of the more interesting convergences was the release of Fishscale on pretty much the same day as Rick Ross’ first single “Hustlin”. I can recall putting in Fishscale having just bought it and getting to the first song, the jaw-dropping “Shakey Dog” and thinking of it as the opposite of “Hustlin” in every way. Rick Ross was repetitive and slow, the song’s all-hook, Ghostface’s song has no hook and teases you with a hook–“Why you behind me, leary, shakey dog stutterin’/When you got the bigger cooker on you/You a crazy motherfucker, small hoodie dude, hilarious…”–but then Ghost just keeps rapping and you realize that just because you heard the title of the song in the song, does not mean you’ve arrived at the chorus. Interestingly, a few songs later Ghost is doing the less fun, played-out version of oppositional rap when he shits on D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” on “The Champ”; doesn’t he realize by simply making and releasing Fishscale, he’s fighting D4L?

Last week saw the internet-release of “Computer Love”, which is Ghost doing the “Holla” off Pretty Toney treatment to Zapp & Roger’s “Computer Love”. Like “Holla”, Ghost eschews sampling altogether and just raps over the original song, finding a sort of internal logic and rhythm without the aid of a proper beat.

Also like “Holla”, he’s doing more than being hilarious/show-offy. It seems in some way, the idea behind rapping right over the Delfonics was to remind people of where all these great Ghostface beats came from. The song equivalent of that moment of every Ghostface show and a ton of interviews where he tells you how this was the music his parents used to fuck to and sways and squeezes to say, “Natural High” by Bloodstone.

Doing the same to “Computer Love” has an even deeper context though and I probably don’t really have to spell it out for you: T-Pain. T-Pain’s use (and abuse?) of auto-tune is certainly on some Roger Troutman type shit and I can see it bugging a guy like Ghostface that a lot of young people probably don’t even know anything about Roger-all the more depressing given Roger’s death-by-gunshot at 47. But rather than simply complain about it, Ghost takes an old Roger song and straight raps over it, invoking–if we read R & B history backwards as so many do–the feeling of a T-Pain-assisted rap song through raps atop Roger’s vocoder croons.

Interestingly, “Computer Love” concedes a bit to 2008 rap standards as well. Ghost slows his rapping down just a bit, which gives it more of a feeling of the rap you hear on the radio. With a punchline like “Martin Luther Bling”, he even engages in some particularly goofball, purposefully bad lines like all of our favorite rappers in 2008. There’s a little more open space in this song than we’re used to from Ghost, which too plays into the ways that radio rap in the past few years has pretty much totally merged rap and R & B. “Computer Love” just kinda of plays out at the end, it doesn’t have the momentum build-up to sudden-stop and end the song feeling that most Ghostface tracks have, and there’s points where he’s barely even rapping, more like spitting a line or two, taking a pause, and saying a few more. It’s about as Jeezy-like as Ghostface can get. A good example of how to ingest all that’s weird or problematic with rap these days and still retain personality.

Written by Brandon

November 4th, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Metal Lungies: RZA Beat Drop

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The latest “beat drop” from Metal Lungies uh, dropped. My beats were: “Tical” (Method Man), “North Star (Jewels)” (Raekwon), “Reunited” (off Forever), and “No Said Date” (Masta Killa):

““Tical”, the first song on the first solo Wu album — and the start of The RZA’s hyper-productive 1994-1997 production period — was still rugged and raw, but musically, it felt a little more cohesive and musical; even more of a step away from the Marley Marl-style still prevalent in early ’90s New York rap and kinda there on Enter The Wu-Tang. Thick, rolling drums and an oppressive keyboard line dominate this track and perfectly fit Method Man’s weeded persona, while a foggy cloud of voices talk shit in the background for most of the song. A lot of producers would’ve taken the inexplicable success of stuff like “C.R.E.A.M.” and decided to actively court hit singles after that, but RZA and”

Written by Brandon

September 25th, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Metal Lungies, RZA, Wu Tang

Next To The Hood: Wu Tang’s 8 Diagrams

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In that ‘Time’ magazine cover-story on Kanye West a few years ago, comedian Chris Rock described Kanye’s appeal through his connections to an earlier, less Jeezy-friendly era of hip-hop: “In the early days, the best rappers weren’t necessarily from the hood. Run-D.M.C was from Hollis. Eric B and Rakim were from Long Island. They lived next to the hood.” This quote rumbles around in my head a lot, because it’s a great, to-the-point piece of rap criticism that describes rap’s appeal: Rap’s ability to both be rooted in the reality of an experience and step outside of it and provide commentary, at the same time. Rock’s one-liner is a little problematic because it implicitly connects hood to bad but what he’s basically saying, if you stretch it to a generality, is that the best artists are connected to their environment but also a little outside of it all. This allows artists, and especially rappers to adopt the first-person or engage in a very sympathetic understanding of others, while never being tied completely down by the closed-mindedness of whatever subculture one belongs to and that extends beyond “the hood”.

Henry James is “next to the hood” in the sense that he’s both of the upper-class his novels document, but also beyond it: he doesn’t simply justify the upper-class, nor is he a knee-jerk, self-loathing critic of it all…he falls somewhere in between. “Next to the hood” however, makes the most sense for rap because well, there’s really no other artform like it, where it occupies this pretty-much-inexplicable space between “truth” and story and real and fiction and morality and immorality (to continue my douchey high-brow references, rap is amoral in the way that Oscar Wilde meant it in the Preface to ‘Dorian Gray’…). I said it before, but Chuck D’s assertion that rap was “the black CNN” may have worked for certain rappers, but even message-oriented raps suggest a familiarity with that which they critique that extends beyond third-person reportage.

For example, Andre 3000 is “next to the hood” on ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1′ when he asks Sasha, the girl he’s “chillin’ like a villian” with, what she wants to be when she grows up and she says “alive’” and it totally blows his mind. One could say Eminem is “next to the hood”- or “next to the trailer park”- on ‘Kim’ as he both performs the actions of jealous, angry, cracker boyfriend but also critiques them: “You can’t run from me Kim, it’s us, nobody else/You’re only making this harder on yourself”. Rock’s “next to the hood” point keeps coming up in relation the new Wu Tang album, in part because of many disappointed fans and even members’ assertions that what the RZA did on ‘8 Diagrams’ was not “street” or “hood” enough but also because it, in effect, defines “next to the hood”.

On ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’- the album’s most successful and rewarding track- Ghostface drops a particularly winning “next to the hood” verse as he describes walking through Pathmark and being confronted with an angry Nephew who “wants revenge” because Ghost “murdered [the nephew's] Uncle Tim” by selling “him a bag of dope”. It’s already “next to the hood” in the sense that it breaks-down the conventional tough-guy hood stuff (he’s in Pathmark, spills milk on his Clarks/He regrets drinking/Saying “murder” is just great writing and very, very moral) but that’s just what we expect from Ghost. What really makes the verse great and indeed, “next to the hood”, is how it goes from the description of the Uncle to telling the listener that after the Uncle’s death, “his wife came and copped again” and then, he croons “that bitch is craaazzyyyy/She brought her baaabbbyyyy…”. In those two lines, you get the image of Ghostface the dealer and Ghostface the human being who sells her the drugs but in his head is thinking “whatthefuckthisbitchbroughtherbaby??!!”…this isn’t some oh-so-conflicted dealer cliche, it’s so much more than that. Not quite the same, but it recalls my own “next to the hood” moment, when I once drove this dealer-kid from school home only to discover his house was like, straight out of ‘Gummo’ and his like, 8 year-old, already-brain damaged kid brother was getting high…I still put on the act of non-chalance and “oh, that’s funny your kid brother smokes up” but inside I was like, “holy shit” (to reference ‘Fishscale’s ‘Shakey Dog’, another Ghostface “next to the hood” moment…).

Most of ‘8 Diagrams’ almost reaches this “next to the hood”-ness lyrically, the Wu are fairly on-point but seem a little guarded and uncomfortable, but that’s more age and their own fault, it’s got nothing to do with RZA’s beats which are wonderfully weird and yes, next to the hood. RZA tells his fans as much with that explanatory Kung Fu sample intro demanding “patience” and “honesty”, an honesty that even members Raekwon and Ghostface couldn’t subscribe to when they began bitching the album out before it even dropped. It is only the Wu’s impossible past reputation that makes this album a “disappointment”. When you hear these songs outside of the context of “I’m listening to the new Wu Tang album” they’re really good. When ‘Take It Back’ pops-up on Sirius’ SHADE45 or on your favorite college rap radio show or as one of 3000 songs on your iPod SuperShuffle, it’s up-there with the best rap of the year. Those sorta-Gothenburg Metal guitars on ‘Unpredictable’ don’t conflict with the Wu’s energy at all, nor do those drunken crooned choruses, ‘Sunlight’ is an evil clusterfuck that’s supposed to be an evil clusterfuck. The problems with ‘8 Diagrams’ are not the choruses but that the choruses show-up a little too-often on certain songs and that there’s no sense of control or balance…songs either don’t have hooks at all, or the song is chopped-up and the energy slowed-down by a way-too typical verse-chorus-verse structure.

Even that rigid structure succeeds on certain tracks, it builds tension on ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’ and keeps ‘Life Changes’ afloat because no one brings much of anything to this supposed ODB tribute. If there is one song that defines the limits of ‘8 Diagrams’, it’s ‘Life Changes’ which highlights pretty much of all latter-day Wu’s flaws. Ghostface doesn’t even show up and the rest of the guys drop super-short verses that just feel underwhelming and dishonest; hardly “half-short and twice strong”. They fumble through cliches of being emotionally honest instead of actually being emotionally honest and for the most part, never go beyond generalities. Exceptions are Method Man’s image of pouring out some Vodka and drinking the rest, which is compact, poetic, and an appropriate homage that never elevates or lowers his image (what’s with U-God’s “fall from greatness” line?), Inspectah Deck’s real-life emotions of loss- grief and blaming one’s self- and the GZA, when he points out that he’s recording his verse ten feet from where ODB died. The rest of the Wu act about as “hood” (in the negative sense) as they can, dropping short, hard-ass verses that perform emotions and never show any actual vulnerability. It’s all the more frustrating and symbolic of the Wu’s fragmentation that they can’t even come together or get-real in a tribute to a dead member.

I saw Wu Tang in New Jersey the night before ODB died. ODB was a no-show and towards the end of the show, Method Man acknowledged this reality to the crowd and was briefly interrupted by U-God who rambled off something about kicking Dirty’s ass for not showing and telling the crowd that if they see Dirty, tell them how mad they are and then, Method Man took the stage back and as a corrective to U-God’s lack of sympathy, he said that if we saw ODB, “tell Dirty we love ‘em”; that was a “next to the hood” moment.

Written by Brandon

December 12th, 2007 at 12:11 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Raekwon, Wu Tang