Kanye West – Last Call

This song is so underrated. I was at the grocery store yesterday with the ipod on random when this Kanye’s “Last Call” came on. Its almost thirteen minute length assures that it is often dismissed as an unearned egotistical moment for a man with no shortage of them, particularly as it comes at the end of his very first album. I disagree. “Last Call” is one of the greatest documentations of the hustle I’ve ever heard as a motivational track, frankly it bests “U Don’t Know,” “Hustlin” or whatever else you want to throw out there. This is where Kanye’s everyman personality pays off.

A perfectly lucid description of the successes and failures it took for his voice to ever make it to our ears, the song is so amazingly detailed and warmly narrated, you can’t fail to relate to it. Plus it isn’t filled with Jay-Z type bravado about always being the greatest and perfectly plotting the path. Kanye works, finds a little success, then a whole lot of nothing happens. He retires to the one bedroom with the Ikea mattress. He pushes again, finding detractors, meeting his idols, seeing success around the corner and we’re with him in all this. This shit is so fucking real you can’t help but love that moment at the end when he asks you to raise a glass for him.

I recently  sat in an unfurnished room with a group of young men on the come up. It’s the same moment for them that Kanye’s track describes, that Rocafella moment, trying to get the glory, with nothing but heart and talent and the dream to keep you going. Young, unknown, unproven but sure of your own talent and putting in the  kind of work that it takes to actually get to the top. Long nights, bad Chinese food, barely enough cash for the subway but hustling for the right gear to rock the show with. Setbacks and weak shows and retooling the whole thing so it works better, it’s a magical moment. Take a moment and enjoy it fellas. It’ll never be this way again.

Mic in my hand, mic on my hat, a motherfucking mic that rocks me to sleep

Shout out to Kanye, someone I’ve long considered the most important man in hip hop and one of the most creative and honest forces out there right now. I’m appreciative of his being real and vulnerable and able to talk about real things in an age where 95% of the other artists out there are more concerned with how many endorsement deals they can get on and too busy trying to “keep it real” to even maintain coherence. Moments of extreme irrationality like Cam’ron’s statement on not snitching on a serial killer in his neighborhood on 60 minutes come from spending so much time obssesing about how you’re viewed and keeping to a code that you start to lose sense of what’s real and what isn’t. Somewhere between ninety and ninety-nine percent of today’s rappers are that way and Kanye stands out very tall for always being about himself and what’s important to him. The man’s mom dies and no one can doubt how important she was to him because he didn’t make a million songs about not loving a bitch, but wrote “Hey mama” and constantly praised and professed his love for her loudly and publicly. How many other rappers can say that? How many people period?

Strange, I didn’t even come to the computer to write this post. I was gonna write about a Kanye track and I guess ‘d had that bottled up. I’m going to wrap this up and start my post afresh.

My heart goes out to Kanye, wishing him strength in this moment and success in the future. Take the time you need to recover man. I can’t wait to see you in concert, but that shit will totally wait. Your music is amazing, your spirit apparent and no one will penalize you of all people for being human and taking the time to deal with your loss. You’re too talented to go away and we’ll be waiting whenever you return, if you do decide to take a break. Much love from a fan.

Call your momma fool, take this moment

Edit: If you’ve seen the video of Kanye performing in Sweden or so, you’ve heard by now that he’s not interested in taking any time off. I can respect that. Bring it to New York fool. I got dollars in my hand waiting to see the hardest working man in showbiz. Chea, chea, we gon’ be there.

The mix of surrealist imagery, historical allegory and social criticism in Dizzee’s video makes it likely the sickest video of the year, from one of the sickest (and my favorite I think) Hip Hop albums of
the year. The other thing that’s great about this song that’s missing from a lot of Hip Hop is good old fashioned story telling. Hidden behind that scattered flow and accent of his are storytelling chops worthy of anyone from Slick Rick to Jimmy Hendrix.

“1 day i was with ma breddrin Aido roaming the street, on the main road hungry looking for summin 2 eat, not no burger or no chips, shit that’s easily digested, its the shit that if your caught u’ll be easily arrested”

It’s really annoying when the guys from across the pond do better work with a form that originated in the US but I figure it’s for the same reason as NY losing it’s dominant place in Hip Hop. Ownership breeds arrogance and stagnation. Everyone whines about how everything that comes out of any other market isn’t real Hip Hop rather than taking creative chances and letting their work evolve with the market. It isn’t 1994, but from the artists and music NY keeps fielding, you’d think Biggie and Tupac hadn’t already had their day and everyone had to keep trying to recreate them.

Anyway, check out more of Dizzee’s tracks, the bombastic EZ Rock and Rob Bass sampling Pussyole (Oldskool) and the bouncy, fresh to death ode Bubbles and then go buy some real Hip Hop right here.

Dizzee reps for the oleskool

Give dap to Todd Boyd

April 18, 2007

This cat must be taking notes when I rant and rave to my friends. This take on the Imus/Hip Hop conversation is so completely on point:

Imus Shouldn’t Give Hip Hop a bad rap

Via the Infamous NahRight

The emptiness of Justin

February 16, 2007

I don’t often wonder what the current king of blue eyed soul thinks when he goes to bed at night. If this video gives any kind of insight into that unasked question however, it sure ain’t pretty. In the maturity challenged entertainment market of 2007, Timberlake probably gets more money for his film projects than Francis Ford Coppola. So his video – sorry, mini film – for “What Goes Around” is definitely slickly produced, expensive looking, totally money in all the ways you’d expect. Visually it’s gorgeous, and he’s gone and bought the best young talent he could fine, or perhaps he’s simply pressed a few of his famous friends into doing some cool shit with him. Except there is nothing cool about this. This video is a steaming pile of horse shit.

I’m not Stanley Crouch. I don’t think pop music, or any music, is required to be moral or moralistic. But even with his ghetto pass firmly in hand, Timberlake’s audience is almost exclusively teenage and younger girls and I wonder exactly why one would want to tell that audience that Justin Timberlake will kill them if they cheat on him. And that is the basic message behind this horrendously boring horror flick. That isn’t tension and foreboding building up, it’s pretty pictures with a totally predictable story arc. The unexpected violence and misogyny of the conclusion is the only surprise to the video, showing just how the deep the death/violence porn fantasias of a privileged white boy run. Movies like Larry Clark’s Kids and Bully, or the Jackass crew’s flicks ensure that you’ve always known this existed. It’s just funny to see it show up in what ought to be the saccharine sweet world of pop/R&B. I wonder if all the guys that participated in this thing sit around in a circle and jerk off to it.

And what of the other participants in this thing? I know Scarlett Johansson was trying to get away from playing ingenue along side dirty old man and having that carry over into her real life, but is the solution to that really to jump the movie star bullshit bandwagon? When she was sitting in bed with Timberlake after a night of super stylized yet safe sex and he said to her, “hey baby, want to be in my video,” did she not think to herself that there might be some Sophia Coppola laundry she ought to be doing instead. I mean even that would have to be more interesting work than this is.

Really the biggest crime of this video is simply how fucking bland it is. All that money, all the world as a personal stage, all the talent that money, matinee idol looks and man of the hour status will buy and what you produce is an infantile revenge fantasy that shows you have no more imagination than a thirteen year old boy? Might as well change into a green leotard and appear as Peter Pan for an encore. And it’s doubly (or triply, who’s counting?) offensive gracing an album on which Timberland pretty much converses with the aliens in breaking the mold of what a pop song ought to be. I guess this definitely answers the question of what end of this partnership the ideas come from.

P.S.

I kind of like that MTV is getting back into the Music video business by playing them automatically on their website even if said website is still a heaping pile of slow loading, over saturated dog shit.

P.P.S.

Somebody get No Doubt back together and pull Gwen Stefani back to this here rock before she’s too far lost in space to ever be reclaimed, although watching the video for Sweetest Escape it seems she’s already too far gone in her luxurious mad house to be saved. I mean, Gucci cabs in her video? Wow!

Contenders: Killer Mike

February 13, 2007

The Killer Pledges

We went from too black and too strong to Sisquo and the damn Thong song – “Best Day, Worst Day”

For a guy named Killer, Mike sure is exuberant. He’s also angry, righteous, boisterous, thoughtful, brash and probably a little rash. All reasons to love him I assure you. The most obvious touchstone for Killer Killer is Ice Cube circa say 1992. Killer has got a conscience see. He sees all this stuff happening to and in black America and it pisses him off. But he likes to party too and make songs about the ladies. Actually, he’s unable to prevent his songs from slipping between categories. He’ll randomly begin to criticize some fake pastor on what ought to be a party track, or direct his ire at the women on what seemed to be a social commentary track. Whatever he’s doing though, Mike is compelling.

Shit, just last week a young nigga got shot, playing Superman, racing bullets in the parking lot – “Aye Oh”

He isn’t compelling for extraordinary metaphorical or word juggling skills, although he does occasionally deploy those as well. The Ice Cube comparison holds here as well. Killer says whatever is on his mind the directest way possible. he puts some humor into it and delivers every line, whether dissing Soul Train or lamenting rappers who’ve quit rapping for acting, as if it’s his last one. He’s got one of those big voices (think Big or Chuck D) that leave you completely convinced of whatever it is they are saying.

The problem with Killer being on the Contenders series is that he’s already made an album totally worthy of adulation. Killer’s Ghetto Extraordinary was delayed from release for so long that all the material he recorded for it went into the mixtape, The Killer. He released that in 2005 and you really must listen to it to get an idea of what he’s capable of. The entire mixtape is full of sharp, banging, raucous beats. There is psychedelic stuff that shows the Outkast influence, like the bouncy “My Chrome,” hard edged street beats like the unhinged energy of “Aye Oh” or the 808 propulsion of “Get Em Shawty,” and as it is a mixtape, there are also a couple of jacked beats including the awesome feat of turning 112’s saccharine “Cupid” into “A Dope Story.” Still there is an inescapable joy of life to the whole proceedings that keeps it fun to listen to, no matter how hard he’s going on any topic.

Killer Mike has been a part of the Outkast crew for a long time and he fell victim when Aquemini, the record label they started to release their own projects, fell apart. He’s on Big’s Purple Ribbon label along with some other folks you might have heard of (Bubba Sparxxx, Sleepy Brown) and some others you’ll soon be getting familiar with (Janelle Monae, Scar). The Killer is still my favorite Killer album/mixtape, but he released I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind, a street album (as he calls it) last year and it isn’t any lighter on righteous fury or good times. Check it all out, and check out the Killer Mike Primer below to get you started. One.

Dude murdered for his shoes, it was childish, but look how we remembered you. Came to your funeral in the same tennis shoes, too young and ignorant to see that our act of defiance caused your mother so much stress and crying – “You Don’t Want This life”

Killer Mike: Primer and Paint

Update: New Grind Time mixtape free download – Skulls and Roses Courtesy: Eskay 

Killer Kill on the rampage

Grumpy

December 4, 2006

What can I say but that this new era sucks. Thinking about ATLiens in light of the Jay-Z review got me really in the mood for that album so I’ve been bumping it for a few days. It occured to me what an ode to car culture that album that album is. From “Two Dope Boys in a Cadillac” to the “strip on vogues, slamming Cadillac doorz” hook of “Elevators” and the automobile centric first verse of “Decatur Psalm,” these boys know and love their autos. Yet, at no point is this Caddy love gratuitous. “Two Dope Boys” is totally descriptive of the people Outkast are at the time; herb smoking, girl pulling Big Boi and rhyme slanging, hater schooling Andre. The “Elevators” hook acts as mood setter and metaphor for Outkast’s come up story as rappers breaking into the industry. And if you ain’t heard the storytelling wizardy of Kast and their affiliates on “Decatur Psalm,” don’t you dare call yourself a fan. I can’t cut any part of Cool Breeze’s first verse out so just check out the lyrics here.

Now take all that and compare it with Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s.” I actually kind like this track. The tinking piano, propelling strings production is hot and Rich Boy has some facility with words, dropping them fast, clipped and short. The hook suggests something like Outkast’s come up anthem and sounds grandiose and ambitious enough. But check this section of the first verse:

new money motha fucka don’t you see da tail
light don’t you see da big chain don’t
you da big rims wonda who dey hatin’ on lately
baby its him Candy paint, gator skin
seats call me Dun Dee,up in yo ‘hood im da fucka
dat you wanna be niggas wish
dey could feel da wood in my H3 ridin’ wit no tint

Who the hell made it acceptable to waste so much of your verse describing shit you ain’t got and I know you ain’t got that doesn’t do anything to tell a story, make any real point or move the listener in any way. Thing is, this song is the hotness in the streets now, getting spins and interviews for the kid from Alabama with the ridiculous screwface. This is what an up and comer looks like in 2006 and it ain’t pretty.

Rich Boy – Throw Some D’s

Outkast – Decatur Psalm

Outkast – Elevators

Hell Hath No Fury

Hell Hath No Fury is one of the best named albums ever. This is a fiercely pissed off album. It all but dares you to crack a smile as you listen to it. Everything is subterranean, glaringly focused and totally airtight. No room to breathe, for the verses, for the listeners or participants in the drug world that is so vividly talked about.

The only beats with any levity on this album are those for “Mr. Me Too” and “Dirty Money”. The first is a minimalist masterpiece in the mold of and on par with Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and the other, not much busier features a repetitive but entertaining little guitar thrill and the words dirty money, dirty money whispered over and over again. “Mr. Me Too” is hella fun, and “Dirty Money” isn’t too bad either, but this is not nearly enough reprieve from the dense claustrophobia of the rest of the album. “Wamp Wamp” features a relentless assault of steel drums and other percussion that whip up an orgy of fury and motion. It’s a fitting background for some of the album’s most inventive and enjoyable lyrics:

“No hotter flow dropper, since Poppa, you penny ante niggas see I know copper. Left the game on a high note, flow opera.” – Pusha

“I got the wamp, wamp, when I move it, it’s still damp. Mildewish, I heat it, it turns glueish, cools to a tight wad, the pyrex is Jewish!” – Malice

“Ain’t Cha,” has insistent drums, furious pacing and chimes but still isn’t as amazing as “Wamp Wamp.” The opener, “We Got It For Cheap, “is a percussive, hollow drum led declaration of intent allowing the Clipse to review the game as it is and their place in it. Every beat on the album but the aforemenntioned though, wallows underground. Even when enjoyable, like on “Hello New World’s” distorted synth goodness, these are not cheerful beats and while that is a sign of the Clipse unwillingness to compromise and mindset as the album was made, they definitely drag the album down.

I’ll get to the point. What is wrong with this album is it’s joylessness. The Clipse are XXL as rappers and lyricists. The hunger is zombie like in it’s intensity, the flow is opera (can’t say it better), their intelligence and dedication to metaphor and grace in expression is Shakespearean. But they hang all of this talent around too spare a frame. Even fan boys of lyricism need real hooks. Repeating “Keys open doors” like a tourette’s sufferer over a funeral beat does not entertainment make. Like I said, lyrically all these tracks are unquestionable – “Bitch never cook my coke. Why? Never trust a whore with my child. At you make believe rappers I smile, CanalStreeting my style.” – Pusha . See what I mean? There’s humor here, but it’s all very black humor. Blast this track out your ride and folks will get it twisted and start looking around for a hearse.

Where are the anthems? Even the R.E.U.P.G.A.N.G. chant that held the WGIFC mixtapes together is mostly missing from this album, leaving you nothing to sing along to or help you connect to the razor sharp rhymes. And with beats like “Trill’s” fucked upsynths leaching the joy out of your soul, there is very little to enjoy as you coast from ultra sharp boast to ultra sharp threat.

Let no one tell you Hell Hath No Fury is mediocre. Everyone of those beats I just dissed is a magnificent work, technically proficient and exciting in its own way. They’re just frequently impossible to enjoy. The album is furiously conceived, impeccably executed and way ahead of the game in many ways. It is also totally uncompromising, refusing to pander in any way, even if that means refusing to entertain.

Anyway, I think the next Clipse album should recorded in record time and be ready by say, next Summer. Their skills are at or close to their peak and I don’t think any other rappers in the game have the talent or intelligence to make a better album than these guys are capable of. They just need to keep the imperative that their work is entertainment. It’s not enough to make fierce and truthful music. It must also somehow keep the audience engaged and entertained. They did thatsuccesfully by jacking other people’s enormous beats on the WGITFC mixtapes and can do it again if they accept that this album was a nice therapy session and they still need to make the album that will win the people.

Oh and the last thing is subject matter. Eventually the Clipse are going to have to move away from cocaine rap. I can’t wait for them to figure and surmount that challenge. They made a really good start in that direction on “Hello New World:

“I ain’t coming at you, quote, unquote, famous rapper, who turned positive, try to tell you how to live, but this information, I must pass to the homies, if hustling is a must, be Sosa, not Tony. We can all shine, I want your wrists lit like mine, neck and ears, I want it lit like mine, foreign cars, stick shift, six gears like mine, anything that keep momma from crying, visiting you behind that glass while you awaiting sentencing, cause the judge is saying life, like it ain’t someone’s life” – Malice

Magnificent. I can’t wait for the next time.

UPDATE: This, actually, is the definitive album review

Clipse the Audiophiles

November 16, 2006

The Clipse are making a bid to turn me into an audiophile. All the songs on their album really need good speakers and the best quality compression (or lack thereof really) that you can get. Even a song like “Wamp Wamp,” which has been around for a while, sounds so much better on the video than on any MP3 copy I have. On MP3 or poor speakers turned low, the drums don’t have room to breathe, can’t impress the way they need to and thus take some of the sheen off the lyrics as well.

I was really disappointed the first time I heard the album. Of course I was listening to it at 3AM, tired as all fuck and playing it low so as not to wake all the neighbours. I’ve not decided if it’s really XXL yet, but it’s improved massively now that I’m playing it loud enough and each track can hit with some force. More to come.