August 2, 2007
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.
February 5, 2007
GQ has been pimping this album pretty heavily, and for once, those snark happy, snappy dressing, music trend jumping folks were right. This album rocks, or rather purrs.
Like a breath of British air blowing through the speakers, this is a rather quiet affair for a rock album. It’s very English, brimming with restraint and evoking muscial traditions like the woozy Reggae swing of the Clash. That Reggae/Ska tinge comes through in the pacing of the tracks and through the influence of bass player, Paul Simonon formerly of the Clash himself. The other folks in this band you might have heard of are lead singer Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Tony Allen (only Fela Kuti’s fucking drummer) and Simon Tong (the Verve).
So yeah, it’s a superstar affair and it’s kinda cool being able to pick out all the separate influences as you listen to the album. It’s like everyone is doing their own thing but somehow or the other it all meshes into this oh so smooth and pleasing whole. Albarn sings all quiet and British like about English weather, civil unrest and happiness in spite of it all. His voice never really rises above a murmur the entire album. The rest of the music is just as laid back. Tony Allen creates all these intricate little drum patterns switching things up repeatedly during the songs, seemingly veering into drum n’ bass on some of the tracks. There is no banging around here, this is not Audioslave. Even when the album peaks on the title and final track with an extended jam session; bass, guitars and pianos going at it, distortion here, noise experiment there, it never really rises to anything too frenetic. It’s moving sure, and damned good stuff, but this is an album so polite you could take it to tea with your mum.
December 13, 2006
Obie rides out on “Cry Now” sounding as if he’s carried by every musician Detroit has. Perhaps he split them in three parts, a full third blaring away at those horns as if to hasten armageddon, another third banging the drums to shake the earth to it’s core and announce their presence sufficiently and the last portion managing bass strings and the rest of this mini symphony.
Many black men died in 2006 and hip hop had no less than its full share of tragedy. Obie Trice escaped death with bullets in the head and declared his intent to live, manifesto for that life and arrival as a top notch lyricist with this furious hurricane of a track. Hs manifesto veers between extremes, redemption from the drug game in rap, rejection of a violent death and the promise of the same for any who bring it towards him and love for the city where he nearly lost that life. From the first verse:
“The white boy stepped down
So I will accept the crown
Exceptional however never let you down
I Found my new niche no more bricks
So I’m pitchin’ 16’s verbally bitch “
And from the second:
“My exodus will never be from a violent outcome,
I turn exorcist on niggaz wit extra clips
Exit on my ethics is no longer present
X-rays show I was this close to heaven
So for future reference I stay this close to a weapon
Who you testin’ never said I was the best never stressed it
Don’t make me get in my zone
I will own that home though
Metaphorically from where I roam on chrome yo
Detroit for niggaz that’s slow it’s the O”
Yeah, Obie came with it like he meant it and even if his album wasn’t all of that, this song will stand the test of the time. I had another song nominated for song of the year and will still write on it, but when O’s came to mind, I promptly played it 15 times consecutively to confirm for myelf that it is still as good as I remember it being. It is. Listen for yourself: Obie Trice – Cry Now
November 29, 2006
” Fat titties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab
Sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab
Trees bright and green turn yellow brown
Autumn called ’em, see all them leaves must fall down, growin old”
Here’s the thing and as with most things, I could be wrong about this. There’s nothing exciting about a Hip Hop album from a well adjusted, comfortable middle aged man. As in all other fields, the best art comes from a state of discomfort.
I sympathize with Jay-Z’s dilemma on Kingdom Come. He’s gone and done what Andre 3000 is willing to give up on without even trying, making a grown up Hip Hop album. Andre said he’s quitting rap because he doesn’t want to be an old man on a stage trying to get the crowd hype. He rather be in a jazz club playing a saxophone or doing something equally suave and age appropriate. Before hearing Kingdom Come, I didn’t at all appreciate Andre’s position, thinking that of the premier lyricists of all time at least ought to give Hip Hop a chance to evolve before quitting on it. After hearing Jay attempt this, I’m not so certain. This album is flat out boring. There’s no hunger, no urgency, no immediacy to any of this music. And without that, there is no compelling reason to replay this thing, no matter how mature and expensive everything sounds.
Kingdom Come has some truly awful songs. That a man who calls himself Jay-Hova should allow a song as God forsaken as “Show Me What You Got” out the studio is enough to cause one to lose belief in the existence of God or Jay as God MC. The rhymes are astonishingly lazy, the beat is earthshakingly bad, the “wave, wave” shit is cornier than Camron in pink and purple; the whole mess makes me cringe everytime it comes on and I fear for humanity when someone starts singing along with it.
“Thirty Something” has a few decent lines in the verses. A thoughtful Jay-Z reflecting on his new found maturity and beating the young ones down with it. One could behind anything so obviously counter to the industry/standard direction. Except of course, the fucking obnoxious chorus. “30’s the new 20?” That’s the best the fucking God MC can come up with? Not to mention that, as Jim Jones (can’t believe I’m referencing, and agreeing with, this horse’s ass) rightly points out, fucking Jay-Z is nearer 40 than 30, soHov ‘s general position doesn’t even make any sense. Couple this with the nightmarish Vegas revue beat he backs the song with and the fact that there’s nothing more uncool than a middle aged person trying to explain why he’s still cool and all that’s missing is Angela Bassett’s presence to prove that Jay-Z is on someHow Stella Get Her Groove Back shit.
“Do You Wanna Ride,” “Hollywood,” and “I Made It” all continue the trend of overly smooove beats, and the last of those offends further as it’s completely redundant. Wasn’t all of The Black Album (which I liked) one big “Mama I Made It” anthem? Why have another of those on his comeback album? And if Jay-Z and Beyonce never collaborate again, it’d be perfectly fine by me. Their track record is abysmal.
As to the good stuff… “Beach Chair” is some pretty new agey stuff, and it’s definitely a take or leave it track. I’ll take it. I think Chris Martin bodies the beat and even if Jay-Z is kind of mumbling half coherent, poorly thought out shit all over the track, I kind of like the overall effect. I’m not calling this a good song, just one that I don’t mind.
Now, “The Prelude” is fire. Jay knows his intros and if he’d spit with half this clarity and relevance on the rest of the album, it might not have been a godforsaken mess. I’m a geek and I don’t always mind hearing Hov brag, plus that Just Blaze beat is some kind of hot, so I quite like title track, “Kingdom Come.” It’s still top notch Jay-Z lyricism but it’s got great imagery, it’s playful and it works. This is acceptable as a big commercial single from any pretender to Biggie’s throne. There ought to be a minimum lyrical bar for any rapper who considers himself halfway decent and this is it. If you must dumb down for your audience, do it without causing fans of well written words to weep blood.
I wasn’t even that enamored of “Lost Ones” when I first heard it, but at this point, I’m willing to declare it the finest track on the album. Dre’s beat has grown on me, and Jay comes right, taking on Dame, B and his dead nephew sensitively and like a man. This track does something different.Hov bypasses the standard diss track and elevates personal issues to a really interesting and compelling artistic statement. Try saying that about “Dig A Hole” with its generic beat, generic threats and lazy lyrics. Jay’s done a seminaldiss song. You might remember a little track called “Takeover” where every line cut deep, leaving Nas and Mobb Deep bloody by the end of the track and credibly threatening the rest of the industry with the kiss off, “for all you other niggas throwing shots at Jigga, you only get half a bar, fuck y’all niggas.” If you ain’t gone spit for real, why spit at all?
“Trouble” actually has some kinda funny lines but the beat is so mind numbingly bad and Jay’s flow so totally off, I finally had to Google the lyrics to figure out what he was saying cause my attention just kep wandering away. Unbelivable how bad some of the beats these legends (Dre- Trouble) and wannabe legends (Blaze – Show Me) make and choose (Jay). I wonder what’s up with their hearing, probably producer’s ear, too many hours in the booth.
That’s three good songs on an album that veers from overly generic to overly smooth, easy listening shit. I’m sure there are people out there who like that kind of thing. Apparently 700, 000 of them this week. I imagine the majority of them also await Britney’s next album with bated breath. If it’s important to you that hip hop have heart and hunger, some kind of vitality to it, this is not the album for you. Probably the best summation of all my arguments in the bonus track, “44 Four’s.” I didn’t go watch Jay-Z perform Reasonable Doubt this Summer, but thanks to the wonder of YouTube, I did get to see him thrill with lyrical prowess, declaring his niceness one line at a time on the new verse to “22 Two’s,” his original “Respect Me, I’mHov ” track. The verse was ill, no hater could deny it. So what does Jay-Z do on the album. He takes the beat to the original track, rerecords it with arena sound and a faked audience that doesn’t compare to the rawness of the original, then delivers the new verse so poorly it loses all the punch it had in concert. Fucker sounds bored with his own shit. So am I.
I’ll leave you with one final thought, one that once again brings in Andre 3000. Go listen to Atliens, an album where for some reason Outkast sounded really grown and contemplative, despite it being their second full length outing. Tell me it’s not more interesting, some sonically innovative, more thoughtful and in every way a better album than this bullshit. Andre really needs to give us some more before he quits.
November 18, 2006
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
October 31, 2006
Okay, Game’s new album is official. The first time I say the cover of the Documentary, I was pretty psyched about it. The Chuck Taylors, the screw face, the hundred spoke wheels; all that West Coast iconography is a trip. There is a reason we love regionalism in hip hop. Each region brings their own flavor and we’d been missing the West for a minute there. I thought maybe we could get some of that laid back, needlessly nihilistic, gangsta shit that’d been missing from radio for a while. I’d been for hoping forthis guy, Balance(he’s got a hell of a laid back flow) to deliver, but it’s been three years since I first put one of his tracks on a mixtape and I’m still waiting for dude to blow. So Game looked like the cat to do it. And he sort of did.
In spite of his questionable rap skills and all the name dropping , The Documentary was kind of a hot album. Lot’s of great beats, some fun tracks with 50 and once in a while The Game even managed to come correct as a rapper (see “No More Fun and Games,” over Just Blaze’s monstrous track). Lyrically, he’s been getting better in the gap between albums. I can’t believe that Obie Trice’s album didn’t have the track they did together, “Growing Up in the Hood.” G-Unit feud or no, that is one of the best tracks either artist has ever done. If you haven’t heard it, find it and listen to it. It’s definitely worth it.
Because in this new day, one doesn’t listen to an album but a whole series of leaks, I heard 8 or so tracks from Doctor’s Advocate before the whole scorcher landed on my desk last night. When I said I wanted West Coast, this is what I meant. This is not new music, this is classic stuff. All of Dre’s signatures are on this album, everything he did with N.W.A and subsequently studied and reproduced with attention to detail. Game is still no general in the rap field; he’s more like a private but his flow works nicely on most of the tracks and when he gets an appropriately scorching beat, he steps to it like a man.
Exhibit A? “Compton.” Someone described this track as Game doing a one man N.W.A impression and that description pretty much fits. The song is entirely in their mold, from the ultra abrasive “nigga, nigga, nigga, I’m from Compton” that he starts every verse with to Will.I. Am’s mythologizing hook, the insane, insane drums and all those lovely WestCoast signifiers on the beat, the spare piano loop, the multiple breakdowns, this track is a monster. If you disagree, listen to it three more times, dip quickly intoStraight Outta Compton and The Chronic and then come back and say thank you.
More West Coast goodness on “Remedy” and “Ol’ English.” “Remedy” has a nice bounce to it, riding music, while “Ol’ English” is smoked out on a really big blunt with a bottle of, what else, Ol’ english type music. “Wouldn’t Get Far” is a pretty cool track featuring Kanye, with both rappers going on about girls and the way they love stars on a chill but fairly typical Kanye produced beat.
“Let’s Ride” and “One Blood” are both already on the radio; the first so so and the second a nice shot of adrenaline, Game spouting angry bluster at everyone and everything.
“Why You Hate the Game,” with Nas features the beautiful line (and my next tagline), “Pro black, I don’t pick cotton out of aspirin bottles” and Game holds his own against the God son pretty well, if only causeNas is pretty laid back anyway. I don’t like the production on this track that much. Just Blaze did far better work on Documentary with “Church for Thugs” and “No more fun and games.” This beat is merely okay and the verses deserve far better, although it is kind of a nice closer for the album in it’s own way.
I’m not in love with the title track featuring Busta. Game often acts like an immature kid unable to decide who he wants to be that way and tracks like this where he sounds weepy and choked up over minor things highlight that immaturity unnecessarily. I’m also not a fan of the track withJamieFoxx . What do you all say we impose a moratorium on that guy continuing in the music industry. We’ll keep watching his movies and he’ll leave our music alone? Sound like a plan?
Altogether the album is pretty cohesive, with one absolute monster of a track, a handful of very good ones and not enough bad tracks to seriously drag it down. It also gets major points for repping that West Coast sound hard. Considering I wasn’t expecting anything at all, I’m very pleased. I rate this highly listenabl.