September 6, 2007
I’ve been thinking a bit about what the game’s been missing. I’m hoping that next week Kanye not only outsells 50, but moves a sick number of records, signaling to the music industry’s gate keepers that gangsta rap is not the end all, be all of Hip Hop music. In the wake of such a thing occurring, I’ve made me a list of essential things every potential MC who comes my way has to have.
How To Be A Credible Contender: Vol 1
A. Basic talent and ability. Does this cat rhyme good? Every would be rapper can’t be Rakim, but its difficult to be an MC without an understanding of rhyme schemes and the ability to bend words to convey meaning while staying on beat. This property is not hard to find. Learning to rap on beat and get a simple enough point across is not the most difficult thing in the world, although there are lots of jokers trying to be rappers who haven’t even mastered this basic step.
B. Is this rappers technique superior to any? Or even distinct in any way? I think this is where 90% f the rappers handing me CDs outside Virgin and concerts fail first. AFter learning to rhyme, they never realize they’ve actually got to move beyond this and create something distinct about themselves. So if you’re standing out there in the rain passing out CDs full of derivative flows and content that is being done better on radio every day, get back to training and work on your style. Your Kung Fu is not strong enough.
c. Tell me a story, any story, just make it interesting, chock full of detail and interesting enough to keep me listening. You getting money, you on your grin, you put in work in the streets, a detailed description of your closet in the most mundane detail possible? There is nothing entertaining about this shit. Entertain me, make me laugh, touch on something I haven’t heard before, cover a topic no one’s touched since ATCQ, go boho like Arrested Development, or burn the track with some vivid narrative of youth gone wrong like its a New York train circa ’72. Even major label rappers fail at this most of the time these days. If you all don’t get more interesting, I’m going to put my Blues men on the ipod and listen to nothing but Howlin Wolf and Lightin Hopkins for the next year.
D. Present yourself so I actually care what your story is. Look I know what the Hip Hop uniform is. I’ve got fresh sneaks aplenty. Hoodies and baggy jeans ain’t hard to come by, but if you look like everyone and your album cover features nothing but your scowling face or scowling crew, you ain’t Hip Hop, you just boring. Wasn’t there a time when freshness was the thing in Hip Hop? Not just copping the latest trendy tee but actually creating a distinct and interesting look of your own. Give Kanye shit for dressing like the catering staff went on LSD all you want but give him respect for being a distinct presence every time he steps on a magazine cover or red carpet. Let go of your fear young one, you don’t have to be a clone.
5. The abstract – swagger, star potential and most importantly, intelligence and an understanding that what sells on the ball court will not necessarily sell on iTunes. You’ve got to have the swagger to be a star, but be true enough to what you stand for to not lose your way once you have a single that sells. You’ve got to have the intelligence and willingness to learn and study the game. The skills alone don’t pay the bills. There are lots of talented rappers without the heart or intelligence to succeed in the industry. If you ain’t ready, I don’t even want to hear about you.
Anyway, I actually started this whole thing because I wanted to write about Mickey Factz, whose mixtape I’ve been feeling (like it was Nia Long on my lap). Flashback Vol 1. – Back to the Future is focused in its beat selection, ganking beats from the 80’s through the 00’s. How many mixtapes in 2007 you know cover Poison, Round the Way Girl and Mona Lisa (the Slick Rick version, not Wyclef’s)? The follow up to his equally geek friendly, In Search of the Nerd, Flashback just sounds fun. Mickey’s style is pretty distinct, a melding of mid 90’s b-boy cool and hip hop hipster cockiness. Yeah, he’s all about fashion, fresh gear and fly girls but he also does a fierce take on Jay-z’s “Friend or Foe”, putting would be rappers in their place and drops straight straight battle rap alongside some pretty fierce girl identified only as Mallory Knox. The total effect is something like fusing the goofy good fun of early Will Smith with that superfly street style that’s all the rage (gold sneaks and Japanese fashion), and infusing with a decent dose of street cred. And none of this feels forced, from the way he rhymes to the way he dresses and the mixtape art, everything is working together. Somebody sign this cat and launch a real career. I could totally work with this.
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
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.
July 5, 2006
Once upon a time, 50 Cent was a hell of a rapper. Want proof?
50 Cent is not much of a rapper these days. Want proof?
The first two tracks are from his unreleased Power of the Dollar album, the would be debut from Columbia that got pulled while he lay in hospital bleeding bullets. “Paper Chaser” and “Misdemenor” are two of the most recent tracks floating around the internet. Hunger is a greatly underrated MC attribute. I won’t argue with his business acumen but this cat needs to get in the booth like he wants it again and put that lazy flow away.
June 24, 2006
Too many ladies give these niggaz too many chances
Too many brothers wannabe lovers don’t know what romance is
Too many bitches stuck up from too many sexual advances
No question; Jay-Z got too many answers
It may not be my favorite track on the album but it comes pretty damn close and it may not be the most widely revered album in hip hop, but it’s mine. Despite all of this, I did not and will not be dropping over $100 (United States dollars no less) to go watch him attempt to recreate it over a decade after it’s release. So y’all better report and report well. Thank you.
June 11, 2006
This is a very long winded review of Common’s performance at Mark Ecko’s Save the Rhinos concert in Central Park, NYC. It is very late and I have yet to write about the rest of the show, which is a travesty considering the fact that the God, Rakim performed that day. I’ll get to it sometime, maybe. In the meantime, Common…
I don’t think you can really understand an artist’s music until you see them live. Some music leaps off the CD, bouncing with laughter and suggesting integrity and then falls apart when you realize how managed everything about the artist is when you see them in person. Sometimes it’s the reverse and a mundane piece of music is made meaningful by the performance. Seeing Common live was closer to the second, although I don’t think it’ll be enough to make declare Be a great or even good album.
I’ve seen footage of Common performing before and I probably ought to have expected him to bring the energy to stage, but I was still pretty surprised at how explosive he was onstage. Coming in performing the title track of off Be (this post is being written over a week after the concert, so some of this shit is bound to be totally wrong, sue me), that fool was jumping all over the stage like he was on drugs, but being Common, you know weed is the only thing you’d expect him to do and he was definitely too hyped up to have done any puffing before coming out. He pretty much kept that energy through the show, bouncing off the walls and getting really into all the jams, whether slow jams or the super classic “I used to love H.E.R.” Actually, that fool got so amped at some point during the concert he picked up a stick and started playing the drums, and then moved to thrashing the stage, throwing shit down and all. That’s right, heavy metal boho!
I got to be honest, I don’t completely believe Common. On stage, he showed himself to be more man and less a strange cloth automaton programmed permanently to boho. He made crass jokes, ground his hips and looked like he was really having fun when he got a girl to volunteer to come onstage and play lover while he did slow jams. So the man is a man after all. If you throw in the casual but pronounced homophobia on his records, his decidely fucked up obsession with miscegenation (black nation, I got to talk to you about some of your preoccupations) and his admittedly spotted record in relationships, he seems like a pretty standard fella, flawed but trying to make his way in the world.
So what am I not believing? I’ll try to explain. It’s something I discovered while watching Def Jam Poetry and have come to be extremely suspicious of in general. All those ultra righteous dudes who spit poetry and are all conscious and shit, those guys? They’re bastards too. In fact, I’ve come to suspect that they are bigger bastards than the rest of the straight thugging, play the field cats out there. In my imagination, the amount of emotional devastation these cats are able to wreck with that sensitive guy shit far outstrips the uninspired and pedestrian damage of your everyday homie. The previous statements refer to damage they cause women in relationships (which is what all those boho girls on Def Jam Poetry were going on about, but I basically think it applies to their whole philosophy and approach to life. What I’m saying is that I don’t buy that badge of righteousness in which all of this material is cloaked. And before you go saying that Common has never said he is righteous or perfect, take off your rose tinted contacts. His entire appeal and marketing approach rest on that “trying to be righteous and finding it hard, but still really trying really hard cause ma raised me to be good” scthick.
I could be wrong about this, the man could be earnest. Shit, the man probably is earnest and I’m just a paranoiac asshole who won’t give an artist and man a break. Sue me for holding on to my suspicions, suspicions that were not at all alleviated when I heard Be, the most impersonal Common album I’ve ever heard, one on which he goes away from himself and externalizes everything, positioning himself as spokesman for the people (“I stand for the blue collar, on the side on the side making a few dollars, Like Sam Jack they maneuver through drama like”). That approach worked and Be is Common’s most commercially successful album to date. Great, so what’s next? Well, how bout a song called “People.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? Com performed the track and it being a week later, I don’t remember the lyrics, but rest assured it was in the same populist strain that the “Corners” and “The Food” were in. It wasn’t a bad track. I remember enjoying it. Can’t tell you I believe it though. You can always tell when an artist starts to fake it and it is my personal suspicion that Like Water for Chocolate was the last time Common really had anything to say. I quite enjoyed Electric Circus (Electric Wire Hustle Flower!), unlike most people but I’ll agree that he was pretty much a guest on that album, taking second seat to all the weird stuff the folks in the back room were experimenting with. Ask me the greatest track Common ever did and I’ll hand you “The Sixth Sense,” which would easily find itself on my list of greatest hip hop songs of all time. That perfect Premier sound backing the intensely personal yet socially aware musings of the man:
The perseverance of a rebel I drop heavier levels
Its unseen or heard, a king with words
Cant knock the hustle, but I’ve seen street dreams deferred
Dark spots in my mind where the scene occurred
Some say I’m too deep, I’m in too deep to sleep
In front of two-inch glass and Arabs I order fries
Inspiration when I write, I see my daughters eyes
I’m the truth
The man said he was the truth and I believed him, I totally fucking believed him. I once started a year at the Laundromat, trying to clean up the evidence of midnight’s debauchery, think about my life and putting this song on autorepeat till it’d played some twenty or so times. I didn’t come up with any epiphanies but I definitely came away convinced of the utter level of insanity Comm had unleashed. Thing is, on the album Like Water, this track is followed by the most misogynist little skit that ostensibly pokes fun at the idea of the conscious brother who is in fact a pimp. Let no one say the man ain’t self conscious.
Anyway, all this just to say I don’t trust boho dudes. Back to the concert. I hated Be. I thought every critic who said it was the greatest thing since hip hop escaped New York must have been totally smoked out both while listening to the album and writing the review, and as I don’t smoke weed or sess (cause, like the good Dr. said before dropping two albums named for the most potent strain of the shit, that stuff causes brain damage), I respectfully disagreed. In concert though, Com made it work. His enthusiasm, untouchable skill and charisma were off the books. And he didn’t no crappy hypeman either, none of that fake rap concert crap where you make up for your weak voice (what up Lupe) or crappy memory (too many of them to name) by having someone else rap your songs. Common had his lines down and performed them right. The band he had backing him played everything a lot harder and funkier than on the record, and so most of the tracks lost their Ambien like effect. Common also had the most bananas DJ on stage, some cat named DJ Dummy. Dummy got his spotlight halfway through the show, taking and scratching to death the superawesome Rob Bass and DJ EZ Rock vehicle, “It Takes Two” (this one’s a contender for greatest songs of all time). Them Brooklyn boys don’t play. This dude was totally off the hook. After seeing EZ-Trip and Kid Capri spinning earlier, I was reconfirmed in my opinion that people should not dabble in things such as being a DJ, that if they were going to do it, they ought to do it right. After I saw this kid, I was of the opinion that all the wannabe DJs should just give up and let the pros do their thing. Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring.
Anyway, Common did the slow jams, got Bilal (this dude is hella weird, but his shit knocks hard) to do vocals on a couple of tracks (can’t remember which) and closed the show on a real feel good tip. Overall I was totally feeling this concert and I would definitely encourage you to go see Common whenever you have a chance. He may be suspect as a boho, but he’s nothing but class as a performer.
June 6, 2006
Turning guns into guitars seems a daffy and not particularly effective way of working for peace. Making ridiculously good, soothing and incredibly moving music is far more laudable. This Cesar Lopez fella does both. The song below, Sin Respuesta is easily the most beautiful song I’ve heard this year and if you’re the kind of person who likes classical pop or just beautiful singing, you really have to hear it. Download more tracks off the link above, or buy his album and tell me if the rest of it is this astonishing.
Cesar Lopez – Sin Respuesta
May 30, 2006
Beanie Sigel – “What Your Life Like?”
Over the most intriguing beat I’ve heard in a while, Sigel creates the scariest and most hypnotic picture of prison life imaginable. This track from The Truth (2000) is not cheerful, but it shows why Beanie is one of the most important rappers still at it.
Kelis – “About to Hate Me”
For the record, I love Kelis. I will not apologize for it and although this track is more mellow than she usually does it, I find it quite grooving as well.
Obie’s first album was a mostly subpar affair, with too many Eminem appearances and the lack of focus that seems to afflict every new artist trying to break into hip hop world. Shall we attend to the streets, or make club records? How many guest appearances can we squeeze onto the album? You’d think these people never heard Illmatic. Obie’s found gold in the wildnerness though. Every track he’s produced in that strange limbo between debut and sophomore album has been fierce and focused, and these are two of the finest and most recent. “Cry Now” features crashing horns and guitars, with the bass propelling things and Obie in full storytelling mood with a vicious and relentless flow. That one gets the blood boiling and with it’s slower pace, “Black Boy” doesn’t do much to cool that ardour. The horns lead on this one again, with some weird synths in the backgrounds just for variety and Obie on about life in the street. Definitely looking forward to this album.
May 27, 2006
The last time I won a competition, it was at some dumb theme park where the carni had to guess your age. After guessing me six years older than I was at the time, I walked away with an ugly and oversized doll of some sort for my sister. An ipod nano is a much better prize, especially as I’ve been ipodless since mine was stolen/lost at Lit. 4GB will fit about a tenth of my music, but I’m definitely not complaining. I’m also much happier with what I had to do to win it, write about my love for Nina Simone. The contest was by The Fader and they notified me two days ago that I won and shipped my ipod along with four Nina CD’s, most of which I already have but some of which is new and exciting, to me yesterday. Here’s the letter I wrote to win. I went overboard with the metaphors a bit, but it’s Nina and Nina must be writtern about with passion. It’ll be published in the next issue of Fader too. Frigging sweet eh?
She’ll leave fire in your eyes and coal in your heart,
Nina’s beautiful and fierce, with a voice hard as a
machete. I can’t get enough of that pain she sings so
true and that fervour, just this side of manic, that
drives her arrangements. That a woman should be so
delicate, so strong…
I love black music. I love soul. I can’t deal with R&B
today. Too few of these artists sing with this
passion, this burning passion, anger, love and
experience that you hear in every note of Nina’s
songs. Maybe Jill Scott or Lauryn Hill tap into that.
Erykah Badu sings with that righteous anger; Jaguar
Wright too. I love Nina because these women who sing
in her mold, echo her strength and her conviction are
wonderful in their own right, even as they are not
her. You hear these women, you see them perform and
you think majesty. Nina had majesty. It’s undeniable
when she sings about black men hanging, when she sings
playfully of her lover, in songs she wrote that tapped
into life in all it’s facets.
I love that she sang songs that felt personal (Just
Like a Woman), songs about the black struggle (Strange
Fruit, Black is the true color, etc.), playful love
songs (My Baby Just Cares), I wanna sex you up songs
(Sugar in my Bowl) and so many other things. I really
must stop gushing now. I love Nina and that I cannnot
deny. Let the world know. Thanks for putting her in an
issue and spreading the gospel.
May 21, 2006
I’d like to point out an insignificant piece of informtion from this NYT article about the Dixie Chicks:
“The Dixie Chicks’ two previous albums, “Wide Open Spaces” (1998) and “Fly” (1999), had each been certified “diamond” for shipping more than 10 million copies in the United States. Without airplay, “Home” stalled that March at six million.”
The album that stalled sold six million copies? And Kanye West’s opus, his crowning light and acheivement is struggling to sell three million copies? Fuck hip hop, you fools are working in the wrong field. Pick up a banjo, learn a little square dancing. Shit, Nelly must have got the message ahead of the pack. Damn!