Wednesday, December 27, 2006

2006 – the year in lists

2006 was a monumental year for me in a lot of ways. There were weddings, births, engagements, organ transplants, friends moving far away, new friendships made, and just in general feeling like things were getting better. People started to think that maybe bush was kind of a dick, that maybe the Iraq war wasn’t so hot, and that maybe this global warming thing was for reals.

Anyways, here are some lists, to add to all the other year-end lists.

Top trends of ought six-

1. CD going the way of the LP – Ringtones and downloads put a huge chunk in record sales this year. If you don’t believe me, ask all of the artists whose records failed to hit gold or platinum, or ask Tower records.

2. I joined the 21st century. I found an ipod, and discovered the joy of downloads and podcasts.

Predictions for the Future
1. By 2010, every B and C list actor still living will have been on a reality tv show. By 2020, every reality TV show contestant will have been on another reality show with other washed-up former reality show contestants. By 2050, the last ten adults in America who have not been on a reality tv show will be on a reality tv show about how they’ve never been on a reality tv show. We will watch it, all the while commenting on how pathetic the whole reality tv thing is.
2. 2007 will see the first Gay rapper. Believe that.
3. Grindcore will go mainstream. Extreme Noise Terror will have a surprise crossover hit, ala’ “Crazy”.
4. Neither Chinese Democracy nor Detox will be released.

Most eagerly anticipated yet disappointing releases of 2006:

1. Lupe fiasco: Food and Liquor – I was really excited on this based on the “Push, Kick” single, and his appearance on Kanye West’s “Touch the sky”. Then the record came out and I realized, oh yeah, I don’t like this kind of music!” so I never bought it.
2. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – whatever their new one is called. After the mediocrity of their last album, I decided to take a pass. I respect that they are trying to branch out beyond their epic emo, but it just isn’t that interesting.
3. Mars Volta – Amputechture –See above. I’m starting to think that Pitchfork is right in detesting them…
4. Jay-Z – Kingdom Come. Considering that all of his releases since retirement have been utter bullshit, it’s no surprise that this is an exercise in blandness. I think I own all the young hova I’ll ever need.
5. Sufjan Stevens – who put out an odds and sods compilation and a five disc Christmas cd. Quit fucking around, and get back to your next State record. Might I suggest Califormia?
6. DJ Shadow – The Outsider – In which he creates a record that is almost impossible to listen to in it’s entirety.
7. Stones Throw – Chrome Children Comp – So much hype, even a tour in support of it, and it’s basically a thirteen dollar label sampler. Neat.

Records of the year:
1. Ghostface Killah. Fishscale – The ghost proves that he still has it, coming out with one fo the most inventive, quality releases of the year. And I’m pretty sure that come this time next year, I’ll still be listening to it.
2. Spank Rock: Yoyoyoyoyo. Fun, clever, and blessed with wicked beats. Supposedly put on a hell of a live show.;
3. TI – King – This was the only hip-hop record to go platinum this year, and although it’s not my favorite record ever, it’s still worth a spin.
4. Madlib – Tha Beat Konducta – God bless madlib. He brings genuine talent to hip-hop – the chops of a jazz musician and a record collection to make you drool.
5. Special Herbs Box Set – MF DOOM/Metalfingers – Proving that there is more to DOOM that wacky rhymes. Also makes better background/chill out music than Madlib’s disc.
6. The Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury. - I just got this yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to really listen to it, but I’m pretty sure it’s awesome.
7. Four Tet – Remixes and Remixed. One disc of their reworking of other artists’ stuff, and one disc of other artists’ reworking of their stuff. Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Madvillain…how can you go wrong?
8. Sufjan Stevens – illinoise. Ok, so it came out last year, but it’s still a really good album..

So that's all i got. Hope your 2006 was good, and here's hoping that 2007 is even better.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Duchess

I often listen to the local urban radio station when I'm cooking dinner, and one song getting heavy rotation is Fergie's "Fergaliscious". If you haven't heard the song, go to her myspace page and check it out. It's an amazing song in so many ways. For one thing, it blatlantly rips off so many other songs and artists. The intro is equal parts Supersonic and "We like the cars that go boom". The chorus sounds exactly like Peaches' rap on "AA/XX". Her whole album/career is ripped off from Gwen Stefani, right down to the buff abs. Fergie should be paying gwen royalties, for real.

Exhibit a:

Fergalicious (Fergalicious)
But I ain't promiscuous.
And if you was suspicious,
All that shit is fictitious.
I blow kisses (mmmwwahhh)

My body stay vicious
I be up in the gym just working on my fitness

There are two other awesome aspects to this song. One is Stacy Ferguson's adoption of the "ghetto/gangsta" diction. "I be up in the gym?" wha? Honey, you are white, white, white. Own it, love it, live. Don't get all justin timberlake and assume that making r & b automatically makes you an honorary african american.

Second, the whole song is about how hot she is. That's just tacky and unsexy. Yes, she's got a pretty slammin' bod, and she's certainly not the ugliest person on god's green earth, but singing a whole song about how sexy she is? One just doesn't do such things.

Still, whatever, it works. Like all of the black eyed peas stuff, it is genetically engineered to be catchy, and it works. I'm sure if I was in europe, I'd think the track was pretty dope.

Now I'm gonna go listen to someone with actual talent and integrity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

“Controversial Hategrind since 1988”

“I love to hate/I hate your love/and I can’t feel affection for people like you!”

That, my friends, is the chorus of the first song on the Cripple Bastards first proper album, 1992’s “Your Lies In Check”. It also sums up the bands mantra and modus operandi. Look on the Cripple Bastard’s website and you will see the word “hate” and “Violence” all over the place ( They ain’t lying either. Listening to the Cripple Bastards is somewhat akin to having someone hit you over the head repeatedly with a hammer/and or vomiting glass and bile. There music is fast and ferocious, with machine-gun drumming, and Guilio’s alternating scream/growl, which in practice sounds kind of like “grrrrr grrrr YAAAR YAAAR grr grr YAAR SUFFER!!!”

A lot of the tracks on “Your Lies” are basically unintelligible, but it comes with lyrics/interpretations, so you get something out of it. Basically, they hate people, ex-girlfriends, feminism, war, the government, religion, society, and militant vegans. This is summed up even more explicitly in their second release “Misantropo a senso unico” (One-way misanthrope).

What I like about CB is the fact that they are so extreme, so completely beyond your normal everyday experience. I first started listening to grindcore and hardcore in the late 90’s, when I was broke working a shit job in Pacific Heights, watching everyone around me get rich and stupid and not being able to relate to it at all. Bands like the cripple bastards were the perfect salve, a wave of ugly negativity to drown everything out.

There is also an abstract beauty to their songs. They are so short, so crazy, so non-song like that they become enjoyable just for their abstractness. Anyone can write a pretty ditty with a sweet harmony: Not everyone can write a ten second song where you basically just growl. That takes talent and ART.

When I moved to italy to study in 2000, I ended up being friends with some of the local punk kids, and they invited me to see the cripple bastards play with brazilian hardcore band Ratos de Parao in Milan. The venue was this big open air thing in the middle of a neighborhood, which was a bit chilly as it was November. The cripple bastards came on and played for about 90 minutes, which is impressive as all of their songs are about twenty seconds long. They were incredibly tight, and the lead singer kept bashing his head with the microphone and covering his mouth with his arm ala bela lugosi’s stand in in Plan 9 from Outer space. By the end of the evening he was all bloody. It was pretty freaking awesome. The crowd was full of punkabestie, the Italian word for crusty punks, who all had the same dreads, the same dog on the same rope leash, and were all passed out in their own vomit on the same cheap wine.

We also got stopped by the cops on the way home, which was fucking scary – we were outside of pavia, it was three am, no one was around, we weren’t doing anything illegal…the cops just checked my friend mila’s drivers license and let us go home. What made it so scary was realizing how much power they had at that moment, and how little power we had. There was no one around, no witnesses, and they were the law. What could we have done if they had decided to fuck with us? I could only imagine what it’s like being a young Hispanic or black guy driving on a lonely road at night and seeing those lights flashing behind you.

I don’t necessarily recommend the cripple bastards, unless you like loud, crazy music. I don’t listen to them that much anymore, which is a good thing for my mental health I think. Still, when I’m feeling pissed off at the world and need a good boost of negative energy, I just put them on and rock out to the bad vibes.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Racism is Wiggity-wack, yo.

I was on the bus a few months back talking to some young, upwordly mobile gentleman, and the subject of racism in Eastern Europe came up. He said something to the effect of "it's weird that that goes on there, since we don't really have racism here." And this when there was a young black girl standing right next to us. The fact that he didn't think there was racism in America (or at least San Francisco) goes to show the problems with race we have in this country. SF is the most liberalist, pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-your-tolerance-enest city in the US. Most of the poor people in the city are either black or hispanic, and they all live in areas separated from the wealthier friscans. The areas they live in are known as the sketchy neighborhoods (mission, tenderloin, western addition, bayview/hunter's point), and white people only go there when they feel like being edgy or a little naughy. In fact, the guy on the bus later said that he didn't go to the mission because it was too edgy.

I'm not going to go off on a self-hating rant on white liberals. I certainly don't prefer the more conservative take on race issues, which is basically "let's build a wall to keep the messicans out, and why can't the blacks all just get jobs/ Gee, wouldn't it be great if it were the 1950s again and non-whites knew their place?" However, i think the whole colorblind/post racism perspective that we sometimes congragulate ourselves with having is utter bullshit. There are still tons of racial issues in the US, and all the good intentions in the world won't make that go away. Hurricane Katrina was a perfect example of the problems of race in the US, and how closely tied they are to class. Yahoo News' calling blacks looters and whites "foragers" illustrates the unspoken assumptions and prejudices so many Americans have, namely that most blacks are criminals, and certainly aren't "like us".

The other thing America does that doesn't serve us well is shut down most discussions on race. We sing the song of multiculturalism, and you aren't given much room to voice any concerns or issues in an honest, open way. People can't say "whoa, my neighborhood has gone from being predominately white to predominately asian/hispanic/indian/whatever in the past ten years, and it makes me feel kind of uncomfortable and weird". If you say that, you get labled a racist, so instead you either pretend that it's the best thing ever that you can't relate to you new neighbors, or you end up feeling like your racism is justified.

And here is a fact for all of you non-white folks out there - even though they don't say so in public, most whites are secretely a little racist, and they talk shit when they are amongst their own. It comes out more in less direct criticisms about how the increased asian populations are ruining grading curves, or how the increased hispanic population is causing gang problems, or how the influx of african-american culture in the media is rotting the morals of our children. I can't help but feel like if there could be a more open and honest forum for people to voice their concerns and prejudices, we'd be able to deal with them better as a society. As it stands now, we tend to bury things and let them fester.

For my part, i just try and acknowledge when i'm being bigoted or prejudice or a dickhead, figure out where it's coming from, and try and find a way to deal with it, at least in my head. The truth of the matter is that all cultures adn races have their aspects that suck, and all have their aspects that are good. "tolerance" also has taken on a new meaning for me in recent years. I used to think of being tolerant as being accepting and embracing. Now i think of it as admitting that i'm not into certain beliefs, but acknowledging their right to exist. Agreeing to disagree, as it were.

And some of my best friends are black/jewish/hispanic.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

We Jam Econo

I watched We Jam Econo last night, which is the recent documentary on the minutemen. The minutemen have always been one of my favorite bands, not so much musically but in terms of their ideology and what they did. They were three not-so-hot, working class guys from pedro who made jangly, jazzy, punky music that tackled politics in a way that was vague enough to not be didactic. Their songs were short, sometimes with only two lines of lyrics, and they referenced a lot of things without explicitly saying them.

One of the highlights for me was seeing them play "Corono", aka the Jackaass theme song. It starts off in it's jangly, mexi-rockabilly way, with D. Boon dancing like a large spazz, and then he starts singing "The people will survive/in their environment../the injustice of our greed/ ...There on the beach/i could see it in her eyes/ all i had was a corona/ five cent deposit."

gives me chills every time.

The film is a great tribute to a band who deserve one. Go see it and be inspired. I came away feeling more strongly than ever that music can be both art and a better way of living.


Friday, December 08, 2006

So Long, Clamor

Going Under

I got an email the other day that Clamor Magazine was going to stop publishing. Clamor is a leftist activist zine that has been around since the WTO Riots. It was started by two ex-Maximum Rock n’ Roll writers, who decided to move from the Yay Area to Ohio, and start a magazine that focused on actually doing what punks talked about, rather than just bitching about the system and buying records.

I’ve been writing for them for a couple years, doing music reviews. My relationship with them started when I looked up “indie” “Zine” “submisssiions” in Google, and their site came up. They would send me stuff, I’d write grammatically incorrect reviews, and get to see my name in print. In my two years working with them, I heard some pretty good albums (the rakes, ponies in surf, gravestone,, comet gain, the ios) some forgettable indie rock, and some absolutely wretched mall punk and street rap. It was fun while it lasted, but they seem to have been in financial difficulties for a while now, so it’s not surprising that they are folding. Disappointing, but not surprising. I hope that Jason Kuzcma and Jen Angel both keep their energy going, and move on to new projects. Maybe an e-zine?

It’s ironic that I wrote for clamor, since my politics have gotten more conservative than theirs in recent years. By conservative I mean closer to the center left than far left. I’m just not a radical at heart. Although I do fantasize about my fascist environmental regime that I’ll set up. It would rule.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Space is the Place

I owe Tom Jones and my ex-girlfriend for my discovery of Unwound. I was on a Tom Jones kick, it being the mid-90's and kitch being king, and my then-girlfriend mentioned that he was on the cover of an Unwound album. A year after we broke up I came across a used copy of said album, Fake Train, and bought it, only slightly bitter that it was tangentially attached to my ex.

It instantly became, and remains to this day, one of my favorite albums. I think it easily ranks as one of the best indie/post punk/whatever albums of the 90s.

Unwound at that point were basically a hardcore band who had learned how to play theirr instruments a little and listened to a lot of sonic youth. Their early singles were more on the hardcore bent, and lacked the melodies and listenability of their later works. On fake train, they retained their hardcore element, but coupled it with large amounts of melody, and an overwhelming does of late twentieth-century ennui.

The album kicks off with the repetitive riff of "Dragnalus", over which they sing "You're so bored with tv, radio, audio, video". It perfectly encapsulates the blahness of suburban life, and the boredom of late adolescence.

It immediately jumps into the feedback-fueled "Lucky Acid Trip", which recalls their origins as a punk band. The whole album sees the band veering from the sad but beautiful longing of Kantina/Were, Are, Was, and Is and the chaos of "Valentine", "Ratbite" and "Gravity Kills". The whole quietloudquiet thing has been done to death since then, but it was still relatively new in the early 90's, Unwound still sounds much more convincing than anything on Victory's label, not to even mention all the top 40 suburban emo bands.

I got bored with punk because it was too simplistic and two-dimensional. Punk songs all used the same structure, same chords, and same angry rants about how society, like, fukin' sucked. Albums like "Fake Train" managed to harness the anger, passion and rawness of punk but make it a little more nuanced and interesting. God bless Tom Jones and my ex for introducing me to this Fake Train. It's the perfect album for the 20th/21st century blues.

Holy shit...after reading over this, i realize that it sounds almost exactly like one off Patrick Bateman's "American Psycho" pop culture rants. Jesus. I gotta go return some video tapes.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rebel WIthout A Pause

The Coup
"Pick A Bigger Weapon"
ShoYoAss/Anti-/Epitaph, 2006

For Fans Of: Public Enemy, RATM, BDP, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Outkast, Roots, Jello Biafra

This Bay Area hip-hop group have been doing their Commie-rap thing for over a decade. Where other rappers rhyme about grills and killing rivals, the Coup rap about overthrowing the boss and starting revolution. While other Yay Area crews are all about getting stupid, thizz face, and ghost riding whips, the Coup stay far away from Hyphy, and concentrate their energy on trying to raise consciousness and get the proletariate angry.

In theory, this should be my favorite album ever. I miss the days when artists like PE and Ice Cube instilled hip-hop with righteous anger. It's disappointing that so many artists are so self-centered, materialistic, and focused on perpetuating shitty lifestyles. It's sad to me that Fifty Cent is the hero of choice for today's youth, and that hip-hop came to be a means of bragging about dealing drugs rather than escaping from being a dealer.
In practice, the Coup suffer from the two weaknesses intrinsic to message-oriented music: It sacrifices the music for the message, and it is too didactic and self-righteous.

The basic template of the Coup is slightly preachy revolutionary lyrics over Bay Area funk. While sometimes the lyrics are on, more often than not they are clumsy and simplistic. It reminds of Christian music that tries unsuccessfully to hippify its Jesus-talk. Lines like "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker" don't flow well, and seem like obvious attempts to reach the masses.
Boots' goofy Andre 3000 meets E-40 meets high school teacher flow doesn't help matters much, either. I've never been fan of that type of exaggerated rhyming, and this disc didn't do anything to win me over. It's possible that with a different MC I'd find the Coup more palatable, but I just wasn't feeling Boots.

While in general I agree with their politics, they share Jello Biafra's strain of ultra-left, ultra-paranoid smarmy radicalism, and likewise share Jello's unfortunate tendency of coming off like they know everything and are just trying to let the dumb masses in on it.
"Head (Of State)" tells the story of the Bush family's connection to Saddam Hussein, but its sing-songy storytelling would be better as a column in a zine rather than a hip-hop song. Here's a sample lyric:

"Saddam Husssein was their man out there/ [The C.I.A.] told him to rule by keeping people scared/ Sayin' any opposition to him, he must crush it/ He gassed the kurds/ They gave him the budget."

It's just too….i dunno, simplistic and awkward, I guess. I mean, I think it's awesome that they are pointing out how closely connected the administration was with Saddam, but the delivery does nothing for me. I kept comparing this with David Banner's music - half the time Banner is a sexist, mean bastard, but when he drops science on the state of the bullshit, it's done in a much more convincing manner than the Coup. It's more about him expressing his own anger and frustration over how he is fucked over by the system, rather than trying to educate and raise consciousness.

Maybe I'm just not the right audience for the Coup's message. If I was an angry, confused teenager, this would probably seem a hell of a lot more intense. After all, I used to think Jello Biafra was a political genius. And I think the Coup's slightly awkward but good intentioned music is miles better than all of the guns violence drugs and fucking music that is polluting the airwaves. It's also refreshing to hear rapper talk about uniting the working classes and trying to create a cooperative system where the poor aren't fucked over by the rich, rather than the multitude of rappers bragging about how they want to get rich so they can be the ones fucking people over. I'm glad artists like the Coup exist, and I wish them the best of luck. If you are into BDP, the Roots, or the Outkast, you'll probably dig this album. Personally I'm going to respectfully pass.

-Patrick Sean Taylor

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Best Of
Nature Sounds, 2003.

For those who don’t know, KMD was the first group that MF DOOM was in (then called Zev Luv X). It consisted of Zev, his brother Sub Rocc, and Onyx. The group released their debut, “Mr. Hood”, in 1991. They started recording a new album, then Onyx quit the band, Sub Rocc was killed in a car accident, and the band’s label immediately dropped them when they saw the proposed coverwork for the follow up, Black Bastards. The cover showed a Lil’ Sambo character being lynched, and in the wake of the “Cop Killer” scandal, Elektra wanted no truck with any controversy. (Incidentally, I saw a white kid wearing a KMD shirt recently that had the Black Bastard character on it, and I gotta say, just as white kids can’t say “nigga”, they can’t wear shirts with sambo’s on them, even if it is a KMD shirt).

“Mr. Hood” is still available on CD, and I think that “Black Bastards” was finally released in 2001 by another label, although there are older copies around that sell for a lot of money.

This collection basically combines most of the two albums and two unreleased tracks into a single disc. Since the band only released two albums, it seems like it would have made more sense just to release a double album collection with all of the tracks from both albums, and include the original album artwork, some liner notes, and any unreleased tracks laying around. Or do it as two separate discs, for that matter. As it is, it’s not really worth it to buy both albums, but it’s frustrating to have almost all of KMD’s songs except for a handful.

Then there are the liner notes, or lack thereof. Besides the name of the album and a catalogue number, there is no information about the band, label, tracks, or anything else on the disc. The liner notes include a lot of photos of the bands’ notebooks, which is kind of cool, but I think I would rather have had a track listing and information about the songs. I’m confused why the greatest hits collection for an obscure band would do absolutely nothing to shed light on the artist. Is it one of those “if you have to ask” things? Like you need to be cool enough to know everything about KMD in order to appreciate the disc?

Whatever. Enough about the packaging. The important thing is the songs, and those are good. The first half of the album is from the more upbeat “Mr. Hood”, a concept record about taking a clueless white guy through the hood. The clueless white guy is played by what sounds like an English phrase record from the fifties. Mr. Hood spouts of lines - “I’d like another shirt. This one is dirty”. Hello, may I get my hair cut?” – and the KMD crew give responses. Musically, it is sort of like De La Soul’s “Three Feet High and Rising”, only a little darker and less hippy. KMD sample Sesame Street, offer bouncy, funky beats, and their rhymes have the sing-songy flow and clever wordlplay typical of the era.

The second half of the album is from the darker “Black Bastards”, which is laced with Last Poet’s samples (or what I’ve been told are Last Poet’s samples, never having heard one of their records). It definitely brings a different, more hostile energy into the mix – For example, “What a Niggy Knows” starts of with the Last Poet’s screaming “He was a nigger yesterday!!! He is a nigger today!!! And he’s gonna be a nigger tomorrow!!!” Then it goes into the whistling, synth riff from Sheila E.’s “Glamorous Life”. Crazy shit, yo. I’ve had it in my head all week, which is not so good considering I’m a white guy.

So how do KMD size up to DOOM’s stuff? Well, for one thing, while fans of DOOM will recognize him as Zev Love X, his flow and style has changed since ‘91. He is much more spry and energetic on this disc, an eager young pup compared to the blunted veteran of today.

While he has progressed and improved since he dropped these rhymes, it’s still DOOM:

On the bouncing, jazzy “Popcorn”, Zev/DOOM/Dumille spits:

Zev Love a brother I never budges
I hold everything from mics to like grudges
I won't let a bygone be a bygone
Back to play the bitch niggaz like a fly horn
I'm controllin all you snakes with, hookin up the cakes
with hot butter, the same like your grandmother bake up
Butt naked, take it from the Riddler, Batman
Who be the oddball, Jake or the Fatman?

Bottom line is, despite the dubious art direction on this package, the disc is a must-have for fans of MF DOOM or early 90’s afrocentric rap.

DOOM has said that he’s working on another KMD record as we speak, by the way. Hopefully his choice of covers this time around doesn’t get him axed again.


Monday, November 06, 2006

The Death of Jazz-hop

There are some who espouse the following version of music history: In the early 90's, conscious, jazz-influenced hip-hop was destined to dominate the airwaves and the culture, until Dr Dre's Chronic album seduced the masses with it's g-funk tales of misogyny, drug use, and violence, thus hurling hip-hop into a gangsta-rap dark age from whence it has yet to emerge from.

There are a few things wrong with this theory: For one thing, jazzy hip hop was never that popular. The other thing is that gangsta rap was never unpopular.

Let's set the wayback machine to 1990 and check out what the kids of Aptos High were listening to. The heshers were still enjoying the last gasps of the hair bands - AC/DC was huge, Aerosmith was massive, and Metallica was the number-one stoner shirt of choice. The freaks were happy in their alterna-land, knowing that they would have an instant kinship with anyone who had heard of the Smiths, Joy Division, the Cure, or Fugazi.

The hip-hop fans would rush to the Santa Cruz flea market every Saturday to pick up bootleg tapes of their favorite artists. And who were they listening to? Tribe Called Quest? De La Soul? Brand Nubian? HELL NO. They were blasting Ice Cube, Ice T, NWA, 2 Live Crew, and any other artist who swore like a sailor. They'd fuck with PE, but only because Ice Cube was on a few of the tracks, and they made being conscious seem rebellious and angry.

As the decade slowly progressed and Nirvana forced all of LA to get a haircut and distortion pedal, were the hip-hop fans at Aptos High checking out the Low End Theory or Digable Planets or Guru? Hell no. And why the fuck would they have? Metallica, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, even the Red Hot Chili Peppers were all about being bummed, angry, and wanting to get laid. Why would you expect the hip-hoppers to be digging on jazz cats or getting into how the Tribe was using live instruments? "We got the Jazz?" "Smooth Like Butter"? Um, no. We are talking about teenage boys who are young, dumb, and full of conflicting emotions - do I beat someone up or beat off? Why fuck with boring-ass jazz shit when you've got Ice-T saying "That Bitch Tried to Kill Me"?

Let's put it another way - how many teenagers were/are into jazz? Um, like four, and they are all in the jazz band doing their best worst Coltrane to poor unsuspecting saxophones. So why are kids alla sudden gonna want lots of jazz in their hip-hop?

Let's put it yet another way - in 1991, two artists released iconic, seminal indie rock albums. One was My Bloody Valentine, whose "Loveless" is a masterpiece of swirling, abstract guitar goodness. It sold less than half a million copies, and made their label go bankrupt. The other was Nirvana's "Nevermind" which was equal parts punk, seventies rock, and contemporary teen angst. Not revolutionary, not terribly original, certainly not nearly as experimental and mind-blowing as "Loveless". It sold a bajillion records and even warranted a Weird "Al" parody. The point is, the masses love shit that is visceral, immediate, and easily digested. If they gotta think too much, they'll stay away. At Aptos High, the only other person I knew who was really into Tribe was Amy Santora, who, like me, was more of an indie kid. Everyone else was too busy rocking out to the Chronic.

And let's face it: The Chronic is a good fucking album, just as nevermind is a good fucking album. If you are a young kid looking to start making music, doing rhymes about capping fools and getting high over seventies funk seems like a hell of a lot more fun than busting out your thesaurus and Miles Davis albums and trying to play bohemian.

So the Chronic won out. Kids raised on Run DMC and License to Ill were not going to be suckered into becoming mellow, smacked-out jazz cats. They wanted something angry and banging, and that was about drugs they did. Let me ride, byaatch.

Jazz hip-hop went in several different directions. People took the mellow instrumental with a beat thing and created leagues of downtempo jazz-house records. St. Germaine, Tosca, basically anything that makes urban professionals want to sip cosmos, buy designer clothes, and make sweet love. Other artists took the jazz influence and turned it into something darker, ala Nas' first album, or Mobb Deep's "Infamous". Same upright bass riffs and jazzy beats, but with gritty rhymes about guns, drugs, and inner city life. Q-Tip was present on both albums, proving that the marriage of hip-hop and jazz wasn't just a one-trick pony.

Finally, there are a ton of artists out there who count "The Low-End Theory" as one of their favorite records of all time, and Tribe's mellow beats, clever word play, and conscious lyrics have lived on in a lot of acts, from underground artists like, well, most of the Stones Throw catalogue, to more mainstream artists like the Roots and Common.

So next time you hear someone lament the fall of jazz-hop and rise of gangsta rap, tell him to shut up and buy a Yesterday's New Quintet CD. Now allow myself to excuse myself while I go put on the Digable Planets. Remember to vote, because those fascists are some heavy dudes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

MSTRKRFT and Chrome Children

Chop Suey, Seattle
Friday, October 20

Chrome Children Tour
Neumoe’s, Seattle
Sunday, October 22

On a recent trip to Seattle, I was treated to a taste of their nightlife. First up was electro-DJs/ Dirty Mustache-wearing MSTRKRFT. I can say the following things, based on that show:

1. While I love my people, I have to admit, White folks can’t dance.
2. There are a lot of really skinny chicks in the Seattle hipster scenes.
3. People in Seattle drink a lot.

They spun two hours of Daft Punk-esque house, putting the funk back in the punk. I would have enjoyed it a lot more had I not been half-asleep, but still it was a good show, except for the stinky couple dancing near me. BO=bad.

The Chrome Children tour centered around Madlib, who didn’t show at Neuman’s, due to a family emergency. Instead MED, Percee P, DJ J-Rocc and Wild child did their best to keep the crowd entertained and make us forget that the guy we came to see wasn’t coming. J-Rocc is an awesome DJ, and the rappers did a great job of keeping the crowd hyped. In between sets Peanut Butter Wolf would spin video mixes – he had old hip-hop videos connected to digital turntables, and so would mix the songs and the videos at the same time. It was cool to see old EPMD, Ice Cube, Tribe Called Quest, etc. videos. Also, the shit was LOUD. I was wearing a knit cap and ear plugs, and it STILL hurt my ears. I didn’t mind though….it felt good to actually feel the beats, and since my eardrums weren’t ringing, I don’t think I did any lasting hearing damage.

For those of you who missed the tour, pick up the chrome children comp. It has a decent if inconsistent mix of artists on on disc, and a dvd of a stone’s throw SXSW show, with witty commentary courtesy of the adult swim crew.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

And Shadow says “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

DJ Shadow
The Outsider
Motown, 2006

Creating a genre-defining masterpiece is great, but it can play hell on your career, especially if it is your first album and the genre is past its sell-by date. Just ask Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow. His 1996 debut “…Endtroducing” essentially set the template for trip-hop, along with some stuff by a little band called Massive Attack. Shadow combined crate digging, turntablism, hip-hop, and added a little melancholy and depth. His booming, analog drum sound became signature, and he managed to mix samples from James Brown and Bjork without it seeming off.

A few years later he dropped the fairly well-received “Printing Press”, and has done a host of other production and DJ work, mostly shit I’m not cool enough to know about.
Evidently he’s spent too much of the last ten years trying to live down his reputation from Entroducing, and has gotten pretty sick of being pigeonholed or told he is old hat. Here’s some advice, Josh: Don’t pay too much attention to shit you read on the internet. While you’re busting your ass creating albums and producing, all us slobs are busy criticizing people for having the audacity to actually do something rather than just consume and bitch.

Something else happened in the interim as well: Shadow got Hyphy. Hyphy is the Yay Area’s answer to crunk, and our own failed attempt to get our MC’s noticed by the rest of the world. Hyphy is marked with burping, high energy beats and lots of obscure slang.
Shadow getting hyphy is just about the greatest thing to happen to hip-hop all year, and certainly the best thing that could have happened to hyphy. In fact, all you really need to know about hyphy is on this disc.

The disc starts out strong, with a spooky intro, and then the gorgeous soul tune “I’m gonna do it my way” And indeed Shadow does, because he jumps directly into “3 Freaks”, one of sevaral hyphy tracks on the disc (others include Turf Talk’s “Turf Dancing”, E-40’s “Dress My Part”, and a remix of “3 Freaks”). The track is, how you say, banging. Shadow manages to get stupid without losing his smarts, and creates an upbeat ode to getting laid. And yes, this is an ode to getting laid. There is nothing underground, progressive, or backpacky about this track: it’s a street anthem with street lyrics, as are the other hyphy tracks. For those of us who have both T.I. and Xiu Xiu in our collection, this is a fine thing. For the rest of the world, the it may be a bit problematic, cuz the rest of the disc ISN’T street anthems. There are a couple more rap collabos, and then it’s off to experimental zone so Shadow can get his Radiohead on. When he’s not doing blues instrumentals, or punk instrumentals, or blues jams about groupies.

As a DJ, Shadow should know the importance of creating a cohesive set. Would you spin an Iron and Wine song after a Lil’ Jon song? No, right? And not because your audience is too unsophisticated to digest both, but because they don’t go well together. I love ice cream and I love wild boar, but I’d never have ice cream on top of wild boar. I really wish this had been a double album, with one disc all rap collabos and one disc all mellower, experimental stuff. As it is, the disc can be a little jarring in its rapid changes between genres.

Despite my complaints, I don’t want to pan this record because it is too diverse and schizophrenic. The fact is, there are only one or two ungood tracks on the album. Most of the stuff is pretty damn good. Consider how many albums out there only have a handful of good songs. The Outsider, on the other hand, is packed with good songs, a handful from various not-so-compatible genres. There are far worse things in the world, like, say, E-40’s latest disc, which is basically really long single.

And there are some moments of absolute brilliance. David Banner’s contributes his gruff vocals and angry yet insightful lyrics to “Seein’ Thangs”:

Martial law, tell Bush naw we ain't ready to flip
The hood is like a modern slave ship
We packed like sardines and shackled to the streets
And crack is cotton that grows up from the concrete
Shit, but I guess I'm seein thangs
We'd rather not learn, we'd rather fuckin gang bang”

I know DJ Shadow is going to get a lot of shit for The Outsider, and I hope it inspires him to do even more crazy shit in the future. There are too many musicians playing it safe.
-Patrick Sean Taylor

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Not so consistent....

So i haven't been posting a lot lately, but it's not because i'm flaking out. I've been busy, had technical problems, and been a bit in the doldrums/not felt like doing a hell of alot. I'm going to a few shows this weekend, and i'm working on a review of DJ Shadow's new one, so hopefully i'll be able to stay true to my goal of posting once a week. I know - MAJOR relief, right?

Currently listening to Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, a brilliant record that i rarely feel like listening to. I've also been listening to a lot of Teagan and Sara, Trail of Dead, and David Banner. He's like the new Ice Cube - angry and alternatly brilliant and offensive.


Poguetry in Motion

I have been a Pogues fan since I first heard "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" in 1987. Their combination of traditional Irish music and punk pretty much ruled. I think it’s the fact that they played Irish music as if it were punk, rather than playing punk as if it were Irish. Also that they were actually Irish, and not a bunch of dudes from Boston or SoCal all proud of their alcoholic heritage (ala Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, et al).

I saw the Pogues play in 1991, only Joe Strummer was sitting in for Shane MacGowan who by that point was no longer in the band for being too much of a drunk fuckup. When an Irish drinking band kicks you out because you are a drunk, you have serious, serious problems. Seriously. It’s better that Mr. Strummer toured with them, because it ended up being the only time I got to see him, and he played Straight to Hell and London Calling. Still, it was a bummer not having seen Shane, so I was very happy to see that they were playing in the city.

To give you an idea of the kind of following the Pogues have, they hadn’t toured or come out with an album in almost ten years, most of their old stuff has been out of print for a while, yet still they sold out four nights at the Fillmore. And I would say 90% of those attending were serious Pogues fans. These were not jaded bastards who just came to act bored. And it was expensive, even if your sister was paying for you, and even MORE so if you had to pay for yourself and your brother.

When shane hobbled up to the stage looking like the bloated old drunk he is, the crowd went nuts. He mumbled something like "mblmlfdooemd,buckaroos" and away they went. Oddly enough, even though he could barely stand, hardly talk, and kept leaving the stage to get even more fucked up, he still sang every word and sounded pretty damn good. Even the ballad "Rainy Night In Soho" sounded ok. Admittedly, he was probably totally fucked up when he made the original recordings, but still. He may be a severe alcoholic, but he is a functioning severe alcoholic.

The show was great, even if it was a bit sad to see the old man. The band sounded amazing, and did an excellent job keeping up and down with Shane. He’d stagger off, they’d do a couple numbers, he’d stagger on and shout out songs, they’d go into em, and a good time was had by all. They even did "Fairytale of New York", with Jem Finer’s daughter sitting in.

In other exciting news, Rhino has reissued the Pogues’ first five albums, most of which have been out of print or import only for a long, long time. They are remastered, have extra tracks, and are I think twelve bucks – ish. If you don’t have any of them, go get "If I should fall from grace with god and "Rum Sodomy and the Lash" right NOW. Then you should get hells ditch an d red roses for me, and maybe peace and love. Or whatever.
Then blast your stereo and get all nostalgic about a country you’ve never lived in and that your ancestors left because they were so desperately poor. And remember – Ireland is WAY better than England, and the Irish are WAY hotter than the English.

Love and whiskey,
Patrick "Poor Paddy" Sean Taylor

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Doctor’s Advocate

Here are some facts about 26-year-old The Game.:

1. His debut album, 2005’s The Documentary, was pretty fucking good, and a welcome return to form for the West Coast, which hasn’t been getting much air play this decade.

2. The Documentary was good not so much because the Game is a great rapper, but because he had great beats behind him. He’s a decent rapper, but a large chunk of hi s rhymes is just him referencing other, better artists.

3. Since The Documentary dropped in early 05, the Game has spent most of his time beefing with former mentor 50 Cent, or writing rhymes about how wack 50 is, to the point of it almost being an obsession. Game’s ultimate dis of fiddy? Calling his crew G-Unot (get it, instead of G-Unit?) and for this, shots are fired.

4. The game is one of the prettiest rappers out there. Really. The boy is hot. Sorry if that sounds gay.

5. His real name is Jayceon Taylor (no relation). At first I was like, huh, that’s an interesting name, and then I realized it was just a ghettoization of “Jason”.

6. On “The Documentary” he is on the cover sitting on gold rimmed tires. On “Doctor’s Advocate”, he is sitting on platinum tires.

7. Despite the title of the album, dre didn’t have much to do with it, causing some to speculate that they are beefing (which the game denies) and wondering whether the album is gonna suck. Jayceon swears that it’s going to be, like, the best album ever, but I’m not convinced. I may not even fuck with it: I’ve been feeling awful broke lately, and need to limit my music intake.

8. His album is coming out in November, so we shall soon know if it sucks.

also, you should check out his interview in XXL this month; I know high-school girls who are less catty than he and fiddy. Jeez, hug and get over it guys.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I Heart Bob Dylan

Ok, so I realize that until now I’ve only written about hip-hop, but today I’m going to ramble about one of our county’s great artists: The man, the legend, the unintelligible, Bob Dylan.

It took me twenty-five years to accept the genius of Bob Dylan, and I largely blame 1967’s dismal “greatest Hits’ collection. Part of the problem is that Dylan’s most popular songs have either been ruined from being on the soundtrack of too many nostalgic 60’s films (“Blowing in the Wind”, “The Times They Are A-Changing”) or were never so hot to begin with “Rainy Day Woman”). Also, Dylan’s material covers too much ground to be represented well by ten tracks. It ends up just being a mish-mash of styles and genres, nuggets of brilliance that don’t really work when placed together. I was forced to listen to “Greatest Hits” on too many car rides in high school, and it almost turned me off to Dylan for good.

What finally changed my mind was a copy of “Highway 61 Revisited” that came free with a copy of L’Espresso, which is Italy’s version of Time, only with more boobies. I had heard “Like A Rolling Stone” a million times, but this was the first time I really listened to it. Besides the fact that it is a good song, it has got to be one of the most viscous singles released until rappers started releasing dis tracks in the 80’s. I was suffering from a nasty dot com hangover, and Dylan’s tirade was the perfect revenge anthem to all of the yuppie assholes who made my city so unbearable in the late 90’s. –

“You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it.”

All the angry punk rock anthems in the world can’t compete with Dylan’s vitriol on that track. The rest of the album holds up as well. Ok, so the lyrics don’t always make much sense, and it can get uncomfortably jammy at times, but it’s still really, really good.

Since I was in Italy, and it was tough finding decent music, I started buying all of the Dylan records I could find. I started with his most famous, 1963’s “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.” Despite the fact that it contains one of his most popular songs, it is not one of his best albums. First of all, do you really ever feel the need to hear “Blowin’ in the Wind?” Because I don’t. It’s sort of like a lot of the Beatles’ stuff – totally ruined by repetition. It’s still worth owning, however, for “Oxford Town”, and the brilliant “Masters of War”

Next I picked up hi s debut, 1962’s “Bob Dylan”, which is notable for Dylan’s touching ode to Woody Guthrie, as well as his covers of old blues songs. For a young Midwestern Jewish kid, he sure sold lines like “Lord I’m fixin’ to die.”

1966’s double album “Blonde On Blonde” has some fine moments that build on the more rock and psychadelic leanings of Highway 61 and Bringing it All Back Home. However, too much of the album seems to conflate being on acid with being creative, and it’s not nearly as effective today as it must have been when it was released.

My favorite album of Dylan is 1964’s “The Times They Are A-Changing”. The title track is pretty brilliant, if overplayed. The rest of the album is full of angry folk music that attacks American hypocrisy, classism, and racism. It has also got some gorgeous ballads, and is consistent the whole way through. Fans of Elliot Smith should check this out, as Smith was obviously inspired by Mr. Dylan.

I haven’t really listened to any thing else Dylan has done. 1975’s “Blood On the Tracks” is a pretty heavy break up record, but it gets a little to jam-rock for my tastes. I’ve heard bad things about a lot of his output from the late 70’s, and I sort of feel like I own enough Dylan at this point. His last few albums have gotten rave reviews, but again, I’m not really desperate to add more Dylan to my collection. It’s not that he’s not great, it’s just that I have to make room for some of the other billion good artists out there.

While Dylan’s nasally voice may not be for everybody, he has a rightful spot in the pantheon of great American musicians, as well as great pop musicians. Next you get shit from a European about how the US has no culture, you can reply “Oh yea?!? Well what about Bob Dylan, muthafucka?” That’ll teach the Europeans to think they are better than us just because their countries aren’t full of ignorant superstitious Christians who don’t know shit about anything beyond their television…what-EVER.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Get Hyphy!!!

Evidently hip-hop cannot exist unless it is some part of a movement, be it crunk, snap, screwed, trap, mobb, and now hyphy. Hyphy is a bay area movement that is basically uptempo, danceable hip hop that allows you to "go dumb". It's sort of like less aggressive crunk, or techno and house mixed with hip-hop. There are some hyphy gems out there - Wolfpack's "Vans", DJ Shadow's "3 Freaks", and some of the tracks off of E-40's album. I like the fact that an underground Oakland phenomenon is suddenly the next big thing. It's a little lame that so much of hyphy revolves around doing stupid shit like "ghostriding your whip" (ie. walking alongside your moving car), and doing other not-so-smart car-related things. Of course, they do call it getting dumb, so i guess it fits.

I've never been a fan of bay area hip-hop. Mac Dre, Mac Mall, C-Bo, even E-40....none of those guys have ever rocked my world. More underground/indie artists like DJ Shadow, Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien and Blackaliscious have put out some innovative and exciting stuff in the last ten years. The whole hyphy movement isn't rocking my world too much, although i can appreciate it from the sidelines. The one thing that bothers me about the whole movement is that it has to be a movement: it can't just be regional rappers. They all have to be part of a certain sound with a certain dance and a certain drug of choice and slang and aesthetic. I feel like that dooms all of these artists to obsolescence once the public burns out on hyphy in a year or so, and moves on to the next big thing.

Whatever. At least the bay area is getting some attention and props. Maybe hyphy will force bay area rappers to crank it up a notch and make hip-hop that is a little more innovative and interesting.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

David Banner Review

David Banner
Mississippi: The Album
Universal, 2003

For Fans of: Crunk, Lil’ Jon, guys who yell a lot.

I’m not sure how I ended up having this in my possession. For one thing, it’s crunk, and I don’t like crunk. For those of you unfamiliar with that genre, it’s derived from “crazy drunk” and is basically simple, aggressive hip-hop designed to make people go nuts at the club. Lil’ Jon? “Hey! What!!!?” Ringing any bells?

Second, Mr. Banner (in a name derived from the TV Incredible Hulk, who was for whatever reason named David, not Bruce) spends a lot of the album dissing women folk and just being an all-around ornery old bastard. For example, on the aptly titled “Fuck Them Niggaz”, he yells:

“What this hoe really wan' do? fuck or suck the stick
Like ooh, don't fuck me naw nigga, I'll fuck you
Two, three in your face till you're blue - black
Would you fuck her wit a jack top man?
I'll shoot ya in your back like BLAT BLAT BLAT!!”

Ahhh, romance. This followed up with a screamed chorus of “Them niggaz wanna hate? Fuck them niggaz!!”

It would be totally horrible and unlistenable, only it has got such a good beat. Granted, it’s a beat that hits you upside the head and leaves you with a migrane, but still. Banner’s agro tracks have the same quality that makes grindcore and powerviolence bearable –it’s so aggressive and pummeling that it ends up just sort of numbing you.

On the Lil’ Jon produced “Might Getcha”, Jon lays down a booming beat over a tinkling music box riff, which contrasts nicely with the verbal ass-kicking the song delivers:

“Might Getcha jaw broke
Might Getcha wig split
Might Getch car shot up
Might Getcha door kicked
Might Getcha kidnapped
Might Getcha neck snapped
Might Getcha your feelings hurt thinking this is just a rap”

So I hate crunk, but dammit if I don’t kind of like Banner’s stuff. It’s just so…I dunno. Aggro yet more.

If it was just a bunch of screamy songs, it would get old quick. However, Mississippi’s real strength is in its mellower, more reflective tracks, most of which are built around acoustic guitar riffs. Banner seems to hate just about everyone (except God), but at least he’s got a reason: “We from a place where my soul can’t be free/cuz a [Confederate] flag means more than me,” he declares on “Mississippi”, giving the listener an idea of just how fucked up and shitty it must feel to live somewhere where people still actively romanticize a period of history when your ancestors were treated like 3/5 a person.

“Caddilac on 22’s” follows in the slower, more thoughtful vein. The real gem is hidden track 19, “Fire Fallin’” . It’s downright pretty, almost like a mournful hip-hop spiritual. Serious.

In the end, Mississippi: The Album is a little too mean spirited (“There’s a bitch up in the club that I want to beat up/ Point that bitch out!”) and a little too noisy for me to fall in love with it. Still, even though it’s obviously not my thing, I couldn’t help being impressed by Banner’s ability to be both insightful and offensive at the same time. Maybe he’ll get older and mellower and stop making songs about how much he hates women. Then he’d be fucking awesome.

Rap: Feminist Propaganda?

Sadly, misogyny and hip-hop seem to go hand-in-hand. The rampant woman-hating on so many hip-hop songs is even harder to swallow than the rampant glorification of violence; at least when guys rap about capping a fool, it doesn’t necessarily have to be taken literally. More often it’s just bravado and bluff, an exaggerated show of strength. When you say “a bitch is a bitch, however, you can’t really read that any other way.

In fact, it was the bullshit sexism of NWA’s “She Swallowed It” and 2 Live Crew’s entire catalogue that turned me off on rap for a long time in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was ridiculous enough that my white-ass friends who lived in a white-ass community with no black people anywhere would be so into wanna-be gang-bangers talking about life in Compton; It was even worse when they tried to adopt the Two $hort/Eazy-E Mack persona. “Just Don’t Bite It?” Shit, we were a bunch of dorky 14-year-olds who would have been lucky to get a girl within arm’s distance of our johnsons, much less their mouth.

Sexism has ruined or spoiled many a hip-hop song and album. Dr Dre’s
“The Chronic” would be a masterpiece, but it’s just too goddamn hateful. “Bitches Ain’t Shit”???? What the hell is that? Jay—Z’s “99-Problems” – killer beat, brilliant lyrics, except for that whole “but a bitch ain’t one.” Bitch? Dude, you’re dating Beyonce! If I was dating Beyonce, I’d be writing songs called “Oh My god, I’m Dating Beyonce”, and “I’m Only Leaving Bed To Shower and Eat” and “My Girlfriend’s Voice (Is Almost As Nice As Her Ass)”. And if Beyonce really is a bitch, either break up or learn to deal with her assholicness. Jeez.

Ice Cube? A lot of brilliance, a lot of assholeness For every “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted” there is a “Cave Bitch” or “Giving Up the Nappy Dugout”. At least with Ice Cube, you know he is just trying to fuck with people and piss them off. I’m pretty sure that Snoop really doesn’t love them hoes.

One of the worst offenders was Tupac, who would alternately sing sappy love ballads to his momma and scathing tirades against women. Worse still he would try and justify it by saying there was a difference between bitches and women, ala Jay-Z’s execrable (yet funky) “Bitches and Sisters”. (you know, the one with gems like “Bitches give up the ass/Sisters give up the ass/Sisters do it slow/Bitches do it fast”).

Which leads us to another rap cliché – the scandalous, money-grubbing female who’s only out for your money. I have absolutely no doubt that such women do exist, or that they are more common in the hip-hop scene than at, say, the alt-country scene. But see, if you rap about how much money you have, if you go out sporting six figures of jewelry, if you are driving a fancy car and drinking crystal in the club, you gotta figure that you aren’t exactly going to attract the down-to-earth, girl next door. A rapper complaining about attracting shallow, greedy women is a little bit like someone complaining that there are too many yuppies at the Matrix in the Marina, or that there aren’t enough chicanos hanging out at the Beauty Bar in the Mission. You reap what you sow, nyamean?

The misogyny in rap music bothers me for two reasons: One, I happen to like females, and I don’t really like anyone saying mean things about my friends or relatives. Two, it seems to me that if you are really such a manly man, you shouldn’t have to spend so much time dissing other people. If Snoop truly was a mack and truly was sure of himself and all that, he wouldn’t need to spend so much time expounding on how worthless females were. Get over it, shit. And anyways, if you hate ladies so much, does that mean you just want to hang out with your homies? A bunch of stoned, strapped dudes playing Halo? You go and do that - I’m gonna go have dinner with a lady friend.

I dunno...maybe hip-hop will get over its mysogyny, or it will become the exception and not the rule. Until then, I’ll just keep on trying to disassociate the words with the music, and pretend to myself that it’s ok to listen to guys saying bitch like it didn’t mean anything.

(It should be noted that the author does not assume that other forms of popular music created by boys who are “young, dumb, and full of cum” are paragons of feminism and understanding. Anyone looking for a nuanced, intelligent examination of the relationship between the sexes in popular music is stupid. Still, “Girls, Girls, Girls” is a pretty fly song, and I’ve always been partial to GnR’s “It’s So Easy”).


Thursday, September 07, 2006

T.I. Take Two

Um, so after singing the praises of T.I.’s dis track “I’m Talking to You”, I recently read that in May a member of his entourage was killed by gunmen aiming for T.I. in Cincinnati. In light of that, the sort of looses some of its luster. Trash talking is one thing- having it translate into actual violence is another. But at the same time, if you make records where you claim “We can shoot it out whenever you want,” you can’t be too terribly surprised if someone ends up taking shots at you. Likewise, the death of Biggie Smalls was very sad, but the man did make a shitload of money rapping about shooting people and dealing crack. I’m not saying gangsta rappers deserve to get shot at, but I do think that when you glamorize a shitty lifestyle (ie violent, drug-dealing gang-banger), you can’t be all that shocked when you end up in the shit.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Chamillionaire Review AKA Worst. Rap Name. Ever

The Sound of Revenge
Universal, 2005

For Fans of: 50 Cent, Paul Wall, all things Houston, Purple Drank.

First off, what the hell is up with that name? Does he have a million disguises? Does he have a Chamillion dollars? It's incredibly hard to take someone with such a lame-o name seriously, and I dismissed Chamillionaire until I read an interview with him on the uber-indie website Pitchfork. Chamillionaire purposely sought out Pitchfork precisely because they weren't the typical venue for his music. He knew that XXL and the Source would already be covering him. He wanted to try and recruit fans from different genres.

Chamillionaire is often praised as one of the best rappers to come out of Houston, mostly based on a series of mixtapes and underground CDs, including the classic "Get Ya Mind Correct" with ex-partner Paul Wall. However, while Cham's early material mostly concentrated on cars, rims, grills, chains, and getting one's lean on, Sound of Revenge sees him going in a more serious direction. While I definitely admire and respect this move towards maturity, it is not entirely successful.

Sound of Revenge offers up 15 tracks of melodic Texan hip-hop. Most of the production is handled by folks that I don't recognize (Beat Bullies, Sol Messiah, Cool-N-Dre). The only producer I had heard of was Scott Storch, who contributes a decent beat to the Lil' Flip assisted single "Turn It Up". In true Southern fashion, most of the beats are constructed around skittering drums and synth riffs. Although I much prefer the more analog boom-bap sound of old, Cham makes a convincing argument for the newer direction of rap.

Like 50 Cent, most of the songs have sung chorus, and Cham actually has a decent voice. Songs like "Ridin'", "Southern Takeover", and "Think I'm Crazy" actually have good melodies, and are some of the better songs on the album. For the most part, Chamillionaire's rhymes and flows are spot-on, although occasionally he would try and cram too many syllables into each line, and it sounded stupid (as on "Turn It Up".
The real problem with this album is the same thing that was wrong with "Get Rich or Die Tryin'": It's too fucking serious. For a rapper known for his sense of humor, Sound of Revenge is totally humorless, and the me-against-the-world vibe gets old. Also, while there are some great tracks, there are also a fair share of mediocre ones. The end result is a disc that demonstrates Chamillionaire's potential, but isn't quite there.

Wild Style

Wild Style
Directed by Charlie Ahearn

I'll admit it - it's a little weird that I'm so into rap these days. I'm neither African-american nor hip-hop. I don't aspire to become a b-boy, I'm not adopting hip-hop slang into my vocabulary, except for purposes of irony, and I am distinctly aware that I am an outsider to the culture. However, watching the 1982 film Wild Style, which documents the early days of hip-hop, I understood why I have such a fascination with the music and the culture. I grew up listening to punk rock, and was very inspired by the way that the punk scene tried to create an alternative culture that gave ordinary people an opportunity to make music, art, and actively contribute to creating culture rather than just be a passive consumer. I was essentially an outsider to punk culture as well, even if I did relate to it a lot more than I do to hip-hop. Part of what I loved about punk was the thrill of discovering new bands, of trying to find out more information about this underground scene, buying records based on what was painted on people's leather jackets, or by the name, or because you heard them mentioned in a magazine.

Hip-hop offers many of the same challenges and rewards, and Wild Style is evidence of this. Although technically a drama about a graffiti artist's trials and tribulation in the South Bronx, Wild Style works best as a documentary of the nascent hip-hop scene, and the devastated community that it came from. The film is full of real-life figures of the early rap, graffiti, and breakdancing scene. People like "Lee" Quinones, Zephyr, the Cold Crush Crew, Fab Five Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, and some of the early breakdancing crews. The best moments of the film come from seeing the live freestyling at the Dixie Club. Rap was originally a live art form, and watching Busy Bee battle other MC's shows just how good early rap could be, and how poorly it translated to record. There is something very exciting about watching the DJ's and MC's creating the culture that is now a multi-national, multi-million dollar animal. It gave me the same sense of exhilaration that I get watching clips of the Ramones when they first started.

The acting is terrible, the plot is nearly non-existent, and the quality is not so hot. Still, Wild Style is a classic. Besides documenting the scene, it also contains a lot of clips that have been sampled by rappers throughout the years. The intro to Nas' Illmatic, the "Shut the fuck up, Chico Man" clip from the Beastie Boys "Professor Booty", the "Hey sucka nigga, whoever you are" from Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka Nigga". It was exciting realizing where these quotes had come from, and the impact this film had on so many rappers.

We live in a world where culture is mass-produced ,where rebellion is sold to the masses, where punk rock and gangsta rap have become tools of the very machine they were meant to criticize. Wild Style is proof that the world belongs to us, and that ordinary people have the power to create something innovative, moving, and revolutionary.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Spank Rock review aka Best. Record. Ever.

Spank Rock
Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo
Big Dada, 2006

For Fans of: Peaches, M.I.A., Detroit techno, electro house, partying with strippers, humping.

This is the debut album from Baltimore MC Spank Rock. The fact that it is on the same label as glitch master Diplo is no accident – Spank Rock is friends with Diplo, and the two share a similar sound and aesthetic. In fact, I thought that Spank Rock was from the UK until I did a little research. The bouncy, grimey, glitchy beats provided by XXXChange have much more in common with Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., and Berlin electro-house than with anything coming out of the U.S. This is both a gift and a curse – on one hand, it makes the record sound invigorating and unique; on t he other hand, having a hard-to-categorize sound and being on an obscure European indie label hasn’t exactly done wonders for their sales. In fact, it wasn’t even in the hip-hop section at Amoeba – they filed it under "electronica".

That’s a shame, because although this is funky, dirty music that deserves an audience. To put it bluntly, Spank Rock writes songs about fucking. He's basically a mix of Peaches, electro-house, Detroit house, with a little strip club hip-hop thrown in for good measure. Fans of Diplo and MIA will immediately appreciate the production, and fans of some of the less shitty electroclash artists will marvel at the sounds of someone actually doing electro right. Like Ms. Kittin? Buy this album.

On these twelve tracks, Spank Rock celebrates sex, debauchery, and his rhyme skills with an energetic yet old-school flow. From the first moment he opens his mouth, he is straight dirty. "Ass shaking competition champ/ ooh that pussy gets damp". My favorite track was the bouncy "Bump", which has Spank declaring "Behind my Gameboy I got game girl" while Amanda Blank responds. "My rhymes are painfully fresh/My pussy's tasting the best." It's not all sex, though; on "Rick Rubin" he compares himself to the legendary producer, and he also drops a kilo or two of rhymes about partying - "My mimosa is on the coaster where the coke is smeared/ yo we dope in here." Even when he's being an obnoxious cokehead he's clever. In fact, this record wouldn't work without Spank's clever word play and skills on the mic. Any idiot can rhyme about fucking and getting fucked up, but Spank Rock makes it sound good.

In a recent interview, Spank Rock said that he wanted his next album to be al little easier for the masses to digest, so they might actually sell a record or two. While I sincerely hope they don’t water down their sound, I do think they deserve to be recognized by more than just the irony-obsessed white hipster crowd (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). If you are in the mood for something different from your run-of-the-mill hip-hop release, or if you wish your electronica artists had a little more soul, then Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo is the record for you. It's harder than Aurular, less irritating than Boy in Da Corner, and more relevant and original than Impeach My Bush. Buy it now and be the coolest kid on your block.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Metal Fingers Review

Metal Fingers
Special Herbs Box Set
Nature Sounds, 2006

For fans of: MF DOOM, Madlib, seventies soul, jazz, and am radio, herbs.

Metal Fingers is yet another MF DOOM/Zev Lov X/Daniel Dumille alter ego, this time applied to DOOM's instrumental "Special Herbs" series. There are 9 volumes of "Special Herbs" spread out over five discs. This set collects 150 of the best moments from the series, along with a bonus disc of KMD beats.

Those expecting a head-bobbing experience will be a little disappointed. The album is more or less like Madlib's "Beat Konducta" album (see below), but less innovative and brilliant. Mostly, DOOM samples old jazz, soul, and am radio hits and makes beats out of them. Some of them he gives the Puffy treatment and pretty much doesn't fuck with at all. For the most part it works, although there were moments, mostly on the second disc, where his slightly artless beatmaking bugged, ie inexpertly looping an overlong sample too many times.

The first disc is a little mellower, and makes great background music. Put this on during your next dinner party or booty call. Disc 2 seemed to be more experimental, more uptempo beats, and that's the one that bugged me at times. The best moments on the first two discs were when beats he's used on other projects would surface, like from Ghostface Killah's "Fishscale". I was also very excited to hear the funky theme music that used to play over the end credits of Sesame Street. Overall, the compilation is well worth your $22.00 bucks just in terms of space and time saved by not having to buy a bunch of old records and picking out the few decent moments off of them. That's what crate-diggers are for - giving light to the obscure, and saving us the time of finding good breaks on lame records.

My favorite disc was the KMD beats. These were much more what I have in mind when I think "hip-hop" instrumental. They were funky, with that classic late 80's/early nineties sound, boom-bap beats, and brilliant samples, like the beat constructed around Bert of Sesame Street humming.

If you have all the "Special Herbs" albums, or are enough of an MF DOOM enthusiast to want them all, give this a skip. However, for the rest of us, this is a great and ample taste of MF DOOM's many talents. You should buy it quick, though, because less than 10,000 were manufactured.

Friday, August 18, 2006

T.I. Review

Atlantic, 2006

For fans of: Jay-Z, Hotlanta, Southern drawls.

Since this site is dedicated to more indie and obscure releases, it makes perfect sense that I review T.I.’s “King”, a mega-produced album that was accompanied by a media blitz AND a movie starring T.I. (ATL). The Source, XXL, Spin, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and now Carry Like Mariah.

I bought this because a) I heard him compared to a Southern Jay-Z and I miss Mr. Carter’s musical presence, b) I don’t like Southern rap, and I figured this might convert me and c) I wanted to at least pretend I knew what was going on in the music world outside of Stones Throw and whatever 10 year old discs I was listening to. I decided to write about it because, goddamn it, it’s a good record.

First off, Pharrell was right – Tip truly is a Southern Jay-Z, and not just because he is a former drug dealer. Both MCs share the same easy, effortless flow that combines arrogance, humor, and charm. Both MCs assemble a solid production team to supply them with Grade-A beats to rhyme over. Both MCs can shift between being a thug, a ladies man, and a successful hustler-cum-business man.

In fact, Tip’s first lines on this album could have come out of the mouth of J. Hova himself. On “The King is Back”, T.I. raps:

“I welcome you to get acquainted with the youngest in charge
Respected from East to West like he was running the mob
Dictating, ain't taking orders from no one but God
I know you niggaz is broke 'cause I know what you charge”.

The fact that he is working with Just Blaze, who also did his share of production for Jay-Z, doesn’t hurt. Still, that sounds like exactly the same time of boast and dis that the Jigga is/was famous for. Plus, with a title like “The King is Back” he obviously has an ego the size of Jay-Z as well.

While the soulful fan fare of the first track may be more NY that ATL, things quickly get countrified on a collab/remake of UGK’s “Front Back”, one of many tracks on here about flossin’ and driving (like, for example, “Ride Wit’ Me”). On the hit “You Don’t Know”, T.I. reaffirms his greatness over a shuffling, sythed-strings beat. I’m normally not a fan of this kind of song, where there isn’t a solid beat and the MCs mostly grunt and yell, but T.I. pulls it off.

One of the better songs on the album is “I’m Talkin’ to You”, a dis track to rival “The Takeover, where T.I. calls out an unnamed hater:

“You’s a lame you’s a shame to the game
I say it you know what ya name is (I'm talkin to you)
We can shoot it out whenever you wanna
Whatever you wanna do boy I'm talkin to you.”

The song also shows Tip’s skill as a rapper, because he moves to double time in the song to fit in longer lines like:

“I'm the best you ever heard about, fresher than you heard about
yeah I'm strapped now pussy nigga this ain't just word of mouth
for niggaz wit dirty mouths, I got a lotta clean pistols to wash 'em out.”

He manages to mix up the speed and cadence of his flow without it fucking up the beat or groove of the song – he just goes from eighths to sixteenths in the same four four beat. Some MCs shove a bunch of syllables into a bar and it sounds all wrong, but T.I. makes it work.

While the album mercifully keeps the number of skits to just two, it is still bloated at 18 tracks, and not all of them are solid gold. I was not the biggest fan of his cheesy r&b collab with Jamie Foxx, and , I ain’t gonna lie, he started losing me by the end. Notice how all the songs I talk about are at the beginning? I just never quite make it the whole 79 minutes.

Still, there is enough that is good on this album that you can forgive the mediocre; His duet with Pharrell (“Goodlife”), his lecherous track for the ladies (“Why You Wanna”, with such endearing gems as “How you keep saying no with yo panties so wet?”); I was even feeling his mindless club track (“Stand Up Guy”). This is one of those rare and welcome cases when a label puts a shitload of money into an album, and actually ends up creating something enjoyable rather than just an obvious attempt to appeal to market research demographics.

T.I. unfortunately shares the limited subject range that Hova had on his earlier discs. Lyrically, “King” can be summarized as follows: “Hello. My name is T.I. I came from the projects of Atlanta. I used to be a drug dealer, but now I am very wealthy. To give you an idea of the extent of my wealth, I’ll describe some of the items I have bought recently. Even though I am wealthy, I still remember my roots as a thug, and I am ready and willing to use violence and perhaps even commit homicide to protect my reputation. I also like driving my cars, and having intercourse with women. Especially your girlfriend.”

Just like early Jay-Z Tip’s got mad skills but doesn’t have shit to say. I’m not too worried, though. His next album will be his cocaine-and-champagne party album, but the album after that will show a more mature, more thoughtful side of this diminutive Southern hellraiser. Either that or he is just going to put out shitty record after shitty record in an attempt to regain his former glory. Either way, at least he’s made a certified hit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Field Mob Review

Field Mob
Light Poles and Pine Trees
Disturbing Tha Peace/Geffen, 2006

For fans of: Ludacris, Outkast, similes, music with the shelf life of overripe peaches.

Here's some back story on this album - evidently these boys came out with two fairly well-received, more countrified albums a few years ago. Frustrated by their lack to break into a larger audience, they took a few years off, signed to Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace imprint, and released a fairly successful single on a recent comp from said imprint. Backed by the awesome power of Ludacris, the familial connection to Ciara, and a thirst to make it, the boys hit the studio and came up with this album.

It’s not quite the masterpiece they were aiming for, but they did manage to come up with some funny, hip-pop goodness that will no doubt get them plenty of airplay. Their first single, the breezy, wafer-thin yet enjoyable "So What" has a cheesy club beat and features Ciara’s vocals. The other gem on this album is "The Blacker the Berry", a celebration of being dark skinned. It’s both funny and heartfelt, and makes the best use of their goofy flow. Because goofy their flow is. They are a mix of Ludacris, Andre 3000, and Bob Dylan if he was a young black rapper who yelled more. No, really: Their delivery constantly reminded me of Bob’s "flow" on "Blonde on Blonde" and "Blood on the Tracks". Kind of "Buh buh BUHHH ba buh buh BUHHH." Only less nasally, nyamean?

I started out liking this disc, but it wore out its welcome fairly quickly. If their flow weren’t irritating enough, their rhymes make it a double whammy. These boys LOVE similes. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and they do have some zingers. "Acting like you was a hood in the state pen, when really you were a nerd at Penn State!" or "y’all like where I get my DVDs at, y’all some Blockbusters." But see, combined with their exaggerated presentation, these overly colorful comparisons are obvious attempts at cleverness, which makes them seem not so very clever at all. Better MCs manage to put their little twists in their rhymes subtle-like, so it’s only after the fact that you’re like "oh snap! He just said that he was like cocaine straight from Bolivia!!" With the Field Mob, they pretty much telegraph "I’m about to say something funny!!!" every time.

What really killed my goodwill towards them was the unbearable "I Hate You", which features some local Linkin Park soundalike shouting "I hate you so much right now" in that whiney, affected anger so popular with the suburban angst crowd. It was at that point that I decided that while I liked parts of the album, I hated it more. Worst still is the fact that their songs are both annoying AND catchy, which means I have them stuck in my fucking head even though I dinnae like them.

I don’t mean to be too harsh on Field Mob: They do provide several fun tracks, and "the Blacker the Berry" is a pretty great song. They aren’t really any worse than, say, Slim Thug or half the other kids with a record contract because they happen to have a Southern zip code and drawl. And honestly, I find Outkast really fucking annoying, and they are critically acclaimed and have sold a billion records.
Still, I doubt this album is going to be remembered as a classic from the 00s, and I’m gonna go sell this back to Amoeba this week so that I can actually get some money for it. I guarantee that by next summer there will be ten of them in the used bin for $7.95.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Screwed and Chopped

I recently came across a screwed and chopped remix of Paul Wall's "The People's Champ". I had been wanting to check Paul Wall out, as he'd made some fairly reputable top ten lists, and I wanted to hear what screwed and chopped sounded like. To understand what screwed and chopped hip-hop is, you first have to understand what it means to get your lean on and sip purple drank. See, evidently in Houston they enjoy imbibing codeine-laced cough syrup (from this point on to be called "drank", "syrup" or "purple drank"). Mmmm…nummy. As a result, they end up kinda slow and spacey. This narcotic drowsiness ended up being translated into hip-hop by the legendary DJ Screw (who od'd on purple drank about six years ago). Screw would remix songs by slowing them down, resulting in something that was drowsy and trippy, perfect for getting one's lean on. After his death, local DJs kept the tradition alive, most famously Michael "1000" Watts, head of Swishahouse records.

Screwed music was still largely strictly a Houston thing until the scene started getting major label attention. As a result, some of the majors have put out screwed and chopped versions of albums by Southern artists, mostly from Houston, but also people like T.I. and David Banner. The majors no doubt realized that they could make twice as much money off of the same album, since screwed and chopped versions retail at the same price as the original album, and just involves a little extra mixing time. Capitalism meets art - brilliant!

I gotta tell you, it's fucking genius. Basically, they just slow the record down, make cuts in it, and the result is ghetto trip-hop. The voices sound like they are underwater, the beats shuffle along at an agonizingly slow pace, and the rhymes get cut up into a stutter. "Sittin' Sideways" becomes "I'm sittin'/sittin/ sideways/ways." It's oddly soothing and hypnotic, sort of. Even the slowed-down voices aren't as annoying as you'd think they'd be.

I'm not sure I understand the logic of remixing an entire album. It's pretty difficult to sit through 80 minutes of the same artist slowed down. I think the original screwed stuff were mixtapes, and that makes more sense to me. After all, how do you figure that all sixteen tracks on an album would sound good slowed down, or are worth fucking with?

I'd also love to hear the style applied to different types of artists. I've never been the biggest fan of Southern hip-hop, and it's a little incongruous to have these trippy ass beats with mundane ass rhymes about candy paint and shit. Method Man's "Tical" would be amazing screwed and chopped, or the GZAs "Liquid Swords", or Madvillainy, or "The Chronic". Maybe mixes of that kind of stuff exist and I'm just not aware of it.

So kids, remember: Opiates are bad things to fuck with, but music made by people on opiates is some good shit. Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, The Heartbreakers, Nirvana, Nico, and now Paul Wall. Fucking. Awesome.


Fishscale Review

Ghostface Killah

For fans of: The Wu and their offshoots, MF DOOM, J Dilla, Pete Rock, Kool Keith, and New York hip-hop from back in the proverbial day.

I really did not want to check out this album. For one thing, I fucking hate cocaine. Really. I hate how it has this image of being a party drug, when really it turns people into boring assholes who just want to hang out in someone’s kitchen all night snorting and talking rapid-fire gibberish. I just….ugh. No.

Also, before I listened to Fishscale, I was not feeling Ghostface. His nasally, weirdo flow got on my nerves, and try as I might, I just could not get into him on Raekwon’s "Only Built for Cuban Linx." So I had no intentions of listening to this until someone gave me a copy to check out, and goddamn, I’m converted.

First off, the dude can rap. He really can. Listening to Ghostface spit made me realize just how many half-assed rappers put out records. He’s quick, he’s effortless, he’s an amazing storyteller, he comes up with crazy slang, and he is fucking out there. He’s got the Bellevue freakiness of Kool Keith, and yet still has that grimey New York gangsta vibe to him. He may have a dedicated legion of white indie-kid followers, but Ghost is still 100% from the streets of Shaolin. We just appreciate talent when we hear it, is all.

I haven’t checked out his last two records, so I don’t know how Fishscale compares to them. I can say that it is not unlike Supreme Clientele, and is not nearly as dark and menacing as Ironman. It shares Supreme Clientele’s more soulful production, slightly lighter vibe, and incessant skits. Not that it is about birds and flowers and shit; as the album title suggests, on Fishscale Ghost returns to rhyming about dealing and doing cocaine (for those like myself who are ignorant in the ways of Charlie, fishscale is a particularly pure type of cocaine). However, this is miles away from Juelz Santana, Fifty Cent, or even "Built For Cuban Linx". Ghost approaches dealing as a veteran, fully aware of how fucked up it is. On "Big Girl", he starts out partying with two cokeheads he just sold to, and ends up advising them to get off the blow, go back to school and make something of themselves. On "Shakey Dog" he describes a deal gone wrong sort of like an updated "NY State of Mind". Throughout it all he is both bragging and commenting on how wrong it all is.

Not all of the songs are about drugs; "Whip You With A Strap" is a plea for parents to beat their kids more; "Momma" is a heartfelt tribute to his mother; and "Underwater" is just out there. There are also some brilliant guest appearances, particularly on the "Be Easy" with Ice Cube, and "9 Milli Brothers", which has all of the Wu-Tang (even ODB) rhyming over a very Wu-worthy beat. The only real downers on the album were some of the skits, which get obnoxious after a while, and the last song, a "duet" with the Notorious B.I.G. that didn't make it onto his newest album. Still, there is enough great stuff on this album to make a few slip ups forgivable. After all,what hip-hop album doesn't have filler?

The one real bummer about this album is it hasn't sold nearly as well as Def Jam wanted it to. I don't think it's even near gold at this point, and they are practically giving it away - you can find copies selling new for less than ten bucks. Personally, I don't think selling 250,000 albums is bad at all, and maybe it's unrealistic for every artist to expect to go platinum, especially given how fickle and trend-oriented listeners are. I think hip-hop is starting to suffer from it's blockbuster mentality in the same way the movie industry is - artists are concentrating more on appealing to as wide an audience as possible, rather than on making good music, and we end up with records that sell based on singles, but will be absolutely useless five years down the line.

"Fishscale" is a brilliant record by one of rap's unsung heroes. Please do yourself and Mr. Coles a favor and buy a copy or two.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

J Dilla and Madlib review

Jay Dee/J Dilla

"Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2"
Stones Throw, 2006 (both)

This February, producer/rapper J Dilla aka Jay Dee died of a blood disease. During the last few months of his life he managed to record enough tracks for an album coming out this month, as well as "Donuts", a collection of instrumentals that was released contemporaneous to his passing.

"Donuts" is both Dilla's swan song and his love letter to hip hop. Despite being divided into 31 tracks, it is not so much different songs as one long piece divided up into separate sections. In fact, it reminded me of some of Mingus's more ambitious works, like "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady". It has that same vibe of being one long track that takes you on a journey in a bunch of different directions.

"Donuts" is held together with the mournful sound of a siren, which pops up at the beginning and end and several points in between. Done mostly with a sampler, "Donuts" cuts up different records and sound bites to create a collage that references the Beastie Boys, old soul, jazz, jingles, and whatever else Dilla could find in his crates. It is a fitting epitaph for a man who devoted his life to hip-hop, and further evidence of what the music world has lost.

A month or so after "Donuts" was released, Madlib came out with his "Beat Konducta", another collection of hip-hop instrumentals. Where "Donuts" is a slightly sad, experimental song cycle, Madlib's album is music to groove to. It collects leftover beats from his recent projects, and presents them as a series of movie themes. Like all of Madlib's work, it displays his encyclopedic knowledge of music, his unequaled crate-digging skills, and his ability to mix it all up in away that is both head-bobbing and innovative. One of my favorite tracks has a sample of a guy saying "funny how things can change nigga, funny now niggas can change things" over and over, until eventually it's just "nigga" cutup into part of the beat. It's both trippy and provocative.

While neither "Donuts" nor "Beat Konducta" hooked me the same way DJ Shadow's "Endtroducing..."did, they are both good albums, and are evidence that hip-hop music truly is art. Now when's that Madvillain album coming out....?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Buy this album!!!!!!

Remember this date: September 19, 2006. That's the day you go to your local record store and pick up a copy of Lupe Fiasco's "Food and Liquor." Hailing from Chicago, Fiasco sounds a little like Kanye West mixed with Talib Kweli. Like Kweli and West, he focuses more on the introspective and positive, and displays a sensitivity and awareness that is sorely lacking in a lot of today's rappers. He has much more in common with Native Tongue artists like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul than anything on Cash Money or Swishahouse. On the few tracks I've heard by him, he manages to be provocative without being preachy, political without being too simplistic, and has mad skills to boot. He can rhyme, and so far he's had pretty solid beats to work with. Jay-Z is the executive producer of his album, and hopefully he has the sense to not try and make Fiasco All Things To All People, ie put the track for the ladies, the track for the hoods, the track for the club, the track for the radio, the track for the one-armed hermaphrodites, blah blah blah blah.

Hip hop could definitely use a more positive MC. No offense to the Paul Wall's and T.I.'s of the scene, but I think we have enough rappers talking about money, dealing, and partying, and very few talking about all the fucked up shit that's going on in the world today. Houston is full of New Orleans refugees, and still they are rhyming about getting their lean on and paying a hundred grand for a grill.

I'm really hoping that "Food and Liquor" will provide a viable alternative to all the southern party rap. Fiasco could be like Kanye West, only an actual rapper. Here's hoping that Lupe lives up to his hype, doesn't include too many skits or too much filler on his disc, and doesn't turn out to be the egotistical asshole that Kanye is. I'd love to see him still wearing jeans and a hoodie a few million albums later.

Lupe could also trigger a rise in skateboarding in hip hop, and a further coalescing of the two scenes. With Lupe rapping about skating, and skaters like Berkeley's Wolfpack bringing the culture to the Bay Area, it's just possible that a skate deck will become the newest hip hop accessory. And you know what that means: Spinner rims on their skateboards. Platinum Trucks. P. Diddy bringing out a line of shoes with Airwalk. Saweet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ugly Duckling Revew

Ugly Duckling
“Bang for the Buck”
Fat Beats, 2006

For fans of: Jurassic 5, People Under the Stairs, people who would like the Beastie Boys if they didn’t use all that profanity

This is the fourth record from these SoCal old school revivalists. Ugly Duckling have been keeping it positive and retro since 1993, and they are showing no signs of joining the 21st Century. Like Jurassic 5, they employ sing-songy flows, trade off rhymes, and do their part to steer hip-hop away from the guns, bitches and bling that it has come to be synonymous with.

The album starts off with “Bang for the Buck”, a bouncy, uptempo song that shows Yudee at their best. Over a funky bassline and hyper handclap beat, MCs Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper give their mission statement in rapid-fire verse:

My soul is not for sale
Got a one-track mind going off the rail
As I save the day, what I mean to say
Is Ugly Duckling is on the way like a Green Beret
No Grammy's or platinum plaques
No chicks with fake noses or plastic racks
Just raps over tracks made of plastic wax
I'll pass Dizz the mic then he'll pass it back

Hey what's happening? You ready for action?
Hands get to clappin', the place is packed in
B-Boys backspin, the DJ's scratchin'
The roof is on fire and I'm holding the matches

The song is able to generate some real energy, while taking the listener on a nostalgia trip back to the days of the block parties, when MC battles were more apt to involve mics rather than 9 millies. It’s definitely a welcome change from lyrics about cars, teeth, selling crack, shooting people, and getting fucked up. They also have an actual DJ who samples actual records with actual instruments, producing a nice warm analog drum sound that feels like summer after a long winter of screwed-up, crunked-out, synth beats. It reminded me a little bit of the Ultramagnetic MCs, although Yudee are not nearly as raw.

In fact, Yudee are about as unraw as it gets, and their incessant chipperness and unapologetic dorkiness begin to bug as the album progresses. There were points on this disc where they sounded like Radio Disney. Seriously, on a couple tracks it got so bad that I was actually embarrassed to be listening to it. Alone in my apartment.

“Slam”, their dis track, is a good example, and is probably the least good track on the album. In stilted verse following the “Da-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-DUH” rhyme pattern than became obsolete in 1987, they say:

We used to call them perpetrators
But now if you do they'll say you're a hater
Well it's true cuz I hate you and all of the hogwash that you do
You jiggy rappers are a lying disgrace
And I'm running up coming with a pie in your face.

That’s right. Hogwash. Pie in the face. Now compare that with Ice Cube saying "you got fucked out your money by a white guy with no vaseline” or Jay-Z taunting other MCs with“I've been doing this shit since your shit was in pampers.” If Yudee don’t want to be violent and offensive, fine. But shit, if you are going to dis other rappers, at least have the dignity to do it on a track that offers something better than what other MCs are doing. I think 50 Cent is a fucking asshole, but even “Wanksta”, which criticizes someone for not being a violent drug-dealer, is better than “Smack”.

I respect what Yudee are trying to do, and they definitely have some skills. I think hip-hop needs alternatives to gangsta rap and mainstream rap, and it’s nice to see MCs giving props to the old school. I can’t help feeling, though, that Yudee’s target audience aren’t necessarily true hip-hop fans; rather, they are people who are more into other genres, and wish rappers sounded more like “License to Ill” and “Raising Hell”. And that’s fine, I just don’t happen to count myself among them.

If you are craving some upbeat, positive hip-hop that gives nods to the old school, “Bang for the Buck” will definitely fill that need. If you are still hoping for the second coming of the Wu, or wish Ice Cube's new disc was truly a return to form, you're gonna wanna pass.

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