Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hip-hop Podcast Roundup

I recently found an ipod and got a new work computer, and through this discovered the joys of podcasts. There are three hip-hop podcasts that I’m particularly enamored with.

My favorite is iconocastics hip-hop podcast.

This is a regular, 16 – 20 minute mix of underground hip-hop. It seems like it is updated somewhat sporadically, but I don’t quite get podcasts yet, so maybe I’m wrong. My favorite mixes include their February 06 mix of Tanya Morgan, One.Be.Lo., etc. and their 8?06 mix which has stuff by Too Short, Mr. Lif, and ded prez. The shows are all divided into segments, so you can easily skip over songs you aren’t into. It’s bascically like someone with good music taste sending you a mix. Good stuff. Although it’s free, it could get expensive for me, because now there are all these albums I want to buy….

The there is the all hip hop review (http://www.allhiphopreview.typepad.com/). This is an hour-long podcast updated every 2-4 weeks. It features three dudes sitting around talking about hip-hop. It’s hosted by Trask, Phraze, and Chaos, and has been up for about six months. The episode I listened to had them talking about Birdman and Lil’ Wayne kissing each other on the mouth, Jay-Z,, LL Cool J vs. Jay Z, and how Chaos clowned the Notorious B.I.G. at a show back in the day. It’s kind of like the View – basically a big dish session that is equal parts catty gossip and insight. My favorite moment came when Chaos was saying how wrong it is for Jay Z to use the nickname “Jay Hova”, because it’s comparing him to Jehova, aka God. In the middle of this very serous discussion of how wrong it is to equate oneself with God, Chaos says “and if he was god, he’d have put more bass in his album!”

Their website is also way better than mine is.

Finally there is Stonesthrow, which is one of the better podcasts on the net, in that it gives you free mixes from Stones Throw artists. Want an hour of madlib mixing forty-fives? It’s on there? A J Dilla Tribute? It’s on there. High school funk band mix? Check out the site. Good times. Check ‘em out at feed://www.stonesthrow.com/jukebox/podcast.xml


Friday, January 19, 2007

Mixtape Martyrs

War on music

Pitchfork media had a news item on their site yesterday about DJ Drama and DJ Cannon’s Gangsta Grillz mixtape operation getting busted by the po-po.
Here’s an excerpt from Pitchfork’s article, as reported by Dave Maher:

"A SWAT team raided the popular mixtape DJs' Walker Street studio and confiscated at least 50,000 CDs, computers, recording equipment, money, bank statements,and cars. 17 people were detained, but Drama and Cannon were both arrested.Saying the RIAA had investigated the business for a while before the raid,RIAA representative Matthew Kilgo expressed eyebrow-raised amazement at the two's Gangsta Grillz franchise: "These guys are actively advertising online.They've got a website that they're advertising from. That's where you place your order, and that's how the orders are shipped out."
Adding insult to injury, Fulton County police officer Major E. A. Platt said, "In this case, we didn't find drugs or weapons, but it's not uncommon for us to find other contraband when we execute a search warrant."
The TV reporter concluded her segment saying, "Authorities tells us this is a big problem in Atlanta,because Atlanta is known as the hub for the Southeast. They say anytime anybody wants a CD, they know they can find it in Atlanta."

Let me start by saying that I’m not sure who originally raised the beef with the GangstaGrillz, or if they were doing some shady, bootlegging bullshit on the side. What I do know is that there is a difference between a mixtape and a bootleg. A big difference.

A bootleg is when someone buys a copy of an album,makes a million illegal copies, and then sells those copies, thus making money off of a knock off and depriving the artist of any royalties .

A mixtape is sort of a combination between a dj mix, a demo, a radio show,and a compilation. They are either scene-focused, DJ focused, or Artist focused. Mixtapes serve three major purposes: They help promote a local scene, they help promote a Dj, or they help promote an artist. Mixtapes are successful and popular not only with fans but with artists. They are an inexpensive way for artists to promote themselves and get their music out there, and they are often released a little bit before an album is released to build up excitement. Most mixtapes feature exclusive, remixed album tracks,and "freestyles", which are basically new rhymes over other artists' beats.


A few months ago I bought Lupe Fiascos ChiTown Guevera,a mixtape by DJ envy to build excitement for Lupes oft-delayed Food and Liquor album. It featured stuff lupe had done with other artists, remixes of his"Kick, Push" hit, new album tracks, and lupe rhyming over beats from the gorillaz. Most of the tracks were abbreviated, as they typically are for mixes. The mixtape worked – it showed me what lupe was capable, and made me hungry for more.

Here’s another example: Fifty Cent made his career on his mixtapes. He made several before he was picked up by interscope/aftermath.

The game has released a billion mixtapes in between albums. Chamillionaire isknown as the mixtape messaiah. Lil' Wayne has made major waves with his recent series of "Dedication" mixtapes with Gangsta Grillz.

These aren’t bootlegs – these are works to promote underground music, to promote artists, and to give fans the chance to hear the artists in between official releases. True, there is a ton of money in mixtapes, and a lot of the songs and samples on them haven’t been cleared by the original artists. It maybe that there are shady people releasing shady mixtapes that basically generate a ton of money off of other artists' hard work. However, the majority of mixtapes have at least tacit approval from the artists on them, and a lot of them are endorsed by rappers.

Gangsta Grillz are even affiliated with TI's Grand Hustle records, and beyond doing work with Grand Hustle Artists,they've been in TI's Front Back video and had a cameo on his movie "ATL". These are not pirates cranking out bootlegs for sale at your local swap meet.

The crack down on Gangsta Grillz is a sign of both how totally out of reality the record industry is, and how completely out of touch with hip-hop fans they are. I understand the concern about people bootlegging and downloading music without the artist seeing a penny of it. If a label spends millions of dollars producing and promoting an album, they deserve to see some return on their investment. If an musician spends time and effort creating a piece of work, they deserve to be compensated for it. I don't buy the idea that kids with 2000 dollar computers , 400 dollar x-box 360s, ipods, cell phones,exclusive nikes, etc don't have the cash to spend on music. That's bullshit. So fine, as we move forward in the digital age, we should find a way to make sure that labels and artists are able to support themselves with the music they make and release.

What the industry is doing, however,is trying to pretend that it is 1990, and grasping on to a business model that doesn't work anymore. Guess what guys? Your margins just got tighter,you can no longer expect to get whatever overhyped, overproduced crap you put out to go multiplatinum, and there is just too much music out there to expect consumers to buy all of it. Deal with it.

The other thing about the Gangsta Grillz arrest that bothers me is it is yet another example of the recording industry putting a stranglehold on creativity. Ever sincethe courts decided that biz markie had to pay big bucks for a seconds long sample, the ability of producers and djs to use samples in their work has been drastically restricted. While this may keep people like vanilla ice from making beacoup bucks off of a queen bassline, it also means that the sonic collages created by the bomb squad, prince paul, dr. dre, and a lot of other early producers are now illegal. As much as I'm behind people getting paid for their work, I also think that people ought to have some right to use the images and sounds we are constantly bombarded with and reinterpret them in their own way. The RIAA (and motion picture industry, and adversting industry, etc) want us to absorb every bit of media they put out, but they also want it to be in its own bubble, unchangable,forever a proper representation of whatever brand it is supposed to be.

The cops in Atlanta also didn't seem to be able to draw the distinction between DJs and drug dealers. True, there is well-publicized intersection between the hip-hop world and drug world, but that doesn't mean that everyone with two decks and some recording equipment also has a direct line to columbia.

I'm curious to see how DJ Drama and Canon fare, and see just what the law thinks they have on them. I'm hoping this doesn't mark the beginning of the end of mixtapes. If so, the record industry just hacked off its own foot with a rusty saw. Dumbasses.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Now ya see it, now ya don’t

The beginning of 007 has seen two magical disappearing acts from the artists formerly known as Black Star. First, Mos Def released True Magic at the end of December. It arrived in stores almost devoid of packaging, basically a CD in a plastic case with a web address for liner notes. Keeping in mind that the main reason why suckers fork out eighteen bucks for a cd these days is in fact the packaging, it seemed like kind of a dumb move. Basically released to finish his contract with Geffen, True Magic evidently sounded as half-assed as it looked. In fact, it was SO half-assed that Mos Def and Geffen decided to pull it, fix it up, and re release it later this year. So now there are a bunch of folks with copies of what isnow a rare, if sucky, disc.

Talib Kweli and Madlib released a 9 song album Liberation for download on the Stones Throw site (www.stonesthrow.com). I was quick enough to actually download it before the link went inactive. Now there is just a notice saying that one day they may release it again. I don’t quite understand the logic behind any of it – first of all, if two artists like madlib and kweli decide to work together, why the hell wouldn’t you charge folks for the output – Both are respected, popular musicians, but neither is exactly rolling in it. Also, while Liberation may not be the most amazing thirty minutes in music history, it’s certainly not a half-assed freebie. In fact, “Happy Home” has got to be one of the best tracks in a while – it’s a five minute geneology of Kweli’s family, including marriages, protests, births…yes, that’s right, it’s a hip-hop song about family that CELEBRATES family. That’s about as rare as punk songs about family that celebrate family. Production-wise it is mostly Madlib’s usual crate-diggin’, soul-centric beats, although he does break out some crazy synth riffs that could almost be drrty south.

I like Kweli, but usually in small doses, and this nine-song ep is the perfect amount. I hope that it gets re-released in an actual album form later this year. As much as I like the free downloads, it worries me to see artists themselves devalue their music. It’s one thing to have a friend burn a cd for you, but to have an artist burn their cd for you themselves? Probably not the best business plan.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Dirty Money

I keep meaning to write a review of the Clipse album Hell Hath No Fury, but it has fallen into the same wormhole as the write up of modest mouse i started three months ago and the write up of quasimoto i began a while back. All artists/albums i like so much, i can figure out a way to do them justice. so instead, i'm just gonna write about "Dirty Money", which is one of my favorite songs on Hell hath no fury, and seems to sum up what is so amazing about the record.

For one thing, while dirty money is about buying shit with drug money, it is a million miles away from all the bling bling flossin tracks by, um, well, everyone. Ok, so maybe the chorus isn't quite so many million miles away:

All my fly bitches like (dirty money, dirty money)
All my stripper bitches like (dirty money, dirty money)
All my college hoes like (dirty money, dirty money)
Dont it spend so right? (dirty money, dirty money)
Now lets go shopping, lets go chill
Lets go buy them new Louis Vuitton heels
Ass of La Perla, ears full of pearls
Damn dirty money know how to treat the girls

Ok, so it sounds like something that might come out of the Jigga's mouth, and i can sort of picture the video of them sippin' cristal in the club pointing at big booty broads in g-strings. However, what separates this from a lot of the materialistic club anthems out there is that this song is ultimately sort of sad and joyless. They are bragging about all the money they got, but you can tell from their voices that they had to pay a high price for their paper. The beat reinforces this - it's both banging and unsettling.

Part of it is that the song is a defense of ill-gotten gangs. It's bling with a concsience:

"I dont mind keepin you up on them must-have's
Pito pumps, Gucci slouch bags
Now tell me, is that dirty money really that bad? "

He's asking because he knows it kinda is that bad. There is also a loneliness to the macking that is a lot deeper than our standard mysogynistic lyrics. In one line, malice says "You could tell me bout ya day, I pretend I listen
And you aint gotta love me, just be convincin' ". Later on he expounds "By no means, am I in love with a stripper
You understand that then you fittin the glass slipper." There is a sadness, an emptiness behind all the glitz and ice.

This song reminds me of coming home late from a club when you are starting to sober up and come down, all the magic of the evening is going away and the city just seems lonely and cold. It's like the final scene in La Dolce Vita where marcello ends up alone on the beach after the party. It's just sad, and cold, and fucking awesome.

Anyways, dirty money. believe that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Peanut Butter Wolf

There is an interview on the Onion AV Club webiste this week (www.avc.ub/content) with Peanut Butter Wolf, the founder of Stones Throw. Stones Throw is an independent hip-hop label best known for putting out various Madlib projects, including but not limited to the Madvillain record, Quasimoto’s albums, Yesterday’s New Quintet, and his own solo stuff.

PB Wolf was also responsible for getting me into independent hip hop. I had a girlfriend in 1995 who had an ex boyfriend who was friends with Peanut Butter Wolf. Through my ex, I got into some of the more seminal hip hop artists of the mid 90s, like Nas, Jehru the Damaja, She also got me into unwound at this time, so I have that to thank her for as well. She showed me a side of rap music that less commercial and more committed to the art form than what was going on in the mainstream (of course, mainstream in 1995 meant Nas, Biggie Smalls, the Wu…kind of a far cry from Chingy). She also made me less self-conscious about being a honkaloid who was into hip-hop.

I admire Stones Throw and PB Wolf because they put out good, interesting music that is both entertaining and artistic. Like the best indie labels, they are keeping music real, without having to dumb it down for the mainstream or be too ridiculously obscure and quirky. Now, if anyone has a copy of blunted in the bombshelter they want to send me….


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Port of Miami

Rick Ross
Port of Miami
Def Jam, 2006

For Fans of: cocaine, rhymes about cocaine, CSI Miami, Miami Vice, ironic hipster beards, rappers who keep it simple, stupid.

This year, the Onion voted Kevin Federline's debut as the Least Essential Album of 2006. I've heard snippets of it, and let me assure you, it sucks ass. The production is ok, but the rapping is just embarrassing.

K-Fed is not the only one dropping lead bombs though. Rick Ross is almost as horrendous on his debut "Port of Miami", and that fucker has sold a bajillion copies.

The basic premise of Mr. Ross is this: He is a major drug dealer, and he is very wealthy and sexy. He likes to have intercourse and become intoxicated on expensive alcohol and marijuana. Basically the same MO as 90% of rappers out there, right? The production is pretty standard, as well - vaguely 80's synths, soul crooners backing him up, intros in which he introduces himself and the production team.

Ok, so whatever. His subject matter is morally bankrupt and as uninspired as his production. That doesn't make him any different than a lot of people out there, and doesn't automatically make him bullshit. The problem with Rick Ross is that he doesn't follow hip-hop rule number 1 - it's not what you say but how you say it.

Ross also needs to get his ass a rhyming dictionary, and someone needs to explain to him that while it is true that every word is a perfect rhyme with itself, you can't really get away with that. He certainly tries, like in his smash "Husltin":

"It's time to spend my thrills, custom spinnin' wheels
I ain't drove in a week them bitches spinnin' still
Talk about me because these suckers scared to talk about me
Killers talkin' bout me, it ain't no talk about me
It ain't no walkin' 'round me, see all these killers 'round me
Lot of drug dealin' 'round me goin' down in Dade County
Don't tote no twenty-twos, Magnum cost me twenty-two
Sat it on them twenty-twos, birds go for twenty-two
Lil' mama super thick, she say she twenty-two
She seen them twenty-twos, we in room two twenty-two
I touch work like I'm convertible Burt
I got distribution so I'm convertin' the work
In the M-I-A-YO them niggaz rich off that YAYO
Steady slangin' YAYO, my Chevy bangin' Yayo"

So basically, he was like. "what rhymes with twenty-two…? Oh! I know! Twenty-two! Now, what else rhymes with twenty-two…? Hey! Twenty-two! Ok, so what rhymes with yayo? OH! Yayo! Sweet! Cut the track, lets go sip some crystal and smoke a blunt."

In his jiggy/play anthem Get Away, he raps :

"rick ross ima real nigga,u can feel the realness when i deal wit ya,baby i wont lie to ya,im to honest i promise i wont lie to ya,that otha bitch finished wit,
ur the 1 im having dinner wit, and its candlelit can u handle it,cuz i can handle it,so lets handle it"

This right before the chorus, which is:
"when can we get away and enjoy each other, get away and explore each other
all i wanna know is when can we get away and exchange our feelings, keep it poppin like a movie screening, i only wanna get away"

Exchange our feelings? Riiiight.

Anyways, before everyone starts snickering at bullshit like K-Fed, they best take a look at their own record collections. Rick Ross my ass. Jeezus.

Oh, and also he bragged that he needs to pull in ten million a year just to exist, and it aint coming from records, wink wink. If it's true that he's a big mac dealer, he's in for a world of hurt from the DEA. It's more likely that he is a broke ass livingbeyone his means. His bankcruptcy sale is gonna be hi-larious. Go get a savings account and start living within your means, mack daddy.

Busta Buss Gettin' Busted

What is it with aging hip-hoppers losing their fucking minds? KRS-One has gone from being a street philosopher to a mean, lean assaulting machine. Busta Rhymes seems anxious to join him. He's just been involved in a post-xxxmas assault, one in a series of scuffles he's been in in 2006. Oh Busta!

Speaking of, i went to the liberry last weekend and picked up a copy of his latest, "The Big Bang" (god bless the library!). This was his first venture on Dr. Dre's Aftermath label, and Dre is all over the production. This is both good and bad - it's good in that dre's production makes busta sound downright contemporary, and there are some funky, catchy tracks. It also helps him move away from the goofy, cartoonish persona he's had for so long.

the bad is that now he's trying to be all gangsta, and has picked up dre's unfortunate overuse of "bitch", raps about cocaine, and in general buys in to all of the bullshit that is making hip-hop so fucking lame these days.

Check, for instance, his chains. Look at those ugly bastards. That shit is real. Real diamonds. He has a NY Apple made out of RED DIAMONDS!!!! Little kids lost arms and shit so that he could spend a small fortune on piece of utter tackocity. His other new chain is the Aftermath logo, again made from real diamonds. There oughta be a law. Whatever happened to dookie chains? The subtle diamond ear stud? oy.

I haven't really heard much of Busta's music, save for a few guest appearances. I gotta say i don't share the critics love of "The Big Bang". I mean, it's alright, but who needs to fuck with mediocrity these days when there are so many good songs and artists. To quote Sick Boy from trainspotting - you think it's alright, but it's really just shite. And to quote Renton - We all get old and cannae hack it anymore.

So busta, maybe your 2007 resolution should be to not get in fights anymore, yah? Maybe you and KRS could take anger management classes together. And then you could do ultimate NYC battle raps incorporating your new found sensitivity -"I feel that when you dis NYC, it disrespects my crew/Which makes me feel devalued/and like you don't respect my personhood BIATCH!!!""


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