Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is hip hop dead?

A colleague of mine asked me yesterday if I though hip-hop was in a slump. He referenced the Mims single as an example of the depths the genre has sunk to.

True, there is no shortage of shit rap out there. A lot of heavy unit shifters are utter garbage, and when I listen to some of the stuff on the radio, I am amazed at how little talent these bastards have. What happened to being able to rhyme? To having flow? To having something to say? To having interesting beats?

The truth is, rap is now at the point rock is at where the majority of shit out there is, well, shit. In the 60s, there was no shortage of amazing, popular rock bands. Some of the biggest names in rock from that time are also among the best: The Who, the beatles, the stones, the kinks...

Nowadays, the biggest names in rock are people like nickleback who are generic bullshit. True, there are still decent bands selling buttloads of albums, but there is so much mediocre filler out there cluttering the airwaves.

So don't let the Good Charlottes or Rick Ross's of the world get you down. If you dig a little, you will always be able to find people making real music, no matter what genre.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ruff Draft

J Dilla
Ruff Draft
Stones Throw, 2007

The Ruff Draft EP was originally released by an obscure German label in 2003, between Dilla’s production work on Common’s Electric Circus and his Jaylib project with Madlib. Dilla had been fucked around by MCA, was estranged from his wife and kid, and on a really experimental tip. The result was ten tracks that showed both his brilliance as a producer and his abilities as an MC.

Stones Throw has re-released the EP as a two-disc set, complete with extra tracks and an entire cd of instrumentals. I have to admit that I was a little upset when I realized that my 13 bucks got me only 50 minutes of music (each cd is about 25 minutes long), and at first I thought it was a total waste to not just put it all on one disc. The logic, I’m sure, is to preserve the integrity of the original product, and adding on 10 instrumentals to the end would fuck up the flow. It’s not the greatest solution, but I appreciate where they are coming from, even though I may just burn both sides onto one cd.

Musically, this is solid work. Dilla is both out there but solid, so all of the tracks are head-bobbing but unique. My favorite track is a reworking of Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize”, which features Dilla rapping over an acoustic rendition of the song with a little boy singing the chorus. The fact that Dilla came across the track and decided it would make a good beat shows how good he was at producing.

While his skills as a producer are beyond reproach, his abilities as an MC are not quite immortal. He is good but not great, but all of the tracks work, and there aren’t any lines I’ve come across that have made me cringe, which is saying something these days. This may not be mindblowing lyricism, but it does the job.

In the end, this is a great EP and a fitting tribute to a J Dilla. I’m happy that Stone’s Throw took the time and effort to put out such a nice-looking package (go Helvetica!), and it is always wonderful when obscure records get more widely released. The whole “This is strictly for my real niggaz” language in the liner notes cuts down on the seriousness and somberness of the whole thing, but whatever. Dilla was who Dilla was, even if he did try to get his gangsta on sometimes.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cover Me Badd

The lastest podcast from Stone’s Throw is entitled “Cover Me Badd”, and it is 45 minutes of soul and hip hop covers. Some are novelty tunes, like a remake of “Rumours” titled “Roaches”, several are female responses to macho tracks by LL, Rob Base, etc, and some are just fucking awesome, like the Japanese version of “Give Me One More Chance” by the Jackson 5, and the Spanish version of “Do You Think I’m Sexy”.

This is why Stones Throw and podcasts rule. They dig up all this random shit, and then present it to the public. It is pretty magical. They definitely made my morning, particularly as I’ve been on an 80s kick. I’ve been watching reruns of Miami vice, and that shit has been warping my mind, giving me fond memories of kicking around my neighborhood on my bike, playing GI Joes with my friend scott, breakdancing at recess…ah. Good times. Bad fashion, but good times.

Holy fuck I’m old.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Podcasts I like

Pasion por el ruido.

This is a weekly-ish Spanish podcast that features hardcore punk, with an emphais on the crusty and anarcho. In other words, no bullshit straight-edge, macho victory records crap, no whiny emo kids, and no linkin park soundalikes. I’ve always believed that this kind of music was best presented in brief, easily digestible packages, and the podcast is perfect. Nothing makes my morning walk through the marina more bearable than to be listening to someone scream unintelligibly about how much the government sucks. I’m pretty sure they are all against vivisection too. rrrrrwaaaaaaaaarrrrrrghhhH!!!!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hip Hop Drought of 2007 aka Patrick’s Commitment to Fiscal Responsibility

I am very proud of the fact that I am able to support myself and pay off my extensive school loans while living in a really expensive city. However, my insistence on living in San Francisco and staying in the non-profit sector has significantly impacted my ability to be totally iced out and party with strippers The fact that I hate diamonds and gaudy jewelry, don’t party, and can’t deal with strip clubs has also played a role in limiting my playa status.

Hip hop has been playing a major roll in making sure I don’t break the bank in these lean times by not putting out a single record worth plopping down my hard-earned money. Part of this has to do with the fact that I am pretty much over southern and/or street hip hop for now, having invested all of the time and money I can into those genres. There is only so many rhymes about getting one’s lean on that a boy can deal with. I also hit a fucking wall with Rick Ross’s album, and the latest single by Mims, “This is why I’m hot” which features perhaps the worst rap in the history of the genre “this is why I’m hot, I’m hot cuz I’m fly, you aint’ cuz you not.”

My ability to listen to hip hop has been further impacted by positive developments in my life, namely an increased social life directly connected to seeing someone. Someone female. Someone who prefers acoustic guitars to 808s. I’m trying to convince her of the merits of hip hop, but even I know that there is no point trying to get her to like Death Certificate or the new Clipse album.

Sigh. So come on now, all you mcs. Prove me and nas wrong and give me a reason to spend my hard-earned bread. J dilla’s Rough Draft and Madlib’s album of Indian influenced beats may be effective contenders.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

American Hardcore

American Hardcore
Directed by Paul Rachman
Based on the book by Stephen Blush
Sony Pictures Classics, 2006

American Hardcore documents the first wave of US Hardcore, from roughly 1981 – 1985. It combines archived footage with present-day interviews of people involved in the scene.

First the good – it is pretty thrilling seeing footage of Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat from back in the day. I was especially excited about the Bad Brains stuff, as I had never had a chance to check them out, and goddamn, are they good. They are four Rastafarian jazz musicians who decided to apply their technical skills to hardcore punk, and they fucking rocked.

I also really enjoyed the interviews with my childhood idols Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye. I’m not sure how much they enjoy being considered punk’s elder statesman, but they do a pretty good job of it.

Now for the not-so-good: At it’s best, the film is a documentation of the scene, but in a lot of ways, American Hardcore is just a bunch of old dudes reminiscing about how fucking hardcore they were back in the day. I’m seriously hoping that TSOL’s Jack Grishom was taken out of context when he was bragging about pissing in a drunk girl’s face or blowing shit up with homemade pipe bombs. I mean, I know he was one of the biggest, meanest assholes in punk, but I hate to think that he still believes that that is something to brag about.

Also, the message of the film, that hardcore punk was revolutionary, is belied by the footage of the film, which shows a bunch of 16-year-olds hammering out tuneless songs that all sound the same. The problem with hardcore is that for every amazing band like bad brains or minor threat, you had, well, you had pretty much the rest of the scene, which was kids with a lot of heart and very little talent. Don’t get me wrong, I love old hardcore, but it has a very limited scope, and most bands only produced a handful of good songs, one album tops.

I was seriously offended by how the only reference to the post-85 hardcore scene was to imply that they were all a bunch of sell-out, wimpy fucks. As the guitarist of gang green says, “they are riding a tour bus on the road we paved.” Worse, Zander Schloss, of the Circle Jerks, says “Punk is over! Go home, your cage is clean!”

Yes, hardcore got incredibly shitty and violent and metal in the late 80s, but it has had more than one renaissance since then. I was a big fan of the whole crust/extreme music scene in the late 90s with bands like Hiatus, Doom (who, admittedly, are foreign),Charles Bronson, What Happens Next, His Hero is Gone, Monster X, Orchid, etc, etc. There were tons of bands who were carrying on the DIY tradition of the originators, and creating music that was as good or better. They were also more sophisticated politically, and organizationally, creating viable alternatives to the mainstream music industry. Think Maximum Rocknroll, or prank records, or 625, or life is abuse, or profane existence, or Heartattack, all of which are still around. As hardcore has aged, it’s tackled a lot of issues that were not dealt with in the early days, like racism, sexism, and homophobia in the scene, and how to help punks practice what they preach more by providing outlets for activism etc. Activist collectives like food not bombs or crimethinc have spread up alongside punk, allowing hardcore to be much more effective in creating social change than just singing about how fukt the government is.

In the end, American Hardcore was a reminder for me to stop being such a jaded old man, and to try to resist sinking into icky, self-righteous nostalgia.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bargain Basement Treasures

Drive Like Jehu
Yank Crime
Interscope, 1994

I came across Yank Crimes in a bargain rack for 4.95 around 1995. A friend of mine had told me that it was good, so i figured i could spare a five-spot to check it out. Little did i know that it is one of the classic post-punk albums, and one of the best albums to come out of the nineties.

For those who don't know, Drive Like Jehu was a band with Rick Froberg and John Reiss, the latter who would have fame with Rocket From the Crypt. Yank Crime was Jehu's second album, and it is a doozy from start to finish. The band was two guitars, bass and drums, but they sound a lot louder than that. Froberg voice contains the perfect managed hysteria of an insurance salesman about to have a nervous breakdown, equal parts nerdy and unsettled. Henry Rollins may do angry dude better, but no one can do angry everyman like Froberg.

The songs are long and intricate. Jehu truly are math rock, but in a good way. The disc starts off with the barrelling guitars of "Here Come the Rome Plows" with Froberg shouting "Sad to say/it's over come the rome plows!!"

Most of the songs feature long intros - the delecate notes of "New Math", the forty seconds of squealing feedback on "Super Unison", and my personal favorite, the staccato algorythms of "Sinews". Lyrically, the disc is vague but menacing. On "Sinews", Froberg screams "yeah, you been had!" and you don't necessarily know what he's talking about but it creeps you out the same.

Emo and post punk has devolved to a point where it is largely just a bunch of lame fucks whining over bad rock. They should all take a lesson from Jehu, who bring the pain, bring the rock, and make it all sound good and interesting. Viva la Jehu!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Laugh Now, Cry later

Ice Cube
Laugh Now, Cry Later
Universal, 2006
Another homie got murdered on a shakedown
His mother is in the corner having a nervous breakdown
Two shots hit him in the face from the blast
Framed picture
Closed casket

That, my friends, is genius, pure and simple. On those lines from Ice Cubes 1991 "Dead Homiez", Cube sums up the horror and tragedy of South Central violence succinctly and powerfully. Compare that to the chorus of "Stop Snitchin'", on his 2006 release "Laugh Now, Cry Later".

You can have whatever you want
In the hood, it's do's and don'ts
So when it get hot in this kitchen
Stop snitchin, n*gga stop snitchin

Why even fucking bother? That’s what kept running through my head listening to this track and this album. For most of the album he sounds merely half-assed, but on some of it he sounds downright shitty. Why is cube rapping about not snitching?

The album opens up with the generic but decent Scott-Storch-produced “Why We Thugs”. Its sparse synth and claps beat is very familiar, but works well and is sufficiently head-bobbing. There are other decent tracks on the album, like “The N*gga Trap”, in which Cube returns to the angry social commentary that all us old farts love him for:

The ghetto is a n*gga trap, take the cheese
Soon as you do it here come the police
Invented and designed for us to fail
Where you gon' end up, dead or in jail

In the face of all of the bullshit going on in the world today, and all of the bullshit coming out of hip-hop, Çube’s anger is cathartic and much-needed. It is not, however, enough to justify all of crap on this bloated dis, or forgive clumsy, amateur lines like

I love all my fans cause they know I'm a man
And not a little boy or some fuckin play toy

Shit, cube, should we just be cool, not act the fool and stay in school? You’ve been rhyming for twenty years and you come up with THAT??

I read an interview with cube and he said he didn’t give a fuck about album sales and this was all for his fans. Well, if only that were true. Instead he follows the same tired lil jon/ scott storch production, the same half-assed features, and treads the same played-out subject matter. He also wastes a lot of breath an wack rhymes and in trying to defend himself as the OG. Guess what, cube, you never WERE a gangsta, and that’s exactly why we loved you – because you were angry as fuck at both the racist white system and the suicidal elements in the black community that were killing off the people that the police and prison system let pass. Stop being hard and just be real.



Monday, March 05, 2007

Neon Bible

Two caveats before you read this review:

1 – I just got this album yesterday, and have only listened to it twice (notice, it gets released on the sixth, and I got it the fourth. Cuz I’m COOL).

2 – while I like the arcade fire’s previous release, Funeral, I’m not like their #1 fan, and I’ve not really sat down and obsessed over that record.

That out of the way, I must say that I was all set to hate this record. I like the arcade fire, but their melodramatic, multi-instrumental schtick teeters on the edge of lameness, and I was sort of looking for a reason to finally declare I hated them. But damnit if this album isn’t pretty good. In fact, it contains the same, epic, melodic, joyously sad music that made Funeral so great. Say what you will about the arcade fire, but they got some fire and passion.

A lot of it has to do with lead singer Wll Butler’s beautifully sad voice. And with Chassagne gorgeous alto, which is featured on a track or two, and supports butler’s beautifully on the rest. Also, like Bloc Party, Arcade Fire do a lot to make their music sound vibrant, layered, and alive. They stray from the standard “drum, bass, guitar, keys” formula, including some more esoteric and archaic sounds, but it doesn’t come off as gimmicky.

Whereas “Funeral” was dedicated to the crews’ dead homies and relatives, “neon bible” is a more explicit critique of the west, and is thus more political and less introspective than Funeral. You may or may not be down with this, but they pull it off pretty well, even lines like “Been eating in the ghetto on a hundred dollar plate.”
And then there are lines like the following from Antichrist television blues:
“I don’t wanna work in a building downtown….cause the planes keep crashing always two by two.”
That pretty much sums up the 21st century blues.

So basically, Neon Bible is seventies glam meets eighties new wave meets bruce springsteen. And it is pretty fucking good. Next time someone whines about how lame music is today, put this on and tell him to shut the hell up.


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