Thursday, December 27, 2007

Homo Hop

Hip hop, with few exceptions, is a homophobic genre. "Faggot" is still an acceptable slur, and in a culture so obsessed with hyper-masculinity, the idea of showing weakness or not being a wretched pussyhound is totally unacceptable.

There is, however, a burgeoning gay hip hop scene. What follows is a list of some gay hip hop artists, mostly based on what was listed on

Just from glancing at his list, it seems like gay women are more likely to be rappers than gay men. Case in point - King Sincere ( who sounds like a guy. He does the kind of tough gangsta thing that her home city of NY mastered. The stuff on her myspace page is ok, but the recordings are rough and amateurish.

Untouchable - ( - is a brother/sister duo out of Ohio. They do slick booty anthems (ie CatNip), with a lesbian twist.

On the male side of things, there are rappers like Bone Intel ( who does smooth, horndog romantic tracks.

Captain Magik ( is from Cleveland, and has a homo hop anthem, Young Gay and Proud. I'm not into his exaggerated, Marshall Mathers type flow, but then again, that's what a lot of midwest artists sound like.

if you like your gays flaming, check out Sgt. Sass ( who is gay as fuck and proud of it. He's raunchy, flaming, and a lot of fun. They have a mixtape out - "Double S 4 Mayor" - which i'd love to check out. Kind of like peaches meets spankrock.

I checked out a handful of other artists, and while some of them were pretty lousy, most of them sounded just like your typical underground rapper, mimicking mainstream trends on shoestring budget, and offering up a decent alternative to mainstream rap. I don't know how accepting hip hop will ever be of homo hop, but it's nice to see that gay rappers are doing their own thing regardless.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My 10 Favorite Rap Albums of 2007

By Patrick Taylor

Reposted from
Before I get to my top 10, I have to say that I'm very hopeful about the state of music going into 2008. There were some great releases this year, and the combination of the stagnant record industry and the Imus debacle seem to have reinvigorated hip hop. Hip hop is underdog music, and it is at its best when it has its back against the wall. It got bloated and lazy in the past few years, and the fact that it has gotten kicked in the teeth a few times this year is only going to help it stay lean and hungry.

What follows isn't so much a "Best Of" list. Instead, I'm rating these based on what I actually listened to. A lot of albums came my way this year, and a lot of them were good. Here are 10 that actually had the staying power to remain in rotation on my cd player or ipod:

10. Mos Def - "Tru3 Magic" This disc snuck in right at the start of the New Year, and was an admittedly half-assed affair. I'm pretty sure Mos dropped this just to get out of his label deal with Geffen. There was no artwork, it was full of covers, and on a lot of the tracks Mos mumbled rather than rapped. Still, as half-assed as "Tru3 Magic" is, I can't stop listening to it. Even when he's not really trying, Mos Def still kills it, bridging hip hop, soul, and funk effortlessly. From his reworking of "Liquid Swords" on "Crime and Medicine," to the bedroom soul of "Undeniable," Mos delivers the goods half asleep and with one hand tied behind his back. I can't say that "Tru3 Magic" is a great album, but I also can't stop listening to it.

9. Citizens of Sleep - "Sometimes I Just Can't Get Outraged Over Copyright Law" The best discovery I made as a writer at Rap Reviews was Citizens of Sleep, aka Baraka Noel and the Pineapple Liberation Front. They meld intelligent and thoughtful lyrics with interesting and banging beats. My favorite track on this album is "By Your Side," which samples freak folk duo CocoRosie. The album is available free at www., so you have no reason not to check it out.

8. Percee P "Perserverance" Nineteen years since his first single, Percee drops his debut. His old-school battle rap stye is complimented by Madlib's brilliant production work. I'm hoping his sophomore album comes out sooner rather than later.

7. Pharaoh Monch - "Desire" Pharaoh brings the pain on his second solo outing, melding dope beats, righteous anger, and sharp lyricism. His cover of "Welcome To The Terrordome" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

6. Little Brother "Get Back" This NC duo do just fine without producer/3rd member 9th Wonder. They pay homage to EPMD on the cover, and deal with stardom, label drama, and clothes shopping.

5. Akir "Legacy" Technically a reissue, "Legacy" is a great album by a rapper who is the second coming of Nas. With its raw New York sound and New York lyrics, Akir points hip hop in the direction it should be going, drawing a direct line from the Last Poets to Nas to the future.

4. (Tie) Oh No "Dr. No's Oxperiment" / Madlib - "The Beat Konducta in India" The Jackson brothers unleashed two great instrumental albums this summer, cementing Stone's Throw reputation as the label for avant garde hip hop production. Oh No mixes up Mediterranean psychedelic music for a pastiche that is trippy, funky, and banging. Madlib turns Bollywood inside out on his disc, getting even weirder and more out there than he did on the first Beat Konducta disc. I can't wait to hear some of the Stone's Throw stable rhyming over these beats.

3. J Dilla - "Ruff Draft" This reissue of Dilla's "Ruff Draft" EP is short but essential. From the psychadelic "Nothing Like This" to the gutter stomp of "The $," "Ruff Draft" is banging and brilliant.

2. Jay-Z "American Gangster" Jay returns to his Reasonable Doubt days and kills it on tracks like "Roc Boys" and "Hello Brooklyn." He even lays out his boredom with wealth on "Success," noting "I used to give a fuck/now I give a fuck less/what do I think of success? It sucks." When Jay-Z is on point, there are few rappers who can match him. The production is dripping with seventies soul, and is the first great work P. Diddy has done since "Ready to Die."

1. M.I.A. "Kala" Simply put, "Kala" is a party on wax. It's raucous, celebratory, and mixes hip hop, electronica, and world beats into an irresistible pastiche. She gives nods to African beats, favela bounce, aboriginal hip hop, Bollywood, and old school indie rock acts like the Pixies and Modern Lovers. The result is a product that is truly global, and as fun as it is important. My favorite track is "Paper Planes," which uses a riff from "Straight to Hell" by the Clash. The original was a beautifully sad song in written by a white man (Joe Strummer, R.I.P.) about the plight of immigrants around the world. "Paper Planes" flips it on its ear, turning it into a song by an immigrant that is both joyful and menacing, happy-go-lucky rhymes punctuated by gunshots.

Honorable Mention:

UGK - "Underground Kingz" I'm not a huge fan of Southern hip hop, but "Underground Kingz" is a masterpiece of the genre, mixing skittering drums, syrupy soul, and Bun B and Pimp C's lazy drawls. It's a shame that Pimp C passed so young, but at least he left a solid legacy behind.

Lil' Wayne - "The Leak" This was one of several mixtapes that came out featuring leaked tracks from "The Carter III." Lil' Wayne's throwaways are better than most rappers' a-list material, and songs like "Zoo" and "I Feel Like Dying" were some of my favorites of the year. No one can toss off a one-liner like Lil' Wayne, and even when he's half asleep he's killing it. I can't wait for him to actually drop a proper album. And Wayne, lay off the syrup - that shit'll kill ya!

Wu-Tang Clan "8 Diagrams" If some of the raps on here sound phoned in, it's probably because they were. I think most of the Clan were working remotely on this effort, and it sounds unfocused and uncohesive as a result. Even the levels on the vocals are uneven. However, RZAs gloomy, trippy production makes it worth listening to. It's probably the last Wu album in a long, long while, and its sales are sure to disappoint, but it's brilliant in its own weird way.

Best of the underground:

During my six months as a reviewer for this publication, I've come to appreciate just how large and vibrant the underground hip hop scene is. For every release that gets a lot of press, there are twenty others that come out on smaller labels, and a lot of these are as good or better than what the majors are putting out. One of RapReviews biggest services to the hip hop community is giving these lesser-known releases equal air time, and hopefully turning readers on to some great music they might have slept on. Akir and Citizens of Sleep made it into my top ten, but some of other great indpendent releases that came my way were:

Nato Caliph - "Celph Titled"
Sankofa - "The Tortoise Hustle"
Bless 1 - "Starving Arist"
Aztext - "The Sacred Document"
The Tongue - "Shock and Awe"
TrueBless - "Mission IsPossible"
Mac and AK - "Legendary"
Money Mont - "My Life, My Struggle, My Hustle"

Two to watch for in 2008:

Wale - His "100 Miles and Running Mixtape" was amazing, mixing go-go, indie rock, and classic breaks. He has an album dropping in early 2008, and he is set to blow up.

Guilty Simpson - The dirtiest, grimiest, scariest member of the Stone's Throw crew is also one of their better MCs. The Detroit rapper's debut is coming out in the first quarter of 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My favorite non-rap albums of 2007

I'll be posting my list of my favorite rap albums of 2007 next week, so here are my picks for the best of the other genres. Sadly, this is also pretty much my list of the only new non-hip hop albums i listened to in 2007. Ever since I started writing for in July, it seems like all I listen to is hip hop. One of my resolutions for 2008 is to listen to more new indie music, and less gangsta rap.

so, in no real order:

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apochrypha - The Chicken raising, violin playing whistler came out with a solid release this year. At his mellowest he can get a little Sting-like, but this still was one of my favorite albums of the year.

1900s - Cold and Kind - Basically an alt-country Fleetwood Mac.

Elliot Smith - New Moon - Rarities and unreleased stuff from his early days. Beautifully sad.

The Field - Here We Go Sublime - I haven't managed to track it down, but I've listened to it online. It's pretty, IDM-ish trancey electronica. I never listen to electronica anymore, and the Field are a reminder of how good it can be.

Deerhunter - Cryptograms. I just got this, so i'm not sure how brilliant it is, but from the first few listens, it sounds like the 2nd coming of My Bloody Valentine, and should suffice until MBV actually put out a new record.

St. Vincent - Marry Me and Feist - The Reminder - Both are beautiful albums by talented female performers.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - By far the best live act i've seen this year or this millennium. Their albums don't quite capture the energy they have on stage, but they are still wonderfully audacious, and one of the more exciting and interesting bands around.

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver - James Murphy is rad. By all rights he should have faded into hipster irrelevance, being one of the main purveyors of a passe genre, disco-punk. Instead he proved that he could actually write great songs. For proof, check out "All My Friends" and "Someone Great". Also rumored to be brilliant live.

The National - Boxer - Sad and gorgeous (or is that gorgeously sad?), Boxer is an actual album, one that demands multiple listened, and isn't nearly as good on shuffle. The National were my favorite discovery this year, and all of their past albums are worth checking out.

I think that pretty much does it for what I listened to and liked in 2007. There were a handful of other releases that passed my way but didn't rock my world. No doubt there were also some brilliant albums I never got to hear. Maybe i can make amends in 2008.....

On a final note, I have to say that I am starting to feel old and out of place in regards to music. The punkier, more energetic stuff that I would have loved as a youth now just leaves me cold; The singer-songwritery indie stuff tends to bore the shit out of me, and I find it really hard to care about the fifth generation of bands inspired by the flying burrito brothers/joy division/ Gang of Four/ slowdive/ whaever other obscure "seminal" band that is only slightly overrated. I love rap, but so much of it doesn't speak to me, and I get tired of having to ignore bullshit offensive lyrics in order to appreciate the beats. In short, I'm too young to retire to the pastures of the mellow and inoffensive, too young to listen to the angry angsty music i used to love, and too "non-urban" to really ever feel a part of a lot of what hip hop is putting out. Yes, it truly is hard out here for a thirty something white guy. As Dr. Evil once said, there is nothing as pathetic as an aging hipster.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Percee P

Percee P :: Perseverance :: Stones Throw Records
Reposted from

(I loved this album, and I have a lot of respect for Percee P. Rapreviews didn't review this when it came out, and it got some unfairly mediocre reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, so I figured I'd give Percee his due).

I first encountered Percee P at a Madlib show last year in Seattle, selling his CDs to people outside the club. Madlib couldnÕt perform that night, but it didn't matter because Percee was absolutely on fire. With J-Rocc providing the beats, Percee attacked the mic, keeping the crowd enthralled with his booming delivery and insane verbal acrobatics.. After that show I was sold on Percee P.

"Perseverance" comes almost 19 years after his first single dropped and almost 30 years after he first got into hip hop as a 10-year-old growing up in the South Bronx. That makes him both old school and old by hip hop standards, which is potentially problematic in such a youth-obsessed culture. Percee's bombastic, battle-rhyming flow relies heavily on verbal calisthenics and wordplay, neither of which are valued as highly today as they were back in 1988.

This works to his advantage in some ways, because there aren't that many MC's today who sound like Percee. His commanding flow and delivery immediately stand out. It reminds older listeners of the rappers they were listening to when they first discovered hip hop. For younger listeners, it delivers an experience that is wholly unlike what the majority of today's MCs are offering. There are no catchphrases, vocal processors, or dance moves on this album. Instead, Percee offers up 18 tracks of relentlessly confident braggadaccio. "Last of the Greats" is the perfect example of his boasting style. While a lot of MCs threaten people with guns, Percee makes it clear that his rhymes are lethal weapons:

"I spit bars that inflict scars
Won't get far before chicks' bras
And pats unzip far quicker than Bronx strip cars
Percee's raps are worse after the first chapter
A nurse will have you before the church pastor
Then the hearse will snatch you
Can, you hear raps that will pierce lungs
Collapsing near death
You gasp for air like the earth losing atmosphere
Get your click bro, or tip toe before I spit flows and rip those
Mouths as big as hippos
That's how shit goes so keep your lips closed"

"Last of the Greats" also sums up the lyrical content of "Perserverance." Most of the tracks see Percee demonstrating his skills on the mic through words and deeds. He switches it up on "The Man to Praise," and "The Lady Behind Me," which outline his history with hip hop, and "Ghetto Rhyme Stories," a cautionary tale about messing with the wrong type of female. Beyond those three songs, however, "Perserverance" is strictly boasting and battle raps.

What makes "Perserverance" more compelling than just revisiting old Big Daddy Kane records is the fact that he is accompanied by one of the best beatmakers of this millennium. Madlib produces the entire album, and his twisted funk is the perfect compliment to Percee's rhymes. A lot of the tracks are made up of Madlib's signature chopped up soul samples, some of which were on display on the first Beatkonducta album. He always manages to keep things from getting pedestrian, and his subdued style gives Percee room to shine. Madlib also mixes it up enough to keep things interesting, and as a result the album never drags. "Legendary Lyricist" has an amazing funk break, "2 Brothers From the Gutter" uses an 8-bit Nintendo sample, and "The Dirt and the Filth" has an ominous beat complete with metal guitars. Madlib brings his insane cratedigging skills and love of music to every track, which makes the beats on "Perserverance" every bit as enjoyable as the rhymes.

The other thing that keeps Percee's relentless flow from getting old are the guest spots. There are some great features on this disc that provide a welcome contrast for Percee: Madlib's stoned monotone, Aesop Rock's stentorian flow, Chali 2na's Cold Crush rhymes, and Guilty Simpson's gutter growl. All of the guests help to balance out Percee's style, and keep the album from getting monotonous.

"Perserverance" is the perfect marriage of old school skills with new school technology and technique. Both Percee's rhymes and Madlib's beats reverently reference the past while looking to the future. I'm not sure why it took 19 years for Percee to drop his debut, but I hope he's already working on his sophomore album. I don't want to have to wait another decade to hear new material from this talented and hard-working MC.

The Aztexts

The Aztexts :: The Sacred Document :: AZT Records
Reposted from

This is the second album by Burlington, Vermont trio the Aztexts. As on their debut, "Haven't You Heard," MCs PRO and Learic and DJ Big Kat are instilling hip hop with a healthy dose of old school sounds.

The album sounds good from back to front, with banging beats provided by Nastee, Dub Sonata, Special Weapon, E Train, and the Touchphonics. DJ Big Kat provides cutting and scratching throughout, which helps to tie all the beats together, and give the Aztexts their own sound. Most of the beats are good, and a few of them are brilliant. "We Back" starts things off with what sounds like a hip hop version of the James Bond theme, over which PRO and Learic swap lines like the Beasties or Run DMC; "Lettin' You Know" is a moody track with pianos and strings, accentuated by Big Kat's scratching; "Keepin' It Live" has a jazzy groove reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest; "Pay Attention" offers some chopped up funk, while tracks like "Lookin' Out My Window" showcase a mellower, more introspective side of the duo.

One of the best tracks on the album is "Adventures of.." which combines a dirty, bluesy guitar lick with strings, horn stabs, and sped-up vocals. The song showcases the duo's storytelling skills as they relay the story of a night out in a seedy bar:

"The waitress slowly approaches says can I bum a smoke
I look at PRO but we both quit a year ago
But I fear if I say no she'll just walk away so
I take her by the elbow and say well, hon
I don't but what do you say we both go find one?
PRO shoots me a look as if to say fine son
Have your fun, but be sure you're ready when the time comes"

They go on to take out the fake MCs in the club with a microphone massacre like Rakim used to deliver. Eric B. and Rakim are clearly influences on the Aztext, both in their storytelling style and their battle rhyming skills. "Roll Call" even sounds like "Know the Ledge."

PRO and Learic's verbal dexterity also looks back to the golden age of hip hop, when lyricism and verbal finesse were valued much more highly than they are today. It was this type of inventiveness and linguistic acrobatics that made me love hip hop in the first place, and I was happy to see the Aztexts carrying on the tradition. They also score some nice features, including Mac Lethal and One.Be.Lo.

My one complaint with the Aztexts is with their delivery. At times they sound forced, like they are trying too hard to sound hard. Its as if they were imitating Ghostface Killah at his most insane. Maybe it has to do with coming from an area that doesn't have its own distinct verbal traditions to draw from, or maybe it's a case of the MCs trying to find their own voice. To some extent itÕs a matter of taste, but there were definitely several points on this album where I was not feeling their flow.

That said, the Aztexts are a talented group who do a lot right, and they deserve recognition as a force to be reckoned with. Their beats and rhymes recall the glory days of hip hop, when dookie chains and Africa medallions were king. They are keeping the underground vibrant, and are doing Burlington VT proud.

Friday, December 14, 2007

True Bless

Mission IsPossible
Elsewhere Entertainment
reposted from

Maryland MC TrueBless wins the award for least promising album cover of the year. From its groan-inducing title to the drawing of TrueBless wearing a cape, "Mission IsPossible" lacks what the design world calls "quality cues." Luckily, the music is much better than the album cover would suggest. The album sounds good, and even includes a lot of extras like photos and lyric documents on the disc. This is something more independent artists should do. It saves money in printing costs, and gives the consumer some additional value, allowing them to connect more with the artist and the music.

ScholarMan handles most of the production, and does an admirable job. The pronounced snare snaps had me thinking of DJ Premier, and somber soul reminded me of classic East Coast artists like Nas and Mobb Deep. Highlights include "Hot Trax," which mixes chopped vocal samples with bombastic drums; "Melodic Wings," which has a melodic, jazzy vocal sample; and "I'm So Thankful," which has a mournful sped-up soul hook that was almost like a leftover track from J Dilla's "Donuts." The only real dog on here is "Sound the Same," which was produced by Low Key Productions and sounds like the generic, pointless hip-hop that the song is criticizing.

TrueBless proves himself to be a capable MC, clearly drawing inspiration from East Coast MCs like Rakim and Jay-Z, and Midwestern rappers like Common and Kanye. However, where a lot of rappers rhyme about the struggles of the street, TrueBless raps about the much more personal struggles of being a father, losing a parent, and getting divorced. The album starts with TrueBless making his statement of purpose, declaring "Anyone who has ever existed was sent here on a mission. Now I must admit, I still don't know what mine is, but I'm seeking the vision. I'm ready to face whatever to make things right again, and it doesn't matter if I fail as long as I try."

The overwhelming, raw sincerity all over the album acts as both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because it imbues the music with a level of intensity and meaning that goes deeper than what a lot of MCs are offering. "I'm So Thankful" is a letter to his deceased mother describing her death and how her passing has affected him. It is a powerful song that gives us an almost uncomfortable level of insight into TrueBless's life and feelings:

"Your death brought so much pain into my little world
I can't look at pictures of when you were sick
So I stare at the photos of you as a little girl
Tripping off how much my daughters have your eyes
You know it's still hard for me to envision you perishing
Though they say sometimes we lose the good things in life in order to cherish them
I refuse to go to your grave and weep
You're not there
You live through me
My seeds, my deeds
Love eternally"

This intense emotional sincerity can also be a weakness. TrueBless hits that switch over and over again, and sometimes it is too much. At the end of the emotional "Pray For Me," he is literally in tears, declaring "My sons hear me crying at the end of this track. Real men cry! I'm about to lose everything but my mission is still possible. I'm a man standing before you crying, hurtin'!" It is as uncomfortable to listen to as if you were watching the guy cry right in front of you.

Maybe it is unfair to criticize a rapper for keeping it too real. Isn't it better to have artists rapping about real human experiences rather than floss about material possessions, or brag about being a criminal? I think it is, but the fact remains that I wasn't as into "Mission IsPossible" as I wanted to be. I think if TrueBless had added a little more levity to the mix, it would have made his more intense moments easier to appreciate, and given the listener some more musical and emotional variety. As it stands, "Mission IsPossible" is still a solid album by an MC who is clearly keeping hip-hop real and true to its roots.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird at the Warfield, December 8 2007

Among the "essential" genres of music that I'd hate to live without, the top three are 80s hardcore punk, golden age hip hop, and delicate, pretty indie folk. My girlfriend hates punk rock and hip hop. Luckily we have common ground with artists like Andrew Bird.
The Warfield was full of a diverse audience that included arty types, older types, a few hippie types, and a bunch of college kids. The show started around 8:30pm with the Handsome Family, who play mellow Americana. They were interesting, but their mellow, quiet music was a hard sell to a polite but apathetic crowd that just wanted to hear Andrew Bird.

He went on around 9:30pm. The stage was set up with a Persian rug and two phonographs in the background, including one that spun. Mr. Bird, dressed in a three-piece suit, took off his shoes and started wailing on his violin. He had a set up where he could record and loop pieces of music, so it ended up sounding as if there were several violinists and not just himself. Feist had a similar set up, and while it is a little distracting, it allows the artists to have a larger sound. I couldn't help thinking that hip hop acts could use a similar set up to make their live shows more dynamic and less like dudes talking over records.

Mr. Bird is an eccentric performer, spazzing out , contorting his body, and generally putting his all into the performance. When his band came out (a bassist and a drummer/organist), they went into his catalogue, doing versions that were different but recognizable. The sound was amazing, and I realized that in some ways it is much more interesting to see a more mellow band like Andrew Bird's than to see a band that uses a lot of distortion. When the instruments aren't covered up by a wall of effects pedals, you can actually hear every note that the artists are playing, and watch them as they put the song together. In this day and age of downloaded files where we are increasingly alienated from the actual people making the music, seeing it live is a reaffirming and important experience. It was also nice being in a packed house full of people who shared the same love of Andrew Bird's music. This wasn't a scenester crowd, or full of people who wanted to get loaded and hear the big hit.

It was a great show, and Andrew Bird proved himself to be a dynamic and talented performer. It made me feel somewhat old that I'd rather listen to mellow chamber pop from the comfort of my assigned seat, but whatever.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pimp C

Pimp C of the Underground Kingz (aka UGK) was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room a few days back. The rapper was 33. It is especially tragic that he died now as UGK just released their triumphant comeback, the double disc Underground Kingz, a few months ago after years of label drama and prison drama had shanghaied the group. UGK were one of the originators of Dirty Southern music, coming out of Port Arthur, near Houston, in the late 80s. They had some big hits in the 90s with songs like "Pocket Full of Stones". They helped lay the blueprint for Southern hip hop, with its laid back drawl, skittering beats, and lyrics obsessed with cars and drug dealing. No cause of death has been announced yet, although I've heard that there were prescription drugs found at the site. Southern rappers love their codeine, and its possible he either OD'ed or died of some other drug-assisted causes. It's also possible he had a weak heart, or had an aneurysm, or died from any of the million freaky ways perfectly healthy people can die.

In honor of his death (and the fact that rasputin was having a sale) I picked up a copy of Underground Kings today, and it's pretty awesome. I'm not a huge fan of Southern rap, as it tends to be pretty ignorant shit most of the time (and I mean that out of respect, boys..). There are only so many unapologetic tracks about dealing drugs and fucking bitches that a boy like me can take. Still, UGK do it better than most, and this double disc set is definitely a masterpiece in the genre. What they nail here is the funky, laid back drawl that more East Coast rappers can't approach. This is the music of sipping syrup and staying indoors with the AC - lazy, rambling, and smooth. It's a shame that Pimp C went out so young, but no can say he didn't go out strong.

Ixnay on the Homophobnay

I just got the new Ghostface Killah album, and while the music is pretty good, Ghost's storytelling is riddled with "faggots" and "pussies." It shouldn't surprise me to see evidence that a super-macho culture like hip hop is homophobic, but it does disappoint me.

The word faggot bothers me as much as the word bitch, and for the same reasons. It is unnecessary and excessive hatred directed at a population that already have more than enough bullshit in their lives to deal with. It also proscribes a very conservative and narrow range of acceptable behavior for both genders. Men can't be "pussys" and have to be tough and strong, and women have to take care of their men, not step out on them, and forgive them when they fuck with groupies.

The homophobia on the Ghostface Killah album is grating because it's so persistent, and slings so much hatred at a group who probably could give two shits about Ghostface. Have you seen pictures of Dennis Coles? Not exactly International Male material, and I'm sure the gay population of his hometown of New York have leaner, hotter fish to fry. The whole hyper-masculinity vibe bugs as well. "98% of dudes is pussy" he declares, flipping the whole 5 Per Centers philosophy to be centered around the hard rather than the righteous. As someone who could possibly be described as a pussy, at least by ghost's exacting standards, it's a personal affront.

This comes on top of the lyrics to David Banner's new song "B.A.N." that goes "When there's a pedophile that's lurking round where we stay/ we turn our fuckin' cheek and let them faggots walk away." First off, there is a huge difference between being a pedophile and being gay, and it is my understanding that a lot of men who molest boys would identify as straight, or at least not as being gay. Secondly, the major issue facing the African-American community isn't pedophilia. Pedophilia is horrible, but I think poverty and violence are bigger issues, and Banner is a strong proponent of the "don't snitch" mantra, which lets all of the drug dealers and gangbangers fucking up the communities get a pass.

I shouldn't be shocked that rappers are homophobic. Hip hop is a very masculine genre, and pop music in general is not the place for insights into gender roles and gay rights. Still, it's disappointing to get such explicit proof of the hatred a lot of rappers have towards gays. It's like hearing a friend who has much more conservative beliefs than you go off and let their true colors shine. It makes me feel alienated from the music I love, and drives home the point that I will always be an outsider to hip hop.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Tongue: Shock and Awe

The Tongue :: Shock and Awe :: Elefant Traks
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

"Shock and Awe" is the debut album by Aussie MC the Tongue, who has made a name for himself in his hometown of Sydney as a fierce battle rapper. The Tongue is one of several Australian rappers I've heard recently, and I'm starting to think that continent can give the U.S. a run for its money as far as hip hop is concerned.

The album starts off with a Middle-Eastern violin and rattling tambourine on "I Know A DJ." The tambourine had me thinking of J Dilla, and the Middle Eastern vibe had me thinking of Stone's Throw artists Madlib and Oh No. The track also has an old school feel courtesy of scratching and cutting on the hook, which includes reworking a classic Ice Cube line to say "It's a great day for genocide/that's the day all the DJ's die." The Stone's Throw connection is made explicit on "Animal Crackers" which features a Dudley Perkins and Georgia Ann Muldrow. The song tackles environmentalism and animal rights from the perspective of the animals over a bouncing reggae beat straight out of the Gorillaz. The environmentalist bent continues on "The Inheritance," a down tempo track that is sort of like "An Inconvenient Truth" set to a beat.

The Tongue stays serious on the reggae-tinged anti-drug song "Forever." The track serves as both a warning about the dangers of drug abuse and an admission of culpability, and is reminiscent of the Streets:

"When we were kids all we used to drink was Coke and ice
Nowadays kids are all about the Coke and ice
This war on drugs is a joke
Since the beginning of time there ain't ever been a dealer that's broke
I don't condone getting high, but condone getting by
Can't you leave me alone while I'm getting mine
I'm, trying to practice my lines
Off a mirror, backstage, no shame, my moment to shine
Saturday nights are live like this life is Hollywood
But just because you feel good doesn't mean you're OK
Keep your eye on the ball like it's croquet
Cos even a president can fall prey to cocaine
We're all chasing a rush, maybe you're chasing a dream, chasing yourself
Or making a bust
Either way I prey you making a buck
I think they'd take less drugs if the rest of us gave more love"

The Tongue abandons the reggae for soul on "The Real Thing" which almost sounds like a B-side to "Roc Boys." He keeps it light on the battle rap track "The Blues" and the flamboastin' track "Good Looking." "Good Looking" highlights the Tongue at his best, spitting rapid fire lines over a stripped-down, funky beat:

"Hey yo second-hand flows like second-hand clothes
Both ain't worth shit like second-hand blow
I never rocked either at a show
And money is time so keep it moving like a second-hand bro
No, I never claimed to be pretty
Humble like the prostitutes working the johns of the city
Humble like a father of three, working three shifts
Back to back so the trio can eat
But in my life the hero is me
And before the credits roll the crowd needs something to see
You're a working bee on the smallest tree
Thinking a working-class hero is something to be
See those destined for greatness, have no patience
We rise to the top like we were weightless
Fire off a heat-seeker, find ya playlist
Biters get burnt just trying to taste this
So spit your excuse out and make your mess
Your home ain't where your heart is - change address
We side-step the bullshit you just put your foot in
This is how you get good looking!"

One of the biggest challenges for any foreign MC is finding his or her own authentic voice, making an imported art form their own without merely aping American performers. The Tongue does this by combining beats that reference both golden age hip hop and reggae with lyrics that are unmistakably Australian. He's not trying to be street, ghetto or gangsta; he's just trying to be good. The beats, handled by local producers like Braintax, Spit Syndicate, and Mr. Zux, are consistently good, with the exception of the cheesy love song"The Word," complete with a Rick Astley soundalike on the hook. Lyrically, the Tongue combines the easygoing, good-naturedness that seems to be a national Australian trait with some very deep examinations of serious issues like environmentalism, pollution, and the influence of corporations and industry on the global economy and ecology. The result is an album that is not only great Australian hip hop, but great hip hop in general.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: December 4, 2007

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Bless 1

Bless 1 :: Starving Artist ::
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor

I'm sick of defending hip hop. I am tired of explaining to people that not all hip hop has violent or sexist lyrics, and that the fun but simplistic ringtone rap doesn't represent the art form as a whole. From now on, I'm just going to tell people to download Bless 1's "Starving Artist" from his myspace page. Bless 1 is a producer/rapper out of Chicago who exemplifies the best of what hip hop can be with his intelligent wordplay, thoughtful lyrics, and jazzy beats.

The album opens up with the mellow "A Place In the Sun." Bless flows effortlessly, making his intricate and complex rhymes seem deceptively simple. The song acknowledges the struggles of living in the hood while looking towards a brighter future:

"Unorthodox pattern of talking, words walking
At a rapid pace chasing greatness now I face
Cheering crowds, replacing troubled men with scowls
In plain view ghetto youths tumbling dotted cubes
Observing the madness as I cruise
We choose to hide internal bruises so healing is impossible
Tackling the obstacles of embracing our brethren
Loving our women and leading our impressionable children
'Til then destruction swallows us whole
Bad odds at birth like born on parole
Unable to compete, CD of life stuck on repeat
Moving with the awkwardness of shackled feet
I build with men who grew up fatherless
On stoops we gathered and shared laughter like the shit had never bothered us
We've gotten over it, the imperial vocalist
Sharing a few, giving my view, quote me on it"

Bless 1's positivity is relentless, but firmly grounded in reality. On track after track, he remains aware of the hardships of life, but intent on moving forward rather than admitting defeat. His philosophy is summed up on the track "Never Give Up," and by the upbeat beats provided by French producer Rhythm From Art. The beats reference jazz, soul, and old school hip hop. The whole album has a mellow groove that it maintains throughout. None of this is going to blow out your speakers, but the beats are consistently good.

As the title of the album suggests, Bless 1 is not one to flaunt his jewels and cars. I'm not opposed to rappers flossing, but it's refreshing to hear an MC who is upfront about having financial difficulties. Living vicariously through Lil' Wayne's ice is well and good, but the majority of hip hop listeners (and humans in general) live closer to Bless 1's income bracket. Bless offers an insightful examination of poverty and the hunger for money on "The Hunger":

"They say the goons carry heavy in June
Making the block boil like a heroine spoon
Chi-town where the winters are cold as Siberia
It takes more than inches of snow to cool the temperature
Stuffing our face, never thought about grace
Sounds great if you've already ate, but we can't relate
Taught by police, thieves and ministers
Praise the dollar and chase it in ways sinister
Deep speeches are lost without a listener
It's hard to open ears of the deaf in my perimeter
'Cuz a stomach that growls is more powerfully loud
Than the voice calming it down
And you ain't gotta live in the Chi to understand the schematics
Bred havoc here for a long while
Influencing my peers and then they start to clown
Run streets until we can't keep up, passing the crown
Off to the youth, suited with flames in their eyes now
But it can never be drowned as long as our stomach pounds with the hunger"

As good as "Starving Artist" is, it isn't flawless. "Return to the Source" with its alto sax is too Kenny G for my tastes, and sees Bless 1 veering from inspirational to cheesy. Also, at ten tracks and 28 minutes, "Starving Artist" is practically an EP by hip hop standards. I was definitely left wanting more. Those minor complaints aside, "Starving Artist" is great album by a remarkably good MC. The next time you hear someone complain about negativity in hip hop, tell them to shut up and listen to Bless 1.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: December 4, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Madlib - Nov. 16 at the Independent, SF

I went and saw Madlib at the Independent a couple weeks ago. I love Madlib, and I'm a huge fan of his work and the work of his label, Stone's Throw. I was excited to finally get to see him do his thing, since I had gone to see him last year in Seattle and he had pulled out due to a family emergency.

The show started at 9, and like the old man i am, i got there at 9:05. Baron Zen was spinning some Stone's Throw classics, and that went on, and on, and on. Every once in a while label head peanut butter wolf would come on stage and drink some beer. Finally, at around 10:30 (ie when i SHOULD have gotten there) the Arabian Prince came on and spun some old school tracks. At about 11pm, J-Rocc took over and started playing beats for MED. MED seemed really unsure of himself, and he even stopped J-Rocc midtrack because he couldn't remember the words. If there is one thing I've learned in my years of public speaking, it's that you NEVER let on how nervous or unprepared you are. Just do it - we won't know the difference.

He was joined by Guilty Simpson, who was the highlight of the evening. Guilty is a Detroit MC who is the one hardcore/gutter rapper on the Stone's Throw roster. He is also an incredible MC, and I can't wait for his album to come out in early 08. Percee P came out after Guilty, and kept things going.

I don't know if it was the sound or my mood or the vibe or what, but I was NOT feeling the concert. I've had this issue with live hip hop shows in the past - sometimes it just seems like dudes talking over records. The whole thing was kind of chaotic, disorganized, and lacking. The MCs would be like "yo, put on that one track" then they'd rap for a minute, then demand that we put our hands in the air and scream, adn rap over another track.
By this time it was midnight, and there was still no sign of Madlib. I was tired, cold, and getting claustrophobic in the sold-out club, so I jetted before even seeing him. i was really bummed about the whole experience until i talked to my friend who saw them at a later show in Seattle. She had stayed for madlib, and said he came on at 12:30, and was really meh. See, madlib is an amazing producer and musician, but a very average rapper. In fact, the only thing that makes his rapping work is the fact that most of the time it is sped up as Lord Quasimoto. On this tour, Madlib is just doing his rap thing, wearing chains and bling and shades and looking like an aspiring Jay-z. Underwhelming to say the least. Is it sad that I like the feist show more than the madlib show, and that I'm looking forward to andrew bird? i don't want to give up on live hip hop, but man, I'm not so sure it's my thing.

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