Friday, January 28, 2011

What I'm Listening To

I've been on a hip-hop kick lately. Old school, to be exact. I traded in a bunch of stuff at Amoeba, and got a lot of stuff. I found Cypress Hill's debut album for cheap, so picked it up. I think Cypress Hill have about four good songs in them - after that you've heard it all. Those songs are "How I Could Just Kill A Man," "Insane In the Brain," "A to the K," and "Hand On the Pump." Muggs makes the group, creating a dusty, dirty, Bomb Squad smoking an joint laced with angel dust kinda hip-hop. I was really excited when I first got this, and then I remembered that all they rap about is smoking weed and killing people, neither of which I'm that interested in hearing about. I bought their second album Black Sunday when it came back, and then sold it back for indie rock in the late 90s.
I still love this song, with its "Duke of Earl" sample, even if they are partially to blame for Limp Bizkit.

I also got the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II Tha Pharcyde. Been meaning to check it out for about ten years, never got around to it. I think I woulda enjoyed this more if I bought it in 1997. It's early 90s hip-hop on a West Coast, goofy tip, similar to Black Sheep. It's a little juvenile, but I love "Ya Momma," if only for the line "ya momma gotta glass eye with a fish in it."

At the same time, I picked up El Guincho's Pop Negro. It's feelgood Spanish indie electro-pop. He has a crazy video for "Bombay." Q: What kind of bees make milk? A: Boobies!!!!

I've also been working on reviews for a mixtape by NY rapper NY Oil, an album by aussie rapper Maggot Mouf, and albums by Serge Severe Boac.

As always, more music than I can realistically process.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Big Payback

I reviewed Dan Charnas's The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop this week at RapReviews. It's a great book. You should read it. Here's him explaining why he wrote it.

Remember kids: hip-hop may be made by black guys, but it's history will be told by skinny white guys. You've been told.

I also reviewed Ursula Rucker's She Said, which is the featured review at RapReviews this week.

I'm ashamed to note that I rated Waka Flocka Flame's album higher. Only because Rucker is performing in a genre (jazzy spoken word) that I'm not as familiar with or into.

Been listening to Big L's Lifestyles Ov Da Poor and Dangerous, partially inspired by The Big Payback. It's 1995 hardcore NY hip-hop. Dark and viscous as hell. Big L got gunned down in 99 or 2000. RIP.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I reviewed Waka Flocka Flame's Flockaveli for RapReviews this week. I already got an email from a reader saying I scored it too high. I wrote him back saying I was all set to trash the record, but then I got into it. Flocka's lyrics are non-existent and morally bankrupt, but dammit if he can't rock a track. Maybe I just listen to too much crunchy grown-man rap, so listening to some ignit street rap is like eating an ice-cream sunday after a diet of brown rice and tofu.

One of my favorite songs is "Fuck Da Club Up." It's about getting drunk and fucking the club up.

There's a video of him playing "Hard In Da Paint" with a marching band that's pretty amazing.

It's Southern street rap but done well. It's not my favorite type of hip-hop, but sometimes those hi-hats and synths work for me. Like Big Boi's last album, which I finally caught up with. The Outkast member dropped a masterpiece of Southern Rap this year. One of my favorite tracks is "General Patton," which samples an opera chorus. Wicked.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


One of my new years resolutions was to see more contemporary art this year. To make good on that, I joined the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I went there on my birthday a few weeks ago, and saw the "Audience as Subject" exhibit, which was ok, and several video installations by Yoshua Okon. I also went to the SF MOMA to see the exhibit on wine. It was interesting (and a label my wife worked on was featured), but I couldn't help but feel that it pandered to the audience in some way. Maybe its the baggage I have from having two alcoholic parents who drank a lot of wine - I associate wine connoisseurship with an excuse for alcoholism. I also felt that the Exposed voyeur photography exhibition pandered to the audience as well - see photos of nekkid and ded people!! There were some interesting pieces, however, especially the random shots of strangers and the footage taken from security cameras. We also stopped by the Cartier-Bresson exhibit, which was packed.

As part of my resolution, I also started reading (or browsing, really) a few art blogs:
White Walls SF, which is about SF street art, ArtNowSF, and Meighan O'Toole's art blog, My Love For You.

I should also mention the Compound in Oakland, where my friend Ryan works, and the Verge Gallery in Sacto, which my friend Liv runs. Both are spaces for local artists that, in my mind, incorporate the best elements of DIY culture (as well as housing some great artists).

What interests me about art is that I don't know anything about it. It's a whole new territory to explore and learn about. Also, as much as I love music, I'm getting burnt on it as a cultural expression. Maybe I listen to too much of it, maybe there is too much of it around, maybe I'm too old to really be involved in the scene. I've been a music fanatic for thirty years. I think its time I explore other art forms as well. Plus, gallery openings tend to happen a lot earlier than concerts. We'll see where I'm at six months from now, once school and work begin kicking my ass in earnest.


The Economist has an article in the latest issue asking why gun laws having come under closer scrutiny in the wake of the shooting in Arizona. Many commentators on the left have accused the right of stoking the flames of hate, using Sarah Palin's crosshairs map as exhibit A. The right has responded with a chorus of "that guy was crazy, he has nothing to do with us." Never mind that in July a right wing lunatic had a shootout with the cops en route to shoot up the Tides Foundation and the ACLU in San Francisco, two of Glenn Beck's favorite bad guys. And never mind that the right has stoked the fires of racist hatred and fear of the far right, using the mob mentality of groups like the Tea Party to get more republicans in office in 2010.

They are right, though, the Arizona shooter wasn't a right-winger, he was just crazy. But he was armed to the fucking teeth legally. And the response by many on the right is that we need MORE not LESS guns. There is a growing "Concealed Carry" movement in this country, which means giving people permits to carry concealed firearms. The logic goes like this: if bad guys know that normal citizens are armed, they'll be less likely to prey on them. Also, if more citizens are armed, they can respond to crimes. The first argument sounds like the argument against wearing a bike helmet: if you don't wear a helmet, cars will be more likely to steer clear of you so they don't hurt your unprotected head. Also, if you start an arms race, the bad guys will always win - they have better access to illegal shit. The second argument is madness. In one out of a million cases, some John Woo shit might go down with the good guys gunning down the bad guys. In the other 999,999 cases, innocent people are going to get shot. More people with guns means more gun violence. Instead of just being afraid of the thugs with guns, I'll have to be afraid that any jackass I bump into might pull out is their gat and start gunning. Not to mention that people might get shot for misdemeanors - a purse snatcher shot in the back by a hero with a cannon, dead for the 100 bucks he stole. I can't believe we as a nation are going to buy into this vigilante bullshit. It scares the hell out of me.

Especially since the police, who are law enforcement professionals, haven't proven themselves to be good at using their arms in many cases. They have a bad habit of gunning down unarmed black men. If we have a bunch of armed rednecks, we are going to have a lot more people of color gunned down for no reason. I'm a liberal who is for second amendment rights, but strongly, strongly against concealed carry. We are not the wild fucking west.

This is part of a larger trend that has been breaking my heart lately. America has been going through a tough time, and our reaction is to turn on one another. Politics have gotten more divisive. There is a growing libertarian movement, which is essentially "I got mine, fuck you!" (There's irony in Fox news painting George Soros as a liberal bogeyman, when they are owned by Rupert Murdoch, a foreigner who has taken control of the U.S. media and used it as a mouthpiece for his personal ideology, which happens to profit him nicely). As cities and counties and states struggle with deficits, we turn on one another, blaming each other for problems. If you can tell the character of a country by how it responds to crisis, we are failing. We are showing ourselves to be a bunch of whiney, selfish, hateful, spoiled little bitches.

This artificial red state/blue state conservative/liberal divide isn't helping. We fit our opponents into stereotypes, and then follow a knee-jerk party line based on our own hot button topics and talking points. If you look at the conservative view of liberals, it doesn't reflect what liberals actually believe, and I'm sure the same goes for how liberals view conservatives. Our political ideologies become like sports teams, things we identify with and get passionate about just so we can feel like we belong to something. Not that there are serious differences between the two ideologies. But we need to find common ground so that we can start to find solutions to the problems facing us, rather than the pissing contest that politics has become. One side takes power, enacts a bunch of laws that reflect their ideology, and the other side tries to undo them. How the hell is that helping anything?

Hopefully I'm wrong. Maybe I should just forget about it. After all, losing sleep over the state of the world isn't helping me any, and it isn't helping the state of the world much.

So I'll stop ranting, and stop ruining my beautiful saturday morning by being pissed off about things I have no control over. Gah.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My Thirteen Favorite Songs of 2010

I've always been someone who loved albums more than songs, but this year I came to realize that with all the music out there, sometimes all you can spare an artist is a song. Plus, history is full of artists who had one powerful hit but not much else in their repertoire. Sometimes, one good song is enough.

13. "Dancing On My Own," Robyn. I'm biting this from other critics, namely Said the Gramaphone. I don't listen to dance pop, but everyone raved about this so much that I finally gave it a listen. This is dance music done right, without any braindead lyrics.

12. "I Learned the Hard Way," Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Sharon Jones proving retro soul ain't played out.

11. "Rill Rill," Sleigh Bells. This album was overblown, overhyped, and one idea run into the ground. It had it's moments, though, not the least this song, which tones down their sound and samples Funkadelic. As always with the Sleigh Bells, you have to see them live to really enjoy their, um, best asset.

10. "Baby (El-P Death Mix)," Justin Bieber. I don't have a young daughter, so I don't know anything about Justin Bieber except he seems nice enough and has some great lesbian hair (and I mean that with all respect to both Mr. Bieber and lesbians). El-P's mix of "Baby" manages to incorporate Lil Jon, Wings, and Sam Kinison. So good.

9. "I'm New Here," Gil Scott-Heron. Gil Scott-Heron's voice and career have been ravaged by his addiction to crack cocaine, and his album this year was too short and to sporadic. It's high points made it all worth while, like on this haunting track. Jaime from the xx is remixing the album, which I'm really looking forward to.

8. "Islands," Shakira. Speaking of the xx, Shakira's cover of their brilliant "Islands" was one of my favorite songs. While I respect Shakira, I'm not a fan, but her dance pop take on this song is wonderful (and more fun than the xx's own version).

7.  "I Don't Belong," OFF! I'm on the wrong side of thirty now, and I don't listen to much hardcore anymore. "I Don't Belong" is the perfect answer to the ridiculous political climate we are living in, a minute-long blast telling politicians, and Republicans specifically, to fuck off.

6. "U Don't Like Me,"Lil John with Diplo. Mean spirited, annoying, and brilliant.

5. "I Was Denied," Thee Oh Sees. While I liked the album this was on, Warm Slime, Thee Oh See's sound doesn't change too much: muddy guitars, reverbed vocals, nightmarish surf music. "I Was Denied" captures everything they do great into one blast.

4. "Idiot," Wavves. While the Wavves frontman is an obnoxious, whiney little druggie, I dig his music. Idiot was my favorite song on the strong King of the Beach.

3. "How I Got Over," The Roots. Try as I might, I can't get into the Roots. I want to like them, but they bore me. However, they always have one or two great tracks on each album, and the title track for their latest was excellent. It captured the heartbreak and struggle of life in the streets. "Out on the streets where I grew up, first thing they teach you is not to give a fuck, that kind of thinking will get you nowhere, someone has to care." Word.

2. "Crazy For You," Best Coast. I liked this album mostly because of perfect pop songs like this one.
1. "Coroner's Music," Guilty Simpson. I've already written about this, but it is hands-down my favorite song of the year. Guilty is at his grimey best and Madlib provides some sinister zombie funk for him to lay down his homicidal rhymes. Hip hop at its finest.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Top Ten Hip Hop Albums of 2010: 4-1

4. Gonjasufi, “A Sufi and A Killer.” Gaslamp Killer produced this trippy, sprawling album that is middle eastern mysticism mixed with a bagfull of psychedelics. It’s sloppy, it’s weird, but I can’t stop listening to it. Key track: “Duets.”

3. Madlib, “Madlib Medicine Show #4: 420 Chalice All-Stars.” I bought half of Madlib’s monthly Medicine Show series. Even months were mixes, and odd months were original music. The mixes explored Brazilian music, jazz, psychedelic rock, and soul, but this reggae mix was by far my favorite. It was also an expensive purchase: this one album caused me to buy ten more albums, catching up with all the amazing dancehall reggae that I missed. Key track: All of ‘em.

2. Madlib, “Madlib Medicine Show #3: Beatkonducta in Africa.” Besides reggae, my new passion this year was African music, and Madlib’s third entry in his Medicine Show series fit the bill. It’s eighty minutes of beats mined from African music, ranging from Zam Rock to highlife to Afrobeat.
Key track: “The Frontline (Liberation)”

1. Danny Brown, “The Hybrid.” This was the funniest, rawest, most insightful release I heard this year, and all by a dude who uses his given name and gave away his music for free. Brown reminds me of Biggie or Ice Cube in their prime: totally offensive and yet deeply intelligent, dropping knowledge with their f-bombs. Key track: “Drinks On Me”

Best Hip Hop Albums of 2010 10-5

My best-of list is up at RapReviews.

Here they are in video form.

10. Guilty Simpson and Madlib, “O.J. Simpson.” Madlib’s beats are on point and Guilty proves that Dilla was right about him. Key track: “Coroner Music

9. Z-Man, “Show Up, Shut up, and Rap.” Bay Area label Machete Vox bring the goods, putting out hip hop the way it is meant to be. Key track: “Cupcakin’”

8. yU,“Before Taxes.” The Diamond District rapper released this for free in 2009 and for pay in 2010, proving that if your product is good, people will shell out for it. Key Track: “Corners

7. Von Pea, “Pea’s Gotta Have It.” This is a low-key album by my favorite low-key rapper. Key track: “Outro

6. Power Struggle “Remittances.” Led by MC Nomi, this is protest rap at its finest. Key track: “Artofficialfreedom”

5. Flying Lotus, “Cosmogramma.” Cosmic funk, equal parts hip hop, avant-garde jazz, dubstep, and alien music. Key track: “Zodiac Shit”

Best of 2010

Here are my favorite albums of 2010, a year that saw a lot of changes (marriage, going back to school) that impacted how much time I had to devote to music. Which is a fine thing, since getting married and having a Masters will probably be better for me in the long run than hearing every hot album of 2010.

10. Superchunk, Majesty Shredding. This isn’t a brilliant album, but it’s a good album. I saw them play at the Treasure Island Music fest this year, and it was one of the better shows I’ve seen in a while. They were energized, fun, and made guitar rock seem relevant.

9. Mountain Man, Made the Harbour. A sleepy, mellow, beautiful album. Beach House’s Teen Dream filled a similar niche for me this year.

8. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma. Answers the question, “What if Sun Ra dabbled in hip hop and dubstep?”

7. Best Coast, Crazy For You. Half of this album drives me nuts, but the other half contains some of my favorite songs this year.

6. Arcade Fire, Suburbs. I wasn’t feeling this when I bought it, but I’ve given it another chance recently and I’m getting into it. There Springsteen worship is troubling, but I like the audacity of this record.d

5. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest. Another year, another amazing Deerhunter album.

4. Gonjasufi, A Sufi and a Killer. Answers the question, “What would happen if an L.A. hip hop musician retired to the desert to teach yoga and ingest psychedelics?” It is a weird, sloppy album, but I love it.

3. Danny Brown, The Hybrid. Equal parts crazy, offensive, and insightful. One of the most exciting hip hop albums of the year, and its free!

2.  Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record. I was introduced to them live and they blew me away. This album isn’t perfect, but its high points (“Texaco Bitches,” All In All”) more than compensate for any missteps.

1. Madlib, Madlib Medicine Show Vol. 3-4: The Beatkonducat in Africa and 420 Chalice All-Stars. Madlib released 10 albums this year (beyond his other projects). Odd numbered months were collections of original music, even numbered months were mixes of different kinds of music: Brazilian, jazz, disco, etc. My favorites were his beat record sampling African music, and his mix of 70s dancehall. Dude is crazy.

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