Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Odd Future Rap About Rape, and I Don't Like It

I reviewed Tyler the Creator's Bastard for RapReviews this week. I was excited to hear it, given the rave reviews I had heard of Tyler and his crew, Odd Future. I had the title track on my iPod from someone's year-end list, and I enjoyed it. Tyler was creative, twisted, and dark, and his beats stood out.

And then the rape talk began. To quote my review quoting Tyler, he repeatedly brags about being a rapist, dropping lines like "When I rape a bitch, I hold her down and get my best nut" and "Leave a bitch breathless/ but what the bitch don't know /is that I'm a motherfucking sellout and a rapist" and "you call that shit rape but I think that rape's fun." Those are only three of many references.

In two words, fuck that. I'm not listening to that shit, I'm not giving it a pass, and I'm not signing off on it. I didn't fuck with Eminem when he was rapping about killing his baby momma, and I sure as fuck am not going to listen to a bunch of kids who grew up on Em and decided to go one worse.

It's ironic that the hipster community (coughPitchforkcough) have totally bought into Odd Future, with the standard disclaimer that, yah, it's disturbing, but isn't rap music, like, supposed to be shocking? It makes me question the relationship that us white fans have with hip-hop. What does it mean that we enjoy listening to young black men boast about being the worst stereotypes of their race? What does it mean that we will listen to a young black man rapping about subjects that we would find totally unacceptable if sung by a white artist? That we need the music to be gritty and grimey and ultraviolent in order to get off on it or feel that it is "real"?

And before people start saying, "it's a joke! Lighten up!" here's the deal: some things aren't funny, motherfucker. Imagine a male comedian coming on stage making jokes about raping women. It doesn't work. And it doesn't work because it is attached to a real threat, a real problem, real trauma, real pain. Women get raped all the time. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, there were 250,000 sexual assault victims in the U.S. in 2007. That means that someone you know has been sexually assaulted. So making music that makes light of that, that encourages it, that brags about it, is totally unacceptable. It's a line you can't cross.

I don't expect popular musicians to have the same beliefs, morals, and ethics as myself. I don't demand that all artists I listen to share my liberal beliefs. I can accept that a lot of artists I like are probably assholes.But I also draw the line somewhere, and rapping about rape is one of those lines.

For the record, I also can't bring myself to listen to "The Chronic" because all the songs that aren't pathologically misogynistic are about black people killing other black people. I don't listen to much gangsta rap at all. Reading the daily homicide bulletins about young men of color gunned down on a daily basis has made gangsta braggadocio seem pretty unappetizing. I've been listening to Big L a lot lately, and the fact that he was gunned down makes his violent raps seem less palatable. It's like knowing that the guy who is singing about drinking died of liver failure. Only much more tragic.

Tyler and the Odd Future make interesting music, but they need to realize that some things are taboo for a reason, and being an unconscionable asshole isn't the same as being edgy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

R.I.P. Cadence Review

I reviewed R.I.P. Cadence's The Next Shade of Grey on RapReviews last week.  They are a hybrid hip-hop/R&B/pop group from Nashville. I'm not a fan of this style of music,which showed in my score, but they do it well. I recommend going to their bandcamp page and seeing if it is your style.

I'm working on a review of Tyler the Creator's Bastard mixtape. He's part of the Odd Future crew, who do inventive and twisted hip-hop. I'll get to the twisted part in my review. They did a crazy performance on Fallon, equal parts hip-hop and punk rock. See how they are yelling in the face of the women dressed as an escape mental patient? Just one example of the disturbing mysogyny that are part of this crew's persona.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fucked Up on Jessica Lea Mayfield and the Stooges.

I'm in a fancy Hyatt hotel room for a conference for the professional association I belong to. I ate dinner by myself at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, possibly the worst/most expensive meal I've had in some day. Thank God for expense accounts. Actually, let's leave him/her/it out of this - I'm sure the higher power has much, much better things to worry about than reimbursement policies.

All of which makes me feel old and square and like a tool. So here's a video of one of my favorite, most inspirational songs, complete with a shirtless fat guy singing. Yes, it's the magic of Fucked Up, who are releasing their follow up to 2008s The Chemistry of Modern Life this summer. I'm expecting nothing less than genius. And vocals by a guy who sounds like he is gargling gravel.

In an unrelated note, my new favorite song is Jessica Lea Mayfield's "Our Hearts Are Wrong." It's the single off of her latest album, produced by the Black Key's Dan Auerbach. Ima buy it when I get back to San Francisco. Here's a video of her playing it on Letterman. As a bonus, she is a pretty blonde instead of a fat guy with a beard. Although a fat guy with a beard is on keys.

And for something completely different, I've been listening to the Stooges' Fun House. It may be my favorite of their three albums. Raw, funky, and a walking just say no campaign.

They reformed a few years ago with one of my personal heroes, Mike Watt, on bass. I like clean Iggy better than so fucked up he's about to die Iggy, but I'm not convinced that they have the same fire forty years later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Custom Made Review

I reviewed the latest album by Cali street rappers Custom Made this week on RapReviews. Solid, if not mind-blowing.

I've been listening to Open Mike Eagle's "Unapologetic Art Rap," which is one of the better albums from last year that I'm just now catching up with.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Live Music

My friend's band Winter's Fall played the Hotel Utah last night, and I didn't go. I also didn't attend a single night of the Noisepop 2011, even though I like a lot of the bands. RapReviews repeatedly sends me notices about hip-hop shows in the city, many with artists I'd love to see, but I never go. I'm realizing that I'm not that interested in seeing live music any more. 

There are a couple reasons for this. One is that I get up at six in the morning, which means I tend to go to bed by 11 every night, which is just about when a show starts popping. Week night shows are a total no-go, but even a Friday night show at Hotel Utah is pretty unrealistic. Winter's Fall were headlining, which meant a midnight start time, by which point I'd be totally done.

The other reason is that, since I got married, I don't have the same need to be out there and mingling with strangers as much. Not that I just want to hang out in my house with my wife, but I don't feel like I'm missing out on meeting somebody or being part of something by not being at a show. I also have different priorities now. I still love music, but it's not the main focus of my life. Work, school and spending time with my family are my big priorities, and I don't have much time or energy for other things.

That doesn't mean I don't still want to see live music, it just isn't the priority it used to be. And I'm ok with that. Part of me misses the days when I went out several times a week, but I was also broke and directionless during that part of my life. It seems like a fair trade off.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

More Jazz

I'm still on a jazz kick, knee deep in an obsessive deep dive into it. I did the same thing with hip-hop five or six years ago and reggae two years ago: I'm trying to listen to and read about it as much as possible, discover every classic album, every hidden gem.

My one problem with jazz is that I don't have the musical background to really appreciate it. I can't tell the difference between different times or tones or chords or keys. I can appreciate technique somewhat, but since I've only ever played drums, it's hard for me to appreciate how skilled the musicians are. Still, you don't have to be a musician to know that John Coltrane was brilliant, or Charlie Parker, or Mingus.

I first got into jazz when I was in my teens, probably from reading Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and some of the early beat stuff. I listened to old Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holiday, who remains a favorite. I dipped into more experimental jazz a few years ago, listening to Coltrane and Mingus. I like how different and envelope-pushing some of the music is: for example, Coltrane's "Ascension" is like nothing I've ever heard, forty solid minutes of cacaphony that is still going somewhere. It's like looking at abstract art: it challenges your perceptions, and takes the art in a totally new and unexpected direction.

Like all abstract or avant-garde art, things like "Ascension," Albert Aylers "Holy Spirit," or Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" are often more interesting conceptually than they are enjoyable. I'm listening to "Ascension" as I write it,and the shit is crazy and kind of annoying. No, really annoying. Yet it also fills the same niche for me that some of the noisier post-punk groups like Sonic Youth or Polvo fill - it's noisy and abrasive and beautiful in its chaotic, jagged ugliness.

Of course jazz, like rock, is a huge genre that encompasses a large range of different, many of which are incompatible. When you say you like jazz, you could mean the dance music that Ellington or Glenn Miller were turning out in the 30s and 40s, or the cool jazz of 50s Miles Davis, the swinging bachelor pad swing of a lot of sixties jazz, the freaky jazz-rock of 70s Miles, or smooth jazz artists like Kenny G (who plays the same instrument as Coltrane). Even Coltrane covered a lot of ground. Right after doing Ascension, he did an album of ballads, and also collaborated with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman.

Those are two of my favorite Coltrane records. "In A Sentimental Mood" is one of my favorite songs ever.
Ellington lays down a delicate and heartbreaking piano line, and Coltrane goes tastefully crazy over it. He pays homage to the earlier age of jazz while still adding an element of experimentation.

I bought Ascension this week at Amoeba, and I also downloaded both John Coltrane's albums with Ellington and Hartman. Clearly "Ascension" is more adventurous, but  I think I like the two albums of standards better. They are easier to listen to. I thought I wanted to explore the freakier side of jazz, but I'm thinking I might go in the opposite direction, looking at some of the more carefully composed pieces. What makes works like "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" and "Love Supreme" so exciting and compelling isn't their experimental qualities, but the sheer ambition of them, the way that all the different pieces add up to one whole. That coherence is missing on free jazz pieces, and the free jazz pieces aren't nearly as fun to listen to because of it.

Incidentally, I stole the photo from a site called "Brilliant Corners," and they have a really good post on Coltrane. Many really good posts. With good comments from guys who clearly understand the music on a much deeper level than I ever will.

N.B.S. Review

I reviewed The Prelude, the debut by Boston duo N.B.S. (Natural Born Spitters) on RapReviews this week.

I wasn't really feeling it, but you might. Here's a video for "Ill Lyrical."

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