Poetry Poyems Poets RIGHT HERE!
The first one is by me. It's a Junk poem, meaning that it's entirely comprised of phrases found in the subject header of my junk mail folder. Are Middle Easterners Natural Born Killers or Simply Natural Born Losers?
Enjoying your Poverty?
this one is moving
topsy turvy, floppy movable,
hard and rich,
the perfect timepiece.
The best prices for impotence
Everything a real man would ever need.
The next one is by Nirmala Nataraj. Unlike me, she's an actual poet. She graduated from Berkeley. She's such a good poet, that she initially didn't want her name attached to this blog. Loitering
Usher their droves of children
Down black alleyways
Into the sour dank
A wino slumped outside
The international phone bodega
Missed his call
assaults a passerby
With an ashen stare
“wanna buy my poetry?”
A woman on her cell phone
Kicks mounds of trash
Spreads the chaos of her annoyance
People look straight ahead
As a boy on a bad trip
Still on the phone
“Didn’t you fucking know—
Food stamps won’t buy you
No hot food”
Oprah tries so hard; Master P talks shit about Bow WowOprah's hip-hop tokenism?Master P Interview
My sister, who visited me this week, told me about an episode of Cribs were Master P led the cameraman to lake was adjacent to his mansion and told duke that he liked to come out here and "think about things."
I instantly imagined him sitting on a pier and grunting "uggghhh....uggghh" to himself as the sun set over the water and world revolved.
All jokes aside, P was a good interview. Here's an excerpt from a Rhapsody interview I did right here.
SC: I've been reading rumors that you stepped to Bow Wow?
MP: Me or Romeo? C'mon man…me stepping to Bow Wow don't even sound right. What happened was him and Romeo used to be friends and Romeo seen him at the Nickalodean awards and asked him what was going on. Bow Wow took off running to his trailer.
Bow Wow's got real cocky right now. He dissed Will Smith. How are you gonna diss Will Smith? Then he comes back and disses Omarion, a guy who put a platinum album out with him. The guy is getting a little older and need to accept responsibility for his actions…he's 22 and Romeo is 16 and he try to hit Romeo up on a song but don't want to take action on it. He called Romeo like six months after the song was out and said that he took a subliminal shot at him. And then he went on a radio station in Houston and dissed him again. Romeo just wanted to figure what was going on.
Bow Wow need someone to guide him. He had a good song. He didn't need to put song in there about R&B rappers and that little diss he put in there to us. He just got bad representation. He dissed Jermaine Dupri and then made back up with him…He's definitely confused and didn't think he'd see Romeo again...Where I'm from, the South and the Bay, 12, 13 and 14 year old kids will kill you. This guy is 22 years old…I like the little dude; it's just sad that his head ain't right.
Did you see that Juve video?
What did you think about him speaking out?
It needed to be said, but it's a timing thing. We're going to need all these people. We don’t want to piss these electrical (!!) people off.Playing With Fire -- the Immigration Debate
The economic data on the immigration debate is iffy at best. Immigration in general definitely helps our economy, yet I have yet to see anything except anecdotal proof that illegal immigration either helps or hurts our economy. If anyone has these figures, I'd love to see them -- though with such highly political matters such as this, I've found that numbers can be just as subjective as words.
But one thing that I'm certain of is that racism is the underlining issue. I expect hate crimes to increase significantly in the upcoming months, and don't expect the rhetoric to . A lot of liberals seem satisfied to essentially sit this one out, letting the economic and social conservative factions battle it out with themselves. But I think that it's important to speak out for tolerance and moderation. Just as republicans used homophobia to win '04, they could easily parlay people's fears re: Latinos to win '06.
Conservatives are like wounded bears right now -- vicious, frustrated and potentially violent and dangerous. Hopefully, they'll soon be sucked into a political oblivion, but I don't think they'll go out quietly.
GHOSTFACE expresses regrets about the Wu
This is an excerpt from the article I wrote for Urb. I thought it was going to be a cover, but I guess that Urb feels that Dipset (sans Cam'ron) would be a more interesting and popular choice.
Among swirling soft purple and yellow lighting, Ghostface lopes around the stage, occasionally breaking into a clumsy dance that bears a closer resemblance to the swiveling steps of a punch-drunk boxer than it does the highly choreographed moves of your usual hip-hop or R&B star.
Unlike the South Florida Wu reunion show two months before – where every song, move and utterance seemed rehearsed to a tee – Ghostface’s San Francisco show is loose and seemingly improvisational. He extols Bay Area legends Mac Dre, E-40 and Too $hort; he invites ten or so ladies onto the stage and dances with them as the DJ spins an unadorned version of the Dawn Penn's classic reggae number, “You Don’t Love Me”; and he frequently stops the music to personally address the crowd. Some of it sounds rehearsed, but much of it is spontaneous.
“I’m a 1970s cat,” Ghost declares to the crowd, his enormous grin chewing up the scenery. “I’m the nigga that used to listen to Marvin Gaye and The Stylistics. My Mother and Father, before they had me, used to fuck to this music. I fuck to this music. This shit is like pussy to me.”
At this point, the DJ drops the first bars of “Holla,” from Ghostface’s 2004 album Pretty Toney. The entire song is a direct lift of the Delfonics' “La La Means I Love You,” and is perhaps the most soulful hip-hop song recorded this millennium. The very term “soulful” is somewhat of a critical cliché, but to watch Ghost move across the stage -- his body hunched over and his right hand held up, seemingly orchestrating the song’s descending harmonies -- it’s difficult to think of any other word to describe the man.
Later, he’ll ask the lighting tech to turn down the lights and the crowd to observe ten seconds of silence for fallen Wu member ODB. Both oblige, and we stand in darkness and silence, remembering the charismatic emcee.
Out of the silence, the DJ drops ODB’s classic, “Shimmy Shimmy Y’all,” and the crowd explodes. Ghost and Trife trade off lines before fading out and letting the crowd handle the rest. It's appropriate; the song is as much the publics as it is theirs.
“What did the world lose when ODB passed?” I’d asked him earlier that evening.
“The world lost a major chess piece in hip-hop. They lost the soul of it. He would do and say things that people have never done before. He had a lot of soul.”
“What did you lose personally?”
“I lost a brother. I lost a loved one. I lost a piece of my heart.”
When I'd first met Ghostface nearly two months before at the Wu Tang reunion show, he'd seemed more upbeat and energetic, more optimistic not only about his own album but about the Wu's future and its past.
"Yo, (being here with the Wu) is like fucking with your crimeys again," he'd exclaimed to me. "You ever seen Usual Suspects? It's like niggas don't be doing those things for a minute, but then it's like you’re back on. Wu will come back in due time. We’re going take it to the next level. Niggas still love each other. It may be outta sight for a second, but it's never out of mind."
Tonight, he reveals a little more complex view of the band’s past and future. His allegiance is unwavering and unquestionable, that much is clear, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bittersweet.
"Do you think that a lot of troubles and turmoil that individual members of the Wu Tang Clan went through hurt you guys from a career perspective?" I ask.
"It did. A lot of the stuff we were doing then did set us back,” he comments. “At Hot 97 's Summer Jam, we fucked around and cursed (the organizers) out. And on the (1997) Rage Against the Machine tour, we didn't stick with that. We made the wrong decisions -- we fucked up."
"I never thought the Wu reached its full commercial potential," I comment.
"Nah, we really didn't."
If anyone wants, I can transcribe the entire interview. You can read the entire article in the May edition of Urb.
READER MAIL READER MAIL READER MAIL
Okay...I don't get any reader mail. There's only about 20 of you that come here on any given day and most of you are directed here by google for random hip-hop related searches. I feel kinda bad though, since google only latches onto keywords and my blog rarely answers your inquries. So here's an attempt to address some of recent google searches:"HIP HOP GROUPIES"
You know that this search term was going to be in all caps.
See www.okayplayer.com, governmentnames.blogspot.com, especially www.allhiphop.com and www.sohh.com, and www.villagevoice.com/blogs/statusainthood and www.pitchforkmedia.com.
sorry, the last two should have the sub-heading "Dipset Groupies.""David Banner childhood"
David Banner was conceived as the eye of Hurricane Camilla passed over Southern Mississippi. The love-child of Emmit Tell and Rosa Parks, the young Banner was viewed as a grave threat by local authorities and was taken from his home and turned loose in the Mississippi marshlands. It was here that he met a gang of loud alligators. The alligator family took Banner under their care and taught the young rapper how to chomp on raw animal flesh, growl like a hellspawn and mallow in the Mississippi mud, all of which would prove valuable when he later navigated the shark-infested waters of Southern hip-hop.
In 1981, he was rescued by a Jackson, MS family who belonged to a radical Southern Baptist sect that handled snakes and drank strychnine mixed with whisky and moonshine. It was here that Banner became impervious to all poisons. During a subsequent missionary trip to Baton Rogue, the young Banner was exposed to what would be his next obsession: southern girls. His freakish devotions to raw meat, Jesus Christ and rattlesnakes were an obvious turn-on for the backwoods beauties that roved the dangerous swamps of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the strychnine had left the young Banner unable to differentiate between races, and he soon ran into trouble with the local authorities, who chased him out of town after he bedded the Sheriff's lilly-white daughter. He next wandered the wetlands for forty days and forty nights. It was during this time that he would pen his breakout hit, "Cadillac on 22s."
Feeling haggard and poetic, Banner stumbled into New Orleans. It was in the Crescent City that Banner would link up with the Cash Money clique. Mannie Fresh passed on production tips, while Mystikal helped refine Banner's alligator/Southern Preacherman growl into a decipherable rap flow. The rest, as they say, is history."hip hop music that malcolm x liked"
I think Malcom was a Def Jux fan.Famous Hip=Hop artists that attended college
See previous answer."Indie Hip-Hop Album Reviews"
Ask and ye shall receive...here are short blurbs on my favorite ones from this year.
Note: These were originally published on Rhapsody.com and can be played via that platform by clicking on the title.Kool Keith, Project Poloroid
For years, emcee Kool Keith has been spinning in his own orbit, releasing what seems like fifteen albums a years and becoming increasingly oblivious of (and invisible to) the rest of us. For Project Polaroid, Keith delivers his usual blend of sci-fi lunacy, triple-X sex rhymes and B-grade braggadocio that alternates between the surrealist and the nonsensical. Keith is celebrity obsessed -- though his frame of reference is stuck in the '70s. He hangs out with the Bob Hope and Pope, hands out an autograph to Joe Jackson (correctly identified as "Janet's father") and comments on a mysterious character who's "coming in from Budapest looking like Burt Lancaster." It's Hollywood Squares as hosted by Ray Bradbury, directed by Russ Meyer and screened at an empty Midnight cinema. It's a mess -- but thanks to the beautifully warped and lavishly detailed production of Tom C3, it's at least a listenable mess.Soul Position, Things Go Better With Rj And AlRJ and Al
banks on Blueprint's everyman persona and RJD2's stellar production. RJD2 lurks ("Minutes"), jerks ("I'm Free") and tip-toes ("Keys") through the album, while Blueprint finds meaning in the mundane: using alcohol as an excuse for bad behavior on "Blame it on the Jager," while stressing his cell phone bill on "I Need Minutes." It would be tedious if both weren't so talented.MAdlib, Beat Kondukta
Though this album is billed as a soundtrack to an unmade film, that conceit seems more like an afterthought, as Beat Konducta is ultimately a Rorschach inkblot of a concept album. Still, Madlib's short, formless soul loops are more appealing than most polished pop-hop songs, and this is another solid entry into an already expansive catalog. The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon
The Coup understand that there are no easy answers in life or politics, so instead of going for the easy route of anti-Bush screeds, the true heirs to Public Enemy's throne of agitprop hip-hop opt for the dicey task negotiating political disillusionment with personal salvation. "I'm a walking contradiction like bullets and love mixin'," is the album's first line, and over the course of Weapon's 17 tracks, frontman Boots declares himself "Kunta Kinte with a Mack 10," reassures his girlfriend that they're "in bed together like Bush and Hussein" and confesses that "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor/and make the revolution come quicker." The album reaches its zenith on the sultry and apocalyptic "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy." Good luck finding a better hip-hop album this year.
Spank Rock, yoYoYOSpank Rock, yoYoYO
Rhapsody Emerging from a bed of airy atmospherics, producer Armani XXXchange's jittery drum patterns splatter against pinging synth sounds as Spankrock (Baltimore's foremost avant emcee), raps nonsensical nothings. This is where the strained deconstruction of Antipop Consortium meets Baltimore's messy hedonism, and Yoyo is either the future of hip-hop or another noisy detour.Dudley Perkins, Expressions
Out-of-tune, warbling and just plain weird, Dudley's voice is great bad singing, and Expressions is soulful and fragile -- infectiously funky and brilliantly warped. Madlib masterfully handles the production, trading the genre-less miasma of recent Quasimoto and Madvillain albums for a Sly-seamed funk. Hip-hop's legion of stony basement cadets will go gah gah"Dynomite (Going Postal)" - Rhymefest
Rhymefest's lyrics are alternately conceited and universal, sprinkling nuggets of neu-Native Tongues political radicalism alongside surprisingly satisfying blue collar braggadocio. Producer Just Blaze -- who has the loveliest horns in rap -- delivers an earthy anthem in the same vein as his work on Fat Joe's "All of Nothing." A club banger for the classroom.Eulorhythmics, Extended Play
On Extended Play , Eulorhythmics has the same informal, street-corner vibe as fellow Chi-Town rappers Common. The lyrics describe the minutia of life's emotional rollercoaster in the most unequivocal way possible; while the production, provided by Adad and Kenny Keys, is clean and spare, alternating between blues swagger and jazz swoon. Beautiful and understated.FREAKALEAK Girls
This has historically been the most searched for keyword on my blog (aside from my name). It kind of pissed me off at first, but since you guys (and I know it's you guys
) are so persistent, I'll give ya what you want:
Track ReviewLupe Fiasco, Kick/Push
I have to admit, I didn't think much of this when I first heard it. The beat wasn't memorable, the sample was kinda ineffectual and nondescript, and the lyrics rather trite and cliché. In short, it just seemed very insubstantial, juvenile and wispy. If I wanted to listen to some Midwestern boom bap, I'd pop on the new Eulorhythmics. Or better yet, I'd go back to New York artists for it.
But Lupe grown on me. The point of the song is that is does have such an awkward and timid presence. The entire song is about constant displacement and the melancholy and insularity that inevitably results from being perpetually shoved aside. I like how the horns are diffuse, gradually building up to a fizzle and then evaporating mid-chorus. I also really like the fact that Lupe seems so young -- though I know 22 isn't that young in the hip-hop world, he looks and acts like he was 15.
Only Old Dudes and Indie Rockers Make (critically acceptable) Protest Music
From the NYTimes
"The protest song, rocked-up slightly from its folky 1960's form, has been making a comeback during the Iraq war, from arena bands like Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones and Green Day to indie-rockers like Bright Eyes and blues-rockers like Keb' Mo' and Robert Cray. Bruce Springsteen's latest album is a tribute to the protest-song mentor Pete Seeger, although it features old folk songs rather than Mr. Seeger's topical material."
Here's what Neil Young told the LATimes about his new album, Living With War:
"I was waiting for someone to come along, some young singer 18 to 22 years old, to write these songs and stand up," Young said. "I waited a long time. Then, I decided that maybe the generation that has to do this is still the '60s generation. We're still here."
Yeah, no one has the courage except for you, Neil. Nevermind The Coup, Juvenile, M1, the new Mr. Lif, Immortal Techique, Kanye West, and too many others to mention. I love Neil Young as much as the next guy, but he needs to recognize.
When a politically-pointed hip-hop act comes around, the hip-hop/pop critical establishment (and wannabe hipsters such as Andrew Gaerig) say, 'No one wants to hear that.' But when a rock star like Young releases an album, the rock crit establishment stands up and applauds. I realize that they're two different sets of critics, but still...
The Art of Jacek Sroka
...as interperted by me
Sometimes, life is just too much.
I feel as if I'm personally under seige.
Art and entertainment provide no refuge, and my dreams only add to my confusion and paranoia.
I lash out at those I love.
And in the process, I hurt myself.
But I can at least take comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in this misery.
Hip-hop reviews 101
If you're not a music critic, or have no interest in music criticism, turn back now. This will bore you.
When writing a review, or anything for that matter, it's really difficult not to dip into cliche -- both in what you say and how you say it. It's particularly difficult when you only have 150 words and taking certain critical shortkuts seems like the only way to jam your thoughts into a review. (I cringe everytime I write "conscious," but readers know exactly what I'm talking about.) One thing that I do to make sure that I don't lean too heavily on cliches is to imagine the review without specific mention of the artist and album and make sure that I'd still be able to decipher the subject of a review. Example:
For years, ARTIST has been spinning in his own orbit, releasing what seems like fifteen albums a years and becoming increasingly oblivious of (and invisible to) the rest of us. For ALBUM
, ARTIST delivers his usual blend of sci-fi lunacy, triple-X sex rhymes and B-grade braggadocio that alternates between the surrealist and the nonsensical. ARTIST is celebrity obsessed -- though his frame of reference is stuck in the '70s. He hangs out with the Bob Hope and Pope, hands out an autograph to Joe Jackson (correctly identified as "Janet's father"), and comments on a mysterious character who's "coming in from Budapest looking like Burt Lancaster." It's Hollywood Squares as hosted by Ray Bradbury, directed by Russ Meyer and screened at an empty Midnight cinema. It's a mess…but thanks to the beautifully warped and lavishly detailed production of PRODUCER, it's a very listenable mess.
Can guess who this is?
At my new job as hip-hop editor for rhapsody.com, I only have around 60 words (375 characters) to express my thoughts on an album. (they have since upped the word count sligthtly). I don't care how good you are at compaction, there's very little of substance that you can say.
If previous Kelis singles (e.g., "Young, Fresh N' New" and "Milkshake") were the equivalent of post-fem hot pants -- hot and bothering -- then "Bossy" is catty couture, a yellow fog of seduction that rubs its whispered threats and slinky boasts against the track's smartly slight production. "You don't have to like me," Kelis mutters, "but you do have to respect me."
On a good day, I'll do like 20 of these.
Anyway, I'm sure that this intrigues to no one, but that's exactly how many people read this blog...
Has it come to this?
An open letter to Andrew Gaerig re: his Coup Review.
Since Andrew's e-mail addy via Stylus is not functioning, I'll just post this here.
You can read the original review right here.
It's rare that I take the time out to comment on someone else's review, but you were way off base with the Coup album. Here are the reasons why:
X -- As much as I like Lil Wayne and Juvenile, they're not in the same league as Boots when it comes to political raps. I'm not really sure why Wayne even qualifies as "conscious," and Juveniles' worldview (even on the great "Get Your Hustle On") seems to involve selling cocaine. Not saying that cocaine and the revolutoin are mutually exclusive, but Boots is a little more involved than that.
X -- I care about Boot's politics. And a lot of those who aren't caught in this bubble of form-worshipping, post-millennium hipster detachment do still care about politics in music. If nothing else, as an experienced reviewer, you should know not to tell the reader what they do or don't care about.
X -- About half way through, you go from criticizing Boots for letting political philosophies blur his judgment to making a few brief (and incredibly off-base) assumptions regarding liberal guilt.
X -- “Head (of State)" is hilarious. U R crazy.
X -- Throughout this album, and over the course of his entire career, Boots has strove to show the correlations between political and personal upheavals.
Honestly, it sounds as though you're regurgitating the company line regarding political hip-hop. It's easy for a critic-from-privilege to be dismissive of the subgenre, and I won't try to unknot the incredibly tangled cultural, racial and class issues that bring about this attitude, but I will say that I believe you unfairly dismissed one of the best hip-hop albums of this year.
Here's my Rhapsody.com review of the new Coup:
The Coup understand that there are no easy answers in life or politics, so instead of going for the easy route of anti-Bush screeds, the true heirs to Public Enemy's throne of agitprop hip-hop opt for the dicey task negotiating political disillusionment with personal salvation. "I'm a walking contradiction like bullets and love mixin'," is the album's first line, and over the course of Weapon's 17 tracks, frontman Boots declares himself "Kunta Kinte with a Mack 10," reassures his girlfriend that they're "in bed together like Bush and Hussein" and confesses that "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor/and maybe make the revolution come quicker." The album reaches its zenith on the sultry and apocalyptic "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy." Good luck finding a better hip-hop album this year.
Okay, fools. I'm back. I have a lot of stuff that I want to get off my chest, and this seems like the perfect spot for it. New Times
How the New Times corp dealt with Doug Simmons was pretty pathetic. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out their "press release" announcing Simmons' departure: http://villagevoice.com/news/0611,news,72525,2.html). I don't care if he did fuck up with Nick's "article," you still have to show the man a degree of professional courtesy and respect. It isn't like he was a witch that deserved to be burnt in the town square. At worst, he was incompetent in face of tremendous stress (and believe me, New Times likes their editors stressed and paranoid -- it's a motivational tactic).
I remember the first week that I began working with New Times (I was the music Editor for the Miami edition, if you don't know). There was a big inner-office controversy that went public and caused a big stink in New Times land. One of my supervisors had insulted her subordinates on a blog entry. She said some very cruel and vicious things…stuff that probably would've gotten most people fired, honestly. But she also had a successful column and had allies within the New Times corp, so she got by with a suspension. Corporate did, however, send an emissary to lecture us about professionalism, common courtesy and the like. Maybe lecture wouldn't be the right word…more like berate us. I had been there a total of five days and was thinking, what the hell have I gotten myself into. Anyway, in light of how they handled Simmons perhaps Lacey and co. could stand to take some of their own advice re: professionalism. I wish that I could say that things got better after that…maybe with time I'll disclose more.
My tenure at New Times wasn't entirely negative, I have to say. My co-workers were generally cordial and friendly, and (aside from the example listed above) my liaisons with the corporate brass were rarely contentious. I will say that there was a certain vision that New Times corporate has for their papers, and specifically the music section. I don't think that I'm revealing anything when I say that there is less emphasis on music criticism and more on humor and very provincial sort of reportage. (This isn't to say that there isn't a lot of great writers and editors in the New Times chain.) I thought that I could adapt to this Blender format without sacrificing the integrity of my section, but it did prove difficult. I might go into more detail later…or maybe not.
In the end, I guess it doesn't matter. The Daily Show
I'm done with it. It makes me sick that this is the primary source of news for my demographic (and at this point, saying "my demographic" feels a lot more accurate than saying "my generation"). I can't decide whether we're so jaded, stunned or (collectively) depressed that we have to view everything through the lens of irony. I decry it, but I guess that I also understand this. After all, I've become increasingly detached from current affairs. The 2004 election was a turning point in how I view my country. HIS re-election left me frustrated, helpless, and repulsed. I was reinvigorated for a minute after Katrina, but ennui is a bitch.
I saw the brave Ward Churchill on Hannity and Colmes last night. I don't think that Churchill's tone is particularly constructive, but last night he was like this shining beacon of truth…no, "shining beacon of truth" isn't the metaphor/ cliché I'm looking for…more like an albatross of honesty that Hannity was doing his best to cut loose with the usual (and shameful) patriotic rhetoric. The mild-mannered Colmes (Hannity's liberal enabler) was inept as usual. The New Ghostface
Oh shit…this is so good. I'll write about this and provide a rap-up of all the music that's come since my last post next time. I promise.
There are a lot of things to admire about the new Village Voice/ Greg Tate piece on the 30th Anniversary of Hip Hop
, the least of which is the discussion that it’s generated on message boards and in blogland. I’m all for the writer-as-provocateur stance, and I don’t disagree with everything that Tate says. He’s realized that hip hop is essentially aspirational, that it’s opened up new pan-African channels of communication, and that hip hop has been largely estranged from its original raison-d’etre.
But…but Tate, as much as we all respect him, is off the mark in several regards. His initial slip-up is regarding hip hop as a singular, homogeneous entity. It’s a dangerous approach to take, especially considering that hip hop is more diverse and de-centered than at any time in its existence. It’s hard enough dealing with say Kanye West and Lil’ John using the same terms, much less the various off-shoots and fringe elements that have stretched hip hop further and further apart, both aesthetically and thematically. With that said, I can play along with his central conceit for the sake of this argument.
Since I’m a lazy essayist, from here on out I’ll pick it apart point-by-point.
“What we call hiphop is now inseparable from what we call the hiphop industry, in which the nouveau riche and the super-rich employers get richer, some say there's really nothing to celebrate about hiphop right now but the moneyshakers and the moneymakers—who got bank and who got more.”
The lazy rhetoric devise of “some say” aside, what bothers me about this is that hip hop is not merely a vehicle of the rich. Shit…it’s put food on my table for the past year-and-a-half, not to mention the various rappers, graphic artists, producers, designers, promoters, journalist etc…who live off of hip hop. Would this be possible if mainstream hip hop wasn’t the most popular music culture in the world? Hip hop’s popularity is a mixed blessing, but it has elevated those of a certain race and of a certain mindset. Perhaps said mindset has been diluted, but that’s a function of integration.
“Problem today is that where hiphop was once a buyer's market in which we, the elite hiphop audience, decided what was street legit, it has now become a seller's market, in which what does or does not get sold as hiphop to the masses is whatever the boardroom approves.”
Did a boardroom approve Madvillain, or the latest Saigon mixtape? Hip hop, more so than rock did at a similar stage, has retained its connection to the street.
Lastly, as much as Tate posits that hip hop is essentially both a legitimation of racial stratification and a representation of neo-cooning, I just don’t totally buy it – although I don’t entirely reject it either. I do believe that both hip hop/ pop culture are a mirror of our culture – and in some ways, a reflection of our collective aspirations or some collective sub-conscious as much as a mirror of our day-to-day reality. And, with that in mind, much of the criticism that Tate hurls at hip hop should be placed squarely on our shoulders. We’re the type of country that hordes wealth, preemptively attacks benign countries, and finds social and personal worth in material possessions. Is it any great surprise that we have the blinging militarism of G-Unit, the queasy misogyny of Cam’ron, or the pious, religious faux-persecution of Kanye West? In politics, we hide our darker secrets under the blanket of self-righteous, delusional rhetoric; but in popular culture (and hip hop in particular), our most base impulses, and in many cases our guiding impulses, are there for everyone to see.
Not to get too tangential here, but I hate when liberals complain that the election was stolen, or that Bush somehow duped and manipulated us all. Bullshit…we as Americans knew what we were getting, and that’s what we chose. It’s not a pretty picture, and hip hop is not always an appealing reflection, but it’s largely accurate. The sort of hip hop that Tate wants to hear (or see) just simply couldn’t exist in this country. We are hip hop, and it won’t change until we change.
Top 50 Albums
1. Madvillain – Madvillainy
2. Nas - Street's Disciple
3. Ghostface – Pretty Toney
4. Cam'ron - Purple Haze
5. De La Soul - The Grind Date
6. Masta Killah – No Said Date
7. Mos Def – The New Danger
8. Murs - Murs 3:16 the 9th Edition
9. Dizzee – Showtime
10. Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983
11. Wiley – Treddin’ on Thin Ice
12. Kanye West – College Dropout
13. Consequence Take 'Em to the Cleaners
14. Haiku D’Tat – Coup De Theatre
15. Theodore Unit - 718
16. Young buck - Straight Outta cashville
17. Streets – A Grand
18. Rjd2 - Since We Last Spoke
19. Crown City Rockers – Earthtones
20. Maroons – Ambush
21. Shock G – Fear of a Mixed Planet
22. Lil’ John – Crunk Juice
23. T.I.- Urban Legend
24. Prince Po: The Slickness
25. Jay Dee - '05 Beat CD's #1-3
26. Romanwksi -- Party in My Pants
27. DJ Rels
28. FE: Connected
29. Royce the 5'9 - Death Is Certain
30. Lil’ Wayne – The Carter
31. DM - The Gray Album;
32. MIA/Diplo - Piracy
33. Devin the Dude - To the X-Treme
34. The Alchemist - 1 st Infantry
35. The Pharcyde - Humboldt Beginnings
36. Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Struggle
37. Lloyd Banks -- Hunger For More
38. R. Kelly -- Happy People
39. DJ Krush – Jaku
40. Isley Brother’s Remix Project
41. Jean Grae – This Week
42. Trick Daddy – Thug Matrimony
43. Gift of Gab - 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up
44. Lil Flip - Gotta Feel Me
45. Roots – Tipping Point
46. Monk Hughes -- Tribute to Weldon
47. Twista - Kamikaze
48. PBW - Stones Throw Comp
49. El P - High Water Mark
50. Prince -- Musicology
Artists of the Year
An Invisible Doom
Meeting MF Doom at a hotel bar in San Francisco, the first thing that I notice is his face. He has an assuring smile that he flashes often and slight cheekbones that puff out into large, chubby cheeks before sliding down to a slight and unassuming jaw-line. But it’s Doom’s large, piercing eyes that are his only instantly recognizable feature. See, this is a man who has lived behind an inch-thick metal mask for the past five years. And while his face remains anonymous and mysterious to most of his fans, he has established himself as underground hip hop’s greatest MC.
You can thank the Madvilliany album for that last distinction; the album is primal and immediate, beautiful and strange, a tribute to the seemingly disparate genres that inspired it and a rejection of the mentality that says such genres should be kept segregated.
In many ways, Madlib is the Pollock of the hip hop world, slinging chanted nursery rhymes against heaving jazz samples, manically applying swabs of calypso onto boom-bap breaks. There are no choruses on Madvillainy, allowing for 22 songs in 46 minutes, and all the tracks are linked by short interludes that grow increasingly abstract. The album is a trip down the back alleys of our musical consciousness, where high and low art mingle, snippets of childhood recordings interact with Sun Ra and Sonny Rollins.
In this hall of mirrors, where various personas drift in and out of the scene, Dumile's MF Doom takes center stage, although here we find a more refined portrayal of the character. Doom still has a knack for recycling and warping antiquated clichés -- like in "Great Day" when he instructs us to "Put ya'self in your own shoes" -- and for engaging in extended vocabulary workouts that employ polysyllabic, inner, and slant rhymes, ample doses of alliteration, and sudden line drops, such as the one in "Meat Grinder": "Trouble with the script/ Digits double dipped, bubble lipped, subtle lisp/ Midget/ Borderline schizo/ Sorta fine tits though." Yet there are times when Dumile peers through the dadaist carnival of words and speaks directly, honestly. In "Accordion," he acknowledges his age, rapping, "Living off borrowed time the clock ticks faster," before later concluding that it's "nice to be old."
Throughout the album, Jackson and Dumile sound both confident and intuitive, and that can be attributed to the aforementioned "freestyle approach," in which there is little time for either hesitation or self-consciousness, much less the complications and clashes that often arise with this sort collaboration. For Madvillainy, Jackson allowed Dumile to enter his sphere, and the MC responded by forcing all of the voices inside of him to suddenly rush out and into Jackson's fractured productions. The finished product works so well that at times Dumile sounds as if he could only exist in Jackson's self-contained world, as if there were some essential, spiritual affinity.
Nas: the man, the myth, the perennial Greatest (Emcee) of All Time, the Mohammad Ali of this rap shit. His debut album, Illmatic, is considered by many critics (including myself) as hip hop’s best. His sad, sleepy eyes did little to convey his aerobic, skintight flow. And on songs such as “Memory Lane” and “One Love,” Nas sounded as he could’ve been 60 or 16; a shortie on the corner slinging rock or a revolutionary perched on the steps of capitals. But while the Malcolm and Martin of this generation (Biggie and Pac) were slain in the streets, Nas survived. And though the man may have endured, the legend has wilted in the uneven light of albums that have ranged from mediocre (Nastradamus) to very good (God’s Son).
On Streets Disciple, Nas suggests the presence of a black culture that lies in opposition to the American mainstream — politically, aesthetically, and emotionally. Granted, that culture has been crippled by oppression ("A Message to the Feds"), the false promises of the political process ("American Way"), and racial abandonment ("These Are Our Heroes"), but Nas finds salvation in his family (the appearances of his father and master bluesman Olu Dara), strength in himself (“Street's Disciple”), and a cultural identity in hip hop ("U.B.R.", and "Bridging the Gap”). It's a credit to Nas’ ability as a lyricist that he's able to hold all of this together. And while the two-disk set feels slightly bloated — and some of the production is bland — in many ways Streets Disciple serves as a high-watermark in a dazzling career.
Whether used to slap-box with Jesus on "Daytona 500," sing his mother's praises on "All That I Got Is You," or issue paeans to his favorite celestial being on "The Sun," Ghostface Killah's strained, throaty voice hints at an unspoken desperation, a creeping paranoia that each line he spits may be his last. Ignoring the rules of what you can and can't say in rap, his songs create a ghetto-surrealist, stream-of-consciousness collage that suggests equal parts Romare Bearden, Jack Kerouac, and Slick Rick. While other members of the Wu-Tang Clan have gradually lost their luster -- trading in their Shaolin swords for sticks of deodorant (Method Man hawks the stuff in TV spots) -- the recently released album Pretty Toney reasserts Ghostface Killah's status as one of hip hop's premier MCs.
Cam’ron struts into the room in a haze of purple, pink, and diamond-encrusted platinum, shrouded in neck-snapping, bitch-slapping bravado; mounds of fluffy-white yayo; and a menacing sneer if you’re a ho’ or a queer. And if the antithesis of conscious rap is unconscious rap, then Harlem MC/ fashion magnet/ grisly ghetto poet Cam’ron proves himself the epitome of the somatic superstars on his recently-released Purple Haze - a cd that takes the gangsta mindset to its hyper-masculine, logical conclusion. It’s not a pretty affair, especially if you happen to be a female, but it’s so perfectly infectious that its near impossible to turn away from.
Throughout the album, Cam’s slow-and-salty rhymes lull the listener in with their Dr. Suess-gone-gully simplicity before slapping the nightcap off with sheer and unrelenting brutality. Cocaine-cartel anthems such as “Leave me Alone” and “Killa Cam” invert the genre’s cliches in a cubist blender of nearly nonsensical pronouncements and endless repetition. It reaches its epoch -- or its nadir -- on the stoopid-stellar “Killa Cam,” where Cam rhymes: “Yellow diamonds on my ear, call ‘em lemonhead/ Lemonhead, end up dead, iced like Winnipeg/ Gemstones, Flinstones, you can say I’m friends with Fred.”
With Cam’s penchant for wordplay and his preference for quirky, old-skool samples (on Purple Haze, he pilfers Marvin Gaye, The Ohio Players and the 80’s classic “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), he oftentimes resembles that other ghetto surrealist, Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah. But as where Ghost occasionally steps out of his violent, dadist free-fall to betray a softer, more philosophical side, Cam is unrelenting and unapologetic. Songs like “More Gangsta Music” and “The Dope Man” are like slow-motion money shots of bloody, ghetto glamour. Of course, one never sees the bloody and tragic aftermath of his violence and misogyny, the ravaged bodies of the drug trade or the haggard daughters of abuse. But for those of us who are not literal minded -- and it’s hard to be with Cam -- the end result is wildly entertaining and damn near classic.
When cultures collide, it can be both violent and ugly; and as Mos Def’s most recent, The New Danger, demonstrates, the same holds true for musical genres. Over the course of one disk, The New Danger traverses nue-rock, r&b-tinged electro, street hop braggadocio, and latter-day “conscious rap.” And though the concepts presented by the work are interesting, the actual music is a bit more difficult of a proposition.
In many ways, The New Danger is the red-headed stepchild of Andre 3000’s The Love Below. As where Andre’s critically-anointed classic mixes and matches genres in an attempt to uncover latent pop sensibilities – unearthing the cultural nexus of head-snapping beats, infectious hooks, and love-lorn romanticism – The New Danger is a dirtier and more polemic journey. Mos Def isn’t reaching across cultural and musical boundaries as much as he’s attempting to reclaim them by any means necessary.
Bolstered by the inclusion of Bernie Worrell (P-Funk) and Doug Wimbish (Living Color), the album’s rock tracks – including “Zimzallabim" and "Ghetto Rock" – attempt to reclaim the genre for African American culture. And while the songs are conceptually compelling, the actual music – which recalls the early thrash of Bad Brains as covered by a supped-up 311 – is a different story. It isn’t that it’s bad, per see, it’s just that one is left wondering if this is the most effective manner for Mos to convey his message.
Fortunately, the album’s hip hop tracks fare a little better. As an emcee, Mos’ appeal has always been about more than just his words; what elevated Mos out of the underground ghetto was that voice; a Jamaican-tinged rasp that sounds (depending on your perspective) either ultimately self-confident and stubbornly arrogant. That sense of authority is pervasive on The New Danger. With it’s sly reference to Hair, the Kanye West produced “Sunshine” finds Mos Def in top form, defiantly declaring that he “made it go without a brand new car/ made it fresh without a brand new song/ and gives a fuck about what brand you are.” After verses like these, the listener is left hoping that Mos would make things easier for us all and focus on hip hop.
The Future of the Past
While producer 9th Wonder and rapper Murs have taken different paths throughout their careers, they've both emerged near the top of the underground rubble. The latter slung his everyman, confessional lyrics for years in the Bay Area basement before signing to Def Jux in 2003; the former was catapulted to fame after premiering the calculatedly nostalgic sounds of hip hop trio Little Brother on the Internet message board Okayplayer.com, thus capturing the ear of the Roots' drummer, ?uestlove. Little Brother was quickly signed, and like a cyber-Cinderella, 9th found himself making beats for Jay-Z's swan song, The Black Album. Although they may have traveled different roads to success -- one through the streets, the other through the Internet -- the artists' intersection on Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition proves enjoyable, albeit old-fashioned.
On 3:16 Murs is alternately confessional, contradictory, and confrontational. "And This Is For" finds him taking on racism within the hip hop community: "What's the reason that my album doesn't sell like his?/ Don't front like you don't know why the hell that is." And while many modern MCs flaunt their contradictions, Murs revels in paradox more than most: On "The Pain" he confesses his shortcomings with the ladies, admitting that he's "more Coldplay than Ice-T"; while on "Freak These Tales" he comes "off tour and got some stories to tell," namely of groupies. Still, Murs seems genuine despite the apparent inconsistencies, and his rarely wavering flow and throwback style -- which favors emotional and narrative nuances over acrobatic linguistics and enunciation -- are compelling.
9th Wonder's production occupies the sweet spot between DJ Premier's chopped-up technique and Pete Rock's fuller soul loops, although on 3:16 he seems to increasingly drift toward the former. The hard drums and shivering atmospherics of "The Animal" sound cold and looming, while "H-U-S-T-L-E" and "Walk Like a Man" swagger with a delicious funk step. Most important, 9th's production perfectly matches his MC's technique, and Murs' sinner/saint pose even bears a close resemblance to DJ Premier's Gang Starr partner, Guru. Truth be told, 9th and Murs are the equivalent of hip hop comfort food: familiar and easily digestible. But 3:16 is evidence that old formulas still work.
De La Love
“We love the fact that you go to the shows and see 32-year-olds with their little brothers. But first and foremost we make music for ourselves,” Dave recently told me. “The music is about who we are as people. As long as we’re going to open up our hearts and souls and give that, you’re going to get something new and fresh. When you start not caring about what’s going on around you, you become stale. With every album, we put ourselves and our experience into it.”
That philosophy is front and center on The Grind Date, their first studio album in three years and their first album on Sanctuary Urban Records Group – the fledging record label helmed by Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles. While their previous two albums – the first two installments of the AOI trilogy – were more conceptual and abstract, The Grind Date is a straightforward banger in the tradition of Stakes is High, their ’96 album that served as an anecdote to that era’s jiggified nonsense.
“We didn’t want to overproduce (Grind Date), we didn’t want to put too much creative padding on it,” Dave says. “There was no big theme or topic. We wanted to keep it raw, just beats and rhymes. The artists we have on there are just all about kicking rhymes and putting them to beats.” Pos, for his part, agrees with Dave’s assessment, adding: “We wanted it to be more straightforward, and we didn’t want to surround it with a bunch of skits or anything. It felt good to do it like that.”
To accentuate that meat-and-potatoes/ beats-and-rhymes approach, the group enlisted some of hip hop’s premier lyricist. Microphone colossuses MF Doom, Ghostface, and Common all grace the album, adding a palpable weight to the affair and inducing what can only be called a backpacker’s wet dream. The always on-point Ghostface delivers the goods – even giving shout outs to the Hussain brothers, Uday and Qusay – on what will certainly go down as one of the sickest guest spots in recent memory, “He Down.” And Common delivers his usual slice of Chi-Town soul on “Days of Our Lives.”
Pos was excited about Doom’s verse on the standout “Rock Cocaine Flow,” in particular. “Doom is family,” Pos tells me. “and when a song presented itself that we could hear Doom on, we were all like ‘let’s do it.’”
In addition to the guest spots by what Dave calls, “some real MCs,” the album also features some of underground hip hop’s finest producers: Jake 1, Madlib, 9th Wonder and, of course, J Dilla. Dilla, in particular, delivered the goods. The swaggering boom bap of “Verbal Clap” is his strongest production in years, and was sited by both Pos and Dave as a group favorite.
Here's the first installment of my year-end wrap
up thing. I'll post the albums and movies up later this week. Books if I have the time.
(In no order, except for the one in which I remembered them...and I'm sure I forgot a lot.)
Fabulous – Breathe
Ghostface ft. Jadakiss – Run
Nas – Thief’s Theme
T.I. -- Rubberband Man -- I'm not sure if this was released as a single this year, but it's the hottest single of either one.
T.I. - Bring Em Out -- Almost as good.
Game – How We Do
Jay Z – 99 Problems
Snoop – Drop it Like It’s Hot
Ja Rule Ft. Jada and Styles P -- New York
Lil Scrappy – No Problem
Mos Def – Sunshine – I know that it’s not a single, but I bumped it regardless.
Terror Squad + Friends – Lean Back Remix
Jadakiss f/ Styles P., Common, Nas and Anthony Hamilton - "Why?" (remix)
Go DJ – Lil Wayne -- I’d be lying if I said that Mannie was ever one of my favorites, but he did release some heat this year.
J-Kwon – Tipsy – Ubiquitious. Hated it, loved it, and hated it again. But it was there.
Lil’ Flip – Game Over
Madvillain – No Caps -- on the strength of the video alone.
Lyrics Born - Calling Out (Remix) – Best underground anthem in ages.
Memphis Bleek – Just Blaze, Bleek and Free. Classic.
Royce Da 5’9 – Hip-Hop -- One of the best.
De La Soul -- Shopping Bags
Talib & Game -- Motherfucker
Young Buck [ft. 50 Cent] - Let Me In
Cee Lo - I'll Be Around
Method Man ft. Busta Rhymes – What’s Happenin’ – One of my favorite Bollywood samples of the year, even if the verses are meerly servicable.
Lil Flip-The Ghetto – I liked this one more than Game Over.
10 Favorite things of 2004
Family and Friends.
A big shout out to Nirmala, Dad, Cesar, Matt-O, Mom and everyone else that have given, received and nurtured support, love and respect.
I can finally dig out from behind my mounds of CDs.
What else we got?
speech at the DNC. A beacon of light.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s
Memoir – Living to Tell the Tale. The world’s greatest living novelist delivers another sure shot.
Maybe better than the Marquez book. The most intricate and uncompromising show that I’ve ever seen. There are times when it’s too painful to watch.
ACT's Presentation of Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and William Burrough's The Black Rider
. It's transcendent and eerie; a dance into an inner-oblivion; a swirling war between the superego and the id set at the brink of hell; a marriage of 20th Century Surrealism, German expressionism, and Silicon Valley multimedia.
Fuck America; I’m from San Francisco.
Cuz I’m an optimist.
I couldn’t write for a month after it. I was depressed, drinking too much, and hateful. Even now…it’s hard to cope.
The liberal media.
For not existing.
Fly Pharrell Glasses.
WWD: What inspired you?
Pharrell Williams: I guess it's American ambition. You know, to rise. Seeing that success is basically what you make it. These sunglasses are not about the struggle, but about the celebration of making it in this world. We made different pairs for different moments of the day, but overall they have this statement: 'I am going places.'