Note that I now have a comments option! And a new format (since I fucked up my last one)!
Biggie’s last freestyle
on the wake-up show is one of the genuinely creepiest things I’ve ever heard. The interview/ freestyle session was recorded late at night, just a couple days before Biggie was murdered, and he’s doing his own edits. I don’t know if he had any sort of premonitions of his death, or whether he was just generally tense because he was on the West Coast, but when DJ Revolution spins the classic Mobb Deep song “Quiet Storm” during their freestyle session, Biggie’s voice just seethes alternately anxiety, bravado and anger. His first verse over the “Quiet Storm” beat is from “Long Kiss Goodnight” and is clearly directed at Tupac (the marine blue, six coupe was the vehicle that was used in the Tupac murder):
I'm flamin gats, aimin’ at
these fuckin maniacs who put my name in raps,
what part the game is that? Like they
hustle backwards. I smoke Blackwoods and Dutchies,
ya can't touch me. Try to rush me,
slugs go touchy-touchy. You're bleedin lovely,
with yo spirit above me
or beneath me. Your whole life you live sneaky
Now you rest eternally, sleepy,
you burn when you creep me
Rest where the worms and the weak be.
My nine flies, baptize rap guys.
With the Holy Ghost, I put holes in most
You hold your toast shaky, slippin tryin to break me
Look what you made me do, brains blew
My team in the marine-blue, six Coupe
Skied it out, weeded out, cleanin’ out -- the block
for distances, givin long kisses BITCH
From there, Biggie appropriately launches into the first verse from “You’re Nobody (till somebody kills you)”:
Niggaz in my faction don't like askin questions
Strictly gun testin, coke measurin
Givin pleasure in the Benz-ito
Hittin fanny, spendin chips at Manny's
Hope you creeps got receipts, my peeps get dirty like cleats
Run up in your crib, wrap you up in your Polo sheets
Six up in your wig piece, nigga decease
MWA, may you rest in peace
With my Sycamore style, more sicker than yours
Four-four, and fifty-four draw
as my pilot, steers my Leer, yes my dear
Shit's official, only, the Feds I fear
Here's a tissue, stop your blood clot cryin
The kids, the dog, everybody dyin, no lyin
So don't you get suspicious
I'm Big Dangerous you're just a Lil Vicious
As I leave my competition, respirator style
Climb the ladder to success escalator style
Hold y'all breath, I told y'all –
Death controls y'all,
Big don't fold y'all, uhh
I spit phrases that'll thrill you
You're nobody til somebody kills you
I wonder if when he was shot, Biggie was thinking of Tupac, if he finally realized how inextricable his and Tupac’s fates were. It’s simple to say violence and hate just begets more violence, but in this case…
My winampplayer gave me a Christmas present!
On my winampmp3 player I have the crossfading between tracks feature on (which is a mixed bag, generally), and luckily when I randomized the order of my playlist, the intro skit from Ice Cube’s Better off Dead segues into David Banner’s Cadillac on 22’s.
On ILM's thread re: the 2003 pitchfork list
, Sterling Clover (spurred by Rob Mitchum posting Ethan P.'s review of the Black Album) says that Jay Z's recent turn towards introspection is due to Jigga's pandering to critics. As much as I'd like to believe that we have that much influence, I can't imagine Jigga sitting around the Baseline worrying about what we will or won't like. Maybe the man has just reached the point in life where he wants to say something more about himself. Maybe he isn't as misogynistic anymore because he's in love for the first time in his life (as Dame indicated in XXL). Maybe he realizes the power that he weilds and is more careful about what he says. Or maybe he's just a bit bored and wanted to try something different. Regardless of his reasoning, I doubt it has much to do with us. There are some artists that get involved in conversations with their critics, but I think that it's really taking away from what Jay has done with his Black album to say that we are in any way responsible.
But if Sterling, Rob and Ethan are right -- and my favorite hip hoppers are hanging on my every word, I have a few suggestions:
50: I know you came up talking trash to other MCs, but its gotten really old really quick. And calling out Shyne wasn't neccesary.
Nas: Kelis is fine, but are you sure you want to be married, playa?
Lauryn Hill: Stop acting so crazy and make an album with Kanye.
Ja: Just stop, please.
My highly-subjective, likely-to-change top 20 singles of 2003.
1. The Red – Jaylib
2. Cadillac oni 22's - David Banner
3. I Luv You - Dizzee
4. Pop Shit – ODB + Neptunes
5. Ignition Remix – R. Kelly
6. Oh Wee – Mark Ronson, Ghost
7. Purple Haze – Dip Set
8. Through the Wire – Kanye West
9. Money Folder – Madvillian
10. Milkshake – Kelis
11. Beautiful - Snoop Dogg
12. We Pop – RZA
13. A.D.I.D.A.S. – Killa Mike
14. Stand Up – Luda
15. Beware – Punjabi MC
16. Rite Where You Stand - Gang Starr
17. Get By Remix (with Mos, Kanye, and Jay) – Talib
18. Pass the Dutch – Missy
19. Champion Sound – Jaylib
20. In Da Club – 50 Cent
Not my favorite 20 songs, but my favorite singles. Pretty predictable, I know.
A cheesy, but 100% true anecdote:
A few nights ago, me and my girlfriend Nirmala were taking the Bart to see Bad Santa at the Metreon. Nirmala was miserable, and I should’ve been. Walking from her apartment on 26th and Valencia to the Bart station on 24th and Mission, we were hit by a cold downpour that whipped beneath our tiny umbrella and left us soaked and shivering. My hoody was dripping and heavy, and my unwashed jeans were beginning to emit a piercing, sour odor. But I was high, and the herb had glazed everything over and left me more amused than annoyed. So I sat silently next to her, drifting in my own space.
I noticed a homeless man pass into our car and slowly make his way towards us. He was tall – his head almost scraped the ceiling – and he had a long, white beard that made him look like a younger, poorer version of Gandolf from Lord of the Rings. The middle-earth aura was reinforced by his slight, easy smile and the ancient, 10-cent recorder that he was using to play “Silent Night."
As the man passed us, he put down his recorder and stared at me for a second. I shrugged, and started to look away before he said, “Music captures the season like no critic can.”
My response to Oliver Wang
on the state and direction of hip hop journalism:
let me first say that Oliver raised a lot of interesting issues and made some good points. Unfortunately, I only have time to respond to a couple of them. I’ll try to get around to the other stuff on Friday.
And a real quick book recommendation before I get into it: Dana Johnson’s collection of short stories: break any woman down. While her plotting could be a little tighter, her use of language and control of the various voices throughout the book is simply phenomenal.
Oliver Wrote: “I rather disagree that the conscious MCs won. Compare 2003 with 1990 and clearly, so-called "conscious rappers" are now a small, tiny minority of the overall hip-hop field. Kweli, Mos, the Roots, etc., are exceptions not the rule. Keep in mind, I don't necessarily bemoan the changes in hip-hop...unlike other nostalgia-ridden folks, I don't need hip-hop today to sound like it was when I was a teenager, which is precisely why groups like Little Brother never inspired much in me.”
I still maintain that hip hop is more balanced today than it was…let’s say six or seven years ago. Nas has returned to form (or at least close), Talib is near the top of the charts, Jigga has gone all conscious on us, David Banner is releasing some pretty politically pointed material (check out his song “Bush”), Outkast definitely has a political side, and cats like Mr. Lif, the Coup, Lyrics Born, etc…are holding it down on the underground side. I think that in many respects hip hop is more realistic about its politics today than it was in the heyday of “conscious rap.”
I think that in the early nineties there was still a lot of remnants of 60’s black radicalism, where people would empower themselves through identity, as where today’s artist realize that they have a greater degree of equality (notice I said greater, not total) and are looking for equity. Maybe that is the defining divide between the hip hop and civil rights generation. Jay Z said it himself with his much maligned line “I’m like Che Guevara with his bling on” and perhaps Kanye West stated it a little less arrogantly with this line for “My Way”: “When Doctor King said we free at least, from that point on nothing was free, we need the cash.”
Like I said, these are ideas that I’ve constructed in my head after reading numerous pieces on the hip hop/ civil rights divide, and trying to come to terms with a lot of hip hop’s apparent political contradictions. The basic premise that I’m working off of is that hip hop “materialism” and empowerment aren’t exclusive to one another. And these are things I’m still working out, to be honest.
Back to the journalism issue: My fear is that when you try to interject some sort of political consciousness in criticism (and I’m not talking about investigative, and I think that you we 100% entitled and expected to ask P about C Murder) you end up with shit like you had in the early Rolling Stones or on Fox News – where pretty latent racism hid behind the shield of moral outrage. And it doesn’t even have to deal with race. Did anyone in San Francisco happen to catch the Chronicle’s coverage of QT’s movie “Kill Bill.”
Here’s their “movie review:”
Followed two days later by another excise in pure banality:
And a few days later by a piece in the Editorial section that urged readers to write to Mirmax and beg them not to release violent films:
And there was yet another piece where they asked kids how Quentin traumatized them (one boy relayed seeing the horrified look on his sister’s face). I couldn’t find the link for this one.
I know it’s a movie criticism, but is this the kind of hard-hitting consciousness you’re talking about, Oliver? In short, I think that we are responsible for dealing with issues that are inherent in both the artists and in the artists’ work (and I agree with everything you said about the influx of cash and lifestyle magazines leading to the death of good hip hop journalism; although I do think that there are still good work being published in weeklies and in places like Wax Poetics), but I don’t think that we can stand up on a soapbox all day and call it music criticism. It’s boring and oftentimes offensive.
Oliver, to really “throw down the gauntlet,” I think that if you are so unsatisfied with the current state of music journalism (and I think that your criticism is more of the venues than the actual writers) than you as a senior writer who a lot of us younger guys (and girls) respect should step up to the plate. You seem to have a good editorial vision (you chose me to write for you when you guest edited urb, after all). Even if it's just on the web, I'm sure that you could make it work. ...just an idea...
Anyone in SF should check this out:
In their final exhibit before displaying at the NYC MOMA, graffiti artist Doze Green, David Ellis (Skwerm) and Kenji AKA The Barnstormers will be featured at San Francisco's Future Primitive Sound Headquarters
and Edo Salon/ Gallery.
Opening Party: Thursday December 11th 7:00pm – 9:30 pm
Display Running: December 11th through February 11th
As a former resident of NC, I'm really interested to see the Barnstormers. Here's a write-up about them:
Skwerm (AKA David Ellis)
began his graffiti career in the most unlikely place imaginable: painting local barns in rural North Carolina in the mid-80’s. It wouldn’t be long before Ellis left the countryside and joined his fellow graffiti artists in the more traditional environment of Brooklyn, NYC. He created various murals, paintings, short films, and sculptures “searching for something evolved yet on par with the realness of those early barns.”
Skip ahead to two years ago: Skwerm returns to Camron, NC (pop. 241) along with 18 of NYC’s most famous graffiti artists as part of what would come to be known as the Barnstormers crew. Over the course of a few months, the crew threw up over 50 pieces on everything from 18 Wheelers to Chicken Manure Spreads. While canvassing the rural landscape, the crew saw many similarities between the urban decay of NYC in the 80’s and the North Carolina tobacco farms, where reduced demand for tobacco had created an atmosphere of structural decay and economic impoverishment.
Last year, the Barnstormers utilized time-lapse photography to capture a floor painting as it was layered over and over by different members of the crew. The result was the Barnstormers first film, “Watching Paint Dry,” which was quickly followed up with “No Condition is Permanent.” Their upcoming film Letter to the President will be at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
...and forgive me for my grammar...
Okay, so Oliver issued a very thorough and convincing rebuttal to my criticism of the Herald article he recommended (check his poplife blog). Before I reply, let me say that I shouldn't be picking arguements Oliver. He's obvsiously a lot more invested and knowledgable of hip hop, both the musical and cultural trajectory. O-Dub is getting his PhD from Berkeley, as where I only sleep with someone who went to Berkeley (requisite shout out to Nirmala). And I agree with most of what Oliver said..most. If the Herald would've printed his critique, I probably wouldn't be making an issue of it.
But there were a few points I'd like to make:
Oliver wrote: "1) Rap journalism has never been more toothless, irrelevant and in the pocket of industry as it is now. For a far more comprehensive and articulate explanation of why, I'd refer people to Jeff Chang's "Word Power: A Brief, Highly Opinionated History of Hip-Hop Journalism" in Steve Jones's Pop Music and the Press. He makes the excellent point at the end of that essay that after Biggie and Tupac were murdered, the Source's, Vibe's, XXL's, etc. of the nation had the opportunity to really confront their own value system and what they were contributing to hip-hop's community. Rather than step up and really start critiquing from within, most simply capitulated to the predominant values of the industry and most base interests of the culture. "
I do agree with the first part how a lot in the music journalism have sold out, etc... but I'm not sure if I agree with the latter half of the paragraph. I think that there was a tremendous moral reckoning within hip hop both during the Biggie and Tupac gangsta years and immediately after their deaths. The gangsta hip hop narrative received very harsh criticism from the mid- to late-90's hip hop community. While you can certainly say that "conscious" hip hop has been around since near the beginning, the critiques became very self-reflective and specific following those tragedies. And what became of the great mid- to late-90s battles? The conscious MC's won, while the conscious critics lost (for the most part). You see people like Talib, Mos Def, the Roots, and even their descendents like Kanye (who emodies a lot of hip hop's dualities in interesting ways, but that's another entry) near the top of the charts (even Jay Z, the emodiment of ammorality for so many years, getting all conscious on us), while trying to apply cultural criticism's to music journalism is increasingly falling out of favor (although I did like the Voices neo-gangsta, 50 Cent criticism by Coates, I think it was). And I certainly tried to pull a cult. crit. bunny out of my hat for my 50 Cent piece.
And in many ways I agree with that dynamic. Yeah...you can't escape from engaging with the outside world, and everything is inherently political and so forth...but one thing that I've learned from my short time writing about hip hop is that there are certain things that you can and can't approach, and it is sometimes best if the artists address these issues themselves, and leave it to us to...um, critique their critiques.
Oliver Wrote: "Investigative journalism and hard-nosed opinion-making in rap mags is all but dead - when it falls to the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone to research who killed Biggie and 'Pac while rap rags quietly tip-toe around it, afraid of pissing off the wrong people (read: potential advertisers) you've pretty much lit up a big neon sign that says "we just want to party and bullshit" and lost whatever mandate may have existed for them to actually be hip-hop's inside voice - both in terms of responsible reporting as well as serving as a consciousness."
Oliver, is it the Source's duty to address the value-issues or "consciousness" surrouding hip hop culture, or is it there chargin to engage the music and individual narratives of the performers? I'm really asking this, because it's a line I'm not sure where to draw. You could make an arguement that they don't do either very well, and I would agree.
Oliver wrote: "2) Meanwhile, over at the mainstream music mags, you have a lot of wanna-be hipsters trying to write on hip-hop without much of the knowledge base to really tackle it responsibly. Their criticism is long on style, short on substance which is pretty much the general problem with music journalism writ large."
That's a very protective view of hip hop, Oliver.
"As the article notes, many publications have been cutting back on word lengths, aiming for sweet, short and snappy but it's come at the expense of writing that builds into something and is willing to get deep."
I agree and I disagree. While I love a big, sprawling piece, I also love compaction in writing (it's a realistic way of engaging with the audience), and some of my best pieces have been those that have had a modest word count.
"While I appreciate economy as next as the next guy, what we're seeing is a generation of blerb-meisters on the rise while long-form essayism is all but gone. Call me old school but I think it's important to have writers who are capable of doing more than just breeze through 100 words of clever, snarky comments. I love reading Blender for its list festishes and what not but their review section just depresses me and having spoken to several of the folks who write for that section, it depresses them too. Now, everyone has seemingly followed suit, even the Village Voice."
Can't disagree with anything here.
I'll get to the rest of what Oliver said later, but I will say that I still think that Oliver is looking at the past in rose colored glasses. There were individual spots of brilliance in the golden days (and that is what is now remembered), but there was also a whole lot of shit. Anyone remember how the mainstream music media used to engage with hip hop? Rolling stone anyone? It's not great now, but it was horrible and often racist then.
Realized last nite at 2 AM while high and listening to my girl Nirmala's bollywood collection (which reminded her of watching these movies as a little girl in her homeland of suburban LA): The Theme Music for Dharmatma (with the "Sad" chorus) is the source material for Jaylib's "Champion Sound."
Addendum: Nirmala would like to point out that it was actually her that realized this.
Kind of to eloborate on what Jeff Chang said on his blog
, why doesn't De Capo get a guest editor with a hip hop background (if they have, forgive me. i haven't read every one)? If they can enlist the author of High Fidelity, why don't they get Chris Rock or someone along those lines?
I was a bit distressed to find Oliver Wang recommending this article http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/7324951.htm
on his blog.
After reading the article, it seems to be your run of the mill nostalgia piece that uses seniority as a crutch and mixs in rockist cheap shots at celebrity/pop culture and a recommendation for the De Capo's Best of White Criticism guide.
Yeah, we all give credit to Lester, Greil, and the other inhabitants of the rock crit cannon...but I really think that now is one of the best times for music criticism. With the advent of file sharing, people's music vocabulary and their thirst for new and dynamic styles has increased ten fold. And the internet has really brought the democratization of music criticism. Sure, a lot of the criticism "published" on the web may be half assed and amateur, but different perspectives never hurt anyone.
With music criticism, I'd personally like to see (off the top of the dome) a new subjectivism; renewed interest in how, where and why people actually engage with music; and a further departure from formalism. There are a lot of critics/ journalist doing it and doing it well.
And Oliver, your piece in the Guardian was great. So why are you gonna let this bitch-ass 40-something (probably) try to demean the new(er) generation of critics?