Inspired by rereading Hua Hsu's excellent -- if debatable -- essay on Illmatic
for O-Dub's wonderful Classic Material.
The first time few years that I listened to Illmatic, I heard all the hot punchlines that kind of reinforced his invincibility, nihilism, danger, etc…but now I think that alienation and solitude are just as prominent of themes in Illmatic. Alienation from the listener, his surrounding, and from any sense of god or authority. Even in “NY State of Mind” – the most brutal song on the album, a song that takes place behind the walls of intelligence, parallel to hell, and where they are held like a hostage – Nas sounds aware (unlike say Big L) and thus his danger is tinged with vulnerability and the possibility of escape and redemption. And I really don’t think that he sounds as invincible as some of you think – listen to his verse in “Life’s a Bitch”: “I switched my motto -- instead of sayin’ fuck tomorrow/ that buck that bought the bottle could have struck the lotto.” As twisted as this logic is to me, isn’t this a rejection of the nihilism often attributed to this song? And listen to the third verse in “The World is Yours:”
”Born alone, die alone, no crew to keep my crown or throne
I'm deep by sound alone, caved inside in a thousand miles from home
I need a new nigga, for this black cloud to follow
Cause while it's over me it's too dark to see tomorrow”
Does this sound like someone who’s invincible?
Nas’ redemption comes through his rapping – which “is a vitamin, held without a capsule.” And I think that throughout the course of the album he is able to transcend his environment “for all (his) peeps that never made it.” It’s a testament to the power of art in general and hip hop in particular when on the last song (“it ain’t hard to tell”) he declares “ I excel, then prevail/ The mic is contacted, I attract clientele/ My mic check is life or death, breathin a sniper's breath.” .
Thug poet Nasir Jones has been telling us for years what time it is, but for 19.95 he can really tell you what time it is.
Leaping over puddles of piss and peaking down shady alleyways and behind dark corners, Nirmala and I slowly made our way to the Mission District’s Intersection of the Arts for Campo Santo’s production of Denis Johnson’s Psychos Never Dream
. It was a dreary night, with the sky perpetually teetering on the brink of a downpour, leaving a cold mist pushing against our faces, but I was buzzed from the medication I'd been taking for my back pain and thus nicely buffered from the gloomy weather and urban filth.
But nothing could have shielded me from Psychos Never Dream’s rush of violence and fatalism. Johnson’s hyper-realist, character-driven play opens with a scraggly, bearded man named Critter digging a grave for Hubby, an unseen character who is Critter’s uncle and the wife of Critter’s life-long love, Red. From the onset, it’s obvious that Critter has a very tenuous grasp on reality; he screams and howls with the jittery, volatile energy of a Charles Manson and his all-too-apparent self-delusion makes him both vulnerable and dangerous. If Critter is a picture of hazardous fragility, Floyd – who discovers him burying Hubby – is pure, undiluted libido. A chiseled, Vietnam-veteran who constantly reminds us of his murderous misdeeds in that war and who may-or-may-not-have killed his wife and seven children (I don’t want to give away any big plot points), Floyd takes responsibility for his misdeeds in a way that Critter never could. He may be less inwardly conflicted, but held under a driving lust for gold and power, he’s no less dangerous than Critter and evokes the menacing control that has become closely associated with the archetypical American male. The cast is rounded out by Red – a schizophrenia character with a nasty, self-destructive attitude – and a lesbian, deputy sheriff named Sarah, who maybe less intimidating than the rest, but suffers equally through her own relationships. The dialogue between the characters is colloquial and natural, yet manages to point towards larger, social issues. The result is a play that is sordid, squalid, and endlessly riveting.
Stepping back out into the filth and squalor of the Mission last night, I was struck that while the medicine may run out, human cruelty never will.
I interviewed MF Doom
today for an upcoming feature for SFWeekly (which will be definitive, you crab-ass freelancers). You can check my full thoughts in March, but this is interesting (I thought, at least). I asked him if he thought that if Black Bastards (or the equivalent) was released today would it censored. His response:
"To a degree...this game is tricky. If I didn't know no better, I'd think they had a time machine. And somehow, they went into the future and saw the reaction and impact that these jewels had, and that's what knowledge is...To me, we was just doing a subtle thing, but (it created) all this heat and they were like 'we gotta get them off the label.' Meanwhile, these heavy metal groups on the label had all these questionable covers that were far worse than mine. To me there was this little underlining thing, something else that wasn't being told there...my only conclusion after years and years of thinking about it was that they had a time machine, yo. And they went in the future and decided to stop it now so it wouldn't (have an impact). The way it is nowadays, there's not that much heat to it...there's a lot of cats out now that are large as hell but all they talkin' on their lyrics is how to kill the next dude that was next to him, or what he would do to your girl. I look at it from a listener's point of view, I'm listening to some people's album or shit, or I might catch a song on the radio...and they're talking to the listener -- when I rhyme, I rhyme to the listener -- and they're coming at me about what he would do to kill me. I must have gotten killed five times in one song. And throughout an album, forget it. You got murdered many many times, had things done to your girl and all kinds of atrocities. And that raises a question mark, like there's a hidden agenda there."
I also received the Madvillain promo yesterday...very nice. And a lot different from the copies that have been floating around on the internet.
I hope that the Justice Department pursues the Paul O'Neal leak probe
with the same veracity and objectivity that they've applied to the CIA leak probe
Further evidence that to the Bush administration the ends justify any means
. This should come as no surprise to those of us who kept an eye on the New American Century website
. Remember the supposed deliberations leading up to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq? Did anyone ever take this seriously? I guess the whole Powell v. Cheney sideshow made for interesting television, but I always doubted the sincerity of it.
On that note, I’m really proud of Paul O’Neil. With the Bush’s tendency for strong-arm tactics, and his complete inability to seek compromise (which comes with “moral clarity,” I guess), expect more former associates to step forward in the next few months.
The NYTimes asks, are we growing up or Selling Out
More comments later.
Review for Kanye West's College Dropout
Melding sped-up soul samples that resemble the Chipmunks gone gully with hyperactive drums that employ a walloping, riddim-fueled momentum, producer Kanye West wrote the blueprint for Jay Z and breathed new life into the careers of Talib Kweli and Consequence. So it’s little surprise that College Dropout’s production is stellar. From the cooing stampede of “Jesus Walks” to the rollicking, string-soaked euphoria of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” College Dropout manages to be both visceral and emotive, sprinkling the dancefloors with tears and sweat. But the real revelation is Kanye’s performance on the mic, which is alternately poignant, arrogant and funny. This son of 60’s black radicals even manages to encapsulate the generational tension between the Civil Right’s drive for equality and hip hop’s search for equity in “My Way:” “When King spoke and said we free at last/ ain’t nothing free at that point, dawg/ we need the cash.” Simply put: this album is amazing.