"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Friday, August 31, 2007

Albums You Should Own: Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous

“Put It On”, the very, first song on Big L’s classic debut Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, contains the bitterly ironic lines: “If you battle L, you picked the wrong head/I smash mics like cornbread/You can’t kill me, I was born dead.”

The tragedy of Big L’s murder isn’t quite the same as Biggie’s or Tupac’s tragic demise. Big L was not in the midst of violent beef between fellow rappers nor was he nearly as famous or iconic as them. By all accounts, his murder was in retaliation of a street debt that L’s brother had gotten involved with and couldn’t pay because he was in jail. The true tragedy of the murder is that world never got a chance to see just how amazingly gifted Big L was as lyricist and an artist. His only album that he released while living, Lifestylez Ov Poor & Dangerous, only serves as a bitter reminder of what could have been with Big L if he had lived.

Make no mistake, Big L was waaaaay ahead of his time. If you were to trace the lyrical DNA of every generic mixtape rapper working in the United States (and especially in New York), it would trace directly back to Lamont Coleman. Big L was the prototype for what I’ve somewhat mockingly called the “Punchline Lyricist.” Punchline lyricism is a form of rapping in which poeticism and storytelling are eschewed for witty or comedic one-liners and similes(*cough* usually about how much coke you sell *cough*) or rather as they are more commonly referred to “punchlines.” While I may mock Young Murda-A-Lot for being simplistic and clichéd when a rapper drops an album full of cheesy one-liners comparing cocaine to white girls or whatever; make no mistake Big L was a true master at the art form. His punchlines were vicious, and full of a dark, twisted wit that seems to escape the Jae Millz’ of the world. He’s the MC that Pusha T or Lil’ Wayne are trying to be but can’t quite pull off when they rhyme. His punchlines could be both perversely funny and at the same time extremely threatening. And yet oddly , he had this weird every man charm that made him quite likable and palatable despite him threatening to beat your mother, your daughter and your girlfriend up with a shovel. Make no mistake, Big L was truly a hardcore rapper and not in the sanitized radio friendly, 50 Cent way. He was not for everybody but oh, was he good.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous is like listening to horror film set in Harlem on wax. “Danger Zone” might just be pound for pound the hardest and most offensive rap record ever produced. Amongst numerous Satanic references on the record, Big L brazenly declares “They say a real man won’t hit a girl/but I ain’t real cuz I beat bitches up.” Also on that particular record, I believe he claims that he murders nuns on Sunday, that he doesn’t believe in God, would rape Christ, and doesn’t really give a shit because he knows he’s going to hell anyway. The first time, I heard that record, my mouth dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I then immediately replayed the song over and over, again because I was perversely thrilled to hear a record that dark, warped and twisted but at the same time have a knowing, sly sense of humor to it all. As if to say, “You motherfuckers thought you knew hardcore. I’ll show you hardcore!” I don’t even think Marilyn Manson would go as far as say he would rape Jesus Christ.

While “Danger Zone” is L at his darkest, “Put It On” is L when he’s at his most playful. Over a Buckwild beat and a memorable chorus provided by Kid Capri himself, Big L drops memorable punchlines after memorable punchlines giving a clinic to future emcees on how to rock a mic. It’s a thrilling opener and represents one of the only playful moment on album that is darker than dark.

If there is anything that is weak about this album, the production is workmanlike and isn’t nearly as show stopping as Big L’s raw lyricism. It’s handled mostly by Big L’s D.I.T.C. cohorts, Buckwild, Lord Finesse and Showbiz, and they do give an album a gritty, hard texture that fits perfectly with the album but I wonder if this album received the level of production that Jay-Z had on Reasonable Doubt (who also shows up on the great posse cut “Da Graveyard” in all of his pre-Roc-A-Fella Fu-Schnickens biting glory) or Raekwon had on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx than this album would be in the pantheon of great rap records those currently occupy.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous remains one of the lesser known classics of the mid-90s New York hardcore renaissance and I decided to write about it to give it a bit of the more shine it deserves. If you listen to it, pay particular close attention to Big L’s style of rhyming and you can exactly see how many of your favorite rappers owe Big L their career whether they know it or not. Murder is always tragic but when it takes away such a young and talented artist who never got their fair shot at superstardom than have you have to wonder what it’s all for.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die...Oh, I'm Sorry...The Mass...Oops...Curtis: Review

Let’s be real for a second, you’ve heard this album before. You’ve not only heard this record from 50 Cent twice before but you’ve heard this album in some form or another on countless other rapper’s albums as well. 50 Cent has cobbled seventeen facsimiles of his own and other rapper’s most popular songs called it, Curtis, and then called it a day. I can’t imagine there was much more thought process that went into the “creative” aspect of this album than that. For Curtis Jackson, the most important part of releasing an album is the marketing. This is where he gets creative. Whether, it’s sneak dissing Kanye West on the radio, questioning Lil’ Wayne’s sexuality, getting his album pushed back because lack of buzz for his singles or throwing a fit in the Interscope office, the promotion for Curtis has been a rough and difficult ride for Mr. Jackson...and it should be because Curtis isn’t particularly good.

Let’s take a look at 50 Cen’t Official Checklist for his new album, shall we:

1. Generic Thug Anthems? Check. (My Gun Go Off, Man Down, Curtis 187, etc., etc., etc.)
2. Bad Sex Metaphor Song? Check. (Amusement Park)
3. Horrendous Song Produced By Emimem? Check. (Peep Show)
4. Dr. Dre Produced In Da Club rip off? Check. (Come And Go, Fire, etc.)
5. Song Insulting Other More Talented Rappers? Check. (Fully Loaded Clip)
6. Cheesy Love Songs Featuring R&B Singers? Check. (All Of Me, Ayo Technology, Follow My Lead)
7. Songs About How Much Money He’s Got? Check. (I Get Money, Straight To The Bank)
8. Song With Akon? Check. (I’ll Still Kill)

Does this look familiar to you? Of course, it has; you heard this album before several times. Both from 50 himself, his loyal G-Unit weed carriers, and from countless other rappers.

The album isn’t completely unlistenable. Other than “Amusement Park”, there really isn’t anything out and out awful. The songs are just way too generic to have any personality so the album is like listening to 50 minutes of elevator music if only the elevator made death threats every 2.5 seconds or so. Even so, “I Get Money” remains the best thing to come from 50 Cent in years and “Ayo Technology” is pretty good for what it is as well. Problem is I have heard these songs as well. “I Get Money” is of course a mash-up of Cassidy’s “I’m A Hustla” and Audio Two’s classic “Top Billin’.” “Ayo Technology”, the other half decent song on the album, plays more like a Justin Timberlake song than a 50 Cent one. In fact, it’s basically just “My Love” with 50 Cent replacing T.I. I’m not hating.

Since 50 Cent’s basically made the same album as he’s done before the only thing left to wonder is have his fans grown too old for his schtick. 50’s been selling his Ghetto Super Villain schtick for going on 4 years now and the 15 year olds who were his biggest fans back then are now in college and probably have been exposed to a wider array of music than they were when they were teenagers. 50’s banking that it was his formula that sold all those records and not his persona so he’s basically stuck to the plans for his former albums. The world will find out on September 11th if the King of New York is gonna fall.

I kind of wonder what this record would've sounded like if it stuck with the original title, "Before I Self Destruct." That record sounded like something I might want to hear from Mr. Jackson. On the rare occasions that 50 decides to get personal, the results are usually pretty great. 50 Cent's verse on "Hate It Or Love It" remains the best verse he's spit since he's gotten famous and "Ghetto Qua'ran" also known as "The Song That Got 50 Shot" is probably the best song that he's ever done and that describes the real life drug world that surrounded him growing up. He's certainly proven capable in the past of being a thoughtful artist but instead he's chosen to be thoroughly mediocre. In the end, I suppose this album is a bit better than The Massacre since it doesn't have quite as many truly awful songs on this record and not as good as Get Rich Or Die Tryin' because there isn't anything nearly as good as "Heat", or "In Da Club" or even "21 Questions." But I suppose that doesn't really matter to Curtis Jackson? He's more interested in making money. Question is? Will the old formula still sell?

Kanye West - Graduation: Review

A few years ago, there was an article in the Village Voice about Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein in which the writer imagined a Hip Hop landscape in which the Def Jux aesthetic of loud, angry, futuristic, static infused synth rap would rule over the rap world and put an end to the bling obsessed and shallow pop rap of Hot 97 and its ilk. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened. If anything today’s hip hop is arguably even more shallow than it was earlier this decade. At least, rappers actually tried to rap back then instead of coming up with stupid dances and marketing schemes. However, an unlikely candidate has picked up the old Definitive Jux torch and created an album that sounds like nothing you will be hearing on the radio, anytime soon.

Kanye West is poised to do something that El-P could never do and that's knock off the Big Bad Wolf from the throne and possibly change the way hip hop will sound like in the near future. Kanye West’s Graduation sounds like a weird, futurist hybrid of what The Blueprint would sound like if El-P co-produced the record (or in this case, DJ Toomp) and replaced his schizophrenic, post-9/11 paranoia with a pop accessibility. Graduation is soulful, spaced out, completely and utterly weird and at the same time completely and totally radio accessible. It’s a revolutionary record and possibly, the best record released in years.

This record represents an improvement over Late Registration and to a lesser extent, The College Dropout. For one, it has less filler, less superflous “Look At Me, I’m Really Musical” orchestral interludes and seems to completely lack any annoying skits about how much college sucks. These are all positives and improvements over his previous efforts. Kanye has trimmed down off the fat of his previous efforts and instead is focusing on expanding and reinventing his sound. A song like Daft Punk-sampling “Stronger” could have completely come off as pretentious if handled wrong but it remains the album’s show stopping centerpiece. The “Chipmunk Soul” of his earlier records has almost been completely replaced with spacey, static infused synths and disembodied vocal samples to create a record that sounds sort of unique. The album’s monster single, DJ Toomp co-produced “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, is the perfect example of this. DJ Toomp’s signature synths are all over the place but the Dilla-esque vocal samples float over the record to create an otherworldly feel to the record.

The album is notably, less personal than his previous efforts. The greatest strength of his last records were that they were so deeply grounded in West’s life. There’s no “Hey Mama” or “Jesus Walks” on this record. The only record we get is “Big Brother” in which Kanye discusses his Game-esque devotion (*cough* stalker *cough*) love to Jay-Z. Its kind of creepy and kind of great in the same way that “The Doctor’s Advocate” was for The Game. Instead, we get records about fame. A trap that many artists go through when they get hugely famous is they start making music about the pressures of fame and it can possibly start to ruin or affect their music. Fame has ruined Eminem so much that he can’t not make a record about how much the fame sucks and the media is mean to him. It’s a credit to West’s talent that while he’s made a record that deals with fame and not made it completely boring.

The album does have a few flaws. Kanye still isn’t a traditionally great rapper. My main problem with his previous efforts were that his flow sounded force as if he was trying to prove to the world how technically great he is and it doesn’t quite work. Listening to Kanye rap is like eating not quite ripe banana. It sort of tastes like it should but there is still an almost tangy aftertaste that you can’t quite get out of your mouth. (Editor’s Note: Umm, I don’t usually do this because it’s idiotic but uh, no homo on that analogy.) It’s a testament to Kanye’s charm and wit that he’s able to overcome this even if it’s not as technically flawless as a Method Man verse. The perfect example of this is West’s duet with Lil’ “I’m Hot Like Light” Wayne, “Barry Bonds.” Kanye’s verse is charming and fun but he still tries to cram too many words that don’t quite rhyme with each other into his verse. Weezy has the same problem in many of his verses as well (and his similes are just atrocious. Seriously? On Like The Television?!?!?! That’s from the Best Rapper Alive?!?!).

The leak I received only had 13 tracks and is supposedly only missing two skits so its fairly complete. There are one or two records I could do without, though. “Drunk And Hot Girls” could probably go and I wouldn’t miss and “Homecoming”, West’s dubious duet with Chris Martin, is just straight up bad. Tell me what is with these rappers infautation with the dude from Coldplay? I like Coldplay and all but he needs to stay far away from the Def Jam offices as possible.

The only thing next up for West is to see if this record can knock off 50 Cent on September 11th. As I mentioned in a previous post, I think there’s a more than likely chance that this will happen. If it’s any consolation, Graduation is almost guaranteed to be a better record than Curtis. The presence of “Amusement Park” alone on 50’s record guarantees that it's worse than Kanye’s. I mean “Homecoming” is pretty bad but its nothing compared how jaw droppingly awful, “Amusement Park” is. Seriously, now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Five Songs For That Moment: Part I

The greatest aspect about music is that certain songs can illustrate a moment in your life better than memory ever can. There is something transcendent about listening to a song that you haven’t heard in years and slowly drifting away to a different period of your life. We all have certain songs that crystallize a moment in your life that upon hearing it transport you back in time. Here are ten songs that bring me back to specific moments of my life that bring a smile to my face.

1. Bon Jovi “Bad Medicine”

One of my earliest memories of music involves my father, my brother and myself jamming along to Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” in our living room in my old house. When you are kid and haven’t quite developed a musical taste and identity of your own, you listen to the music of your parents. My father was a Bon Jovi fan in the late 1980s and in my young mind, the peak of musical achievement was “Bad Medicine” off of their fourth album, New Jersey. The three of us formed a musical air guitar band with my father on guitar and both me and my younger brother on drums that we pantomimed with chop sticks out of the pantry. I can imagine we drove our poor mother out of her mind as soon as the song ended I would run up to the CD player and press repeat and listen to the song again and again and again. Not quite realizing in my seven year old mind that the song was about the comparison of drug addiction with falling in love, I would scream the hell out of the chorus as I particularly loved singing along the part about “shaking it up.” On retrospect, the song is a pretty cheesy 80s metal song but every time it comes on, it makes me think of my family at our happiest. That's always a good feeling.

2. Adina Howard “Freak Like Me”

For those who remember Adina Howard (and I remember Adina Howard), she was by all accounts just about the raunchiest R&B singer this side of Robert Kelly’s crazy ass of all-time. She had approximately one hit in the mid-90s and that song “Freak Like Me” will forever be permanently etched in the mind of a young adolescent Doctor Zeus. “Freak Like Me” off her ‘95 debut album, Do You Wanna Ride?, was a post-Mary J. Blige up-tempo Hip Hop influenced R&B jam that combined memorable G-Funk synths with lyrics that discussed in a frank fashion, Adina’s supposedly insatiable sexual appetite. As a young, impressionable and newly adolescent teenage boy, I was both enthralled and covertly horrified to hear this play on nearly constant rotation on my local hip hop station. This song was so dirty that it blew a gasket in my young teenage mind. This song will forever associated for me is riding the bus to Middle School. In 5th grade, my family moved to another part of town where in order to get to school, I had to ride a bus. Previously, I had always lived close enough to school so that I could simply walk there every day so riding the bus to and from school everyday was a new and somewhat scary experience for me. On this bus, there was a deeply complex and highly evolved social structure in which your seat was assigned by both your approximate coolness and your seniority. The coolest sixth grade kids got to sit in the back of the bus and goof off while their fifth grade minions got to sit in front of them, followed by the dorky sixth graders, and then finally the lepers of the society, the uncool fifth graders got to sit in front. Being the new kid to the bus route, I was forced to sit in the front and listen to the dorky kids discuss Magic: The Gathering cards and Power Rangers all morning long. Anyway, there was this beautiful light skinned black girl, a sixth grader, who had by all accounts “matured” faster than everybody else in her grade who sat in the last seat of the bus and was Queen of the whole bus society. She used to bring a small radio with her to school everyday and used to blast the hell out of our local hip hop station. She also had a beautiful soulful singing voice and I can vividly remember her blasting “Freak Like Me” at full volume, dancing seductively in her seat, and singing along word for word as every boy in the bus stared in appreciation, and every girl secretly wished death upon her. I believe the first time she pulled this routine was the day that I discovered the joys of women. I thank Adina Howard for that. Wherever, she may be.

3. Masta Ace (Feat. Leschea) “Bklyn Masala”

Two summers ago, I spent two months in Ecuador working on a documentary as part of a student workshop at one of Quito’s local universities. There were five students involved including myself and I basically lived, worked, ate and socialized with these four other students, twenty four hours a day for two months straight. As the summer went on, I developed a rather contentious relationship with one of the girls involved in the program. Truthfully, I couldn’t stand the girl. We were almost complete opposites. She was in my mind eye’s an overly privileged Miami socialite and I was a general, all around eccentric/lunatic. The only common ground we would often find is that we both were insanely stubborn and both really liked arguing with each other. One particular highlight of our regular shouting matches was about the homeless problem in America in which at one point she said "Because I was a male, I couldn't understand the homeless situation as well as she could and therefore my opinions were invalid" (Editor's Note: As if...) which, of course, caused me to go off on her until I was subdued and dragged out of the room by my roommate. (In retrospect, I escalated a lot of the fights to shouting because I couldn't keep my mouth shut if she said something I found offensive or ridiculous. I wasn't an innocent in this.) Despite all that me and her always seemed to get stuck with each other by ourselves on some sort of assignment and in weaker moments, I found myself enjoying her presence despite myself. She was, after all, a very pretty girl, quite smart and although I’m loathe to admit it, I did enjoy a good verbal sparring session with another human being especially a woman. One weekend, the group decided we were going to travel to another city, Banos, to visit more of the country. The rest of the group had decided to leave a day early but me and the girl had decided that we were going to go take a bus the next day. As we took the bus on the several hour drive from the capital of Quito in the mountains across the beautiful desert landscape in Ecuador to Banos, I was playing Masta Ace’s criminally underrated 2004 masterpiece, A Long Hot Summer, on my iPod and staring out the window as she sat next to me peacefully asleep. I was drifting away myself when “Bklyn Masala” started to play on my iPod, staring out the window when I made a startling discovery. “Bklyn Masala” is a love song that tells the story of Ace falling in love with a beautiful Pakistani immigrant he meets in a local bodega in Brooklyn. The song itself is quite cheese ball, probably completely unrealistic and on retrospective not one of Ace’s finest moments but it does highlight Ace’s vivid but light hearted story telling ability and it does have a pretty hilarious line referencing Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” ("This may sound kind of Wu-Tang Clannish/but this Butter Pecan honey was not Spanish"). Anyway, the revelation that startled me was that despite all my better instincts, I sort of had a crush on ol’ girl. I was horrified. "This girl?!?! You have to be kidding me, hormones! Get your head in the game!" On retrospect, I guess it should have been obvious to me because I realized that I would get insanely jealous whenever a guy would hit on her when we were out but self delusion is a profound thing. The rest of the summer played out like a Greek tragedy (or more accurately, Shakespearean Farce) as I fruitlessly tried to reconcile my feelings, ultimately resolving to haplessly pursue the girl, fail spectacularly it should be legend, immediately regretting it and then spiraling into a level of despair and misery that only can be brought on by women. By the end of the summer, we weren't on good speaking terms. Ironically, after I left Ecuador, a few months later, the girl and I finally made up and came to an understanding, and I now count her as one of my better friends. Masta Ace will forever be associated with that summer and when I listen to that album, I always crack a sly knowing smile.

4. Jay-Z (Feat. Memphis Bleek) “Coming Of Age”

The drive from Cleveland to my college in Syracuse, New York takes about five and half hours along I-90 in which you can get a beautiful view of the vast spaces of nothing that stretch on for hundreds of miles. If you were to ask the typical non-Ohio native to give a general description about the state, they would describe miles and miles of empty farm land and wilderness. According to the general opinion of my state, we all grew up Amish on a farm but in my experience, the vast majority of the country is nothing but farm land and wilderness including a state as cosmopolitan as New York. In the course of my college career, I made the trek from my home in Cleveland to my school in Syracuse about 8 times a year over the course of four years for a grand total of about 32 times in my life. I would do this so much that I developed a routine over the years. I would always stop at the same rest stops, eat at the same McDonalds, and go to the same gas stations. It became almost a superstition. I would have to do this in order to please the malevolent Gods of Travel to ensure a safe journey across the states. One of my most cherished traditions was the selection of CDs, I would play in my car. Since I shun the radio with the type of passion only reserved for vampires and sunlight, it was an important part of the trip to select the right CD to listen to as I made my way. However, there was one CD that was indispensable from the ride, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. I like Reasonable Doubt quite a lot. Even though, it borrows heavily from masterpieces like Biggie’s Ready to Die and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, it has a transcendent quality that allows it to escape many of the Mafioso clichés that hamper other post-Cuban Linx gangster rap. Jay is just that good of a rapper on this album. My favorite cut from that album is “Coming Of Age,” Jigga’s legendary duet with #1 weed carrier for life, Memphis “Sorry, Beyonce! I’ll Always Be Jay’s True Love” Bleek. The song is really the perfect driving song if you are riding on the open road of a highway. The two note piano loop that forms the back bone of the song creates a hypnotic quality that makes the road seem it has a rhythm of its own. On a warm summer day, its awesome feeling to roll down your windows, let a cool breeze fill the car, and just lose yourself in the road to this song. There’s something cinematic about it that's just perfect for drifting into another world and even Bleek comes pretty correctly with his verse on the song.

5. Eminem “Still Don’t Give A Fuck”

In high school, I was a pretty angry kid. While never really openly rebellious, I had a notoriously bad, spoiled attitude that only can come from a combination of profound loneliness and suburban privilege. If I didn’t like a class, a teacher, or my state in life, I basically determined that I was gonna make life around me completely miserable by being passive aggressively hostile and violently apathetic to everybody around me. Needless to say, I wasn’t very popular with my classmates... or the teachers. It was rumored that I forced one of the Latin teachers into retirement by my steady refusal to do anything other than the bare minimal amount of effort and my heaping amounts of disdain I obviously had for the work. As high school grew on, I became more and more of a loner as I was openly disdainful of the privileged lives of my classmates and the hypocrisy of the community around me. I had enough of a reputation that when a rumor sprung up that I was planning to gun down the school in retaliation over years of being a walking punch line, nobody batted an eye or came to defense. It was one of my humiliating experiences of my life to have to explain to one of my teachers that no I wasn’t planning to gun the school down although if I caught the asshole who started the rumor you can best believe I was gonna smash him in his fucking jaw with a fucking baseball bat. Ultimately, it helped me realize the dark place I had gone to and it helped me become a better person. People didn’t understand me. I did want revenge on the school but it was a different kind of revenge. I wanted to expose everybody of their hypocrisies. In high school, I was exposed to the joys of listening to Eminem. Eminem’s first two LPs are kind of an escapist revenge fantasies of a nerdy picked on white kid that was extremely appealing to me. It was something I could deeply relate to. I was obsessed with The Slim Shady LP back then. I used to sit in my room and listen to “Still Don’t Give A Fuck” for hours, daydreaming about speaking at my high school graduation and breaking out into the opening verse of the song, telling everyone to go fuck themselves, and then walk off triumphantly with my middle finger in the air into the sunset where I undoubtedly would go on to great success as a famous filmmaker. The song is the last song on the album and has a sort of anthemic quality to it as Eminem spits frantic darkly humorous verses about not caring what anybody else thinks. The sort of stuff that he should get back to. Ultimately, I grew up and matured and realized that I was acting like a childish asshole and that I needed to improve my attitude. However, I still occasionally like to throw on some Slim Shady and reminisce about the days when I fashioned myself a young James Dean in backwards baseball cap and some headphones.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Free The Jena Six (And While We're At It Reincarcerate Yayo)

After reading Billy X. Sunday's drop on XXL.com this week about the Jena Six, it inspired me to write about their story on my own blog and help raise awareness of the tragedy and grave miscarrying of justice that is going on in Jena, Louisiana.

The basics of the story go like this: At Jena's local public high school, there is a so-called "white tree" in which the majority white students of the school would sit at lunch and hang out. A few black students asked the administration if they could sit there and the administration advised them they could sit wherever they want so one day they did. The next day after the incident, three nooses were hanging from the tree sending a very clear message to the students. The high school principal discovered the three students who were responsible and recommended expulsion only to be overruled by the white superintendent who claimed it was nothing more than a youthful prank and gave the culprits a slap on the wrist. Needless to say, protests were organized, factions were drawn, and stakes were high. A few days after the noose incident, a black student was beaten at a white party by drunken whites but no charges were filed against the student. Soon after six black students got into a confrontation and fight at Jena High with a white student who allegedly provoked the boys into a fight after calling them the "n-word" and making racial taunts. The students knocked down, punched, and kicked the white victim until the fight was broken up by teachers. The white victim was taken to the hospital treated for minor injuries and released. He even attended a social function later that evening. However, the six black students were arrested, arraigned, and brought up on second degree attempted murder charges. That’s right, ATTEMPTED MURDER CHARGES! They face up to 30 years in prison for their “crime.” They are facing an all-white jury, a white judge, and a white judge in a town that is known for its historically racist traditions. Their families are dirt poor and can’t afford to hire private attorneys.

One of these students has already been convicted and is currently awaiting sentencing in a trial that can be at best described as tragically farcical in nature. The defendants and their families are under immense pressure to plead guilty. It isn’t looking good with the rest of their chances on beating the charge.

This farce isn’t about your new school typical covert racism where African-Americans are passed over for promotions in jobs for their white counterparts but rather a throwback to old-school-Jim-Crow-throw-a-burning-cross-on-your-lawn racism and is qualified proof that racism still exists today in the darker parts of America. Recently, Hip Hop can often be seen defending the “plight” of dumb rappers who get caught on gun charges because they want to seem “real” or attempting to free such “political” prisoners as Tony “I Slap Fourteen Year Old Kids In The Face” Yayo. This is a chance to stand for a real cause of injustice and show the world that we still have a little of that ol’ Public Enemy spirit left in Hip Hop's dying flesh.

Read The Article On AlterNet about the Jena Six

FREE THE JENA SIX! (online petition)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Death Of The MC: From Lyrics and Flow to Ad-Libs and Swagger

The brain trust at MTV recently released their list of the top ten “hottest” MCs working in Hip Hop music today and to the shock of nobody my eyes rolled back into my head so far that I looked like I was one of those creepy kids from the Village of the Damned for a week. Surprising absolutely no one, Weezy F. Baby the so-called “Best Rapper Alive” won and the rest of the top ten were filled with such “titans” of raw lyricism as Jim Jones, Young Jeezy, 50 Cent and the corpse formerly known as Jay-Z (I kid, Jay, I kid). Let me get this straight, I don’t necessarily disagree with the choices of the panel. Lil’ Wayne with the possible exception of T.I. and Kanye West is just about the most popular rapper working in music right now. The notorious hater that I am even has to give it up to him that The Carter 2 was an excellent album and his mixtapes have be sufficiently listenable (which is triumph in the mixtape world. Note: I hate mixtapes.) even if he has dropped more inexplicably overrated lyrical clunkers than Young Jeezy could ever dream of. What struck me as particularly telling about the state of hip hop is how traditionally unskilled half of these rappers were and those who really are truly traditionally skilled (like Wayne, T.I. and Common) weren’t hot because of their lyrics but rather a nebulous quality known as “swagger.”

What is swagger? What defines it and why has it become the defining characteristic in determining what defines a rapper as hot? First, let me discuss a brief history of the evolution of the MC. Before the birth of the MC in the the prehistoric days of hip hop, there was only the DJ. The dude sat behind his turn tables and spun, mixed, and scratched records to get the crowd amped. Soon DJs such as DJ Hollywood began to experiment with call and response type chants and employing elementary level rhymes that encouraged crowd participation and helped brand their name to the public. From there, this evolved into what more commonly known as rappers or MCs who began to spit more and more complex rhymes who would virtually compete each other with who could come up with the more clever lyrics in their raps. For about ten years in the evolution of hip hop, the most important aspect of an emcees weaponry was considered their lyrics. Lyrics began to evolve from the simple couplets and basic stories of Kurtis Blow to the complex metaphors, wordplay and storytelling of Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee. Lyrics were all you had to be determined to be a hot emcee but soon the great evolutionary leap forward began with the God MC himself, Rakim, in 1986 who is generally considered to be the creator of the flow as well as the greatest living lyricist. Rakim changed the way an emcee sounded instead of shouting your lyrics over a beat you talked over it in a smooth, melodic fashion. A breakthrough. However, lyrics still remained your most important aspect in determining what actually defined a great emcee. This changed in the years between ‘93 and ‘95 when the Holy Triumvirate of Flow emerged on the scene when Biggie, Method Man & Snoop became the three biggest emcees on the planet (with all due respect to Pac and Nas). These three while great lyricists in their own right became known as what I have dubbed as the first “flow-ers” or rappers whose primary weapon was the delivery of the words or flow instead of the words they said themselves. They rode the beat, they bounced words off each other, their flow was complex and played off the rhythms of the song and all of this translated into millions of records sold and influence on a new generation of emcees that prided themselves on being able to “flow” instead of being lyrical. Ten years have past since the revolution of flow and we are in the midst of a new change, the Age of the Ad-lib and Swagger.

The Anti-Hip Hop Is Dead crowd consistently states that the music should be allowed to evolve and shouldn’t be trapped in an outdated mode of the boom bap sound. Fine, I’ll denote grudgingly that Hip Hop producers today are doing interesting and unique things with the music that don’t sound exactly like T.R.O.Y. and that's great but its hard to argue that the level of emceeing has fallen off tremendously from the glory days of Rakim to the days where Jim “I Never Met a Cliché’ I Didn't’ Rap About” Jones can knock off motherfucking Nas off a top ten list of hot rappers. The reasons that MTV brain trust offered were that Jim Jones has a tremendous amount of swagger that Nas does not. People want to dress like Jim Jones and not like Nas so apparently this qualifies him as hot. Personally, I wouldn’t really want to dress like either one because Jim Jones is a 50 year old man (31 years old, my ass. He’s already kicked in 40s door and he’s already at 50’s door with an axe. I want to see a damn birth certificate) and Nas dresses like my grandfather. Jim Jones, who prior to dropping We Fly High, was best known as the old man getting his ass kicked at the Rucker while his weed owner, Cam’ron, hops over the fence and books has become a huge star on the strength that people really like screaming “Ballin” when drunk at a bar. He’s a star not because he has vicious rhymes or a flow that could cure cancer but because he has stripped hip hop back to its root of a call and response chant, the ad-lib.

The ad-lib has become important in the games of numerous emcees most notably the Patron Saint of the movement, Young Jeezy. I don’t like Young Jeezy. He can’t rap in either the sense that he’s about as lyrical as an instrumental or the sense that his flow is simplistic to the point of laughability and half the time he doesn’t even bother to rhyme instead choosing to use the same word twice. He also makes some of the most generic and cheesy coke rap the world has ever seen. Even his production which some as praised as “monolithic” and “epic” to me define the words “monotonous” and “boring.” Listening to a Jeezy album is like listening to a slow downed generic version of an already generic 50 Cent gangsta rap song only if you put the song on repeat on your iPod and listened to it 20 times in a row. Its painful but miraculously some people seem to find this charming. Why? Jeezy seems to radiate something as miraculously nebulous as swagger. Jeezy has a charm that escapes a lot of rappers as he is capable of making himself appear to be a larger than life cartoon character that appeals to a large audience of hip hop fans.

Fine, whatever. Jeezy has an appeal that will forever escape me as I struggle to understand why you want to listen to the same bad song on repeat for an hour. New School Hip Hop apologists claim that Hip Hop is Deaders need to let the music grow and evolve but we should take care in noting what the music is evolving into. It is my opinion the current state of progress in hip hop is more devolution than evolution. The ad-libs of Jeezy and Jones are more in common with the call and response type chants of DJ Hollywood than with the complex lyricism of Rakim or even the creative and innovative delivery of Biggie. Hip Hop audiences seem to crave simplicity than complexity at the moment and artists like Jones and Jeezy have a quality that radiates with today’s hip hop fans at perhaps the expense of lyricism. Why is this? I don’t really know. It could be that corporatization of hip hop has stripped it of its nuance and complexities leaving us with the pale imitations of the greats of yesteryear and audiences have grown accustomed to being condescended towards or if you believe Bill Cosby and his ilk is because today’s youth are dumber and more rebellious than their elders. Or, it could be because audiences taste have simply shifted and they yearn for something fun without the proslythizing of the KRS-One's of the past.

Whatever the reason, hip hop music is devolving from the complex music of the mid-90s. As I watched Rap City the last week, I couldn’t help but notice that not many new school rappers appearing on the show seemed to aspire to be lyrical. The desire seemed to be who could come up with more fun hook, the more outlandish dance, the more unique swagger, the more ubiquitous ad-lib. In fact, it seems the Lil Wayne's of the New School are almost an anomaly and a throwback to the old school when the desire was to be the dopest lyricist around. Lil’ Wayne maybe limited in a sense as an emcee but I definitely appreciate the desire to be a great emcee in the traditional sense. What I’m wondering though will emcees eventually die out. The success of a lot of the songs on radio and Rap City seem to be almost superfluous to actually having any rapping actually appear on it. If Young Jeezy were to make any album of nothing but his signature production, him screaming his trademarks ad-libs over the song, and then a big gigantic catchy hook would it be just as successful as The Inspiration or is there still a level of rapping however minimal required to sell a record. Everybody wants to be a mogul these days and nobody wants to be a rapper. Will the day come when the DJs come to reclaim the earth?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Not So Quiet Desperation

Judging by his recent actions, 50 Cent is scared right now. Really scared. He's been lashing out at everybody and everything and as Judgement Day approaches on September 11th, its growing more and more apparent that not only is Kanye West going to outsell him but he might just go plastic wood grain, himself.

Nothing seems to be going right for 50 Cent in the last few years (well except for the fact he just made like a half billion on motherfucking Vitamin Water). Since he dropped The Game like a bad habit in the winter of ‘05, 50 has seen all of his most cherished weed carriers flop miserably; he’s been constantly harassed, humiliated, and badgered by The Game whose been acting like 50’s crazed ex-girlfriend for the last couple years; he’s seen the same crazed ex-girlfriend see his career blow up and flourish without 50; he’s had his shit pushed back twice; and finally he’s released 5 singles which the general public have treated like they are cursed with the plague. It would’ve been a terrible few years for Mr. Curtis Jackson if it weren’t for the fact the man is worth more money than God.

Flopping wouldn’t be so scary to 50 if he hadn’t spent the last few years attacking other artists for not selling, not having enough money and attempting to be - horror of all horrors -“artistic” and have “integrity.” He’s made a career on the fact that he’s supposedly invincible and literally bullet-proof stemming both from the infamous nine bullets and his impeccable track record. Between the years 2003 & 2005, 50 Cent was able to not only sell millions records for himself but his untalented weed carriers, too (even Yayo did a respectable 500,000 for his crime against humanity in album form, Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon). Making matters worse is that he has not let the world forget his triumphs and everybody else’s failures. He’s attacked Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Nas, Mobb Deep, The Game, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Wayne, Baby, Kanye West, and even Banks & Buck for not selling as many records as he does and mocking their supposed foibles in the process (and thats just after he got famous if you include his How To Rob Days....whoo boy.) He’s not been humble. He’s not been decent. He’s not been playing fair. If he flops, the king is going to fall.

The problem, 50 Cent, is facing is that nobody stays on top forever and now that the tables are turning, the flood gates are about to open and the people that 50 Cent have kicked are going to be clamoring at the walls of his home in Connecticut calling for 50’s head. Have you ever noticed that nobody ever appears on any of 50’s records or vice versa except Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit affiliates? Why is that? Perhaps because 50 Cent has slowly become persona non grata in the hip hop industry. He’s shown a complete lack of respect for everybody in the industry since the How To Rob Days and you figure that people who literally begging to get a 50 Cent feature on their record considering he was the most popular artist in the genre but nobody wants anything to do with him. 50 seems to be the worst type of hater in the sense that he wants to be the only one who is successful and everybody else has to fail.

Witness the fact that he’s been slowly but surely baiting Kanye West for years. A few years ago, 50 Cent took a cheap shot against Kanye by calling him “safe” and basically accused him of being a minstrel for the white man since he dressed like a white college frat boy and didn’t rap about being a thug. It was a cheap shot. It was ironically laughable. It was totally uncalled for. It seemed as if 50 was jealous of the critical adulation that escaped him and wanted to tear Kanye down for his achievements. Kanye being smart didn’t respond and get into a pointless beef that he can’t win. Now that Kanye West is looking like he’s going to hand him ass on the charts since everything from the relative popularity of his singles, the quality of the music that is being leaked, and the pre-sales all seem to indicate that Kanye is going to be victorious, 50 is doing everything but calling him a faggot in attempt to discredit him. Kanye being smart and coming from the Jay-Z School of letting your opponent dig a hole for themselves is watching 50 making outlandish statement after outlandish statement knowing that he has nothing to lose by playing it cool. If 50 Cent wins, it’s expected since 50 Cent is the biggest star in music, he still looks good because he doesn’t have any Yayo-esque predications that were wrong and he gets to sell a shit load of records in the process. If Kanye wins, he’s crowned the new King of Hip Hop and has the privilege of the man who finally knocked off the biggest villain in hip hop history.

The original title, Before I Self-Destruct, seems oh so relevant these days. Everything that 50 is doing is reeking of desperation lately, the shit fest he threw after the Robin Thicke single got leaked in the Interscope Offices, the Jimmy Iovine diss track, the Lil Wayne diss track all reek of a desperation of somebody who knows that there time is up and can see the proverbial writing on the wall. Ultimately, people grow tired of tyrants and the clock is ticking on the biggest one of all. All young kings get their head cut off and Curtis is at the guillotine.

The Lingering Bullshit Of Don Imus & The Nas/Virginia Tech Controversy Aka Bill O'Reilly Is A Racist Fuck

Don’t get it twisted, I love hip hop. I must have been whacked on the head or something when I was child growing up in the “mean” streets of Shaker Heights, Ohio because I wasn’t attracted to the whiny melodramatic ranting of modern rock music like so many of my peers but rather the menacing thump of an 808. It made me different. Hip Hop just connected with me. I was the nerdy kid in glasses who could freestyle his ass off and not only recite the 9 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in official order but debate the relative merits of Cappadonna and Street Life in inclusion as an official member as well.

I used to get personally offended when I heard some opportunistic politician or professional media asshole decry hip hop as violent and misogynistic because the treatment of their target was simplistic, lacking in nuances and usually showed a complete disregard for the actual facts. I would passionately defend hip hop to my teachers, parents and even sometimes my friends who didn’t understand the music and the culture around it. Recently though, I find it harder and harder to defend the music. Not because I don’t love the music as much as I did when I was younger but because the nuance of it as all gone. A song like “Fuck The Police” certainly qualifies as being violent but the song has many layers of nuance in the song’s message that complicates the story. If you were so inclined, you could read it as a song that as an immoral call to murder police officers like the F.B.I., Tipper Gore, and every other politician with a constituency to scare in the late 80s did. You could also read the actual intention in the song was to expose and protest racist cops for beating on and harassing poor black teenagers in the ghetto. That makes things complicated and that's where great art arises. However, Its a whole lot harder to defend 50 Cent when he completely rejects the notion of the art itself and actively maintains its a business to the point he will throw anybody and everybody under a bus for his own financial gain.

However, there has been one story in recent times that has gotten me mad again over the treatment of hip hop in the media and one that we must take as a reflection as fans of the music because it speaks more to state of the music as well as the music is perceived by everybody else. That story, of course, is the proposed boycott of Virginia Tech concert because Nas was asked to perform. Why? Because Nas is supposed “violent” lyrics since he is a “gangsta” rapper. Parents of the Virginia Tech victims, various uninformed commentators, and Asshole Racist Supreme, Bill O’Reilly, have screamed bloody murder at the inappropriateness of Nas performing at a vigil for murder victims because he is in the words of O’Reilly a “gangsta rapper” and according to one of the parents who organized the boycott “indicative of the moral decay of society.”

This is ridiculous on a number of levels. The number one reason, of course, being is that Nas is not a gangsta rapper. As anybody who has a passing familiarity with Nas can attest to Nas’ catalogue is way too diverse and complex to be shoved into one particular box. He is just as likely to make a song about drug dealing, murder, and crime as he is to make a song about conflict diamonds in Africa or the love he has for his wife. Nas has long stood as one of paragons of just what hip hop can do. His catalogue and artistic credibility although not completely flawless should speak for itself. Hip Hop fans everywhere treat “Illmatic” as if its the Holy Bible translated into Hip Hop form. When Nas as his creative peak and chooses to rap about the violence, it transcends the standard and cliched “I’m just reporting the reality of the streets” defense because he not only reports violence but comments and brings a detailed and nuanced context of what the violence does. In my mind’s eye, its appropriate to have somebody perform at a concert against violence who explicitly deals with and makes music about the violence in a mature and adult way. While Nas on occasion has veered into exploitation of violence in the past, his overall track record is so diverse that it simply mitigates his supposed sins.

What bothers me the most about the controversy is what this says about the way people view hip hop in the media today. Don Imus in his all his ignorant glory was able to deflect his own bigotry miraculously after the Rutgers Women’s Basketball scandal onto hip hop although by all accounts Don Imus is not nor has ever been “hip hop.” The media always looking for an easy target looked at the artistic decay hip hop has gone through in the last millennium and decided to pounce on it like hyenas tearing into the flesh of a wounded gazelle. Its true hip hop has become more simplistic but Nas who by all accounts in perhaps hip hop’s greatest living artist and emcee should be above the discussion. His last album dealt with the same issues that the media is tearing hip hop apart for now.

All of this leads me to one conclusion, in the eyes of most people hip hop is still considered utter trash and despicable despite 30 years of rich history and artistry. To most people, hip hop equals violence and there is no difference between somebody like Nas and somebody like 50 Cent. When Bill O’Reilly took Nas to task on a recent show of his, there was an assurdness in his voice that Nas was evil and corrupter of society simply because he raps instead of plays the guitar. He cherry picked a few lyrics from Nas’ worst album and assumed that was the sum of all of his music. This isn’t just an anomaly of one or two racist commentator on Fox News or a couple of politicians trying to scare up a few more votes but rather to me the norm. I feel most people do not respect or bother to understand the culture.

What scares me the most is that in the face of hip hop’s dwindling sales, the numerous and stupid petty crimes that rappers get involved with, and the endless vilification of the genre that hip hop perhaps is on its way to its proverbial death. If hip hop doesn’t sell and its facing the endless wrath of powerful people what's the incentive for labels to put out any hip hop music. Its just not worth it. Plenty of genres have died out in the past. What makes Hip Hop any different than Disco? Hip Hop artists and fans need to seriously reflect on the state of the music and think to themselves why is it that everybody says we are violent, sexist sociopaths and more importantly what we can do to fix it. Hip Hop’s got a major image problem and its not going away if we don’t do anything to change the way people perceive us.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Not A Blogger Does A Week In Rap City: Part III

Aaaaaaand I'm back for day number three in my week long exploration of the wonderful world of BET's Rap City. At this point in the week, I'm starting to see most of these videos being repeated so I apologize if I sound cranky that I have to re-review videos that I thought were g'awful the first time around but I'll do my best.

Q-45 is back to enlighten us with his special brand of veejaying along with DJ B-Lord for the third consecutive day. B-Lord apparently likes to wear t-shirts swaddled around his head. Do the guest DJs on this show actually do anything other than offer somebody to Q-45 to ask dumb questions to? Because as far as I can tell they just play the same song repeatedly whenever they cut to the studio.

The first video of the day is.....ughhh, Kia Shine's "So Krispy." On closer inspection of this video, I notice it sort of subtly jacks the concept to Spike Lee's joint for the original Crooklyn Dodgers video. What with Spike's patented floating shot and all. It would almost be cool if Kia was worth a damn and it wasn't clearly shot in front of a green screen. Seriously, now. And also, Kia really should reconsider wearing his braids down because its making him look a little more effeminate than he probably wants. Not that I care but I'm sure it matters to the type of people who are creeped out by the fact Weezy calls Baby his daddy. Which is pretty much everybody on the Earth.

"Read A Book" plays next. I like this video but I still get a weird feeling watching this. Its a problematic video because I think the artist looks down on a portion of the people who it seeks to enlighten. There's definitely a level of condescension towards poor black people and it shows throughout the video and song. Its funny and satirical but at the same it treats some quotient of black people as degrading stereotypes which is absolutely not helping the problems it seeks to remedy. Still I think its kind of fresh that the crunk sound is being used to be socially conscious as opposed to the traditional boom bap New York sound that most conscious songs rely on.

But whatever, "You Know What It Is!" As a general rule, if I see the words "Featuring Wyclef Jean" on any song dated after 1996, I run the opposite direction but this isn't nearly as terrible as it could've been. Its kind of catchy, actually. The video basically jacks "Big Pimpin" wholesale but if you're gonna steal a video concept than you might as well as steal from hip hop's most glorious monument to conspicuous consumption there is. In fact, T.I.'s video could use Dame Dash pouring some champagne on Gloria Velez' breasts. Thats always a plus.

After some commercials, we return to the "melodious" strains of Gorilla Zoe's "Hood Figga." I can't imagine that that many women are attracted to Gorilla Zoe no matter how much of a "hood figga" he thinks he is so this song is basically bullshit. I notice Yung Joc is hanging around in the background of the video. Is Gorilla Zoe Joc's weed carrier? That would be just...sad.

Q-45 introduces us next to a "classic" freestyle from the Booth featuring Bone Thugs-N-Harmony dated all the way back to May 2007. Wow, May 2007! Those were some different times, eh? 50 Cent only had two terrible singles out that they were shoving down my throat, T.I. was just about to release a terribly mediocre album, and the shoes that I'm wearing right now only had slightly less scuff marks than they do now. Apparently, BET's definition of "classic" is defined as anything that didn't happen today.

Common "The People" plays next. You know when Common started schilling for the GAP last winter, I justified it to myself by saying that every rapper is allowed to compromise their art under the immutable law of hip hop that states "any morally questionable action is immediately justified as long its under the holy pursuit of money." But the fact, this video suddenly turns into a subtle ad for the GAP in the video is too much. Watch this video again and tell me this isn't an ad for GAP's new line of green polo shirts.

Kanye West "Cant Tell Me Nothing"

Kanye West: Yo, Hype! I've got this crazy idea for my new video.
Hype Williams: Does it involve lots of fish eye lens shots, copious amounts of
video hoes, and the words "A Hype Williams Clusterfuck"
at the beginning of the video written in money.
Kanye West: No. I want to go to the desert, rap over-dramatically into the camera,
as a woman in a flowing black dress dances around, then a
Lamborghini drives by.
Hype Williams: Isn't that a Madonna video?
Kanye: Yes, but it shows how artistic I am.
Hype Williams: I think you need to get Zach Galfinakis to do your video, instead.

Here's an interesting anecdote about Lil' Scrappy that occurred to me. Back around Christmas of last year when this album came out, I was at this Christmas party at my friends house. This friend has absolutely no interest in hip hop whatsoever and basically listens to the type of hipster rock bullshit that I avoid like it has the plague. Anyway, there on his kitchen table was a copy of Bred 2 Die, Born 2 Live in all of its glory. I had no idea why it was there and still don't know why it was there. Basically, thats how I feel about watching his new video I just wanna know why.

Final Thoughts: Its now three days into my little experiment and surprisingly, I have not begin to feel any major effects. I was expecting at this point to be fighting off the uncontrollable urge to do the Chicken Noodle Soup dance, rob a bank, and sell copious amounts of illegal substances but other than this headache I'm nursing I can't say I'm any worse for the wear. Maybe, Bill O'Reilly is wrong about rap music.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Not A Blogger Does A Week In Rap City: Part II

Welcome back, "loyal" readers (or somebody who accidentally stumbled onto this page) to Day 2 of Rap City Week on Not A Blogger. Yesterday, I subjected myself to an hour of rap videos, budget ass production values, and Q45's relentlessly awkward chemistry with the viewing public. Our hero is back today with guest DJ, B-Lord, for the second straight day. B-Lord looks kind of like Carlos Santana today in his head wrap and is wearing a ridiculously glittery shirt with the words "Trojan Man" WRITTEN on it. If I were a less enlightened individual, I might be saying to myself "no homo" right about now. Luckily, I am a mature and sensible human being.

Thank the heavens! They've decided to play the one video thats actually worth a damn today on Rap City, UGK's "International Player's Anthem." I can't state exactly how much I love this particular video. I've watched this video maybe 50 to 60 times since it came out and its still stunning. The concept, the music, the verses, Pimp C's outfit...All fucking choice. Unfortunately, they didn't play the intro today so it just kicks off in Andre's verse but let me ask you one thing, what's with Pimp C and cell phones? Am I missing something? Is that a weird fetish of his? I'm not sure I approve. Although, that hat is just...wow.

Kia Shine's "Krispy" is up next. I don't like this song but this is just vapid enough to sell a lot of ring tones to people who don't know any better. It has everything it needs to be a hit: "Laffy Taffy"-esque demo button on a Casio Keyboard production, a hook based on a popular slang word, a slightly feminine rapper in braids speaking in a Southern accent, a pre-packaged dance, and I swear those are the drums to "Paul Revere" in the background. I hate when crappy rappers butcher old school rap classics. Why? Because I live to hate.

Chamillionaire "Hip Hop Police" plays next. I really liked "Ridin" last year when you couldn't escape it if you had even a remote interest in music but I'm not sure if this is going to recapture the magic of that song. Don't get me wrong. This is light years better than most rap music but I can't imagine this capturing the imagination of Weird Al and becoming such a ubiquitous hit mostly because the plight of dumb ass rappers who go down on gun charges is not the travesty of justice that they think it is. Mostly because they always get off with probation and taking the fall for the gun is what the Tony Yayo's of the world are for in the first place. They certainly aren't there for their rap skills. If an actual rapper is caught with a gun thats just blind stupidity. I do think this video is pretty hilarious though especially the part where Jay-Z gets arrested on yacht in St. Barthez. Thats just cold, Cham. Thats cold.

Cleveland's own Bone Thugs-N-Harmony "Lil L.O.V.E." is next up on the show featuring Crazy Ol' Mariah Carey , Jermaine "I Can't Believe My Midget Ass is Still Fucking Janet Jackson" Dupri, and Lil Bow Wow's delusional ass. This video is really more like a Mariah Carey featuring Bone Thugs video than a Bone Thugs featuring Mariah Carey video but whatever. I guess its all good because the world doesn't really need to be staring at Wish Bone's face any longer than necessary. You know, Mariah Carey maybe bat shit crazy in the Lauryn Hill sense of the word but she's still damn hot.

Q-45 segues into 50 Cent's "I Get Money" by calling it the hottest record out right now which summarily gets the gas face from me. Its more like the hottest record that Jimmy Iovine is forcing down our throats of all the recent 50 Cent abortions he's been forcing down our throats the last few months but I digress. I will admit I do kind of love this song but any song that combines Audio Two and the drums from "I'm A Hustla" is going to make me a happy camper. MC Rove could spit over this and I'd probably like it.

I have stated on multiple times that I feel the success of Young Jeezy is more due to the Def Jam marketing and A&R departments than any musical talent and vision this guy has. To me, he defines boring. All of his songs sound virtually identical, all of them feature some of the worst lyrics in recent hip hop history, and all of them manage to be about one frickin' subject. USDA "Corporate Thuggin" somehow manages to be particularly heinous even for Jeezy. This is what you get when you strip Jeezy from his Def Jam masters and you get this partial birther. Although, its fitting that this is such a budget ass video for such a budget ass song.

After the commercial break, Q-45 sprinkles some more of his trademark painful on-screen banter with B-Lord about Little Brother of all groups and asks him his opinion about Ninth Wonder leaving the group. I'm not sure if I'm more shocked that Q-45 is a fan of Little Brother or he expects anybody who watches BET with any regularity knows or cares about who Little Brother is. I'm sort of surprised that Reginald Hudlin didn't run out and tackle Q the second the words "Minstrel" and "Show" were uttered in succession on Black Entertainment Television.

Of course, any good will Q-45 has engendered with me is instantly squandered by the fact that he plays Yung Berg's "Sexy Lady (The Remix)" featuring Jim Jones and Rich Boy next. Tell me why does Jim Jones have a career? And why is he on every remix of every remotely popular song? And somebody get Rich Boy a sandwich.

Kafani feat. Keak Da Sneak "Fast (Like A Nascar}" I thought hyphy music flopped miserably last year when E-40 bricked. Why is this coming back? Why?

Mims "Like This" I think its kind of hysterical that Mims is bragging that he had a #1 ring tone on this track. I think its kind of hysterical that Mims has a career. I don't think its hysterical that Mims got to release an album before Saigon and Papoose.

Swizz Beatz "Money In The Bank" Swizz Frickin' Beatz gets the first repeat play of the week and the last video of the episode. I discovered that the second song at the end of the video is called "Top Down" by my keen powers of observation and research skills. That beat is still money. Too bad, Swizzy isn't an actual emcee or it might actually be a half decent song. Who told him he was Kanye West?

Final Thoughts: Once again, we didn't get anybody spitting anything in the Booth which is always the highlight of this show. I thought it was sort of interesting that Q45 actually likes Little Brother. I mean the news that 9th and the rest of LB had split is months old and completely not news but what can you expect from BET.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Not A Blogger Does A Week In Rap City: Part I

Greetings, fellow haters of the world! It is I, the Good Doctor Zeus, bringing you the first ever post on my brand spankin' new hip hop blog, Not A Blogger. I have been spent the last few years lurking about the hip hop corner of the internet where I gained a fairly minimal reputation on several blogs and message boards of being a notorious hater of modern rap music, critic of those who deign to like it, and general pompous asshole. Recently, I decided that I, myself, would venture into the treacherous world of hip hop blogging and bring a perspective that the hip hop blogs of the world so sorely lack. I felt the world could use one more hater so here I am posting my first ever post on a topic that needs no introduction to those who love rap music as much as I do...BET's gigantic clusterfuck known only as Rap City.

I have never been a gigantic fan of Rap City even its glory days of when Big Tigger was hosting the show and standing awkwardly behind the world's most talented rappers as they spit their freestyles in the Booth but now that Q45 is standing awkwardly behind the world's least talented rappers as they spit their "freestyles" (*cough* verses off their mixtapes *cough*), I find myself being overwhelmed by the extreme vapidness of it all and can't take it longer than like ten minutes that I sit in front of the TV hoping that they'll play something not Al Jolson-esque. I thought it would be an interesting social experiment to sit and watch the show for a week and find out whats popular in hip hop these days, and if watching too much BET can actually kill you. Let's start the show.

Everybody's favorite master of the awkward conversation, Q-45, is hosting today along with some random ass Southern DJ named B-Lord. B-Lord kind of reminds me of DJ Drama in the same sense that I can't tell what race he actually is. He sort of speaks like Paul Wall (*eww*) which would suggest that he is white but he is rocking the same goatee that B-Real rocks so he might be Hispanic. Apparently, he's gonna be hanging around for the rest of the week so maybe I'll get to the bottom of this.

The first video they show is Ludacris, Chingy, Small World, & Steph Jones' Celebrity Chick. Of all the rappers to squash their beef and to start making music with each other, again, why did it have to be Ludacris and Chingy? Apparently, Ghostface isn't even speaking with the Wu right now but the world gets subjected to another Disturbing Tha Peace record. Fantastic! I'm so glad I'm gonna be having to be listening to "Holidae Inn" Part II for the next few months every time I go to a remotely swanky bar in Manhattan. And Steph Jones looks just like Justin Guarini. Eww.

Holy shit! Rap City is playing the "Read A Book" video. What?! You're kidding me? I still don't know how I feel about this video because I'm not sure if the message (which is noble and totally relevant) is compromised by the slightly condescending attitude it has towards the people its informing. I think it skates the fine line of being satirical and racist. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the reason this is being played is some BET Executive watched this video on mute and saw the visuals were sufficiently ignorant enough for the BET "core" audience and decided to put it on air. Because you know BET doesn't like anything too intelligent for their audience. They might just go...you know, read a book. What up, Phonte!

After the break, the next record is Gorilla Zoe's "Hood Figga." I don't have anything remotely interesting to say about this record because this defines bland and generic Jeezy-esque southern rap music. The most I can say about this video is that Gorilla Zoe makes some particularly menacing facial expressions at the camera. I'm sure this record is gonna be huge because of it. Swagger is the new adlib.

Lil Scrappy's Tupac-Biting "Living In The Projects" is up next. Its okay for what it is I suppose but I'm willing to bet without actually listening to or have any desire to listen to Bred 2 Die, Born 2 Live that this is the sensitive "I'm So Sorry" thug ballad that closes the album out (and even if it isn't it should be). All hip hop albums have to end on the redemptive contemplative slow jam. It's the law.

After a bunch of commercials trying to sell me ringtones, we come back with Swizz Beatz' "Money In The Bank." Wow! This video is busy! It somehow manages to out annoy "Its Me, Snitches!" in terms of sheer seizure inducing glory. I kind of like it. The song in the middle switches beats up and becomes the sort of triumphant soul infused goodness that Jay-Z would've ripped in the Blueprint era. Swizzy, of course, butchers it. Who told him he was allowed to rap? He needs to stop and give that beat to like Ghostface or somebody.

You know I could totally see Common wandering around the southside of Chicago on his day off giving random people hugs and telling them "not to eat pork"or something vaguely uplifting as they stand there mildly amused because there is a camera crew following him around. Its cool for what it is but why does it have to turn into a Gap commercial midway through. Somebody needs to tell Common that just because he is schilling for the Gap these days doesn't mean he needs to dress like my fifty year old dad. That being said the more I listen to "The People" the more I like it. I'm a sucker for disembodied vocal samples.

Next up, we have Swizz Beatz' (again...) butchering "Big Things Poppin" along with Cassidy and Fabolous in some sort of ill conceived You-Tube Remix video. Why? You know, its great to see Cassidy working with Fabolous because I always considered Cassidy to be a bootleg Fabolous in the first place so now we get two mediocre rappers with the same style for the price of one. If only Lloyd Banks showed up...if only...

Ja Rule's "Uh-Ohhh" plays like a kind of an ambiguously gay version of "Brooklyn's Finest" but I think I'm growing to actually really like this one. I kind of like the way they try to top each other with each verse they spit and even Ja brings his " A" game out even if his "A" game is most rappers "C" game. At least, Ashanti's nowhere in sight. Say what you want to say about Lil' Wayne, he sort of kills his verse on this one. If he wasn't the most annoying figure in hip hop today, I might actually become a fan of his.

After some awkward banter between Q-45 and B-Lord over a game of pool the show closes out with Yung Berg's "Sexy Lady." Oh, great. An R&B singer singing through a motherfucking vocoder. How novel. I have this theory that any rapper with the name Young, or Lil gets 30% wacker simply because of the massive unoriginality of their name. Berg gets bonus points because he spells it incorrectly sending him into Mims levels of wackness. The one thing this video has going for it is the song switch at the end of the video where he tries to act all hard and gully is off the charts on the unintentional comedy scale. I'm sorry, my friend, but you can't bite Chingy's gimmick for 95% of your first video and expect anybody to think your Bumpy Knuckles the next 5%. It ain't happening. Cassidy tried it on his first record and he had to kill his own weed carrier on his second record to make people forget.

Final Thoughts: This was a pretty boring day on Rap City. Nobody went into the Booth today and the videos were pretty bland. I'll be back tomorrow for some more commentary on the show.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Coming Soon...

Hell is about to freeze over...