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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Gods Of Rap Return...Sort Of...: Jay-Z’s “Blue Magic” vs. Wu-Tang Clan’s “Watch Ya Mouth”

Its kind of odd, really and yet a true testament to the diversity and size of the ‘90s New York hardcore rap renaissance that such giants of the scene, Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan, paths never really crossed. The ‘90s New York rap scene was somewhat fractious in the 90s despite so much great and classic music being produced. Wu-Tang for the most part played with themselve and their numerous weed carriers except with Nas and Mobb Deep. Jay worked with Biggie and Bad Boy. Sure, there were supposedly a legendary freestyle battle between Jay-Z and The GZA in the stone ages and also a post-incarceration Ol’ Dirty Bastard inexplicably signed with Roc-a-fella in 2003 but that had more to do with Dame Dash’s desire to escape Jay’s shadow than Hov’s desire to connect with the Wu-Tang Clan. After all, Jay-Z’s rise to uber superstardom in the New York rap scene coincided with the Wu’s fall from grace. So its kind of fitting that Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan are both planning to release “comeback” albums in “November” (or in the Wu’s case Neveruary) “scheduled” one week apart from each other. Both camps have released new records lately that have had the internets buzzing but which one is better and which is one is ultimately going to be the better record. Needless to say, one of these upcoming albums is needed more than the others.

When Jay-Z “retired” in 2003, despite the fact no one really believed that he was actually retiring, it did seem liike he got the proper send-off. “The Black Album” in some respects seemed like the perfect farewell to such an important artist in the genre. The album was a commercial and artistic success filled with triumphant celebratory uptempo bangers (Yet, again. That word. Ugh.) and feel good mid tempo farewell jams. The irony of it was that despite all the hoopla surrounding Jay’s retirement was that we really didn’t need to hear anymore, Jay-Z albums, anymore. He already peaked two years prior to that as an artist with “The Blueprint” so “The Black Album” really felt that this was the album that he should leave hip hop on. He had long tired out the cool, calculating drug kingpin persona he crafted on “Reasonable Doubt” and had perfected by “The Blueprint” and had firmly made the transition to Corporate CEO and middle age. So when “Kingdom Come” was announced out of the blue last year, I was one of the few people in the world that was not excited. Jay-Z as shown in his numerous guest verses in post-retirement years had shown a consistent downgrade in flow, delivery and lyricism and stories that the album was recorded in little over a few weeks just screamed fourth quarter cash-in record. Needless to say, I was right. Other than a few records on “Kingdom Come” like the title track, “Lost Ones”, “Trouble”, and “The Prelude”, everything on the record feels like half finished filler rushed to meet a deadline. Even at the ripe age of twenty four, I don’t necessarily have a problem with a record that explores the many nuances of growing old in a genre as notoriously youth obsessed as hip hop but “Kingdom Come” sounds extremely rushed and half thought. “Anything” (not to be confused with “Anything”) just may be the worst song that Jay-Z ever recorded if not for the existence of “Sunshine” and “Hollywood” is so bad, its show tunes. If anybody tells you that “Kingdom Come” is not the worst Jay-Z album by a wide margin than don’t take anything they say about hip hop seriously.

After all that was said and done about his last album, its understandable that Jay-Z would want to wash the bad taste out of his fan’s mouths. As I have mentioned before in my 50 Cent post from last week, if Jay-Z is one thing, he is a savvy observer of hip hop trends. Jay-Z has always been able to stay on the cutting edge of hip hop by keeping his ear glued to the street and listening for the hottest trends in hip hop which is why he’s been able to maintain a level of longevity and dominance thats been unheard of in hip hop outside of James Todd Smith. Jay-Z, realizing that a major part of the mediocre level of success that “Kingdom Come” had was because that Jay had strayed from his classic kingpin formula, has decided to make an album inspired by and with the same name with the upcoming Ridley Scott gangster epic, “American Gangster”. Personally, for me I found this news to be even less exciting than when I heard of the existence of “Kingdom Come.” Shortly after the album’s existence was announced last week, the first single “Blue Magic” was released to the public and my opinion on the song is deceptively mixed. “Blue Magic” isn’t a bad song per se but its the direction the song is going in that leads me to believe that “American Gangster” might be the worst idea that Jay-Z has had yet. First off, “Blue Magic” which is fittingly produced by The Neptunes and sounds like a weird cross between Hell Hath No Fury era Clipse and Rakim’s “My Melody” if interepted by Young Jeezy. On “Blue Magic,” we find Hov employing a Rakim-esque whisper flow and rhyming about making crack. Greeeeaaatttt! In the last few years, there has been no particular trend in hip hop that has annoyed me more than crack rap. Crack rap (not to be confused with mafioso rap pioneered by Raekwon, Ghost and yes, Jay-Z himself) can be loosely defined as rappers with little to no imagination dedicating entire albums on the art of selling cocaine by employing cheesy one liners comparing cocaine to white girls or something equally insipid. Now, there has been great art produced out of this genre but it has been extremely fleeting (The Clipse are the only known act who has successfully made great music with such dumb ass material. Consider it an anomaly.) so if Jay-Z is going to make a crack rap album consider me off the boat. “Blue Magic” for what it is, actually is halfway decent. The Neptunes, for once, have brought their A game and Jay-Z is at least attempting to not rap about his 401k for once. The problem is that its tolerable despite itself. Jay-Z’s formerly vaunted lyricism has downgraded to at times an almost Jeezian level. At one point in the record, he actually says with a straight face “The D.A.’s trying to indict me/I got fishscales in my veins like a pisces.” Somewhere Jaz-O just threw up in his mouth. Some critics have been calling “Blue Magic” a return to form but to me, “Blue Magic” seems almost like a desperation move to connect with a younger audience more obsessed with Young Jeezy and his adlibs than Ghostface and his nuance. I’m not sure Jay-Z has enough gas in the tank as a rapper to make “American Gangster” anything other than a hallow shell of “Reasonable Doubt.”

Unlike Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan never got the proper exit they deserved. “Iron Flag” released shortly after “The W” and in the wake of 9/11 seemed as almost an afterthought for the Wu and despite it being a fairly enjoyable record really doesn’t feel like it should be the last Wu-Tang record. It doesn’t feel like a true Wu-Tang record in some senses because Ol’ Dirty Bastard doesn’t even appear on the record and it was released shortly before Loud Records folded which contributed to the fact that “Iron Flag” despite being an official Wu-Tang record feels almost like an obscurity or a compliation disc instead of a worthy successor to the Wu-Tang mythology. “8 Diagrams” needs to exist. For a loyal Wu-Tang stan like myself, we need closure on the Wu as a group. “8 Diagrams” needs to be classic because after six years of waiting for Wu-Tang to get their shit together if they ever to hope to make anyone care about them ever again, it has to be. And if its any indication, the recently released street single, “Watch Ya Mouth”, feels like it could be.

First off, the best part of “Watch Ya Mouth” is that it brings the menace back to the Wu-Tang Clan sound. If the biggest flaw in the post-Forever albums is that “The W” and “Iron Flag” both lost their sense of menace and grit which is a major part of why people fell in love with Wu-Tang in the first place. The albums sounded way too clean and polished plus its very hard to be scared of the Wu-Tang when they are dressing up like caveman and cheesily flying around fighting ninjas. “Watch Ya Mouth” with its rumbling bass and strings brings a sense of menace to the proceedings that help to re-establish what made the Wu-Tang great in the first place. A lot of people have been complaining about the chorus but I love the way the chorus begins to melt into the bass and become of the guttural rumble of the song when Masta Killa is telling us to “watch our motherfucking mouth.” It brings a sense of dread to the song that seems to say “Don’t forget who the fuck we are! We are the motherfucking Wu-Tang Clan! You Best Protect Ya Neck, kid!” Its thrilling to hear a few of the greats get back to their signature sound after such a long hiatus. The song conceptually doesn’t string too far from their proven formula but for the most part their fans want their formula of razor sharp lyrics and gritty hardcore production. The Wu-Tang have always been stronger as a unit anyway. With the exception of Ghostface and possibly Raekwon, time has passed them as a singles artists but we all seem to forget that people still love the Wu-Tang as a group. However, if "8 Diagrams" sounds anything like this record than you can count on one happy fan.

The paradox of being a successful artist for so long is that ultimately whatever you do, you are going to displease and lose some of your fans. Pop music stardom is a fickle thing. It is so image conscious and dependent on the zeitgeist that its hard to maintain the same level success that you've always had. Jay-Z has managed for the most part to stave off the artists' inevitable fall from grace by staying ahead of the trends and reinventing his image as a globe trotting playboy C.E.O. while the Wu-Tang have managed to keep an extremely loyal but much smaller fan base by sticking with a proven formula. The Wu-Tang and Jay-Z represent almost complete polar opposites attitude about hip hop music but November could be the month we get the final swan songs for both of these storied artists. While I'm personally trying to reserve my enthusiasm for fear of another "Kingdom Come" fiasco, I'm secretly hoping that for at least one month, I can forget hip hop's bloated festering carcass. Suuuuue!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not A Blogger Kills Rap City, The Ballocaust & Other Quick Thoughts For A Thursday

- I'm doing a lazy post today because I'm bored and lazy and after writing that exhaustive 50 Cent expose yesterday, I feel entitled to dog a post. Normally, I only give the best for my "loyal" three people who stumbled onto this page but I'm not being paid for this so fuck it.

-First off, I'd like to give a shout out to Joey over Straight Bangin' for linking to me over at his blog and giving my little blog the thumbs up. I'd offer him words of solace over the fact that his Michigan Wolverines are tanking spectacularly this year but I'm from Ohio so I bleed Scarlet and Gray so that's never gonna happen. I'm still not over Ohio State tanking one or two perfect seasons in the John Cooper era so I'm physically not capable of sympathizing with the Yellow (That's shit not "maize"...) and Blue.

- Let me just say if you haven't been watching Frisky Dingo over at the greatest network in the history of television ever, Adult Swim, you are missing ouuuuut! The show is almost completely unexplainable except to say it's sort of a parody of superhero cartoons crossed with rabid political and social satire. The first season involved Killface, the world's most inept and genuinely likable super-villain, trying to destroy the Earth by driving it into the sun and being opposed by Awesome-X, possibly the world's most douchebaggiest superhero since Aquaman, who is more concerned with getting Killface to sign a licensing agreement so he can market action figures based on the pair for profit than actually stopping him. This season after accidentally curing global warming by moving, the pair have decided to run for President against each other. The show features some of the smartest political and social commentary on television and is probably the funniest thing on television. And as an added bonus, the Dungeon Family's Killer Mike has a role on the show as Taqu'il, a rapper turned Vice Presidential candidate. I have attached a video of the show below so check that shit out. Seriously! Long live the Ballocaust!

- I'm really digging the new Lupe Fiasco single "Superstar" featuring Matthew Santos off Lupe's upcoming album The Cool. What I really grew to eventually love about "Food & Liquor" last year was that Lupe was able to craft music that set a certain mood in the listener. It was just about the perfect music to drive late around at night by yourself. Songs like "Hurt Me Soul" & "He Say, She Say" seem to blend in with the lights of the passing car and the city which adds a cinematic quality to the drive around you. Lupe's music despite being somewhat understated is actually pretty cinematic in the sense that it sets certain scenes with a specific mood and feeling to them. "Superstar" which is really driven by Santos' hook picks up exactly where Food & Liquor left off. Its good to hear that despite his album flopping, Lupe is sticking with his guns and hoping the audience will come to him instead of trying to appease the mainstream. I'm really hoping The Cool won't have to many moments of bald commerical pandering and we get more records like this.

- Finally, I'd like to pour out a little liquor for my favorite television show whipping boy, Rap City, for its passing into late night obscurity and eventual cancellation. I started this blog doing a week long (that only lasted three days) experiment on the effects of watching Rap City for a prolonged period of time and offering my standard hating and sarcasm. You know, I guess I should have realized this was coming when the program director over BET lost his damn mind and start playing "Read A Book" regularly instead of of one extra gratuitously mintresly music videos. Reginald Hudlin must have come to his senses and realized that he can't be having his network be associated with the words "minstrel" and "show" so he banished Rap City to late night death. Q-45, we barely knew you... One!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

50 Cent: Moment Of Truth A.K.A. How Curtis Jackson Can Save His Career

It seems kind of strange to say that an artist who just sold 600,000 plus records in one week and is worth more money than that Really, Really Old Dude who “allegedly” created the universe billions of years ago (or 5,000 years ago depending on your source) is in serious danger of having his entire career collapse into a gigantic black hole void of Hammerness but 50 Cent’s career might be closer to life support than you would imagine. The results for the election of the “King Of The Hip Hop Universe” is in and as expected by anybody whose been paying attention, Kanye West bitch slapped The Bucktoothed One worse than Stephen slapped Irene on the Real World - 930,251 to 659,682. Normally, only the most stringent of haters (and I’m one of them) could possibly consider 660,000 records sold in one week a flop (and it really isn’t...) but it officially marks the end of the 50 Cent era of hip hop. G-Unit is dead!! Long Live G.O.O.D. Music!! Or something like that...

Last week, I stated that Kanye defeating 50 Cent would mean little to hip hop on a whole because even though Kanye West has the most popular album in the country right now, Soulja Boy still (Inexplicably!!!) has the #1 song in the country and music labels are more interested in pushing ring tones than full albums of quality, alternative music anytime soon. People forget that every few years there comes along another Great Rap Savior that sells a shit load of records of “alternative” “intelligent” rap music. Of course, the rap and mainstream press promptly lose their shit claiming hip hop has officially found its savior and the world will be saved from the likes of Puffy or Master P or whoever and of course, these saviors promptly fall the fuck off and hip hop keeps Diddy Bopping towards its proverbial death. Does anybody remember that Outkast was supposed to save us all after Speakerboxx/The Love Below just like literally four years ago? That motherfucker went diamond! And prior to that, it was Lauryn Hill in 1998? That record won so many Grammy’s that Kanye West is bitching that he’s being short changed! Hip Hop ain’t gonna stop giving us LCD rap anytime soon or at least until nobody buys rap anymore.

Well, fine! Nothing’s gonna change with hip hop now that 50 Cent got molested by Kanye West. So what? What I want to know - what the people want to really know - what does this defeat mean to 50 Cent and what can he do to help salvage a career that is clearly in danger of being Ja Rule’d out of existence. The first thing he can do is completely and utterly scrap the patented G-Unit formula that he’s been using since Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and start making music that doesn’t sound like its terminally trapped in 2003. He’s got to completely throw out all of his ideas of what popular gangsta rap should sound like and take the line back to formula. That means no more bootleg Dr. Dre post-2001 minor key piano beats, no more derivative sex metaphor songs, no more pandering "In Da Club" rip offs, no more cheesed out lover man songs without any actual sense of romance or feeling, and no more goddamn generic, I’m-gonna- kill- you- your- brother- and -your- father- thug anthems! Attention, 50 Cent! I can’t stress this enough! Your formula for writing records is completely broken. If Before I Self-Destruct gets released next year and you have made another GRODT rip off, you can promptly count on 3 people buying your record and then it promptly finding its way into the 99 cent bin in a few months. Do not take the fact that you went gold in a week as an encouraging sign that your formula is still working and the only reason that you didn’t go number one was because Def Jam bought 200,000 copies of your record or some other bullshit. You lost because people are tired of you and the music that you are making. I know it doesn’t seem that way but truuuuust me they are.

Musically, 50 Cent can help salvage his career by taking a lesson from the Jay-Z play book. Before his retirement, Jay-Z was able to maintain and unprecedented stranglehold on hip hop by keeping his ears to the ground and listening for new trends and evolutions in hip hop musically and making records that reflected the changing times which allowed him to make records that never sounded dated. Reasonable Doubt and Kingdom Come sound as different musically and conceptually as you can possibly get in hip hop and Jay-Z has managed to stay near the top of the heap for going on twelve years now because Jay-Z is willing to evolve. Kingdom Come ,maybe in fact, Jay’s worst work but its hard to deny that it was still commercially successful as well as the fact that the direction of the record was still pretty bold compared to other one of his work. Each one of Jay’s record sounds unique compared to his other work and this is part of the reason for his continued success. He always stayed on hip hop’s cutting edge. He worked with Timbaland on Vol. 2 before he was "Timbaland". He worked with The Neptunes on The Dynasty before they were "The Neptunes". He worked with Just Blaze and Kanye West on The Blueprint before they were "Just Blaze" and "Kanye West." Hell, he even worked with 9th Wonder on The Black Album before he was "9th Wonder." 50 Cent’s and by extension G-Unit’s records don’t sound cutting edge and its not a shock that each record has brought back a diminished return to the one previous to that. This might not necessarily be a bad thing if 50 still blazed the booth like he did in his mixtape days but 50 Cent hasn’t had a memorable verse since “Hate Or Love It” and that was on his arch-enemies record two years ago. Nas still manages to go platinum every time out despite the fact that musically he hasn’t had a new idea since Stillmatic (Editor’s Note: I love God’s Son & Hip Hop is Dead but I can call a spade a spade.) but as long as Nasir continues to destroy the mic with verses like his verse on “Black Republicans” he’s gonna have a career. The fact of the matter is that 50 Cent needs to come out with a new idea and fast.

My advice for him would be basically be three fold. First, any inkling that you want to drop your next record in the first quarter of next year has to stop. Before I Self-Destruct has potential to be 50’s equivalent of Nastradamus (which is really saying something considering how bad Nastradamus is). You know left over retreads and bad ideas from I Am... that you throw out in album form to get out of contract. 50 Cent has stated that he wants to get out of his contract with Interscope desperately but if you release a record and its no good that close after you publicly were humiliated, you will be talking with Britney Spears in the no career line faster than you can say “Michael Richards.” My advice might be revolutionary but 50 might want to actually “retire” from making music for awhile and focus on improving the G-Unit brand and his other ventures. Release that M.O.P. record that Jimmy Iovine has locked in the dungeon at the secret quarters of the Illuminati, sign a couple of acts that aren’t clearly half-assed weed carriers or desperate decrepit mid-90s acts, and stop holding the only viable potential star on your label, Young Buck, back for God’s sake! Retirement was a great marketing plan for Hova. It can work for 50!

50 Cent also needs to stop acting like a massive asshole and I can’t stress this one enough. One of his biggest problems that G-Unit has had in recent years is that 50 Cent has been acting like a giant albatross and its his image problem that has been sabotaging the G-Unit brand. Initially, 50 Cent’s Asshole Supreme routine was kind of hilarious and refreshing. Here was a rapper that was willing to take shots at anybody and anything and not back down for political reasons. When he was clowning Ja Rule for making some of the worst hip hop music know to man, 50 Cent was anti-establishment and cool so his unabashed assholity came across as rebellious and funny. Here was the underdog taking down everybody’s least favorite rapper and the people loved him for it. However, when 50 Cent grew to a position of power, the act that won him fans in the first place began to come across as bullying and mean-spirited. There was something unsettling about him on Rap City last week intimidating a clearly star struck seventeen year old, Soulja Boy, as he was interviewing him. He coerced Soulja Boy into doing a half-assed version of his dance in front of 50’s sneering G-Unit cronies and then proceeded to openly mock the dance to the kid’s face. If I were Soulja Boy, who must have been a big fan of 50 Cent growing up and must been excited as balls after scoring a number one hit and getting chance to politic with the world’s biggest rap star, would have left Rap City extremely discouraged and disheartened with the music industry if I was treated like that by one of the biggest stars on Earth. 50 needs to drop that. I know its part of 50’s gimmick to act like an uncaring, soulless super thug but the gimmick is on the verge of wearing completely thin and starting to rub itself raw.

My last piece of advice is to start to make yourself appear human and that means to start slowly shedding the ghetto super villain persona. If there is any reason for the success of Kanye’s music, its that despite his obvious and numerous flaws in character, Kanye seems like a genuine real human being and he is willing to bear himself to public flaw and all. Hip Hop despite ironically being a primarily minority driven art form tends to shun those who don’t adhere to a strict and accepted code of behavior (Also known as the Holy Pursuit Of Money) and anything else is considered “weird” or even “gay.” I mean Kanye West acts and dresses like a spoiled white Williamsburg hipster and this gets him branded as a “homosexual” because its an “other” in terms of the code of hip hop. If he were white and making rock music, nobody within the culture would naturally assume he’s gay. 50 Cent, however, takes the strict code of accepted behavior for being “hip hop” and adheres to it to an almost human degree. He’s almost comically macho to an extreme degree. He doesn’t show emotion, he acts without conscience, he treats women so disposable you might think he was trading baseball cards, its all so grossly cartoonish. He’s not human. It’s also massively boring. I’ve been saying for awhile now to my friends that 50 Cent, the image, as an artist is massively boring. His records are so lifeless and generic that they can’t even be considered wack since they are a complete artistic cipher. Curtis Jackson, the human being, is not boring and is actually quite compelling. His life story is actually quite fascinating if morbid. We all know that he was infamously shot 9 times but also his mother, a closeted lesbian, was murdered by drug dealers when 50 was a young age. He was a soldier for the legendary Supreme Team and knew some of the most notorious criminals of our time. He was able to press on in the face of all these massive and tragic setbacks to become one of the biggest music stars. Now, thats a story! The few glimpses in his music that we actually get to see the real Curtis Jackson have usually been pretty fascinating and triumphant. It seems kind of strange that 50’s mentor is Eminem, one of the most confessional (and successful) artists of all-time. You’d figured a little of that desire to make a few personal records would wash off onto 50. Instead, 50 has washed off onto Eminem and turned Eminem into a self parody. Whatever. Before I Self-Destruct would be thrilling and refreshing if 50 abandoned his old formula and made more records like “Hate It Or Love It” than “Magic Stick” even if 50 still lost a step with his rapping. He might be able to save his career that way.

Ultimately, 50 is probably going to ignore all of the reasons why he failed this week and instead do some bullshit like blame Interscope for failing to properly market the record (which is bullshit when you have five failed singles), claim that Def Jam cheated by inflating Kanye’s numbers, or claim that Kanye makes “safe” music or some shit. It seems he’s been going that route lately but he should be taking time to re-evaluate the way he does things. Personally, it seems to me that 50 seems to be a profoundly unhappy person. 50 acts as if hip hop is a zero sum game where you can only win if everybody else loses. A person who behaves like that isn’t somebody who is well adjusted or happy with their their lot in life which is really tragic. Here’s a man who came from nothing to gain everything but instead of acting like he enjoys what he does for what he does for a living, he seems miserable to me. Whatever, he’s an asshole, anyway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9th Wonder - The Dream Merchant, Vol. 2: Review

There is this cliché when discussing controversial figures in music, movies, sports or art when they are described as both simultaneously as overrated and underrated at the same time but in this case, it really is the best way to describe 9th Wonder as a hip hop producer. To his haters, he is a formulaic wannabe Native Tongue biter who is extremely limited in his scope of the music he produces. To his fans, he is the sound of the modern underground rap (or more accurately “backpack” rap music today) and is one of the best young producers working in Rap today. The truth (like everything else in the world) lies somewhere in between these extremes. 9th Wonder is a rather limited producer. His aesthetic of Fruity Loops chopped soul samples, ethereal disembodied vocal samples and processed clipped drums is rather limited and formulaic but he also happens to be really, really good at his formula. He is kind of a modern day Primo (and not Kanye West who isn’t really like Primo at all -- no matter what Lonnie Lynn tells you) in the sense that he has an established formula that he doggedly sticks to but happens to really make good music out of that formula. This persistence in sticking with this formula is probably one of the main reasons that 9th split with Little Brother back earlier this year. As I mentioned in another post previously, I felt that Little Brother’s previous success was primarily due to the signature 9th Wonder sound rather than Pooh and ‘Te’s rapping so I had a decent amount of anticipation for 9th Wonder’s new solo effort, The Dream Merchant Vol. 2, and have been secretly dreading The Getback. Well, I heard the record and I’m sort of ambivalent about the experience. For the most part, Dream Merchant is an enjoyable if not quite memorable record.

Let’s start off with the reason that we are here in the first place, 9th Wonder’s production. Like expected, 9th sticks with a sound that is exactly in his strike zone and should please hardcore 9th Wonder and underground rap fans. There isn’t any Kanye-esque musical exploration on this album nor is this anything that is really, really boring or formulaic on this album. Its the same chopped soul samples, processed Fruity Loop pack drums, and disembodied vocal samples in his previous work but in this case, 9th Wonder has really come into his own as a producer. This album sounds more polished and fuller than his earlier work with Little Brother as it seems he doesn’t quite rely as much on his traditional precisely computer chopped loops. The album sounds slightly dirtier than his previous work which is a nice change of pace. Don’t get it twisted, he hasn’t eschewed completely with the “Fruity Loopiness” of his album but he does allow the music to breathe a bit more than in the past The album is also slightly more uptempo than his previous work as well as songs like “Brooklyn In My Mind”, “Reminisce (Take That)”, “Let It Bang” are true hardcore bangers (Once, again. Use Of “Bangers”, Eww...) and have a harder veneer than his work with Little Brother. The album doesn’t have any Dilla-esque mid-tempo love jams that you got on 9th’s previous work. Its definitely a “harder” album than his previous work.

The aspect that lags on the album and keeps Dream Merchant from being a truly excellent outing is of course, the song-writing and rapping on this album. Now, don’t get it confused, the rapping on this album is actually pretty good. The vocals on this album are mostly handled by 9th Wonder’s Justus League Crew and while most of them are fairly talented (if boring) lyricists, they all kind of fall into Wu-Tang Killa Bee territory of being all fairly un-charismatic (with the exception of Skyzoo who only appears twice on the record and Chaundon who appears once) as well. The problem with producer driven records is that in order for them to be successful you need a unifying voice that appears on repeatedly on the record to help bring cohesion to the affair. For example, Prince Paul’s criminally underrated, A Prince Among Thieves, is the perfect example of this where newcomers Breeze and Sha help craft a story for the record with their repeated guest appearances (and of course, The Chronic is the ultimate example because of course, its The fucking Chronic). Instead, the vocals on this record fall into a mishmash of newcomers, weed carriers, and Justus League affiliates. Instead, we get a record that sounds more like a compilation and instead of a true album. The only way to make a compilation truly work is get A-List rappers like Jay-Z, Nas, T.I. and Lil’ Wayne and haven them rip up their verses but the most recognizable names we get are Mos Def, Saigon, Sean Price and Memphis “I Can’t Believe Kanye Is Trying To Weasel His Way Into Jay’s Will With That Big Brother Shit” Bleek. All of them are talented rappers but they aren’t quite A-List.

There are a few really good gems of songs on this record, though. Chaundon assisted “Sunday” is a breezy little ode to his favorite day of the week that brings an understated sweetness and warmth to the proceedings, “Brooklyn In My Mind” 9th’s Crooklyn Dodgers remake with Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek is a song that despite its detractors is a song that really knocks, and “Baking Soda” with Big Treal is perhaps the album’s highlights. Big Treal has a nice warmth, and playful flow reminiscent of one of the dudes from Goodie Mob (I don't care enough about Goodie Mob to do the research here but he definitely sounds like one of them...not Cee-Lo, though....) that adds humor to an ode to everybody’s Southern rappers favorite subject, selling cocaine. He is an interesting Southern newcomer (which of course, immediately means he will never have a career) and might check him for in the future if he sticks around. The best work provided on the album is Justus League affiliates though is Skyzoo, the Papoosian named dude who stole the show on Little Brother’s “Speed Racin’” last year, who criminally only appears on two songs (both of them really good). If 9th builds an album around Skyzoo in the Snoop role then they might be really onto something.

The album is fairly good for the most part. If you are fan of the Justus League or underground rap music than this album is definitely worth a look if not your hard earned money. If you hate the 9th Wonder sound than you’ll probably want to avoid this because its more of the same but unlike artists like 50 Cent who doggedly stick to formula, 9th’s is still working. Its still dope beats, dope rhymes... Honestly, what the fuck do you want?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections On Kanye Vs. 50 Day: A.K.A. Only An Evil Genius Like Jimmy Iovine Can Bastardize 9/11

Its only kind of fitting that today its raining in New York City. I woke up around 11 a.m. after passing out on my couch in my apartment last night watching late night re-runs of VH1’s awesomely watchable train wreck reality series “The Pick-Up Artist” and eating day old pizza to discover that the Netflix envelope that I had left near an open window had been completely soaked through by the rain that had been inconspicuously pouring outside my beloved Brooklyn. I woke up, sat up and immediately turned on the television to SportsCenter to check the score of the Indians game and to also secretly make sure that there hadn’t been another terrorist attack in our country. New York City gets kind of edgy and quiet around this day as there seems to be an unconscious fear that the Boogie Man is coming back to get us on our way to work (or in my case on the way to my kitchen). It permeates the city and it makes for an otherwise eerie feeling. The rain only compounded on that.

However, unless you mysteriously wandered onto my blog while searching for Bill O’Reilly or you are one of my friends that like to hate on me for writing about hip hop (I see you, Kirstin! You can’t tell me nothing!), you know that today is the day that Kanye “I May Not Be Gay But I Sure Do Act Like A Whiny Pussy When I Don’t Get My Way” West and 50 “I Am Seriously Overcompensating For Lack Of Attention As A Child” Cent (and Kenny Chesney...) square off for the future of Hip Hop, life itself, and the fate of the known universe in hip hop sales supremacy. As a Patriotic American and a firm believer the best way to honor the dead is to shop (because that’s what Emperor George The Lesser told me to do and if you can’t trust a privileged coke head C student pretending to be from Texas who can you trust), I went and purchased my fight in the dog, Kanye’s CD at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square.

First things first, there were a hell of a lot more people buying Kanye’s album then they were buying 50’s album. By like almost a 3 to 1 margin...Seriously! I had been saying for months that 50 was going plastic wood grain but to actually see people buying two to three copies of Kanye West’s CD each was a frickin’ trip and sort of vindicating. At one point, there were at least 30 people in line waiting to purchase something and at least 15 to 20 of them all had copies of Graduation and maybe 5 or 6 of them had bought Curtis. When I first walked in, I saw this one dorky looking kid having a grand total of six copies of Graduation in his hand. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know what this really means or if this is going to be a trend all across the country but from my perspective and powers of observation, Graduation is going to blow Curtis. You heard it first here! I mean I suppose I could have wandered into the Official Kanye West Fan Club’s Official Graduation Purchasing Spot into NYC (and now that I think of it. Kanye West is scheduled to do and in-store there today...) but if there is one part of the country that the “King” of New York should dominate in sales its NYC. Tell me I’m wrong!

My extreme schadenfreude in seeing 50 Cent, The Asshole Supreme Of Hip Hop, falling satisfyingly on his face aside, there are more important things to be thinking about on September 11th than whether two already obscenely rich guys get richer. The more I think about it, the more I think its kind of obscene that anybody would use such a sober and infamous date in American history to promote selling a product. September 11th really shouldn’t be used as a marketing ploy to sell records because its a day that thousands of people instantly lost their lives, millions of more had their lives ruined by the loss of their loved ones and caused a chain reaction of destructive endless violence in which even more Americans and untold amount of Iraqis and Afghanis lost their lives. Sadly, the leaders of this country has completely missed the point of why terrorists murder in the first place and instead tell us to shop. Whatever, I’m not above it. I did my part. I shopped today.

Despite what some people say, whoever wins this ultimately pointless battle between Kanye and 50, little will actually change in the hip hop industry. If Kanye wins, Little Brother is not gonna start to suddenly sell millions of records and Saigon is not gonna get release date anytime this decade. The best you can hope for is 50 Cent falling off the face of the earth but I even highly doubt that. And if 50 wins, well the industry is gonna stay in their current state of denial and self-destruction. Until, the industry fundamentally changes the way they start marketing and selling their music, nothing is gonna revive hip hop’s bloated rotting corpse. Oh well, we’ll always have Illmatic. Kenny Chesney is probably gonna win, anyway.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Albums You Should Own: Gang Starr - Moment Of Truth

There is an interesting moment in the opening seconds of Gang Starr’s Moment Of Truth. Guru is being interviewed about Gang Starr making their first record in four years and talking about the patented Gang Starr formula:
"We have certain formulas but we update ‘em with the times and everything y'know. So y'know the rhyme style is elevated. The style of beats is elevated but it's still Guru and Premier. And there’s always a message involved."
This quote basically represents the entire theme of Gang Starr’s career but especially their fifth and finest album, 1998’s Moment Of Truth. Guru and Premier have doggedly stuck to a formula and singular aesthetic, (the two measure jazz influenced loops, the scratched vocal sample hooks, the razor sharp battle and street oriented rhymes, and a deep sense of social consciousness) for their entire twenty year career but Moment Of Truth is where they not only perfected it but crafted their definitive statement in hip hop and serves as their de-facto swan song. Their first record, No More Mr. Nice Guy, was embryonic and only showed brief flashes of the potential they possessed. Their second, Step In The Arena, is the moment we first see a recognizable Guru and Premier. By the time, they made Daily Operation and Hard To Earn they had crafted and perfected their aesthetic but still hadn’t made a definitive album that would etch their names in the pantheon of classic rap groups. Moment of Truth represents that moment for Gang Starr. The moment they become more than their reputation as a group with a great producer and a mediocre emcee and it transcend it to become rap legends.

The production like every Gang Starr record is the star of the show. There is a reason that DJ Premier’s production is regarded as the sound of New York ‘90s rap scene. Before this record, Primo was already in the pantheon of great rap producers as his work with Nas, Jay-Z, M.O.P., Jeru The Damaja, and Group Home can testify to this but this is the moment that sets him apart from even heavyweights like Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip and into the rarefied Dr. Dre/RZA territory. On this record, Primo goes onto some next level shit. He forgoes his traditional jazz and funk influenced loops and starts to work with a more orchestral and atonal sound. On songs like “In Memory Of”, “Above The Clouds”, and “She Knows What She Wants” highlights a more abstract but oddly melodic and complete sound. The tracks swirl around Guru’s vocals drawing attention to itself without distracting from Guru’s voice. What I like most about the album is that each song creates a very distinct and different mood that perfectly fits the song. The production on this album really crafts a story and brings unity to an otherwise diverse album topically. Each record sounds different but at the same time the same. Its quite brilliant.

What’s also great about this album is the song writing on this album. Guru really stepped up his rap game on this as if to prove that he wasn’t the weak link in the duo. Guru gives a quite inspiring lyrical performance and is equally responsible to the greatness of this album. It also highlights Guru’s versatility as an emcee. On songs like “She Knows What She Wants”, Guru describes his relationship with a sophisticated gold digger that Guru secretly admires and respects for her drive and ambition despite the fact that she is somewhat shallow and greedy. Guru feels equally at home on tracks like the fierce battle raps like “Next Time” and the classic “You Know My Steez” as he is on more R&B tinged tracks like K-Ci & Jo-Jo assisted “Royalty.” There isn’t a weak song on the entire joint as each song on this both expertly rapped on as it produced. Guru really comes correct on this album.

The first time I heard this record, I was truly stunned. I had always been a fan of Premier’s work on other rapper’s work but I couldn’t say I was a huge Gang Starr fan myself. This record changed that. It gave me a better appreciation of their work and it shed new light on their older material that I truly began to appreciate. Guru has always been considered the Garfunkel to Premier’s Simon but on this record he truly shined and it will give you a better appreciation of Guru’s somewhat monotonous voice and flow. There are so many great songs on this album that it’s quite stunning. “Rep Grows Bigga” serves as a classic sequal to the classic Gang Starr record “Just To Get A Rep”, “Make ‘Em Pay” features a show stopping guest verse from under-appreciated Krumbsnatcha, and “In Memory Of” is a touching eulogy to fallen and deceased hip hop artists and friends lost. And that’s only a fraction of how many great songs there are on this record.

This should have served as the final Gang Starr record as there is a finality to this record that makes 2003’s The Ownerz completely superfluous and an anti-climatic end to one of hip hop’s great groups. The difference in quality and the time between the records only serves to highlight the fact that time has passed Gang Starr by. They never reached the commercial success of their peers despite defining the New York hip hop song in the ‘90s (which is ironic because neither one of them are actually from New York. Guru is from Boston and Primo’s from Texas). This record is one of my personal all-time favorites and in my opinion one of the top-25 rap albums ever recorded. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you need to go out and buy this. Immediately.

Friday, September 7, 2007

10 Albums I’m Anticipating But Will Probably Never See The Light Of Day In Favor Of Releasing Another God Awful Young Jeezy Album

So I’m gonna do a lazy post today since I had a rough night drinking last night so here I’ve decided to give a brief post about the top ten albums that I’m anticipating in no particular order.

1. eMc - The Show

Normally, I usually don’t want anything to do with a rapper’s weed carriers album because the whole concept that I would want to listen to your untalented friends kick inane verses over budget-ass production is positively insulting to the listener but I’m positively amped to hear this joint especially after seeing this. Its been three years since Masta Ace released “A Long Hot Summer” and I’ve been patiently waiting to hear more music from the Music Man. This album is a full length collobration between Masta Ace, Punchline, Wordsworth and Strick whose previous collobrations together were some of the highlights on his last couple of albums. The Show is supposedly another concept album in the vein of “Disposable Arts/A Long Hot Summer” so I think this could be another indie classic. (And yes, I know Punch & Words aren’t reaaaallly weed carriers in the traditional sense due to their Lyricist Lounge days but still...)

2. Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told

Every week, another garbage-ass ringtone rapper gets to release a mindless and awful album and every week, I die a little inside that Saigon does not. I’ve been a big fan of Saigiddy since he dropped "The Letter P" back in the stone ages and his struggle to get this album released just makes me hate music labels just a little bit more. I’ve loved everything that I’ve heard thats supposedly on the album so it just makes me wonder if Atlantic has invested stock in making me miserable. Seriously give this fucker a release date.

3. Ghostface Killah & MF Doom - Swift & Changeable

My favorite song of last year was Ghost’s Doom Produced “Charlie Brown” that was initially on “Fishscale” but then was inexplicably dropped from the retail version and then languished in unreleased hell. It had this chaotic, train off the track urgency that just made the song instantly memorable. The only copy I could find on the internet was this terrible quality radio rip that sounded like it was recorded in the stone age and I searched fruitlessly for months for a cleaner more polished copy. When I heard that Ghost was releasing “More Fish”, I was ecstatic because I wanted a clean copy of this song but once again inexplicably it wasn’t on that album either. Now, supposedly “Charlie Brown” is gonna be on “Swift & Changeable” Ghost’s collab with Doom so I’m anticipating this album just so I can finally get a clean copy of this song.

4. Lupe Fiasco - The Cool

It took me awhile to truly appreciate “Food & Liquor” last year because it seemed slightly underwhelming upon first listen but eventually the album really grew on me because Lupe makes really understated but ultimately beautiful music that really has this nice ability to set a certain mood. To me, he sounds sort of like a Hip Hop Coldplay (which isn’t meant to be an insult.) The first single “Superstar” featuring Matthew Santos (who kind of sounds like Christ Martin actually), I like a lot so I’m hoping that Lupe won’t fall into a sophomore slump.

5. Cam’ron - Courtesy Curtis

Not because I like his music at all because I don’t (Purple Haze has got to be the most overrated piece of garbage, I’ve ever heard in my life. I violently haaaaaaate that album!) but just because I want to make sure that Cam’ron is still alive. Plus, it has potential to be a real trainwreck which is always fun.

6. Little Brother - The Getback

The Minstrel Show was my favorite album by far of 2005. I thought it was a brilliantly executed satire of everything that is wrong with rap music and BET today and the music was in my strike box of music that I really love. However, I’ll say that a big reason for that was I loved the LB sound provided by 9th Wonder. And now that 9th Wonder was David Lee Roth’d out the group, I’m curious of whether Phonte and Pooh can hold it together a great album in 9th’s stead. I really like Phonte as an emcee as he’s warm and witty but I’m hesitant to get blindly behind this project because I haven’t been that impressed with their post-Minstrel Show material I’ve heard thus far.

7. Lil' Wayne - The Carter III

Despite, my misgivings on whether or not, Lil’ Wayne is truly a “great” emcee, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Weezy is the most interesting figure working in hip hop music today. He’s a polarizing figure for a lot of reasons. He shows flashes of lyrical greatness than turns around and drops a line that is just astoundingly awful and coupled by the fact that hip hop’s rampant and childish homophobia and his own ambiguous and unapologetic sexuality turns a lot of the people who would be his core audience. Wayne, in order, to step into the pantheon of great rappers needs to make a truly classic album (and The Carter I & II aren’t classics) and the amount of time that he has spent between his last true release and The Carter III suggests that he could be crafting a monster album. Will Wayne drop the classic he needs to silence his haters? Eh, probably not.

8. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II

This album will either be a classic or a train wreck. It’s either one way or the other. Everything I’ve heard that supposedly on this album sounds amazing but at the same, Raekwon hasn’t made a quality album in 12 years and this album has been in-development hell for going on 5 years now so this could be a gigantic mess the size of Medellin as well. All I know if this record doesn’t get released, than fuck Dre.

9. Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams

There is no album I am more anticipating than this. Point. Blank. Period. I am as big as a Wu-Tang stan as they come (I own a good 30 of their records) and I’ve been waiting for them to get their shit together for 6 years now. Tom Breihan has a preview of the album that he miraculously got to hear over at Status Ain’t Hood that he had a glowing review of. I will be the happiest man alive if this album gets released in November like its supposed to. If not, I might just saw my head off with a chainsaw if it doesn’t. It’s that serious people.

10. Dr. Dre - Detox A.K.A. When Hell Freezes Over


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chamillionaire - Ultimate Victory: Review

“Silly rappers think I’m worried about a punchline/I show more purpose than your whole career in one line” - Chamillionaire on “Morning News”/Line Of The Year

Hey, can you keep a secret? Shhh, but uh, you know, Chamillionaire, right? Well, uhh, it turns out he’s secretly a conscious rapper! Don’t tell anybody. Yeah, I know he’s from the South and raps about pimpin’ hoes and gettin’ money and shit but yeah, he’s actually a better conscious rapper than Common at this point. Yeah, I know, it’s blasphemy to suggest that so keep that shit on the low. I’ve got a reputation to uphold. But, uh...yeah, it’s true.

The focal point of Chamillionaire’s second solo album, The Ultimate Victory, centers around a two-song conceptual punch “The Morning News” and “The Evening News” in which Cham addresses a myriad of issues that plague society from everything from Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the media’s recent silence on Hurricane Katrina, the hypocrisy of the no snitching rule (“Would you tell me you sold out if I executed the no snitchin’ rule/it sounded like a good idea ‘til a murder happened to you”), Don Imus, and even good ol’ Osama Bin Laden. Cham’s witty one-liners are able to indict societal woes a whole lot more effectively than your typical conscious rappers hallow “I’m For The People” mantra.

Ultimate Victory is one of the best rap records (which isn't saying much but still...) to be released this year and of the one best lyrical performances from a Southern rapper in recent years. Cham employs a nimble 50 Cent-esque sing-song flow (although not nearly as lazy) that skates over the beat and is technically masterful. It’s thrilling to listen to Chamillionaire shred his verses over street bangers (Editor’s Note: Uhh, Did I actually just say “Street Banger”? I hate when people describe songs as “ street bangers”.) like “Standing Ovation” and “Come Back To The Streets.” The record establishes Cham as the one of the best southern lyricists outside of Andre 3000 and Bun B and the best young southern emcee working. (Yes, he’s better than Weezy and T.I. I give credit to people who actually have something important to say. Sue me. And he’s technically better than both.) The album starts strong with the “The Morning News/Hip Hop Police” combo and that slowly builds until it reaches a fever pitch around Pimp C assisted “Welcome To The South.” A song in which he both addresses the many critics of the South who claim that all rappers from the South are garbage and as well as addressing the many wack rappers from the South who are ruining the reputation of the South with its simplistic music. The production is a bass heavy trunk rattler the South is famous for and features Pimp C at his charismatic, ignorant glory. Its one of the highlights to the record.

Although, the record is at it’s heart politically and socially conscious, it’s also has its moment where it’s willfully goofy. “Industry Groupie” samples Europe’s “The Final Countdown” (Yes, everybody’s favorite arena rock classic) and is one the strangest songs you will hear all year. It plays like your stereotypical “I Ain’t Love No Hoes” jam if only interpreted by The GZA when he’s in his “Labels/Fame/Publicity” conceptual mode. Cham name checks every major rapper and their trademark phrases to insult a random groupie. The Europe sample is just so ridiculously good that this is the type of idea that Dipset should have done years ago. (Note: Of this song ever gets a video, I have the most perfect idea for the video. It involves Will Arnett, Gob from Arrested Development, playing Chamillionaire and dancing around a stage while Cham shows up dressing and imitating every major rapper in the world. Hit me up, Cham! I’m an aspiring music video director, too! We could win VMA's together!)

This album isn’t perfect by any means. The album does have many of the same flaws that plagued its predecessor, The Sound Of The Revenge. At times, the production can be un-inspired and treads in the cliches of your typical Southern production which is shame because Chamillionaire gives such a strong vocal production over the production. Personally, its still refreshing to hear a Southern rapper aspire to be lyrical and have something to same which really can’t be said for many of the Southern heavyweights outside of Andre 3000. Of the three huge rap records that are being released in the next upcoming weeks, this isn’t quite as good as Graduation but this eons better than Curtis. My advice is to buy Graduation on September 11th, save your money for a week and buy Ultimate Victory on the 17th and then break out your copy of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and get the same basic experience you would get if you actually bought Curtis. Trust me, you’ll be happier.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

So...Just What In The Hell Is "Read A Book"?!?!

It’s been a few weeks and all has been quiet on the Western Front so I guess the Society For The Defamation Of Hip Hop (or NAMBLA...Word to Jon Stewart) agreed that it’s about time for the mainstream media to blow something completely out of proportion and grossly misinterpret hip hop, again. This time, it’s BET’s “Read A Book” that is being offered as sacrificial lambs to the God Of Moral Decency, Hypocrisus.

For those who don’t know, who aren’t hip hop fans, or have been living under a rock recently, “Read A Book” is a satirical animation in which a dreadlocked rapper, a thinly disguised facsimile of Lil’ Jon, compels people to a read “motherfucking” book. The video, a parody of Jon’s crunk music, employs vulgar lyrics and the exaggerated caricatures of hip hop culture that can be found in your standard hip hop music video. The video guised as a sort of strange crunk parody of “Schoolhouse Rock” type P.S.A.’s compels it’s audience to do such things as read a book, buy land, wear deodorant and brush their teeth and has been airing on BET during Rap City. Recently, certain people that have nothing better to do (*cough* Jesse “Why Am I Still Relevant?” Jackson *cough*) have decided to protest this song because its offensive and profane and the world’s most precious commodity, The Children, should not be exposed to its “hideous” content lest they go out and (I guess) shoot somebody or something or - horror of horrors - think for themselves.

Now I’ve taken my fair share of pot shots at BET in the past for their content, their cheap, budget ass production values, and employing the general walking mess of human awkwardness that is Rap City host, Q-45, but airing “Read A Book” is not one of them. I think its kind of brave of BET to air a video that so brazenly criticizes their bread and butter, “Let’s Just See How Low We Can Lower The Bar” content on one of their most popular shows. It wasn’t too long ago that BET infamously refused to play Little Brother’s “Lovin’ It” because it was “too intelligent” for their core audience. If BET is willing is to parody their material than that can be seen as a positive step towards restoring some semblance of balance of hip hop in the media. However, I find the criticism of BET on CNN and by Jesse Jackson for airing this content disengenous and having little to do with being offended by the content of the video and everything to do with an agenda of censoring hip hop music.

In this recent piece on Fox Ne...err, CNN, “Read A Book” is criticized by Tony “Black Bill O’Reilly” Harris who highlights a group discussion by a group of black parents who find the video offensive and completely inapproriate for a network to show. Now, the primary criticism seems to be that because kids are inherently stupid, they cannot discern the difference between satire and reality and therefore the vulgar lyrics of “Read A Book” will compel them to rebel against their parents and do drugs or something. Now, lets say I even bought into the argument that a twelve year old is too stupid to understand satire (I sure the hell wasn’t at twelve) what exactly is the problem. The video if taken at absolute face value is pretty family values friendly. It promotes reading, proper hygiene and aspirations for more than vapid material gain. If the kids were too stupid to discern reality shouldn’t they immediately drop what they are doing and a read a book. Isn’t that a positive?

My guess is that this has little to do with the message but rather the way the message is being told. Judging by the attitudes and dress of this group of parents, I would guess that they are all fairly upwardly mobile and college educated, the type of African-Americans who detest hip hop and the general messages, speech, dress, and attitudes that it purveys and don’t want their children to imitate the people who live it. Which is all fine and dandy and completely their prerogative but is also extremely elitist and classist as well. The video is pretty crass and instead of using an acceptable way to reach black youth with these messages it utilizes a form of music and language that is very vulgar. The “n-word” is dropped constantly throughout the video and the images of African-Americans in the video are pretty stereotypical of so-called “lower-class” African-Americans. I think is the root of the controversy. “Read A Book” isn’t an acceptable way of speaking to children so therefore it shouldn't be on the air. I personally find it to be pretty elitist and racist to suggest that using the language of hip hop is unacceptable because its inherently lower than other forms of music. This gets back right to my previous statements about how many people don’t seek to understand hip hop because they find it inherently inferior to other music or culture. You only have to peep Tony Harris continue shooting down the creators of the video on CNN whenever they try to explain context to the viewers by calling them provocateurs and trying to engage in cheap O’Reilly-esque political theater.

However, my dislike of the people for the people criticizing “Read A Book” doesn’t negate the fact that “Read A Book” is fairly problematic. “Read A Book” despite its obvious positive intentions and satirical undertones does engage and evoke many of the same stereotypes that it seeks to remedy. It assumes that lower class black people do not read books, do not take care of their children, do not have proper hygiene and more concerned with buying rims and ice than buying something of real value like land. Now, these are all valid criticisms as national studies have shown an appalling literacy rate in inner cities and if these criticisms were treated with a bit more care and nuance perhaps the whole controversy would be averted. The video as I have mentioned before has a level of condescension towards urban black youth as it does have a mocking attitude of a certain subset of people in the African-American community. I think it finely skates the line between racism and satire.
Ultimately, I think the satire of the piece wins out. Its offensive but its offensive in the sense that it seeks to hold the vices of the hip hop community to expose them as the bullshit they are. There is a bigger problem than all of this, though. While, “Read A Book” depicts these attitudes and behaviors as an object of scorn, many of the material on BET does not. The first time I saw “Read A Book” on BET I was completely in shock. BET was showing this?! Who lost their mind and authorized this? I was impressed that BET had the guts to skewer themselves. However, after the video ended “Ay Bay Bay” played and the same attitudes and behavior was being presented except done by real human beings and without the sense of irony or satire. Here were real-life stereotypes acting a fool on television for all to see. I shook my head and wondered if the BET exec who authorized this even understood the joke.

I wonder why the media constantly attacks the artist for what their sins instead of the conglomerates that control the distribution of these images. Why doesn’t Bill O’Reilly attack Jimmy Iovine or the CEO of Viacom and hold them responsible for mass distributing music and images he finds offensive. After all, they are the ones who ultimately decide what gets released and what gets played on the radio. In the end, I suppose its easier to go after the pawn then challenge the throne.

Monday, September 3, 2007