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

Friday, October 26, 2007

As We Reminisce Over You...Or The Greatest List Of Unappreciated Rap Songs Ever Assembled In The History Of Mankind, Ever...(By The Good Doctor Zeus)

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Well, howdy, loyal reader(s)! I’ve been on a mini sabbatical the last two weeks because a combination of the relative non-stress and the total and mind numbing boredom of my new super non-exciting temp job at the law firm that will legally remain nameless as well as the utter and black hole of despair created by the tragedy of my beloved Cleveland Indians once again losing the big one in typical spectacular, back alley abortion fashion that Cleveland fans are accustomed to, to the Boston Diet Yankees. Anyway, I’m back and today on Not A Blogger...We won’t be discussing T.I.’s decision to turn himself into a living version of Gangstalicious from the Boondocks nor Nas’ decision to name his album a certain racial epithet that apparently Al Sharpton believes should be banned and punished by beheading if uttered by anybody. However, we will be discussing ten of my favorite under-appreciated rap songs in the history of rap music so why don’t we just get started.

Ahem, in the particular order I looked for them in my iTunes...

1. Eminem - Low Down, Dirty - The Slim Shady EP (1997)

Before Eminem became the biggest rapper on the planet and way, way, way before Eminem turned into a sad, sad, sad tragic self-parody of himself, there was The Slim Shady EP, the most hilariously dark and twisted underground horrorcore rap record ever to be recorded by a white boy from Detroit (and also hip hop). The Slim Shady EP served as the introduction to Marshall Mathers’ most famous and celebrated alter-ego and as the prequel to his landmark Slim Shady LP. There are a bunch of great songs on this EP including early versions of classics like “97 Bonnie & Clyde” , “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” and “If I Had” from his Aftermath Debut but the standout on the album is DJ Head produced “Low Down, Dirty.” The song featuring a sample from Redman’s “Whut! Thee Album” is one of the earliest introductions to the Slim Shady persona and the record features some of his vintage dark humor in the lyrics describing some of Em’s more hilarious, scatalogical and violent practices. A sample lyric: “Doctor slapped my momma, “Bitch! You Got a Sick Kid!”/Arrested, molested myself and got convicted.” It’s also kind of notable for an odd reason Eminem takes a shot at Tupac for not being hip hop. Either way, if you are interested in hearing the evolution of a mercurial rap star find his voice than you should probably track this record down.

2. MC Eiht - Streiht Up Menace - Menace II Society Soundtrack (1994)

MC Eiht maybe one of the least heralded West Coast pioneers of all-time. Eiht has nowhere near the notoriety of Ice Cube or Too Short or hell even, Warren G but Eiht remains one of the most underrated West Coast rappers of all-time. Starting out with the somewhat N.W.A. derivate rap group, Compton’s Most Wanted, MC Eiht moved onto some minor solo success when he appeared in the Hughes Brother’s classic “Menace II Society” and released the undderated classic “Streiht Up Meance” for the movie’s official soundtrack. The song closes out the film and the sadness, remorse and pathos in the song that Eiht is able to convey makes the song an absolutely haunting way to close such a gritty film. Employing cinematic synthesized strings, minimalist drums, Eiht vaguely narrates the story of the film but as opposed to some soundtrack rap songs from the era that seemed to narrate the entire story of the film down to minor plot points like Ice Cube’s “Higher” from Higher Learning or “Turtle Power” from the immortal Partners in Kryme, Eiht is able to put his firm stamp and add an even deeper meaning to the film. Lyrics like “Got to follow in the foot steps of the homies from the hood/And where's the role model?/N***** is putting brew in my fucking baby bottle!” add a pathos and darkness to the song while lyrics like the classic opening line “A fucked up childhood is the way I am/Got in me in a state that I don’t give a damn” gives a shocking bluntness that only adds to the song. G’yeah!

3. Devin The Dude - Doobie Ashtray - Just Tryin’ Ta Live (2002)

Devin The Dude has become this year’s hipster rapper du jour following in the storied footsteps of Ghostface Killah, Weezy F. Baby, Cam’rom, and the immortal Aesop Rock. Luckily, unlike some of the rappers that I just named but won’t name now (hint the ones that are not in Wu-Tang), Devin actually is pretty awesome. Devin’s greatest strength is in crafting slow, sad ballads. There is usually one or two of these gems on each of his albums but the song that stands out in a pack of diamonds is “Doobie Ashtray” from 2002’s “Just Tryin’ Ta Live.” The song is Devin’s ode to loneliness and (surprise, surprise) weed smoke in which Devin expresses lament of somebody stealing the last bit of hash from his ashtray after a night of partying and not having anybody to drink with after his friend’s have gone home. This is pretty universal sentiment and the slow, rolling west coast influenced synths and wah wah guitar that is provided shockingly by DJ Premier add to the profound melancholy of the song. Devin, of course, turns in a stunning vocal performance as usual and the chorus is instantly memorable. Perhaps, the most shocking aspect of the song is that it is produced by DJ Premier because it sounds absolutely nothing like Primo. Of course, there is the standard scratches but its the West Coastness of the song that really stands out. This song, maybe, the best songs Primo ever produced and I don’t hesistate to say that for a second. I can’t stress this enough. You need to hear this song. Stunning.

4. Little Brother - The Listening - The Listening (2003)

I’ve probably talked myself silly about Little Brother in the last couple of weeks due to my excitement about Getback so I’ll only say a few words about this song. Best... Song... Little... Brother... Has... Ever...Done....
Right down to the haunting echoes of “T.R.O.Y.” floating in the background to Phonte’s immortal verse to the skit that breaks out into the middle. This song is the best critique of rap fans ever made. If you don’t know somebody like the people they describe in the song than you are that guy. Classic.

5. Cannibal Ox - The F Word - The Cold Vein (2001)

I’ve talked briefly in my Graduation Review about my fondness for Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, the one indisputable classic rap album from the Def Jux crowd. “The F-Word”. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s ode to unreciprocated love and the dreaded friend zone, is one of the crown jewels of the album and probably the most mainstream accessible song that has ever come out of the Def Jux label. I am not a big fan of emo rap but this song has come something of a personal anthem for me(unfortunately...don’t front like your dating Jessica Alba either, fellow rap dorks. I can smell sexual frustration for miles. Wait, eww...). The song employs the typical buzzing synths and noise that El-P is famous for but in this case, it adds a dramatic and epic quality to the Cannibal Ox’s tales of love and woe. For whatever reason, this song just works.

6. Grandmaster Caz - South Bronx Subway Rap - Wild Style Soundtrack (1982)

Here’s a tip, if you don’t instantly recognize the beat to this song than you need to either go to your store and buy yourself a copy of Hip Hop’s Holy Bible and listen to “The Genesis” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to start listening to techno) or you need to stop listening to rap. Grandmaster Caz better known as the Dude That Jay-Z Is Biting His Style Off absolutely destroys this classic beat from the Wild Style Soundtrack. The song is very reminiscent of “The Message” but Caz proves why he was Original Holy Lyrical Trinity In Rap. This song’s an old school rap clinic.

7. Obie Trice - Rap Name - The Shady/Aftermath Sampler (2002)

Obie Trice, Real Name, No Gimmicks! I was quite the Eminem stan in high school and throughout my first year college so the first time, I heard Obie Trice kicking a freestyle on Devil’s Night I became a fan. I suppose it was because like everyone else on Shady Records, he sounded like Slim Shady-lite (or Black Eminem) but unfortunately for Obie, his career never really panned out like it could’ve if he wasn’t Em’s weed carrier. However, “Rap Name”, off the Shady/Aftermath Sampler that accompanied the 8 Mile Soundtrack, showed Obie’s initial promise that I initially found attractive. There is an anthemic quality in the song that trascends the silly Eminem production sound in which Obie states his mission statement and signature catchphrase “Real Name, No Gimmicks.” I remember bumping the hell out of this song winter break freshman year in my car. Good times!

8. Nas - Fetus - The Lost Tapes (2002)

Say what you want to say about Nas’ career, personal life, penchant for using controversial titles to sell records but Nas has always been able to craft vivid and brilliant concept songs that showcase his truly prodigous lyrical ability and song-writing. If Nas can’t make a hit single to save his life these days, he’s still able to pull “I Gave You Power” out of his ass at any given time. “Fetus” off his slept-on, classic odds and ends collection “The Lost Tapes” is truly Nas at his lyrical finest. The song produced by the Trackmasters originally for I Am... uses quiet guitars, swirling Rhodes piano, and ambient noise helps Nas narrate his journey as a fetus from conception to birth. Nas puts on a clinic lyrically as he not only describes his physical growth but is able to simultaneously describe the domestic strife surrounding the pregnancy from the point of view of a fetus and the effect that it had on him even before his birth. It’s records like these that makes it hard for me to ignore the fact that Nas is the greatest rapper of all-time (outside of maybe the God MC and no not, Jay-Z. The original one.). Point. Blank. Period.

9. Masta Ace - Acknowledge - Disposable Arts (2001)

Have you ever heard of the Boogieman? How about the High & Mighty? No?!?! Well, chances are it’s because of this record. Masta Ace absolutely destroys these cats on what is pound for pound, the best diss record dropped this decade. An absolutely vicious record. Those dudes never had a chance. The lesson, as always, is “Don’t Fuck With The Old School.”

10. Big Daddy Kane (Ft. Scoob Lover, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) - Show & Prove - Daddy’s Home (1994)

Big Daddy Kane’s career was kind of over by 1994. After a few lackluster albums, a transformation from harder than hell battle rapper to cheesy loverman, and one Playgirl cover basically ruined any chance that Kane had to sustain a career which is a shame because 1994’s Daddy’s Home is actually an underrated record. The highlight of the record is a posse cut, “Show & Prove”, featuring a pre-Roc-a-fella Jay-Z, an in his prime ODB, Sauce Money, Scoob & a prepubescent Shyheim. The record is pretty awesome but its notable for the fact that a 12 year Shyheim absolutely destroys three rap legends just like he did on that immortal “MSG Freestyle” with Tupac and Biggie. Shyheim was a beast at thirteen and why Shyheim never did jack shit outside of a few great guest verses and why garbage ass kiddie rappers like Lil’ Bow “I’m Better Than Will Smith” Wow and Lil’ Romeo had huge careers will forever one of the bigger hip hop mysteries. Seriously, Shyheim at 13 >> Lil Wayne at 25 (or 29 depending on the source). Seriously.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Little Brother - Getback: Review

Three years ago, I thought Little Brother was going to finally save hip hop this time for real. I was in my junior year of college in the insufferable frozen abyss only known as Syracuse, New York (Word to my fellow Orange...men...) and by the miracle of the internet, I came across three post-Native Tongue underground rappers from North Carolina by the names of Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and Ninth Wonder, y’all when I “borrowed” a copy of The Listening from Soulseek. One listen later and I was singing the praises to everybody who had a remote interest in hip hop, brothers, or things of smaller nature. My co-worker, Shawn, who was a DJ that hosted the late night hip hop show at Syracuse’s local top-40 radio station must have got sick to death of me playing that record at work over our stereo system in hopes that he would wise up and play the damn record over the radio instead of say, Ciara. It didn’t work. Say what you want to say about Little Brother as artists but The Listening is a fantastic record in both it’s simplicity and humor but the aspect of the record that really drew me towards it was the fact the “homegrown-where-the-fuck-did-these-dudes-come-from” aesthetic that permeated that first album. I loved the fact that I couldn’t tell if this was a legitimate record or three guys in their basement fucking around seeing if they could make a rap record. It reminded me of a certain rap group and not who you might think. It didn’t remind me of a Tribe, De La, or Black Star record but rather the first Wu-Tang album. Even though, Wu-Tang and Little Brother are just about polar opposites in terms of region, sound and subject matter, it was the “Do It Yourself” raw, unrefined Fruity Looped sound of The Listening that made it seem like the natural heir to the gutter hiss-kick, and unrefined sound of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

Three years later, Little Brother didn’t save hip hop (honestly I must have been high or something). Their follow-up album, The Minstrel Show, despite being the most important rap record being released since The Listening save for Fishscale and maybe, Graduation, flopped like it was a U-God solo (well maybe, not that bad) and hip hop miraculously got worse than even its most devoted detractors could gleefully possibly imagine. It’s become painfully apparent that hip hop has no desire to be saved since it’s much more interest its own self-destruction than an actual return to it’s dominance. Little Brother, themselves, have self-destructed since then when they got dropped from Atlantic Records and when Ninth Wonder left the group apparently over the fact that he and Phonte couldn’t get along when playing checkers on their tour bus or some other bullshit. This left Phonte and Big Pooh to soldier on with the group despite it being obvious to everybody alive that they should just quit when they were ahead and go solo (or rather Phonte go solo and Big Pooh go to McDonald’s) rather than ruin the legacy of the first two records by dropping their Love Movement. Pooh and Phonte pressed on anyway and now The Getback is here. So what’s the deal? Is the record any good or is it the inevitable train wreck everybody is expecting it to be?

Well, it turns out Getback isn’t half-bad. It’s actually pretty good if not anything spectacular. Kudos, Tiggalo. First off, the record wisely eschews a lot of the fat and is a relative, trim and clean 11 tracks and a breezy 48 minutes and 33 seconds long. If there is one problem with modern rap albums today (well other than the general copious amount of suck) is that most rap albums today are waaaaaaay too long. I’m sorry, I can only listen to so many mindless death threats, queasy sex raps, ganja toter infested posse cuts and overwrought love jams before I start to get sick to my stomach and make out with the toilet seat. I mean there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Luckily, LB follows a recent trend that Common and Kanye have been going with in making shorter, leaner albums and in this case, it works in The Getback’s favor. Shorter albums lend to an easier and more thorough listen since you don’t have to wade through as many filler tracks than you would on your standard “paint-by-numbers” rap album.

The biggest problem that many foresaw for the new album was that since Ninth Wonder was the group’s producer and primary architect for the Little Brother’s signature sound that Getback would severely suffer from Ninth’s absence. Say what you want about Phonte and Big Pooh, they are both solid but not exactly the world’s most dynamic emcees so it didn’t exactly bode well that the most talented member of the group was leaving because of “creative” difference. It was feared that the group was going to jettison their underground roots and make a pandering, commercial record ala the Black Eyed Peas when they decided they needed a white girl with a penchant for peeing her pants in public for Elephunk. Well, the record wisely finds common ground in the middle. Getback is easily their most accessible record. It isn’t nearly as rough and “fruity-looped” as The Listening and it rids itself of the self-righteous undertones of The Minstrel Show. In fact, Getback is basically a party record. On songs like the Denaun Porter produced “ExtraHard,” Nottz produced “Two Step Blues” and the underrated lead single “Good Clothes” show a less pretentious, fun side of Little Brother that always bubbled under the surface of their first two albums but wasn’t explored fully. Little Brother always had a humorous, irreverent side that always got downplayed because of their “Captain Save-A-Hip-Hop” pretensions. Personally, I never really felt that image that got forced on them didn’t really fit. They never were and have never really been “conscious” rappers in the same sense that Common, Mos or Talib are but rather fit into this weird sphere in which they can make a record as weird and hilariously ignorant as “Cheatin” and then come back with something as heart felt as poignant as “All For You.”

However, whats cool about this record is that despite the fact that its an accessible, party record and Ninth Wonder only produces the somewhat underwhelming Lil’ Wayne collabo “Breakin’ My Heart” on the album, the album sounds like it’s a Little Brother record. All of the album’s producers do a good job channeling the signature Ninth Wonder sound especially Ninth Wonder disciples’ Illmind and Khrysis, the True Master and 4th Disciple of the Justus League. Khrysis produces “After The Party” which sounds absolutely amazing and is by far, the album’s best track. Khyris employs a slinky high pitched synths and otherworldly strings and guitars to create a vivid sound scape that matches Pooh and Phonte’s depiction of a scene at a well, an after party. For Illmind, this serves as something of a coming out party for him. He produces four tracks on including “Good Clothes” as well as album highlight “That Ain’t Love.”

As for for the actual rapping, its what we have come to expect from Little Brother at this point. Phonte shines and Pooh is kind of there. Phonte has proven to be consistently a strong emcee with a penchant for telling stories with an everyman flair. His verse on “Can’t Win For Losing” is an album highlight in which he breaks down his motivations for making music and why no matter what he does he just finds himself back at point zero. As for Pooh, he’s not wack per se but he seems to be an artistic cipher in the sense that he isn’t really doing anything particularly that stands out but he doesn’t exactly take away from the song, either. It would’ve been nice if Pooh could progress as an emcee as opposed to riding on Phonte’s coattails at this point in his career.

This record ain’t perfect as it does have a misstep or two which shows when you have a record this short. The Hi-Tek produced “Step It Up” is either a big joke in the vein of “Cheatin” or the cheesiest song that Little Brother has ever made. “Step It Up” is a pandering, queasy commercial love jam in a “Hit You From The Back” key. This is the type of a sickness inducing record that rappers make when they are making your standard cover-all-bases commercial album that rappers make when they are confused on who they want to be. The only reason why I’m hesitant to truly condemn it is because I’m not sure if this meant as a parody. Its not quite as blatant as “Cheatin” but the “Baby, do want a massage” crooned refrain is just ridiculous enough that ‘Tay might be channeling Percy Miracles one last time for our enjoyment.

Ultimately, Getback is a strong record even if it isn’t quite on the level of their first two records. What was so awesome (and what pissed so many people off) about The Minstrel Show is that a knowing sense of the importance of the message they were saying. Minstrel Show was a message record that knew, aspired and wanted to be a message record and it’s message was both timely and prophetic. Ringtone rap and the stereotypical gross images that it presented were just starting to grow prevalent when that album was released. Getback lacks that urgency of that record but that is exactly why it maybe the most accessible record they’ve made yet. I contend if you aren’t a Little Brother fan before because of their arrogance and pretensions they held before than you might actually end up really enjoying this record. Still dope beats, and rhymes. This is what you want.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fiascogate, Further Proof The RIAA Has Lost It’s Damn Mind & Other Notes For A Wednesday

-It’s A Craptastic Wednesday Morning so I’m giving you a few quick thoughts on a couple things going on in the world right now instead of my usual exhaustive and brilliant commentary on hip hop because I do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want...All The Time!!!

- Rapper Lupe Fiasco made headlines this weekend but not the good kind like you want (Word to Xander Crews) when Lupe forgot literally like less than five words to “Electric Relaxation” during a Tribe Called Quest tribute performance at this year’s VH1 Hip Hop Honors Show. Now apparently due the ungodly (for a post-Kanye backpack rapper with little to no hits) amount of hating and criticism this event received, you would figure that Mr. Fiasco has committed high treason of the highest order for flubbing like literally half a bar on a song that nearly 15 years after it was initially released that 99.9% of serious hip hop fans still can’t discern what the hell Q-Tip is saying on the chorus. (Seriously, its like “Relax your self girl be some premiere?!” or something. I’ve been listening to that song for like 10 years now and as far as I’m concerned the hook is pure gibberish. Still great song, though.) Now if you had common sense, you would realize due to hip hop’s extreme fondness for cannabis sativa, fuck-ups at hip hop shows are about as common as genital warts are to former sexual partners of Real World castmates and this is absolutely not a big deal like at all. However because bloggers have very little to do other than hate (and as I’ve said “I am not a blogger”), Lupe has suddenly turned into the new Don Imus of Hip Hop replacing Don Imus as the Don Imus of Hip Hop. Of course, this all started because Lupe Fiasco caught feelings last year when critics compared “Food & Liquor” to a Native Tongues album instead of “It Was Written” like it was supposed to (As if, little homey...) and Lupe decided to share with the world in an interview that he had never even heard of Tribe’s undeniable classic “Midnight Marauders” and had absolutely no plans to in the future. Well, that’s all find and dandy to hate on a professional rapper (especially one who is kind of derivative of Tribe in the first place consciously or not) for not bothering to even listen to “Midnight Marauders” because I believe that “Illmatic” should be included as a testament in the Bible and forcefully taught to small children as the gospel but to crucify Lupe for flubbing a few lines on a song that isn’t even his own is just asinine. Although, I will kind of admit that it’s kind of hypocritical for Lupe to claim that he grew up as a fan of gangsta rap and then chastise modern gangsta rappers for “dumbing down their lyrics” but thats a completely other issue.

- So according to the Daily Tech, the Record Industry Association Of America (or NAMBLA) in all of their infinite wisdom and extreme desire to lead their entire industry into not only utter and complete ruin but a fiery fate in the depths of hell has decided that breath life into its rigor mortis laden body of the industry, it now apparently wishes to sue people who own CD burners but attack people who like to listen to the radio at work. Apparently, the Short Bus Squad over at the RIAA law offices inspired by some case over in the Mother Land(Word to the Queen) where the British equivalent to the RIAA, the Performing Right Society, sued the pants off the owner of a fucking car repair shop for allowing his employees to play the radio at work and not paying “royalties” (or blood money) to the “artists” (*cough* Record Executives *cough*) citing that this constituted a public performance despite the fact that I’m sure Craig David (or whatever those Brits play on the radio nowadays) was nowhere to be found on premise let alone performing his like one hit song. Now, this strikes me not only as bullshit of the highest order but total, complete lunacy on the part of the RIAA. I mean raiding the offices of DJ Drama is one thing (I consider it a public service if I never have to hear DJ “No, seriously! I’m Really A Black Dude! Please Believe Me!!!” Drama scream the “n-word” over some generic Southern rappers mixtape, again) but suing people for listening to the radio is literally the most insane, stupid and unbelievably counterproductive thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Their really is no words I can say about this that can express my degree of disbelief towards this stupid, stupid, stupid idea. I feel like a Yankees fan after discovering that my massive sense of entitlement doesn’t guarantee that I will beat the “lowly” Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. (Fuck-A-Yankee-And-Their-Fans! Cleveland, bitch! Suck A Dick! Yes Homo!) At this point, can the public have the courts declare the RIAA mentally incompetent and revoke their charter or something. They are killing themselves! Are we supposed to only listen to music by ourselves on headphones in a sound proof room? The fuck is wrong with these people?!?!

-Speaking of the Yankees, my beloved Indians defeated the Rat Fuck Yankees in the AL Division Series to advance to the ALCS to play the equally rat fuck, Boston Red Sox. I should learn that after twenty four years of bitter, bitter disappointment not to get too excited by Cleveland sports since we are destined to fail spectacularly but I really can't contain my excitement over this turn of events. After the Cavs spectacular run, it feels like the stars are aligning and its Cleveland turn to win a championship. It's been 43 year bitter years since Cleveland has won a championship so I have to little to no sympathy for any fanbase bitching about how their team hasn't won in X many years and that includes Cubs and especially Yankees fans (seriously seven years and your whining like bitches. Eat it.). In my lifetime, I've watched Chicago win 7 world championships in different sports, and even Boston when it was bitterly complaining about how cursed the Red Sox were in the midst of a Patriots Dynasty. No word can describe how much I hate you people.

- Mark this date down on your calendar kids, December 4th, 2007. It looks like it going to be Armaggedon for rap dorks like myself when not only the mighty Wu-Tang Clan and Saigon on are releasing their long awaited new albums but every blogger's favorite hipster rapper supreme, Ghostface Killah (Kiiiiiillllllllaaaaah), and Styles P are going to release an album. Now, I don't know if the rap industry is trying to re-create the magic of September 11th or bury all of its bastard children of the 90s on the same date but god knows, if this actually happens they are going to separate me with a lot of my parents' well earned money. Kudos!

-If you haven't heard the NYG'z ,Primo's new (weed carriers) group, new album than you are seriously missing out. I plan to have a review of their album up sometime this week but all I can say this is pound for pound the best New York rap record released this year. Word to Straight Bangin' for putting me up on these guys.

-Nas recently released a new track from his new Greatest Hits album entitled "Surviving The Times" and it's pretty good. It kind of has a slow tempo, second half of "Hip Hop Is Dead" kind of feel so if that isn't your strain of weed you might want to stay far away from this one since it kind of reminds of me of "Can't Forget About You" with its piano melody and self-congratulatory "I've found piece of mind" sort of feel. Nas narrates the story of his career over the track and its interesting to hear his take on some of the events that transpired over his storied career.

Here's the link to mp3: http://www.zshare.net/audio/4024795c6c17bb/

-Well thats all for now folks. Keep playing life like a champion.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wu-Tang Clan Does The Beatles: Wu-Tang’s “The Heart Gently Weeps” Review & The Strange Relationship Hip Hop Has With The Fab Four

Yesterday, I came home from my mind numbingly boring new temp job at a law firm slightly annoyed to discover that my favorite group, The Wu-Tang Clan, had their upcoming album pushed back to December 4th (The same day that Saigon is being dropped and for those that don’t know also Ether Day! That’s like a New York hardcore fan boys wet dream!). I was going to write a scathing piece about how this was all Jay-Z’s fault for inexplicably dropping a new album out of the blue that day thus fucking up the Wu’s release but when I came home from work today, I discovered that the long hyped “When My Guitar Gently Weeps” sampling Wu-Tang song “The Heart Gently Weeps” had been leaked onto the internet in the time it took me to get from Rockefeller Plaza to Bushwick so I decided that I would write about that joint.

First off, there has been a substantial amount hype about Wu-Tang being the first hip hop act to successfully clear a Beatles sample in the history of music ever but that’s only a partial truth.  The song only uses a interpolation of the song performed by George Harrison’s son, Dhani, instead of the actual original master and other acts have used samples of Beatles in the past most infamously by Danger Mouse for his overrated Grey Album in 2004 if used massively illegally and The Beastie Boys ripped off a bunch of Beatles samples quite famously for “The Sounds Of Science” on Paul’s Boutique in the Pre-Biz Markie sampling era. Still, legally cleared Beatles samples in hip hop are as rare as pink diamond encrusted leprechauns performing on “Dancing With The Stars” with space aliens as their partners so this is still a pretty big deal. Its kind of fitting that the Wu-Tang Clan be the first group in years to release a fully sanctioned Beatles sampling song because in a lot of respects the Wu-Tang Clan are The Beatles of Hip Hop. After all, these are nine prodigiously talented and diverse artists, not just good but the elite of the elite, who unite once in a blue moon and have more baggage and issues than any group this side of Yoko Ono poisoning John Lennon’s mind. To a hip hop fan, asking who your favorite Wu-Tang Clansmen is just as cliché as asking a baby boomer: “Do you like John, Paul, George or Ringo the best?” (or its the equivalent of asking an ‘80s baby who their favorite Ninja Turtle is? The correct answer is Leonardo if you are wondering and no, I will not accept any arguments to the contrary. You’re wrong. Deal with it.) It reveals a lot about the fan involved by revealing who they actually think is the best and the opinion’s presented can get extremely complex and nuanced. Regardless of the hype, what about the new song? I’m happy to say. It’s pretty awesome.

For those who are familiar with obscure mixtape joints in the Ghostface oeuvre than you should instantly recognize the beat from Ghostface’s great “My Guitar” from a few years back. Its virtually identical to Ghostface’s version and only sparsely borrows from “My Guitar Gently Weeps.” If anything the song sounds more like it were directly inspired by the Beatles as opposed to directly sampling them. Dhani Harrison, George’s son, needles a soft White Album-esque guitar in the background parroting his father but the beat is really driven by a Rhodes piano that plays a slow, mournful melody on the song that really is quiet beautiful. The RZA has really outdone himself by creating a song that is influenced by the Beatles but clearly stands on its own. I’m not sure how RZA possibly cleared the song but clearly being friends with Quentin Tarantino and doing movies for the Hollywood elite has payed off and hooked him into some circles. Kudos, Bobby!

Rae, Ghost, and Meth all contribute verses and they are all in classic gritty, ghetto storytelling mode. Rae is relatively laid back on this track curbing his choppy, harsh delivery into a more slower, more melodic and deliberate flow narrating the story of a slow night chilling in a woman’s basement that is interrupted. by the sounds of gunshots going off in the distance. Meth offers a rare standout verse these days reminiscing about a crooked officer that used to harass him and his friends as they tried to sell drugs on the corner but it’s Ghostface (Who else? Honestly!) that offers the song truly standout verse. Ghostface kicks an incredible story about of all things a routine trip to a Pathmark with his girl where he spills milk on his shoes and then finds himself in the middle of a robbery. Its breathtaking vivid and hilarious and told in a fashion that is both frank and off the wall. I know a lot has been said about how great Ghostface is in the last two years and some of it is just hipster bandwagon hopping but I just want to point out whats absolutely amazing about Ghost is how he is able to tell stories about the most mundane activities like getting your haircut at a barbershop or in this case going to a Pathmark and being able to make it seem absolutely vivid and fascinating. There is absolutely no one like Ghostface in hip hop history. There have been plenty of amazing storytellers in hip hop like Scarface, Slick Rick and Nas but nobody comes close to being able to making the mundane seem extraordinary. He, maybe, in fact the greatest storyteller in hip hop history and thats not hyperbole, I mean it. Its been thrilling to watch Ghostface transform from being one of the bottom of the pack on Wu-Tang’s debut (I would say Meth, Rae, GZA, RZA, Deck and ODB were all better than him on 36 Chambers) to being the unquestioned star of the show. Somewhere between the second disc of Wu-Tang Forever and The W, he surpassed them all and he hasn’t looked back. I was horrified to hear that Ghost might not even be on 8 Diagrams because of inter-Clan bickering back in July because at this point, he’s the absolutely indispensable member of the group with perhaps the exception of RZA strictly for his production. Since ODB’s passing, Ghost is the only one in the Clan that offers the absurdist humor that acts as a counterbalance to the rest of the Clan’s gritty lyricism which is one of the primary reasons the early Wu-Tang records work so well. When you have nine guys kicking strict hardcore lyrical tough talk, you need somebody crooning off-key in the background to counterbalance and act as the court jester. Dirty used to do that and now, Ghost has kind of filled that place.

Getting back to the song, Erykah Badu sings an interpolation of Lennon’s lyrics and while, she doesn’t do anything spectacular, she doesn’t get in the way of the song with any of her Baduisms which is a blessing. The song would probably work without her completely because Ghostface’s crooning the middle part of the song acts as a de-facto hook, anyway.

The Beatles have been the Holy Grail of Hip Hop samples for a long time as they have been oddly seen as off-limits to hip hop artists because of some imagined sense of integrity and purity their music has that can’t be violated by the impure lesser talents of rap music. This has always struck me as completely bullshit and slightly a bit racist. As great and important as the Beatles were to rock and pop music, James Brown was just as important to Soul and R&B music and he’s had his catalog raped and pillaged so many times over that he might as well be the local town prostitute. Its stand as sort of bias that music critics and fans have towards rock music that the Beatles are “above” sampling but artists like James Brown are not. I remember a few years back, I got into a heated argument with a friend of mine who suggested that Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album was complete sacrilege because it violated that sanctity of the Lennon/McCartney’s music because sampling and thus hip hop was a lesser art form than rock and pop music. My philosophy on the subject is that if you are going to treat sampling as a legitimate form of music than nobody is above it. You can sample Beethoven and Mozart for all I care and its not violating anything. I know that part of the reason that clearing Beatles music is so difficult is because the exorbitant cost that it takes to actually pay for its use but thats always struck me as secondary to the rap vs. rock issue that always surfaces when a rap artist samples a famous rock song. Sampling was never an issue until De La Soul and Prince Paul started sampling Steely Dan and other white artists and record companies and artists started to react with horror that rappers were corrupting their songs and demanding they get paid exorbitantly. 

Regardless of the issues that are involved with sampling the Beatles and other rock artists, I can say that after hearing both “My Heart Gently Weeps” and “Watch Your Mouth” that I am tremendously excited to hear 8 Diagrams and my hopes are now officially raised. After the amount of time, I’ve had to wait for a new Wu-Tang album, I probably will be disappointed with anything less than a classic but if these songs are any indicators than I am going to be a very happy camper on December 4th. That is, of course, unless Jay-Z decides to be a dick and push his album back to that date. Then I’m going to pissed. Fuck that shit! Wu-Tang Forever!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NEWS FLASH! XXL Magazine Chooses The Next Generation Of Great Rappers; Annoyed Blogger Catches Feelings, Hates

A few weeks ago, Elliot “I Don’t Realize I Just Edit A Magazine And Am Not Actually A Rapper” Wilson previewed the cover to next month’s issue of G-Uni...XXL Magazine and to the shock of everybody involved it did not actually feature 50 Cent (or any of his weed carriers) on the cover. (I know, baffling!) Instead, the cover is being graced by ten “emcees” and I use that term loosely that XXL is deeming the next great generation of rap stars. Now because I have taste: after viewing the cover, I immediately caught the gas face after seeing about half the rappers on the cover but because I am painfully aware, of the fact, that just because I think an artist is just about the most awful rapper ever recorded doesn’t necessarily prevent it from being a major success (See: Joc, Yung). I have decided today that I would give my opinion on each of the artist featured on the cover and my prediction on whether or not, they will actually become a major star.


Sounds Like: The Son of the Creme De La Creme Of ‘90s New York Rap
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: Tupac Shakur
Worst Case Scenario: DMX Posing as an FBI Agent High On Crack

There seems to be two prevailing opinions on Saigon. For some he’s the wretched, boring face of the dreaded, middling New York mixtape scene in all of its punchline heavy, Big L biting, Fuck-The-South-I’m-Bringing-New-York back glory. For others, he’s Kool G. Rap reincarnated crossed with the social consciousness of Nasir Jones in the form of a short scrappy rapper like Prodigy. (The latter one is the correct opinion but I’ll humor the Noz’s of the world for a second.) Saigon isn’t as quite polished a rapper as any of the rappers I mentioned as he can be at times a clumsy and awkward rhymer but he’s the closest thing in years the New York hip hop scene has had to a true throwback to its mid-90s glory days. He raps with a force and delivery that recalls the greats and that can be a true rarity these days but he’s slightly sloppy with the way he constructs verses as if he is more concerned with the message of what he is saying than staying on beat. The true greats were able to do both and thats what truly keeping Saigon back these. What’s always impressed me the most about Saigon is that there is a passion to his delivery. Even if isn’t necessarily the most technically fluid, there is a sense that every one of these words is the most important thing that he can possibly say. That’s very Tupac-esque. Its always seemed a little confusing to me on why Saigon couldn’t get a release date for his record. Two years ago, he was just about the hottest thing that came out of New York in years but he’s been passed over by such lazy hacks as Mims to get a major record release. It’s a true token of the way hip hop is being marketed that Saigon finally gets a release date literally a week after he gets into a fight with Mobb Deep at a club. It just goes to show that the time honored tradition of punking Tapdance P is the surest way to get your record promoted. December 4th!

Sounds Like... T.I. if you gave him Down Syndrome
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: A More Southern Version of Ja Rule
Worst Case Scenario: Um, A More Southern Version Of Ja Rule?!

At first, I couldn’t quite figure out Plies. His first two singles, the insipid “Shawty” and the equally horrendous “Hypnotized”, were the type of insincere mealy-mouthed lover man raps that would make even LL Cool J’s blush. It was the type of move that rappers who have no originality do when they want to baldly appeal to the female quotient of the population. I was about write him off although I couldn’t figure him out as a rapper until I saw the video to the social protest song, “100 Years”, on You-Tube. “100 Years” manages to miraculously break the record for usage of the “n-word” and “cracker” in the same song. I swear to god every other word in that song is either “n****” or “cracker.” It somehow manages to make a song about social injustice in the justice system seem spectacularly ignorant. It’s quite inspiring, actually. That's when I released who Plies reminded me. Plies is a Southern Ja Rule right down the copious non-usuage of shirts in his videos. Can we just preemptively “Ja Rule” his career now and save ourselves years of “Mesmerize” in an intelligible Southern accent? You’ll thank me later.

Lupe Fiasco
Sounds Like...Your Favorite “Backpack” Rapper...With A Nasal Problem
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: Kanye West
Worst Case Scenario: Every Backpack rapper ever not named Kanye West.

Its kind of a testament to the ass backwards nature of the music industry right now that the greatest strengths of rappers like Lupe Fiasco are his greatest weaknesses when it comes to actually being able to sell a damn record. Lupe Fiasco has the all tools to be a somewhat popular backpack rapper playing to a loyal audience of mostly preppy white kids at your local college and being trotted out by hip hop apologists as proof positive that hip hop isn’t completely evil and soulless. He’s talented, he writes songs with actual thought, he actually seems to give a damn about the art form. All of this translates to the ability to sell roughly 250,000 copies to people whose frame of reference of hip hop is that Slug is a great lyricist and anything that doesn’t sound like it’s faux-boom bap rap is wack. Which would be me except I think Slug is awful. Except Fuck You Lucy, thats my shit.

Rich Boy
Sounds Like...A One Hit Wonder
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: A One Hit Wonder
Worst Case Scenario: A One Hit Wonder

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I love me some “Throw Some D’s!” There is something profoundly and oddly triumphant in the song that celebrates the truly minor and ultimately insignificant victory of getting a nice pair of rims on your car coming from a tremendous amount of poverty that Rich Boy and Polow Da Don were able to express on that song that made it transcend your average, stereotypical Southern rap song about how nice your stupid car is. However, everything about Rich Boy screams that he’ll never make a record anywhere near as close as good as “Throw Some D’s” ever again. First of all, he’s not a very good rapper...like at all. He’s clumsy, he uses a very simplistic rhyme scheme, and he doesn’t quite have the natural charm that the Young Jeezys have in spades. I mean, its a major problem when you get eaten up something fierce by Polow Da Fuckin' Don on your own record. I mean Polow isn’t even a rapper and manages to outshine him something wicked. On the verse about the joys of putting pictures of your penis on girl’s bedroom walls. Everything else, I’ve heard from Rich Boy doesn’t even begin to match the transcendence of “Throw Some D’s.” I suppose “Boy Looka Here” was good for what it was but his verse on Yung Berg’s “Sexy Lady (Remix)” was so bad that he got out shined by Joseph Guillermo Jones and all of his “I’m Gonna Ride This Ballin’ Shit Until The Wheels, Axles, and Cart Falls Of The Carriage and then I’m gonna ride it some more” glory. I just don’t see it happening from Rich Boy but I’d like to see him pull out another “Throw Some D’s” someday. I appreciate a rapper who looks like a space alien with down syndrome.

Lil’ Boosie
Sounds Like...He Shouldn’t Be Rapping
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: There’s A Best Case Scenario?!?!
Worst Case Scenario: I Don’t Even Want To Think About It

Lil’ Boosie has the most grating and awful rapping voice in possibly the history of rap and I’m including the late, great MC Paul “The Rapping Steve Urkel” Barman. If Boosie’s the future of rap, allow me to hand in my resignation. Effective immediately. Ughhh.

Gorilla Zoe
Sounds Like...A Poor Man’s Young Jeezy Crossed With A Poor Man’s Rick Ross By The Way Of A Poor Man’s [Generic Southern Rapper Here]
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: He Doesn’t Get Extorted By Puffy Out Of Millions In Royalties
Worst Case Scenario: Four Words - Yung Joc’s Weed Carrier

I can’t believe I’m gonna make a Michael Keaton reference in a hip hop article but uh, have you ever seen the movie “Multiciplity” where Michael Keaton keeps making clones of himself and they keep getting progressively dumber especially when the clones starting cloning themselves. Well, thats kinda how I feel about Gorilla Zoe. He’s clearly designed to be Bad Boy’s answer to Rick Ross who’s of course, Def Jam’s own answer to Young Jeezy. Its not that Gorilla Zoe is even that bad of rapper but from what I’ve heard thus far from him, he’s just massively boring. He’s got nowhere the level of charm that Young Jeezy has or Rick Ross has. “Hood Figga” may be the most boring single to come out all year simply because Zoe doesn’t have the charisma to make a such a skeletal post-Mannie Fresh “And Then What” rip off beat work because he doesn’t have the mic presence that either Jeezy or Ross has. He’s way too laid back and he’s trying to hard to be nonchalant and menacing but it ends up sounding just bland and boring. Plus, he has the Bad Boy co-sign which is like the kiss of death these days. I swear if it wasn’t for Puffy and his antics, Bad Boy would be as relevant as Death Row these days.

Joell Ortiz
Sounds Like...Big Pun because you know, he’s Hispanic and all
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: Dre remembers he’s on Aftermath and allows him to spit a few verses on Detox (which is never coming out)
Worst Case Scenario: See Hitmann’s, Truth Hurts’, Stat Quo’s, Rakim’s, Eve’s, RBX’s, Bishop Lamont's, and Raekwon’s career. Basically, anyone not named 50 Cent, Eminem, or inexplicably Busta Rhymes as well.

In a horrific, helicopter crashing into school yard full of children type year for hip hop albums, Joell Ortiz quietly dropped one of the best albums of the year. “The Brick” was grimy New York hip hop at its finest and proved that old chestnut of a formula wasn’t quiet the petrified dinosaur carcass that the South apologists would have you believe. Unfortunately, for Joell Ortiz he’s signed to Aftermath which is a great move if you enjoy washing Dre’s old World Class Wreckin’ Cru silver jumpsuits for about three years and then promptly being dropped for another one of 50’s G-Unit weed carriers but not so great if you actually plan to have a career. Seriously, at this point, Fuck Dre. Get off the ‘roids, homey !

Crooked I
Sounds Like...Ras Kass and Kurupt With More Commercial Accessibility
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: He Saves The West Coast
Worst Case Scenario: Suge Knight hangs him off the ledge of a hotel balcony

Of all the rappers on this list, Crooked I is the guy that I’m least familiar with which is really sad because not only has he been a veteran in the industry for going on ten years but from what I’ve heard he might just be pound for pound the best rapper of the bunch. He has a nimble Kurupt-esque flow and kind of sounds like Ras Kass and if he were to get the right production I could easily see him being the biggest star out of the bunch. As bad as the New York scene has been in a recent years, the West Coast has been postively barren. Seriously, at this point, its basically The Corpse Formerly Known As Snoop, The Game, and legions of unknown hyphy rappers with silly name. The West coast is screaming for another rap star and Crooked I seems like he could be that guy if he were to get in the right situation. Preferably, nowhere near the words “Death” and “Row” or at this point, Dr. Dre for that matter.

Sounds Like...A Stupid Fucking Name
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: DJ Kay Slay doesn’t scream all over “The Nacirema Dream”.
Worst Case Scenario: Can-I-Bus(t)! Enough Said.

I maybe one of the few people on Earth that actually liked Papoose’s verse on the “Touch It (Remix)” last year but I can understand why to a lot of people think its proof that Papoose is extremely overrated. Papoose, in some respects, tries way to hard to be “lyrical.” He crams too many multisyllabic words in his verses at the expense of his flow and it makes him seem like just another generic New York mixtape rapper and Papoose all tends to write grandiose, and somewhat pretentious songs that serve to display how “lyrically advanced” he is over everybody else like “Alphabetical Slaughter”, and the “Law Library” series that sound very awkward and forced. However, Papoose when he simplifies his concept and flow can actually be quite the rapper. “50 Shots”, last year, was pretty wicked and he recently released “Stylin’ On You” which is one of my favorite songs recently. If Papoose can curb his grandiose displays of pointless lyricism and focus his song writing than “The Nacirema Dream” might be actually good.

Young Dro
Sounds Like...A Southern Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Career Success Paradigm -
Best Case Scenario: He breaks out of T.I.’s shadow and becomes the next big Southern rapper.
Worst Case Scenario: Well, his girl does have a girlfriend...life can't be too bad.

Young Dro is kind of underrated as a rapper. “Shoulder Lean” last year was just about the most inanely (yes, inane not insane) hilarious song last year but it kind of painted Dro firmly as T.I.’s weed carrier but Dro is actually somewhat of a underrated lyricist. He needs to break away from T.I. if he wants to transcend the dreaded weed carrier status. I don’t see why Dro can’t break away from him and become his own star. T.I. isn't even that good, anyway.