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

Friday, May 30, 2008

What The South's Reign Really Meant: A Semi-Defense Of Hip Hop's Most Notorious Region - A Eulogy For The South Part II

No, dude. It is.

Outside of slavery, the legacy of Jim Crow, Nascar and the fact that Our Glorious Leader calls it home, I don't hate the South. Honestly, if there was a region in this country that I hated then it would be the entirety of New England. Mostly because of their sheer obnoxiousness in their (complete bullshit bandwagon) "passion" in rooting for Boston-based sports teams (like you guys gave a crap about the Celtics before they started winning this year...) in which they've miraculously managed to make motherfuckin' Yankees fans somehow inexplicably more sympathetic. I don't harbor any ill will towards the South.

After my article yesterday about the Midwest's rise in cultural significance in rap music, I found that many people were upset by my tangential South bashing in this piece. Other than the fact that people still haven't realized my opinion is the gospel truth about the world (It's burden, really. There's a reason the name's Zeus.), I'm still surprised by how many people don't gather that my tongue is always firmly planted into the side of my cheek when I'm doing my pantented brand of critical "analysis". I'm a hater and a bad person and it brings me supreme joy to throw my favorite targets under a Greyhound. I can't help it. I desperately need therapy. It did get me thinking about the nature of the South's cultural hegemony on hip hop the last decade and what it meant in a broader historical term and if it did, in fact, kill hip hop deader than Curtis Jackson's career. My conclusion... Sort of but it was inevitable, anyway so it's not really our Southern brethren's fault.

In ten years, when music historians are looking back at this particular period in hip hop's history. I have a feeling that we will be calling this period "the Hip Hop Is Dead Era." (In fact, I'm coining that term if that's at all possible. We are living in the Hip Hop Is Dead Era. Deal with it, haters. God's Son across the keyboard!) The dates on this period stretch from roughly late '97 until now and it's a period in which mainstream rap music succumbed to the ills and vices that C. Delores Tucker had always accused hip hop music of glorifying and it's generally considered a period in which hip hop saw it's cultural queue factor rise and drastically fall off the Rand McNally like it was Lauryn Noel Hill or something. During this period, the traditional East/West cultural dominance and rivalry was replaced by the Southern rap regime that we currently know and love er....grudgingly tolerate. The movement was predicated on a strong insular do-it-yourself business plan and movement pioneered by the likes of Master P of No Limit Records, Luther Campbell of Luke Skyywalker Records, Brian "Baby" Williams of Cash Money Records and J. Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records. They sold their music out of the trunks of their trucks as they were denied admission into the major label kingdom which proved to be blessing since their business plan provided they take the lion share of the keep (as well as systematically conning their artists away from their royalties but you know, we'll ignore that part of the equation for a second.) which provided they amassed mass wealth and obtained a loyal, fanatical base of fans who ate this shit up like it was chocolate-covered cocaine crispies. When the void provided by the demise of the New York and West Coast rap scenes after Biggie's and Tupac's death was created, these new labels were able to come in and dominate rap charts because of their loyal fanbase and innovative business schemes. That's how the South won and that's why their music became the dominant sound of the decade.

Of course, we all know what happened next. After unprecedented sales in the early part of the decade behind such monster acts as Eminem, 50 Cent, Nelly and Jay-Z, hip hop began to drastically backslide into the gigantic hole of the commercial and critical wasteland that is now.
The Internet and digital downloads killed the record industry but hip hop curiously took a larger hit in the scheme of things than other genres and sales plummeted to record lows. Record companies fearing the worst began signing artists who were virtual clones of the few success stories they had and accordingly, the music got stale and processed. The South because of it's hegemony on the music scape took a lot of the blame since their sound had come to define the decade and accordingly, when prophets of truth like Nas began saying that hip hop was dead. Major feelings were caught about modern hip hop criticism since in affect, it was an attack on the region by proxy due to the South being the biggest game in town. Ultimately, it would disengenous to completely blame hip hop's commercial struggles on the South. The music industry has been murdered by digital downloads and early leaks of the album which has affected all forms of music. Hip hop has always been a youth driven medium both in it's artists and fanbase so it would make logical sense that it would be more aversely effected by the the digital revolution since young people tend to be more digitally saavy than their older counterparts. Hence, the phenomenon of the internet leak replacing the release date as the most important date in a rap records shelf life. Old people simply don't download music at the rate that a teenage Lil' Wayne fan would simply because they wouldn't know how to navigate the complex world of internet file sharing. Even if you could place a square link to the shittiness of the South's music to the decline in sales, it would ultimately be a relatively moot point behind the basic premise that digital downloads have murdered record sales at a geometric rate in recent years.

Critically, the down slide of rap music can be placed more firmly on the South's shoulders but not to the extent that haters like myself would ultimately assert. Many Souther rap apologists like to assert that the South is more than the lyrical coke-obsessed anti-wunderkinds of the Soulja Boy's, Young Jeezy's, and Mike Jones' of the world. They assert the anti-lyrical, ignorant stereotype of Southern rap music is a fallacy brought on by anti-South New York-centric elitism of critics like myself and others. They like to point to point out artists like Z-Ro, Killer Mike, Andre 3000, and others as prove that the South is deep. There is a partial truth in that statement but let's be real for a second, the South was not promoting or supporting these artists at nearly the rate they supported the coke-obsessed ignorant quotient of their artists. For better or worse, Young Jeezy is ten times as a big a star as Killer Mike and if artists like Killer Mike were the true face of the South, they would've sold more and been on television as ubiquitously as Mike Jones and Paul Wall. If you are going to present the likes of the Ying Yang Twins, Dem Franchise Boyz, and D4L as the face of your movement than you should prepared for people to stereotype your entire region's musical movement as a bunch of ignorant, gangsta grilled minstrels. It's intellectually dishonest to say that Trae is as popular as Paul Wall. Unfortunately, Paul Wall and his ilk will be the lasting legacy of the South's reign. It may not be fair but if you contrast it with who was dominating the charts during the East's and West's collective reign on the top (Biggie, Tupac, N.W.A., Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Dre and Snoop) than it simply casts and ugly shadow on the proceedings.

However, there is a mitigating factor in the lack of critical success of the movement that helps understand why the South kept feeding us crap. The shifting tastes of the youth and the collapse of the record industry help explain the shift in popular taste towards a more shallow and "ignorant" fare. The record industry upon it's mass failure panicked and started only signing artists that appealed to what already sold the most and worked in the past. It helped lead to a decline in alternative artists which was steady during hip hop's '90s heyday but generally kept anything outside of the basic cars, bitches, drugs, guns and money obsessed rappers. Dumbing it down became fashionable and the only way to get a record released so any artist that showed a flash of intelligence essentially got tossed out the door. Southern artists were all too willing to oblige to the New Order. However, it's my assertion that had the South remained as a small regional movement and not broken out, the result would have been exactly the same. Had New York stayed on top, it too would have fallen to a critical winter as even in the '00's, the most popular artists from New York were artists like 50 Cent, G-Unit, Ja Rule and Dipset which wallowed in the same basic ignorance and lack of lyricism as the worst of the South. It would've been no different. Hip Hop would still be dead had Biggie not been murdered by Chuck Phillips, er...Tupac's ghost.

In the end, my assertion that the South's reign wasn't exactly good for hip hop remains true but it would've played out the exact same way even if Hawaiian rap had dominated the pop charts this decade. Hip Hop's "death" was inevitable. Music moves in cycles and it was impossible for a music as weird and insular as rap to remain as cultural dominant on the American Youth culture as it was in it's '90s golden age. It's hard pill to swallow but it's the trut....Oh shit! The Carter III just released. Fuck this! Let's get back to some good old fashioned hating.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Midwest Reigns Supreme: A Eulogy For The South

Ladies and Gentleman, the most popular rapper in the world!

As intricately chronicled by virtually every blog and major media source that covers hip hop music in even a tangential or superficial way, rap music has been dominated by the musical and cultural leanings of our country's southern most region for going on a decade now. As obvious to everybody who doesn't have their ass delicately wrapped around their supple forehead, this hasn't exactly been beneficial to hip hop music in general. While hip hop was never exactly known for it's sweeping intelligence, the South's dominance has basically reduced popular radio and television to a playlist that consists of songs about cars, women, asses, shoes and if we are lucky, drugs and guns. (I'm kidding, I'm kidding...Sort of...) It's been a long cold winter since the South's ignominious rise to regional rap supremacy but there is a thaw coming. I'm declaring that the South's reign on the rap world is coming to an end and shockingly, it's not New York that is ending it's rule. The Midwest reigns supreme, ladies and gentleman, and I couldn't be happier.

The Midwest is, without a shadow of a doubt, the region that is making the best music today in modern hip hop. There is a wide range of diverse influences that are mixing and combining to create music that is both smart and fun to listen to and what's shocking to me....it's growing in popularity. From the space synth funk of Chicago to the post-Dilla soul of Detroit, hip hop from the Midwest is fastly becoming the next epicenter of rap music that is both commercially and critically dominant and artists like Lupe Fiasco, Atmosphere, Black Milk, Rhymefest, Elzhi, the Kidz in the Hall, Royce Da 5'9, Stricklin' from eMC, the resurrected Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the figurative corpse of Lonnie Lynn and the literal corpse of James Yancey are helping cement the Midwest's claim to rap supremacy.

We all know, Kanye West. He's responsible for three of the best and most popular hip hop albums to have been released this decade. He's an incredibly insufferable "douchebagimus maximus" but his rise to hip hop supremacy has been one of the truly inspiring musical success stories of the past decade simply because his rise has been predicated not on marketing or specious claims to an unearned throne but simply because he's proven to be one of the best pop music minds of the last twenty years. Graduation was avant-garde and still maintained strong pop sensibilities which helps explain his big success on both a critical and commercial level. It famously crushed hip hop's former crown prince in a sales battle royale and went on to being the highest selling rap album of the year. A remarkable achievement for a record that wasn't completely retarded. Regardless, how you feel about Kanye West, his music speaks for itself (even if he still really can't rap) and he's helping usher a new era into hip hop. What I found most interesting about Kanye is the uncompromising attitude that he takes towards his music. Part of the reason that he comes across as a such an insufferable prick because he simply gives a damn and is willing to defend his art to an obscene degree. I personally find his constant schilling and subsequent bitching about awards to be distasteful but it's also inspiring to hear a major record artist give a damn about being critically respected. This drives him and it shows across in his work. He wants our respect and as a critic, I appreciate artists who aren't content by pushing out material that they believe in. There is no compromise to Kanye. It's A-plus or F-minus. There is no in between. This is awesome for an artist who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world and his leadership has begun to inspire others from his region to follow suit.

Like it or not, the Chicago scene and sound is dominating hip hop right now with Kanye in the lead but being closely followed by Lupe "Let's All Pretend Dumb It Down Wasn't The Fuckin' Truth" Fiasco, Common "No, Seriously! I Was The Dude Who Made Resurrection!" Sense, and hipster rap royal supreme, the Kidz In The Hall. Lupe Fiasco has been bubbling on the precipice of stardom for the past few years due to his allegiance to Kanye West and has now finally achieved the commercial success that eluded him. Lupe's dark, dense and smart (no matter what you cranium-in-rectum haters say) The Cool was the best rap record of last year and it now features a song that can be classified as certified mega-hit with "Superstar." What's suprising about Lupe's success is that it was built on the strength of a song that people simply liked and requested instead of being beaten into the proverbial submission. What's also suprising is that few people gathered the song was actually about being denied permission into heaven, a subject that can be classified as positively Martian compared to the steady diet of bitches, drugs, and thugs that dominate pop rap radio. Although, Common is doing his best to ruin the last shreds of his reputation lately, it's hard to deny that he's become one of the few true stars in rap music these days with Be and Finding Forever both certifiable Gold records, his schilling for sweaters, and acting these days. The Kidz In The Hall have also contributed to diversifying Chicago's spacey sound by creating rap music with an old school aesthetic and being one of the fore-runner in the hipster rap movement.

However, the Midwest can be hardly described as just Chicago as the scene that it's possibly it's superior is coming from the shores of Lake Michigan as Detroit makes it bid to become the next breakout city in hip hop. After Eminem's unheralded ascent, Detroit unfortunately known for it's Eminem weed carriers and it's unfortunate gimmicky shock horror sound but since the Dripping, Flayed Bones of Marshall Mathers has become a self-parody, Detroit has risen behind the influence of J-Dilla and has carved a niche as ground-zero for quality underground hip hop. Elzhi's brilliant new album, Europass, is a remarkable album that marks Elzhi's ascension to one of the elite lyricists in the game. Europass is one of the best albums of the year and his verse on "Motown 25" where he now infamously outduels fellow Detroit native and underground legend, Royce Da 5'9", is gonna go down as one of the most memorable verses of the past couple of years. Elzhi is a measured and effortless lyricist who is a testament to the continued importance (of writing your shit down) of lyricism in modern rap music. He employs a rapid-fire, endless flow that simply moves smoothly over the beat and raps around the production as if he was a young Common or Nasty Nas. Europass also notes the ascension to the pantheon of modern great prudcers for fellow Detroit native, Black Milk. Black Milk, who has began making the rounds the last couple of years as the number one J-Dilla biter, has been doing his best to make us all forget the memory of James Dewitt Yancey and he's giving 9th Wonder and El-P a run for the best underground producer around. Last year's excellent debut record from Black Milk, Popular Demand, gives credence to the man is the real deal. His work on Elzhi's record is definitely the highlight of the record as he laces the best songs on the record like "That's That One", "Motown 25", "Fire" and "Heart Of The City." He's also a surprisingly talented rapper is his own right as Popular Demand can attest. Other artists like the continued brilliance of Royce Da 5'9" and Slum Village help solidify Detroit's reign as the capital of underground hip hop.

What I'm most excited about the possibility of the Midwest replacing the South as the heart of modern hip hop is the diversity that it provides. Kanye, Lupe, Elzhi et al. offer a true alternative to the disease of Hot 97-infested rap. It's avant-garde but at the same time accessible. It's been a long time since the radio played anything that sounded remotely like the Native Tongues or J-Dilla but the Midwest is providing a hub for different sounding hip hop. As for the South, well...at least, you got Andre 300 rapping, again. That's something...

R.I.P. The South (1999 - 2008)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Source Grows Some Balls

Now that's a cover! I personally like the Suicidal Dre-Obsessed Game more than I like most rappers so as far as I'm concerned this is a good look. Fuck the pussy-ass hyper-masculinity of Curtis and his ilk. Bring me some creepy attention-grabbing vulnerability!

(And the Game stays winning against G-Unit.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I Imagine Vampire Weekend Sounds Like Without Ever Having Heard A Single Note From Them

"Blacula > Vampire Weekend."

Despite being fanatically devoted to all things hip hop, I like to attempt and keep up with other burgeoning trends in music that the internets have decided to inexplicably champion; not because I'm interested in listening to it (Because lord knows, I'm not!) but because I feel it's my patriotic duty as a card-carrying member of the Zulu Nation (Well, not really...) to hate on anything that my erstwhile nemesis, Tom Breihan, likes. (It's a calling, really.)

Recently, the Global Hipster Conspiracy At Pitchfork Media have decided that this year they are going to champion a band called "Vampire Weekend" as the poster boys for modern whiny indie rock. They have recently deigned to give Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut an 8.8 out of 10 which is akin to receiving a virtual blowjob from Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick and on their notoriously difficult-to-please scale. (To give you a reference point, "Sgt. Peppers"would probably receive a 6.5 if it were released today by their standards.) Now I thought it would be interesting to my readers if I reviewed their newest album without having listened to any of their actual music (much like Robert Christgau does when he reviews rap albums not produced by Arrested Development or Outkast). Granted, I'm not sure that their album sounds like anything I'm about to describe but I feel that their album should sound like this. And because, I speak nothing but the pure existential truth about everything, this should be considered the definitive review of Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut. I will not accept opinions to the contrary.

The Name:

From what I understand, Vampire Weekend is not a speed metal band or from Scandanavia. I find this troubling. There is absolutely no acceptable reason a band should be called "Vampire Weekend" unless they are playing their guitars at speeds where one could lop off a finger and are singing about worshiping the devil without irony. Completely and totally without irony. Now because this supposedly isn't true, I can only assume that they are trying to be ironic hipster douche bags which means I automatically have to subtract 2 points from their Pitchfork score. So right off the bat, we are looking at an album that is at best a 6.8. This doesn't look like it's gonna be very good.

Their Appearance:

Judging by this photo of the band, this is a band that uses a lot of acoustic guitars and is probably as a rocking as Joni Mitchell singing about her period. There may or may not be a violinist in the group and probably the hardest drug they've ever taken is their little brother's stolen Adderall that they use to stay up and study for their comparative literature exams. All of these are signs that the band is probably wack. I'm of the opinion that if you are going to be in a rock band than you cannot dress like you sing in all men's accapella jazz choir or at any point belonged to the chess team. Grow some long hair and throw on some tight leather pants, guys! Have some respect for your craft! It's against the rules to wear collared oxford shirts on stage and you are immediately disqualified from any chance of rock stardom. Judging by the photo, the dude in the beard probably plays bass, the dude in the head band is probably the lead singer, the guy with all the scarves is definitely the drummer and the nondescript Seth Cohen looking motherfucker on the right probably plays something lame like keyboards. If this isn't absolutely true, I'll eat my ego.

The Album's Track Listing:
  1. "Mansard Roof" – 2:07
  2. "Oxford Comma" – 3:15
  3. "A-Punk" – 2:17
  4. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – 3:33
  5. "M79" (Vampire Weekend, Koenig, Batmanglij) – 4:14
  6. "Campus" (Rostam Batmanglij, Koenig) – 2:55
  7. "Bryn" – 2:12
  8. "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" (Vampire Weekend, Koening, Slinger Fransisco) – 3:11
  9. "I Stand Corrected" – 2:38
  10. "Walcott" – 3:39
  11. "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance" – 4:03
  12. "Ladies of Cambridge" (Japanese edition bonus track) – 2:39
  13. "Arrows" (Japanese edition bonus track) – 3:04
Judging by the songs named like "The Kids Don't Stand A Chance", "Campus," and "I Stand Corrected", I'm guessing their is a lot of music about being alienated because you liked Weezer records, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Magic: The Gathering cards growing up. "Bryn" is definitely a whiny ballad about girl who dumped the lead singer because she wanted to date the quarterback and their definitely is an acoustic guitar that's prominently involved. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" is definitely a song that is reggae-influenced because at one point, the singer was really into Bob Marley's Legend growing up and wants to show rock critics they have range. Rock critics love reggae influenced jams that show an artists range. "A-Punk" is probably the "rocking" lead single that is designed to make them seem like they aren't the biggest wusses in the world but is dangerously misleading. I'm not saying their is yelling on the chorus of the song but I'll be completely shocked if there isn't.

Overall, I found this record to be decent if you want to pretend you still like indie rock. I can't say for sure that indie rock is still extremely lame but this group's name, photographs and track listing has probably re-assured that for me. Until, Kurt Cobain resurrects himself from the dead, I'll probably stick with listening to Masta Ace records. I feel that I made the right decision.

The Good Doctor Zeus' Adjusted Pitchfork Score: 5.9

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kidz In The Hall - The In Crowd: Review

"I see these guys are taking their fashion cues from Badu-era Common. I'm not sure even hipsters would wear ascots with plaid pants."

On May 6th, in the year of our lord, Twenty-Oh-Eight, a most curious event occurred on the Planet Earth. A song that was not rampantly hideous debuted on MTV's Total Request Live at number six on their countdown. In fact, the song was actually sort of good. For those who do not know, Total Request Live (or TRL as the youngsters like to call it) is the worst show on television (not produced by Black Entertainment Television....) as it routinely features some of the worst muzak recorded in human history. It is a show that for a period between the years 1998-2001 featured the "N'Sync-Backstreet Boys-Britney Spears" troika of lameness dominating the top of their charts and ruining pop music as we know it. I vividly remember returning home from school during my formative high school years and watching this show feature the worst acts in a variety of genres including lame pop punk, wack Southern hip hop, shitty boy bands and the musical stylings of one Mr. Fred Durst. I was not a fan.

So when hipster rap royalty, Kidz In The Hall's new video for "Drivin' Down The Block (Low End Theory)" off their great new rap album, The In Crowd, debuted on MTV's seminal countdown show, I was convinced I was living in a time warp and I accidentally had fallen into an alternate universe where music that does not suck routinely gets played on mainstream media outlets. I had to check in the mirror in my bathroom to make sure my skin hadn't turned green and I was sporting an extra nose or something. Alas, nothing else strange has happened and I deduced I was still living on good ol' Earth-616 but it is certainly a strange new world where an act like Kidz In The Hall can be prominently featured on MTV's flagship music show.

The In Crowd is an album much like the work of Little Brother and the Cool Kids with a decidedly throwback aesthetic. The album's banging opener, "The Black Out", sounds as if it's communing with the Gods of '88 as it simultaneously channels Eric B. and Rakim's classic "Juice" and It Takes A Nation Of Millions-era Public Enemy with it's thundering jazzy bass line and wailing Bomb Squad sirens. This is only the intro to an album that not only seems like a throwback to an earlier era but has a decidedly modern edge. Double-O, the DJ/producer of the duo, is the star of the show on this record providing a wide variety of beats that recall an influence that marks College Dropout-era Kanye West, 9th Wonder, the Neptunes and even late-90s electronic trance music. "Driving Down The Block", the epic lead single, sounds as dark and menacing as anything Pharell ever laced with the Clipse with which is fitting since Pusha-T shows up for the epic hipster rap posse cut remix of the song. "Love Hangover" sounds as if it belongs on Moby album circa 1995 with it's electronica influences swirling around Naledge's and guest singer's Estelle's vocals. "Snop Hop", "The Pledge", "Paper Trail" and "Mr. Alladatshit" are all standout cuts that recall the best of midwest modern underground hip hop these days and all feature standout guest vocals from Camp Lo, Boot Camp's Buckshot and Sean Price and Phonte. This album is a guest orgy of underground rap staples and they come out and show and prove.

One of the main criticisms of the Kidz In The Hall is that Naledge, the group's lead rapper, hasn't quite matured as an emcee and on this point, the criticism is apt. Naledge isn't a weak rapper per se and does nothing to embarrass himself on this rapper but he is yet to find an identity as an artist which is a shame because D0uble-O is really coming into his own as a producer. Naledge sounds as if he's a less nasal Kanye West but despite the fact that he's a better rapper on this record than Kanye was on College Dropout (by virtue of the fact, he doesn't embarrass himself on the mic), he lacks a true presence on this record and his lyrics come across as boilerplate underground lyricism. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, Naledge has a nimble flow and he's perhaps a record or two away from becoming a great rapper. For right now, Naledge is simply content to be just good and be carried by Double-0 at this point which is fine. I'm not hating. Just calling it like I see it.

If The In Crowd is any indication of the direction that the fledging genre of hipster rap (Why won't this name die?! Ha!!!) then we could look forward to some damn good alternative hip hop in the next couple of months. The Cool Kids and The Knux, the other two thirds of the hipster rap troika, are releasing records later this year and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing if they can match the Kidz In The Hall latest opus. Ultimately, the Kidz In The Hall is a damn solid record that is currently one of the best releases of the year. The bar has been set for the other hipsters of the world. Can they jump it? Only their vision and some restrictively tight pants can prevent them? Viva La Revolucion!

Ferrari with FREE Slab of Ribs! from In Crowd Autos on Vimeo.

BODACIOUS BENTLEY! from In Crowd Autos on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rappers Write Your Shit Down! - A Prayer For Shawn Carter

"One of these guys is a writer. One of these guys is a biter. Take your pick."

As we all (should) know, Jay-Z is not the greatest rapper of all-time. Of course, people like to pretend this at alarming rate these days but yet again, people seem to disturbingly like "Lollipop" at a higher rate than is naturally acceptable, so we cannot trust the opinion of the masses. As great as rapper as he is (but not the greatest), Jay-Z is responsible for a lot of annoying, awful trends in hip hop since his unfortunate ascendancy to the hip hop throne post-Biggie's death. He's directly responsible for rappers liking to front like they are an underworld boss/Fortunate 500 CEO because they "own" a clothing line and a vanity label filled with their childhood ganja toters; he's responsible for many a misguided young man who unfortunately feels that he can be both street and sophisticated by wearing a Yankees cap and Jordans with a blazer and a button up shirt; and most troubling of all, he's responsible for many less talented rappers to start believing that their too good to write down their own rhymes. This is what I'm going to be discussing today.

One of the more memorable scenes in Jay-Z's shamelessly self-congratulatory documentary, "Fade to Black", is the scene where Jay-Z explains the creative process behind his rhymes. Jay-Z after listening to a gaggle of a horrific sub-Kanye chipmunk soul beats finally stumbles upon a gem in the form of the Buchanan's "What More Can I Say?" and begins to mumble like a retarded street hobo for a few moments (or as he calls it his "rain man thing") before crafting an entire rhyme in his head without bothering to write it down. At one point, 9th Wonder, who must have stumbled into the studio in between projects of handing the same beat over and over again to Buckshot and the entire underground rap scene, looks as if he's seen god himself in the flesh as he witnesses Jay-Z craft a whole entire song in his head without once putting a pen to the pad. Admittedly, this is an amazing feat because most rappers who freestyle entire songs sound horrifically cliched and boring but Jay-Z has been able to amass one of the greatest discographies in all of music while not bothering to do one of the most fundamental practices of being a great emcee, writing. Now on the surface, this isn't necessarily a bad thing and would be something that would be quite impressive if the practice had simply stayed with Shawn Carter and not spread to the rest of the hip hop world but because modern rappers are nothing if not original, many of today's greats including erstwhile rapper royalty like T.I., Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne have decided they don't need to bother writing their rhymes down (as it gets in the way of selling cocaine and sipping syrup) and hip hop has suffered for it.

Like any great craft, rap lyricism is an intricate and difficult process that requires careful editing and re-writing. It's not something that the great rappers just jump into when writing a song. A well-crafted song takes time and effort to unfold as you not only can you build not only intricate rhyme structures into the song but complex metaphors and stories can be introduced as well. This is exceedingly difficult when you freestyle your songs unless you are a true once-in-a-lifetime genius because by it's very nature freestyling is an open ended form based on chaos and versatility. It's hard to write "Follow The Leader" when you are coming completely off the dome, call me a skeptic. Nas, once, dedicated an entire song to the process of editing your rhymes on "Book Of Rhymes" on God's Son in which he rhymes as if he's reading discarded song ideas that he found in boxes in his attic. In each verse on the song, Nas starts and stops different song ideas that he's had in the past, tossing away and dismissing ideas that seem like they could be winners in their genesis because Nas finds the rhyming subpar or the idea unfocused. It gives a glimpse into the creative process of a song writer as Nas meticulously crafts each verse until it's perfect (too bad his beat picking isn't as sharp.) and is why Nas' is one of the foremost writers in hip hop history. Regardless of how you feel about Nas' penchant for beats or his desire to make ill-concieved controversy baiting rap titles, Nas has never been less than clever and fresh with his rhymes. He remains one of the greatest writers of his generation because he's such a sharp and meticulous writer.

In my opinion, the greatest writer of all-time in hip hop music is Wu-Tang's resident obscene slang kicker, The GZA. GZA is a perfectionist when it comes to crafting the perfect sixteen bars because he shows the importance of using economy of words. GZA nevers wastes words, never adds a syllable when there doesn't need to be, and always makes sure his metaphors are clear and make sense. We all know his potency when it comes to lyricism when he crafts clever songs like "Labels", "Publicity", "Queen's Gambit", and "Fame" where GZA namechecks various real-life people, magazines, football teams, and music labels and is able to craft vivid narratives by rhyming those words only. This is only done because GZA takes the time to meticulously craft and edit his words. While some of GZA's later work is weaker comparative to his earlier stuff because of beat selection and production, GZA has never written a wack rhyme in his life. Period. His direct, economical style shows the power of writing your rhymes down and shows that you can be lethal when you use your pen. I have been often a critic of rhymers like Lil' Wayne for their forced metaphors and suspect similies and it's precisely because they don't bother to edit their material. It just pops into their head and they record on wax with little to quality control. Wayne and others are able to become undeniably profilic because of this but it keeps them from entering the pantheon of great rhymers.

It was welcome news recently when T.I. announced after his spectaculary idiotic assualt weapon possesion charges that he decided to write his rhymes down again on paper so I'm hopeful that his next album could quite possibly be his best one he's ever recorded. Jugding by the recent dopeness that was his new single that T.I. could possibly be headed that direction. T.I. already has massive flow so if he became a more consistent writer than the debate on who is the greatest Southern rapper of his generation could be answered and the national nightmare of Weezy's cough medicine soaked reign could be over. Call me estatic.

Ultimately, when you don't write your rhymes down your work suffers. Jay-Z was a tremendous rapper when he didn't write his rhymes down but one can only imagine if he bothered to sit down and think his rhymes completlely through. Perhaps, he wouldn't have blatantly stole so many lines from Biggie, UGK and others over the years and wouldn't have the dogged complaints from the naysayers that the best rapper of all-time can't possibly be such a shameless biter. So rappers don't be like Jay-Z. Write your shit down. You might just save yourself the embarrassment of making a song like "Sunshine." You'll thank me later.