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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Termanology - Politics As Usual: Review

Luckily, Jay did not show up to the proceedings...

In the long, long ago, in the forgotten times, before the dark years of G-Unit and the rule of the Bucktoothed One, there once was a magical, mysterious land known as the east coast mixtape scene. Perhaps, you know it. In this land, there were literally billions and billions of young, hungry semi-talented rappers standing on the corners of Virgin Record stores, hawking their wares to annoyed pedestrians, all claiming to be the heirs of the forgotten kings of the past and all sounding vaguely yet distinctively similar with their verbose flows, complex deliveries, and monotonous, endlessly insipid punchlines about selling drugs. It was a time of great joy as the future looked bright and shiny.

The elite of the masses were scooped up by the major labels of the period and promised prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. Fame and fortune certainly seemed to be on the horizon of these would-be conquerors of music but troubled times lay ahead. The heinous evil known as Southern rap soon began to dominate the charts and the labels forgot about these promising rappers. Few released albums. Saigon signed with Just Blaze but became a victim to Just’s insatiable desire to sit on his ass and play video games. Papoose signed with Jive and soon learned that yes, the crackers don’t play ‘em fair. Joell Ortiz signed with Dr. Dre and soon learned that Dre rampantly does not give a fuck, anymore. Those that did release an album like Cassidy and Fabolous quickly learned that (they were the same damn rapper) lame punchlines and half-assed R. Kelly guest appearances are not the formula for success. Not with Lloyd Banks freely stealing their gimmick and making shitty records with it on G-Unit. The world slowly passed these men by and soon record labels became focused on ruining the careers of hipster rappers and other assorted flash in the pans. The few that survived went to Koch were doomed to work with Sheek Louch and rap over the corpse of 9th Wonder’s beats for the rest of eternity. Clearly, it was a time of great despair and hope was something that dared not bear it’s head.

Boston’s Termanology has managed to break this self-defeating cycle and his debut album, “Politics As Usual”, is really, really good. “Politics As Usual” is a ‘90s East Coast throwback album in the truest sense. It has that classic jazzy but gritty New York sound and intricate rapping that made East Coast rap the greatest brand of hip hop ever. That in itself isn’t necessarily enough to make an east coast rap worth a damn these days. There are plenty of vaguely generic, east coast hardcore rap albums being released these days but they all sound like an approximate of what the scene used to sound like. Producers like Statik Selektah, Jake One, 9th Wonder, and Marco Polo have all been attempting to capture the classic New York sound for years now and while in their defense, they have come up with some memorable beats some of the times, the music they make just sounds forced at times It’s a little too clean, the chopped samples are little too precise, and the vibe just seems a little off. What sets Term’s album apart is that the album sounds authentically ‘90s and that is no little part due to the production line-up. Termanology has got the production line-up that Nas should have been working for years. The creme de la creme, the fuckin’ elite of classic east coast rap production is all here! DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee, Buckwild, Havoc, The Alchemist, and Hi-Tek all show up on this record and turn out records that clearly were produced in ‘98 because none of them have sounded this good in years. Most surprising is Primo who hasn’t turned a memorable beat since at least ‘01 demolishes his three productions on the album (“Watch How It Goes Down”, “So Amazing”, “How We Rock”). “Watch How It Goes Down”, the album’s heart stopping opener, may in fact be the best beat Primo has produced since “Moment Of Truth” and for Term’s part, he absolutely couldn’t have used the beat better. The song is fierce and thrilling in ways that you forgot good east coast rap scene. I can’t really understate how amazing that song is.

And while the production is what’s really distinctive about this album, it’s not like Termanology is a slouch on the mic. For his part, Term has a wicked flow and while at times, his writing falls clearly within some of the cliches of New York rap as he dwells too often on a generic sense of the struggle, tales of drug dealing and crime life, Term is more than a capable rapper and when he wants to be, his delivery and energy more than makes up for it. I wish in some sense, he would escape some of modes of hardcore rap because if he does, this album could have been REALLY something special.

While the album is quite strong and doesn’t have any joints that really stick out as bad, the three songs produced by Nottz (“Please Don’t Go”, “Float”, and “Drugs, Crime & Gorillaz”) all feel a little too G-Unity for my tastes and could have all pretty much left on the cutting room floor with nary a complaint from me. They’re not bad tracks per se but they sound out of place on album that sounds authentically throwback and take away some of the vibe.

If we are to rate, the success of the elite of the ‘00s New York mixtape scene that the leaders of this movement has thus far. We would have to give Saigon a C plus for failing to release an album but releasing some half decent singles, Joell Ortiz, a solid B for his album “The Brick” but also for getting dropped from Aftermath, fuckin’ Papoose gets a G minus (and that's perhaps being too light on that clown shoes) for doing everything possible to ruin any faith that the man is capable of not sounding like a bad Big L rip-off (the somewhat underrated and unfairly critically maligned verse on the “Touch It (Remix)” aside), and Termanology gets an A minus for releasing an actual real-life album that lives up to the hype. If this album proves anything, it’s still possible to make a damn good album with the people that made the Bible. (Nasir, for the love of god, calls these people now!!!) One question remains though... Who the fuck is Terma fuckin’ nology blowing that got all these men to produce his album?!?!

Monday, September 29, 2008

T.I. - Paper Trail: Review

At least the cover's kind of cool... Right? Right?!

Sooooo...Yeaaaaah? Is...Is anybody else going to agree with me? Really? Nobody? Brandon?! Weiss? ! Dart?! Anybody?! I'll wait... Really?! It's just going to be me then? Ok. I'll just be the funcrusher in the room as usual, huh? Fine. It's always has to be me. It's a burden I know. When you been gifted with flawless taste sometimes you have to be a hater. (It's a noble profession.) So yeah, when did T.I. become...you know...like Nas?

No, Tip Harris did not suddenly transform into a the greatest lyrical wunderkind of all-time (Yeah, I said it!) although on his new album, Paper Trail, he does give arguably his best lyrical performance of his career. I'm talking about when did T.I. suddenly lose his ear for beats and suddenly become fond of the same monotonous easy-listening "snoozers" that Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones has been thrusting upon the world since "Stillmatic". Granted, I love that stuff. "Stillmatic's" a classic no matter what some rather unfortunate individuals tell you (And no, I will not accept any dissent to the contrary - Treyantraystopwritingthatcommentnowitwillbesummarilydeleted -
) but the world already has one prodigiously talented lyricist wasting his career on his beats from (*shudders*) L.E.S. and Salaam Remi.* We most certainly do not need two (or whatever the Southern rap equivalent of Nas' charity cases are). This is a problem considering T.I. has never been the lyricist that Nas can be when he's not smoking himself functionally retarded. The album deeply, deeply suffers from the fact that the production is so bland and uniform that it's often hard to notice the greatness of T.I.'s lyrical performance on this record.

The weak production on T.I.'s disappointing new album, "Paper Trail", hides the fact that T.I. has a lot on his mind. "Paper Trail" is T.I.'s most personal album to date and he spends the vast majority of the tracks dealing with the fallout from T.I.'s assault weapon arrest and trial. T.I. has lot to reconcile with the obvious fact that attempting to purchase AK-47's and silencers is profoundly idiotic for a man who not only has multiple felony charges but is insanely rich and can clearly afford personal security with the idea that he feels little to no real guilt or remorse for his crimes because he's attempting to protect and feed his family. The best tracks on the album deal directly with these feelings of conflict and you can really feel the emotional resonance on these records. The album's best track, the stunningly underrated single "No Matter What", directly deals with this as T.I. stands defiant against the world he feels has wronged him in the face of these charges. It's the sort of the anthemic, triumphant song powered by Danja's titantic organs and guitars that not only works as therapy but also can inspire. What I garnered from the record is that T.I. knows he screwed up but feels insanely wronged by people for being forced in a situation that he feels is bullshit. The song's best cuts like "56 Bars", "Ready For Whatever", and "I'm Illy" all directly deal with this.

The rest of the album suffers when T.I. goes for the bald commercialism that tanked the album's predecessor, "T.I. vs. T.I.P." "Whatever You Like", the album's inexplicably number one single, is absolutely heinous in both execution and the general nasaeu that it causes on the listener. It seems as if T.I. as the more famous that Tip gets the inversely proportional his ability to write a decent crossover jam becomes. "Why You Wanna" is kind of a guilty pleasure (mostly because it sounds like the soundtrack to Mario Kart), "You Know What It Is" was generic but tolerable but "Whatever You Like" is just plain awful. The other crossover attempts don't work as well. "Porn Star" is the latest entry in the insipid sex rap genre and will probably be cracking my top ten worsts songs of the year list and "Slide Show" featuring the increasingly awful John Legend is so boring that it might well as be on a Talib Kweli album. The only song that is clearly designed for the Asher Roth-set that works is the odd Rihanna-duet, "Live Your Life", which sort of sounds like Umbrella Pt. 2 if it miraculously sampled the Numa Numa song (or whatever that song that dorky, overweight German kid lost his ability to lose his virginity, too). The song works in ways that probably shouldn't and is kind of goofily enjoyable in ways that are best not explained.

Ever since I discovered that I really, sort of loved "King" aftere completely ignoring the work of Clifford Harris prior, I have found that T.I.'s work is increasingly getting worse. I don't even like "Paper Trail" as much as I liked "T.I. vs. T.I.P." which was about half of a good album. "Paper Trail" has some very good moments but I found myself wondering has T.I. simply lost his ability to write hits (Obviously not because "Whatever You Like" is still inexplicably number one. Seriously, people of the world? Seriously?! I don't get you at all.) that don't suck or if the weight of the impending trial sabatoged any record that weren't directly about his tribulations. Somehow, I feel "Paper Trail" was derailed along the way because it feels like it could of or even should have been better. I'd like to see T.I. succeed, though. Maybe he should do a concept record about the "N' word. Yeah, that'll work!

* (I mean seriously, Nas?! Why in the world are you still working with L.E.S. the least talented producer on Illmatic? Terma -fucking- nology just turned in a pretty damn great album featuring production by practically everybody else on that damn record! People like Primo, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Easy Mo Bee! People you know and have made fantastic music with in the past! You're telling me Koch Records can shell out for these guys but Def Jam can't?! Fuck you. No, fuck you! That's ridiculous... Sorry, I just had to get that off of my chest. )

Friday, September 12, 2008

Who Told Kanye West He Was Andre 3000? - A Prayer For Robert Christgau

"What is this a Wilco record? Count me out."

Inevitably, there comes a point in every critically acclaimed rapper’s career where they become so gassed with all of the critical nut-slobbery fevered in their direction that they come to believe that they are too good to actually...you know... rap. When this happens, the rapper inevitably decides to do something completely foolish and ill-advised like learn to play the guitar or make a spoken word album about love with the Last Poets. These records are almost always “partial-birthers” of the highest order and they are almost always fellatied by rockist critics who want to seem down with this “hip hop thing” but don’t want the hassle of having to explain to their friends and family why they are listening to a Heltah Skeltah record in the CD deck of their Toyota Priuses.

This is a fate that has befallen the best of rappers. We all remember the tragic fate of one Mr. Andre 3000 who wasted the prime of his career doing a bad Prince impression as the Rolling Stone’s of the world sycophantically rushed to praise Outkast for their “visionary” eclecticism. And who can forget the time that Mos Def upon reading a book about the history of rock and roll rushed to reclaim rock music for black artists everywhere by making a legendarily shitty album with his horrific rock band? Not Robert Christgau who inexplicably gave it an A-. Yes, many rappers start to believe they are too good for rap music which is why I was not remotely shocked in the least when Kanye West came down from the mountains and gifted the world latest of these ill-advised abortions with his new song, “Love Lockdown.”

“Love Lockdown” is Kanye’s new single from the upcoming (and awesomely titled) album, “808’s & Heartbreak", and in the tradition of T-Pain and “Lollipop”, it eschews with Kanye’s patented quasi-lyrical sort-of great but sort-of terrible raps for lots of off-key, warbling singing and the magic of auto-tune. The song cryptically alludes to Kanye’s recent break-up with his long-time (beard) fiancee and seems to plod along at a snail’s pace for an inexplicably long four minutes and thirty-one seconds. It seems as if the pain from Kanye’s break-up has forced him to emote his pangs through the therapeutic power of song that only singing like a drunken karaoker can provide. I suppose it’s kind of interesting in the naked emotion that is being laid out by Kanye by attempting to sing but it’s not something that hasn’t been done a thousand times better by soul singers and other much more talented vocalists. I suppose that the best that I can say for it is that it isn’t as a bad as could be and it’s not nearly as atrocious as “Lollipop.”

A lot of ink has been spilled by either people apologizing about it by trying to find meaning in it or outright hating it for Kanye attempting to sing. I personally couldn’t really care less about that. I’m more interested in the conceit and transparency Kanye is going by attempting an obviously pandering left-field move. Great rappers (or in Kanye’s case great artists) who don’t follow the orthodoxy of hip hop’s aesthetics tend to be almost apologetic for their choice of genre and yearn for that mainstream canonization that alludes their genre. There is an almost inferiority complex with great “alternative” rappers who yearn for mainstream acceptance on grander level. Hip Hop because of it’s roots and nature has always been seen as lesser than rock music by serious music critics and thus when it’s time for canonization fails to measure with the greats of rock. You will not find a rap album listed in the top ten albums of all-time by any mainstream music publication. They barely crack the top 50 and if it does it’s usually something historically obvious and with a discernible rock influence like Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys or N.W.A. You do not see records included that rap considers canon like “Illmatic”, “Ready To Die”, or “The Chronic” in any serious top 10 list. This manifest itself in rappers attempting to break away from the norms of hip hop and making a record that panders to rock critics by eschewing traditional influences and going obviously avant-garde as if to scream to critics that not all rappers are dumb, shallow, violent and materialistic. It’s as if these rappers are saying that their music is inherently inferior to other forms and thus it’s imperative that in order to win true respect one needs to change their style. Songs about sex, drugs and rock and roll just aren’t good enough if it’s done with a sampler instead of a guitar.

In Kanye’s case, I suppose we should have seen this coming sooner. Kanye is a man that is deeply (perhaps pathologically) obsessed with awards and adulation and despite being the most critically acclaimed rapper in years, has failed to notch the one true test of mainstream acceptance, the Grammy Award for Best Album Of The Year. While the Grammy’s are largely and have always been irrelevant due to their aging voting body, it does offer a gauge to the level of acceptance a form of music has by the mainstream canon. Hip Hop despite being in existence for nearly forty years now has only one won of those suckers, 2004’s win for Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” (and it certainly did not win because of Speakerboxxx); a record that can be rightly said to be Outkast’s worst (I’m pretending Idlewild didn’t happen) album but perhaps most mainstream accessible due to Andre’s experimental leanings and bad drum and bass reinterpretations of classic jazz records. Kanye wants to win the big one and he might feel that the best chance of this is to ditch rapping and make an “avant-garde” record with lots of auto-tuned singing and rockist musical leanings. I mean last year, “Graduation” was pretty avant-garde in it’s own right but it still was clearly a hip hop record but it lost to a Herbie Hancock record nobody had ever listened to.

What I personally loathe is the Robert Christgau school of ignoring any rap record that dares to have any balls (i.e. any rap record that deals with violence or sex explicitly). Christgau, despite being one of the most influential and important rock critics of all-time, basically has written off the most important genre in music of the last 20 years, gangster rap, and refuses to acknowledge any rap record that follows that formula. To me, this reeks at best out-of-touch elitism and at worst out-right racism of rock critics who loathe the primal explicitness that the best of gangster rap can provide (or as I like to refer to as it’s glorious, transcendent ignorance). I’ve always been drawn to the cathartic pleasures that the music can bring when it’s at it’s best. It has an undeniable appeal even to a kid from the suburbs like me. For sure, “Bitches Ain’t Shit” is misogynist and profoundly ignorant but there’s a quality to it that expresses male frustration towards women that it helps alleviate precisely because of it’s ugly language and subject matter. A song about killing your enemies (even it’s as basest and most crass) appeals to young people because it taps into universal themes that cross class lines like the fantastical desire to blow away with an AK-47 the people that pick on or mistreat you. It’s something that older people who grew up on music that wasn’t as explicit in expressing anger don’t seem to understand. It doesn’t mean it’s a lesser music.

As much as I criticize, Jay-Z, I will always give him dap for not only being the most successful rapper of all-time (at least, in terms of sustaining popularity over a career) but doing it without pandering to mainstream rockist audiences. He’s lived and died by rap and he has done fairly well for himself by being a great lyricist and traditional hip hop artist. Hopefully, Kanye’s new album won’t be filled with “Love Lockdown’s” and he’ll follow his “big brother’s” tradition of continuing to make great “traditional” rap albums. “808’s & Heartbreak” is being billed as Kanye’s break-up album and it would be certainly interesting for rap to have it’s own “Rumors” but if it’s anything like “The Love Below” you can count me out. Perhaps “Love Lockdown is an aberration but I won’t be surprised if the album sucks and Kanye collects a few more Golden statutes, anyway. I love saying I told you so.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Allow Me To Not Give A Fuck: Tom Brady Edition

Oh man, I am so going to hell for this one...

On September 7th, 2008, at approximately 8 minutes into the Kansas City Chiefs – New England Patriots opening game, the skies blackened and hell opened up and the world was swallowed whole as Tom Brady, God Amongst Men, was struck down by the cruel hand of unjust fate. It was the day the music died, when the men of the world lost all hope, and Boston, poor pitiful Boston, was handed another painful loss in a string of bad luck that has included 3 Super Bowls, 2 World Series, and an NBA Championship. What cruel fate! Curse the gods and their wanton indifference… Or something like that…

Personally, I was wrestling with feeling guilt over feeling such unimaginable joy and sheer giddiness of seeing such a smug prick go down after the Patriots not only cheated to win their three championships but proceeded to run up the score with a reckless abandon against clearly inferior opponents. However, after seeing Bill Simmons write such a shamelessly whiny and self-loathing piece over at ESPN.com about the Patriots' (and the “tortured” fans of Boston's) bad luck, I decided to be like “fuck it” and thoroughly enjoy this amazing turn of events. I just hope the karma police don’t decided to take revenge on my fellow Clevelanders and have Lebron rip his ACL this season. I mean seriously, if that happens after everything Cleveland has been through in my lifetime and then he bolts for Brooklyn, I’m personally renouncing my religion, joining with Satan, and coming after God. I feel like I would be a better god than his negligent ass, anyway.

But seriously, folks. Here’s my letter to New England:

Dear Boston,

Suck it, bitches.


The People Of Cleveland

P.S. Philadelphia and Seattle want me tell you to go blow yourselves, too.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Charles Hamilton Makes A Mixtape About His Blog

Personally, I was always a bigger fan of Luigi...

Often rappers who do not have a hell of lot to say become singularly obsessed with something and that becomes the focus of their rhymes. Young Jeezy rhymes about coke and only coke, The Game seems to have an unnatural obsession with rappers from the 1990's and Lil’ Wayne only seems to be interested in sipping cough medicine and convincing people that he receives blowjobs (allegedly) from a large, assortment of women (and not Birdman). As for Charles Hamilton, he seems to only want to rap about the internet and his Sega Genesis which may in fact, make him the most interesting rapper to migrate out of Harlem since Cameron Giles saw his first pink fur coat in a Hot Topic on 125th Street.

Charles Hamilton is a weird dude. He is a Cleveland-born (Hollaback, y’all!), Harlem-raised emcee/producer signed to Interscope Records who sounds like the illegitimate cousin of Pharoahe Monch biting Kanye West’s flow and Lil’ Wayne’s delivery; not to mention he has penchant for crooning terribly off-key and vocoder infused interpolations of recognizable tunes as hooks. Hamilton has a deep affinity bordering on Stan-like standom with Sonic the effin’ Hedgehog and seems to inexplicably loathe Lupe Fiasco to the point where you wonder if Lupe fucked his girlfriend despite being his artistic cousin. A prolific blogger, Hamilton runs and maintains several websites dedicated to the glories of himself and the music that he makes. Hamilton has an eclectic taste in music that manifests itself in songs that sample everything from Willy Wonka to the motherfucking Microsoft Windows start-up sound. Yes, Charles Hamilton is a weird dude. He’s also kind of brilliant.

Hamilton’s new mixtape with DJ Skee, “The Death of the Mixtape Rapper”, is Hamilton’s first mixtape in the upcoming “Hamiltonization Process” series. The mixtape follows in the tradition and promise of Hamilton’s earlier mixtapes, this year’s great “Outside Looking” and “Crash Landed.” The mixtape follows the formula outlaid in Hamilton's earlier work - catchy, familiar hooks, clever pop culture laced rhymes, and production that samples from familiar but diverse material. On the Pete Rock-laced opener, Hamilton borrows from the "Theme to The Exorcist" to create an eerie, low-key bragfest. While the mixtape isn't quite up to bar with it's two excellent predecessors as it features too many obvious moments like a prerequisite "A Millie" freestyle (Seriously people, stop! It's not even that good of a beat.), the mixtape does offer some particularly interesting moments that are some of the year's best music put to date. Hamilton seems to have a affinity for technology and the internet that seems to make him one of the first true post-modern emcees I've heard.

Soulja Boy, for all his vacuous inanities and forays into utter ignorance, has shown the music industry the power of properly harnessing the internet for promotion which is a lesson that Charles Hamilton seems to have taken to heart. On "Death Of The Mixtape Rapper", it seems Hamilton spends, at least, half of the albums on the song promoting his various blogs, websites, and MySpace pages. This wouldn't even necessarily even be that strange if he were casually shouting his website at the end of the songs or during the musical interludes but instead, Hamilton makes self-promotion the focus of the song. On the mixtape's musical centerpiece, "Windows Media Player" which miraculously samples the ubiquitous "Windows start-up sound", is an ode to the promotion of his blog. The chorus of the song is literally him chanting the web addresses of his various websites. On "Twitter 16", Charles turns a call for a girl to check out his Twitter feed into a (sort-of) seductive come-on. What's interesting about Charles' obsession with technology is the circular and absurd post-modernity of it all. Hamilton uses his music as promotion for his websites which in turn are promotion for his music. It's a feedback loop that allows him to build and interact with his audience as well as constantly release new music. "The Hamiltonization Process", Charles' upcoming mixtape series, is an eight part series being jointly released on many of the major hip hop music sharing blogs such as Nah Right, 2dopeboyz, and OnSmash. These sites have revolutionized the way music is shared as many music labels directly release music to them as a way to cheaply and effectively promote their music and Hamilton knows this. Being a child of the '90s and in turn the generation that grew up illegally downloading music, he understands the importance that the internet plays in the lives of young people and so using these sites to promote his music only serves to feed into the cleverly cultivated feeback loop that he has been building. Hell, it's how I became turned onto his music.

All of this would matter not and be incredibly annoying if he didn't have the musical skills to back it up. While Hamilton comes from the Kanye school of lyricism and thus at times, his metaphors and flow seem forced and a bit awkward, as a producer and an artist, Charles is one of the most prolific samplers of diverse and an avant-garde samples since Prince Paul picked up an MPC. Hamilton often uses easy identifiable but still culturally obscure samples in his music. Of the music that he has released, he has sampled: The Offspring, the Goo Goo Dolls, Willy Wonka, Mr. Rogers, Charlie Brown, Staind, Madonna, the Exorcist Theme and various different themes from the soundtrack to Genesis games. Hamilton eschews the traditional soul sample or synthesizer heavy music that modern rap has come to rely upon to create a more eclectic and possibly universal sound. It's hard not to smile when he uses such a recognizable but obscure samples to craft a rap song. I'll be amazed if he's able to clear any of the samples for his major label debut.

Charles Hamilton is poised to be the proverbial the next big thing but I suppose it all depend on his ability to translate his promotional swagger into music that will hold up over the course of an album. Still, it's nice to see a young kid breaking away from the molds that traditional rap both mainstream and independent and carving his own niche out. Now where's my fucking Genesis?

Download: Charles Hamilton & DJ Skee - The Death Of The Mixtape Rapper

Download: Charles Hamilton & DJ Green Lantern - Outside Looking (Recommended)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

No Words: Movie Musical Edition

I had this exact idea years ago. Granted, my idea was to make it a Broadway play and have musical dance sequences choreographed by Bob Fosse and have it directed by Susan Stroman but I'm sure Sticky Fingaz will do it justice. I'm sure this will make Chicago look like Killa Season.