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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

eMC - The Show: Review

I get called out of touch or hopelessly true school or even just plain “old” (which is ironic because I’m only twenty-four and I can still somewhat believably pass for a teenager. I look young. I don’t even need to shave regularly!) for my musical tastes that I fervently express. By my own admission, I’m a rampant hater and I have no qualms shitting on music I feel is sub par. I have anti-pop tastes. I was always into Nas more than Jay-Z. Wu-Tang more than Cash Money. Sick, screeching drowning cats more than Young Jeezy. I get extremely frustrated when music like say Soulja Boy that I consider to be base garbage gets endlessly played on my radio and my television (and then proceeds to get excused by pandering pop critics) while worthier artists gets endlessly pushed back, ignored and marginalized by the media and the record industry. It’s unconscionable to me that artists like say Lupe Fiasco or Little Brother get shit on when they have the balls to say anything remotely of substance (even when it’s flawed or hypocritical) when artists who deal in nothing but in the worst cliches and stereotypes get celebrated. Perhaps, I am old. Whatever. I don’t care. If the world wants to keep it’s head in the sand then so be it...But then Masta Ace drops another album and all is right with the world, again. For awhile, at least...

Masta Ace is one of my top five, dead or alive, hand-in-your-ballots, favorite rappers of all-time. Masta Ace who made his debut on the classic posse cut “The Symphony” twenty years ago should be a relic these days. In his Juice Crew glory days, he was always a talented but second string weed carrier who was always out-shined by the Daddy Kanes, the Rakims, the G. Raps, and the KRS-Ones of his era but unlike his peers, Ace has managed to re-invent himself as the Grand Poet Laureate of underground hip hop in this decade. This has kept Ace relevant. Very relevant. His last two albums, 2001’s Disposable Arts and 2004’s A Long Hot Summer, are not only Ace’s crowning achievements but some of the best underground hip hop records ever record.

Ace is back. This time with the underground super group, eMC. eMC consists of Masta Ace, Lyrical Lounge legends Punchline and Wordsworth, and Milwaukee underground veteran, Stricklin. Their new record, The Show, is underground hip hop at its finest and a virtual deadlock for one of the top five hip hop records of the year. The Show is a stylistic successor to Ace’s previous two concept albums as it follows the loose story of the group preparing for the night’s out-of-town performance. We follow the group as they frantically call their manager to pick them up at the airport to their check in at the hotel, to their radio appearances promoting the show, to backstage fucking groupies and finally their curtain call. The record is held together by a series of humorous skits that link the thematic elements of the story with the songs that expound on these themes.

All of the rappers in the group are extremely talented lyricists and storytellers and use the twenty plus tracks of the album to flex their ample lyrical muscle. Wordsworth is pound for pound one of the best lyricists working today. He employs a nimble flow and his rhyme patterns use deep, intricate wordplay. Stricklin has one of the fiercest deliveries in rap as every one of his lines is delivered with fervor and energy. Masta Ace is, of course, Masta Ace which means he’s just as warm, witty and complex as ever. Punchline is this group’s Big Pooh as he always seems to be just there on the track. Good for a strong punchline here and there but he isn’t nearly as special as the other three rappers in the group.

The production of the album like Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer is handled mostly by underground veterans like Ninth Wonder, Nicolay, Marco Polo and Ayatollah. This provides the album with it’s signature dependable true school sound that has been a staple of the collective’s records since 2001. Ayatollah really shines on this record with the dark and brooding “Grudge”, the album’s best song, that features a menacing guitar line, heavy bass drums, and ominous strings. The song is a meditation on the group’s various grudges they have with people over their lives from Ace’s beef with the childhood neighborhood bully he still sees around town to this day to Punch’s heartbreak over a cheating high school girlfriend. However, all of the rappers shine on this song but it’s Strick and Words that really stand out on the track. Strick’s verse deals with his violent impulses he has towards the group of kids that stole his bike as a kid and his verse is full of rage and passion that speaks towards the psychic trauma kids go through when they lose something dear to them at a young age. Words’ verse is in contrast and truly heartbreaking as he details his grudge with a loser, manipulative Uncle who steals Words property as a kid to pay for his gambling and weed addictions as he literally begs his mother to kick this manipulative loser out of the house.

There are a lot of great songs on the album that deal with a variety of subject matter that everyday people can relate to. “Don’t Give Up On Us” deals with the pressures of failing relationships. On “Winds Of Change”, the group deals with nostalgia of past eras without sounding bitter towards the present and “U Let Me Grow” is a heartfelt tribute to the groups’s deceased mothers. Not that the album is not without a couple of classic bangers as well, Little Brother assisted “Traffic” is the successor to Ace’s classic “Born To Roll” as it deals with what else, a fly ass car and the lead single, “What It Stand For” is underground posse cut rap at it’s punchliney finest. If the album has a flaw though, it does feel trapped in underground hip hop circa 2005-2006 as the production tends to be derivate of that time period and some of the punchlines fall flat because they sound dated because they were probably recorded during that time period. Still the record is damn near classic even with those flaws.

Masta Ace has built himself quite the legacy and The Show is another worthy addition to his already impressive catalogue. It’s quite thrilling to know that Ace has continued to improve with age and keep himself relevant in the rap game even while it crumbles around him. The chemistry on this album between the rappers are astounding and it really just works. If Ace continues pump out records like this in his 50’s and 60’s then I’m gonna keep on listening. Jay-Z take note. This is how you age with grace.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Erykah B. Is President

This is sooooo hip hop. I just thought I would share.

P.S. The Illmatic cover re-creation is haunting...

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Not A Blogger Short: Friday Night Music

  • - It's the end of a long sick week out here in Brooklyn and I've been feeling strung out from a deadly combination of aspirin, DayQuil, throat lozenges and Mucinex D as I have been nursing a nasty head cold all week long. I feel like somebody has placed my head in the same vice contraption that Jigsaw used to torture that girl in the first "Saw" movie and have been rotating between my bed, my couch, and my computer for the last three days as I try to sleep my way to health. Nevertheless, I felt that I would share a few of the songs that I've been digging on the last couple of days in my weakened state. Enjoy, bitches.
  • - After a year and a half hiatus from making music, the world's favorite crack rap/ugly clothes enthusiast group, the Clipse are back! The Clipse along with their coke suitcase toters (?), Ab-Liva and Sandman, released "20K Money Making Brothers On The Corner" in anticipation of their new mixtape, We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3. The song is just vintage Clipse. It is loaded with the sinister avant-garde post-boom bap production, glorious crack rap cliches and vicious punchline rapping that we've come to associate with the Brothers Thornton. I hate mixtapes but I seriously can't wait for "We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3."
  • - I am really digging this new hyphy/backpack fusion rap duo, The Cool Kids, out of the Midwest. Their music has this sinister dark edge to it that makes it the perfect to listen to late at night when you are cruising in a car and looking for trouble. Their music sounds like a fusion of Lupe Fiasco and early Too $hort that is just really, really ill. I've been bumping "I (Mikey) Rock" off their debut EP, "The Totally Flossed Out EP" all week long and it just does not get old. It seems like more and more the best music that is coming out is coming from the Midwest these days. I think we might be in the middle of the Golden Age of Midwest Rap right now with Lupe, Kanye, Common, Black Milk and hosts of others just killing it right now. Kudos for Jeff from Passion Of The Weiss for putting me up on these guys.
  • - One last note, one of my favorite rappers of all-time's, Masta Ace, new group's, eMc, new album, "The Show", leaked on the internets yesterday (I won't post it here but check the usual spots) and I don't want to get completely into it as I'm going to review it in full sometime next week when I feel better but it's really, really dope. For those that don't know, eMc consists of Ace, Lyricist Lounge alums Punchline and Wordsworth, and underground rapper, Stricklin. The Show is a lot like Ace's previous two albums, "Disposable Arts" and "A Long Hot Summer", as it follows a loose story line surrounding the group performing at a show. The record is just good old fashioned underground hip hop and for fans of Ace's previous two underground classics, it will not disappoint.
  • - That's it for today but I'll be back soon so don't you fret.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Grade F Beef: The Five Lamest Hip Hop Beefs Of All-Time

"If meat is murder, then murder tastes delicious..."

Beef. It seems it's the lifeblood of hip hop these days. Rappers, for as long as the hills have stood, can't seem to get along. True, over the years, their have been some classic beefs that has produced some classic music but it seems these days, hip hop beef has veered into more and more of the ridiculous. Witness the latest beef du jour that has gotten the internets buzzing in all of their ignorant glory, Soulja Boy versus The GZA. Soulja Boy, the dude responsible for some of the worst hip hop music in recent history, has apparently taken offense to some comments that GZA made at a concert in London where GZA, apparently drunk off his ass on East Indian Pale Ale, decided to ask the crowd whether or not they were feeling Soulja Boy are not. The Europeans, proving once again, they have infinitely better taste than their (southern) American cousins, promptly said "Hell The Fuck No!" and then proceeded to storm off and invade Poland. That should have been the end of the situation but a few Soulja Boy stans, mistaking Soulja as anything other than a talentless teen idol, got their panties in a twist and decided that GZA was responsible for the tastes of the crowd which prompted in many GZA Lost posts on message boards across the globe. Of course to anybody who is paying attention realizes this situation is just one ridiculous farce, as Soulja Boy literally can't hold U-God's book of rhymes let alone GZA's, which plays on the age old quarrel between the generations over the direction of hip hop. However, it did get me thinking about some of the stupidest beefs in hip hop history and so now I present to you five of the lamest, most ignorant, mind boggling stupid beefs of all-time. And per course with my lists, in no particular order.

5. Dipset Vs. Lil' Cease (2006)

One aspect of hip hop that has always struck me as the highest of high comedy is butter soft rappers calling out other butter soft rappers for being butter soft. It's as if once they get famous, they completely lose their sense of irony and forget the fact they sold as many kilos of cocaine as Al Pacino did i.e. only in their weeded out and delusional imaginations. Cam'ron, one of the true icons of hip hop unintentional comedy, has been making completely unbelievable tales of his days as the Tony Montana of Harlem for years and has been selling it to various short bus squaders for years. Lil' Cease, apparently taking offense to this (and being upset that despite being Biggie's number one weed carrier for life he isn't as famous as Cam), decided to release a tape of Jim Jones getting his ass beat by Junior M.A.F.I.A. in their salad days while Cam'ron does the hundred yard dash out of Rucker Park. This set off a bickering match across the thugged out world of YouTube between the two factions as they both debated who or who wasn't a snitch or something to that affect. Needless to say, everybody involved came across as incredibly stupid and childish. Hilarity ensued for the rest of us.

4. Lil' Wayne Vs. The Clipse (2006 - Present)

Hip hop fashion has a long sordid history of truly hideous fashion trends. Whether, it was the shiny suits of Puffy and Mase or the retina blowing rainbow color hues of the Afro-centric phase, there has been lot of clothing styles that can only be described with one word...abortion. However, the hideously gaudy and overpriced Bathing Ape clothes is quite possibly the ugliest clothes ever to be sported in hip hop history. You would think that the rappers who sport these abominations would take a look in the mirror, go into seizure and then burn every copy of a photo that was ever taken of them in these creations but no... Apparently, recognition as the originators of rocking this style is a title coveted enough that otherwise sensible rappers would openly beef over this which is exactly what Clipse and Lil' Wayne have decided to do. Beefing over Clothes...Decidedly Not Gangsta. This almost enough to completely erase any dubious artistic achievement either faction can claim.

3. 50 Cent Vs. Fat Joe/Jadakiss (2005 - Present)

Since Curtis Jackson's ascension to the top of the hip hop mountain, 50 Cent has become the poster child for all-things "beef." King 50, quite memorably, did the whole world a huge public service by "ending" Ja Rule's career back in 2003 and since then has issued a binding decree that nobody is allowed to work with Ja Rule unless he wants to incur the wrath of G-Unit Nation and all his loyal obsessed stans. Jadakiss and Fat Joe, apparently, not realizing the seriousness of this decree collaborated with Rule for 2004's "New York," a song that shook Curtis to his core for such brazen disrespect to his reign. 50 Cent in his all of his ignorant glory released the scathingly weak diss track "Piggy Bank" in promotion for his quintuple platinum abortion, The Massacre, and we were off to one of the stupidest beefs in recent history. What always struck me as particularly lame about this beef was that it was so childish on 50 Cent's part. Are you that bitter at Ja Rule for taking the attention of Supreme back in your halcyon days that you are going to beef with anybody that associates with him. Grow up, Curtis.

2. Timbaland Vs. Scott Storch (2007 - Present)

There are no words to accurately describe that video above. Scott Storch redefines both unintentional comedy and douchebaggery in one swift stroke. Storch's beef with Timbaland surrounds the fact that Storch got pissed that he didn't receive co-production credit for Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River." Scott Storch being a whiny little bitch publicly whined about this in a bunch of magazines and Timbaland chose to respond by coyly tossing a few subliminal shots in his video to "Give It 2 Me." Storch, apparently, not realizing that he's neither a rapper nor a gangster or that he's a freaky looking, plastic-faced Jewish kid from the suburbs of Canada, decided he was gonna respond with the abomination above. Hilarity and embarrassment ensued. Nobody tangentially involved with this beef should have a career after this.

1. Nelly Vs. Chingy (2003-2005)

There is stupid. There is stupid. And there is beefing over the pronouncing of the syllable "er." So it has come to this hip hop? We are beefing over accents now. Chingy and Nelly who are basically the same cornball pop rapper right down to the fact, they are both from St. Louis and both make the same kind of trite pop abortions started beefing over who invented the word "Derrty" in 2004 after the release of Chingy's first album and the his hit song, "Right Thurr". Nelly, apparently, thought pronouncing "there"as "thurr" was way too close to his famous enunciation of the word "here" from his uber-popular song "Hot In Herre" and thought the best way to solve this was publicly call out Ching-A-Ling for this unforgivable infraction. This is so childish in so many ways that I don't even know where to begin. First off, seriously? And second off, seeerrriously? Sometimes it's hard justifying being a fan of hip hop when bullshit like this happens. I guess, we're lucky nobody got shot to death. Just goes to show in St. Louis....the fucking shit is real.

* I'm pretty sure there are some ridiculously cheesy beefs pre-2002 but my knowledge of the minutiae of hip hop culture prior to 96/97 is somewhat limited due to the fact that I'm twenty-four so please feel free to remind me about some. Was there ever a Skee-Lo/Sir Mix-A-Lot beef by any chance? Because that would be awesome...

Monday, January 21, 2008

What The Hell Ever Happened To The Female Emcee?

Even After All Her Logic And Her Theory...

She should have been a contender. Her flow was deadly and her roar made the heavens quake and the lions cower in fear. She had lyrics for days and could go line for line with the titans of the genre...and win. But something got in the way of Lauryn Hill’s ascension to the mountain top of hip hop history, she went bat shit crazy (in the Britney Spears sense of the word) and the world passed her by. All that talent wasted and we never knew if the greatest rapper of all-time could have been a woman. Hip hop like life goes on...

I wish I could say that Lauryn Hill’s story was an anomaly but music history is littered with talented females that couldn’t handle the pressures of fame and the weight of their own talent. Their inevitable self destruction is often in spectacular and tragic manner (and for a person as into schadenfreude as I am, often hilarious manner, as well...Fuck you, sue me.). Hip hop is particularly prone to this kind of tragic meltdowns in their female artists. In recent years, female rappers like Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma and Foxy Brown have all faced serious criminal charges and been in and out of jail as if they Paris Hilton on a drunk driving beef. It seems that the only press that comes out of the female quotient of hip hop seems to be overwhelmingly negative whether it be Remy Ma attempting to pop the weave off her jewelry polisher with a pistol or Foxy Brown and her Homeric struggle with hearing aids and prison walls.

The female rapper is an endangered species in the music industry these days. Last year, there was not one single, solitary release by a female rapper that even approached the top twenty best selling rap albums of the year, let alone, the top twenty best selling albums overall. Rap music has always been to a huge extent a male sport. It is a music genre that is heavily fueled by testosterone and often finds itself at odds with the female gender. For those who were ,at the bare minimum, lying awake and not completely weeded out on a toxic combination of heroin, mushrooms, and kush, that revelation should come as much as a surprise as Hillary Clinton conveniently erasing a nine point poll deficit the day before the New Hampshire Primary. Female rappers have always had it harder than their male counterparts. For all the bitching that male rappers make about records companies forcing their image and their music into small, ill-fitting iron boxes, females have the cause to gripe at their counterparts like a Cleveland sports fan bitching at Red Sox or Cubs fan for pretending their punk asses were ever tortured (and I’d like to give a hearty fuck you to the entire city of Boston right now). In order for female rappers to even be considered for a record deal, they need to either be sexless, hard rock Sarah Connor drones like Lade of Rage or Rah Digga or oversexed rapping female porn stars (and not even the ones that get to be in soft core films with plots. Gross Gonzo Female Porn Stars!). I mean two of the only real successful female emcees that didn’t necessarily fit that description, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot, had to either drastically re-shape their image or stop making hip hop music all together.

Despite having to cope all that, the early 2000s can in some extent be considered the Golden Age of the Female Rapper. Back in the early stages of this decade, you had dozens and dozens of successful female rap stories from all regions of the country. Eve, Trina, Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Rah Digga and Da Brat are all artists in the earliest moments of the decade that enjoyed sales of Gold or better in the artists and had records that weren’t (complete) artistic abortions. However, legal problems, label troubles, going bat shit crazy and other myriad of reasons have derailed pretty much all of these promising careers and with the exception of Missy Elliot none of these artists have released a viable record in years. So it’s a pertinent question to ask: Where have all the female rappers gone?

Despite what some people with a penchant for keeping their head firmly entrenched within a plot of scorpion-infested desert sand would say, hip hop is hurting right now, creatively and commercially. It would make sense then that female rappers would take a dis proportionally large hit as well. Like it or not, female rappers appeal to a niche market in hip hop. In a genre that is well known for its rampant misogyny and sexism, it’s almost a revolutionary act to be a rapper and female. It takes serious guts. Hip hop fans tend to be hypercritical towards female rappers dismissing outright the lack of lyrical nuance that gets tolerated or excused in hacks like Birdman. However, it is true that there are a handful of truly great emcees (Lauryn, MC Lyte, Lady Of Rage and maybe Latifah...) as most simply don’t measure up to their male counterparts. Because of their niche, women rappers always need to be conscious of who they actually appeal to. Since most hip hop fans are male, they have to make a conscious effort to appeal to men hence the need to be either a sex kitten or Snoop Pearson. This always seemed to be counterproductive from purely a marketing stand point since women are half the population and it would be fair to assess that a smart female rapper that wasn’t a stereotype would stand to be fairly profitable. Hence, why Lauryn Hill sold more records than God but nevertheless most female rappers never followed in her footsteps choosing instead to follow the Foxy Brown/Lil’ Kim blueprint. Record labels never made a conscientious effort to cultivate smart female talent in hip hop that wasn’t willing to strip buck naked and this helped drive away potential female fans thus the market for female oriented rap music remained a niche within the genre. When rap music declined, it makes sense that the less profitable branches of the genre would be neglected or clipped all together from the label hence why you rarely see a female emcee release music on a major label these.

Consequently, like any system where this is a lack of opportunity for people, it breeds a lack of talent within the field. In the last five years, I can’t think of a significant female rapper to emerge on the scene and make noise. Brooklynite rapper Jean Grae is talented if somewhat derivative of the Mos Def/Talib Kweli crowd she runs with but has failed to release a record that has lived to her promise. Lil’ Mama (who actually isn’t a terrible as “Lip Gloss” might suggest) despite the fact that she released a major single last year hasn’t even gotten to release a record yet. Other than that, who? Their is a definite noticeable lack of new talented female rappers and accordingly, their is a lack of new quality female rap music. The old guard of the genre as I noted before seem to be constantly embroiled in trouble that has little to do with actually making hot music. Foxy Brown seems content on ruining her life, Lauryn Hill is in a forest somewhere communing with the dolphins high on prescription drug medicine, Queen Latifah has longed abandoned rap music for making craptacular movies, Eve seems to be another victim of Dr. Dre’s steroid infused malaise, and Lil’ Kim is too busy beefing with every female rapper ever to make music. Even Missy Elliot, the only female rapper it seems to ever consistently put out decent product, is nowhere to be seen these days.

I really wish Lauryn Hill could have kept it together. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is a truly brilliant record. It is an album full of passion and warmth that truly belied a genius talent at the top of her game. Do you realize it’s been ten years since that album was released and we still haven’t gotten a proper studio follow-up to that album. Sometimes things don’t work out for favorite artists. Life is funny like that... But seriously, L-Boogie get your shit together. Hip Hop needs you. It’s been ten years. Get over, Wyclef already.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wale Should Be Your New Favorite Rapper

"Flyer than the rest of them..."

Once upon a time when hip hop wasn’t rotting slowly underneath two tons worth of swollen earth and dirt, rap artists of varying and different styles (and not just rappers who had their very own accompanying dances either!!! I know, shocking!) coexisted, thrived and shared the bounty of land. Artists as differing as Q-Tip and Eazy E could share space in the hip hop landscape with artists like UGK and Mobb Deep. Everybody was allowed to carve their own niche and all was right with the world. Of course, that was UNTIL the forces of the New World Order had Tupac and Biggie assassinated (“allegedly” but come to think of it...as if...) and Puffy decided, despite the fact that he had no discernible musical talent, he would release a rap record and ruin the whole genre in one single stroke. Soon unless you fit into (“roughly”) three predefined categories (backpacker, gangster, and ignorant and/or Southern), your ass was out in the cold as if you were Colin Powell or something. This was all well and good for the business and lot of money was leeched off the art form by dudes like Jimmy Iovine and L.A. Reid. However, like all gravy trains, it came to a horrific “Dakota-Fanning-being-drawn-and-quartered- by-four-Chevy-Tahoes” end when digital downloads destroyed the entire music industry business model and white teenagers soon became distracted by something shiny in the street. Now the rap music industry is in utter and total chaos and are desperate to find anybody and ANYTHING that will separate these people from their money.

For those who don’t know, Olubowale Folarin only slightly better known to the world as Wale is a D.C. area rapper that has a sound that is roughly 622.3 times different than anything else being played on your radio station. Imagine if you took the vocal stylings and delivery of Lil’ Wayne combined it with the jazzy cool of A Tribe Called Quest, fused it with the swaggering funk of D.C. go-go music, tossed it into a blender and then hit mutilate. Wale is a rapper that has been making big noise in the notoriously under appreciated D.C. music scene and is just starting to gain steam within the mainstream. His brilliant mixtape, 100 Miles And Running, was in this not-a-blogger’s opinion was the best mixtape of last year. Wale, a protégé of Mark Ronson, was savvy enough to showcase his ample lyrical ability over fare as diverse as Lily Allen’s “Smile”, French electronica duo, Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” and Big Daddy Kane’s “Warm It Up.”

Wale is a rapper that has a breezy, witty and swinging style that reminds me of a cross of Lupe Fiasco at his most accessible, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne and Devin the Dude. Wale is a likable every man who raps about a variety of subject matter that can relate to anybody. On “Nobody” he raps about being true to one’s self, on the “Smile (Remix)”, he raps from the perspective of Lily Allen’s cheating boyfriend, and on “Warming Up Cane”, he discusses drug dealing and the human effect that it has on people. Wale isn’t breaking any ground lyrically but he employs clever wordplay and has a swinging, bright delivery. He's sort of like Kanye if Kanye could actually rap.

If you haven’t heard Wale’s independent single, “Nike Boots” yet, I suggest that you download it from the link below and be prepared to be stunned. It’s one of the best new songs that I’ve heard in a damn while. “Nike Boots” is an epic D.C. pride anthem that is nowhere near as shallow as the title of the song might suggest. It sounds like the cousin to Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” in both spirit and sound. You need some Wale in your life... like now.

Download: Wale’s “100 Miles And Running” Mixtape

Download: Wale's "Nike Boots"

Wale's MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/wale202


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You Sampled That Shit!!!: 5 New Songs That Have Some Really Ridiculously Hilarious Samples

A short history lesson: Long before white rock musicians discovered that the threatening black sounding gibberish they called “hip hop” playing on their kids’ boom boxes sounded vaguely familiar, there was this magical thing called a “sample.” “Sampling” as defined by the super computer that is designed to calculate the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, also known as Wikipedia, is “the act of taking a portion, or “sample”, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or element of a new recording.” This used to be common place in hip hop and genius works of arts arose from this practice. Of course, that was until those previously mentioned white rock musicians caught major feelings about those hooligan rappers using the bass-line to “Layla” and decided that they would further piss on the ideals of their hypocrite generation and force these rappers to pay for their samples as if anybody who liked hip hop gave a damn that De La Soul sampled Steely Dan for “Eye Know.”

Flash forward twenty years, hip hop has been practically ruined by Mannie Fresh and the wack ass melodies that are coming out of his keyboard (I kid, I kid!) because labels refuse to pay out for sample clearances and if and when hip hop artists are actually allowed to sample it usually falls into the tried and true category of either James Brown, The Meters or Parliament (You know because those dudes are black so fuck ‘em if their music is getting raped, right?). However, all is not lost. Here are five songs that have some ridiculously out there samples (which I’m sure will never be cleared) that I kind of like despite myself. No hipster.

In no particular order but Lil’ Wayne is definitely last because I’m a hater like that...:

1. Wiz Khalifa - Say Yeah

After doing the type of research that would make Scott Templeton proud, I discovered that this kid, Wiz Khalifa, is from Pittsburgh, a town best known for the fact that it’s not Cleveland, and is apparently like the first rapper from there...like ever. “Say Yeah” samples the late ‘90s trance staple, “Better Off Alone” by Alice Deejay which was a staple of every high school dance I ever attended (which would be two but still...) and more than likely more than one car commercial probably for a Mazda. What I like about Wiz’s version is that he changed virtually nothing from the song and thus he kept the songs undeniable cheese ball glory of 90s techno music in tact thus making me wistful for my favorite decade of my life. Wiz isn’t doing anything particularly interesting lyrically as this is your standard club rap fare but its basically saved by the fact that the sample is that ridiculously cheesy. Dipset should have gotten to this first.

2. Three 6 Mafia Feat. UGK - On Sum Chrome

For those that don’t know, this is the last song that Pimp C recorded before he kicked the bucket and it’s quite the doozy. For one, it samples “Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairy” from the motherfucking “Nutcracker Suite.” Yes, the last song that Chad Butler ever appeared on has a Tchaikovsky sample which is kind of oddly fitting for somebody as willfully weird as Pimp C. What I like about the song other than the warm feelings of Christmas that it evokes is the short DJ Premier-esque samples of previous UGK hits like “Pocket Full Of Stones” that float ghostly over the song that gives the song an eerie and somewhat epic feeling. I have no idea if that was the original intention of the song before Pimp C’s unfortunate death but for a song that is purportedly the last of a storied career, its a genius idea. Maybe Juicy J and DJ Paul aren’t complete clowns.

3. Young Buck - New York City

I’m not quite sure the moment that I became a fan of Young Buck. I initially rejected the notion that he was the only weed carrier on G-Unit that was a worth damn because I definitely hated his early verses the most on Beg For Mercy but somewhere between Straight Outta Ca$hville and Buck The World I warmed on the dude. Perhaps, it’s because Buck is not from New York and thus not as prone to say Yayo’s devoted 50 dick worshiping, he is capable to occasionally break out of the G-Unit formula and make the occasional great song. “New York City” which samples inexplicable hip hop favorite, Phil Collins classic “In The Air Tonight” is Buck’s ode to my current address and is this pretty little song in the tradition of “Driving Down The Freeway” which made my Best Of List (and probably was one of the songs that my friend, Jesse, said sounded R&B on my list). At this point, its a national crime that 50 Cent is holding Buck back. We need Supreme Court intervention, its getting serious.

4. Lil’ Wayne - I’m Me

“The Leak” came and went and to my absolute non-surprise it was like every other insanely over-hyped Lil’ Wayne mixtape that’s been released since people began confusing him with Rakim. A few great little songs and a bunch of filler which for a 5 song EP is not that great and doesn’t bode well for Mr. Carter’s upcoming masterpiece/rusty-coat-hanger abortion, Tha Carter III. “I’m Me” was one of the two songs on the the EP that caught my attention. Mostly because it sampled “God Moving Over The Face Of The World” from Moby’s Everything Is Wrong, an album that was staple of the Young Doctor Zeus’ brief and completely ill-advised foray into techno music in high school. (Hey, I was young, impressionable and easily swayed then. Please don’t hold that against me.) “I’m Me” has this epic feeling and Wayne really goes in on this one. Well as much as a guy who makes a tired Kevin Federline reference can but still...

5. Born Wit It Feat. B.O.B. - Stack My Paper Up

Breihan put me up on this. It samples “Bittersweet Symphony.” The less we dwell on this song the better for my reputation. I will say this about this song: discussing this song with my co-worker this week, I was informed that the Verve apparently had to give up all the royalties to this song to the Beatles (err, Michael Jackson) because apparently the original song samples some obscure ass Beatles song and because I don’t care enough to the do the research, I’m gonna ask my loyal readers if this is true. This is a great song, though. I mean come on, it samples effin' “Bittersweet Symphony.” It can’t be thaaaaat bad.

That’s all for today. As usual because I give these songs my co-sign, they should instantly be considered great and I will accept no disagreement...after all, I am a doctor.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Chances Are He’s Still Better Than Your Favorite Rapper...Well, Not Mine But Probably Yours

First off, let me just say that Tupac Amuru Shakur is not the greatest rapper of all-time nor is he better than Christopher Wallace. He’s just not. His early work is way too inconsistent to allow the greatness of his later work to compensate for the fact that 2Pacalypse Now kind of sucks...like a lot. However, let’s get this one thing straight for those who feel the need to be revisionist jackasses, Tupac was, is and always be a great rapper. You need to cut that Tupac was wack shit for real before some crazy ass Pac stan (and nobody is more fanatic than those lunatics) goes all Chris and Snoop on your ass and leaves you in a vacant right next to Lex, Little Kevin and Old Face Andre.

It’s been a somewhat frustrating trend to me lately that many prominent and not so prominent bloggers and fans have decided to re-write hip hop history and not acknowledge Tupac as one of the greats. In some sense this just an overreaction to the hype and mythos surrounding Tupac’s death. If the old axiom is that “Dead rappers get better promotion”, Tupac Shakur is the primary beneficiary of that. Pac has remarkably sold more records dead than every single rapper ever did while they were alive (except for MC Entire...) and for ten years after his death, it was considered high sacrilege and damn near treasonous to question Pac’s rightful place as the greatest rapper of all-time. This coupled with the fact that MTV and other outlets in all of their infinite wisdom (As...mother...fucking...if...) endlessly crowned him number one in all of those polls right next to Biggie and (Fat) White Jesus himself, Marshall Mathers. When the official ten year moratorium for respecting Pac’s death passed two years ago, the growing backlash against Pac’s pre-mature ascension to the top of the G.O.A.T. heap officially was allowed to reach fever pitch. Suddenly, it became cool and or trendy to say that Pac wasn’t a lyricist, that Pac was wack, that Pac was overrated, that Lil’ Wayne was the best rapper alive, blah, blah, blah. Look, I get it. I really do. Tupac was a flawed emcee. His early material sounds extremely dated, his production on his albums are often uneven and weak, he often relied on somewhat tired tropes in his music, and the endless amounts of posthumous Pac albums filled with his lesser thought outtakes far outweigh the true greatness of his post-getting shot material. HOWEVER, it IS fucking blasphemy and damn near bordering on out-and-out hate (and this coming from me so you know that game recognize game...) to say that Pac wasn’t a great artist.

Tupac’s greatest assest as an emcee is his delivery. Pac’s delivery was fierce, dramatic, and full of emotion. Outside of perhaps only Ghostface, there was no other rapper in the history of the art form that could wrench more emotion and drama out of his voice than Tupac Shakur. The old cliche about Tupac was that he’s the greatest rapper of all-time because he was so “felt” by the people. Well, a big part of that was because he was able to channel emotion through his words and make songs that resonate with a mass audience. Pac’s flow wasn’t as effortless as Method Man’s or as virtuoso as Big’s but in some sense because Pac kept it relatively simple and unflashy, he was able to overcome his shortcomings and make music that resonated to a larger audience than either of them ever truly attained. In some senses, he kept to the formula of “keeping it simple, stupid.” Often more lyrical rappers such as Nas, AZ or Common have a problem connecting to their audience because their use of metaphor and more complex vocabulary served to impress critics and confuse your average listener. Tupac didn’t have that problem. While Nas or Rakim could be subtle in their lyricism, Pac was much more blunt. His music has a more anthemic quality than he is given credit for. His most well known songs, “Keep Your Head Up”, “Dear Mama”, “I Get Around”, “California Love”, etc, are known across genres because they transcend the genre due to their somewhat general and universal themes. Pac could never write a song quite as metaphorically genius and subtle like “I Gave You Power” (although “Me & My Girlfriend” comes close) but he had the ability to write a true crossover smash that alluded most of his peers save Biggie, Treach and perhaps Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ 50 Cent.

Another aspect where Pac gets unfairly criticized is that he is accused of not having any classics. In this point, the haters are just flat out wrong. Pac has three stone cold classics in his repertoire. Early Pac was truly wildly inconsistent. 2Pacalypse Now had a few bright moments on there but gets bogged down in weak, unmemorable production, clunky lyricism and stock post-Public Enemy militancy. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. suffers roughly the same fate but bears a marked improvement in Pac’s lyricism and production but Tupac makes the leap to a truly great rapper on Me Against The World. Perhaps, it was because of the threat of going to jail for a longtime due to his rape charge but Pac delivers a performance on that record that is remarkably subtle and damn near emotionally resonant. It’s a record that is both defiant and mournful. It’s not completely flawless but it’s his most balanced and best record as Pac was able to strike the right pitch between his nihilist thugism, his defiant anti-authoritarianism, and his sensitive emotional side. What happened next is equally as shocking. His last two records that he completed while he was alive the double disc All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory are both equally resonant and powerful records as well that are amongst the most nihilist records ever recorded and feature the best production Pac ever received especially All Eyez On Me. Perhaps, it was due to the pressures that Pac faced in his prison sentence and after getting shocked but these records are stunning in the sense it marks a drastic shift in Pac’s approach as an artist. He almost completely abandons his sensitive brooding side of his first three records and makes two true and true hardcore gangster rap records. All Eyez On Me should be noted is one of the few hip hop double albums that is pretty much enjoyable all the way through (it does peter out slightly towards the end of disc two but disc one is pretty flawless).

Pac isn’t a flawless artist by any means. He has often trouble staying on beat on faster records and his more political stuff can often stray into platitude infused corniness and his production is often weak. However, Pac belongs in your top ten. There is no question. If not for music or technical mastery but on sheer unadulterated influence...good or bad. Tupac Shakur is the most influential rap artist of all-time, an icon and an iconoclast. No more rappers respect, revere, steal from, and base their entire image from. Pac’s given us both DMX and Saigon, Ja Rule and 50 Cent. He’s a not a perfect influence since Pac’s “martyrdom” (and I really truly and lightly use that term) has caused an endless amount of rappers to obsess about their idiotic street cred and realness instead of focusing on making good music but that’s simply a testament to Pac’s charisma and mythos.

If you must hate Tupac, hate Tupac for the self destructive path that he took himself down and ultimately probably got him killed. Hate him for his hubris. Hate him for the fact that his genocidal and foolish beef got himself and Biggie killed for good measure. Don’t hate him for music. Pac’s great. Deal with it.