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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak: Review

"Kanye West: Better Than A Wilco Cover"

Let’s just say I was wrong about this one. I’ll admit it. When I first heard, “Love Lockdown” I assumed Mr. West had officially decided he was too good for hip hop (and thus forever was leaving us to hobnob with Bono and Coldplay and ignore his hip hop roots as if he were Terrence Howard. I mean could you imagine if Beanie Sigel rolled up on Kanye and said hello if he were talking to Marc Jacobs or Anna Wintour’s bitch ass. Homey, would probably look as horrified if you told him his Louis Vuitton purse was knock-off or something.) and was about to get his Prince on. If you were to ask me the chances that Kanye West was not going to make an album that was a total, giant used tampon of a period bleeder relying heavily on the use of auto-tune and being primarily about how your girlfriend doesn’t love you anymore, I would’ve told you the chances were approximately slim and something resembling (but not limited to) nothingness. We already had Slug sucking at that massively and we certainly did not need anybody attempting to out-Slug Slug. It ain’t going to happen. However, I’d happily like to report that I am an idiot and should officially never doubt Kanye Omari West and his quest to re-invent hip hop. I apologize. “808s & Heartbreak” is great.

Despite what the lil’ homey noz might say, great art often springs from great pain. Not necessarily, of course, (See: Atmosphere, discography) but it’s very rare that artists make great music stemming from being truly well-adjusted happy individuals. Those who endeavor to be creative often find themselves at odds with the world (or at least, those worth a bit of damn. I mean honestly, if you are happy what are you doing being an artist, anyway? Being a lawyer or a doctor or a high school janitor is usually more lucrative, anyway…) and when properly harnessed that type of struggle can turn into something worthwhile of time. “808s and Heartbreak” is ostensibly about the loss of the two most important women in Kanye’s loss (hence the name, dumbass) and the sense of pain and loss is palpable throughout the disc. For those who aren’t being force-fed celebrity gossip or have not read every single solitary review of the album that has been released, Kanye’s mother passed away late last year after a botched plastic surgery and shortly thereafter his long-time fiancĂ© broke up with him.

The album has decidedly cold and minimalist feel which does away with the bombastic, musical hyperboles of “Late Registration” and the warmth of “The College Dropout” and instead takes the futuristic, El-P-ish feel of “Gradution” to the next logical step to total and complete, absolute zero. The two best songs on the album, “Say You Will” and “Coldest Winter” are total New Wave-esque ‘80s pop which palpable sadness permeates through the record. In lesser hands, the record might come across as total emo-rap pap that can be found on any given Rhymesayers record but Kanye’s talent for musical arrangements and melodies help transcend this and push it forward into great pop music.

Each song on this album is absolutely dripping with pathos that is even put further in the wringer by Kanye’s legendary use of auto-tune on this album. A lot has been said about Kanye’s curious choice to eschew rapping on this album and instead attempt to sing (when he absolutely cannot) but Kanye’s use of Pro-Toolian technology is less necessitated by his genuine lack of singing ability (although that’s certainly part of it) but rather a way of infusing a robotic, emotionless quality to his voice which only furthers the theme of the themes of the album. It’s the exact opposite of what lesser artists like Roger Troutman-raping T-Pain has been doing for the last couple of years. Kanye wants us to feel his pain and the use of the auto-tune makes him seem distant and cold which I can imagine is a purely aesthetic choice. Some writers have been wondering why Kanye felt the need to sing on this record instead of rapping his (“alleged”) forte as if Kanye was feeding into the much discredited notion that singing is the only proper way of registering pain or “real” emotion in the musical vocabulary. Truth is genuine emotion and rapping often do clash especially when it comes to sad or break-up records. I keep harping on Slug and Atmosphere for their musical whininess but there have been little true success in the emo-rap genre. The only record that truly succeeds in my opinion is Cage’s “Hellz Winter”, a searing tour-de-force of familial and personal strife set against El-P’s trademark buzz. It’s one of the few true successes of the emo-rap genre and Kanye isn’t quite adept a rapper as Cage is (as weird as that sounds and I’m being real hesistant saying that). In Kanye’s case, I think we should just accept that if forced to rely on lyrical talent of rapping, he would’ve fallen straight on his face and the new album would be a travesty. The record isn’t without flaws, of course. Lil’ Wayne miraculously ruins “See You In My Nightmares” with one horrid line of sheer, unadulterated awfulness (just like he does EVERY song he’s on), Young Jeezy’s cameo is superfluous and utterly pointless and “Pinocchio Story” either should have excised completely from the album or recorded in a studio instead of being a barely audible live “freestyle” recorded to an indifferent crowd somewhere allegedly in Singapore. The record is pretty strong, otherwise.

Most people have been comparing “808s & Heartbreak” to Radiohead’s “Kid A” which on the surface is an apt comparison but to me, this is Kanye’s “Rumors” if interpreted by the ugly lovechild of Phil Collins, T-Pain and El-P. It’s a record that explicitly and implicitly deals with the pitfalls of Kanye’s love and family life shattering in front of him and the rise of great art that comes from it. I have one caveat with this album. I’m not sure if it’s going to hold up. Often with these post-rap side projects that hip hop artists have been creating over the years, the shelf life before it becomes an unlistenable monument to the artist’s ego is six months so I’m wondering if I will find this album as thrilling as I do now in a few months but for now, I’m utterly satisfied. Here’s to hoping, the heartbreak will fade over time and not the legacy of this album.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What I Imagine Lil’ Wayne’s (And DJ Drama’s) “Dedication 3” Sounds Like Without Giving Enough Of A Shit To Actually Sit Down And Listen To It

"Still, Probably Better Than 'Tha Carter 3'"

Possibly, the most egregious moment in the history of the utterly desolate abyss of the Pitchfork yearly best of... lists was when Lil’ Wayne bamboozled Thomas Breihan into thinking he was deep by releasing the gloriously average “Georgia...Bush” on his thoroughly mediocre mixtape “Dedication 2.” It set off a change reaction in which Lil’ Wayne upon being nothing more than a flash in the pan weed carrier on Cash Money Records for most of his career inexplicably became the biggest star in all of music. When “Dedication 2” clocked in at number 37 on that year’s list (ahead of J-Dilla’s "Donuts" no less!), I knew I had lost the war. Despite ranting for months on message boards across the nation to fifteen year old Weezy fanboys that Lil’ Wayne was not, in fact, better than Rakim, I knew at the moment, that it was inevitable. Lil’ Wayne was about to become critically respected. My soul died a little bit that day.

It’s been two years since that fateful day and my worst case scenario has come to fruition. Weezy is as ubiquitous as ever. “Tha Carter 3” was a bigger success than even I could imagine in my fevered, drunken nightmares, he’s showing off his neophyte guitar skills for Kid Rock at the Country Music Awards and he’s being given more and larger platforms to take his shirt off homoerotically in public. It’s a nightmare...

But that just means that it’s giving me more opportunity to practice my particular brand of hate. The (apparently, I had no idea it was even coming out so soon...) highly anticipated mixtape, “Dedication 3”, was released by Lil’ Wayne and (the thoroughly, useless) DJ Drama this week and I thought it would be perfect to do another installment in my What I Imagine... series.

As per usual, this should be considered the definitive review of this mixtape because well, you know the drill... flawless taste in all... Enjoy!

1. Welcome Back - I’m really hoping this samples that comeback Mase jawn where he samples the Welcome Back, Kotter theme. I love that song...without shame.

2. Dedication 3 [Feat. Mack Maine, Willie The Kid & La the Darkman] - Wait a second, La the Darkman is on this? The Wu-Tang J.V. member? Seriously?! Tell me, Weezy ain’t a fan of “Uncontrolled Substance” era Inspectah Deck! That might totally change my opinion of him as an artist!

3. What Else Is There To Do? - Um, you could go away. It worked wonders for Jay-Z’s career.

4. Thingy Pleaser [Feat. Jae Millz] - Weezy’s uber-misogynistic sex jams are almost always inherently, more quease inducing than your standard sex jam because not only are they usually more scatalogical (because he has to work harder to convince us that he has relations with the opposite sex) but they always sound so joyless. I mean let’s take UGK’s legendarily offensive “Pregnant Pussy” as an example. The song might be pound for pound the most offensive song ever recorded but the song is also undeniably fun because there seems to be a sense that despite the horrible things that Pimp C and Bun B are saying there is a knowing sense that they understand this undeniably ignorant but we’re gonna fuck around with you, anyway. There is joy in that. Unlike, Weezy’s material which always sounds like he’s completely uninterested in women and thus makes it all the more unpleasant to listen to. It’s the same exact problem I have with Cam’ron. It just sounds detached and forced which just amplifies the misogyny. Probably because they much rather be both sleeping with Juelz Santana, respectively..

5. Ain’t I [Feat. Jae Millz] - I’m guessing this song samples that completely uninspired, lost Jay-Z/Timbaland collaboration from earlier this year. Only except we aren’t getting Jay-Z’s corpse rapping about his Basqiats, we get Jae Millz rapping about coke. Lovely...

6. You Love Me, You Hate Me - Actually, I just hate you but I’ll forgive the misunderstanding.

7. Bang, Bang [Feat. Jae Millz & Gudda Gudda] - Hey! It’s time for the ubiquitous Weezy song where he tries to convince people that he didn’t get a recording contract at the age of ten and actually used to run around shooting people in the projects of New Orleans. These songs usually tend to work out for Weezy as evidenced by my love for the “Cannon (Remix)” that was on the last one of these monstrosities. I really do love that song. This song might have some hope.

8. “The Other Side” [Feat. La the Darkman, Jae Millz & Gudda Gudda] - What is going on here? La the Darkman, again? Seriously, why him? If you’re going to pick random Wu weed carriers, why not get like Killah Priest or Killa Sin or something? This is just too inexplicable for words.

9. My Weezy [Feat. Shannel, Lil Twist & Tyga] - Oh, great female weed carriers... their level of suck can only be compared to the suck of the legendary white weed carrier. This song can’t be any good.

10. A Dedication - This must be one of those times where Drama wastes a minute and fifty seconds of your life shouting out the various sycophants and untalenteds he has signed to the Aphilliaties. I know DJ Khaled is universally the most despised man in hip hop these days but for my money, Drama gives a serious run for his money in terms of total douchebaggery and general annoyance. I hate Drama...

11. She’s A Ryder [Feat. Kidd-Kidd] - What is with Weezy’s jewelry polisher’s names? Kidd-Kidd? Gudda Gudda? Is Juelz “Same Word With The Same Word” Santana naming these people? Somebody is definitely not trying hard enough.

12. Still I Rise [Feat. Nicki Manaj] - Two to one this samples T.I.’s “No Matter What” and Weezy turns it into a metaphor for getting an erection... And I never thought I’d see the day where somebody would manage to out class Lil’ Kim’s famous poster but Nicki Manaj is doing her finest to top it...

13. Magic [Feat. Gudda Gudda] - Dollars to doughnuts, this about drugs. Either this is about Weezy’s dedication to syrup or about that one time he heard about one of these guy’s his friend’s knows cousin sold some weed to his college roommate.

14. Do’s and Dont’s Of Young Money - Oh please for the love of god, let this be a cover of Nas’ legendarily bad idea train wreck that was “Dr. Knockboot”...

Sample couplet: “First, DON’T smoke yourself utterly retarded/or you’ll be making shitty songs with auto-tune and sounding garbage” (Ok, I’m not a very good rapper. You get the point...)

15. Whoever You Like [Feat. Jae Millz & Gudda Gudda] - Damn, Jae Millz is on everything on this mixtape.! His brain game must be strooooong! Also, Lil Wayne + the “Whatever You Like” beat = This.

16. “That Was Easy” - It was most assuredly not, DJ Drama.

17. Get Bizzy [Feat. Gudda Gudda] - I would soil myself if they rapped over that Roots songs from “Rising Down” this year. I would totally be down for Weezy rapping over some Roots. It’s probably not, though...

18. I Got That Gangsta - No, you don’t. Stop frontin’.

19. A Message To The DJ’s - Remember when Lil’ Wayne caught a bitch-fit earlier this year when he realized talentless leeches like Khaled were making money off his freestyles while he was getting dick and he told mixtape DJ’s to go fuck themselves. I’m guessing Drama forced him to cop a plea here which is shame because, honestly, fuck mixtapes DJ’s!

20. Stuntin’ [Feat. Drake] - Was there a “Hustlin’” rip-off called “Stuntin’” this year that blew up while I was listening to Elzhi records or something? There seems like there would be a song like that. Either way, there is no way this wasn’t produced by the Runners.

21. Dedicated - Drama wastes even more of your life on this one...

22. Put On [Feat. Tyga & Gudda Gudda] - I can’t imagine combining Gudda Gudda and auto-tune is the smartest idea. It didn’t work for Kanye on this song and it won’t work for you, Gudda Gudda.

23. Outro - Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat of the last track on “Tha Carter 3” where Weezy got confused and rambled on about Al Sharpton for six minutes before passing out in the booth after drinking way too much lean. That would be terrible. Actually, you know what? I take that back. I would love to hear the outtakes of that song where he not only goes in on Sharpton but he goes on an extended, profanity-filled, anti-semitic rant about the Jews and how there is a global conspiracy to control all media and government, Mel Gibson-style. I think I just would about die...

Overall: With every track seemingly overloaded with weed carriers (and not even his “allegedly” good, XXL-approved weed carriers like Cory Gunz and Curren$y), I can’t imagine this being any good. What do I recommend instead? The new Q-Tip album is surprisingly not as terrible as I imagined it would be. You could totally do worse than wasting an hour listening to Q-Tip do his damn hardest to recreate old school Tribey goodness. That album is pretty good. This mixtape probably sucks.

Adjusted Pitchfork Rating: 3.3

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Words... Weezy F. Baby Has Jumped The Shark Edition

Lil' Wayne... Kid Rock... the Country Music Awards... What? Why?! What?!?!

I'm speechless...

Any did everybody else know that Lil' Wayne was dropping "Dedication 3?" I spit coffee on my computer when I saw that it was posted on Nah Right, yesterday. This seems like it would be a bigger deal than it was.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who The Hell Are The P Brothers And How The Hell Is "The Gas" So Fuckin' Good?

You know, I really think that cover really speaks for itself...

Apparently, I was wrong. I didn't realize that this could still happen. I was under the deeply flawed impression that since the advent of the internet age that it was impossible for an artist to completely sneak under my radar and drop a record that's so good and so completely off the grid that one is forced to ponder how the fuck did these guys go so unnoticed. I mean I thought I was up on shit. I check Nah Right daily. I read all the blogs that are worth a damn (and some that aren't...). I have untold legions of shitty MySpace rappers (and shitty rappers with label deals. I'm looking at you, Max B...) send me their ill-conceived Soulja Boy rip-off songs at rate that my Gmail spam filter is begging me for respite. So it seemed to me that it was completely inconceivable that an artist could just appear on my radar and drop one of my favorite records this year. But lo and behold, The P Brothers just did.

The P Brothers are two blokes hailing from Nottingham, England by the way of (inexplicably) the Bronx and their new album, "The Gas", is the sort of hardcore New York-esque rap album you thought they stopped making the second 50 Cent single-handedly murdered the rest of the scene back in the earlier quotient of this decade. The P Brothers consisting of DJ Ivory and Paul S are producers whose signature sound sounds like a minimalist El-P colliding with Infamous-era Mobb Deep and the RZA. Their beats are dirty and rugged and you can feel the dusty grooves and worn vinyl of the records they tirelessly sifted through in smelly, decrepit Mom & Pop record stores in the United Kingdom. The P Brothers have been kicking around the U.K.’s underground hip hop scene for years having worked with the likes of Sadat X and Donald D over the years so this makes it all the more surprising that they never even came close to crossing my instinctive travels over the paths of rhythm and rap music over my life. It seems completely inexplicable that I’ve neither heard of them or heard their work before. I mean I’ll admit there is a lot of stuff that I willfully have ignored over the years (I’m not an encyclopedia of marginal rap acts like noz) like the lesser works of No Limit, the discography of Mac Dre, and the entirety of any music produced by the country of Canada but I know who these people are How this managed to happen? I haven’t the foggiest but if I have to blame anybody I’m blaming Tom Breihan. Why? Just because…

Make no mistake, “The Gas” is decidedly throwback but in ways that you forgot good east coast (or in this case, British hip hop or as I like to say “reverse west coast” rap) could be. The bass overpowers and stalks the track menacingly, the drums smash against the melody like their supposed to and the vocal attack the beat. Unlike many producer driven LPs, the record is not driven by a stream of famous and semi-famous rappers of the moment but rather a quintet of unknown rap acts out of the Bronx which gives the album a cohesive feeling. Boss Money (Apparently, the remnants of a group called Boss Money Players…a group, I apparently have on my iPod. Go figure?), Roc Marciano, Milano, Res Connected and $amhill provide gritty, street raps while at times workmanlike allow the star of the show, the brothers head knocking beats to take center stage. Honestly, if there is a flaw on this record, it would be the emceeing. None of these acts really catch my eye as great rappers. They all seem kind of blandly generic, New York street tough mixtape rappers (except without the Nah Right pedigree and co-sign) . The only rapper I might revise that decision is $amhill who provides the vocals for the album’s stunning closer, “Don’t Question Me”, in which he crafts a stunning ode to loyalty, romantic or otherwise.

The album’s best songs knock with intensity and ruggedness. “Digital B-Boy”, the album’s best song, an electronic wall of buzz and old school beat break drums, is the perfect music for riding the subways late at night when the only passengers on the train are you, the passed out homeless dude smelling like Boone’s Farm and societal neglect, and the creepy dude who either keeps eyeing you to snatch your wallet Deebo style or make sweet, sweet love to your unwilling buttocks in the abandoned subway station. “Outta Control” featuring Roc Marciano is a razor in your mouth street anthem with a minimalist ’88 vibe and a bass line so memorable and powerful that you’ll find yourself humming it yourself when your cold and alone. These are the standouts but the record is packed with songs like these. Their isn’t a weak cut on the entire album.

“The Gas” is a record that is going to appeal to people who prefer Pete Rock to Timbaland. If you’re the type of dude who gets bored by anything that remotely sounds like it come out of an era that didn’t suck and generally prefer mediocre, “post-lyrical” rappers than you’re going to want to stay far away from this record. You’ll probably hate it. Violently. “The Gas” is a record that warms the boom bap dinosaur that resides deep within my heart. But hey, fear not Young Jeezy lovers, they rap about selling coke on this album. Wonderful!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The KnuX - Remind Me In 3 Days...: Review

"Hey, it looks like my apartment!"

Perhaps it’s because hip hop culture often has trouble accepting those that do not fit in with the traditional paradigm of what’s considered “hip hop”, music critics, often forced to listen to hundreds of terrible faux-Jeezy retreads, are often handed long, loving critical handjobs to what’s considered new and avant-garde in hip hop music without discerning if the music being presented is actually any good. It leads to a whole lot of shit-tastic guitar playing, car accident-esque drum and bass experiments, and horrific, fetus-in-a-blender off-key singing to be hailed as the next evolution in hip hop’s musical direction and encourages perfectly serviceable rappers to eschew what they do best to get their will.i.am on. I know I’ve fallen victim to it. It took me, at least, six months to realize that “The Love Below” was not new age musical fusion but quite possibly, the proverbial worst shit that I’ve heard in my life (not called Purple Haze, natch...). As critics and fans of the genre, we need to take care that when we praise an avant-garde hip hop album that the music is actually good and not just awful weird for weirdness’ sake Grammy-baiting hackery. Well, I’m proud to say that the Knux’s new genre-bending album, “Remind Me In 3 Days...”, does not, in fact, suck. It’s actually pretty damn impressive.

The Knux are compromised of two brothers from New Orleans transplanted into the fiery, hell-rot known as Hollywood, California and their debut album is a record that belies future promise and current delivery. The Knux play their own instruments, produce their own beats, and rap abnormally well for dudes who wear mascara in their videos (Tell me, I’m wrong, Krispy!) and adorn the type of pants that make one’s testicles hate their owner for imprisoning them in such a cruel, restrictive prison. (Seriously, people. I don’t care if the tightness of your pants makes you gay or not but it’s just cruel to shackle your genitals like that in such unholy restriction. Let your boys breathe! It’s bad enough their so close to the taint...) The record plays fast and loose with the conventions of hip hop and for the most part truly suceeds in creating a new sound and vibe. Their sound is pure glam rock as interpreted by Organized Noize with a hint of electro and Devin the Dude tossed in.

Remind Me In The 3 Days...” takes a lot of musical chances and their are a few missteps but the songs that work, really work. The uber-catchy lead single, “Cappucinno”, remains pound for pound my favorite single released this year. The song features buzzy video game synths, charging guitars, and some of the freshest rapping released all year. The two brothers, Rah Almillio and Krispy Kream, are two of the best young rappers to come out in the scene this year. Rah Almillio has the sound and tounge-twisting cadence of a young Big Boi but (It’s!) Krispy is the group's stand-out vocalist. His verses are always entertaining and funny and he has a delivery that sounds fresh and original. Other standout tracks on the record are “Fire (Put It In The Air)”, the ATLiens-esque ode to weed, the whirlwind, word-a-second “The List”, the somber “Shine Again”, and the Beastie Boy-ish “Roxxanne.”

The record isn’t perfect. At times, it’s musical experimentation can fall strictly into the horror show quality of Black Eyed Peas record or the Gym Class Heroes. “Daddy’s Little Girl” is straight up heinous and sounds as if Fergie herself stormed into the Knux’s recording session and forced them to make an insipid ode to spoiled, little Paris Hilton’s wannabes everywhere. The records that work the best are the ones with the most traditional hip hop spin but what this record shows is the promise the group has. The Knux are going to make a monster classic record very, very soon. These guys are stars and it’s an absolute travesty that this record has been pushed into Interscope tax write-off hell. It’s just fucking egregious. I’m sorry but if I were Jimmy Iovine and some hack record executive told me they couldn’t market the Knux that would be instant career death in my opinion. These guys are the next evolutionary step from Outkast so that would beyond incompetent in my opinion.

Remind Me In 3 Days...” is exactly the type of record that I was talking about when I was writing about the promise of hipster rap a few months back. Only it’s exceeded my expectations in some respects and I feel that I’ve short-changed them comparing them to the modest talents of groups like Kidz In The Hall and the Cool Kids. They’re in another league when it comes to talent and execution. The Knux are the real deal and their debut record is one of the best of the year. It’s Krispy, motherfuckers!