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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Song Of The Day: Ray Cash - The Payback

My beloved Cavaliers are in a hell of a hole due to every Cavalier not named LeBron steadfastly refusing to make open buckets this series and the Magic inexplicably playing four games in a row in "ON FIRE!" mode from NBA Jam but all is not lost. We still have Jesus Christ reincarnated in the form of LeBron Raymone James so we still have a puncher's chance to win this series as long as he's alive and breathing.

To get myself and the good people of Cleveland fired up, the theme song of the day is Ray Cash's "The Payback" from his criminally underrated 2006 debut album, "C.O.D.: Cash On Delivery." It's time to give that fat fuck Ron Jeremy impersonator, Stan Van Gundy, and the rest of the punk ass Orlando Magic a serious dose of payback...

From Cleveland to the public... FUCK YOU! It's our time. You are not taking this from us...

7 to go...

Only One Thing Left To Do...

Win the whole fuckin' thing... Fuck Jobu, We are winning it ourselves, Go Cavs!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eminem - Relapse: Review

"Really, Marshall? We are biting T.I. album cover's now? C'mon, dude."

I never hated Brett Farve until he refused to retire. When I saw Brett Farve hobbling about in a Jets uniform last season, throwing ill-advised passes to the opposing squad’s players and generally axe-murdering his team’s chances with his selfish cowboyisms and morally deplorable delusions of grandeur, an internal reflex went up and I instantly took an extreme disliking to the man. This was curious because just the season before my nostalgia factor for the man was at an all-time high since I had hoped that Farve would single-handedly defeat the immoral, cheating forces of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl thus restoring my faith in the ability of good to triumph over evil. However, after watching Farve hold the Packers hostage over the summer with his dilettantish will-he-or-won’t-he drama, I decided that Brett Farve was not the man I though he was and he should be hated with extreme fashion. There comes a time in your life when you have to know when to step down or you risk ruining your legacy for good. Brett Farve is why Eminem’s “Relapse” should not have happened. Unfortunately, it did. We are worse as hip hop fans for it.

“Relapse” is a terrible record masquerading as an average one. On the surface, the album features all the signifiers of a traditional Eminem record that made him the biggest star on the planet earlier this decade. It has the over-produced, pop-star bashing ditties ("We Made You", "Crack A Bottle"), the whiny blame-my-mom-a-thons ("My Mom", natch), the asinine Kan Kaniff/Steve Berman/Paul Rosenbergs skits, and the darkly humorous odes to blood, murder and mayhem ("3 A.M.", "Insane", etc.) that were always the red meat of Eminem’s records. If you were trying to forge a comeback after disappearing from the music industry for the better part of five tears, this would be the record that conventional wisdom would tell you to make. You simply make a record that appeals to your hardcore fans that is exactly in your wheel house and they will come back in droves as they once did. However, conventional wisdom is almost universally wrong when it comes to crafting art so it comes as no surprise that “Relapse” is super-nova collapsing epic failure.

Let me note something right off the bat. Eminem is still one of the top five best technical rappers these days. The problem with “Relapse” is not that Eminem has collapsed into a Jay-Z-esque shell of his former glory stumbling through his verses as if he forgot how to actually rhyme anymore. His rapping is not the problem. His verses are nearly flawless exercises in technical profession and one of the best strictly lyrical performances I’ve heard. The way he uses words and bounces them off each other is marvel to listen to if you are fan of rapping. The way he creates new words to rhyme with each other and his delivery is still top notch. The problem is that Eminem’s words have become shallow and overtly amoral to the point where he’s lost his most defining trait his humor.

What social critics of all kinds failed to grasp about Eminem early in his career that despite the ultra violence, the homophobia and the misogyny that there was a deep sense of dark humor that should have been obvious to anybody that listened to the record. It baffled me as sixteen year old bumping "The Slim Shady LP” in my bedroom that anybody could take this record was anything other than a comedy record granted a dark and morbid one. There is something morbidly hilarious about a song like “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” where Eminem drags his ex-wife’s body to dump in the ocean while his daughter sits in the front seat of the car. If you could get past the basic premise of the joke being a murdered woman than you could essentially see the subtle dark comedy of dragging a dead body and having to pull “A Weekend At Bernie’s” for the benefit of the cooing child in the passenger seat. This isn’t an exercise in misogyny or nihilistic violence. It’s theater of the absurd. It’s “Dick In A Box” taken to an extreme conclusion. Granted at times, Eminem’s music could get to a truly dark and nihilistic place like a song like “Kim” exposes but for the most part, the violence and misogyny was so over the top and cartoonish that it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. You would have to be completely humorless to be offended which most parents and politicians are.

Relapse,” however, completely loses that sense of subtle dark humor and replaces it with a more gruesome form of violence and malevolence. On the surface, the record seems to have many of signifiers of comedy (the funny voices, the pop culture references, etc.) that Eminem’s early records have but it simply lacks what made the records funny in the first place and that was the wit. It’s not really funny to describe dismembering a family member’s body with a chainsaw on it’s lone. Dismembering a family member’s body and accidentally sawing your own arm and running around chasing after it when a dog steals your severed limb is funny because what you have described is absurd and ironic (I think... Alanis Morrisette permanently destroyed my sense of the word, years ago...). Songs like “3 am” and “Same Song & Dance” aren’t funny. They are just tired and disturbing. There is nothing inherently funny about an incest gay rape story like “Insane” describes. It’s overtly gross and unnerving and I can’t imagine many people want to actually listen to it. If “Slim Shady LP” was the musical equivalent of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, equal parts scary and hilarious, than “Relapse” is as an Eli Roth torture porn film content on dwelling on the gore of the kill for shock value alone. The album is a cultural void.

There are lot of other problems with the album like Dr. Dre devolving into one of the world’s worst producers (Seriously, I’m loathe to listen to “Detox” now because how terrible a producer he’s become) but“Relapse” fails precisely because it fails to adhere to the law of diminishing returns. It sets out to remake “The Marshall Mathers LP” and either because Eminem lost his sense of humor because of age, stints in rehab or the death of Proof, the record is half-assed facsimile of the original. If you simply set out to re-make the same album again without attempting to grow as an artist or evolve you inevitably will find that your audience will grow up and eventually tire of your routine. It should come as no shock that each Eminem record since the seminal “Marshall Mathers LP” have sold slightly less and have been retrograding in terms of quality. The album sticks so doggedly to the Eminem formula of success that it leaves little for Eminem to expand as artist beyond his traditional parameters. This record is permanently stuck in 2002 and it suffers greatly for it. Honestly, I was hoping for a more honest and mature record from Marshall Mathers especially considering all of the real life pain and trauma that he was going through and we would get a reflective contemplative album. We didn’t. We got the musical equivalent of “Saw VI.” It’s not pretty.

Video: Eminem - 3 A.M.

Dear Lebron, Will You Please Save My Eternal Soul?: What Lebron James Means To Myself, A Franchise & The City Of Cleveland

Note: I'm pretty sure I'm liberally breaking the Second Commandment with this post.

The first thing I will tell the very unfortunate psychiatrist, that has the displeasure of analyzing me when I undergo the massive psychotherapy that will accompany my inevitable mental breakdown in my thirties (and it’s coming. My friend have started to take bets about the age I’ll be when it occurs. The over/under is 32. Personally, I would take the under…), is the key to understanding my entire being starts with the fact that I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio rooting for the multiple car crash catastrophe that is the Cleveland sports scene. Had I grown up in New Jersey where I was born rooting for the Yankees or basking in the warm sun of Miami where I spent my infancy than I would most assuredly be a much more well-adjusted person than I currently am. Unfortunately, I grew up rooting for Craig Ehlo and Jose Mesa so that alternate universe William James Steiner was not meant to be and instead I became the Good Doctor Zeus. If I had the good fortune of rooting for say the Chicago Bulls or the Dallas Cowboys or the Los Angeles Lakers, there is a good chance I might be a successful lawyer or an architect and not a entry-level office peon who writes a snarky, self-published hip hop blog (a blog that isn’t even Vibe Magazine approved, either.. I know, right?) in his spare time. Needless to say, I was not so fortunate and thusly, I suffered the many psychic scars that accompanies growing up rooting for the Cavs, Indians and Browns miserably failing year after year after year.

If there is one defining personality trait that all people from Cleveland share is our joyless, fun crushing (plus) pessimism spurred on by a collective inferiority complex that penetrates deep within our tortured, weary souls. From a young age, we are indoctrinated with “Mistake On The Lake” jokes and tales of our polluted rivers burning from raw sewage and hapless local stupidity which begins to seep deep within your soul and whisper to you in the dark night that your city is simply not good enough. We are told that our city is dreary, miserable and the sun never shines (which is not true. It just usually doesn’t shine) which after awhile begins to cut deep. Worst of all is the impending sense of doom that seems to surround our beloved sports teams. The tales of our city’s sports failures are told in hushed, whispered tones as if you do not wish to anger the gods by speaking of these stories. We huddle around each other as if we are frightened girl scouts swapping scary stories around a campfire about events that we only need one name to describe: The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble and Jose Mesa all are enough to cause a Clevelander to uncontrollably shudder and recoil in abject fear. Our scars are all too real and unlike the self-indulgent flagellation of a Cubs or Red Sox fan, we don’t have the memories of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to fall on. We have Craig Ehlo crumbling helplessly as a triumphant MJ pumps his fist in celebration. If hope springs eternal for Cubs fans, despair reigns supreme in the city of Cleveland. Until now…

It’s been 45 years since Cleveland won a championship of any kind and we have grown tired of waiting our turn. Cleveland is a dying city. The economy has been ravaged by the destructive forces of capitalism that stole it’s steel industry and ravaged it’s infrastructure; The school systems are in shambles and the New Depression is threatening to destroy what 40 years of neglect have left behind. If professional sports are too flourish, the teams need to draw fans and in order for that the team needs to be good. Otherwise because of the economics, professional sports in Cleveland are on a ticking clock. We need to win soon or it might not happen at all. By all objectivity, it is one of the worst times in the city’s history but there is one thing our city has that the rest of the country does not and that is LeBron Raymone James, the Chosen One.

To put it in the most grandiose terms possible, LeBron James is the Messiah. Perhaps not in a sense that he’s been placed on Earth to save the human race from it’s collective sins but rather to deliver a people to the promised land of a championship and perhaps bring peace to their troubled souls. Born to a single mother in Akron, one of Cleveland’s sister cities, Lebron James is perhaps the most supremely physically gifted athlete to ever play sports and his story is nothing short of miraculous. Raised almost collectively by the community as he jumped from tentative living situation to tentative living situation over his young life, always living on the cusp of unimaginable povetry, he learned of his immense physical talents at a young age and was soon christened as the next great basketball star. This is a story of epic proportions.

Before his memorable Sports Illustrated cover at the age of 17 introduced to the rest of the country, Lebron James had already become something of a local legend around town. Growing up around town and being roughly the same age, you would hear stories of his accomplishments that couldn’t possible be true. Tall tales of young Lebron floated about claiming that could dunk the ball at six years old and that he was good enough to play in the NBA by the eighth grade. The stories always recanted second hand from somebody who claimed a friend of a friend had witnessed it. Before he was “the Global Icon”, he was Lebron James, the Paul Bunyan of Northeast Ohio. He belonged to us. So it was ultimately fitting that on June 26, 2003, a chance bounce from a ping-pong ball sent Lebron James to the local team, the historically moribund, Cleveland Cavaliers. I can remember watching it with my family on a cool June night and losing my damn mind when David Stern flipped the envelope to reveal that Cleveland had won the lottery. Lebron James was staying home.

As we all know (I figure if you read this far, you know, Lebron James’ career arc), Lebron has become the world’s best basketball player (unless you are a delusional Kobe fan which means I just feel sorry for you…) and has lived up to the insane promise that he held when he first entered the league. Lebron’s game has miraculously managed to redefine what we consider the limits of a basketball player by simultaneously combining uncontrollable power, blinding speed, wunderkind basketball intellect and virtuoso skill making him not so much the second coming of Jordan, Bird or Magic but a completely new paradigm of how we judge basketball players. He’s done this while simultaneously resurrecting his hometown team from total sports irrelevancy into being one of the premier franchises in basketball simply by existing on the team. This coupled with the fact that he’s preternaturally charismatic and a gifted showman makes him a marketing force not seen since Michael Jordan. He’s the type of man that you might instinctively hate with a seething jealous passion had he not been the coolest man in the room as well. However, it seems to be of popular opinion that there is only thing stopping Lebron James from world domination --- location. Lebron James plays in Cleveland and the world has deemed that not good enough.

The mainstream media has decided that it is destiny for Lebron James to play in New York City for the Knicks for reasons that can’t be explained logically but nevertheless has become such the prevailing wisdom that there seems to be very few sports fans that actually believe that he is going to stay in Cleveland when his contract expires in the summer of 2010. Lebron James, the hometown hero, is simply too big to play in a dying industrial wasteland like Cleveland. The conventional wisdom is that he needs the bright lights. He needs Madison Square Garden. He needs the Knicks. I won’t get into exactly why that’s such a profoundly moronic idea and how the idea doesn’t make sense in neither financial terms, exposure matters nor pure basketball reasons. The smart decision would be to stay in Cleveland for all the reasons above (the Cavs are already an elite basketball franchise, they can pay him more and the internet voids the inherent advantage New York may or may not have in terms of sheer exposure) but the real reason he shouldn’t leave is for mythic reasons.

If Lebron James stayed in Cleveland and saved professional basketball by winning multiple championships and ending a historically inept drought of failure and misery, it would make him a figure unsurpassed in terms of being beloved by any particular fan base in the history of sports. A figure rising from the dregs of a society to lead his people to the promised land after spending 60 years of wandering the desert. That’s biblical! Babe Ruth, himself, would be forced to give the man his God-like props. It’s the story of legends. A story that would echo through time. There is nothing in New York City and playing for the Knicks that can possibly measure to that. Sure, I understand the allure of living in New York, I moved there myself, but if I was given the chance to do what Lebron James has the chance of doing, I would give up the cheap thrills of beautiful women and 4 a.m. bars in a second. If Lebron were to leave and move to New York, his story instantly becomes hallow. He’d go from having the chance for immortality to becoming the Alex Rodriguez of basketball --- a shallow, soulless figure obsessed with maintaining a perfectly manicured corporate image to the point of bending ethics and morality. He’d go from a Jesus-figure to the Anti-Christ the moment he dipped his pen in the blood to sign such an unholy contract. How is this remotely appealing to anybody outside of New York? We already have one Kobe Bryant. We don’t need two.

In Cleveland, we are forever perpetually waiting for next year but this year feels different. Watching this year’s Cavaliers team has been one of the most absolute joys of my life. Not only is the basketball beautiful to watch but the team is one of the supremely likable collection of players I’ve ever had the pleasure of rooting for. There isn’t a single player on the team that I don’t like and secretly wished wasn’t on my team. Everybody from Lebron James to Delonte West to Anderson Varejao to bench warmer scrub extraordinare, Tarence Kinsey. Not only is the team the most talented team that has played in Cleveland since 1995 Indians, they are team that seems to enjoy playing with each other. Every time, any one of the players do something extraordinary or unexpected like Mo Williams winning a jump ball or Wally Sczerbiak beating his man off the dribble, the players on the bench explode in celebration. It's like watching a high school team play. Its exhilarating. Best of all, because we have Lebron James, it doesn’t feel like the axe is hovering over our heads waiting to put an end to our dreams. The Chosen One transcends Cleveland sports failure simply because he seems better than the curse Rocky Colavito placed on our city 60 years ago. He’s an Immortal. He makes his own destiny. If Lebron James can’t win in Cleveland, there isn’t a mystical being in this universe that can.

Ultimately, what really ails Cleveland is not going to be fixed by a 24 year old wunderkind playing basketball. Cleveland is in dire need of major economic restructure and return of industry to save it from its ultimate fate. That is beyond the bale of one being even a person as supremely talented as Lebron James. But he might be able to save the people of Cleveland’s souls by giving us something to root for. Something to believe in ourselves. That one of us can rise and conquer the world on nothing but talent and sheer determination. So Lebron James, will you please our eternal souls? We need it more than most....

8 more to go….

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Very Special Mother's Day Gift....

Justin Timberlake is officially a comedy god. I don't know how he's managed to turn himself from a figure I loathed intensely when he was in N'Sync to one of my favorite celebrities alive but the man simply stays winning. "Motherlover", the latest early 90s cheeseball R&B pastiche from Saturday Night Live's Lonely Island and Timberlake easily lives up to the classic "Dick In The Box." I was dying last night as I watched this one live. Personally, I loved "Incredibad" and it might sneak on top my top hip hop albums of this year and this is just as funny as anything on that album.

And I'm not afraid to admit it but Susan Sarandon has still got it. I'm a little bit creeped out with myself honestly...