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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear Diary: Not A Blogger Vs. VH1's Hip Hop Honors 2009

"Where's X and Jigga?"

I’m always been a bit baffled with the VH1 Hip Honors. On one hand, it’s kind of cool to see a whole bunch of forgotten rap icons get one last moment in the sun before the cruel mistress of popular culture takes them back behind the proverbial woodshed and plants two bullets in the back of their last shreds of relevancy. We get to see acts like the Furious Five share the stage with their cultural descendants in a moment of gooey, mushy glory that reminds us why we like rap music in the first place. It’s affirming of everything we kind of love about this insane little art form.

On the other hand, it’s VH1 running the show which makes the entire enterprise seem odd and out of place. Growing up in the ‘90s, I couldn’t have imagined a platform less hip hop than VH1. The network was always the prim and prissy older sister figure to MTV’s sluttier, younger sibling. While MTV had “Yo! MTV Raps” and “Headbanger’s Ball,” VH1 was content to let Celine Dion warble over their airwaves on a 24-hour cycle. If there was anything that would make lite-FM deejays swoon in their mom jeans, VH1! would play it on an almost constant, droning loop. They didn’t even play hip hop. I can remember vividly being pissed off as a budding rap fan when they cut Left Eye’s rap out of the “Waterfalls” video for reasons that I can’t even begin to contemplate. Knowing their history, I’ve always found it to be the highest of incongruity that VH1 and not MTV (or god forbid, BET...) would host this event.

This year , VH1 has decided to abandon it’s traditional format of honoring the fifteen or so artists that a bunch of random talking heads on television retrospectives have deemed “important” and honor Def Jam Records, instead. (I guess because honoring Russell Simmons, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Public Enemy and the Beasties Boys weren’t enough recognition for Def Jam the first time.. Yet again, they did honor Isaac Hayes for reasons that haven’t been fully explained last year so that might be more of a function that they are running out of artists that people might remember. I mean, nobody really wants to see a forty year old Skee-Lo get up on stage and do “I Wish”... well except me.) Anyway, since I wasn’t invited to go to the show, I decided to do a running diary to review the show. Hate on!

9:00 - The show opens up with the sweet, melodious sounds of a gospel choir as the show’s host, Tracy “The Dong Slayer” Morgan, dressed like a preacher in a James Brown wig proselytizes the gospel according to Brother Russell. Somewhere along the line, this turns into a rousing rendition of “Jesus Walks” which is ironic because Kanye West is way too busy upsetting white America to be bothered with these shenanigans. At one point, Tracy claims that DMX became the voice of hip hop. Apparently, hip hop is synonymous with crack.

9:03 - In the night’s first video package, LL Cool J (who couldn’t be bothered to show up tonight because he loathes the modern incarnation of Def Jam with the fire I only reserve for the Yankees and assorted professional sport teams from Boston) narrates a pretty hilarious story of how he met Rick Rubin. LL is a pretty funny dude, it turns out. Do you think though when he signed with Def Jam that he would find himself co-starring in a NCIS spin-off on CBS with Robin? Probably not.

9:05 - I lick my lips and adjust my fitted.

9:06 - The Roots come out to do “Rock The Bells” for what’s gotta be the 5,000th time on this show when all of sudden the corpse of Eminem shows up out of nowhere to join in. I gotta say watching Eminem and Black Thought go toe-to-toe as performers is some really impressive shit. They have got to be the two best pure technicians in the game and they really bring the heat with this performance.

9:10 - In what we will be the indelible image of this whole ordeal, Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons are interviewed about Public Enemy while they sitting shoeless and Indian-style in some idyllic garden at one of their mansions. It's all new-agey and stupid. I’m pretty sure if their younger counterparts could have seen how ridiculous and lame they looked twenty-five years later, they would have hung themselves in the closet in that NYU dorm room. How the mighty have fallen...

9:11 - What the fuck? Jimmy Fallon is introducing Public Enemy?! This has officially replaced “Flavor Of Love 3” as the most embarrassing moment in Chuck D’s life.

9:12 - Public Enemy does “Rebel Without A Pause” backed by virtually every vaguely “revolutionary” political musician ever. This has to be the first and only time that Boots Riley will EVER be on national television so that’s kind of notable right there. I didn’t listen to “Street Sweeper Social Club” (because I have better things to do with my life) but I heard it was pretty terrible. On the other hand, Pitchfork gave it a “3.9” which probably means it’s the rap album of the year. I will say this, though. Tom Morello continues to make weird noises out of his guitar.

9:17 - I just want you to know I think it’s incredibly disturbing to see Russell and Rick talk about wanting to make loud, angry music when they aren’t wearing any shoes. This image alone is enough to make me want to burn my copy of “Radio.”

9:19 - Scarface and Ludacris come out to a Def Jam South tribute. Scarface performs “Guess Whos’ Back” to polite indifference from the crowd. I’m blaming the crowd on that one. That song is boss. Shame on you. That would’ve killed in my apartment. Ludacris does “Southern Hospitality” to a far greater response. I find it hilarious when they do cutaways to the Def Jam dignitaries in the crowd and Kevin Liles is geeking out over the artists while Lyor Cohen looks like he’s pissed that VH1 is completely wasting his time with this foolishness.

9:25 - I got to admit these Tracy Morgan skits are hilarious. Scoopy Giles is the new, new hotness.

9:32 - Thanks, Rick! I will never get the image of Russell Simmons sweating naked in your dorm room out of my head for the rest of my life.

9:33 - Oh, man. KRS-One, Wale, and the dude from the Gym Class Heroes perform “No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn.” Whhhhhhhhhy? I’m officially in the twilight zone. And in typical KRS fashion, he promptly decides to not do the Beasties' actual lyrics and kick a random freestyle about the importance of respecting the four elements or some shit. That shit was like clockwork. Actually, that was one of the best performances of the entire show but I just want to point out that Wale is wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater. That’s a bad omen for “Attention: Deficit.”

9:40 - Apparently, Lyor Cohen signed Warren G because he was a Pete Seger and Carol Kane fan. That would not have happened if I was running Def Jam and saw those two records on his turntables.

9:41 - Warren G and Trey Songz come out to perform “Regulate.” I know Nate Dogg just had a stroke last year but couldn’t they have gotten R. Kelly to do this? I’m convinced they went with Trey Songz because Trey Songz vaguely rhymes with Nate Dogg. I just want to point out when they did a cutout to the stands, Brett Ratner was so bored that he was checking his cell phone. How dare you disrespect the power of the "Regulators," Mr. Ratner!

9:50 - Another Tracy Morgan/Scoopy Giles skit. Not as funny as first.

9:57 - So apparently, Redman called Brett Ratner’s mom a hoe to his face and thus, Ratner put his mom into the video for “Tonight’s Da Night” or something . Ratner introduces Red and Meth who do “Da Rockwilder.” I love that song but I gotta say whoever is doing the sound mix on this broadcast seriously fucked up because you can barely hear the production on any of these tracks. It’s getting really annoying. Redman is rocking a faux-hawk which makes me question my decision to write that piece championing “hipster rap” so many months ago. Had I known this would be in my future, I would’ve been listening to Gucci Mane records... Wait, no I wouldn’t!

10:00 - After a quick costume change, Method Man comes out to do “You’re All I Need To Get By” with Mary J. Blige and I thank the heavens, they are doing the vastly superior “Razor Sharp Remix” and not the uber-lame (and thus more popular) Puffy version. Note To All DJ’s: I don’t know why the Puffy version became the standardized version of that song to be played on the radio but that needs to stop. Puffy's version pales in comparison with the remix RZA did for the video. RZA’s version maintains the gritty, rawness of the album version while still being insanely catchy while Puffy’s version just lacks balls. If I wanted to listen to the equally-as-lame “One More Chance (Remix),” I would listen to the “One More Chance (Remix).” Remember, RZA > Puffy’s ghost producers. That is all.

10:05 - Apparently other than being the world’s biggest asshole, Lyor Cohen is batshit insane. Absolutely nothing in that last video package remotely approached anything resembling cogency.

10:10 - Am I reading too much into this or did Kevin Liles and some random white chick just admit to committing corporate fraud on national television? I’m sure the Internal Revenue Service would be glad to hear that Kevin Liles was writing off making it rain at a strip club as a business expense. That was awesome.

10:11 - Tracy’s outfit overdosed on the bedazzler. 50 Cent would be jealous.

10:12 - Onyx show up and do some bastardized nu-metal version of “Slam” with the Gym Class Heroes. And was I crazy or did I just hear a Rhodes synthesizer at the end of the song? I think my soul just died a little bit inside. Lyor seems annoyed with himself that he signed these clowns.

10:20 - Bill Adler speaks about how Russell and Rick’s original plan was to make the hardest, most uncompromising music possible and force the mainstream to crossover to them. I want you to remember this statement the next time you listen to the quiet storm of a Ne-Yo record.

10:21 - The hideousness of Eve’s multi-colored mullet weave is only surpassed by the monstrosity that sits atop Ashanti’s head. Ashanti’s wig looks like a cross between something Tina Turner would’ve worn to Thunderdome and a dead rat. She and the Corpse Of Ja Rule come out to do a lifeless, medley of various Murder Inc. abortions to scathing indifference from the crowd. If I had been in the audience, I would have considered chucking some cheese on stage to see if her wig was intelligent enough to run through a maze and find it.

10:27 - L.A. Reid shows up to talk about how he personally ruined hip hop. Or at least that’s what I inferred from his interview.

10:30 - When we return from commercials, Lyor Cohen offers further proof that he is totally insane. He rants something about Def Jam being blue collar (Ha!) and being able to fix cars while Death Row/Bad Boy couldn’t because they are soft and don't want to get oil dripped on them. I hate to break it to you, Lyor, but your company released “I Need Love” and as far as I can tell your company bombarded me with all the Ja Rule love songs that I could stomach a few moments ago.

10:31 - Tracy Morgan brings Oran “Juice” Jones(!!!) out for some reason. This seems like something his 30 Rock alter-ego would pull. I’m inspired. The next time I’m speaking in public, I’m going to pull an obscure 80s novelty R&B singer out of the woodwork to sing their hit song acapella, too. I wonder if Rockwell is available...

10:32 - Rick Ross gets his own tribute? What?! Why?! How?! Why?! You couldn’t have gotten Young Jeezy, at least? I’m baffled by the implications of what’s going on here. I would like to point out that Rick Ross’ DJ has managed to capture the annoyance of DJ Khaled's mixtape drops and insert them directly into the live performance medium. That’s fantastic... I’m always looking for ways artists to make their live rap performances shittier than they already are. Rick Rubin looks pained as he is forced to watch Rawse waddle about in that Fila tracksit. I know the feeling, Rubes.

10:40 - Holy shit! It’s DMX! How the hell did they get him to show up?! They must have told him he was going to be attending Tyrone Biggum’s $450,000 Crack Party, instead. Why is Gym Class Heroes re-creating “Party Up” for him? As much as I like live bands, I don’t want to hear Swizz Beatz production being recreated by the Gym Class fuckin’ Heroes or any other collection of half-rate musicians. Re-created live rap music never sounds right and ends up killing the whole vibe. I really wish artists would get off the kick that they need a band to have a hot live show. It rarely works out that way. I’d much rather listen to your DAT recorder.

10:45 - Scoopy Giles “I gotta 99 donuts but the bitch ate one.” Heh. I'm a fan of puns. Maybe, I really should get into Gucci Mane.

10:50 - The show’s finale consists of a medley of “hits” from the Def Jam artists that the show deemed not important enough to get their own segment. Kid Rock performs LL’s “I’m Bad.” (I guess white rappers from Detroit really dig LL...) EPMD performs “Crossover.” A fat, bloated Foxy Brown and Fabolous perform “I’ll Be” to hilarious schadenfreude. Ghostface and Chrisette Michelle do “Back Like That” (Ugh, really? Why not, “Run?”) to my immense disappointment. And finally, Wale comes out to do Kanye’s “Touch The Sky.” That could have been sooooooo better executed. Jay-Z or Kanye should have come out to close the show. You can't end your signature show with a performance from Wale.

10:59 - Russell Simmons comes out to do the standard Def Jam farewell as the credits roll.

Final Verdict: Would it have killed Jay-Z to show up and do “Hard Knock Life?” Doesn’t he have an album to promote? You too good to pay homage, Shawn? Fail.

As with usual with these shows, it always way more disappointing to watch than it would seem on paper. It seems like it would be awesome to watch Eminem perform “Rock The Bells” and have the greats themselves come back and perform one last time for a national audience but it always comes across as simultaneously half-assed and depressing. The newer artists always seem like they’re doing rap karaoke versions of the classics and the legends are always shells of their former selves and can’t live up to the hype of their storied past. It just doesn’t work the way you think it should.

I suppose this year was as good as any, though. I didn’t learn as much as I normally do on these shows due to the fact that the Def Jam story has been told a thousand times in a thousand places but I did discover that Lyor Cohen is apparently Gary Busey in disguise so that was fun. But before I go, I have a message from Russell Simmons...

“Thanks for coming out, God bless you and good night.”


L.A.S said...

Absolutely hilarious. Thanks for doing that so I never have to watch this piece of shit.

goooooooooooooo said...

I like the live band versions of the beats sometimes, makes a new more musical vibe to the songs, especially since they can never get the volume right on the recordings.

I saw a Jay-z live on some late night show doing can't knock the hustle and they added in all kinds of horns and stuff it was cool.

Plus I think it helps give hip hop a bit more credibility to people from other genres of music if they are performing with a band.

Christopher said...

"...but I just want to point out that Wale is wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater. That’s a bad omen for 'Attention: Deficit.'"

I could've sworn that Wale being a hitless novelty and the Mixtape About Nothing being boring and overrated was the bad omen.

tray said...

I haven't even listened to enough Wale to know if he's overrated. Every time I try, I fall asleep. Anyway, it sounds like an awful event. Maybe next year they'll honor Gang Starr and Guru will refuse to show up, explaining that he was too busy hanging out in the studio with Solar.

DocZeus said...

"I could've sworn that Wale being a hitless novelty and the Mixtape About Nothing being boring and overrated was the bad omen."

C'mon, that's nonsense.

"I haven't even listened to enough Wale to know if he's overrated. Every time I try, I fall asleep. "

Oh, Tray. How I've not missed thee.

bding7 said...

I missed this, but I watched the first Scoopy Giles skit. Tracy Morgan has a great sense of the cadence of a past-their-prime rapper. Just hysterical.

As for Wale, he's pretty hit or miss for me. Too often, he gets embarrassed by his guests (see "Hot Shyt"). Even Lady GaGa is more interesting than him on that terrible single.

Christopher said...

Nonsense how? He's yet to offer anything interesting besides some mtvU coverage and a Lady Gaga feature. That savvy concept mixtape had the same effect of Rae's sequel: generating interest into someone who's not doing anything to gain that interest on pure merit or current degree of talent.

Except Cuban Linx II is actually consistent, minus the last 4 tracks.

At least The Knux had a handful of good songs and a degree of promise. Its a dead meme, but out of that Freshman list only them and Blu have been and probably will be worth giving a shit about.

Zilla Rocca said...

"I came up with the name Def Jam. First it was D-Jam, but my cousin was deaf, she had one of those microwaves in her ears"--Scoopy Giles. Man of the Year.

Nova Blade said...

Great post, Zeus, I didn't gett to see the hip-hop honors, and I guess I didn't miss too much this time.

Also, both The Mixtape About Nothing and Back To The Feature were awesome. I don't know why Wale takes so much flak.

tray said...

Nike Boots is interesting. He's like a less annoying, herb-ish, suck-ass version of Lupe to me. Sometimes he does a good song and he's rarely aggressively bad or flat-out mind-numbing; he's not a Saigon.

DocZeus said...

In Saigon's defense, he really was legitimately dope on the mixtape circuit from 2003-2005. His buzz wasn't an apparition created strictly out of New York centrists looking for the next big thing. He was eons better than Papoose (who always struck me as a guy who confused "lyricism" with overloading your verses with punchlines.)

Saigon had some legitimately great songs in his own right before he got hauled off to development hell. "Stocking Cap" and "The Letter P" were some of the best New York hardcore rap songs of the last decade.

Sai's problem is that after he dropped that horrible "Pain In My Life" single (better known as the song where he talks about vaginal pains) is that the interest from the labels completely evaporated. He never was able to write a single that had people billing him the next 50 Cent and thus, he became a non-entity and got stuck in development hell.

It's historical revisionism to claim that at one time, Saigon wasn't the hottest young rapper in New York.

As for Wale, the notion that he's a gimmick is ridiculous and a knee-jerk fantasy of people who loathe the direction that XXL's Freshman 10 cover suggested hip hop was leaning in. "The Mixtape About Nothing" may have relied on it's Seinfeld hook to garner some exposure but the presence of songs like "The Kramer", "The Artistic Integrity", and "The Perfect Plan" alone means there is something far deeper in Wale than say... Asher Roth.

What made "The Mixtape About Nothing" so special and adored wasn't so much because blogger's really like Seinfeld (although it certainly didn't hurt) but because the mixtape expanded on the boundaries of the mixtape genre by cleverly using it's gimmick as a metaphor for the disposable nature of hip hop and in more micro-sense, the mixtape genre.

When you consider it, mixtapes are so often treated as a promotional tool/dumping ground for tracks that won't be on the album, they often are completely formless and lack any sense of drama even the critically acclaimed ones like "We Got It 4 Cheap 2" and "Da Drought 3" are little more than an artist rapping over re-cycled beats that fit with their aesthetic.

On top of all that, that album operated in a non-traditional go-go aesthetic something that's fairly fresh and original in hip hop.

hook said...

yo did noz actually block you from commenting on his site? if so, that was a serious bitch move.

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DocZeus said...


I don't think so. I just decided that I needed to control my knee-jerk revulsion at his brand of thinking and stop commenting on his site. It's part of my new social rehabilitation program where I'm trying to become a functioning adult. It's hard considering my addiction to burning as much bridges as humanely possible.

hook said...

haha yeah the pretension on that site is outta control at this point, i feel you. plus its basically a non-stop gucci mane group-masturbation session btwn noz and all the commenters.

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