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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eating Zombie Bizkits With Lil Wayne: Dame Dash, Blakroc and the Rebirth Of Dwayne Carter

"Like I was going to buy this album, anyway..."

When rap rock was found brutally murdered in a dilapidated mobile home on the outskirts of 8 Mile Road circa May 2004, there were very few people who shed a tear for this most maligned of musical genres. Fred Durst and his red backwards Yankees cap had long worn out their welcome on pop cultural landscape and thus the world watched in indifference as the icons of nu metal faded into inglorious obscurity. Although it was never the most critically respected of musical oeuvres, the middle class, faux-angst ridden teenage fans had grown up on these artists; and upon taking stock at their old CD booklets, learned that if one wanted to get laid by those cute, art chicks into Ani DiFranco and Ryan Adams records, they had to summarily dispose of those suspect Linkin Park records lowering their social queue. Thus, one of the most commercially successful genres disappeared into the ether; never to clumsily rhyme over distorted rock guitars, again.

Due to the hilarious serendipity of an Amazon shipping error, rap rock has returned from its grave in the last month of the last year of our indie rock overlords, MMIX, to haunt this craven world like a tracksuit be-suited zombie hellbent on fucking teen pop stars and screeching about rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ again. Two high-profile (well one is high profile, one is the the vanity project of Jay-Z’s former model moistener but let’s just say high profile for the sake of succinctness...) releases, Lil Wayne’s “The Rebirth” and BlakRoc’s self-titled debut, this last month have attempted to breathe life in to this necrotic genre with varying degrees of success.

I don’t know exactly how much cough syrup was consumed to make Lil Wayne think that he could make a rock album but it should have been immediately clear to all those concerned with selling him as an artistic genius that they needed to immediately convince Weezy that he simply had hallucinated the whole rap rock incident in one of his fevered drank-induced comas. Granted, Weezy is not the first nor the greatest rapper to fall to the siren call of the genre-bending crossover album (or as I’ve dubbed Love Below Syndrome) nor will he be the last. (Assuming, the rap industry is allowed to exist after this year.) Often when rappers reach the pinnacle of the rap genre, they feel like they need to validate their existence as “real” musicians to non-rap critics and fans. This leads to a lot of overwrought musical “fusion” and sublimation of the artists actual talent in service of hackneyed song-writing and poor (but glitterly produced) musicianship.

I’ve always found this approach vaguely disgusting as it buys into the rockist modes of thinking that rap is an inherently inferior genre. You can’t take your chair in the musical canon if your primary instrument is your speaking voice and when even the biggest names in rap buy into this mentality it only serves to reinforce this vaguely racist ideal. Granted, not all albums infected with Love Below Syndrome are worthless (Q-Tip’s eternally pushed-back jazz rap record, “Kamaal The Abstract”, is actually very solid and seems that it only languished in label hell because Jive had no idea how to promote it.) but they all seem to be working on this basic conceit. You gotta rock if you want to be taken serious as a musician.

Lil Wayne’s “Rebirth” is, of course, decidedly terrible and should serve as primary example on what not to do when attempting to make one of these records. If there is a saving grace to the few genre-fusing records that do work, its that the artist has a genuine appreciation and more importantly a deep understanding of why rock music works. (Take the Knux’s criminally overlooked hipster rap masterpiece “Remind Me In 3 Days...” as example. The Knux are incredibly skilled musicians at a variety of instruments and their music reflects that. The guitar riffs on “Cappuccino” seamlessly blend in with their electronica-influenced break beats and synthesizers to form perfectly synthesized rock-influenced rap music. The Knux understand rock music and their music reflects that.) Lil Wayne’s frame of reference seems to be lazily cribbed from watching about a half dozen old episodes of “Headbanger’s Ball” and calling it a night so he can go smoke himself retarded. Its as if he asked his producers to emulate Slash’s butt rock riffs so he can scream and warble his Weezyisms over the instrumentation in auto-tune. In a way, its kind of noble that nothing on the record resembles anything that would land itself on a Pitchfork year-end list (i.e. indie and lame) but it shows that Wayne has very little understanding of rock music in anything but a superficial way.

You would think that Lil Wayne would be a somewhat natural fit for hair metal-inspired rap music considering he seems primarily obsessed with the same lifestyle that hair metal promoted. Wayne likes to get head from slutty women, get high and do inexplicably stupid things, a sentiment that Bret Michaels assuredly sympathizes with. The problem is that Lil Wayne’s approach to writing rock music is resoundingly cliché. While Lil Wayne has grown more and more great a rap technician over the years to the point that’s impossible to deny that Lil Wayne is a great rapper (There I said it, people.), his approach to song-writing remains resoundingly insipid. When he tries to get serious like on “Misunderstood,” it ends up being rambling nonsense. So when he attempts to ply his trade to rock, a song like “Prom Queen” trades on the lowest common denominator of rock music, drawing well-worn tropes about love-gone-bad, revenge fantasies. And that’s one of the better songs on the album. In a way, Lil Wayne’s approach to rock music is the mirror approach that rock artists have towards hip hop. When Rivers Cuomo attempts to marry hip hop to his “guitar music” on the exceedingly awful “Can’t Stop Partying,” he just ends up repeating the most stereotypical elements of rap culture as if all that rap encompasses is blinged-out excess. All superficiality.

Of course, Dame Dash knows hip hop. This should be an exceedingly obvious statement considering the man was the mastermind behind Roc-A-Fella Records dominance as rap label this decade. He understands the modes of the genre and is able to discern between a good idea and a bad idea. What’s surprising is that the Black Keys know hip hop because nothing in their brand of hazy, indie blues rock suggests that they listen to anything other than Led Zeppelin II all day long. (Granted, there is nothing to suggest that they don’t listen to hip hop, either. I happen to love Ace Of Base’s “The Sign” although no one would know it, either.) Blakroc’s self-titled debut, Dame Dash’s vanity rap rock experiment with the Black Keys, might be the greatest rap rock album of all-time (depending on if you feel Rage Against The Machine qualifies) as it manages to synthesize both genres better than can reasonably be expected. The record works because it primarily defies some of the traditional aesthetics of the genre to create a newer more blues-based sound contrasting with the traditional heavy metal template that nu metal provides. Why rap rock records often fail is that being based on the aesthetics of heavy metal, the overly loud and grandiose musicianship that is a tradition in metal can overpower the spoken-word vocals of rap. The opposite is true in rap music where a great rap performance can make the production seem almost secondary. When you combine this with the clumsy rapping of nu metal singers like Fred Durst, it becomes formula for embarrassment.

The Black Keys’ brand of rock being primarily blues-based works infinitely better with the traditionally sample heavy formula of rap music production. The woozy guitar strings blend seamlessly into the background and let the rapping dominate and when you have an all-star cast of rappers like Blakroc does (Mos Def, Raekwon, RZA, Ludacris, Pharaohe Monche and the disembodied voice of Ol’ Dirty Bastard all make an appearance on the record) you want to sublimate the production into the background and let your rappers shine. “Stay Of The Fucking Flowers” and “Why Can’t I Forget About Him” sound amazing because the rappers and singers are given equal billing to the Keys production.

Dame Dash should be commended for the vision and his A&R work on this album because you can’t imagine this record would work nearly as successful without his keen ear for knowing how to put talented musicians in contact with each other. If more successful music moguls were willing to take chances like this perhaps hip hop wouldn’t be in such dire straits. This record has even done relatively well for an independent release selling 30,000 copies since its release mostly on strong word of mouth between music fans. If Lil Wayne wants to save “The Rebirth” from being a commercial and artistic disaster in the two months before it’s official release in February. He might consider calling Dash a call and see if he can’t have the Black Keys re-work the entire album for him. You never know…


Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with what you said about rebirth. And I find it almost heart breaking as a hip hop fan to have the epic meeting of two of rap's most prolific figures meet on such a tepid, awkward and unnerving song. And it's just the wrong album to do it on. I feel like their was a bating mystique to the inevitable Wayne/Eminem track. And though that was slightly dimmed because the first time they came together it had two other rappers on it, fans were still really pumped. And THIS is what they get? That song deserved better treatment, and should have been a 100% hip hop song on a 100% hip hop album.

I don't know a lot about rock, but I feel like wayne just doesn't understand the genre, and there's nothing wrong with that. The whole thing is very flat and nothing sticks out to make you say "man, that right there was cool."

Basically this is just Michael Jordan playing baseball but morphed into music.

DocZeus said...

You are right. "Drop The World" is definitely on the wrong album. It feels oddly shoved on to this record since it's more rap-ish than rock-ish and you might assume that it was shoved onto "Rebirth" to help with its sales but Wayne sings the album title in the hook so that can't be it. Very odd.

Badmon3333 said...

'Rebirth' is ass beyond repair. It's like he listened to a copy of "Rock Genres: 1970-2001" and then decided to do a really shitty cover of each one. Every single riff is so derivative (and poorly reconstructed) that it's painful.

Badmon3333 said...

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, 'Blackroc' is a fully-realized, fully-integrated (no pun intended) record that uses a black-pioneered genre (blues) as its base, which I think lets it mesh much more easily with the MCs... it also doesn't hurt to have some of the most versatile MCs in the game on your record. You're right. Dame Dash can put shit together.

DocZeus said...

The more I think about the reason that blakroc works so well is that its a hip hop record with blues influence while rebirth is rock album with rap influences.

Trey Stone said...

i don't know how you can say Wayne rambles nonsense on "Don'tGetIt." think there might be a really small part of the crack vs. coke rant that i scratch my head at, but his rant about Al Sharpton is totally on-point and smarter than anything Jay, Nas, Young Jeezy or anyone else said about him (they basically made the same lame "rap's like movies" excuse, which is bullshit because rappers claim to be keeping it real regardless of whether they actually are or not)

also you gotta stop repping for that Knux album man. i'm not saying it's terrible but just cuz they're OK musicians doesn't mean it's that good. bump some N.E.R.D. man, that's music you can play for the ladies without compromising your hip-hop masculinity, guaranteed

as you can tell by my post i haven't really listened to a bunch of hip hop since '08. been busy with other stuff, plus the stuff i have heard kinda sucks

DocZeus said...

C'mon, the rant at the end of "Don't Get It/Misunderstood" (or whatever they officially titled it) sounds like the vaguely coherent conversations you would have with your friends in college when your passing a bong around and complaining about the government. He's making a few salient points but its nothing I would qualify as earth-shattering. Don't tell me your impressed with that. The fact that he goes on a six minute rant at the end of his album kicking stuff that you can learn in the first day in a junior collge sociology 101 class as if they were these deep original thoughts is embarassing.

Why SHOULD'NT I rep for the Knux? They make interesting, well-crafted music I happen love. They've got personality in spades. They are great rappers. I'm a fully functioning adult (well, sort of...) that has a job and responsibilites. Should I really worry myself with the concerns of shallow individuals who happen to conflate black masculinity with jean-size and the penchant to talk tough about shooting their guns?

I think their music is under-appreciated because there is a certain subset of critics who write of hipster rap music because it doesn't conform with their stereotypical ideas of black masculinity.

Nova Blade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nova Blade said...

I have not heard either the Rebirth or the Black Keys jawn.

I've been scared of Rebirth since it was announced. I mean COME ON. Wayne as a rocker? He's not terrible on the guitar, but a rocker he is not. To rock you have to have some semblance of knowledge of the culture. I anticipated this catastrophe.

However, I will be peeping this Black Keys effort. I'm intrigued by it.

Good drop, DocZeus.

Nova Blade said...

On on more note, That Knux Album is straight Chiquita BANANAS.

Trey Stone said...

lol@CHIQUITA bananas

I wasn't saying anything about how masculine the Knux were Doc, I was half-joking about that cuz some rap fans are wussy 'bout listening to certain R&B/'80s pop/Pharrell & Timbaland cuz it's not "hard" enough. I just don't think they're that good. Neptunes are the only hip-hop producers I've heard that can do consistent, well-written funk/pop/rock that isn't forced experimentation/rap-rock shenanigans.

I don't see what's so stoner-ish about Wayne's rant on "Don'tGetIt." well OK, the delivery is stoner-ish cuz he's toking, but he's absolutely right on Al Sharpton and how poorly people like him represent (sub)urban black people. just a black Don Imus. about the Soc comment, it's not like he's trying to impress you with his knowledge, he's just saying shit that's on his mind, AKA his rap style, and he happens to be the only rapper who took on Sharpton/tackled the crack vs. cocaine urban vs. suburban deal intellectually. again, not rocket science, but good considering so many rappers these days talk about dealing crack without all that much context, which ain't exactly the best example for urban blacks and Latinos from broken poor families

also those Young Money and Clipse albums are crack brooo. "Gooder" is my anthem for my lame-ass hometown/county, too much stuck-up old ex-hippie '80s yuppie money in NorCal. every black Oakland/Marin City dude and girl I've met since I've been back from abroad and trying in vain to get a job has been way more honest that the average fronting white dumbass around here. wish I was still in LA man but I'm broke cracka I'm broke, that's why I'm rambling and I'm done with el blog for the tiempo being

Anonymous said...

"The music is reversable...but time is not. TURN BACK...TURN BACK...TURN BACK...TURN BACK!!!"

The Italian peninsula is very pronounced as it juts out into the Medietereanean.
Considering the shape it is quite obvious they were the primary targets of the post-IceAge/Straight of Gibralter/Noah's Flood disaster.
Considering the shape of the boot and how Sicily "caught" the surge, the resulting tsunami inundated the entire southern portion of the peninsula, killing everything and perhaps covering even the highest land masses.
In the 20th century the Italians were convinced entering clone hosting was ascention into heaven, and their success was a recruiting tool, just as the Holocaust was for the Jews.

Until ugliness ocurrs I won't have the disfavored's respect. How ugly do you people need it to get?
They obviously fail to recognize storms are my specialty.
The Gods just sent another clue:::2.24 orca killing two days after viewing "The Cove".
She's better off dead than knowingly incurring evil in her profession, but this is very common today:::People think they are "earning".
How's an 8.8 for ugly????:::I was told I was not welcome because I insulted the shitty quality of their fruit.
"You're not welcome here." Oh no? Ok...
They're sending a clue about who I am.

The women have God's favor, and when the women do all the evil, as was the case in my family, this serves to "equalize" the playing field, ensuring no wisdom comes to this family as they grow older. As a result they never make progress and achieve the lowest possible placement when reincarnated.

The Gods have black women betray the men to prime misogyny in the black community.
They're lying to you and they've been your WHOLE LIVES!!
Europeans deserved to be inflicted with Christianity and the United States. It's just too bad the black man had to assimilate into this white punishment.
How ironic:::As they strive for "equal rights" they actually are sinking lower into the mire of disfavor.
Reverse positioning.

Just as the Gods prohibited the Italians from attacking the Moors because of their favor, so were the Jews prohibited from attacking (most) motherland Germans. Instead they attacked German-Americans.
And the United States for ignoring the Holocaust as it happened. Thus we had the 60s and the deterioration of decency in society.
The Italians, sexual a primary problem, had an endless supply at hand.
The Jews, sheltered from this new-world holocaust in their communities, watched the devestation.
As you entered the "valley of steel" you fell prey to temptation and betrayed your families and were punished:::The Gods "managed" these groups whom did their dirty work, "downgrading" the Jews for their obscene wickedness post-Holocaust.
Both Catholic, the Irish were too drunk to organize, which is why they didn't hurt the BILLIONS which Italians did.

The voice you hear in your head is the power of the Gods. It's a remote technology, like a computer, perhaps functioning on some frequency, and it can listen and talk to everyone in the universe simultaneously.
What the Gods taught the children was the truth:::God is everywhere, and this is what they meant. I will remind you of another principle you learned as a child:::If you want to go to heaven you have to be good.

And justice for all.