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

Friday, September 18, 2009

No Words... Teddy Roosevelt Edition

- The '99 version of myself would be bugging out over this line-up. The '09 Model? Not so much.

-Everybody remotely involved in this should be embarrassed they are getting eaten up by fuckin' Drag-On! Yes, Drag-On! Whom I'm quite positive has been banished from recording music since I haven't heard him rap since the Exit Wounds soundtrack. Ironically, the Exit Wounds Soundtrack was the last time, DMX, mattered in anything but drug-related arrest hilarity. I will give the Ruff Ryders this. Had Jay-Z decided to do an old school Roc-a-fella reunion, he would not have invited Amil to the proceedings. Kudos on finding, Drag-On, at whatever car wash he's working at these days.

-Eve might be the only human female that has gotten hotter as she ages. I thought she was hideous when she was rocking the Eminem-cut back when she first appeared on the scene but she's definitively smokin', now. Let that be a lesson to you, Amber Rose!

- I can't decide which member of the L.O.X. is more comatose these days. Sheek Louch wins by default since he always sort-of sucked.

- I don't understand the point of putting together a video like this for a song that's meant to be the re-introduction to Ruff Ryders and making it so fucking budget looking. So you are going to spend thousands of dollars renting ATV's and sports car but you can't spring for a camera that's slightly above your garden-variety camcorder? You can't make "Big Pimpin'" if you don't have a director who understands the concept of "white balancing," people! It kills me that cheap-ass videos like this are the reason that I had trouble finding work so much when I was working as a freelance videographer a few years back.

- Swizz Beatz should be shot... We all know why.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Well... That Was Fast!

Thanks, Mr. West! Thanks to your insane selfishness, Joe Wilson is off the hook for being only the second most ridiculous person to interrupt a speech this week. Tell me I'm lying.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II: Review

"His price is 26, son."

I am 26 years old and that places me at an age in which I’m old enough to start thinking seriously about my future but still have a yearning for the childhood obsessions that occupied my youth. I spend hours researching old Saturday morning cartoons on Wikipedia, watch old WWF (Fuck-a-World-Wildlife-Fund…it will always be the WWF to me!) matches on Youtube and cop X-Files DVDs at Best Buy. My world is rapidly changing around me as my friends start to slowly pair off and get engaged, advance in their careers and become fully function members of the vile cult known as adulthood. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to think if my reverence for the glorious, permanent juvenilia that has become my modus operandi is something that I should abandon for something approximately approaching societal norms. (I can’t keep delaying law school forever. Ugh.) All this means is that nostalgia has particular death grip on my psyche at this moment in my life. I don’t want to grow up but am self-aware enough to know that this is not a particular healthy notion to be harboring.

For me, Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II” is soaked in a particularly palpable nostalgia that evokes a particular slice of my adolescence that I have nothing but fond memories of. As a teenager, hip hop was the music I used to escape from the world and 10 years later, it is the music that I choose to examine and frame my worldview about. (write these long, winding narratives as a way to reconcile my thoughts and feelings about the world around me at large.) In regards to my long-standing love affair with hip hop, Wu-Tang has been the love of my life. The group that makes all other rap groups look second-rate.

On the surface, Cuban Linx II is an ostensibly perfect record. For an album that took nearly 14 years to make and is the sequel to one of the most highly acclaimed records in the history of the art form, it works way better than I can possibly have hoped for. It works as the type of perfect ‘90s crime epic that used to be the norm until it was abandoned for the cartoonish, uber-violent, half-baked crack rap fantasy of the Young Jeezy’s and the 50 Cent’s of the world. It is meticulous and grounded in details. It is loaded with pathos and drama and it makes the delusion of “Deeper Than Rap” seem like the highest of high comedy. And boy does it ever bang. Raekwon has not only brought out the heaviest of heavy production artillery (Dilla, Dre, RZA, Rock, Marley fuckin’ Marl) but the Wu-Tang cavalry out as well. There isn’t a wasted beat, half-assed verse or a solitary half-baked idea on the entire record. It is the type of hard-as-nails, gritty rap album that they don’t make anymore. It’s the best rap album of the year by a wide margin and that is where the problem lies.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II” relies too much on nostalgia. It is so rooted in ‘90s rap minutiae that it sounds alien in this modern rap environment and from a philosophical standpoint the record sounds almost regressive to the needs of the future of hip hop. It appeals to me because it sounds like a throwback Wu-Tang record, “No Said Date” with a more talented lead, and had this record been realized in ’99, it would be on par with the best of the Wu-Tang solos. Unfortunately, it’s 2009 and thus all this nostalgia (the kung-fu samples, the RZA and RZA-esque beats, the “Killer” dialogue) makes it inherently a limited record. It’s sort of the equivalent of a late-period Scorsese crime film. It’s highly enjoyable and well-made but it lacks the raw grit and originality of his earlier works. Its appeal is entirely based on the familiar and thus it cheapens its greatness. What does it say when the best record of 2009 sounds dated? That its success is because it’s consciously re-creating the past? You begin to wonder as a fan what that speaks about you when the big artists of the day leave you unsatisfied and what you crave most deeply is the nostalgia of your youth. Is this healthy? Or does this signal an unhealthy obsession for pangs of youth? (And why am I ending all my sentences as a rhetorical question like a Carrie Bradshaw column? And why am I making Sex in the City references in a Raekwon review? Should I cut my balls off? Is this healthy?)

I feel strange writing a seemingly negative review for a record that I happen to love. It is a record that I have been banging for a week straight and it reminds of me all the things that I miss about hip hop. I just don’t know if this is the record that I should love after all these years. Hip Hop needs more than older artists mining the exploits of their older, better records. It needs innovation. It needs somebody trying to push its boundaries. It needs to find the future. (It needs Jay Electronica to release an album.) Perhaps, this was always coming. For a genre built on the mining the works of other artists to create new, it may have been inevitable that it would run out of ideas and that eventually come to eat itself. I hope not but I’ll being “Cuban Linx II” as I stare wistfully into the past.

Random Notes:

-Who did U-God piss off to get left off the album? Even Masta Killa got two features!

-It doesn’t remotely bother me that some of these beats/samples have been used elsewhere. Nobody cared about O.C.’s second record in 1997. Nobody cares now.

- At this point, anybody who is in doubt that Ghostface is the best human being alive working in the profession of rapper is seriously kidding themselves. Everybody brings their A-game on this record and Ghost still dominates like LeBron James at a pick-up with Mark Madsen and Yi Jianlian’s practice chair.

- J Dilla should have been producing all Wu-Tang efforts from ’99 on. “House Of Flying Daggers”, “Ason Jones”, and “10 Bricks” are the three best beats on the entire album. RZA should be ashamed of himself for Dilla’s beat-making corpse sonning him on his own shit.

- How big of a fool is Dr. Dre for refusing to release this album on Aftermath? It’s not like he’s doing anything but Dr. Pepper commercials, anyway.

- Nas lost.

- If mobster bosses’ don’t pop off with lobster-sauced angel hair then they seriously need to reconsider what they are doing with their lives. I’m glad to see Deck is still bombing atomically 10 years after he mysteriously had his voice stolen by the Gentleman.

- “They found a two year old, strangled to death/with a love daddy t-shirt/ in a bag/ at the top of the steps.” Need I say more… Verse of the decade material.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3: Review – Part 2: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Blogs

"You have my permission to hang out with Coldplay, Jay... For now..."

Commercial rap music (defined loosely as music designed for release through public consumption for profit… in all forms) is at a definitive crossroads at the moment. This is an insanely obvious point and I feel like an ill-informed Time Magazine writer for bringing it up (but bring it up I shall because clich├ęs work for quick-hand narrative purposes. And I loves me some quick-hand narratives). Illegal downloading has slaughtered execution-style the rap music industry to the point, nobody has any notion of what is going to sell in a climate where a consumer can freely sample anything he or she (but let’s be honest with hip hop, she’s probably a he wants. Even the scions of gangster rap, the tried and true bread winner of the major label system, have watched as their Soundscan numbers march off into commercial irrelevancy (not to mention artistic bankruptcy but that’s neither here or there). This naturally created a talent vacuum at the top of the major label system and increasingly desperate record executives began looking at different types of venues to discover and cultivate new artists. Enter the blogs and the rise of hipster rap.

What would have been unthinkable just a few years prior has led the major labels to take chances on a series of oddball rap acts that derive their inspiration not from streets of Bed-Stuy but from Williamsburg and the indie culture that surrounds it. Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne (yeah, “The Carter III” is a hipster rap album, folks. Don’t front like that sounds like some Hot Boys shit!) were perhaps the forefront of the movement and one of the few artists still selling major units. Soon artists like Wale, Kid CuDi and Charles Hamilton were being snatched up by the major labels for their more off-beat sensibilities and the hype that it was generating on the blogs. This brings me to “The Blueprint 3.”

The early critical word for the third (and final?) installment has been resoundingly negative. That’s actually not a strong enough statement to convey the level of vitriol “BP3” has fostered from critics. “Blueprint 3” has been met with the type of scathing, uncontrollable rage that is saved for gun-toting, health care protesters (and their amoral, lying, greedy backers in the insurance industry looking to exploit their fear of Obama’s skin color into some delusional, twisted defense of small government. Let’s put it this way: If you aren’t for a public option, I consider you to be the lowest form of human being. How dare you attempt to prevent poor folks from acquiring a basic human necessity for survival on this planet, you selfish fuck?! Fuck you and the diseased, corrupt horse you rode in! Yeah, I’m fucking mad! Fuck you! But I digress…). Jay’s foray into hipster rap has not been met well. Admittedly, I was ready to pounce on the album myself (we all know how I love hating on shit) but a funny thing happened on the way to the meat grinder… I found I actually liked the album.

“The Blueprint 3” is Jay’s most honest and thoughtful work since he un-retired and something of quiet (or rather a loud, grandiose...) revelation for an artist whose done it all. It’s about the pratfalls of growing up when nobody wants you to change in the slightest. It’s about what you are going to do when all your friends want to do is keep you down and learning to not care about what they think, anyway. This isn’t the groan-inducing, grown man status symbolisms of “Kingdom Come” nor the forced, retro crackisms of “American Gangster.” It’s funnier and more loose than its predecessor allowing Jay to grow a bit of confidence in his new direction. Jay is finally making the record that he’s been trying to make since “The Black Album” served as the swan song to the first act of his career. He wasn’t quite ready to make this record on “Kingdom Come” where his enthusiasm for creating the world’s first adult contemporary rap album overrode any semblance of fun on the record. As for “American Gangster,” there was always something a bit dishonest with that record. On “Kingdom Come,” he spent a good portion of the record talking about how he was so grown and passed all that gun talk shit but one year later after he had released the most critically savaged record of his career, he was right back into the crack narratives talking about how he was inspired by a run-of-the-mill (albeit entertaining and well-made) gangster movie. It seemed calculated to appeal to the true school purists and new school Jeezy fans who craved Jay in his prime. It didn’t feel right. “Blueprint 3” feels right for a man who is 39 years old, married man with more responsibilities than dreams.

Sonically, this record is not going to appeal to everybody. It bares little resemblance to the classic Jay of yesteryear and has more in common with “808s and Heartbreak”, Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSexLoveSounds” and Kid CuDi than it does with “Reasonable Doubt.” It’s basically a litmus test for the futuristic, space rap that seems perpetually on the verge of breaking through and achieving mainstream notoriety. Jay’s two main collaborator’s on the album, Timbaland and Kanye West, provide Jay with some dark, foreboding spacey synth beats to rap over. “Empire State Of Mind”, “On To The Next One”, and even the much maligned “Off That” are standout tracks. If Cudi’s album had beats as good on this as Jay’s does I would be a very proud Shakerite. The production on the album, once again, belies Jay’s penchant for trying something unique in his quixotic quest to stay relevant. Personally, I feel it succeeds. The presence of blog rap luminaries such as Drake, J. Cole and Cudi himself help guide the process as well.

The album is, of course, far from flawless and Jay’s relative inexperience dabbling in with this type of music can create some missteps. “Reminder” is 4 minutes and 18 seconds of futuro asininity and “Hate” is a song that can be classified as torture weapon in 86 different countries. Of course, Jay isn’t remotely close to being a great rapper anymore and there is without a doubt a few moments of groan-inducing, sub-Kanyeezyian puns on this record (Yoga jokes, Jay? Really? Ew.) but ultimately, this isn’t really enough to sabotage the record. The music, he’s crafting is far too affecting and personal to let the little matter that Jay can’t rap anymore ruin the proceedings.

However, I do have one major caveat to the record. The continued, artistic disaster that is “D.O.A.” Now while I’ve warmed to No I.D.’s production on this (yes, it fucking bangs but that’s irrelevant to why it sucks so much...), its presence on this record is even more glaring and dishonest than I initially thought. I had thought that “D.O.A.” was suggesting Hov was going to make an elitist, true school record with sub par rapping and sniping at the younger generation’s music. This seemed completely dishonest of Jay and it created a nasty visceral distaste in me. “D.O.A.”, however, has no place on this album. It adds nothing to the proceedings and its presence almost acts as apology for betraying his New York gutter roots. It serves almost to negate the confidence he has in making such a record in the first place especially when no less than three records actually use “auto-tune.” Don’t apologize, Jay. Own up to what you are doing!

Ultimately, “The Blueprint 3” is an enjoyable if flawed record. Its definitely not one of his major artistic achievements but it does offer promise that Jay has a bit more left in the tank than I initially thought. He seems ready to finally give up the childishness of his previous swagger and street talk and focus on what matters to him now as an artist. This is far from the reputation ruining embarrassment that a few of my more histrionic colleagues are calling it. And yes, we needed another Blueprint after all.

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3: Review – Part 1: Jay-Z Vs. The Grizzly Bear Concert

"Politics As Usual."

For the last couple of months, my Sunday nights have been spent playing in the infamous Brooklyn Hipster Kickball league (Go Divine Sisterhood Of The Sacred Bleeding Heart!!!) that transforms McCarren Park into the be-jorted hipster heaven on the weekends. For the first three summers that I moved to the city, I had viewed this league as the type of precious, twee, faux-ironic, scenester bullshit that the indie culture has unfortunately come to represent in the eyes of outsiders. The spectacle of watching emaciated, bearded hipster rocking uniforms made of Snuggies and prancing about on a kickball field made my skin crawl and wish that I could afford to live in Manhattan. I felt that way until I was asked by one of my friends if I wanted to join their team. I naturally balked a bit at first but then I decided what the hell, “I’ve got nothing to do but cure my hangover, anyway.” I soon realized the playing kickball was undeniably awesome and that my fears of being infected with incurable hipster cancer were completely unwarranted. Kickball rules. I want to be 10 years old, again.

Now while you are down at the park on Sunday evenings, you can often catch the ethereal vestiges of music floating in the air, emanating from the free Pool Party concert series played down near the waterfront in Williamsburg. These concerts are usually played by some flavor-of-the-month indie rock band that has the Pitchfork crowd in a tizzy. On the promise of free alcohol and a V.I.P. pass, I have attended these shows before. They are exercise in everything that’s annoying about hipster culture. Men with pretentious facial hair. Poor Dye Jobs. Unfortunately tattooed pretty girls consciously trying to make themselves unattractive as possible. Girl Talk. You can smell the irony in the air.

Last week, Grizzly Bear (of that one song that’s kind of awesome fame…) was headlining the last show of the summer and the neighborhood was abuzz with the typical amount of ironically detached excitement that these things can foster. Basically, the few Williamsburgers that were not at the Grizzly Bear concert were down being seen in their Sunday best at McCarren either kickballing or lounging about. Around 9 o’clock, the park started to buzz with excitement as the first few conquering heroes from the concert joined the herd and informed us that they had seen a unicorn in the crowd. Shawn Corey Carter and his wife, Beyonce (and Solange but really who cares…), had graced the trust fund brigade with their presence to watch Grizzly Bear grizzly bear it up. Controversy ensued.

Since Jay-Z’s faux-fake-not (that’s a triple negative, y’all) retirement, there has been a lot of talk about Jay’s betrayal of his hip hop, drug-selling roots. Over the years, Jay has slowly taken the doo rag off, moved from button-ups and beach sandals, to keffiyehs and other assorted scarves. All of his long-time associates (except the irrepressible Memphis J. Bleek. Get that inheritance money, Malik!) have accused Jay of forgetting where he came from (or rather not making them insanely rich as he is) and abandoning them for greener pastures. His associates over the years have grown whiter and more “respectable.” He dropped Beans for Buffett, State Property for Coldplay, and Amil for Gwyneth Paltrow. Consequently, his music has shifted from tales of crack sales and gun battles to Jigga’s adventures with the yacht club. His music has been definitive narrative shift for six years now and it’s peaking with the release of his new album, “The Blueprint 3.” Jay-Z is no longer about the streets. The fact that Jay-Z would attend an indie rock concert (in 2009!) is irrefutable proof that Hov is more concerned with fitting in with white people than making music that appeals to hip hop’s core audience of people who think Gucci Mane is a genius because he’s using fourth grade vocabulary words. (Word to Andrew Noz!) Clearly, Jay hates the streets now. And as for the hipsters, Jay’s presence at one of their most sacred of institutions, at best, was trend hopping carpet-bagging and, at worst, a corruption of all that is pure and decent about indie culture. Jay-Z does not belong there.

Of course, that’s a profoundly idiotic notion and belies more on the prejudices of those making the assertion than any calculation that Hov is making. Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy Projects in the adjacent neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. If you were to walk from the corner of Marcy Ave and Flushing, it would approximately take you about 20 to 25 minutes to reach the waterfront in Willamsburg where the concert was taking place. It’s a 10 minute cab ride (5 minutes if you get lucky with the lights and traffic). He is not invading foreign turf that does not belong to him. Brooklyn is his home. The fact that Williamsburg has been overrun by twenty-something, white film students from the Midwest (Word to myself!) does not make Jay a foreigner in a distance land. When Jay was growing up in Marcy that neighborhood was populated with a majority of black faces and if anything by attending one of these concerts, it can be seen as some kind of weird, reverse colonialist hipster reclamation project. In four years of living in Brooklyn, I have met few, fellow Brooklynites living in Williamsburg that were living there longer than 10 years ago. And I can guarantee that almost nobody at that concert (including the Brooklyn-based performers) were living in the neighborhood when Jigga dropped “Reasoable Doubt.”

In some respects, you can see Jay’s gravitation towards indie rock culture as a natural evolution for an artist that’s been consistently adapting his style his entire career. People forget but Jay has been, perhaps, the most avant-garde pop rap artist of all-time. From “Hard Knock Life” onwards, Jay’s sound has consistently taken chance after chance and its consistently come out in victory. Taking cues from hipster rap and indie culture seems logical when you consider that he grew up near one of the great vestiges of urban art culture in the twentieth century and has shown an interest in cultures that extend beyond the traditional boundaries of hip hop for years. You think Jigga would’ve worked with UGK and Timbaland if he was stubborn, east-coast traditionalist (like myself)? Hell The Fuck No! What do you think “Big Pimpin” was but a play at avant-garde, southern relevancy? Becoming friends with Chris and Gwyneth seems logical when you consider the chances that he’s taken professionally over the years. And so does attending a Grizzly Bear concert? Tastes evolve as you grow. This ain’t some calculated play for hipster cool, people.

Still I had extreme reservations about “Blueprint 3.” I wasn’t sure if Jay-Z was the musician or rapper in 2009 to be able to pull off a hipster rap album. “D.O.A.” was unequivocal, reactionary basura and “Run This Town” made my body want to rapidly bleed out through my ears. When I returned home that evening from kickball (after a fucking monster game. I had like 3 unassisted double plays, a bunch of hits, and a plethora of great defensive plays. Yes, I’m bragging about kickball! WHAT?!?!) , I was dreading listening to the leak. It turns out my fears were unfounded...

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg - Poor Young Dave (Outtake From "The Chronic" Sessions)

[From Robbie At Unkut.com:]

Did these dudes have chemistry back in '92 or what? Am I right, people?

"Poor Young Dave" is an outtake from "The Chronic" sessions and you can find a young Snoop in full-on classic storytelling mode. Dre doesn't rap on this but it doesn't really matter. The beat sounds vaguely like "Deep Cover" which is just fine by me. I could listen to classic era G-Funk beats all day long and twice on Sunday.

Download: Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg - Poor Young Dave

In unrelated Dre news, he's an idiot for not dropping Cuban Linx II on Aftermath. You just let the best album of the last five years walk? Fail.