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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

22 Minutes With Lupe Fiasco

"Lupe Fiasco's "Tiny Toons" game is on point."

Brevity is a virtue amongst rap artists that is often far too overlooked. Somewhere along the great existential time line of human existence, rappers began assuming that the more product they could shove onto the 80 minute flux capacity of the compact disc, the more likely their record would be plucked off the crowded shelves of a record store and inserted into the warm plastic confines of a stereo disc changer. Perhaps, this was wise thought when albums were selling like they were lightly sprinkled with heroin flakes but it makes little sense in an environment when the world's biggest beef enthusiast can only sell 160,000 copies of his new record. When nobody is buying your record anyway, it makes little sense to water down the content of your record with filler tracks especially considering when most music is consumed in the solitary schizophrenia of an iPod, an artist can ill afford to waste their fan's potential time listening to a slew of ill-conceived crossover tracks. It only takes a quick flick of the wrist to switch to something better.

Lupe Fiasco must have taken that lesson because his excellent new mixtape, "Enemy Of The State: A Love Story", is an exercise in the power of limited quantity correlating with infinite quality. "Enemy Of The State" clocks in at a brisk 22:09 minutes and there is not a second wasted where Lupe is not furiously bringing glorious swaths of funeral pyre. It's been almost two years since "The Cool" established his bonafides as the premier rapper of his generation and if you had forgotten how great a rapper Lupe is, it's not going to take you very long to remember.

Lupe's primary strength is the complex density in the metaphors of his rhymes. He's the type of rapper whose lyrics are just as enjoyable being read in the liners notes as they are to listen to. You discover more depths the more you listen to him so it's extremely rewarding that "Enemy Of The State" is so brief. It allows for easily more digestible, multiple listens that allows you to explore the subtleties of his craft. His work on "The National Anthem" is a lyrical junkie's wet dream. Initially, the mixtape was released "cassette-style" (one continuously long mp3) before bootleg junkies spliced it up but I find the "cassette-style" of the tape to be incredibly fitting. Much like an old Maxell magnetic, one quickly finds oneself furiously spinning the iPod wheel in reverse in order to listen to the same lyric over and over again. Only in the digital age, you don't have to worry about popping the magnetic tape in your mp3 player. Who says technology ruins everything?

Download: Lupe Fiasco - Enemy Of The State: A Love Story [Mixtape] (Via Nah Right)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kidz In The Hall: That One Song That Samples That One Song From That One Band That Has That One Song That I Like

"Don't sit back there and act like Double-O's hair ain't luxurious when you know that it is, bitch!"

A few years back in college, I was browsing the music stacks at a Best Buy, looking for the latest Masta Ace record, when the in-store loud speakers began to the play the familiar drum patterns of a record I had become all too familiar with, Eric B. and Rakim's "My Melody." I paused for a moment to compliment the in-store D.J. for having decidedly exceptional taste for a sixteen year-old when it soon became apparent to my dawning horror that I would not be graced with the melodious baritone of Rakim's rich voice but rather the insipid strains of the pop vapidness of Teairra Marie's "Make Her Feel Good." I had been hoodwinked into the thinking I was listening to a superior song. Needless to say, I was not amused. I would go and buy the Masta Ace album at Circuit City, instead. (I was as shocked as you are that they had it. The rap selection at Syracuse area conglomerate retail chain stores is surprisingly boss.)

Later that day after I tore into Ace's masterpiece, A Long Hot Summer, for the first time (a surprisingly seminal moment of my music life since it was my belated introduction to my third favorite rapper), I began to reflect not on the universal atrociousness of Marie's blood screaming abortion but rather the curious nature of an R&B song sampling a classic hip hop jam. It seemed to me in my pre-blogger days (and before the crushing weight of disappointment morphed me into the cold-hearted hater that you know and tolerate) that if R&B was now sampling hip hop (instead of vice versa) that a critical equilibrium in the nature of the genre would soon broken and spiral rap music into the prophecies of the Pharaoh NaS and later dissected by the Prophet Sasha Frere-Jones. If R&B music was no longer producing original music breaks and instead were wantonly sampling from old school hip hop records than the delicate ecosystem of hip hop music sampling would soon eat itself and collapse into Casio keyboard fuckery or worse, start sampling from lame indie rock bands! I prayed to the Gods of the Mic this would not come to pass. Foolish, foolish mortal...

Noted hipster rap scions, Kidz In The Hall, made "history" this week when they sampled indie rock flavor of the month, Grizzly Bear's, "breakout" hit "Two Weeks" for their adventurously titled song, "Grizzly Man." A song that I've come to enjoy despite the obvious pretentious gimmickry involved with it's creation. Double-O and Naledge continue with a curious trend in hip hop as the sampling sources of the material continues to come from more and more obvious and gimmick-laden. Despite my admittedly ridiculous, curmudgeonly biases towards indie rock music in general, "Two Weeks" is actually a pretty fantastic song. Grizzly Bear's ethereal harmonies on the song remind me of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and they build around a hypnotic piano loop that help make the song an instant standout record. However, Kidz In The Hall specious choice to sample the song ends up sounding as pandering and pretentious as T.I. and company did when ripping off M.I.A. for "Swagger Like Us." It plays to the built-in tastes of their hipster rap audience and combined with the relative unimaginative way the song uses the source material makes the record seem like a cheap play for crossover potential. The song chipmunks Grizzly Bear's harmonies and simply speeds the piano break to hip hop level bbms. When referring to the song, noted street-oriented rap novice, Jeff Weiss said "I liked this beat better the first time, when it was called Still D.R.E."

What's more troubling is the way that Naledge seems to be mining the Clipse's flow on a Guerilla Blackian level (Word to the Passion, again). His voice and speech patterns seem to mirror the Brothers Thornton's signature growly and delivery right down to Pusha's "hyuck" adlib. It's disconcerting that Naledge would do this considering he's an artist that is fairly established in his own right. I wonder if he even noticed what he was doing.

With all that said, I still miraculously manage to enjoy the song beyond all of my critical caveats. Perhaps, I just like gimmicky source samples more than I'd care to admit.

Download: Kidz In The Hall - Grizzly Man [Via 2 Dopeboyz]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct: Review

"A lesser man would make a joke about 50 wearing a shirt on the cover.
Luckily, I am that lesser man."

I suppose if Curtis Jackson wasn’t Keith Olbermann-certified as the “Worst Person In The World,” one could begin to feel a tiny morsel of human sympathy for the man better known to the world as 50 “Fitty” Cent. After ruling the pop music world with an iron fist for the better part of the decade, 50 has fallen hard from the throne; Kanye infamously emasculated him two y ago in their sales showdown two years ago; his latest singles have been met with scathing indifference from both radio and the critical market; he’s been reduced almost to a court jester, showing up once every few to start a ridiculous beef with another rapper; raging against a world that does not care for his antics, anymore. It’s not far fetched to suggest had not for his Pimpin’ Curly videos on ThisIs50.com, he would relegated to Papoose status on his own record label. Be that as it may, after all the drama he’s caused helping shatter the New York rap scene in his quest to conquer it; it’s hard not feel a tinge (okay, a shit load) of schadenfreudirific joy at watching 50 Cent flail helplessly at making a hit record. The man wore out his welcome long ago and watching his feeble attempts at radio play be is karmic revenge for the endless amount of careers and lives the man tried to ruin. He’s earned this treatment. The man needs to hit the restart button on the last four years of his career.

50’s latest album, “Before I Self Destruct”, is billed as an almost mea culpa for the pop corniness of his previous two forays into blatant commercial pandering. In a way, it’s his “50 Cent Begins,” a revamp of his early mixtape persona before the allure of “Candy Shop” money turned him into a living symbol of gangster homo eroticism and beef mongering. “Before I Self Destruct” is an attempt to produce a record that bangs harder and more consistently than anything he’s done since quite possibly his mixtape days. For the most part, it’s a gambit that pays off as this is a record that is some of 50’s most inspired work since quite possibly “Guess Who’s Back?” and is easily his second best album.

From the opening moments of “The Invitation” (which according to the world’s most accurate encyclopedia is produced by DJ Premier. Really?! It sounds nothing like him, boys.), this record seems to have a clear statement of purpose when 50 Cent re-counting those infamous nine shots stares himself teary-eyed in the mirror and declares to himself “you ain’t dead!” It’s a powerful moment not so much because it evokes the most famous incident in his myth but because it serves as something of a metaphor for the state of his career. 50’s career as it’s nadir but he’s not going down without a fight even if it kills him. From this moment on “Before I Self Destuct,” 50 goes into an impressive stretch run of some of his most inspired, most hardcorest, most gangsterlicious (Word to Riley Freeman.) rap songs of his career. It’s song number ten before we reach anything that can remotely considered anything approaching that would be suitable for play in the club or the radio. 50 is not playing around. For once, 50 drops the quease-inducing sex food metaphor raps and actually provides the "aggressive" sounding music he's been alleging exists in between "21 Questions" knock-offs.

For those ten or so songs, Curtis Jackson gets his swagger back and returns to the viciously sarcastic wit that made him a star in the first place. Aside from the asinine radio-friendly pandering of "The Massacre" and "Curtis," I always felt the main problem with these record were that he couldn't channel the nihilistic joy of his mixtape work into any of his hardcore material. It always appeared that he didn't care and was more content to kick half-assed gangsterisms on auto-pilot than writing anything that remotely approached his early promise as a pure gangster rapper. The only time the fun of being the evil dictator of hip hop was channeled into his music was the shit-talking spoken word interludes, he would record over at the end of his seemingly endless diss tracks . (Think the last minute of "I Run New York.") 50 regains a little bit of that ol' demonic steez back on his new album. On "Then Days Go By", he giddily brags of being sexually taken advantage of as a pre-teen by his older babysitter when he screams "Take me baby, take me!" and on "Stretch," he taunts a young heroin addict that he doesn't give a fuck he' s ruining his live because "it's a cold world we're in". These are situations aren't novel to hip hop music but you can sense the joy 50 feels in playing the villain. We're missing that.

However, after those ten songs, the record begins to slowly fall apart as the second half of the record marks 50 Cent's quixotic quest to produce something gravitating towards a hit record. His insipid single, "Baby By Me," is as flaccid and desperate as the day it was conceived in a board room at the Interscope Records building. "Ok, You're Right" marks Dr. Dre's continued descent into pop, keyboard-plinking senility while "Get It Hot" sounds like budget Timbo lame-assery. This half of the record seems so schizophrenic and out-of-character with the mission statement of the first half that it begins to compromise the whole project. There is nothing on this record that is half as essential as "I Get Money," the brilliantly misanthropic single from "Curtis," and this in itself keeps the record from truly shining.

Still if this isn’t quite his “Stillmatic”, it comes close as possible as we will ever get out of 50 Cent (and no, we will not be debating the merits of “Stillmatic” in my comment section. It’s a great album regardless if your wack-ass Jay-Z revisionism will allow you to admit it or not. Sometimes, your just going to have to agree that the consensus is right, people. This is one of those times.). “Before I Self Destruct” isn’t quite perfect but it offers a glimpse at 50 Cent at this most clear and focused as an artist as he's been since his mixtape days. Welcome back, Curtis Jackson. I will now grudgingly give you your props. Don’t fuck it up.