I suppose it’s no surprise that a group whose 1993 debut single was entitled “How About Some Hardcore?” would one day branch out to explore the various interpretations of the phrase’s meaning. But it’s still more than a little strange watching Billy Danze of Brownsville hip-hop duo M.O.P. explain the plot of the new M.O.P. porn film, Creepers. (Incidentally, shouldn’t that have been the title of the TLC flick?)
“It’s about when you catch a chick cheating and you can’t believe that you’re seeing your girl’s ass get busted…whatever….But we had to take some of the violence out though. It got a little too crazy.”
Not like you’d expect M.O.P. to do soft-core, waterfalls, and chocolate-covered strawberries, but this revelation has forced me to completely re-evaluate the origins of the song “Downtown Swinga ’96,” to say nothing of the duo’s full name, “Mash-Out Posse.” Arguably, the only thing weirder than Danze is his whiskey-swilling, Funky-Bunch looking interviewer, who reveals his fantasies about watching his ex-girlfriend with other guys and also tries to convince Billy Danze that Jim Beam was black. Glad to see that their deal with G-Unit is going as well as Young Buck’s.
You can’t blame Atmosphere for wanting to try something new. The Minneapolis hip-hop duo (rapper Slug/producer Ant) had been running in place since 2002′s God Loves Ugly. It wasn’t that their last album, You Can’t Believe How Much Fun We’re Having was bad; it’s just that there are only so many ways to spin quasi-emo tales of groupies and ex-girlfriends over ’70s soul beats. Atmosphere has a new album coming out later this month called When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold; I would’ve liked to have listened to it, but piracy issues caused Atmosphere’s label, Rhymesayers, to refuse to send out gold-painted press copies. So in retaliation, I’m going to assume from the video for “Guarantee,” the album’s first single, that the next Atmosphere record will be entirely rap-rock.
Rap-rock, a genre long thought to have been buried along with Kid Rock’s midget, has made a resurgence of late; I suspect it all started last year with the emergence of the Shop Boyz, Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, and Chamillionaire letting the world know that they too could be compared to rock stars. Then this year came Why?’s Alopecia, the Jackie Robinson of rap-rock, the crucial moment that quantitatively proved what scientists had long believed: It is possible to give birth to a good rap-rock album. Unfortunately, judging from the “Guarantee” video, Slug seems to be the Larry Doby of neo-rap-rock.
“Guarantee” finds the Rhymesayers president looking like a cross between Winona Ryder’s ex-boyfriend and The Grungies. Unlike the rap-rock of the past, Slug goes unplugged, just an acoustic guitar and gloomy lyrics that seem to have been conceived at a Seattle coffeehouse’s open-mic night sometime in 1993. With some hard drums and some harmonica, or some otherwise odd instrumentation, I could definitely see this track breathing, but instead the song feels thin, spare, and anticlimactic. From a business perspective, the song is probably a brilliant move, as it further solidifies Slug’s stranglehold on the lucrative world of suicide girls and sorority sisters. But from an artistic perspective, while Slug remains a very good rapper, Atmopshere’s new direction is Durst.
Lil Wayne will release The Carter IIIon May 13. Maybe. After all, the guy has spent the last two and a half years doing everything but making actual studio albums: seven or eight mixtapes, dozens of guest appearances, several arrests, and more hype than the“Loungin’” video*. Some of this attention has been warranted. The Carter II, his previous studio effort, is a good but not great record, with “Tha Mobb” ranking as one of the decade’s finest rap songs and “Shooter” impressively meshing hardcore raps with a crossover sensibility (though Alan Thicke will forever out-class his son). Moreover, Wayne’s ascendence benefited heavily from 2005′s ignominious distinction as one of the worst years in rap history, with critics so strapped for music to ride for that they actually tried to convince themselves that Paul Wall and Mike Jones were good.
Wayne’s drastic improvement from his Cash Money days, coupled with the South’s moment in the sun, ensured that narrative-hungry writers would annoint someone sub-Mason-Dixon as the new king of hip-hop. With Scarface and Andre 3000 falling back and half of UGK locked up, Wayne seemed like the best bet. In a way, his rise seemed tailor-made for the zeitgeist of this jangled Internet age, his songs blessed with a sense of ephemera that jibes with the notion of constant content fit to be devoured and forgotten ten minutes later. There are as many Wayne songs as there are blogs, and like the blogosphere, the quality is wildly uneven. For every show-stopping moment like “Cannon” or “Upgrade U,” there are ten tracks filled with repetitive simile-laden boasts that Wayne’s champions would like to call free-associative genius, but really just prove that it is somehow possible to be both the hardest working man in hip-hop and incredibly lazy at the same time.
Given the chance to appear on Graduation and American Gangster, two rap albums from 2007 that were good enough to receive burn beyond the turn of the decade, Weezy whiffed–squandering the rare opportunity to broaden his fanbase beyond his key constituency of Southerners, 13-year olds, and white music critics with 180+ IQs, prestigious liberal arts degrees, and questionable taste in hip-hop. Wayne apologists scoffed that their hero had already had so many great moments that year, but his detractors sagely pointed out that anyone purporting to be the best rapper alive shouldn’t suck this much on both of the year’s big-ticket rap records.
That’s perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Wayne question: only two opinions seem to exist, both of which are wrong. (Wayne is neither savior nor Satan. What he is a talented rapper with absolutely no concept of quality control.) The first swallows his hyperbole and concludes that he is the greatest rapper alive, a prolific, infallible genius who operates in a Bizarro galaxy heretofore reserved for such king weirdos as Mike Tyson, Cam’ron, and Kim Jung-Il. The other labels him complete garbage, a walking, talking, Baby-kissing plague on humanity responsible for SARS, Ebola, and the assassinations of both Kennedys.** Ultimately, what this yields is bad criticism, with his admirers refusing to acknowledge his myriad atrocious moments and his “haters” never conceding an inch, with both teams waiting for the “classic” album that will either confirm his place in the pantheon or halt the critical love train.
The notion of needing to drop a classic album seems slightly antiquated, but in fact it isn’t. While short stories, short films, and single MP3s obviously have their merits, no amount of postmodernist revision will ever alter the fact that the novel, the feature film, and the album will remain the standard-bearers of art. (Sorry.) Lil Wayne has not dropped a classic album, though if you lopped 20 minutes off Carter II, you could arguably state your case. Logically, Carter III would be make-or-break time, the chance for Wayne to either shut up the peanut gallery*** or leave the heads of the hype machine with a whole lot of omelet on their face. Neither of these two things will probably happen.
While it remains to be seen what exactly would convert Wayne’s naysayers, it is certain that no matter how bad Carter III is, some corners of the critical community will stop at nothing to convince you of its greatness. In particular, no two critics have been more strident in their homerism than Tom Breihan, of the Village Voice and Pitchfork and Marc Hogan, the main writer of Pitchfork’s Forkcast. ReadBreihan’s love letter to “Lollipop,” a song that he himself manages to call
a blatant sellout-move capitulation to everything lame in today’s pop-music world: gallingly obvious central lyrical sex-as-candy analogy, T-Pain-esque layered-up autotuned vocals, simplistic snap-music drum-pattern, hushed trancey synth-whooshes playing something that sounds suspiciously like the melody to Flo Rida’s “Low,” no rapping whatsoever and… screaming butt-rock guitar solos.
Forget the fact that “Lollipop” does have rapping, however terrible it may be; forget the fact that Breihan somehow manages to compare “Lollipop” to Earth Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove,” a piece of spin that would make James Carville smile. The review concludes by telling us that we should “celebrate the fact that Lil Wayne has made his “Candy Shop” without compromising his inner weirdness.”
In fact, there is nothing weird about “Lollipop,” a song that feels more cynically calculating than almost anything released in 2008. It’s lyrical content is a clumsy homework assignment from 50 Cent’s School Of How To Write Songs For 14-Year-Old Girls With Tacky Sex Metaphors For Hooks. (In particular, “Shorty Want a Thug/Bottles in the Club/Shorty Need a Hug” makes Benzino look like Arthur Rimbaud.) Meanwhile, it completely style-jacks T-Pain, a guy who stole every one of his ideas from Roger Troutman, never mind Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction.” Hell, even the “Lollipop” video is corny, a glitzy, formulaic romp through Las Vegas that feels suspiciously like a cliched combo of the videos for 112′s “Only You” and 2Pac’s “How Do U Want It.”
Incidentally, there is one defense for “Lollipop”: It’s a big, absolutely retarded pop song that you enjoy dancing to at clubs. This is its sole intent. As rap music, it’s garbage; as pop, it’s middle-of-the-road filler fit to be played until Labor Day and not a moment later. What it isn’t is “sly, heady… melodrama,” as Breihan puts it, or a “savvy pop move,” as Hogan calls it. What Snoop did was a “savvy pop move,” the sort of desperate sellout look that artists need to do when there’s nothing left in the well; “the greatest rapper alive” shouldn’t have to resort to singles you can Xerox (no Hillary Clinton).
If “Lollipop” is a shameless, poorly executed, but well-thought out play for the charts, “A Millie” is the opposite, a half-baked and sloppy street single with Wayne once again in mixtape mode, stringing together simile after simile for five and a half minutes of banal shit-talking. Of course, there are a few clever lyrical turns. “I don’t owe you like two vowels” is as good as anything Lupe Fiasco has written, but like Weezy’s entire discography, “A Millie” is maddeningly inconsistent. Its beat is a hiccuping, overly repetitive, minimalist mess that sounds like it could only have been selected by someone under the influence of too much drank and drugs. Meanwhile, Wayne attempts to mask his empty-calorie lyrics by relying on his now-familiar grab-bag of vocal tics, forcing syllables to stretch that shouldn’t stretch, modulating his voice without purpose, everything strictly for schtick and effect. At one point, he even boasts that “none of this shit is written down,” but that goes without saying. After all, any rapper who writes a lyric as lazy as “we pop ‘em like Redenbacher” deserves his MC pass revoked. (Can we all admit that Jay and Big’s claims that they never wrote down lyrics have caused more harm than any trivia tidbit in music history?)
But Hogan dismisses anyone with a gripe: “haters are already foaming at the mouth… the rest of us know better than to rush the flow.” God forbid, anyone gets between Hogan and Wayne’s uh…”flow.” “A Millie” is just mediocre, a boiler mix-tape track that would be met with yawns were it released by Papoose, most frustrating than is the one-sided nature of its criticism, with its arrogant tone and nebulous taunts at “haters.” Flip through the Pitchfork archives, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find inasmuch as a negative word about Wayne, with the one universally loathed Wayne record, Like Father Like Son, weirdly never getting a review despite its single, “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy,” receiving a glowing, four-star review from Breihan.
Granted, Wayne’s detractors are notoriously venomous and often misguided, but their anger partly stems from a critical vogue that refuses to praise anything that isn’t crack rap and/or nakedly commercial. In the past six months, hip-hop has seen strong output from a new generation of rappers–Jay Electronica, Wale,The Knux, Pacific Division,Blu and Clean Guns–yet not one of these worthy artists has gotten their own post on the Forkcast or Status Ain’t Hood, despite obviously needing the exposure a whole lot more than the platinum-plus “Young Money Millionaire.” It remains to be seen whether Carter III will be the masterpiece capable of validating the slavish Wayne worship that has taken place over the past few years. But what is certain is that judging from the reviews of its first two singles, you’ll be hearing the praises of its unmistakable brilliance.
Besides, no matter what, it can’t be worse than Mike Jones or Paul Wall.
* On another note, if “Loungin” is not the most quintessential mid-’90s rap video, than what is? ** Though if one were to judge Wayne strictly off his appearance–which is not unlike that of a drank and pills-addled Whoopi Goldberg–SARS seems like a reasonable guess. ***Likely filled with fans of Peanut Butter Wolf.
Noz of Cocaine Blunts has unearthed news of what has the potential to the best autobiography since Jose Canseco’s Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big*. The book in question is Producing a Genius, a still-in-progress work by Shock-G, a.k.a. Humpty Hump, a.k.a. the leader of seminal ’90s rap group Digital Underground. According to Shock’s MySpace blog, “the book will chronical [sic], my 6 years, 4 tours, 19 studio sessions, 7 video shoots, 13 house parties, 2 courtroom cases, 5 basketball games, 3 streetfights, 4 arrests/police run-ins, dozens of tag-team girl trade-off experiences inwhich [sic] I was side by side with Tupac, and what it was like to record the young genius in the early years of his career, a time that he himself called the best time of his life.”
The chapter excerpted on the blog also catalogs the making of Tupac’s classic single “I Get Around,” which upon subsequent re-examination was probably an admission of a proclivity for orgies that may or may not have occurred in Burger King bathrooms. Not only does the post reveal that Tupac wrote Shock’s lyrics for “I Get Around,” it includes an explanation of the phrase, “I’m Shock G, the one who put the satin on your panties.” Though much of the focus of the still in-progress book appears to be on Tupac, here’s hoping that Shock devotes at least a few chapters to such burning questions as: how close the group came to inventing “Sex Packets”; “how to properly get stupid and shoot an arrow like cupid”; “how to doowhatchalike while still finding time to be career-driven”; “the best ways to shimmy, shimmy cocoa pop”; and, of course, “how to not let being skinny stop you from getting busy.”
Salutations, Idolator readers: My name is Jeff Weiss and I will be your guest-blogger today. Usually, I issue dubious, drugged screeds at my other Internet outpost, The Passion of the Weiss. Occasionally, I accept shiny beads and metallic tokens to write about music for theLA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. The remainder of my days are spent drinking Cisco, listening to Crime Mob b-sides and endlessly watching re-reruns of My Two Dads. (They have a name for those who claimed that Paul Reiser was never great prior to Mad About You: Philistines.)
You may be wondering why there is a picture of Manu Ginobli to the left of this post. Well, dear reader, I wanted you to be able to get a mental picture of me in your head and as I have been told on many occasions that I am a dead-ringer for the Argentine-born San Antonio Spur, it seems to make sense. Besides, me and Manu have much in common, not the least of which include a love of basketball, the tango (rose in mouth optional), and the phrases “No Me Digas!” “!Uf!” and “Que Lastima!”
In his ongoing, always edifying “Sample Deconstruction” series, Dan Love of From Da Bricks picks apart Black Moon’s “Buck ‘Em Down Remix” and the backbone of the Beatminerz’ beat: the drums from the LaFayette Afro Rock Band’s stunning “Hibache” and Donald Byrd’s “Wind Parade.” My best advice: Download all three immediately, burn them onto a CD, and start your weekend off right. [From Da Bricks]
While Target rightfully gets the business of trust-fundless hipsters, Isaac Mizrahi-lovers, and anyone with a sound eye for a bargain, K-Mart is usually seen as an afterthought. No longer. According to the K-Mart website, right now, on-sale for $254.99, one can pick up a copy of Philadelphia underground rappers Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Legacy of Blood.” Granted, this seems a tad excessive, but it’s actually an amazing bargain considering the record is marked down from its original price of $849.99. For those unfamiliar with the gruff, science-fiction laced work of the Babygrande recording artists, K-Mart is also helpful enough to provide a description.
“With violent imagery so rampant in the past decade of hip-hop, the fact that Jedi Mind Tricks’ third album manages a cover shot that actually succeeds in shocking is either impressive or disturbing, depending on your disposition. Same goes for Vinnie Paz’s tougher-than-leather flow that hollers down faggots and paints pictures of ultra-violence in a way that would make -A Clockwork Orange seem almost friendly by comparison.”
Ever wise to the vagaries of the recording industry, an ever-vigilant K-Mart is attuned to the buying needs of every intensively homophobic, ultraviolent millionaire in America. Somewhere, Dick Cheney has added a little something special to his shopping cart.
One of the hardest things to do as a human being is to parse the emotional from the rational part of your brain, especially when it comes to music. No matter how good a band is, if they break up and reform with a different lineup, it is almost quantitatively impossible to prefer the latter incarnation. Van Halen could be the archetypal case, but somehow, Andrew Unterberger breaks down the differences between Van Halen and Van Hagar with a sober clarity often tough to find when dealing with the perverse world of Sammy Hagar, a land in which no one will ever be allowed to drive a mere 55 miles per hour. [Intensities in Ten Suburbs]
Its got to be hard being Rhymefest. The guy writes “Jesus Walks” and Kanye gets all the love and acclaim. He signs with Mark Ronson and releases Blue Collar, a decent record memorable only because it managed to be one of Ronson’s rare failures. And now, Blu and Exile come out with the video for “Blue Collar Worker,” one of the finer songs off of the duo’s 2007 LP, Below the Heavens.
While it remains to be seen who will ultimately win the battle for the throne of “Mr. Blue Collar” (the winner receives a free steel lunchbox, a thermos of coffee, and a John Edwards ’08 bumper sticker), my money’s on Blu, if nothing else because his video features Angeleno landmarks like The Record Surplus, Pan-Pacific Park, and the Third Street Promenade. Of course, shopping for records, writing rhymes, and taking a girl shopping hardly seems “blue collar,” but I’m willing to give Blu a free pass on the strength of his liquid flow, soulful beats, and impressive afro. Personally, I can’t wait for his next single, “Two Americas.”
One of the hardest shows to get into at this year’s SXSW was an acoustic performance from M. Ward and Jim James held at the 300-person capacity St. David’s Church. Despite showing up an hour prior to Ward’s set, both LA Weekly editor Randall Roberts and I were left stranded outside, furiously and futilely texting every publicist in our phones. Thankfully, the Aquarium Drunkard has gotten his hands on the full set, including six tunes that the two collaborate on. And yes, James concludes with “Gideon,” which leads me to firmly conclude that it is in fact about the Gideon Bible. [Aquarium Drunkard]