Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saigon Day! (#24 :P)

So today I’m unveiling a project I’ve been working on for a minute. In honor of the three and a half year anniversary of his life changing recurring role on the hit HBO TV show Entourage, April 1st 2009 is going to be Saigon Day here at a People’s History of Hip Hop. Once an hour for 24 consecutive hours I’m going to be posting the 24 best Saigon tracks recorded during his epic creative explosion between March and November 2006.

The first track is “P” featuring Kool G Rap, who contrary to the opinion of most critics is overrated, mad gay, and the ironic Hipster flavor of the month. This song was dropped in the midst of Saigon’s infamous second critical movement in which everyone was saying he was better than Uncle Murda, slightly worse than Papoose and about as good as Grafh.

“P” is an atypical Just Blaze beat. My friend told me when Just Blaze made this his son had chicken pox and he owed back taxes and you can really feel this in his music. The crunching guitars and his revelatory use of both stirring 808 and trenchant, apathetic 909 drums simultaneously speak to the chaos and confusion in his life. Listen to that crinkling, altruistic piano riff which isn’t a Billy Joel sample but should be. It’s almost like he’s saying “it’s raining, I came down with a head cold, I got caught in traffic on my way to the studio, I had to break a five to buy the Post and I forgot to charge my cell phone before I left the house.”

As for Saigon, he intended for this song to embody his nagging urinary tract infection but you can kinda tell it’s about the Haitian Slave Rebellion of 1791. Alliteration is a popular tool for poets from Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud through Fabo and Saigon is making light of this. In his landmark American Evasion of Philosophy, black douchebag Cornel West suggests things vaguely pertaining to this idea. In the very Postmodern video Kool G Rap is dressed in Montreal Expos gear, another former French colony and his sporting of Gary Carter’s retired #8 is a sly nod to the general Toussaint L'Ouverture. Remember the Montreal Expos? Mad old School!

This one time my Junior year of college I had a car and one day I took it to a local mall to see “Volver” but it was sold out so I went to see “Beerfest” instead. After laughing and crying through Jay Chandrasekhar’s tragicomic allegory for the first Gulf War I went out to the parking lot only to discover I had forgotten where I parked. I wandered the mostly barren lots of that sad, decaying symbol of urban sprawl awash in the magic and beauty of Just Blaze’s classic beat and Saigon’s timeless words making love to my brain through my ear buds. Finally I found my car, which I didn’t see because it was sandwiched between a Lincoln Navigator and a Chevy Tahoe. Everytime I see a Sports Utility Vehicle or hear a word that begins with the letter P I think of that precious moment.

I also had a girlfriend at the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two States: Slingshot Hip Hop

Earth’s most contested piece of real estate is 10,000 square miles, (By comparison, New York, America’s 27th largest state is 54,475) something easy to forget from our massive plot of land here in the U.S. given the conflated coverage we’re assaulted by every few months when the violence inevitably gets ratcheted up a few nauseating notches in Israel. Beyond the mind numbing images of missile ravaged buildings, the back and forth between conservative Jew for Jesus pundits preaching the right of self defense for all super powers, the mothers in burqas wailing on dilapidated streets feeling a pain so alien to us we can’t even begin to empathize, it is reminding us of this smallness that Jackie Reem Salloum’s “Slingshot Hip Hop” accomplishes. The documentary about the release Palestinian youth find in Hip Hop is a patient 4 year journey with her teenage to twenty something subjects around the cities and refugee camps they’re imprisoned by. A look at everyday life as a Palestinian which as it turns out is even more difficult and depressing than the familiar moments of severe horror.

The film opens with the trio known as Dam from Lyd, an Arab city inside Israel proper. We’re told early on that Arabs still living in Israel are known as ‘48 Arabs, referring to the year the territory now known as Israel officially became occupied by Jews and different than the ‘67 Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank, territories liberated by Israel in the Six Days War of 1967. After the second intifada in 2000 Dam, (Da Arab MCs, “Eternity” in Arabic or “Blood” in Hebrew) went political and are considered the fathers of the Palestinian rap movement. Dam’s prominence on an increasingly larger scale (We see them meeting Chuck D, on an Israeli rap show and performing in Amsterdam) allows them positions of respect in the Palestinian community. They endorse peaceful protest and respect for women, seen in their embracing of a fiery FemC duo named Arapeyat who they perform with. Perhaps most importantly they are role models, motivating forces for Palestinians throughout Israel and beyond. We see their tangible influence on the group PR, Palestinian Rapperz, living in Khan Yunis, a city and refugee camp in Gaza.

Despite living in a free state, Arab cities in Israel are still subject to check points and bureaucracy preventing them from developing or expanding their area in any significant way. This life of limited mobility is practically diplomatic immunity compared to life in Gaza where we’re taken next. The streets, if you can call them that, in Gaza are littered with barefoot children and old women. Electricity and water are cut off regularly for days at a time, which happens at one point with the group in studio recording. Mohammad Al Farra, the soulful, charismatic leader of the group puts it mildly when he says “Life here is not beautiful.” Many members of the community have never left due to the severe restrictions placed on them by the Israeli government. In one scene Mohammad explains the five hour process that would be required for him to see friends in Gaza City 14 miles away, assuming he was able to get there at all. A young PR protégé takes us on a tour through his hood, the Nimsawi refugee camp and the film’s most disturbing image is a tenement building before and after its destruction. To see the quiet courtyard once littered with laundry lines and children reduced to rubble in a frame is beyond awful.

The story focusing on Abeer Alzinaty, now living in Baltimore and performing as Sabreena Da Witch, is the most effecting and revealing as to the issues within the Palestinian movement. Abeer is a talented and beautiful young woman who sings the hook on the DAM song “Born Here”. She is prevented from performing this anthem of resistance on the aforementioned Israeli rap television show by cousins who threaten her family, deeming a woman performing in public to be inappropriate. The threat is real as honor killings (women being murdered for what is felt to be improper conduct such as adultery. Abeer was a subject in a documentary on the topic called “Maria’s Grotto” in which she was profiled as an outspoken opponent of the practice) are still prevalent in Arab countries. The mini conflict smacks of the religious divisions and general infighting that have plagued and sabotaged the Palestinian effort from its conception.

One of the film’s better vignettes follows Mahmoud Shalabi, a solo MC from Akko and the most angry and outspoken subject on a bus ride through an unidentified Jewish area. Surrounded by armed guards on city busses, cops who openly admit to harassing him for being Arab and giant billboards simply proclaiming “We Will Win”, Shalabi explains the frustration that comes with everyday profiling, but most interestingly he’s angriest with the Palestinians who often switch to speaking Hebrew in mixed company to avoid issues. Language is an issue persisting throughout the film. Abeer is famous for successfully suing McDonalds after she was fired for using Arabic. It’s a glance at the culture war being fought inside the battle, Mahmoud claims the harassment is an attempt to erase the language and in effect the people from the country and he may have a point. When Dam visits an Elementary school class early in the film, founding member Tamer Nafar stresses the importance of the children educating themselves in regards to their heritage and history because they aren’t getting it from their text books focusing on Israeli history and the foundations of Zionism.

I’ll allow that much of it may be lost in translation but from a decontextualized critical perspective much of the actual rap featured in the film is the stuff of middle school poetry over tinny beats. (Though in the very Slug way that occurs when writing in this flowery, didactic manner it’s capable of delivering some truly powerful images and insights. And conveniently they list Atmosphere as an influence) In the case of Dam above the other groups profiled they seem fairly technically proficient with breath control and their Arabic wordplay flows nicely, but again the cultural divide renders these value judgments nearly obsolete I just thought it’d be worth mentioning for those coming in looking for life changing art. Another standout moment comes when we get to observe Dam and Abeer watching PR’s first live performance on a handheld camcorder. They have communication throughout the film and Dam, as a group of Israeli Arabs under the impression that they’re seen as cowards or collaborators for not being amongst their truly oppressed brothers in the territories, share a deep mutual appreciation with the unheralded upstarts. At one point while watching the performance Nafer states shock that they even have studios in Gaza and by this point in the film you understand their amazement. It would be unfair to expect mastery of language or production and in spite of this songs like We7’s “Voice of Silence” are quite good. I may be an apologist in this feeling but I almost get the sense the Palestinian MCs can’t afford to be sly or ironic. They have a sense of purpose and a burning need to get out their message and they’ll leave it to future intellectuals to subject their work to resistant readings and inject layers of meaning.

“Slingshot Hip Hop” unfortunately left me wanting as a viewer. It succeeds in capturing everyday life for several charismatic young people, and while this makes the overall portrait of Palestinian experience in its many forms fuller, it is also the film’s greatest failing. Jackie Reem Salloum has found fertile ground in her topic and subjects and knows it but can’t settle on any one issue for any given amount of time. The documentary seemingly floats by with little to no shape, scope or direction beyond general frustration and too much goes unexplained. A persisting drug problem in the community is referenced often but never addressed, the climax of the film comes with PR’s denial of entry into the West Bank for a show with DAM despite having all the necessary documents but this entire event happens off camera and the documentary abruptly ends without explanation. This is one of the very few instances in which a film might’ve been better served with an extra hour. (and given all that has occurred since they stopped filming in 2006 now almost a necessity.)

For a detail head such as myself, it’s the out-in-the-open everyday police profiling of Arabic speakers in the street, little kids running at the crack of gunshots, a teenager facing a ten year sentence for a two year old charge of rock throwing and rappers tagging barrier walls that makes this film worthwhile. It brings something to the table beyond the boiling blood and heated rhetoric that infects any and all sweeping conversations on the subject of the world’s oldest turf war. The artists perform shows in front of middle aged crowds sprinkled with kids wearing bootleg New York Rangers and Orlando Magic jerseys. My favorite aspect of the movie is how the whole scene finds voice and style in baggy jeans and sideways hats in a form of expression birthed in the bombed out South Bronx decades ago that’s proven so universally appealing as a medium to the oppressed around the world, it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes.

But in general the feel permeating this film, in spite of everything is hope. The Palestinian Hip Hop scene represents a small corner of the resistance effort. Since the filming of “Slingshot Hip Hop” Hamas has become the face of Gaza, resulting in inexcusable human rights violations on the part of the Israelis as punishment for expecting the people to continue to suffer at the hands of Arafat’s corrupt, ineffective Fatah party. As if prolonged punishment of this sort wasn’t bad enough Israel has also continued to build settlements on the West Bank and engaged in an all out war in which they bombed their defenseless foes unapologetically for months on a global stage. But for me, even if they serve as little more then a foot note, the stories of DAM, PR and Abeer are a sign of progress. A step in the right direction in this most unique of conflicts in which the oppressors come to the table claiming oppression of their own and have global popular backing if not intellectual consent. It is my belief that if the Palestinian community uses these youths as an example, someday their struggle for that small sacred piece of land will end. The direction these kids have chosen is peaceful, defiant solidarity.

He's the Rapper, I'm the Writer

Gillie Da Kid is the most hated man in Philly, possibly in Hip Hop. A founding member of Major Figgas (along with Ab-Liva, also no stranger to odd career paths) and quite possibly the pen behind The Carter, Gillie is an example of a brash ego killing a big talent as opposed to a Kanye who's been bolstered by his. Looking back at The Carter it certainly did signal a change in approach for Wayne, in both what he said and how he said it. He'd move away from the first installment's thematic realism. The drug fueled Dipset flavored free associative, chaotic style that has made him the biggest name in Hip Hop came afterwards, (no, it's not there on the Squad Up tapes which are great to revisit nevertheless) but when Wayne focuses long enough to get down to serious rapping you can still hear a note of Gillie's breathy delivery in his. This was a serious banger, a moment to consider what might have been and this blog stongly endorses listening to it at high volumes while bouncing around.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comin Out Hot

The weather is finally turning in New York, perfect time to focus on summer jams. Something I've always been fascinated by is the seasonal quality certain songs and albums have. Is it particular instrumentation or certain digressions that suggest frigid air or sweltering nights? A general mood? Either way this album is back in rotation. Is the vibrant, epic storyteller "Armed Robbery" a balmy anthem or is there simply no wrong time to listen to Comin Out Hard?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lost Art

Crime Mob contains(ed) the two nicest female MCs working in Hip Hop. Looking back on their stellar sophomore LP Hated On Mostly what I'm struck by is the monotony of their nearly pitch perfect Juicy J styled Southern Gothic basement production and how their best song to date, "Circles", stands out amidst the dark grind. There's a lot of amazing producers churning out show stopping monolithic originals below the Mason-Dixon line at the moment, but "Circles" suggests that every once and a while an inventive flip of a Friends of Distinction sample can complement your aggressive, drawl heavy Southern MC as well as it has their East Coast brethren for 30+ years. (We miss you Pimp) Below is another unlikely sample based track left off Hated On Mostly along with the original "Going in Circles".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jam Sessions (1/8)

I suppose anything beats their last gig on Television.

We would be remiss not to begin with Jimmy Fallon of all people, without whom we would not be here today. Last week the Times did a cutesy write up on the history of blandness in Late Night talk shows, a pleasant and reassuring lullaby of familiar celebrities and timeless gags. What they failed to consider was the subversive humor of David Letterman and his spiritual heir Conan O’Brien, who take these conventions and turn them on their heads, occasionally making for brilliant and dicey humor within milquetoast packaging. Jimmy Fallon has sadly, be it by design or lack of inspiration, regurgitated the late night reviews of old, sputtering through clunky one liners aimed at easy cultural targets and struggling through bits and games with the audience that feel more like an attempt to fill time than entertain its national following. Now that all this has been said, the quality of Fallon’s show has absolutely nothing to do with the group playing snippets of music bridging commercial breaks and guest appearances.

When I heard the Roots were getting a new job I called my cousin who works in music related film and went on a European tour with the group last summer. She told me what surprised her most was how down to Earth they are. They aren’t sanctimonious babies who rant about the purity of their art. When they discussed the Late Night gig they were completely frank. They’ve been friends with Fallon for a long time, and their presence is equal parts a favor, a chance to increase their popular profile and an opportunity to come off the road for a year or so. Forget issues of appropriateness or hypocrisy. When you take a look at their history, even at their damning preachy heights on Things Fall Apart, their critiques lie in a lack of originality and dubious gangster posturing rather than thumping the puritanical values of the backpacker bible. Their new position doesn't necessarily conflict with the artistic standard they’ve created over an epic career.

In what is perhaps intended to serve as reassurance to fans in the tri state area that nothing has changed with the band's dedication to its base and commitment to making great music, in spite of their day job, the Roots have taken up residency at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea where they will play a series of 12 shows over the next four months they have titled “The Jam”. The price of admission is an unheard of 10 dollars and I was on hand for the very first installment (Thursday, March 5th).

"The Jam" is true to its name, the Roots, minus beloved long time bassist Hub being replaced by new jack O Ski Love, riff randomly behind Black Thought as he draws from his deep catalog of verses delivering them when and how he sees fit. The riffs in no way resemble any Roots beat, simply an improvisational funky/jazzy lick that mutates as it goes on, at times for 15 minute stretches. The effect is something along the lines of a good remix album, divorced from the production we’re used to hearing, verses from “In the Music” and “Get Busy” found new life and I was struck with renewed appreciation for Thought’s wordplay on the songs.

But the engine that evening was the never ending stream of guest appearances, which was crazier than I could have possibly anticipated. The Roots have apparently earned the clout to casually reach out to anyone who plays music in any form on any given night and invite them to stop on by for a little fun on stage. Talib Kweli for instance, kicked a verse or two then partook in an honest to God back and forth freestyle session with Tariq that was so seamless you had to remind yourself the two MCs weren’t in the back of a car passing a blunt and flowing over a beat tape. Pharaoh Monch kicked two verses, John Forte, fresh off a pardon got on what became an actual line of MCs waiting for the mic on stage and dropped a verse before departing, Dice Raw appeared, spit and just as quickly vanished without so much as an acknowledgment. Chrisette Michelle and Raheem Devaughn closed out the proceedings with a duet, Robert Glaspert spent a majority of the show helping out on the keys (and absolutely murdering every solo with astounding technical proficiency) but my favorite moment was the appearance of saxophone legend Gary Bartz, who gained national notoriety playing with Roots guitarist "Captain" Kirk Douglas-errrr I mean his dead ringer Miles Davis back in the 70s. Bartz emerged to lead the band in a stirring rendition of his “Celestial Blues” with Tariq on vocals, displaying pipes I never knew he had. It underlined the free form feel of the evening, the amazing things that can happen when you get a bunch of insanely talented people together and let them do whatever they want.

It’s easy to forget with their longtime position as Granola Gods in our tiny corner of the Hip Hop universe that The Roots are still just another band who play music to earn a living and have their personal concerns and professional ambitions like the rest of us. The Fallon Show has the potential to introduce them to a demographic from whom they would ordinarily have no connection, along with some much needed rest. At least those of us in New York can consider ourselves the beneficiaries of their decision thanks to "The Jam". Consider this moment towards the conclusion of the show at the bathroom sink as I washed my hands.

Dude: Excuse me, man.

(Dude is clearly affluent and balding painfully in a button down and slacks, he’s drunk, droopy lidded and tired looking with a plastic cup of what looks like dark liquor, soda and melting ice in one hand.)

Me: Yes?

Dude: What’s their biggest song?

Me: I’m sorry?

Dude: What’s their biggest song?

Me: Who?

Dude: Uhhhhh......The.....Root?

I walk out of the bathroom smiling, comforted with the familiar notion you get at every Roots show: That the smartest people in the room are on stage.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Exodus: Tupac- Me Against the World

It's the latter.

These are the things we know: On November 30th, 1994 on the eve of the verdict in his sexual abuse trial, 23 year old Tupac Shakur was on his way into Quad studios in Manhattan to do a track with rapper Little Shawn when he was shot twice in the head, twice in the groin and once in the arm. Bad Boy luminaries Lil Cease, Sean Combs and Christopher Wallace were upstairs on the eighth floor during the shooting. After being shot Tupac was rushed to Bellevue hospital where he bled through the night until around 1:30 in the afternoon the next day, when doctors were finally able to operate on him, repairing a damaged blood vessel in his right leg. He was out of surgery by 4:00, and by 6:45 he checked himself out of the hospital, moving to Metropolitan in fear that along with Bad Boy, people in his own circle had facilitated what he believed to be an assassination attempt. Tupac would claim to suffer from vicious recurring headaches and troubled sleep as a result of the shooting for the rest of his life. The next day Pac showed up in court, being wheeled in by the Fruit of Islam with a wool Yankees hat pulled over his bandaged head, proudly displaying the diamond encrusted Rolex the men who robbed him didn’t get. He was acquitted of the lesser charges of sodomy and weapon possession, but found guilty of sexual abuse. He was sentenced February 8, 1995. At the sentencing he stared down his accuser, charged the judge and court system of racism, and was promptly sentenced to between 18 months and 4 ½ years. He began serving his sentence at Clinton Hill Correctional Facility in upstate New York on February 14th.

The majority of Tupac’s third album Me Against the World was recorded between Shakur’s shooting and his sentencing, it was released March 14, 1995. To me, it’s his most fascinating work. It’s a claustrophobic, dark, haunting piece of music, a nearly perfectly crafted effort which, on an almost track by track basis you can chart his fatal descent from Idealistic community mouthpiece to nihilistic gangster caricature. This is the Hip Hop album as a blunt instrument, a desperate assault, a hate fuck and an intimate confession. A prolonged, frustrated “fuck it” over 15 harrowing tracks.

Me Against the World serves as a kind of moment of pure being for the artist. The album found Tupac in a traumatic state in which he had come as close to dying as humanly possible and he saw nothing but the worst in life and those around him. Understandably, the majority of the album’s songs are all emotion, which tends towards tortured, angry, morose or paranoid. (“Death Around the Corner”, “Me Against The World”, “Temptations”, “Fuck the World”, “Outlaw” among others) Even “Can u get away”, the requisite love song is an ode to infidelity bred by dissatisfaction. On the hook a woman sings “So much pressure in the air/and I can’t get away/I’m not happy here” open to any number of interpretations.

As a result, the album’s rare, reflective moments of respite are its finest. Shock G’s “Shed so many tears” deserves mention, but for me two others stand out as Pac’s finest work here. “Dear Mama” is produced by Tony Pizzaro, who contributes the albums best production, and contains an interpolation of “Sadie”, the Detroit Spinner’s own ode to single mothers. Comparing the two is instructive. As beautiful and heartfelt as the Spinner’s take on the subject is, it is decidedly singular in its praise. Shakur’s song is a masterwork rightly lauded as one of the greatest Hip Hop songs ever written for his ability to wrap his hand around a traumatic, universal experience and deliver it with stunning clarity. The conflicted feelings of intense love and underlying resentment which come through as part of a whole which is not necessarily contradictory exhibit an artist with a keen ability to relate experience. It is nothing less than brilliant.

“It Ain’t Easy” on the other hand contains conflict which is not as clearly implied. It’s Shakur’s best job rapping in terms of cadence and delivery on Me Against the World, keeping a nimble bounce to his flow over a light, summery Pizzaro beat. The content on the other hand, is bleak as anything we’ve heard from him. It’s a series of seemingly horrific life circumstances and Shakur’s reactions. Dependency on substance to subsist, tragedy and the inability to process it, maddening poverty. The mastery comes in the wording. It is all presented with an air that boarders on the romantic. As he smokes roaches with his friends out of necessity and rails against an unjust system, what comes across is a rare moment of indecision. Here, Shakur finds a semblance of kinship in his marginalized status and seemingly ponders, as difficult as it may be, whether it’s all worth the struggle. A more fitting song title might have been “Us Against the World.

Tupac’s strength as a writer was his ability to see contradiction in many aspects of the American experience and attack them with levels of ferocity and poetic eloquence no rapper I can think of has ever been able to match. Tupac would take sides on an issue and was talented enough to argue his point with self righteous conviction, often winning the listener over in the process. The logic he would bring to his argument was divorced from any sense of a grand value system, completely unique to the immediate song and as a result many of his POV’s can be viewed as contradictory, and that was his “failing” if you want to call it that. He’s seemingly incapable of tempering the righteousness in his rants, unable to see there is merit in both sides of an argument, though he may side against himself on the very next track. He’s either all prosecution or all defense.

These are the things we know: Tupac would be bailed out by Suge Knight for $1.4 million dollars eleven months later. Following his release Tupac would live to drop two more albums. It’s impossible to know what his catalog would look like today had he lived to compile it on his own. All Eyez On Me, Shakur’s bloated, Outlawz infested Death Row initiation came first. 7 Day Theory is as close as Pac would ever come to releasing a perfect album, from start to finish. The album featured a rendering of Shakur being crucified on its cover and accordingly, while not free of fire, replaces MATW’s righteous rage with fatalistic despair. Moments like the laughable East Coast cabal theory floated during it’s intro using his rehashed conceit of a fake news anchor make the paranoia of “I See Death Around the Corner” look downright healthy and the idea that he possibly could’ve believed this himself make you wonder if his calculating gangsta posturing wasn’t as calculated as we presume it to be. Christopher Wallace died 12 years ago today. I believe as a result of 2pac’s role in making the final couple of brief years in Biggie’s life miserable, a vengeful, contrarian, taste making literati has sent him up as a venomous empty wind bag, a product of MTV generation hype his work doesn’t measure up to. Perhaps it’s time to accept history for what it is, to recognize that Tupac Shakur was wrong in his beef but he was also a tortured individual who made great music. Of course, this is all hindsight. When Me Against the World was initially released there was only one thing we could know for sure. The world never had a chance.

Springtime for Hipsters

I have been reluctantly won over by The Dream. I'm half expecting his awesome take on "Thriller" with Kanye to actually be filmed on the surface of the moon. Is Ludacris the greatest cameo rapper of all time?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jamerican History X

Nearly ten years before Damian Marley dropped Welcome to Jamrock the Born Jamericans were blending their reggae with Hip Hop, a pleasant incestuous twist. Remember when every New York rap album had one West Indian influenced track?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The R&B Blast: Used To Have A Crush On Dawn From En Vogue (Part 1)

The following is a group of young women near and dear to my heart, judged based on shallow criteria and ranked accordingly. I was in good company pining away for the divas of R&B who ran urban and pop airways when I was a kid. Biggie already made his definitive wish list, so here's mine. You'll notice a few notable exclusions such as Beyonce, Alicia Keyes and Mary J. Blige who are still very relevant today and Brandy, who looks like an alien. I ranked them in something resembling an order but a lot of them are toss-ups, besides they're all winners to me.

10. Alia Davis (From Allure)

The one in the middle, obviously. I bought this album back in the day off the strength of Tone and Poke's co-sign. It was meh at best, the Nas banger below, (pay no attention to how ridiculous Nas looked at the height of Escobar season) a good slow jam or two but mostly a waste of a trip to The Wall. Alia Davis is a bit of a two face. Google her name and you will come up with a truly horrific shot. But back in the days before Google when all I had was a CD booklet she was a dime.

9. Melissa Schuman (From Dream)

The only snowflake on the list and barely an R&B singer (but, given the suffix on her last name there's probably some Hebrew in the mix). Dream was Puff Daddy's response to the boy and girl band movements of the late 90s. As you might guess it wasn't very good and we never heard from any of them again. I would recommend watching the video on mute and laughing at how little singing this chick actually does, Diddy definitely brought her in solely for her personality. However, I stand by this selection and used to check Dream videos only for glimpses of her, so it worked. On shallow principles alone she could top this list, but as you'll see the quality of the music produced was definitely taken into account at some points.

8. Toni Braxton

Toni Braxton always had this strange older-lady-hot quality to her I still don't exactly understand. It might have something to do with her being 17 years older than me. Or maybe because she was hot forever and almost definitely had some type of plastic surgery done at some point. Plus she doesn't always look this good.

7. Monica

Monica, I love Monica. Made some great songs, (minus that obnoxious ass shit about being allowed to be a bitch because it's that time of the month. Anyone else have to deal with hearing that song in middle school as some kind of excuse?) plus I always felt like she had a real life, approachable quality. The picture above is her at her airbrushed and extended "best" but she was regular cute most of the time.

6. Keisha Spivey (from Total)

It seems like every R&B girl group has a busted member with short hair, as you can see Total had two, not a good look for a trio. Keisha was the obligatory dime, co-signed by my man Omar Epps who wifed it. I could've gone old school Total for the video but I've always liked this song which sailed under the radar and features a monster hook. It has that late 90s icy future synth prevalent on a lot of late 90s super pop. This is a Timbaland beat and serves as a point on his evolutionary scale, before he took this skeleton and went all dark and dystopian. Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yo! The Places You'll Go

Theodor Seuss Geisel turns 105 today. Lil Wayne and the Dips should be celebrating tonight.