Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes on an Inebriated Son

People with ears like the new Wayne. I won't bother posting a link because if you've gotten here you already have it. Many said we'd seen his best, that he spent the last year and change in a fog of electric guitar and autotune, and for what it's worth they were right, hence the mixtape title. I don't know if he broke through his professional ceiling but if nothing else he proves he still has the ability to spit great bars with conviction. I don't know who's writing the rhymes at this point and I don't particularly care. The energy and flow are the man at his best from tip to final horn. More sports references than three Jay albums. Appropriating the Gucci beat that appropriated Wayne's whole style for it's concept. An N.O.R.E. beat jack. Are you not entertained?

And the winner is Mos?

Gotta admit this shit kills, there's one reason to watch the BET Awards besides seeing if anyone gets snuffed or stabbed. I'm a little biased because he shouts out my block but with the series of cohesive rapid fire multi-syllabics this might be my favorite Mos verse since this. I'm also really feeling the love and respect Black Thought has been shown lately. After spending all summer seeing him live at least once a month I think anyone would have to acknowledge he's an all time top 5 technical MC. However, all are nails they need to set up three of these legend ciphers every year. Make the Nikkis and Nipseys of the world earn it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Everythangs Workin': Project Pat- Mista Don't Play

Patrick Houston gets lost in the shuffle when discussing the most influential Southern artists of the decade, but as that decade comes to a close one could make the argument that few have had greater influence. If it was possible to take Pat’s love of bizarre cadence along with his dead pan sense of humor and combine that in a Petri dish with (the also not immune to Pat’s charms) Lil Wayne’s penchant for extending the metaphors tied to his willfully random pop culture references you’d get your favorite blogger’s favorite rapper of 2009, Gucci Mane. Pat came into the game embracing experimental weirdness in a still-cool manner apart from Andre’s beta poetry, space rap’s fanboyish glee or even his little brother’s nihilistic Horrorcore. Every time a new jack hailing anywhere from Peachtree to Mobile gets praised for adding a syllable or rhyming about tilapia they should cut Pat a check.

Listening to his early work as well as the surrounding skits featuring exchanges delivered in nearly inscrutable drawl gives insight to Pat’s Southern Gothic: A take on the hood tending more towards Friday’s everyday ghetto hilarity than Menace’s life or death, melodramatic stakes favored by Pat’s gangster peers sandwiching Memphis on both coasts. On his third LP Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin’ Pat achieves this aesthetic as never before and sadly, never again. Pressing heavily on his poor larynx, rapping in a register that would sound at home coming from a Jim Henson creation on Sesame Street, Pat applies a self assured, swaggering nutty style to vintage DJ Paul and Juicy J production. Here the 3-6 team have enough seasoning to be great but are still a few mega hits away from trading in their low-fi perfection. If this recipe doesn’t sound crazy enough MDP went platinum off the strength of two quirky pop songs that rank somewhere on the low end of the album quality wise but do a fine job representing the work: Pat, self serious amidst bad singing and adlibs, strange dark production with a pimp concept that manages to be really, really funny.

Quirk aside, Pat’s style has firm roots in Memphis hip hop. The actual content here is the standard pimping, shit talk and story tellers that show the finger prints of 8ball and MJG all over them. But this album unquestionably moves the ball forward in both tone and approach. MDP plays over B slasher flick production that serves as an ideal set for Pat’s black comedy and never gets stale thanks to an active score filled with little interesting decisions and a handful of mid song beat changes. You could make the argument that Juicy and Paul have never been better, no touch feels off or out of place and the tiny additions are brilliant. Even without Pat’s presence this makes the album ideal for multiple listens. But then there’s the artist himself, and as a rap nerd obsessed with wordplay I live to write about the pyrotechnics he pulls off effortlessly all over this affair.

At times Pat seems to be rapping in his own language only you understand exactly what he’s saying. He often doesn’t settle for hitting multi syllabic punchlines but cadence patterns that persist throughout whole verses, often reappearing beyond the rhyme they’re introduced through. (See: the last verse on “Cheese And Dope”) No rapper I’ve ever heard works as creatively with space. Whole sentences are crushed together only to have pauses arrive mid word, words are stretched into the following bar, words have syllables fused onto them with the addition of a tacked on vowel or simply drawn out, stretching the simplest of one syllable words in the interest of conforming to a cadence. (See: real as “Reee-Uhl”) A rhyming word immediately follows a punchline, spilling into the next bar only to end with a non rhyme, and as for slant rhymes, there maybe no better practitioner. Pat uses his drawl to mash the English language, using his accent in a manner previously unseen but now almost common. In general the primary focus is on rhythm, with the language serving to assume a particular track's form. Then there’s the all important humor, adding such laugh out loud, immediately run the track back level punchlines and touches he sneaks into ruthless, relentless strings of fury. I could list about 500 on this album alone but my favorite would have to be on “Gorilla Pimp” where in the midst of threatening a ho with her life if she’s crazy enough to disobey orders, the young woman interrupts Pat’s rhyme to counter “I’ma call yo momma house”, to which an alarmed Pat replies “Bitch, that’s a no no”. The gorilla pimp afraid a ho will tell his mom on him.

Project Pat- Gorilla Pimp

In later work Pat increasingly pays respect to his Memphis Buck Music roots producing albums that are more rote menacing and aggro. Most disheartening to me is his increasingly streamlined flow, which today is far closer to his speaking voice than the cartoonish baritone I knew and loved along with what sounds like elevated production value. There's a palatable rawness absent. His humor is still present, and is arguably a more subversive super dead pan masked by his deadly serious flow but there’s an element amiss. Take “Bang Smack”, off this year’s Real Recognize Real, a collaboration with the aforementioned Gooch that makes it painfully clear how much he owes Pat. It’s a sex romp that sounds like murder talk over some of Juicy J’s slick menace: Kaleeko blips, a classic 3-6 doom horn and a prehistoric squawk. It’s a tight affair but no fun, something you could never say about Pat’s dope irreverence prior to his four year bid.

Mista Don’t Play is a perfect middle ground for those debating Project Pat’s catalogue. It shows a necessary polish and assuredness that was lacking from Murderers & Robbers as well as portions of Ghetty Green. The very solid Green ailed from wack hookitus and the occasional off beat, Mista Don’t Play sounds like not only the author, but Juicy and Paul understand exactly what a Project Pat album should sound like and execute with nary a misstep over the course of a pretty mind boggling 20 tracks on what should be regarded as a classic.

Bonus: The world's most random Project Pat collaboration

The Roots ft. Project Pat- Should I

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Empire State Rebellion

A plague of biblical proportion has descended on the city of New York. I could deal with locusts, boils, a first born son if I had one to sacrifice, but I can’t hear “Empire State of Mind” ever again. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, a mild fail. The jaunty Moments interpolating beat by no name Al Shux on an album filled with the best production money can buy is harmless enough with its cocktail riff and lingering tambourine rattle, it’s in philosophy that this song achieves epic levels of awful. “Empire State of Mind” sounds like what might happen if the kids from that performing arts high school in “Fame” tried to make a New York Rap anthem. A Big Apple ode for the “High School Musical”/”American Idol” set, marinated in schmaltz, deep fried in out of towner cliché and topped liberally with powdered sugar. It's offensive.

Alicia Keyes’ abrasive hook is where it begins but Jay’s bubbly, fuzzy flow is the real egregious sin. It’s somehow worse because two seasoned artists with chops conspired on this atrocity. Thank God Nas took a pass to finish his “Best of Both Worlds” project. How ubiquitous is this song? At the moment in New York, you can’t cross the street at a red light without hearing it, seemingly always around the part where Jay talks about taking Molly just before Keyes launches into another ungodly howl. This is the worst song I’ve ever heard receive this level of endorsement on a grand scale. I would rather be shackled to an uncomfortable chair as “It’s goin down” is pumped through those Maxell commercial speakers on repeat with my eyelids scotch taped open being forced to watch Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS than ever hear this song again. A friend spotted Jay-Z and a camera crew suspiciously close to State Street two weeks ago so it doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon.

For your consideration here are 5 takes on this city I prefer, not necessarily anthemic or as explicit in subject matter (though I don’t know if Sinatra himself beat his point to death as brutally as Keyes does) or covered on UnKut’s excellent list from last year, but are truer to the New York I know and love in both content and feel.

(Honorable Mention: "Verbal Intercourse". This list isn’t ordered or in anyway definitive but I just couldn’t justify this as a New York song. Still, Nas brings his inherently gotham Illmatic era imagery and slyly references the Tombs while Ghost brags about his New Lots real estate. Doesn’t get more City oriented than that.)

Cam’ron feat. Jay-Z & Juelz- Welcome to New York City

Just Blaze provides slightly garish backing for this post 9-11 tribute. Both Cam and Jay sound like broken 40 bottles and snack cake wrappers lying around corners between Martin Luther King Jr. Place and 125th. Jay recycled a few concepts for “Empire State” from here (the whole Spike courtside at the Garden thing) except, you know, he doesn’t sound like a faggot.

Robbie dismissed this one, probably because it isn’t obscure and 17 years old, which is a shame because it’s a pretty great song. Probably could’ve done without Fat Joe, and maybe would’ve been better off had Ja relegated himself to hook duties, but a banger nonetheless. It’s an honest to god anthem that has a gritty feel and inspires regional pride whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Also started the stupidest beef in the history of Hip Hop and probably killed Styles’ once promising solo career.

A classic very little needs to be said about. Smif & Wessun continue to envelope us in their dark paramilitary Brooklyn where it’s us against the state in uniform on a song loosely about their borough (Read this again just for fun). That sax loop I will never tire of actually sounds like a trip between Canal and DeKalb on the Q train.

Capone & Noreaga ft. Tragedy- Top of New York

Couldn’t leave Queens out of the conversation. Everyone’s favorite Puerto Rican Muslim rambles around in quintessential New York, Rza influenced darkness, Capone moves weight across the Verrazano and Tragedy takes a trip to Central Bookings. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the cheese sandwich my friend.

BlackStar Feat. Common- Respiration
Embedding was disabled and I didn't post a strip because if you haven't seen this video in a while it's time to revisit. Hate on this for featuring a Brooklyn transplant, downgrade the major label contributions of Mos and Talib (get your Noisemaker tix now New York) because you’ve listened to their seminal albums so many times you forgot how neck breaking they were the first time and you hate everyone who loves them, call this song pretentious, abstract and the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the Rawkus movement. This dense, writerly anthem puts the intangibility of New York to words. The creeping sense of emptiness and disappointment, the daily hypocrisies, the crush of humanity as well as its joys, the warmth around every worn corner and the pursuit of that warmth, the simultaneous togetherness and loneliness. It’s a song that speaks to my experience, “Empire State of Mind” is a fever dream conceived by Jay-Z as he napped through the opening credits of “All That Jazz”. It’s a lie and a really bad song.