Friday, January 29, 2010

My Man Can Speak Patois And I Can Speak Rap Star

Not too surprisingly, I'm amped. Nas will be pushing the envelope with this one alot harder than he did on Untitled. Not in terms of lyrical content, though I'm sure the revolutionary rhetoric and Michael Manley references will be obvious and plentiful, but in sonic experimentation, a Rap/Reggae hybrid on this level has simply never been attempted. Rappers show up on Reggae hits (Marley's breakout album was practically Hip Hop in Patois) and I grew up during an era in which a New York Hip Hop album couldn't be released without the obligatory West Indian influenced jam, but that petered out shortly after attaining its zenith, not to mention KRS and Boot Camp, who had strong island undertones running throughout their shit. (Ironically the last cut of its kind I can recall is Biggie sound alike and deportee Jamal Barrow with Barrington Levy. Any bloggers out there in the mood to assemble a Youtube compilation?) Funny that a Queens dude is the one to do this. Nas' prior collaboration with Damian Marley on Welcome to Jamrock was pretty awful, Matisyahu-ish even, but I like the energy here. It's like one of those mid 90s novelty songs dedicated to the random collaboration itself. ("Keith Murray, UGK and Oh My Lord Jamal") It's a showcase for what's to come, and I have a hard time believing anyone listening thinks it won't be more fun than Jay-Z and Kells. Nas stays winning?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P. JD Salinger, Howard Zinn

No they aren't obscure old school rappers. Old white men. Without one this blog wouldn't have its title and without the other this blog wouldn't have an author. Rest In Peace gentlemen, and thank you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rapper(s) Of the Decade: A Mixtape Series

Rapper(s) of the Decade is a mixtape series curated by myself that will span 2010. Each month I'll be dedicating a mixtape to the 12 Rappers and Groups I felt proved most instrumental in shaping the last decade in Hip Hop in no particular order. The first Installment belongs to T.I.

Download:The King Of Swag

Life is like a chess move, you need to make your next move your best move. A dictum young Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. once lived by as he navigated Hip Hop’s backwaters to stardom. T.I. was initially thought of as an emaciated, yappy egoist ballsy enough to battle the then chart crushing Lil Flip. At the time it seemed like Houston would serve as the capital of Southern Hip Hop, but in the course of 2-3 years T.I. had ascended to Monarch of the Aughts’ First Rap City, Atlanta GA. During the last decade, right up to its unfortunate, foolish conclusion, T.I. led a model career in Hip Hop, doing it all and making it look easy. Here’s how.

For a kid raised on boom bap who thought of the Dungeon Family as exotic, T.I. was invaluable in liberating my prejudices from their Northeastern borders. I was still trying to wrap my mind around a guy who wrote like Jeezy being good. Scarface had always been there and it seemed little more than a coincidence that the Clipse hailed from Newport News. Tip helped show me the way, a middle ground between what seemed like alien regional madness and the content/punchline driven flow I was weaned on.

Start with the fact that he’s a brilliant writer. You can’t listen to his introspective shit without acknowledging the vast superiority of his material to almost any of his peers who dared to try their hands at the same fare. His debut dropped a month after The Blueprint, and as Jay-Z refused to let his tears fall, angry at his girl for having the nerve to return his infidelity, T.I. poured his heart out. He embraced his contradictions, never played the hero. He begged his loved ones and listeners for forgiveness without the semblance of limp-wristed emo.

But he wasn’t just another pen. Fast or slow, with Justin Timberlake or Big Kuntry King, T.I. might be the best pure rapper to emerge since Biggie, a lofty superlative but one I feel safe floating. It’s all there in his rhythm, sense of timing, the precocious confidence he embodied from his very first track. There’s no beat he can’t ride, no mood he can’t convey, no occasion he can’t rise to. Like Ludacris just before him, Cliff is a Southern MC with classically honed chops and a wit to boot. In his shit bomb ATL, a friend from New York makes light of T.I.’s beloved use of “shawty” and he proudly stands behind it, a detail essential to his style and success. T.I. certainly didn’t introduce drawl to Hip Hop but he makes most before him sound like Supreme Court litigators. You could argue for the deeper fried 8Balls, Rubes and Gipps and you’d be right, but Tip doesn’t sacrifice ferocity or nimbleness to get his accent across, it’s tightly wound metronomic rap that basks in its roots. Broken language bubbling up like hock grease in simmering greens.

The comparisons extend to Jay-Z, T.I.’s Northern forerunner, perhaps the only rapper who can boast equal versatility in his prolific catalog of Clear Channel classics. The accompanying mixtape is chock full of singles, not common for an internet mix, but with a popular artist this gifted if you don’t study the hits you’re missing the point. Tip’s albums are models of balanced fluidity, covering every base well; but not in the numb, soul killing, focus grouped Curtis Jackson sense that obliterated the bulk of the past ten years and in many ways took rap past the album. As T.I. skips from boast, to menace, to lothario and back again we’re watching a prodigy at work.

For me he’s at his best on his pimp shit. T.I. is an A-list talent in Big Budget schlock when practicing Rap and Bullshit, letting the object of his affection and his audience know he’s better than his material. On songs like “Why you Wanna” he’s not trying to get pussy, it’s a foregone conclusion. Through the world weary hints and tiny inflections, he’s telling us the lover man schtick is just as laughable to him as it is to us, but it will work.

As you’ll see throughout this selection, Cliff has an unparalleled ear for great production, perhaps none finer than “Rubber Band Man”, the first T.I. song I ever sat up for and probably my favorite to date. David Banner delivers the beat of the decade, one that takes Shawty Redd and later Toomp’s enormous wall of sound that would define gigantic Southern production and renders it fun. A seventh inning stretch organ, a chorus of ecstatic children and distinctive vocal bass stomps combine for a nearly overwhelmingly joyful and triumphant experience. For an MC with Tip’s ability this is a softball lob and he crushes it, updating a Detroit Spinners story about the supreme entertainer and painting himself as a modern day hustling Robin Hood, A Brer Rabbit, a folk hero we can all settle in and get used to because he’s going to be here for a while. With the chorus he employs a fine example of the patented T.I. hook: between 6-8 bars rapped with just a touch more melody than he brings to his narcotic couplets, instantly quotable and destined to be bouncing around in your head for months, whether you decide to burn through it ad nauseum through your ear buds or not.

Just before Christmas a 29 year old Harris was sent somewhere between jail and freedom. Who knows what music he’ll bring back to society with him. As long as he keeps making large, gorgeous anthems we’ll be there riding for it. With all his syrup addled weirdness, perhaps I can be forgiven in excluding Wayne and thinking of T.I.P. as the decade’s true emergent superstar. An undeniable talent that regardless of your taste, be it highbrow or low, Old school or Indie, you can’t help but love. Without further ado ladies, gentleman: the King is dead. Long live the King of Swag.

1. I’m Talkin to You King (2006)
2. I’m a King P$C- 25 to Life (2005)
3. You Know What It Is (ft. Wyclef) T.I. Vs. T.I.P. (2007)
4. Let Me Tell You Something Trap Muzik (2003)
5. Bankhead (ft. P$C & Young Dro) King (2006)
6. King on Set (ft. Young Dro) More than a Game OST (2009)
7. Bezzle (ft. 8ball, MJG & Bun B) Trap Muzik (2003)
8. Fly As Me (ft. Governer) Gangsta Grillz: The Leak (2006)
9. 3 Kings (ft. Slim Thug & Bun B) Already Platinum (2005)
10. Rubber Band Man Trap Muzik (2003)
11. Message to the Government Tapemasters Inc: I Am (T.I. Vs. T.I.P.) (2007)
12. Why You Wanna King (2006)
13. What They Do (ft. B.G.) Urban Legend (2004)
14. Act Like It (ft. Snoop Dogg) The Transporters: Southern Smoke 32 (2008)
15. Doin My Job Trap Muzik (2003)
16. What’s Yo Name I’m Serious (2001)
17. So Many Diamonds (ft. Paul Wall) The People’s Champ (2005)
18. Big Shit Poppin T.I. Vs. T.I.P. (2007)
19. Whatever You Like Paper Trail (2008)
20. Still Ain’t Forgave Myself I’m Serious (2001)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Hero Comes Along

On the other side of up and coming talent, there's Big K.R.I.T., a kid from Mississippi I heard about via 2 trusted regional blogs I pay attention to who were singing the praises of his new mixtape The Last King. On BLVD, K.R.I.T. is compared to Banner, because he's a rapper/producer and probably because he's from the same state. I'll take it a step further and say like Banner, Krit flips atmospheric, gorgeous samples as well as any working Southern producer (I'll send any reader who can call the sample used for "Hometown Hero" a check for 5 bucks, it's the best beat in this beautiful dramatic vein I can recall since Crooked Lettaz', "Firewater".)

As an MC I find myself wanting more, I feel the way a bunch of critics feel when they complain about Drake and his not being more than the sum of his Weezy/Yeezy parts. Krit is a little T.I., and so far beyond his fantastic production he doesn't provide much of an interesting reason to check for him over his mentor. Of course it's early. Any debut is going to have the marks of a young artist's inspiration all over it. Very rarely does that singular talent come along fully formed from jump street and there's no reason at this juncture to hold Krit's lack of a distinct voice against him. If he keeps making beats like this who gives a fuck? If nothing else he could slide a real MC a beat tape and produce a classic.

When Keeping It Real Goes Horribly Wrong

So in honor of last week's discovery of a great new verse that I've been bumping steadily on the daily, I spent yesterday listening to a compilation from Jaydolf Spitler that made the back end of my 50 greatest albums of the decade list. I really enjoy listening to artists find and develop their voices, and What the fuck is a Jay Electronica? gives you the opportunity to observe that metamorphosis in the span of a brief mixtape. Watching him go from an ambling, uncertain so and so who sounds like Immortal Technique and raps like Black Thought to the spaced out, philosophical, Rawkus styled, Jus Blaze endorsed weirdo in front of us today is entertaining as it is educational.

What it also did is somewhat douse the lofty expectations backpack apologists are lumping on this kid. Re-listening to all Jay's old standouts in addition to a few of his more recent cuts has me worried that with his style as it is he may be a one trick pony. Under close inspection his verses are meandering Black on Both Sides style ruminations chock full of religious reference with the occasional goofy punchline that ultimately lack much concrete substance. It's little more than hippie dippie liberal platitudes and the trappings of an education. Plus, I've yet to hear a truly great hook from him. That being said it sounds dope as fuck, I just worry how it will play over the course of a long player, assuming he ever drops one.

Anyways, as I was listening to WTF I was reminded of one of the best bad songs I've ever heard. In his experimentation Jay fell prey to a natural mistake in attempting to show his versatility as an MC from Louisiana, taking a stab at Bounce, inviting Lil Flip of all people along for the carnage. Like Phonte before him and J. Cole after, Electronica is Southern in address alone. His style has exactly nothing to do with the rap practiced in New Orleans or South of the Mason Dixon line for that matter (with the exception of the Dungeon Family's left wing). This song is the hilarious proof, a decision as ill fated as Ice-T's Body Count and Cudi's attempts at legitimate rapping. Jay sounds uncomfortable using regional slang like whoadie and "lil daddy" to the point that it's uncomfortable to listen to. I'd bet he spent about a week studying Ludacris' masterful club banger cameos before trying his hand and it's simply a massive failure. He even spits with a phony Southern accent. But don't take my word for it.

Jay Electronica ft. Lil Flip- Walk With It

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hip Hop Tweets: January 4

A semi regular roundup of the best Tweets in and around the Hip Hop Community.

Pill: Body wash for men is kinda gay.. U gotta hide it when Yo potna's come over.. (SHAWTY GOT SOME BODY WASH)!!!! lol

LL Cool J: I appreciate your Vote. NCIS Los Angeles: peoples choice award. Your vote is important!

Royce 5'9": My New Years resolution is to trim my balls fro down a little ...

The Game
: F$%k #teamblackberry !!! I gotta iPhone & we got ALL the apps.. we even gotta WEED app.. Yea, a WEED APP !!! calls the nearest weed man asap

David Banner: I dont know but clinton passed alot of crazy bills while we where mesmerized by his sax playing

McDonald's Dollar Van Demos, Oh Word?

Chalk this up to bizarre internet kismet or something more? Rafi Kam, 1/2 of the muckraking youtube duo show The Internet Celebrities has long been an innovative marketing force at Golden Arches the tri state over. He has also been a long time proponent of Dollar Van Demos, a web series featuring MCs spitting in Brooklyn's beloved Dollar Vans. Combine, shake and for your viewing pleasure here is a Mickey D's Dollar Van Demos spot. Rafi's site, Oh Word has been dark for nearly a month, has Raf left the world of blogging and programming behind to become a corporate shill?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Best Song I've Heard All Year

Reflection Eternal ft. Jay Electronica, J. Cole and Mos Def- Just Begun

The new Reflection Eternal mixtape is great if you're into that kind of thing and for my money this is the clear highlight carrying the vibe of an all-star roster goofing off during a shoot around. The scarily consistent Mr. Electronica is the winner here in a tight field, he picks up a City vibe for the occasion but stays all contemplative in loosely strung together digressions laced with eclectic imagery and vaguely Arabic reference as he tends to. His charisma and comfort is off the charts right now. I was told by a trusted friend the other day that Jay-Z is no fool and J. Cole's Warm up Mixtape is essential listening so I'm grabbing a late pass this evening. He's clearly excited to be here and comes with a young man's multi-multi syllabic heat and it's bookended by Blackstar, doing what they do. All strung over Hi-Tek in headwrap mode with a smooth horn loop. With all the great free music floating around 2010 is shaping up to be a good one for Hip Hop.

Hip Hop Tweets: January 2

A semi-regular roundup of the best tweets in and around the Hip Hop Community.

Freddie Gibbs: Watchin CNN Muslims in Great Brittain very interesting

Peter Rosenberg: no no MOST black people dont like tyler perry and im sure MOST latinos dont like lopez.but almost no white peeps get either

Nicki Minaj: OMG!!!!! Dat shit was offfff the fucking chain!!! D.C. is the fucking BEST!!! Omg!!! Drake and I had a blast. Thank u sooo much D.C!!!!!
Nicki Minaj: The barbz were in rare form. They lowkey rioted wen I started to sign boobz but I still love them. ;) muah! Muah! Mmmmuuuaaahhhh!!!!

: If u wake up with Nicki Minaj's name on ur boob. All that means is that you didn't bathe.

Crooked I: When I'm at the studio and we have a 'best rapper' debate, people tend to lean toward punchliney rappers

Talib Kweli
: 1st Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum then the Rub at Southpaw? Brooklyn is where its at tonight.

: if you were about real hip hop in 88. and were a teenager? THIS was your JAM! @swiftfm