Monday, October 22, 2007

Jay-Z: American Gangster and Other Hip-Hop Thoughts

(Never underestimate the importance of good album art.)

I have no logical reason to be excited about this album based on Jay-Z's recent track record (Kingdom Come, R. Kelly and Linkin Park collabo albums) yet I am. Probably because I've been ping-ponging between Reasonable Doubt and Blueprint.

Although what I am about to say is clear hyperbole, the concept album (in theory) is hip-hop's savior.

Let's be clear, concept albums are incredibly pretentious and notoriously difficult to pull off
but when done right

Deltron 3030

Kool Keith with Dr. Octagon

They can circumvent the main problem that makes rap music the incredible bore it is today; the inability to detach an entertainment persona from reality.

Much of rap's allure was built on the danger the artists presented to white suburban boys who ate it up, but it seems that shtick is wearing thin.

Where is the growth?
Where is the sense of perspective and grasp on reality?

People don't expect James Gandolfini to choke out or shotgun blast his cousins in real life even though it was amazing when he did it in the Sopranos.

Yet T.I. felt the need to attempt to acquire a machine gun at the peak of his career despite the fact that he is an ex-felon.

If these charges are true, what a dumb nigger T.I. is. And I don't mean that in a friendly kinship slang way.

On top of T.I.'s colossal boner, Wycelf calls T.I. a prophet and compares him to Malcolm X. Um, ok Wyclef.

That Malcolm X poster with the machine gun is cool on your college dorm wall, but less so in reality.

Other evidence of rap's waning grasp on reality and it's own devolution.

  • Ja Rule is still beefing with 50 Cent even though both of their career's are jokes.
    • "I have conversations with myself," he told MTV News late last week about The Mirror, which is set to arrive in stores November 13. "I talk to the guy in the mirror. He never answers back; it's always the same guy that asks the questions and answers the questions.


      "[50] was no different," he continued. "He wanted to be where I was at. He wanted to be me. He just didn't know how to go about it. He didn't know how to go about and say, 'Yo, Ja, I want to do a record with you.' So his thing to get in the game was to insult everyone in the business.


  • Puffy is still attacking people at nightclubs.
    But as he said in his own words, more or less,

    "Diddy did it, but Diddy's lawyer is so with it that Diddy got acquited."

  • Prodigy just got pinched for 3.5 years on a gun charge after dropping "Return of the Mac" a fairly solid semi-concept album about gully ass pre-Guiliani NY.
    Guess he missed the concept part.

Hopefully Jay-Z's American Gangster lives up to internal hype level I've set and it doesn't inspire Jay to try to buy an AK-47 from an Arab arms dealer working for the FBI in the back of Newark Airport or some shit.

Stay on your corporate game Jay.


Other shit:

  • Why is Ghostface is crying like a bitch over the fact that Wu-Tang wants to drop an album on a day that impedes with his 34th album in two months. Fall back for the fucking group.

    There's this thing called supply and demand that Ghost isn't grasping. Stop dropping albums faster than my birthdays.

  • Nas in a desperate attempt for attention, names his next album "Nigger."


    Naming his last album "Hip-Hop is Dead" started an interesting convo and it sold about 700,000, but it didn't obscure the fact that the beats were embarrassingly minor league and the tone of the album was confused at best.

    Nas is a pseudo-intellectual of the worst sort who gets a pass from everyone because of his casual mix of Islamo-Christian iconography, old school nostalgia and because they want him to be something he is not.
    In terms of singles he has a solid back catalog, but if you drill deep into the content of his "political/conscious" songs or his interviews he is usually just spitting bullshit.

    Take his explanation of using "Nigger" as his album title

    • "I wanna make the word easy on mutha----as' ears," he explained. "You see how white boys ain't mad at 'cracker' 'cause it don't have the same [sting] as 'nigger'? I want 'nigger' to have less meaning [than] 'cracker."

    Nas, you dumb nigger, your shitty album will not lessen the sting of racial epithets.

    "Yo I just copped "Nigger" at Best Buy. Racism is over son!!!


    White people don't care if you call them cracker because they still decide whether to sign your check or hire your ass.

    Nigger will always be nigger and nigga will never be acceptable other than something for black people to say to each other.

    For a man that hates Bill O' Reilly as much as Nas does, they sure play from the same PR handbook.
    What's Nas' next album going to be called?

    "I Miss Slavery?"

    Method Man sums it up best,

    • "Nas knows what he's doing. He's a smart brother. He keeps his name in the game," Tical offered. "Last year, when he put out Hip Hop Is Dead, I was being interviewed, everybody was asking me what I thought about his album. ... I think it's too much emphasis on just the word. I know a word worse than 'nigger': Darfur. Real talk. I'd like to see Reverend Al take a walk out there. Let's stop focusing on the wrong sh--."

    By the way, the tracklist for his greatest hits album is horrible. Did Jay-Z ask Rihanna to pick that shit out? Oh wait, it comes out on Columbia, not Def Jam. There goes that excuse.

  • I am growing really weary of this whole white hipster music critic movement. You know, Tom Breihan, Kelefa Sanneh, Sasha Frere Jones (SFJ) etc, legitimizing god awful music and writing lazy criticism with lengthy graduate thesis apologias.
Generally they write well, although SFJ uses the term "musical miscegenation" four times in his last piece, but the conclusions they reach are usually complete bullshit.

SFJ newest thesis is that indie rock isn't black enough (Warning: long article full of bullshit and dubious conclusions.)
  • "How did rhythm come to be discounted in an art form that was born as a celebration of rhythm’s possibilities? Where is the impulse to reach out to an audience—to entertain? I can imagine James Brown writing dull material. I can even imagine the Meters wearing out their fans by playing a little too long. But I can’t imagine any of these musicians retreating inward and settling for the lassitude and monotony that so many indie acts seem to confuse with authenticity and significance."

He reaches this conclusion because it was hard for him to add authentic Nigra vocals to his own band's funk soul-dub music. And because Sufjan Stevens doesn't lean or rock with it.

I guess that means that Soulja Boy isn't white enough?
What about completely amelodic rap like Anticon and Def Jux?
Give me a fucking break.

Slate tears SFJ apart while calling out his own contradictions and recognizing that the problem with Indie rock is a class issue.

  • While it's possible to cherry-pick exceptions ever since, Frere-Jones does so selectively, overlooking the likes of Royal Trux or the Afghan Whigs in the 1990s, or more recently, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, Battles and the dance-punks LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and Junior Senior, almost all of whom appear on his own best-of-the-year list in progress. Last March, in direct contradiction to what he says in this week's New Yorker essay, Frere-Jones wrote in an LCD Soundsystem review: "About five years ago, indie rockers began to rediscover the pleasures of rhythm." Where are those indie rockers now? Vanished, because they would mess with his thesis. He isn't really talking about all of indie rock, but a folkier subset that's hardly trying to be rock at all. But to say so would be less dramatic.

  • Ultimately, though, the "trouble with indie rock" may have far more to do with another post-Reagan social shift, one with even less upside than the black-white story, and that's the widening gap between rich and poor. There is no question on which side most indie rock falls. It's a cliche to picture indie musicians and fans as well-off "hipsters" busily gentrifying neighborhoods, but compared to previous post-punk generations, the particular kind of indie rock Frere-Jones complains about is more blatantly upper-middle class and liberal-arts-college-based, and less self-aware or politicized about it."

Ouch. SFJ needs to ask the internets to recall that piece. It's really indefensible.

  • Big Q4 coming up for rap.

    We have new

    • Jay
    • Nas
    • Wu
    • Foxy (holy shit, it's 1997)
    • Lupe

      Also for industry purposes only

    • Three 6 Mafia
    • Cassidy
    • Lil Mama (who will outsell Foxy)
    • Rick Ross
    • Ja Rule
    • Saigon
    • Wyclef
    • G-Unit (Six weeks and Curtis still isn't platinum yet...)

  • Looking at that list of releases I feel like we need new RIAA certifications. People just ain't going gold (500K units) or platinum (1 million units) anymore.

    I propose

    White gold: If you are stuck in that 650K - 800K range, which is a bitch to get out of. (Nas)

    Silver: If you cross 250K units but can't hit 500K. (Lupe)

    Bronze: If you cross 100K and stop, check the Soundscan, a lot of people are missing that barrier. (Foxy)

    Wood: Anything under 50K. (Ja Rule, I hope.)


  1. def jam knows how to get a buzz for their artists. least for jay and nas, sorry ghost. jay goes the industry route always teaming up with some corporate giant, now hollywood. nas goes the free press route with controversy, a la spike lee's first films. in the end, jay will never be able to justify going back to drug dealer lyrics, and nas is gonna have an equally tough time "making it easier on the ears" as far as "nigger" goes. but hopefully, despite all that we'll get a couple of albums better than the two they dropped last year 4th quarter. peace.

  2. Def Jam is a sorry shell of what it once was.

    They did nothing for The Roots...thanks Jay.

    LL - nada

    Redman - not even a video

    Ghostface has to drop 3 albums a year just to try and make some money even though he puts out the best product on the label.

    If you arent R&B or Jay Z you get no love on the label.

    BTW, Im looking for Saigon. Just Blaze (when he isnt trying to make singles) is one of the best producers out there. The fact the label has been sitting on Saigon's album because there "wasnt a radio single on it" probably means it is really good and lacks the usual major label fluff.

    I dont know about Wu-Tang. It is usually a sign of desperation when normally in-house groups start getting a lot of outside production. Well, at least Pharrell wont be on it.

    Speaking on Pharrell I dont know what collabo is worse; him and Snoop or him and Jay Z

  3. that newyorker indie rock thing was an abomination.

    new idea for a way for white boys to say the N word: NASir

    What a dumb Nasir!

  4. T.I. is a moron.

    As much as I share your distaste for the critics you mention and that SFJ piece in particular, I can't cosign Slate pieces. Slate epitomizes the tunnel vision of clueless, privileged white American liberals. They've been making the same bullshit "race doesn't matter; it's all about class" argument since the early decades of the 20th Century.

    The Jay Z will be much better than his last album and the rest of the shit that passes for quality rap these days.

  5. I really need to get you on my radio show soon.

  6. SFJ is largely correct in his analysis of contemporary indie rock. "Rhymthm" is absent, and the genre suffers because of it. I have made this complaint repeatedly, although I refer to it as a lack of a respect for "meter" or "lyricism". The Black/African influence is ESSENTIAL to any interesting form of modern "Western" music.

    His primary flaw is that he attempts to overemphasize the "borrowing" of Black artists from white. The call and response as a Scottish American form was most over the top. Hell, African call and response is older than Scotland itself.

    He also seems to be forgetting that Blacks are a people who had their instruments taken away from them when they were forced into this hemisphere. European musical nuances were appropriated unto Black people, not "borrowed". There is a difference between that and the shameless theft of the Black musical creations spawned from this circumstance by white musicians.

  7. Start Snitching does Bar Mitzvah's, communions, weddings and baptisms.

    Hit me up.

  8. "eauhellzgnaw" you a silly conservative fool, and you straight TRIPPIN' son. That "oh liberals have been doing that since..." is on some Bill O'Reily. Get out of here with that blanket dismissal BS. Class and Race in America are like the chicken and the egg question. Get out of here with your psuedo-wisdom, and off your high-horse you cowardly neocon prickass. Let's move on, shall we?

  9. Normally I wouldn't even respond to old anonymous here, but, unfortunately, he highlights an important point: the fact that he can only conceive of criticism of the popular left as coming from conservatives illustrates why the mainstream left has fucked up every one of its gains.

    How in the hell can the ones who are supposed to be critical thinkers abandon the idea of self critique?