Ghostdini is sometimes Sexistdini

I am always super-hesitant to comment on, express thoughts about or write up reviews of any albums by a former Wu-Tang Clan member. Peeps have been dedicated to these guys for several decades; I’m a relative new-comer to hiphopdom, and I don’t want to come off sounding stupid about this group of living legends.

That caveat aside, can I just say, I really love “Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry?” I know this album is a big departure from previous Ghostface Killah, since it’s more R&B and less hip hop. The album is full of soul samples and catchy hooks; there’s even a classy rag with Estelle. Ghostdini nods to contemporary commercial hip hop (with some auto-tune) but does not cowtow to it; the first few seconds of the first track punches you with a RUN-DMCesque sample, asserting that this is still the work of a hard Shaolin mofo. Among the album’s curiosities, the song “She’s a Killah,” is a surprise and a half. Part party jam (complete with Patron reference, homies sayin’ “Oh!”) and part call to prayer (a minaret warble like something from Radio Algeria), this song has the most creative use of auto-tune I’ve heard yet. You really have to hear it to believe it.

Ghostface and all his guest artists on Ghostdini are all like, oh, baby baby, let’s make love, I’m so tender, I love this baby we’re makin’ together, blah blah.

So if you love ladies so much, Ghostface (aka Dennis), why you gotta be like: “That’s what’s wrong with our people and shit… They put our women equal to men. We’re not equal.” ?????

You will be amazed at how much he trails off mid-sentence and says “n shit…” in this video. Pretty sure he smoked an acre of weed the morning of that interview. This is a dude who makes his money off his way with words and calls himself a ‘Wizard of Poetry,’ though you wouldn’t know it from all the shit he talks n shit in this video, n shit. He rambles incoherently for a little while until he begins ranting about promiscuity in women:  suddenly he has amazing clarity about the mathematics of hoe-dom: 12 men a year x a couple years = Ghostface will “never wife” a lady who done that.

WHY GHOSTFACE WHY? The only thing I will give him credit for is at least he is logically consistent. Right wingers, MTV and most of America reinforce a chastity double-standards (women who have sex = shameless sluts, men who have sex = celebrated as paragons of their gender) while still pretending to believe in the equality of men and women. Ghostface starts on another principle entirely (inequality) and runs with it.

Dude, if a lady you were interested in were to see this video, you’d definitely have to ask her for a “Do Over.”

The Hegelian Dialectic and “Indie”

If I were alive today, I would most likely be in the "thesis" contingent of indie--I'm sentimental like that. Loved Garden State.
Yo, I'm Hegel. If I were alive today, I would most likely be in the "thesis" contingent of indie--I'm sentimental like that. Garden State showed so much Spirit manifest.

A long time ago, there was this guy Hegel. He really lit the world of ideas on fire back in the 19th Century; the burgeoning Russian upper-class began to see God’s will manifest in something so insignificant as dropping their coat (Pretty sure Isaiah Berlin quoted Herzen something along these lines in Russian Thinkers); French people really got off on the triad [thesis, antithesis, synthesis] and still make their college students write papers according to Hegel’s system; Marxists adopted the triad combined with a de-mystified version of his concept of history in order to patent their philosophy of history [roughly: society progresses from feudalism to industrialization to the ideal state of communism]–we call that historical materialism; blah blah.

Don’t quote me on any of that stuff–I’ve been out of grad school for a while now. The point is, Hegel: big deal.

Regardless of whether or not you are a dialectical materialist, a believer in the Absolute Spirit, or whatever, it’s easy to see the appeal of his dialectic. It offers a clear way to organize the universe, whether you use it as a way to develop an academic theory (as they do in France) or as a way to conceptualize history and reality.

It works especially well when discussing warring factions. One example you hear often to explain the dialectic is French Revolution (thesis) to Reign of Terror (antithesis) to establishment of a Constitution (synthesis).

Nitsuh Abebe, a Pitchfork vet, wrote an interesting, at times hilarious, and slightly repetitive reflection on the development of ‘indie’ over the last decade, and what he comes up with is an isolation of the thesis and antithesis of the umbrella music/subculture/lifestyle known as indie. He concludes by saying as long as the tension between thesis and antithesis remains in place, he is excited about the places indie might go in the future.

The thesis:

…(S)oon enough any film, book, or cultural product that came anywhere near a certain sensibility– anything anyone would describe as “quirky” or cleverish or tender– fell in the indie bucket, too: Garden State with its hilarious Shins scene, Wes Anderson movies, Dave Eggers (??), Juno, Zooey Deschanel’s general existence, private colleges, button shirts, the Internet, IKEA, Miracle Whip, literacy, you tell me.

The antithesis: People who hate that (above listed) shit.

Yeah, his antithesis is pretty ill-defined, but I knew what he was talking about, because if I’m in the anti- category. Come to think of it, I don’t think any of my friends are in the thesis camp, and I suspect that the “I’m special” part of all of us is more attracted to being contrary.

Maybe I can use Abebe’s words to better describe the antithesis:

Stephenie Meyer, author of Twilight, not often accused of lacking insight into the hearts of America’s young, just told the world what her favorite records were this summer– Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective among them. (Do you think that’s awesome, or does it make you want to listen to nothing but rap mixtapes and noise?)

It makes me listen to rap mixtapes.

I wish Abebe had mentioned all the good reasons the anti- faction have to react. He makes it out to be a matter of aesthetics: the twee v. the hardcore. Sure, he had limited space, and summed it up pretty good. But here’s my two cents.

In about 2006, I totally rebelled against indie. I was never into precious things, never into quirky sadness. Nevertheless, I was pretty indie for a little while.

But soon I rebelled against the whole gender politics of the situation. Indie, to me, was a boy’s game. Drinking PBRs, smoking Parliaments, sweating, flannel shirting, smirking, having a generally subversive manner–these activites are all becoming on men in certain circles. Women were/are expected to admire this, but not to have an active role.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that since the middle of this decade, women have made significant in-ways in the indie world.  We didn’t have a riot grrl movement, but at least Sleater Kinney existed most of this decade. Awesome bands like Electrelane and the Long Blondes (both British, incidentally) came and went, and today we’ve got Bat For Lashes and St. Vincent. I could mention Cat Power, because Chan Marshall is totally famous, but I don’t really like her music, and I can’t count Neko Case, cuz she ain’t indie but country, which is a genre that makes room for robustly voiced women. Pfork and the indie world sing the praises of the afore mentioned artists, (though in different language than would be used for male musicians/songwriters, but you know, I deal). (On second thought, I don’t really deal, but I don’t want to talk about that now.)

So things are going better for women lately. But back then, it sure didn’t feel like it. Me and Cate would play shows and everyone would pat us on the back and tell us in warm, slightly surprised tones how good we were. I just didn’t belong to the club, I wasn’t a dude, and I didn’t want have anything to do with it after that.

Then I started listening to NaS, and the rest is history.

But probably fewer people have visceral hatred of certain kinds of indie because of gender and more because of tacit class hatred.

If the bands Abebe lists–the Shins, B&S, Yo La Tengo, whatevs–are the poster children of thesis indie, then these people clearly have no real problems. They whine about feelings. Their life goals include being cute and finding love. They are very rarely political and very often trivial. As Abebe mentions numerous times, thesis indie is polite. He doesn’t come right out there and its also trite; in many ways, it reflects the anxieties, hopes, fears, etc, of a certain average middle class, middle American white hipster. So that’s kinda lame. Even if we are a middle class, middle American white hipster (I know I am!), we want to distance ourselves from the identity… no?

So what’s the synthesis? Will thesis indie start being recognized as too commercial, co-opted as it is by advertising to sell shit to us? Will people distance themselves from Converse (owned by Nike) and tight jeans (cranked out by the ton in Romanian sweatshops)? Will antithesis indie and its slightly more anarchic leanings win out? Is there any meaningful combination of the two? Something they can learn from eachother?

Though Abebe doesn’t formulate the questions quite like I just did, I think nuggets of his argument show what the future holds. Youth culture used to be about finding something different, something new, something untread and uncodified by corporations, your parents, ideologies. You know, that’s what punk is supposed to be about. If thesis indie people are satisfied with their taste being arbitrated by advertisers, well, that means culture is pretty much dead. But it would inevitably, in a corporate and compromised state, fade from cultural relevance: it would be the soundtrack to the lives of productive Campus Dems, wearers of Northface and all that shit. If the youth still want to damn the man, well, they’ll find a new way to be hardcore. I’m rooting for the latter instance.

Kid Cudi: The Sorrow and The Pity

Kid Cudie: dreams, nightmares, lonliness, moons... upside down trees, swings, nonsense, self pity
Kid Cudi: dreams, nightmares, loneliness, moons... upside down trees, swings, nonsense, self pity

Internet sensation Kid Cudi’s Man On the Moon dropped today. After months of dominating ClearChannel radio with his track “Day N Nite,” (and its various remixes, which made it no less intolerable to hear every five minutes), Kid has the respect of both hip hop’s most majorest stars (Kanye) as well as some indie cred (MGMT worked on a track).  Music magazines, clingers to the bygone pre-mp3 era, will no doubt salivate about Kid’s crossroads musical identity; he is a true artiste, they will say, seamlessly traversing the terrains of electro, pop (especially 90’s and foreign pop sounds), rock (again, lotsa 90’s pop-rock here), and hip hop, among others. His production team includes Ratatat and Kanye West! And this will be perceived as awesome!

Other critics will note that this album succeeds on its terms, as, like one of its strongest influences, 808s and Heartbreak, it is an effective auditory study in the atmosphere of isolation and sadness.

What do I think of this dude? I kind of don’t want to stomp on him, because he’s from Cleveland, wrote “Day N Nite” in his bedroom 2 or 3 years ago, got famous on the Internet, blah blah. But I mean, pfork really had a point when they said: “You may not have picked up on this, despite him signaling it desperately from thousands of yards away, but Kid Cudi is a sensitive soul, wrestling with the sorts of inner torments that you or I could only imagine.”

So though I won’t be the first person to note this, Kid’s sad confessionals are about as deep as my pockets the day before I get paid. Example: the echoing of dueling “no no nos” and “yeah yeah yeahs” on “Heart of a Lion.” OMG, is Cudi torn, or something? Can’t decide if no or yeah? I’ve been there.

Witness the song “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” He sings: I’ve got some issues that nobody can see/and all of these emotions are pouring over me. Granted, I sometimes have a hard time picking a verb for profound things I am trying to express, so I almost sympathize with the clumsiness of the verb in a line like, “emotions are pouring over me.” But really, I write these blog posts while I am sitting at work and working on deadline to boot, so I don’t have time to agonize over word choice. If I made a cd, by golly, I would agonize, with my tortured soul, about the best goddamn word to describe my pain.

But Anna, one might say to me, you are a big fan of 808s and Heartbreak, which often lacks emotional articulation. For instance, one song features the line “How could you be so heartless?” repeated ad nauseum. Well, detractor, let me tell you, that Kanye’s rhymes strike on the elemental, truthful side of basic, as opposed to the trite and surfacey side of basic. He is grief-stricken and makes up for ineloquence with sincerity, and, of course, heartbreak! Many times on Cudi’s album, notably in “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” “Day N Nite,” the opener “In My Dreams,” etc, Cudi layers his adolescent poetics with a slathering of self-pity–not a novel or interesting combination, but one that reminds us all of time spent writing in fuzzy-flowered journals purchased at a suburban Claire’s in 1998. I don’t suppose Cudi got his journal at Claire’s though. Prolly went to Hot Topic.

However, the latter half of the album holds some real gems, I mean, if you like 2008 Kanye West as much as I do. “Sky Might Fall,” is a Kanye produced track, with scratchy beats and an organ, dredged from the pile of tape lying in Kanye’s Bentley; it’s almost certainly 808s lost track. “Cudi Zone,” a hilarious song name that reminds me of ‘cuddle zone,’ a place I go when I’m feeling sad, features “Robo-Cop” synths in an optimistic chord progression and the most skillful rhyme-delivery on the album. Then Cudi sings, and you swear it’s Chris Martin or the guy from TOTR. He’s actually a good singer! The busy production really propels this song, taking it from bridge to bridge like a soaring neo-romantic space ship, which is exactly what Cudi was going for.

The hi-lite of the album for me is Cudi’s Daft Punk rehash, “Enter Galactic.” I liked this song within the first second of hearing it. I thought, “Yes! Jamiroquoi!” in that it is a bopping, space age child of Steve Wonder. It features the soulful, understated, zen synths of what is perhaps DP’s greatest love song, “Something About Us.” Just ignore the Shatner sing-talking, and the neologism “angelesque,” and you will be absolutely charmed.

This album’s spaceophilia is fashionable, but something of it smells like 2007. Oh yeah! That’s because that was the year Kanye reinvented hip hop vocab with Graduation, and invigorated black music’s fascination with space.

Finally, it might be best to think of Cudi not as a revolutionary, but as a hyped-then-disappointment-inducing pseudo-indie genre-hopping artist in the vein of Santo/igold. Remember her? No? Oh. She was supposed to be the NEW M.I.A.!

We’ll have to wait for the NEW KANYE, but this guy’s pretty good for now. If Cudi can get away from wearing his influences on his sleeve, and um, record sleeve (see Kanye’s production cred), then we might really have something to indulge. Until then, Cudi’s got that whole indulgence thing covered.