Horseman of Hip Hop Apocalypse: DRAKE

I'm "thinking"

Gosh, I’ve started about four posts I still haven’t completed, about legit topics such as WKW’s finest films and a movie I saw last weekend called “Un Prophete.”

But what I want to talk to you about now is how much I hate Drake. I take it for granted that everyone hates him, but then I realize that this is not entirely true. But, I mean, for serious, what’s not to despise? That slyly arrogant expression permanently plastered on his face? His meaning-devoid, self-aggrandizing ‘rhymes’? His middle-school-poetry-reading flow? His monotonous drone, which, after a few verses, bores into your skull like a dull knife–that is, slowly, ineffectually, and yet painfully?!?!?!

I have seen Drake described as “deft” and “affable” by Sasha Frere Jones. I mean, seriously, wtf. Have you heard the song FOREVER, Sasha?

Pfork’s review of Drake’s first mixtape was POSITIVE. But it also contained this thought about his rise to prominence:

Blame Kanye. Drake isn’t just a post-Kanye artist; he’s a post-808s and Heartbreak artist, possibly the first. On that album, Kanye drifted lazily from rapping to singing over a bed of rippling lush-but-sparse electro…When [Drake] swings from rapping to buttery teen-idol singing, it feels organic and effortless, like he’s just doing whatever makes the most sense at any given moment.

This strikes me as an extremely prescient observation about the moment in commercial hip-hop, but not really as an endorsement of Drake. Let me explain.

You see, Drake is spawned from the crass, disgusting materialism of the Lil Wayne Young Money posse. Lil Wayne, by himself, is a gifted spitter of nonsense; he’s the Joyce of hip-hop, a master conjurer of imagery via a totally psychedelic stream of consciousness; the big difference, of course, is that Joyce can sustain centuries of lit students doing close readings, and Wayne probably couldn’t explain what two of his words strung together were ever supposed to mean.

But Wayne is not remarkable, it should be noted, for the company he keeps. As Wayne has told us on many occasions, he is an “alien,” and all the more for it when compared to his associates (ie Drake, Juelz Santana, et al).

Peoplez was wondering last year if hip hop was dead (while others disagreed). Yet it is near consensus that Raekwon’s “Time Machine Back to 1995” album was the best thing to come out in 2009. Others pointed to unsigned, (technically DROPPED from Interscope), Gary-born old school gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs as the best rapper to come on the radar in a while. These two facts, among others, make it seem like the best recent hip hop has not been innovative, but rather has fallen back on identity tropes (gangsta/balla/king/etc) and well-worn genres. Even Jay-Z rues the fact that he’s still on top of the game, and when kings, unconstrained by things like constitutions and term limits, are complaining about unrivaled sovereignty, you know you gots a problem. Hip hop no longer informs pop music; it looks internally, or worse, it looks to pop music.

Yes, Drake is tha billboard chartzz finest example of the hybrid indie/hip hop/r&b artist. While artists who R&B and rap at the same time are not the newest phenomenon (fuck, even Ghostface made an album like that last year), these folks’ unprecedented radio presence is new, along with their mopey, somewhat dreamy aesthetic (courtesy of 808s).

And Drake ain’t alone in this. There’s that guy Theophilus London. TL’s mixtape from last year was called This Charming Mixtape and the cover was a redux of Elvis Costello’s 1978 album This Year’s Model. He freely uses Smiths lyrics (“HumDrum Town”), he sings, and honestly he raps a bit like Lupe Fiasco. I wouldn’t mind if Theophilus got real famous, he seems so pleasant.

Then, of course, there’s Kid Cudi. Drake and Kid Cudi have a lot in common: so much so that one has appeared in the other’s video. They both have worked with indie acts (drake with lykke li, kid cudi with ratatat, etc), they both sort of sing, and they both don’t have anything interesting to say. (Kid Cudi uses his tear-soaked journal for lyrical inspiration [hence: “tell me what you know about night terrors: nothin’/you don’t really care about the trials of tomorrow”], while Drake just keeps reminding us that he got here by pulling himself up by boot-straps and that he never plans to leave us alone [hence: “Forever”]. In other words, they are pissing their young masculinity, and all the implied egomania, over the unwitting listener.) Most importantly, their identities wouldn’t make any sense were it not for the tight-jeans-wearin & genre-hopping sensibilities of Kanye.

All that the world hates about Kanye–his wily vulnerability, his never-ending masculinity-in-crisis mode, his lack of loyalty to a particular hip hop genre, and his mainstreamin–has been distilled by these young lads to its dumbest form. And it looks like it’s here to stay, for at least the next year or so.

Robyn, Röyksopp, and the Land of Ice Castles

The gate to Annie's recording studio

Perhaps it is telling that the first piece of music I ever purchased was Ace of Base’s The Sign, or perhaps not, considering it was purchased in 1994, when Ace of Base was ubiquitous, and I was 9 years old. But to this day, I enjoy few things as well as an ice-crystal clear, mellifluously melodious Scandopop song.

I’ve always imagined that Scandinavian producers hide out in ice castles, and wear ultra-sleek polar gear to stay warm while recording. They probably go ice fishing for lunch (fresh salmon roll, y’all?) and take photographs of polar bears in between takes.

In what is either a racial accident*** or a very cultivated cultural kinship, the electropop coming out of the northern lands is slick, clean and gorgeous, from Abba onward. Their synths are sharp and pure enough to cut ice, their voices sweet and warm enough to melt the above mentioned palace. The only relevant antithesis is The Knife, who have rebelled by using distortion and reverb as a miserable, sloppy fuck-you to all their shiny brethren. Honestly The Knife may have more in common with metal dudes, aesthetically speaking, than they do, say, Röyksopp.

Which brings me to my point. Fucking Röyksopp. I always saw their foreign name, their umlaut, and thought, that is something Swedish that I don’t have the energy to get into. But today I heard the second best Robyn song ever, and she made it with Röyksopp last year. It’s called: THE GIRL AND THE ROBOT.

You know you’re in for something epic when the song starts with a Wagnerian chorale and a pummeling beat. Robyn uses her signature sincere, love-lorned phrasing to describe her crazy-in-love-love for a robot. This is all wonderfully hilarious and meta, considering the subject matter of Robyn’s other songs.

“The Girl and the Robot” is what emotion sounds like from the north: rigorous structure, strings for added emotional impact, and, most notably, thematic content related to the love between human and machine.

All in all, perhaps we can read Robyn’s all-out yearning for a goddamn robot as Scando’s ballz-out love for machines; after all, without the synthesizer, where would their music be?***

Sometimes you just want to escape to their land of ice castles and clear-cut yearning/hurt/loss/love. In a gray, dirty, humid, windy city such as this, and in the disgusting haze of emotion that is life, isn’t it a comfort to know that something of such idyllic cleanliness and clarity of intent exists somewhere?

***Please keep in mind, this is all facetious, I am not sincerely proposing a racial theory.

Several Songs Daftpop Enjoys Right Now

Me + Jesus = Nika Danilova

I am just so embarrassed by my last post that I must do what I can to make it move down the blog roll. But no, I will not delete the post, that would be a shame in a way; it felt so true while I was writing it.

So, I’m going to tell you what some of my favorite songs from 2010 are so far:

1. “Lover of Mine,” Beach House

This song is secretly a 50’s R&B number; I sweeear. The organ riffage gives it away. Just imagine some Motown babes wailing Victoria’s chorus: “In a wide open field/ we know what we feel.” Oh, god. This song hit me in the heart the first time I heard it. Like many songs on Teen Dream, this one is a vestige of a melodic truth we used to know; see, it’s like Plato’s concept of knowledge. Learning is just remembering. Listening to “Lover of Mine” is just remembering an essential melody.

2. “Love King,” The-Dream

I am a little afraid that The-Dream’s synth-heavy, homies-saying-“oh!” production style is reaching its apex; we are so familiar with him by now that his signature stuff might soon grow tired. BUT this song is still pretty awesome, and at least I love listening to it. It’s objective greatness, however, could be argued. The-Dream is most admired for the epic narrative arch of last year’s Love vs Money concept album, but few people have noted the awesomeness of his idiosyncratic lyrics. This song is a good-old fashioned “I can get all the girls,” jam, nothin novel bout that. But people always love lists of different kinds of women, and love revving up imperial aims to conquest us all. My favorite/least favorite line from this song includes: “Got a girl up in Target/a girl up in college/sorry ladies but there ain’t nuthin like a smart bitch.” Thanks.

3. “Night,” Zola Jesus

I first heard Zola Jesus in a friend’s humid living room one cloudy fall morning. The wood-paneled walls of this room prevent it from ever entirely dispelling the gloom; the windows are so old that the glass is thicker on the bottom, and leafless vines partially obscure your view to the drab yard outside. The smells of smoke and damp wood cling to the air. It is in this environment that Zola Jesus thrives. Honestly, the room I have described can’t be all that different than a room in Sadchester, aka Manchester, birthplace of much early 80s sad goth and post-punk musics: Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, all that. And it is the damp, reverby sadness of early Joy Division that “Night” conjures, along with a good dose of Siouxsie Sioux. This is affected, consciously anachronistic stuff, but I think it’s so effective because I don’t know of anyone else so convincingly emulating the early goths.

4. “Love Me Girl,” Yeasayer

The Guardian assigned this song an eclectic Balearic House beat. But to me, the song’s wonky keyboard, clickety-clack drum machine, and hand claps/finger snaps are more evocative of a Zac Efron song in High School Musical 3, and not really of the Ibiza club. I know that makes the song sound lame, but it is the very high school musicalness of it that makes me really love it. What unbridled, unashamed, silly energy! This same energy pervades most of Odd Blood, which shows Yeasayer’s influences include not only Disney movies but also Brian Eno, 80’s New Romantics, Peter Fucking Gabriel, Afropop, etc. One thing: I can’t tell if the girl at the center of the song is supposed to be a lying, deceiving, slippery wench, or if the speaker of the song is acknowledging the distance between he and his gf at the dour end of their relationship. I sincerely hope it’s the latter, because I have heard, from a friend of a friend of a Yeasayer, that these dudes are bunch of dicks. But oh well, they’ve got marvelously diverse ears, robust singing voices, and you know? I think they really go for it, even if they sometimes fail.

5. “Empire Ants,” Gorillaz + Little Dragon

Woah, I know, Gorillaz. I was kind of too embarrassed to listen to this immediately when it came out the other day, but then I decided to get over myself since the guest list featured a bunch of surprise presents. Surprise present number 1: MARK E SMITH ?!?! on the track “Glitter Freeze.” He spits: “Where’s norf from here??” then drawls over scratchy, arrhythmic electro; it’s not so different from his 2007 project Von Sudenfed, but it’s the first I’d heard of him since then. Surprise present number 2: LOU REED??!?! on the track “Some Kind of Nature.” Lou sounds perfectly blasé; it’s like he and Mark are competing for the title “Most Disdainfullest of Earthly Life.” The tinkling ivories and lilty, drunken meandering of this song would not sound out of place on Transformer, except for the Gorillaz flourishes and Damon’s voice which appears somewhere later in the song. Anyway, the point is, “Empire Ants.” This song is pretty straight forward; Damon’s unadorned crooning recalls Blur’s ballady-type songs; for once, he and his voice aren’t hiding behind a cartoon mask. At 2 minutes, the song turns from beach island reverie to ice-cold Kraut/Daft disco with the ghostly voice of Little Dragon (?).

6. “I’m Back,” T.I.

T.I. will be out of the ATL halfway house on March 26th! And thank goodness. Everybody seems to be in jail, and I will be happy to have my favorite radio rapper back in action. Wayne and Gucci Mane are obviously incarcerated, while, as if you cared, DMX might soon go back since he keeps violating his probation. The assonance goin’ on in this song is absolutely outta control, the cutting long ‘i’s further sharpened by his dipthongless Southern twang: “I never let you down/Imma shine on sight/Keep your mind on your grind and offa minez, alright, right right?” Alright, I will.

I hope you, too, will enjoy some of these tracks. All of them, with the exception of Love King (which is from an as-yet unreleased 2010 LP) and I’m Back (which may just be a one-off, as it is a glorious come-back track), come from a recently released LP or EP that is definitely worth some of your time and consideration.

Everyone Knows Ambiguous Romance Doesn’t Work Out

So I’ve been busy at work lately which is why I haven’t been able to write my follow-up of Tony Leung Love. But right now I’m just sitting at home, a little drunk from a nice bottle of wine I (mostly) shared with a friend, and contemplating the relationship of Counselor Troi and Commander Riker.
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Riker was always supposed to be a lady’s man, but let’s just face it, if dude was ever hot, it was before TNG aired. To maintain his figure in later shows, the costume designers were clearly pressed to loosen his uniform. From the way he stands on the Bridge, uncomfortably tall and tight, one wonders whether he is squeezing his ass cheeks together or whether he is wearing a gurdle. If he ever wears casual attire, then he is bedecked in a flowing blouse that is apparently typical of playboys of the 24th century.
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Deanna Troi, on the other hand, is a hottie of the first order.
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In the show’s universe, Deanna’s sensuality is only slightly subterranean; her lusty walk and deliciously sexy accent tell you that she is probably a real tiger in the bedroom. Perhaps more textually based is Riker’s romantic prowess. Indeed, it is fabled. When he goes on vacay to Riza, he lounges in bed with various intergalactic babes, he’s got that self-satisfied smug, and several fellow shipmates make mention of the fact that he’s been around the corner and back.
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Together, Troi and Riker make up 87% of TNG’s romantic subplots. Sure, Dr. Crusher and Jean-Luc threaten to get it on every once in a while, but we all know Crusher’s small lips are sort of a turn off to the carnal lover Jean Luc. Also, and at the end of the seasons, Troi and Worf have a thing, but everyone knows that was a horrible idea. Finally, in one of the movies, I’m pretty sure Riker and Troi get married.
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But that’s not till later. My question is, what the hell kind of relationship do they have *before* they get married?
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Sometimes, when Riker and Troi are in intimate situations, Riker calls Troi something along the lines of “mmzadi,” which is a Betazoid word for “beloved.” The couple makes reference to times they used to have; their love existed outside and before the TNG universe began. When they both applied to work on the Enterprise, I think they foolishly did something like put their work before their personal lives in order to perform their duties most admirably.
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Once on the Enterprise, the two occasionally have reasonable talks about whether or not they made the right decision in leaving one another. Sometimes, they kiss. Yeah, that’s right. There’s an episode where they beam down for a romantic picnic, and Riker takes Troi’s head in his hands, and he probably calls her Mmzadi, and then he fucking kisses her! Just like that!
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Doesn’t anyone else think that is crazy? Imagine if your life was romantically on-hold INDEFINITELY, while your true love and you had to interact all the damn time at work. And then one day, you’re just going about your business, though maybe wearing a pink space-age frock, and your exboyfriend just kisses you! But you know nothing will come of it! How would that feel?!
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The point is, Troi and Riker’s relationship would never work out in real life. Eventually, someone would get jealous, someone would get lonely, or they’d have a horrible fight and decide never to be friends again. But instead, Troi and Riker just go on for years in a romantic purgatory, always considerate of the other person, always still attracted, but never actually together! And beside Riker’s babe-cation on Riza, I don’t think either person had canoodled in the mean time!!!
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My point is, who the fuck writes Star Trek? The answer is: men who have never had romantic relationships. This is also the reason that Geordi has a romance with a woman he first met as a hologram. He falls in love with a virtual person. And he has sexual tension with the hologram. The previously mentioned episode, which is also called BOOBY TRAP, which no doubt the writers had a long, hard, especially hard, laugh about, is probably the most true-to-life shit the TNG writers ever thought of, because it portrayed all the struggles they had when they found out they couldn’t love the women in their video game universes.
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*the reason I added ^^^ between each paragraph was because I pasted this post from wordpad, and it wouldn’t let me format this shit correctly. I apologize for your viewing inconvenience.

Tony Leung Love

Don't make eye contact with me or I'll rip your cheongsam to pieces

So it’s been a while since I had a “celebrity crush.” Recent ones have included Javier Bardem (2006-2008), and before that, it was probably Ewan McGregor (1998-Obi Wan Kenobi). In other words, I am a woman who is steadfast and true.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t always easy following your favorite stars as a 13 year old girl in 1998. In fact, it was (relatively) difficult to find all the movies featuring your favorite actor before imdb! First you had to type in the username and password to your Michiana FreeNet account, wait while the dial-up connected, click open Internet Explorer, slowly and deliberately type in h-t-t-p-:-/-/-w-w-w- to get to whichever search engine you prefer. The results, pre-google, were not in the millions, and probably half of them were somebody’s angelfire personal fansite.

These days, obviously, it’s easier to find out which films your beauties have graced, courtesy of wiki and imdb. From there you can netflix whatever obscure movie they’re in, and easily make your way through their filmography.

Extra fortunately, the new love of my cinematic life is Tony Leung. And he ain’t no triflin’ Hollywood fellow, or worse, triflin’ indie picture fellow: that is to say, he does not appear once in a while to great fanfare and then disappear into his California ranch for several years. He’s a bonafide hard-working man of the moving pictures, because he works for Hong Kong. A friend recently noted, “Hollywood stars work 9-5 for a month out of the year, but Hong Kong stars work 9-5, every day.” He’s just like you and me! ‘Xcept his girlfriend is a movie star, and he wins awards at Cannes, and he is buddies with really important movie directors.

Though I never actively sought out Tony until now, I’d seen him all over the place. He plays the sharply dressed S&M brutalizer cum generous/still totally scary lover in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. He is the other half of best-crime-fighting-duo (ever?) in John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Many people have seen him in Jet Li’s Hero as well. The point is, you have seen this guy. But have you really seen him? Have you looked deep into his eyes?

Tony is, understandably, a muse of Wong Kar Wai, and it is the dark, melancholy depths of Tony’s eyes that often allow the minimal script and long, artful shots of WKW’s films to reach their greatest profundity. Yes, I just said that.

Tony doesn’t discriminate among genres; he’s a versatile actor who is as believable a down-trodden gay line cook as he is a a long-haired, ancient Chinese martial artist named Flying Sword. But what he brings to all his roles is an almost stately, dignified reserve. He brings the subtlety of real feeling. For instance, John Woo could not have found a better actor to poignantly make a paper crane and set it on the water to represent every human life he has taken. Imagine, say, Nicholas Cage (also an actor in a John Woo movie) having to act sad after he kills lots of people! Not gonna happen.

Tony doesn’t approach acting like the Anglo-world’s hooting, hollering, gesticulating, roaring Method actors. If he were ever to do an American movie (and thank goodness he probably never will), the Academy wouldn’t even know what to do with him, because his game isn’t about ego. And yet, his extreme tact and reserve is always warm and vulnerable, never cold or inaccessible.

To truly illustrate the glory that is Tony Leung, I’m going to have to write a couple film reviews. My next installment will be some thoughts on In the Mood for Love. Betcha can’t wait!!!!