Cardboard King Push

Push doesn't mind his music sales being tracked.
Push doesn’t mind his music sales being tracked.

My mother is a battered and wise veteran substance-abuse counselor, with most of her career playing out during the crack boom on the south side of Chicago during the last three decades. Woman has seen a lot. But somehow, perhaps because she understands the deep seeds of human frailty, the codes written into some people’s genes, and the social or emotional circumstances leading to drug abuse, she is an empathetic, not a cynical or judgmental person. However, she leveled one judgment to me in her time; saying once, and only once, “I really hate drug dealers. Drug dealers are the scum of the earth.” I have the feeling she was not referring to your schlubby neighborhood dope dealer, but rather to those selling harder stuff to the poor and the wretched.

This moral judgment kept erupting in my mind as I disappointedly listened to “My Name is My Name,” the pretend debut of Pusha T’s solo career. Unlike Rick Ross and other phonies, Push really was a dealer (Re-Up Gang affiliates have been put away for decades for their involvement in a big wig drug ring), and consequently, his career in the game has featured one of the realest, grimmest takes on the economics of the drug trade, and its relative, evil. One friend once very eloquently summed it up by saying that Clipse had “a very intimate relationship with Satan.”

This complicated celebration of ill-gotten gains has been the defining thematic content of Clipse; the Neptunes’ minimal clickity clack beats on Clipse’s first two albums had a bleak, almost apocalyptic ghetto sound that was entirely their own; spliced into all of this were some of the best rhymes to come from any rappers ever, with the duo appreciating not just deep metaphor and word play, but the sounds of consonants stacked together, rhymes of such sonic and Biblical gravity that Dante, another poet of evil, would surely have died of envy.

But the Clipse disbanded. Malice took the road to righteousness; on “Freedom,” his conversion flows in celestial rays, illuminating the god/man divide he has encountered: “This is where the buck stop/ here where I draw the line/ I’ve touched the hem/ god’s work is so divine/ i’ve seen the error of my ways over time/ …/ Malicious has been refined.” Malice recently released a Christian rap album  under the name “No Malice.”

The only thing refined on MNIMN is, per usual, the quality of the brick, powder, snow, blow, arm & hammer, raw; the singular metaphor at the deepest level of Push: cocaine. Push’s godliness is in the guise of his earthly, material powers; he believes there’s a god above him, he’s just the god of everything else. He is a methodical thinker and dealer, “like Scarface, but it’s God’s face in that mirror/ we was made in his image, dialing and it’s much clearer/ scoring from the heights but I wanted mine purer,” But how pure, Push? “Aryan, blonde hair, blue-eyed like the Führer.” That line alone is so fucked. Diamonds and Aryans are what prop up on this album as objects of purity. I wish he’d go to church, and stop being so young, rich, and tasteless, yuck!

Anyway, Push’s fierceness remains one of the last genuine primordial forces in mainstream rap. At the same time, it’s an unchanging mask, projected to a larger commercial audience since people never got it the first 4-6 times he tried to tell you about him. This late in the day, long-time Pusha fans might feel tired. Tired of him holding on to his embittered, battle-hardened dealer identity. One wishes for a narrative turn, a denouement, or some sort of epiphany, anything, anything to mitigate the unrelenting trillest hustler business. His diamond, so pure when compared with everyone else’s, he claims, is at this point turning back into coal.

4 of MNIMN’s 12 songs were released before the album; of the singles, “Numbers on the Boards,” “Nosetalgia” and “Pain” all happen to be the best tracks; so when it finally was released, I felt robbed, with most of the remaining songs reminding me of paler versions of things I’d heard before. Much of the production on the album sounds is reminiscent of perhaps a lesser G.O.O.D. Music mixtape; “King Push,” produced by Kanye, is an odd intro to choose, as it could easily be a lost track from Yeezus; its spastic, trembling bass and the scarily chipmunked vocal sample are totally Satanic, but in a way that suits Kanye better. “Let Me Love You,” is a re-tread of “Dirty Money,” Clipse’s catchiest song to date, and features an enjoyable return of Pusha’s lazy, Spanglish-inflected drawl, a stoned and carefree flow he only busts out when he is reminding ladies of their complete irrelevance to him (Push has a special derision for women, even for hip-hop, calling HIS OWN MOTHER a “bitch” on 40 Acres). “Hold On,” at first sounded cheap to me, a phone-it-in Kanye-produced effort in which gospel chords accompany a catharic autotuned Ye melody. But the longer I listened, the more I felt the pathos, specifically thanks to the Kanye singing.

It’s unclear in any of this Kanye-world-making-detritus whether Push can ever musically truly be at home; the Kanye crew fits him a little like some Bottega Venetta sneakers, unfastened; they look good, they’re fancy, but there’s something unfinished about the whole fashion.

The only time on MNIMN that Push is heading towards any sort of development as a rapper or moral sentient being is in “Nosetalgia,” with Kendrick, a rapper much more concerned with interior worlds than with material success. The first two verses of Push’s are a bildungsroman of the young dealer: we see a young Push, with beepers and a two-tone Starter jacket hustling in his early days. Kendrick then chimes in about witnessing his aunt and father on crack, bringing the human element that is always lacking from Push’s stories to the center of the song in crystalline, nostalgic imagery; a synthesis unfolds between the dealer and the consequences of his selling; the facilitating dealer, the addict, and passive victim all orbiting around each other in the same tune, for once.

There is no argument that Pusha remains one of the best rappers alive, based solely on his poetic sensibilities, on his ways with words. But there remains a pit in the center of his cocaine myopia, preventing him from being one of the most fascinating rappers alive; without a breathing, changing persona, all we get is the mask, the tautology, the name that is his name. And it’s not enough.

2011: The Year Daftpop Stopped Writing But Learned to Love Drake

sometimes, i'm shallower than rap.

Another year has come and gone. I did very little writing. I did almost no listening to non-major label artists. Most people don’t even think that stuff is music, and sure, sometimes I think my mind is gradually atrophying from exposure to so much unchallenging trash; on the other hand, it is my belief that the respective talents of The-Dream, Kanye, Beyonce, and Jay-z are some of the best in any musical genre, and therefore worthy of my attentions. Maybe 2012 will offer itself as a new start for my musical collection and I will finally buy a record player and get into obscure soul and R&B from decades past (this is my musical dream). Or maybe I’ll just keep pumping up the volume when Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$)” (seriously, have you heard this song? Drop everything and listen if you have not) comes on the radio and rapping along to the embarrassment of whoever is sitting in my passenger seat. Without further ado, here is a collection of my timely “bests and worsts” of hip hop, pop, and r&b in 2011.

Grossest sex jam of 2011 and definitely the grossest sex jam ever:
Chris Brown & Ludacris: “Wet the Bed.”
To quote my sister, “When I heard the song “Wet the Bed,” I almost pooped my pants.” Indeed, the extended metaphor of this song is so distasteful that one becomes bewildered enough to lose it. As though the song’s title and hook were not enough to drill home this mind-numbingly literal bedroom play-by-play, the beat consists of a synthesized DRIPPING SOUND, instead of, oh i dunno, an actual rhythmic instrument. Fuck you, Ludacris, and fuck you, Chris Brown, for thinking that a woman’s aroused state should ever be compared to pissing the sheets.

Sexiest Sex Jam of 2011:
Beyonce: “Dance For You”
Beyonce is too classy to make a sex jam in the “hey girl hey girl come back to my condo let me play yo booty like a congo” tradition of most contemporary sex jams. She is an artist of profound feeling and substance when it comes to the topic of love, and her album 4 was love’s showcase this year. “Dance For You,” on the deluxe edition of 4, is an epic, six-minute ode to her unending love, dedication and desire to one lucky individual (whom she decides to dance for). It was written by my man The-Dream (real name: Terius Nash), and like many of Nash’s weirdest and best songs, it does not follow any kind of traditional pop song structure. There are seven or eight distinct parts, which at times coalesce into a hook and other times not. A wailing, Purple Rain-era guitar underpins the end of the song, and then the album ends in a wash of sultry catharsis. This is obviously the best way to make an exit under any circumstances.

Best soundtrack to the next OWS protest:
Killer Mike: Pl3dge
Hey, you know how everyone thinks positive rappers are lame? But then those same people listen to politically-objectionable materialistic coke hustling rap because they prefer something “hard”? Well, H-town’s Killer Mike is political and yet not lame, hard and yet not rapping about counting his hundos. Pl3dge sounds pretty damn classic and could have come out any time between now and the past 15 years, but its raging pessimism regarding America’s economic plight is unmistakably of the now. Mike shatters illusions of what was once called “the American Dream” by applying X-Ray Marxist vision to the growing class and racial inequalities of our current ‘broke-as-shit’ capitalism. This is a particularly Richard Wright-esque insight on the track “That’s Life II”: “Mr. O’Reilly, Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Hannity, how could you sell white America your insanity?/ You tell ’em that they’re different and manipulate their vanity/ when truthfully, financially their life is a calamity.” Like Wright, Killer Mike sees ruling class rhetoric dividing poor (white and black) people by creating racial resentment. He is not confident that “change” is going to happen any time soon. His solution?: “Burn this motherfucker down.” I don’t disagree.

Worst soundtrack for the next OWS protest:
Kanye & Jay-Z: Watch the Throne
Here Jay-Z is, again rapping about brands so expensive most of us have never heard of them. There Kanye is, lamenting, “What’s the last thing you expect to see at a black tie?/ A black guy.” Watch the Throne is undeniably a lot of fun, but it further entrenches both of these guys in what I have long seen as the inevitable existential inertia of famous rappers. Let me explain. The narrative of a rapper’s life is traditionally a rags-to-riches story. But when the struggle is over, and the rapper finds himself sitting pretty atop a pile of rap-gotten-gains like Audemars, Mongolian furs, and $150 million LiveNation contracts, what is there left to rap about? Besides watches that cost 300k, furs, and LiveNation contracts, I mean? Yeah, they don’t know either.

Worst Song Featuring a Talented Duo:
Rick Ross feat. Nicki Minaj: “You the Boss.”
Nicki Minaj was the great female hope of 2010, until her major label debut turned out to be a middling, money-grabbing…major label debut. But, the cynical downplay of Minaj’s freak image worked, and Pink Friday, the generally triflin’ collection of club hits and crossover R&B love songs, has officially gone platinum. “You the Boss,” from Ross’s forthcoming God Forgives, I Don’t album, is not only triflin, but also an undoing and betrayal of Minaj’s own bossness. Whereas back in the good old days, Minaj and Ross appeared on the Ye track “Monster” as equals, and Minaj’s verse obviously bested Ross and every other MC on it, this song features Minaj comely whispering, “I’ll do anything that you say/anything that you want/ cuz you da boss/ you you you da boss.” I know Rick Ross is the boss, and his name conveniently rhymes with boss, but this 2011 single absolutely offended me, and made me wonder where the fuck Minaj is taking her career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but whatever happened to the MOTHERFUCKING MONSTER? This woman was born to be a star, not a background singer cooing about obeying another rapper’s whims!!!

Best Song Featuring a Talented Duo:
Drake feat. Rick Ross: “Lord Knows”
Ross, all drug-dealing braggadocio, husky vocals and heavy gold chains, is a strange bedfellow for the pretty-boy, emo-rapping, navel-gazing of young Drake. But as far as I’m concerned, Drake fucking turned his musical fortune around with the release of the sprawling, dextrous, thoughtful Take Care, the album on which the epic “Lord Knows” appears. Rick Ross should always be backed by such larger-than-life Just Blaze production, and Drake should always have this much feeling when regaling us with tales of his fame-induced malaise.

There was more to talk about this year, and I tried to write long-form reviews of Take Care, DJ Quik’s Book of David, and my other favorite releases from this year, but the words were not forthcoming. Here’s to 2012 and a renewed loquaciousness about music and culture.

Watch the Throne: Some Next Level Shit

a modest symbol announcing the coming of our lords

Recently, monolithic golden Greek crosses on black posters began popping up around town, announcing the forthcoming release of WATCH THE THRONE. And I awaited, with messianic fervor, the coming of August 8th, so I could hear two kings defend their rightful place at the altar of rap.

I’ve prevented myself from reading reviews so that my mind is not sullied by other critic’s opinions, though I know the world has been abuzz with love for the album. And I gotta say, this is the best shit Jay-Z has put out since… The Black Album? At it’s heart, though, Watch the Throne is a straight-up Kanye effort; each song has his musical tendrils curled all over it. WTT continues the adventuring spirit of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The dirty, dry-as-bone snare and clattering cymbals from Twisted Fantasy are again the dominant percussive sound, and the sneer of Ye’s recent rhymes has persevered well into 2011. Most notably, this album also offers a dizzying variety of samples and sounds that would only come natural to a voraciously omnivorous music consumer like Ye (I’m still stunned by the use of the hipster dupstep FLUX PAVILION sample, as well as the electronic percussion on “Why I Love You” — may as well have been jacked from M83’s “Kim & Jessie”). Last night, my buddy Andrew aptly pointed out that Kanye’s recent output proves he’s like the Borg: he assimilates indiscriminately.

Speaking from my podium as a Kanye scholar, this album provides something no others have previously done: it closes a loop dude started on his first album, providing coherence to a heretofore scattered body of work. He’s cultivated his own variety of mini-genres (the soul sample jam; the 60’s civil rights jangle; the chest thumping ode-to-ego; the inspirational hymn, etc), and my perception of his interests and career up to this point was that he was just going to keep expanding and conquering new genres every time he released a new album. But here he revisits his previous genres: “Lift Off” has the earnest autotune of 808s, and it’s uplifting (lit’rally) mood is something Kanye did best back on College Dropout. “Otis” is obvi the soul jam, and is possibly one of his best; “Murder to Excellence,” an absolute highlight of the album, features the afore mentioned 60s jangle, the bassy piano keys he so favored on Twisted Fantasy, and the chipmunked vocal sample he’s successfully employed all along.

Now for our elderrapsman of the album: Jay-Z goes DEEP on Throne. While Jigga’s done an album inspired by his autobiography and has also written a book, he has rarely been as emotionally forthcoming as he is here. Up to this point, he’s been a great self-mythologizer, reflecting on his rags-to-riches story from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. Kanye, on the other hand, rarely escapes the circuitous perils of navel-gazing, and this seems to have rubbed off on our man in a good way. We have him staring at himself in a mirror, noting that he’s his only enemy in “Welcome to the Jungle.” He also sits in his car, alone, feeling numb in “Why I Love You.” Furthermore, Jay seems to relish his rhymes in a way he rarely does. “Murder to Excellence” features a somewhat indulgent but also very enjoyable slithering alliteration of “s” sounds; Jay even imitates the “chsshh chsshh” of a cologne spray nozzle. On a music level tho, Jay-Z finally is succeeding at sounding cool with synths, something he has not done well on previous sans-Kanye attempts, such as on Blueprint 3’s embarrassingly horrible “Forever Young.”

One of the most satisfying things about this album is, obviously, the interaction between the two rappers. Like poets anxious about their influence, they freely quote their own and the other’s past work. Kanye says: “I’m from the murder capital, where we murder for capital.” Jay sings along with Kanye: “puh-puh-puh-paranoia.” They finish each other’s rhymes. They don’t compete: they meet as equal ballers in the game. From “Niggas in Paris”: “ain’t that just like LeBron James?/ ain’t that just like D. Wade?” They once were enemies, but now they play for the same bloated/egomaniacal team!

Notably, there are no guest appearances on this album from any of rap’s minor princes or would-be heirs. Thank goodness they left Drake to his naked lady sexts and Weezy to his purple haze. It would have been distracting to include these proteges and wannabes. Appropriately, our kings are buffeted by the ghosts of music’s best: a James Brown motif/sample breezes jazzily in and out between a few songs; Brown has four or five additional samples on this album; Nina Simone’s profound “Feeling Good” (“it’s a new day/ it’s a new dawn!”) provides the sentimental backdrop for “New Day,” Otis Redding stomps and grunts in “Otis.” Why play H.O.R.S.E. with the little guys when you can get your picture in the Hall of Fame?

Dudes could have totally phoned some shit in, because that’s what absolute monarchs are allowed to do. But they didn’t. This album isn’t perfect, but if I explained why it ain’t, then we’d all be here till 2012. (It has something to do with Kanye’s newly appalling sexual politics… some other time, though.) Watch the Throne is a completely edifying listening experience for long-time fans, and this is largely because Kanye is an evil genius/Borg-like musical being to whom our resistance is futile!

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.

Rihanna Crosses to Dark Side, But Not Far Enough

i stole this glove from beyonce, but it's cool, it looks way more convincing on me anyway

So, Rated R. I still have a hard time knowing what criteria to use when considering the strengths of a pop album, because pop stars are not made by their full length albums, but by the strength of their singles and their image/aesthetic. I love pop music these days, but there are very few albums from this decade’s Billboard artists that I still find engaging or good.

Good Girl Gone Bad had a few excellent singles (“Umbrella,” “Disturbia”), while the rest (“Take a Bow,” “Rehab”) were conservative ballads that were timeless in a bad way: totally generic and characterless. There were a couple of “Watch out! I’m Rihanna and I’m really mad” songs, but those fell flat due to the flakiness of the production; sirens hesitantly blared and should have been more urgent, electric guitars were not nearly abrasive enough, etc. The “bad girl” was barely present; when she was, she was doing stupid stuff like throwing around some nice china and driving fast. Rihanna could have handled tough sounds and a tougher, more avant-garde image, but I suspect her production team was trying to preserve some femininity for the somewhat robotic and aloof star. Verdict: Good Girl Gone Bad was a transitional album, with tween-pleasing characterless ballads and sparingly few jolts of truly forward-looking shit.

Rated R has nothing as good as “Umbrella,” but the sad-sack songs have vastly improved, and, aesthetically, the album is a slightly more cohesive statement than Good Girl Gone Bad. Visually, Rihanna has finally given in to the darkness that she has always courted. The album cover features Rihanna as Siouxsie Sioux in 1982, or something, instead of the curvaceous Barbados babe she was on her last cover. Musically, the album is not as dark as it purported. The album opener is a strange little ditty inviting the listener into the “Mad House.” The organs and narration are straight outta “Thriller,” MJ’s compelling and enduringly spooky musical testament to the weird.

But it all gets lighter from there. In “Hard,” Rihanna’s newest single, she reminds us that she’s a hard mofo; unfortunately, it features Mr. Young Jeezy, who rhymes about heart attacks… again. Remember this, from Kanye’s “Amazing”?: “Standin’ at the podium/tryin’ to watch my sodium/die of high blood pressure/that or let the feds getcha.” What the fuck? What does a podium have to do with anything? Pfork gave “Hard” a 7 out of 10 as a single rating, but I am not convinced that this song is even that good. Even though Rihanna’s diction conveys her robotic strength as an elemental, necessary force, the song is a little silly; for example, none of the instruments sound good, and nothing sounds particularly hard. They should have put some chainsaws (or something) in the song to make it sound more convincingly badass.

“Hard” is followed by songs falling into one or other of these categories: conservative ballad, a la her old days, but with a darker lyrical bent, or stupid, stupid lite rock song. How come R&B and pop people can’t figure out how to make a guitar sound cool? Also, the pianos in “Firebomb” are cut from the Disney-single playbook. You know those Disney singles? Like Christina Aguilera’s version of that Mulan song? Ugh, those sparkly pianos. What I am trying to say is that all the guitars and pianos and everything sound like muzak in many Rihanna songs. This is especially true of the song “Firebomb,” which, again, doesn’t have enough power to sound like it could have things to do with real firebombs. Which are powerful!

Producers on Rated R include the-Dream, Ne-Yo, Justin Timberlake and other cool people; so how come this album sounds bad so much of the time? I hate to bring her up, but let’s talk about Lady Gaga for a second. This woman took an aesthetic and ran with it. She collected all the 90s euro synths she could, and hoarded them onto her album. If she was going to fail, she would fail miserably, as all her eggs were in one musical basket that sounded a bit like 90s Cher. But, hey, guess what, it worked! Congrats, Lady Gaga, you milked 6 singles off of one cd, and they pretty much all sound the same! Rihanna would do well to take a similar chance.

Sometimes, when Rihanna tries to go all classic, it works. “Te Amo” and “Cold Case Love” are both pretty beautiful, touching songs, and they will both age well. (Nevermind that “Cold Case Love,” JT’s contribution, sounds a lot like the gospel choir part of “Losing My Way.”)

Sometimes, songs sound eerily familiar. The dreaded will.i.am makes an appearance on “Photography,” a song whose parts are pretty much jacked from the verses of Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” and Burial’s love-lorned warbles on “Archangel.” I guess will.i.am is finally running out of ideas; thank god, maybe he will leave us soon.

Sometimes, the songs are just right. Take “Rude Boy.” This could be Rihanna’s thing: it’s a fast-paced dance/sex jam replete with synthesized steel drums reminiscent of the Caribbean. The song is a shout out to a rude boy, who Rihanna dares not to get it up for her. Clearly ‘rude boy,’ just sorta means gangsta in this song, and has no specifically place/time rooted identity; too bad–Rihanna and some dude in suspenders, a fedora and skinny black tie dancing in a sultry club surrounded by Jamaican palm trees and 14 kinds of rum would have made for a hot video.

In conclusion, Rihanna needs to come up with a production team that can create all the power she is singing about. She needs to take some chances on an aesthetic, and I think her next move could easily be a sort of goth Caribbean musical hybrid. She’s a big enough star that we’ll all still be with her for her next move.

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.

Jay-Z Longs for Old-School Tastefulness, Glamour as seen in Scorsese Movies

Shawn signing autographs in 1983
Shawn signing autographs in 1983

Jigga-who? According to Forbes, Jay-Z is the most ballin’ of “Hip-Hop’s Cash Kings,” with this year’s earnings at $35 milli, although that is down almost $50 million from his earnings last year. Jay-Z has made many declarations throughout his career about the life-span of stardom (not least including his attempted retirement), and now one gets the impression he feels guilty for having so much dough, prestige and fame. He’s still at the top of the game some decades after entering it, which, he has lately asserted, is not as much a testament to his lasting genius as it is to the stagnant nature of hip-hop. Hence… D.O.A.

I know you’ve heard the track. BUT, have you seen the video for it?

WOW! One of the better looking videos you’ve ever seen, right? Gritty like a Scorsese pikcha, but with a smaller budget, this video reclaims O.G. status for Jigga by literally obliterating bling, colorful/tight hiphopster clothing, Champagne bottles… and other paragons of today’s hip-hop culture. The whole explosion thing is quite similar to Fatboy Slim’s video for “Gangster Trippin’” but as of this moment, I am not certain of the connection between these two videos, other than, I mean, Jay is a gangster, clearly.

Jay is seen cavorting with Harvey Keitel, chomping a cigar, and playing poker with some Degos in the store-room of a restaurant. He drinks good red wine, thank you very much, not Champagne (although this is the man who put Cristal on the hip-hop map!). He rocks an Old School ‘do (which, weirdly, makes him look about 15 years younger than he is), plays with a live band (?!), and also b-balls with LeBron. What do all of these things ad up to? That Jigga say: Old School still wins, and, quit T-Painin’ too much.

Responses? Thoughts? No one reads this blog so I will share mine. Jay-Z: I appreciate your artistry, your good taste, your brand of hip-hop. You are one of my favorites of all time.

And though I really think T-Painin too much really sucks, it has also made some really good tracks, like “Chopped and Screwed,” and “Blame It,” as well as the album 808s and Heartbreak, etc. Hip-hop evolves, gets growing pains, and, so what, relies a little too much on voice modulation hardware. Worse things have happened. I predict this trend is already in the throws of death.

Another thing I was worried about: Kanye *produced* D.O.A. and much of the forthcoming Blueprint 3, which apparently features no auto-tuned tunes. Kanye said he didn’t take Jay’s sentiments personally, offering this incoherent analogy to MTV news:

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Kanye laughed about Jay not wanting to incorporate the sound that is featured so heavily on Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. “It’s music; it’s just sonics. I like Auto-Tune so I do it, but you want the other thing — like you’ll wear a suit to a wedding and gym shoes to a basketball game. I think it’s a perfect moment for Jay to provide some gym shoes to a basketball game right now.”

Still, I wonder how Kanye felt when he saw his wardrobe getting blowed up real good in Jigga’s video?