A Trip Down Memory Lane

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Yes, it would appear I own this movie.

In a caffeine-induced mass-organization of the apartment. Sorting through a pile of early 21st century detritus that has been laying around for years: CDs and DVDs covered in ash, dust, and long-dried droplets of beer. I have discovered that over the years, through moves, various roommates, and my own abominable movie-returning habits, I have acquired possibly the world’s worst and weirdest DVD collection.

In the “I’d watch it again” category:

Tony Scott’s “The Last Boy Scout” (thanks, Nicole. Sorry I am so bad at ‘borrowing’ stuff.)

Almodovar’s “Volver.” Loved this movie and saw it thrice in 2006, spawning a year-long Almodovar obsession; wonder what I’d think of it now?

David Lynch’s “Mulhullond Drive.” For as much trash as I talk about David Lynch, I should probably remember his movies a little better in order to fully engage with my detractors. I originally saw this movie when it first came out, WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, and no longer remember much of it. And I have no idea why I have a copy of it: is it properly mine? Or, who lent it to me?

PTA’s “There Will Be Blood.” The case of this film has a ‘blockbuster’ sticker on it. Hm. Just saw “The Master” and might be time for a re-viewing of its predecessor; I feel that they share flaws. The organic brilliance and grandiosity of the first hour is eventually overshadowed by PTA’s need to make more brilliant, grandiose, dramatic, doom & kabloom scenes, losing focus and dragging out the end of the movie.

In the WTF category:

“The Mechanic.” A Jason Statham flick full of the requisite vein-popping, head-bashing action, but this time it’s set in the Louisiana Bayou, a place with a regional dialect so mysterious to most Americans that the setting conveniently erases the need to give any real backstory for why Statham’s “American” accent sounds so bizarre. Also, Donald Sutherland is in it. I accrue movies like this because anna + redbox = disaster. Redbox allows for a shameless anonymity that renting at, say, Odd Obsession does not, so it makes me rent all kinds of stupid shit because I think to myself, “Oh, it’s only $1!” Wrong, it’s $25, every time, because I never return redbox rentals.

“The Messenger.” anna + redbox = disaster.

“Harry Brown.” anna + redbox = disaster. This movie was sort of worthwhile. “Harry Brown” is an ostentatious exploitation movie that revisits Michael Caine’s earliest acting persona as a hard knocking gangsta in Hodge’s British classic “Get Carter.” Except this time, he’s a geezer. It is to Caine as “Gran Torino” is an update to Clint Eastwood’s earlier vengeance persona in “Dirty Harry.”

“Doctor Parnassus.” anna + redbox = disaster. Never even watched it.

“Sherlock Holmes.” anna + redbox = disaster. Also didn’t watch this.

“What a Girl Wants.” Perhaps you’ve never heard of this movie. It is a modern princess story about a wily American girl who discovers that her father is a landed British artistocrat (played by Colin Firth). Dad needs daughter to help remove the union jack flagpole from his ass; daughter needs dad because, well, she needs a dad. Lent to me by my Aunt Maggie, who loves Colin Firth as much as I do.

“Definitely, Maybe.” Undoubtedly left in my computer by an ex-boyfriend who was hell-bent on having the most awful and pedestrian taste in movies in order to upend everyone’s expectations of him. It was defending movies like this that really gave him the reputation he sought.

“Hitch.” Ditto from above.

Episode III of Star Wars. This, I believe, once belonged to my 6′ 5″ roommate named Bjorn Delacruz. I wonder if he wants it back.

I could go on (found at least a dozen other horrible movies), but why waste all of our timez. Thanks for coming down memory lane with me before I crash from too much coffee and horrible nostalgia.

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Hot on the Streets: Miguel’s Adorn, CTU Striking, and How the Internet Ain’t Shit

YOU’VE GOT TO KNOW BABAY

IN THESE TIMES of internet-induced cultural fracture, where one man’s kitsch is three other men’s kitsch but no one else knows or cares about it, daftpop holds dear those rare incidences of transcendent phenomena that happen OFF DA NET. I’ve been thinking deep about events which occur in what we once quaintly called “the real world,” mostly because of the CTU strike. Word up: I’m a first-year teacher, and I took part in the strike activities all week. The most astonishing thing to my 21st century brain was how word-of-mouth was the only instrument in gathering thousands of people together. No one emailed us about where to be or what to do. Our union reps just shouted at us through megaphones about where to be with often less than a day’s or a few hours’ notice; the details were often wrong or scrambled, and yet thousands of people showed up to downtown rallies, etc. Besides the strike, there are not terribly many things I can think of that occur without the aid of the Internets on some basic and crucial level.

AND YET (rough transition): there’s a song that is hot on the streets RIGHT NOW, and it did not need to the internet to become what it is. Like strikes in the days of yore, organized from a groundswell of the people’s will, this song found its telos, WIDESPREAD POPULARITY, by relatively primitive means. All around town, people are bumping this same jam. It arrived on the airwaves; radio djs astonished themselves by actually wanting to hear this particular song, introducing it by saying, “Wow, this is my JAM!” People called in requests; it frizzled on 15-year-old girl’s cell phone speakers; the kids danced to it out front of the Boys & Girls Club near my house. The song blew up. This song is Miguel’s “Adorn.”

A lot of white people I know don’t know about Miguel. He’s not an R&B institution like Ursher or Chris or The-Dream; he’s a minor player with caramel pipes who seems to find useful artistic constraint in making narrowly-themed songs, only really rising to popularity after last year’s “Sure Thing.” His song titles are indicative of what the song is actually about, and he does not deviate from the central idea, often resulting in tight, focused ditties. “Sure Thing” features a string of intricately linked things that are analogous to how Miguel and his lover are linked; for a song on the radio these days, it’s pretty clever, and it’s nicely phrased: “If you be the cash/I be the rubber band/ You be a match/ I will be a fuse, boom!” The other pairings go on to be a painter/muse, reporter/news, cigarette/smoker, raising bets/joker, etc. The beats are crisp, low-key mechanical pops backed by a timid altissimo-d out synth-line. It’s a little too precise to have the kind of organic fire one looks for in an R&B song, but its sound is distinct from both the old school Kelly-esque bump-n-grind and new-school synth-wall-of-sound of radio R&B. In other words, it was on to something.

ADORN is the next level, building on the unique clutch of sounds that made Miguel popular with “Sure Thing,” and expanding it into firmly adult-contemporary territory. And it is a fucking revelation. The first time I heard this song on the radio, I was just like, “Nuh-uh, did someone really do that?” Like a few other R&B adventurers out there, this song looks backwards to the much-maligned genre of SMOOTH. “Adorn” is so fucking smooth. Marvin Gaye-Curtis Mayfield-Fucking-Smooth. It starts with drum machine stutters, a fuzzed-out bass, and Miguel’s own organic vocal whoops, making for a “whispers in the dark”-kind of unassuming boogie. Like the analogies of “Sure Thing,” the lyrical content here is again organized in a clean, yet literary way, this time employing some low-key synecdoche: “Baby these lips can’t wait to taste your skin/ and these eyes can’t wait to see your grin.” Etc. But the loveliest, most elegant aspect of this song is the central concept, which is the imploring of the speaker to “let my love adorn you.” Adorn is such a good word for a slinky, out-of-time jam, like silk sliding effortlessly over smooth skin, or a similarly timeless concept of sexin/lovin. Most importantly, Miguel really SINGS as a come-on, teasing with vibrato when necessary, releasing the tension with a little belting, reeling you back in with whispers.

Isn’t it comforting to know that THE PEOPLE out in the REAL WORLD are still a force, a force whose will must be reckoned with, whose preferences and desires must be heard and acknowledged? The LOVE needs to be out there on the street, and not just stashed on a message board or…ahem… a blog, for all the world to partake of. Now, just le-le-le-let this love adorn you!

A Balancing Act: Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE

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Remembrances of Egypts Past

“No words.”

That phrase has been a pretty recurrent maxim in recent times for me, and easily applies to my music blogging (non)ambitions. Sometimes writing about music unleashes the best in my thought process, and at other times, it almost seems to disturb the process that music itself sets out to perform. That is, writing about music can kinda kill it, because the analytical process inherent in writing is kinda antithetical to the non-elucidated artfulness of music. Music is music, expressing itself by means musical.

Some music demands elucidation and unpacking though, and that’s the point of criticism. But what I’m sayin here is that sometimes the jams are so perfect, their clarity of meaning so sublime, that writing about them can be superfluous, or worse, tarnishes the musicalness of the music.

This is the danger of applying words to one of my favorite new musics, Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. I feel “no words” about this album, because it flawlessly says what it needs to say, by means of lyric, structure, and production. I ain’t sayin this album is perfect (gets off to a slow start, probably too many interludes, that song “Forrest Gump” sucks), but it does perfectly express its artistic goals as an album: it’s a balancing act of style and substance, disillusionment and hope, light and darkess.

The “speakers” of channel ORANGE are given voice in a variety of registers, inhabiting many bodies and attitudes. “Thinkin Bout You” has the bashful analogies of like some young John Donne sonnet (“got a fighter jet/I don’t get to fly it though” and the grizzled wisdom of a dying poet (“we’ll take this road till it changes from color to black and white”–[that shit makes me cry!]). On “Pink Matter” Frank lyrically performs a slow zoom out from the womb (pink matter) to the concept of self (gray matter) to the infinite, bewildering cosmos (aliens watching from the purple matter); the guest, Mr. Benjamin, gives his most emotionally honest verse maybe ever, aligning a present in which he cannot escape his heartbreak and a parallel universe where he and that-one-who-got-away are together.

In another deeper-than-rap balancing act, the universe of swag appears all over this album, but as a backdrop for personal disenchantment instead of the usual brags-about-riches. “Super Rich Kids” and “The Sweet Life” are a Salinger-style observation on the emotional emptiness of decadence and decadent people. The penthouse/Louboutin/Cuban cigar lifestyle so often inhabited by Rick Ross and the Watch the Throners is perversely twisted by Frank in the album showstopper “Pyramid.” I can’t help but picture the late/absurd Michael Jackson video for “Remember The Time,” every time I hear the first 5 minutes of this song, what with the dancing in a palace, the cheetahs, the jewels; the milieu is Egypt-cum-50’s Hollywood film, complete with a purple-eyed harlot as the object of the speaker’s desire, revealed completely before the camera, but remote. As the instrumentation transitions from its slinky, mysterious funk into a dreamier, slower mode, it’s like scales fall from our eyes, and all of a sudden the majestic Egypt is traded for a shitty motel, and Cleopatra is getting decked in stripper clothes before hitting the Strip. It’s a twist: Cleopatra is a stripper at a joint called “The Pyramid.” The unglamorous reality of hustling undoes the opulent fantasy of wealth.

We are taken to other places in channel ORANGE; sunny California, the back of a cab, a dream-like Sierra Leone, the crack house. The thing that allows Frank to balance his speakers’ personas and his settings is his miraculous, god-given gift of PHRASING. Often overlooked by people who don’t have any idea what it takes to sing, Ocean sounds like an old pro, with as much style as a crooner of yore, and charm for days like an R&Ber out to take your pants off. He knows how to sell a line with a droll laziness, earnest belting (one friend compared it to the somewhat embarrassing earnestness of Rufus Wainwright!), a flat directness, all in perfect tandem with the careful, cinematic scope and tone of each song.

So though the words I’ve chosen to use about channel ORANGE go too deep on some levels and don’t go there at all in other ways (have you noticed I haven’t mentioned his musical influences or, gasp, his sexuality???), I’m so deeply grateful that Frank pulled together this deeply personal, widely universal document of balance, of the minute and large, of desire and deprivation, of wealth and poverty. I hate to be all collegey and pullin out the dialectic, but the ole dialectic a constant of a lot of good art; it’s about navigating with our gray matter, not getting bludgeoned with big, bold strokes. I don’t have enough words for dudes like Frank, who paint with the subtleties of their craft and leave us with something as listenable and re-listenable as channel ORANGE.

YA HEARD???: Good jams of rap radio 2012

with these rings, i thee unwed

It is well-established that I ❤ rap radio, but often times both 92.3 & 107.5 are bloated with a lot of useless shit. On the continuum of good rap and r&b, passable rap and r&b, guilty pleasures, and pure shit, both stations play mostly the latter two categories. But there are a few things genuinely worth listening to on the radio right now. They are:

USHER climax

Produced by Diplo and sang by URSHER, this song is one of the finest examples in the tradition of dance djs teaming up with R&B legends. Honestly, the only person to gain from this collab is Diplo, who, though not a household name, is at least a dancy-party-in-the-basssssment-name. When Usher feels like it, he can put out an amazing jam with a stellar producer (“Love In This Club”, other jams with Polow), but in recent years he is most likely churn out some anonymous house with a musically-bankrupt Swedish producer. The soaring, emotive vocal line is underpinned by an initially glitchy, then inevitably paced beat, combining the decisiveness and yet instant regret of a break-up. Unlike so many slow-burning jams to be heard on the radio these days, the music of this song is actually crafted and thematic. Usher is only growing as a singer in his later years. THIS IS THE BEST SONG.

FRANK OCEAN thinkin bout you

Frank Ocean’s songs are as emo as Drake’s and as sexually explicit as Chris Brown’s, but, unlike Drizzy and Breezy, Ocean doesn’t trifle. I was into Nostalgia.Ultra, but at times his voice reminded me too much of early 2000’s indie singing (all nasal), which is a major turn-off. This song features a fine falsetto and serpentine phrasing, evidence of Ocean’s skill as the most respectable R&Ber out there. There isn’t much to “Thinkin bout you”, and that’s what makes it lovely. Just a gauzy guitar fading in and out, and an 808 lapping like a wave. Ocean has feelings, but he doesn’t rub your face in them. He wants to sex you, girl, but in a really classy way. If the radio featured more understated, subtle songs like this, the world would indubitably be a better place.

MEEK MILL FEAT JEREMIH & DRAKE amen

“Amen’s” music track sans vocals could stand alone as a bouncy intro-to-gospel. Then just as you think you’re listening to 107.5 on Sunday mornings (when they play church music) Meek Mill jumps on asking “bad bitches” to represent themselves. The light-hearted irreverance of this song covers drinking too much, smoking too much, and babes: a new religion built on the altar of bacchanalian excess. It is at times discouraging that the younger generation of dextrous rappers seem to be solely focused on party-times, but “Amen” has a playful irony that lesser rappers cannot fathom from behind the opaque self-seriousness of their rosé-tinted glasses.

CHIEF KEEF FEAT KANYE ET AL. i don’t like REMIX

Y’all know I love Pusha-T and Big Sean, and that I will probably die as Kanye’s last defender from the hoards who just don’t understand the glorious populism of his music. So for me, this is an easy hit. But this Chief Keef song makes a startling addition to the genre I like to think of as “ghetto ominous.” (In my estimation, the “ghetto ominous” genre features lots of minor scales and organs. See: Ace Hood, some Wacka Flocka, etc.) “I don’t like” has a churning, unpleasant synth line, and a skittish drum track that sounds like someone’s packin a gat. The rappers are straight hatin, as the song is simply a litany of things they don’t like–snitches, fakes, women who deign to call after giving a BJ. The unrelenting anger and pessimism of “I don’t like” makes it an unusual hit, but I’ll always make room for aggro rappers. There’s a lot to be mad about.

 

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!

Daftpop’s Extreme Reverence 4 Beyonce’s 4

i got shipwrecked and made this vest out of crow feathers & ferrets

There is a beat-up old minivan parked on my block with possibly the best and also most jank-ass bumper sticker of all time. The bumper sticker was clearly created by an enthusiastic but graphic designedly-challenged individual. It reads quite simply, in black font on a white background: BEYONCE.

I can’t think of a more appropriate singer for whom this touching, homemade declaration of love would be made. Beyonce is one of our superstars. She maintains an aura of glamour and composure in an era when so many other women have been overexposed and exploited by the Internet, TMZ, and our own fucked up need to see them drunkenly stumble over their 5″ Louboutins. Girl’s most naked moment this year did not involve reality television, wardrobe malfunctions, or rehab: it was a backstage video taken by Jigga of her rehearsing, and flawlessly executing, the song “1+1”. A pure, old fashioned star, Beyonce allows us to see our dreams in the reflection of her gleaming American smile.

Sure, sure, she’s been trained from a young age by her Joe Jackson-like father to be a megastar. But Beyonce is that rare combination of manufactured performer and raw skill.

Nowhere has this been more evident than on 4, her recent and fourth (obvi) solo album. This album doesn’t give a fuck about sounding contemporary. The overall production flourishes are closer in style to latter-day Earth, Wind & Fire, or another adult contemporary group of “smoov” musicians than to any recent R&B. There’s a Slick Rick sample on “Party.” “Love On Top” is basically a Jackson 5 song. “1+1” features a guitar solo eerily reminiscient of Purple Rain, cleary the result of producers The-Dream & Tricky Stewart’s Prince obsession. While at first I was shocked by the startlingly out-of-touch production choices, I have now decided that this was a bold move in the right direction. It’s not pandering to commercial interests, because it sounds so incredibly corny. It accurately reflects Beyonce’s recent musical influences, and therefore comes off as a labor of love. But, really, sorry for the red herring, the production is beside the point. The album’s sole purpose is to showcase the expressive, ostentatiously powerful VOICE OF BEYONCE, which it does with aplomb.

So far this album has received very positive reviews from the critics I read: pfork, Sasha Frere Jones, the guy for the NYT. All those critics are men, and I’m honestly surprised they like it as much as I do. 4, like many of B’s hit singles, is essentially for the ladies. It’s about the thrill of succumbing to soul-eating love (see: “1+1”, “End of Time”, “Rather Die Young”), something pretty much only women are excited about. It’s about making an effort even after your man has given up on you (See: “I Care”). It’s about working out your problems and communicating about them (“Start Over”, “I Miss You”). Very occasionally, on the few bangers on the album, it’s about sex (“Party”, “Countdown”). But always, it’s about monogamy, true love, marriage, life-long companionship. To co-opt a phrase: this is some grown-woman shit!

Do you understand how much I love Beyonce? Maybe. But the important thing is that Beyonce understands how much we love her. She delivers on everything we want from her: her voice cracks with emotion, she gives utterance to our pain, confusion, joy, she identifies our nameless if terribly mundane emotional problems with our boyfriends.

I know my subjective, first-person emotional relationship with this music has all the perspective of a 15-year-old’s obsession with, say, Kurt Cobain, or something. But my earliest, most primal instinct is to love music with my heart, and then think about it later. This only happens to me once in a great while these days; I am a grizzled old lady with a cynical ear. But something punched my soul awake on 4. This is music for people who find catharsis in belting along to songs that sound like your howling heart. Now go, be set free by Beyonce’s transcendent pipes.