Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are You Serious?: OJ Da Juiceman's "Culinary Art School"

Man, you know you're running out cocaine metaphors when you're stealing ideas from those culinary arts commercials that run on local TV in most cities. Here's the one that runs in Portland:

Got to love the phrase "hospitality professional." That means waiter.

Now let's talk OJ Da Juiceman. Following the Young Jeezy rapper model (slow, measured flow, purposely dopey coke metaphors, heavy on ad-libs--in the Juiceman's case "Ay ay ay!"), OJ has built quite the following, enough to convince Cam'Ron to jump on his "Make Em Say Aye" remix with Gucci Mane.

Like Jeezy, it's hard not be charmed on the first listen. The superhero charisma and the goofy bragging are an entertaining combination, plus the beats are usually the kind of low-budget trance rap I love. But unlike Jeezy, the Juiceman does not reward multiple listens. First and foremost, hearing "ay" after every line (every f'n line!) starts to get on your nerves, and if you listen to two or three Juiceman songs in a row, you might just want scream "Nay!" and punch something. As Jim "My Jewish Lawyer" Jones would probably tell you, the key to ad-libs is to sell a kind of shitty rhyme with a silly shout out, like if you were bragging about a purple Benz, you'd yell out "My Barney car!" Just yelling "ay" is not going to cut it.

Secondly, Juiceman's voice is unremarkable. Back when rap bloggers couldn't stop ragging on Jeezy because he's not Rakim, a crucial point was left out: rap is music. There are plenty of singers I love whose lyrics are mediocre to terrible, but it doesn't matter because I like their voices. The same applies to rap to a larger degree than a lot of rap fans are willing to admit. It's what people are talking about when they compare Lil Wayne's nasal whine to Dylan, or talk about how Ghostface raps like he's singing.

Thirdly, and finally, he's not making his silly punchlines work for him. On "Benjamin Franklin," he raps, referring to his money, "like best friends, you can call else Burt and Ernie," but he raps it like he's still just talking about drugs and clothes. For something so completely the opposite of rapper tough talk, the beat should have cut out so that you couldn't miss the line.

Anyway, despite my misgivings, I eagerly await OJ Da Juiceman's " Free Credit Consolidation."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let Us Remember: "Get It Together"

Listening to J. Period's mega Q-Tip mixtape The Abstract Best (which would be flat out amazing if not for over half the songs being edited for profanity; seriously, what's the deal with that? In the words of Christian Bale, "It's fucking distracting..."), I was reminded of the unimpeachable genius of "Get It Together."

I remember when I first listened to Ill Communication, my first thought was "Why so few rap songs?" You get Buddhist chants, soul jazz interludes, skate punk, and like five rap songs. But those rap songs are all brilliant. "Sure Shot"? "Flute Loop"? "Get It Together"? "Root Down"? I get chills remembering the joy I felt when those songs came on. They were basically the prize for sitting through the Beasties' self-indulgent moments.

The key to what makes "Get It Together" so great is that it sounds like four friends just screwing around, bouncing off each other's punchlines and bragging in a way that's more silly than serious ("Heart like John Starks"?). It makes you realize how rare that kind of thing is in rap today. While I'm sure Lil' Wayne could just geek out on a song like this, it's hard to imagine any other rappers as popular as the Beasties and Q-Tip were back then ever allowing themselves to be this goofy.

The beat, which samples Grand Funk Railroad, Fred Wesley (of the JBs), Eugene McDaniels, and a Moog Machine version of "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In," sounds deceptively simple, like it's just a fuzzy bassline and drums until the chorus comes. I can hear a faint organ sound underneath the bassline, but it mostly seems like the rappers are carrying the melody themselves with the changes of pitch in their voices.

One of my favorite moments in the song is when MCA says he's "a praying mantis on the court and I can't be beat/Yo, Tip, what's up with the boots on your feet?" and Q-Tip answers "I got the Timbos on my toes and this is how it goes.." and then cracks up laughing, saying "Oh, one two, oh my God" and a sample from Tribe's "Oh My God" pops up all the sudden. The way they've clearly taken a mistake made in the booth and turned it not only into part of the song, but built on it with the sample is just the coolest thing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Are You Serious?: Ponytail at the Laundromat

The above is 100% not cool. A handful of Queens residents just trying to do some laundry have to be aurally assaulted by the preschoolers-with-fingerpaint indie rock of Ponytail. On Pitchfork, the blurb to the right describes the poor folks at the laundromat as "Clorox pushers." Nice, Pitchfork--it was about time someone stuck it to people who have to go the laundromat.

Besides laziness, crap like this is the reason I don't go to very many live shows. It's just painful when the performers are having more fun than the audience, completely oblivious to how obnoxious they are. But at least when you go to a show, you've chosen to subject yourself to self-indulgent idiots.

I find the shots of the people confused by the band to be hilarious, as if we're supposed to laugh at them for not getting the band. Newsflash: There is nothing to get. This is bad music, pure and simple. That confused look is the look Ponytail should be seeing everywhere.

Since I rarely have good things to say about Pitchfork, I should point out that the review of the N.A.S.A. record by Tom Breihan was hilarious and dead on.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Actually Like: The 50 Cent/Rick Ross Beef

I remember back in 2007, Slate had an article about how YouTube was ruining rap beef. The basic idea was that rappers were spending all their time making low budget video disses instead of writing classic songs like "Takeover" or "2nd Round K.O.". There was some truth to this, especially in the 50 Cent-Cam'Ron feud where the most memorable moments came from a schoolyard taunt ("Curtisssss") and Cam'Ron in a video standing in his backyard in boxer shorts with an unexplained black eye.

But what the article completely misunderstood was that beef is never really going to be about skills ever again. Sure, a feud might pop up here or there (say Joe Budden vs. Saigon) where the whole point is who is a better rapper, but overall, beef is now about total and complete humiliation, both personally and professionally. Clever insults are antiquated; what works best is dirt.

Old pictures, court documents, ex-girlfriends, what some dude told some chick who told some dude--all of this is fair game. Beef has become like a mutant mixture of a comedy roast and tabloid journalism.

Nobody does this kind of beef like 50 Cent. It would not be an overstatement to say the man's true talent is being an asshole. His videos making fun of Rick Ross are funnier and more entertaining than the entirety of the Curtis album. To a degree, this makes perfect sense. For a multi-million dollar rapper like 50 Cent, making an album has probably become a chore, because all your energy and talent has to be spent trying to make an album that will appeal to absolutely everyone. It's possible the man doesn't even like making music anymore, as pretty much everything he's done post-Curtis attests. Making fun of people probably lets him let off steam from having to make dozens of lame decisions (a reality show? another autotune chorus?) just to stay afloat as an artist.

And who's easier to make fun of than Rick Ross? Even if he didn't have a past as a corrections officer, the guy would be a joke. The reason condescending hipsters couldn't get enough of the guy circa Port of Miami was because he's a walking parody of coke rap. He can't rap, he makes impossibly inflated boasts that not only sound stupid but ring false to even the most basic sense of how cocaine distribution works, and he doesn't have even a sliver of self-consciousness. Any joy in his music comes purely from the fact that he's charismatic and that it's endlessly amusing that he expects anyone to believe he's some kind of cocaine kingpin (I've read other bloggers who write that his songs about girls are full of great, everyday details, but I've yet to investigate this).

The actual substance of the feud is quite thin. Apparently Rick Ross saw 50 Cent at the BET Awards and tried to talk to him, but 50 Cent gave him a dirty look and ignored him. So Rick Ross got on some radio show and complained about the incident. That's it--that's how the incident got started. As many bloggers have astutely pointed out, there is something pretty junior high about the whole thing, but it's the juvenile aspect of the whole thing that makes it entertaining.

Unlike Jay-Z vs. Nas or Kanye vs. 50, this isn't one of those feuds where which side you choose says something about you as a person or a rap fan. Neither artist here has been making great music as of late and neither of them have even remotely sympathetic personalities (their treatment of the mothers of their sons pretty much speaks for itself), so the fun in the beef mostly comes from seeing two millionaire blowhards tear each other apart.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are You Serious?: Pitchfork Finds Out About Music From Kanye

First Raekwon's "Back from the Slums," now some new song by some random girl produced by Dave Sitek (which is predictably boring--sorry TV On the Radio fans, I'm just not hearing the genius). What's the deal? Why is a music site with its finger on the pulse getting scooped by a guy with a busier schedule than Obama?