I guess I’m not that old, and not in the “old guy still clinging desperately to his youth” stage of my life, but I’m your standard Gen X cat. I’ve never tried to be a hipster and I’m fully content in my age bracket.
That said, I’ve finally accepted that I’m an old man and that hip-hop in its current state is for kids. It’s no longer designed to appeal to me and it no longer does.
Sure, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, as I’ll always love hip-hop and I’ll always listen to it. It’ll always be a part of my life, but there’s nothing that’s really made to cater to people of my ilk. I think that it’s really sad because there’s a growing market for adult-contemporary hip-hop.
When I was looking back on the decade for my upcoming best-of column, it struck me how much I really enjoyed De La Soul’s The Grind Date. It was an album by adults, for adults. It was a hip-hop album about life and maturity and it was created by people who grew up in the game. That album should be looked at as the blueprint for my vision of adult-contemporary hip-hop. Sure the braggadocio was there, as it’ll always be present as long as there are emcees, but there was also a level of realness and responsibility that was refreshing.
Because of my basic love for hip-hop, I enjoyed both Wale and Kid Cudi’s debuts; they were really good albums and strong opening statements. And I’ll always love a good spitter like Joe Budden or Jadakiss. But the actual sound of hip-hop right now just isn’t palatable to my ears. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I picked up Drake’s debut EP and it wasn’t for me. It sounded too sterile and synthetic. It was like a TV dinner when what I really wanted and had hoped for was a home-cooked meal. But home-cooked meals, it seems, are getting harder and harder to come by these days.
And I really don’t know what the solution is. I’d like to believe that if the music industry wasn’t in such a free fall that they’d explore the notion of a graying hip-hop audience. But by that same token, with the industry in such horrible shape, why wouldn’t record labels try it on for size in a desperate effort to see what actually sticks? Given the shape of the industry, why aren’t more imaginative things being tried?
Like I said, I’ll always keep my ear to the streets, but I’m really looking for substance. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to tolerate any more of the “Money, Cash, Hoes” mentality.
At least I’ll always have The Grind Date and I should be happy to have that.
God, that’s sort of a depressing thought.
Anyway, at said family gathering I spent a ton of time with one of my cousins. Being the guy that I am, I asked beforehand if she wanted me to bring any music, to which she replied vaguely that up-tempo stuff would work really well for the kitchen. I responded that “up-tempo” was way too broad for a guy with a collection of my size. She didn’t narrow it down, but I managed to make a couple of mixes for the occasion.
On Friday afternoon we went out to get some pizza and the topic of music came up. We talked about how much hip-hop had changed and how wack it was now. (Ok, I’m adding my own two cents there, she actually just said that it was “hard to get into now.”) And then she blew my mind; she told me how much she enjoyed a mixtape I’d made for her.
Then, after we left the pizza place, she went in her trunk and pulled out a case of tapes, found the tape in question and popped it in. It was a trip.
Now, it blew my mind for a couple reasons. Firstly, I didn’t remember making her a tape. Secondly I was slayed because she referenced one of my favorite songs, which “sounds like it’s from a video game.” And lastly she really swelled the ego when she told me how she’d worn the tape out, old-school fashion.
As far as I can piece together, I made the tape specifically because I was going up to Lafayette for my Spring Break ’98 (it was great having cousins in PA when I was in MD). I’m pretty sure I made it for the long bus ride. Anyway, it’s a dope little snapshot into me from 11 years ago.
Here’s the Hip-Hop side
DJ Honda featuring De La Soul – “Trouble on the Water”
Wow. I’m really surprised that this is the song that I chose to start things off with. I honestly can’t say I remember anything about this song.
Cappadonna – “Slang Editorial”
I don’t even have this album anymore. It took me a serious minute to figure out who this was. Thank goodness for emcees always referencing themselves.
Tash, Q-Tip and Mos Def – “Body Rock”
I can remember buying this single. I still like this song. I mean, I’m really a fan of all three of these guys.
The Lox – “All for the Love”
This was the song that was reminiscent of a video game. This is still one of my all-time favorites. Jadakiss kills it and it’s one of Swizz’s best beats.
Puff Daddy and Ma$e – “Been Around the World” (Remix)
I’m pretty sure that I’ve said it before, but you’ve got to give Puff credit to have the balls to remix a song and leave the original artist off.
Az featuring Nas – “How Ya Livin”
Hearing this song made me want to completely revisit Az’s catalogue.
Gang Starr – “Work”
Another classic. My cousin told me how this got her listening to Gang Starr.
Canibus – “2nd Round Knock Out”
I’d say that is arguably the song that dates this mixtape the most. Canibus was relevant for such brief period of time. Still, it’s sort of dope
DMX – “Get at Me Dog”
Man, remember when DMX was returning the grime to hip-hop? This song made me sad about his current state of affairs.
Ma$e featuring The Lox, Black Rob and DMX – “24 Hours to Live”
Seriously, Bad Boy was killing 1998. If Kanye was smart he’d get Common, Black Thought and Mos Def to remake this song.
Busta Rhymes featuring Rampage, Ma$e and Puff Daddy – “The Body Rock”
Can you tell that I was riding with Bad Boy in 1998? For me, the worst thing about this song is that it’s got basically the same chorus as the previous “Body Rock”. It’s such an egregious oversight in the creation of a mixtape that it’s mortifying.
C’mon, cut me some slack. It was 11 years ago. If we dredged up a tape you made from 11 years ago, I’m sure it would be equally embarrassing. And I stand by this tape. It’s what exposed my cousin to Gang Starr and The Lox; It broadened her horizon a pinch, which in my book makes it a success.
Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough to brave the truly frightening other side of this tape—the alternative side. Better yet, I’ll save it for Halloween.
I also figured that it would be a good way to milk three columns out of one idea. And if you think that’s lazy, wait until next week when I reach back five years and dust off something really old to revisit. Here’s a hint: it may have to do with “classic” or “skip-proof” albums.
Anyway, let’s get on with this week’s glimpse of the past, present and possibly future.
I hope Sa Ra releases an album in ‘09.
Ok, so this one did come true. What’s nutty is that in January, when I originally jotted it down, I didn’t know that they had an album on the horizon. Sadly, I haven’t picked it up yet… y’know, financial constraints, but I’ll probably have it by the end of the month.
I hope Erykah Badu follows up on New Amerykah in ‘09.
This one hasn’t happened yet. I’ll cut her some slack since she did have a kid pretty recently. Is that woman fertile or what? She’s got three kids by three different dudes—she’s like a Neo-Con’s worst nightmare or the perfect straw man for Fox News. But to be honest, I’d totally sign up to be #4. Seriously.
I hope Joe Budden finally releases his sophomore album in ‘09 (and that it sells).
Well this is tricky. Padded Room did come out, but I don’t recall it blazing up the charts, not even in this sedated sales climate. So, do I count it as a pass or a fail?
I hope that Jadakiss’ album lives up to the hype in ‘09.
It’s a good album. But it didn’t really live up to the hype. On the Interwebs people said it was “the Jadakiss album Jadakiss fans have been waiting to hear.” To my ears it sounded like every other Jadakiss album; it had some bangers and it had some songs that strived to reach an audience beyond his grasp. The end result was an album that disappointed only because it was over-hyped.
I hope that an instrumental version of Beck’s Modern Guilt leaks in ‘09.
Not yet, but I’m really, really optimistic about this. Actually, I’m just clinging to a strand of hope.
I hope Sufjan Stevens releases an album in ‘09.
Nothing yet, but I think I heard some buzz about him going back into the studio. Or I may possibly be making that up at this very moment. Still, I don’t think that it’s out of the question that Sufjan will release an album before the year is out.
I hope Martina Topley-Bird’s The Blue God gets released in the U.S. in ‘09.
I’d actually forgotten about this one. However, a quick search on Wikipedia shows that it’s yet to get a proper release in the U.S.
I hope that the White Stripes return and gloriously swipe the limelight and accolades away from the Raconteurs in ‘09.
OK, not only has this not happened yet, but Jack White has gone and formed a third band, The Dead Weather. I’m thinking that this one is looking less and less likely as the year progresses.
I hope that Wale doesn’t blow it in ‘09.
I’m sort of torn on this one. I mean, I can’t really decide if teaming up with Lady GaGa is a good look or not. It’s not like Wale sold out or anything, but I think that Lady GaGa is either near her saturation point in terms of pop culture, or at this point she’s just a passing fad to anyone not in the gay community. Either way might hurt Wale in the long run. Actually, it could hurt him in the short run; if it were an emcee that I didn’t respect, I’d look at the Seinfeld mixtape and the GaGa team up as signs that he was striving for the crossover appeal. Interesting. I’ll have to ponder this a bit longer.
I hope that Andre 3000 releases an album that showcases his talent as an emcee in ’09.
This one’s still a push. I can’t recall hearing anything about 3K releasing a new album, but that doesn’t really rule it out. Right?
And there you have my revisiting of my hopes for 2009. The year is half-over and I’m essentially able to cross four off of my list of ten—not that bad if you think about me wishing blindly. Now I really can’t wait to check back at the end of the year to see how everything panned out.
Flash-forward eight years… Kanye West, one of the architects of that sound, is a huge star. Just Blaze is the Art Garfunkel to West’s Paul Simon and it’s a shame because the guy is just as talented behind the boards.
I love Just Blaze’s beats. To me, he’s like the second coming of DJ Premier in that both have the ability to cram the very essence of hip hop into a single track. They’ve got a signature sound that’s hard to nail down; you know something they’ve produced when you hear it. He’s like the Kobe to Primo’s Jordan.
But Just Blaze, while once a peer of Kanye, seems to have fallen off the map. His production seems to have slowed to a crawl the last couple of years, with tons of his work not getting released at all (The Greatest Story Never Told).
It’s frustrating because it was his contribution that made me throw the diamond up. His arrival is what cemented the Roc as label to be reckoned with. He and Kanye were in-house production, finally the label had a sound. I really want to hear that sound right now.
Kanye’s got his solo albums, Common and John Legend to showcase his skills behind the boards. Just’s got Saigon, maybe. There’s no one to consistently spit over Just Blaze tracks and as such, he’s in danger of being relegated to the “Greatest Producer Who Completely Fell off the Map” along with Q-Tip. But at least Q-Tip had an honest-to-goodness tragedy to account for his disappearance as a producer.
I’m worried that Just Blaze, who used to write the video-game column for XXL, has completely fallen under the thrall of the PS3 or 360 and is now more gamer than producer.
It’s 2009 and hip hop’s on life support. As much as I liked recent offerings from Nas, Joe Budden and Jadakiss, I’m sure that hearing them spit over a Just Blaze beat would have made the listening experience that much better.
I want emcees to go and knock on Just Blaze’s door and demand hot beats to rhyme over. He’s a slumbering giant and it’s time someone wakes him up.]]>
So to some degree, the more popular something is, the less likely I am to be a fan of it, because fans turn me off to something quicker than anything else. And that’s why I’ll probably never be able to get into either MF Doom or Lil Wayne, which is odd because their fans are on opposite ends of the hip-hop spectrum.
To be honest, I really sort of dig MF Doom. Madvillainy is an album I could listen to every day and never get tired of, and The Mouse and the Mask is equally dope. I’ve even got KMD’s Black Bastards. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to jump headfirst into MF Doom’s catalogue.
That’s because Doom’s fans are such an ardent bunch of backpacker elitists that it just rubs me the wrong way. Most of the fans of Doom whom I’ve encountered, even randomly at the record store, tend to look down on me for being able to appreciate Jadakiss or Jay-Z. As if having commercial aspirations is a sin or something.
Case in point, I was helping out That Bootleg Guy on a project involving music. The first comment came from anonymous who posted
“Aaron/Mathan, I’ve been up and down this list twice but don’t see “Vaudeville Villain” anywhere. Please tell me this was just a harmless oversight? THat album is mindblowing.”
To which I responded;
“I’ve yet to fully commit to Doom. I dig his collaborations and what he’s produced for others. But there’s something that keeps me at bay. I can’t explain it. “
Clearly those last two sentences were my holding my tongue because I was on a friend’s blog. Had that same back and forth occurred elsewhere, I could have unleashed the truth—how Doom’s fans have sort of soiled him for me.
That said, I probably will get up on Doom sometime in the near future.
I’ve already addressed Lil Wayne before, but I’ll reiterate my point. I appreciate that he’s put the work in and gotten his grind on. I respect the fact that he’s stepped up his game immensely. But I’m not going to listen to dude. I’m not going to buy his music. And he’s not coming anywhere near my Top 5 Dead or Alive. It’s not going to happen.
For instance, I love The Beatnuts. I can’t get enough of them. But I know they’re not for everyone. Even though I love them, I’m not trying to force my love for The Beatnuts down everyone’s throat. I’m not going to proclaim them anything other than my favorite gully pranksters of hip-hop.
It’s times like these that I’m reminded that “fan” comes from fanaticism. And in that regard Lil’ Wayne and MF Doom have more than their fair share of fans. But really, I’m not a fan.]]>
I tried to narrow down the things that I’m really, really hopeful about, when it comes to music. I got it down to a list of ten things.
I hope Sa Ra releases an album in ’09. Two years ago, Black Fuzz was one of the albums I was looking forward to the most. Cue label politics and typical nonsense, and I get The Hollywood Recordings, a casserole of castoffs and far from an album proper. But hearing the demo versions of Erykah Badu’s “Master Teacher” got me hyped to hear more Sa Ra. In fact, it re-ignited my excitement for the group of producers, and I demand pay-off.
I hope Erykah Badu follows up on New Amerykah in ’09. Speaking of Ms. Badu, she completely teased me. Not only is her most recent release subtitled Part One, but when I saw her live in May she lead me (and the rest of the audience) to believe that Part Two was imminent. I can see how record-company politics would want to push the release back, but there’s also something to be said for capitalizing on the momentum of the initial release.
I hope Joe Budden finally releases his sophomore album in ’09 (and that it sells). Joe was supposed to release a second album in 2004. That was like half a decade ago. Then it seemed like a second album was finally going to come out in 2008, but again, things hit a snag. An album is supposed to be released in February, but that’s over a month away, so who knows what will happen by then. I just want Joe to get the props that he deserves.
I hope that Jadakiss’ album lives up to the hype in ’09. The only thing that I’ve heard about Jada’s album is that “this is the album every Jada fan has been waiting to hear”—the translation being that Jadakiss won’t aim out of the comfort zone by trying to appeal to the clubs and/or ladies. I want to believe it. I want to hear Jada spitting straight fire over dope beats. I just don’t trust any label to let that happen. But I hope that it’s true.
I hope that an instrumental version of Beck’s Modern Guilt leaks in ’09. I love the album. I love Danger Mouse. I’m a fan of instrumental albums. So this would be like a perfect storm for me. I just really hope that it happens.
I hope Sufjan Stevens releases an album in ’09. I’m not asking for an album devoted to a state, though that would be completely radical. I just want to hear some new Sufjan. Hearing this year’s Christmas EP reminded me how awesome the guy is, and I’d really like to hear something new.
I hope Martina Topley-Bird’s The Blue God gets released in the U.S. in ’09. Have I mentioned how much I dig Danger Mouse? Sure, I could get the songs via iTunes (and I probably will) but I’m all about a hard copy. I like holding the liner notes as I read them. And I really don’t want to have to pay inflated import prices just to do that. Plus, I’ve already heard it and I still want the opportunity to actually buy it. That how much I dig it.
I hope that the White Stripes return and gloriously swipe the limelight and accolades away from the Raconteurs in ’09. I dig the Raconteurs. I’ve enjoyed both their albums and their various singles. But I really enjoy where albums by The White Stripes take me. They’ve got a unique sound and force driving them. It’s not that I hate the Raconteurs, it’s just that they’re the side project and everyone seems to be showering a bit too much praise for my tastes.
I hope that Wale doesn’t blow it in ’09. Wale has earned a ton of press and goodwill this past year. He’s like hip-hop’s Obama; he’s an emcee that’s not too black and appeals to whites, while still keeping his cred. So I really hope that Wale doesn’t bow to label pressures, adopt generic beats (as opposed to his go-go-inspired ones) and really just doesn’t dumb it down.
I hope that Andre 3000 releases an album that showcases his talent as an emcee in ’09. Seriously, I listen to this guy and I can completely understand why I disappointed a ton of teachers; he’s sick on the mic, he just so rarely applies himself. He kills “Royal Flush”. I just think that it’d be great if he’d step into the booth as an emcee instead of an artist, one last time.
And those are the things that I’m hoping for in 2009. Maybe as the year progresses I’ll revisit these hopes.]]>
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
Hip-hop / Pop / Electronic
Pros: We see a more somber side of Kanye as 808s and Heartbreak is his first album since the untimely death of his mother late last year, since which he’s also coped with a failed engagement and a firestorm of media scrutiny. A complete 180 from earlier material, Kanye decides that it’s time to slow things down, like with the ambient “Welcome to Heartbreak” and “Bad News”, though the album isn’t without its obligatory club track, in the Auto-Tune-laden “Heartless”.
Cons: Auto-Tune is seriously all over the f*cking place. If you think T-Pain sucks, this will be a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how much of an artistic statement it is. Lil Wayne makes an appearance in “See You in My Nightmares”, where the two have a bit of an Auto-Tune circle-jerk. And I’m not sure what to make of the symphonically tinged “RoboCop”, which comes off as sort of humorous more than anything. This will be a polarizing album for Kanye, sort of like his Amnesiac—fans will either appreciate the artistic liberties taken and love it, or they will not get it and think it sucks. And then there will be fans like me, who would have absolutely loved it if not for all of the god-damned Auto-Tune.
This would make a good gift for… your buddy who just got dumped. Hey, it beats Dashboard Confessional.
Oasis – I’m Outta Time [EP]
Big Brother Recordings (12/9/08)
Rock / Alternative
Pros: As arguably the best song from the band’s recently-released Dig Out Your Soul, “I’m Outta Time” still shines in a stripped-down “remix” version, and the demo version is even more moving. A remix of “The Shock of the Lightning” (also off of Dig Out Your Soul) by UK-based producer/remixer Jagz Kooner carries the same filthy tech-rock goodness (though a bit less aggressive) as his version of Primal Scream’s “Swastika Eyes”, while the remix of “To Be Where There’s Life” by Neon Neon (a side project of Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys) is evenbetter than the original.
Cons: It’s sort of irritating how they’re marketing this with the hopes of passing it off as an EP. If anything, it’s a maxi-single, and that’s backed up by the fact that the album version of the song appears as the first track on this EP. But even calling it a maxi-single is a bit of a stretch, as those usually have more than five tracks. You’re not getting any new songs other than remixes, as all three tracks appear in their original form on Dig Out Your Soul.
This would make a good gift for… the anglophile in your life.
Soulja Boy (Tell ‘Em) – iSouljaBoyTellEm
ColliPark Music / Interscope (12/16/08)
Rap / Pop
Pros: Just when we thought we were rid of this kid, he’s back, and trying to capitalize on last year’s 15 minutes of fame with more of the same crap. If you somehow were caught up in the hype of last year’s “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)”, you should kill yourself after you finish reading this column. Seriously. I suggest jumping into the bathtub with a toaster. Because we really don’t need you around. Seriously. If you are offended by this, then you just don’t understand—you are helping to kill hip-hop and chances are you don’t plan on stopping. If you are offended because your kid might read this and end up killing themselves, (a) keep a better eye on your kid and their damn Internet activity, and (b) if your kid likes Soulja Boy, you are a FAIL of a parent and give up your kid for adoption before he/she falls down a well. But anyway, if you really did like “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)”, this album sounds like that repeated a dozen or so times, so you’ll be in pizza-face paradise. And the beat for “Kiss Me Through the Phone” isn’t too bad, either. That’s not to say that the producer should be up for a Grammy, but it’s not as horrendous as the rest.
Cons: Let’s start with the fact that Soulja Boy is a shit lyricist. Let’s then add that the beats all sound the same, and they are all wack. Combine that with a whole slew of worthless guest appearances (including impresarios like Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Shawty Lo, Sammie, The Showstoppas… and Sean Kingston, bringing together a duo who respectively brought us two of the worst songs of the summer of ’07) and this is a complete shitstorm. “Bird Walk” not only tries to start another retarded dance craze, but it sounds almost exactly the same, even using the same “YOUUUU!” as “Crank Dat”. And it’s just plain laughable when the teeny-bopper “Hey You There” (complete with a shout-out to the fat rent-a-cop at the mall) is juxtaposed with the gunshots and attempt at being hard that is “Shoppin’ Spree” (featuring the aforementioned fellow Collipark acolytes Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti). OK, Mr. Collipark, the jig is up. We all get the joke. We got it with the first album. Now please stop this nonsense, right now. Otherwise the anthrax will be mailed.
This would make a good gift for… your worst enemy. It’s much more painful to have to withstand than that punch in the face that you were thinking of giving him.
Heaven 17 – Naked as Advertised – Versions 08
Absolute Zero / Just Music (11/30/08)
Synthpop / Electronic
Pros: I thought for sure that this band’s best years were behind them, as they’ve been together since 1980, had a flurry of success in the decade that would follow, but ultimately ended up in the mire that is the middling Cleopatra Records tribute album series (see also, Dead or Alive, Information Society, although it should be noted that their cover of “Holiday” for the Virgin Voices series was damn good). It appeared as if their days of producing quality material was behind them. But with this EP release, the band proves us wrong, as Naked as Advertised contains a small collection of rerecorded tracks, including two great renditions of material by the aforementioned Human League, with “Being Boiled” and “Empire State Human” (the former of which carries a wonderful house groove to kick off the set), and a stripped-down and vulnerable cover of The Associates’ “Party Fears Two”. Other high points are a techno rework of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” and a version of “Temptation” with dance diva Billie Godfrey, which will have all of the circuit boys creaming their jeans like a new crop of Ricky Martin beach photos.
Cons: This is just too short. Yes, it was supposed to originally be included in a package alongside the DVD for the band’s recent Steel City Tour (also including the Human League and ABC), but even a few more tracks would have made this already fantastic collection even better. And while this is most certainly geared towards the band’s core fanbase, it’s a bit surprising (and dare I say, disappointing) that their biggest mainstream hit, “Let Me Go”, is nowhere to be found.
This would make a good gift for… your gay uncle. Come on, we all have one. In fact, I have two!
Ghostface Killah – GhostDeini the Great
Island Def Jam (12/16/08)
Hip-hop / Rap
Pros: The third consecutive Ghostface album to be released before the holidays, GhostDeini the Great is an elaborate collection featuring old favorites compiled alongside exclusive new tracks, most of which are remixes of previous songs, this this featuring a new lineup of guest emcees. And what we have here is easily one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. F*ck what ya heard about Lil Wayne, even though he does make a surprisingly tolerable appearance on a nice remix of “Run” (alongside Jadakiss, Raekwon and Freeway). Other highlights include “Slept On Tony”, “Back Like That” (remix featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo), “The Champ” (remix) and the legitimately dope and apropos-for-the-season “Ghostface X-mas”, which, along with new Christmas offerings by Weezer and The Raveonettes this year, makes 2008 one of the better years for new Christmas material.
Cons: I honestly can’t really find anything worth writing about that is is a downside oft his album. I suppose the fact that it includes old tracks like “Cherchez Laghost”, “Street Opera” and “Apollo Kids” might keep some people from buying it since they already have those tracks (even though they’re all dope), but the previously unreleased material more than makes up for it.
This would make a good gift for… any and every hip-hop head out there. Even the ones who like Lil Wayne will be happy to see that he’s on this album, while the ones with more discerning taste will enjoy the pairing of classic Ghostface material with new stuff.
Common – Universal Mind Control
Geffen Records (12/9/08)
Hip-hop / Rap
Pros: If Like Water for Chocolate was a Roots album disguised as a Common album, then Universal Mind Control is a Neptunes album disguised a Common album. It’s interesting to see Common take to a more decidedly electro sound (as evidenced in the Afrika Bambaataa-sampling title track and first single), as he’s been evolving quite obviously on each album since the aforementioned Chocolate, and it works to create a few club tracks, something for which he’s never really been known.
Cons: While a lot of The Neptunes’ work is classic, the dominance of Neptunes beats makes this sound more like one of their side projects than an album by one of the Midwest’s most dominant emcees. On “Sex 4 Suga”, the subject matter is just laughable, while the whole thing comes off as an aping of Nelly Furtado’s Timbaland-produced “Promiscuous” without the back-and-forth dialogue. “Punch Drunk love” is another weak one, featuring Kanye West, who could have at the very least produced that track in order to break up the Neptunes doldrums, which carry on in the bumpin’ “Announcement”, which should have been better suited for Busta Rhymes or The Clipse. By the time you get into the second half of the album, you just want the clunky club beats to stop. The lyricism on “What a World” is vintage Common Sense, but the hipster-dance-type beat, while a bit of a change-up, still doesn’t do him much justice. I’m sure the intentions we good, but this whole thing just comes off as a massive mismatch in style.
This would make a good gift for… the pop-rap fan who needs a gateway into Common’s better material.
Plastilina Mosh – All U Need Is Mosh
Nacional Records (12/16/08)
Latin (Alternative / Pop) / Electronic / Synthpop
Pros: If you were wondering what hipsters in Mexico like to listen to, this Monterrey-based duo would definitely be on the list. That may be a “con” for some of you, but the music for the most part is really good. And for you jingoistic types who also happen to be hipsters (all two of you), the large majority of the album is sung in Spanish, so you don’t have to learn anything new before listening. But this also gives the band (who have incidentally been around for over a decade) the opportunity to be crossover hit throughout North America, as this album has the right sound to make it big. Album opener “Toll Free” is possibly the best track on the album (not necessarily a good thing), driven by a funky bassline and equally funky electro beat, while “Cut the Crap” has a nice punk-infused tone sure to make those kids jump right out of their tight pants.
Cons: Like many hipster bands, Plastilina Mosh’s album has ironic tracks, like “My Party”, with its “ironic” reference to Paris Hilton and hook “everybody wants to go to my party,” and the brooding “San Diego Chargers”, with its cheering-crowd/referee-whistle samples, is just kind of odd. And while the aforementioned English lyrics bode well for crossover potential, at times they get downright nonsensical, and while Beck might be able to get away with that, he had to earn it first.
This would make a good gift for… your hipster cousin. She’ll be the coolest one in her group when her friends think that she discovered this band on her own. She might even buy you a case of PBR and a carton of Parliaments if it goes over well enough.
Mark Farina – Mushroom Jazz Six
Om Records (10/28/08)
Electronic (Downtempo) / Jazz / Hip-hop
Pros: As many artists tend to evolve throughout their careers, Mark Farina is, too, evolving his Mushroom Jazz series into a more jazz-centric compilation. We saw this with the last installment, and volume six continues that trend. And like always, this is chock-full of downtempo gems, including offerings from The Jazzual Suspects, J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science and an exclusive track by Farina himself.
Cons: For those of you who’ve enjoyed the hip-hop tinges included in past Mushroom Jazz collections, this one tends to eschew hip-hop a bit, with only only one rap track out of the set. There’s also a nu-soul-type track—”Wasn’t Really Worth My Time”, by Flash—that really doesn’t resonate well amid the rest of the selections.
Maroon 5 – Call and Repsonse: The Remix Album
OctoScope Music (12/9/08)
Pop / Rock / Electronic
Pros: For a radio-staple band whose songs all sound painfully similar, this is a welcome alternative, with remixes by everyone from ?uestlove, Pharrell Williams and Mark Ronson to Deerhoof, Of Montreal and Cut Copy. Needless to say, we get a plethora of different sounds, which would probably be off-putting, where is supposed to read as an album, though since it’s instead more of a bits-n-pieces collection, it’s actually quite refreshing. Highlights include Cut Copy’s Galactic Beach House Remix of “This Love” (fantastic), A Tribe Called Quest producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s remix of “Better That We Break” and a surprisingly good club mix of “If I Never See Your Face Again”, which still features Rihanna.
Cons: It’s Maroon 5, so there’s no escaping star-f*cker Adam Levine’s whiny vocals, even with lush layers of production thrown over it. Also, it’s not really certain exactly what demographic this is aimed at, since most of Maroon 5’s core fans are yuppies, who will probably be turned off by tracks like a Southern rap-laden remix of “Wake Up Call” featuring David Banner and might not get the more ambient tracks like the aforementioned Deerhoof’s version of “Goodnight Goodnight”.
This would make a good gift for… …you know what? Screw it, buy this for the Maroon 5 fan in your life. We’ve all got one, face it. If anything, they might not necessarily be down with everything on here but (a) they’re bound to enjoy a great deal of it, and (b) they’ll more than likely be surprised to find out that the band slipped a new release out there under the radio without any radio hits to back it up. And if you happen to be lucky enough not to know a Maroon 5 fan, this would likely make a great gift for a DJ who spins at either a strip club or a college bar. You will be doing him a service by getting him even more poontang than he was already getting. Who knows, maybe he’ll be nice and share.
Señor Coconut – Around the World
Nacional Records (12/16/08)
Latin (Salsa / Dance) / Electronic
Pros: German-born, Chile-trained musician Uwe Schmidt has returned with yet another collections of salsa-infused covers, this time focusing on tracks from different performers originating from different countries around the world. True to the title of the album and the concept therein, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” gets a short tribute, while other standout tracks include a sped-up version of Laid Back’s “White Horse” and
Cons: The most recognizable tracks off this album will probably be the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and Prince’s “Kiss”, though they are far from the best tracks on the album. In fact, they end coming off as contrived and relatively uninspired. Sure, there’s a salsa edge to both, but you can only do so much with that. To think of all of the bands to come out of England, there could have been a much more intriguing selection there. And while Prince is a great representative of American music, not coming off as too cliché (Springsteen comes to mind), perhaps a lesser-known Prince song might have worked better. I would have liked to see him run with either “Dirty Mind” or “Raspberry Beret”. And the cover of Jobim’s “Corcovado” was really good up until he had to go and break out that godforsaken Auto-Tune.
This would make a good gift for… lounge lizards, or fans of eclectic covers à la Richard Cheese.
Fall Out Boy – Folie à Deux
Island Def Jam (12/16/08)
Pop punk / Alternative
Pros: As is to be expected here, the production on this album is sparkly and fantastic. I absolutely detest Pete Wentz, his stupid haircut and everything the two of them stand for, but I’ve really got no beef with the rest of the band. That said, though, they’ve put together a pretty good collection of songs for people who like this kind of crap (read: teenage girls and the guys who like them). I feel absolutely filthy writing this, but this album is actually good for what it’s supposed to be taken as—pop punk fodder for the masses. Expect Grammy nominations aplenty. Also, Elvis Costello decides to sell his soul to the devil and makes a cameo on the cameo-laden “What a Catch, Donnie”.
Cons: Unfortunately, said cameo by Elvis Costello is marred by accompanying cameos from a horde of choads including Brendan Urie of Panic at the Disco, Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes, Gabe Saporta of Midtown/Cobra Starship and William Beckett of fellow affluent Chicago suburb-based crappy band The Academy Is…—all of whom take turns rattling off lines from previously released Fall Boy Boy songs. This might have been a decent collaboration for something like the MTV Video Music Awards, but here is just comes off as contrived and rather self-indulgent. (And speaking of which, the album’s title, Folie à Deux (“a madness shared by two”), is a French term referring to a type of psychiatric phenomenon where a particular form or symptom of psychosis is transmitted from one person to another—possibly referring to the method by which this band’s fanbase was created.) And once again, Pete Wentz is a tool.
This would make a good gift for… that 16-year-old girl who works at the Hot Topic in local mall. Wait… no, don’t buy her a present, and stop pretending to go to the pretzel place next door just so you can ogle her from outside the store. That’s creepy.
The All-American Rejects – When the World Comes Down
DGC / Interscope (12/16/08)
Power pop / Emo
Pros: Oh, come on! First a new Fall Out Boy, and now this? OK… like Fall Out Boy’s album, this one has sparkly-shiny, polished production, and is led by single “Give You Hell”, in which singer Tyson Ritter emanates the aforementioned Maroon 5 choad Adam Levine, which I guess is good, because even though both bands suck, Maroon 5 is definitely more tolerable than The All-American Rejects.
Cons: Let’s ignore the fact that this is whiny, vacuum-packaged pop-rock for the masses, and that I hate it. Instead, we’ll focus on how the band has fallen off from previous releases, instead opting to fall inline with The New Found Glory Continuum. While earlier releases were unmistakably emo, this band has morphed into yet another carbon-copy, Disney-grade band, with When the World Comes Down lacking any discernible hooks, edge and/or genuine emotion. And an “emo” band should at the very least have the third. The aforementioned radio single (and a large majority of the album, in fact, like the entire middle block of the album) may suck less, in theory, by channeling Maroon 5 and the like, but in the process it’s kicking all of this band’s core fans in their collective nutsack. Come on, All_American Rejects, haven’t they suffered enough by devoting themselves to you, in the process wasting x-amount of years that they could have been listening to good bands? For shame.
This would make a good gift for… the slightly hefty 16-year-old girl who works at the pretzel place in local mall, because the one at Hot Topic shut your ass down.
Seal – Soul
Warner Brothers (11/11/08)
Pop / Soul
Pros: Seal is a good singer.
Cons: While Seal is a good singer, this collection, as a whole, comes off as a painfully contrived pandering towards the older yuppie contingent. If you’re not sure of the group about whom I’m speaking, think of people who used to go to bars back in the ’90s and play The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You” on the jukebox. And the covers, while sung well, are most of the same R&B songs that everybody else covers (“It’s Alright”, “If You Don’t Know Me By Know”, “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”. At least a few more offbeat selections would have made for a more unique collection to match Seal’s earlier work, not to mention some genuine emotion.
This would make a good gift for… the married mother-of-three who drives a Volvo and lives next-door to your parents, that you’d like to sleep with sometime while her husband’s away on one of his many business trips.
Shinichi Osawa – The One
Dim Mak Records (11/4/08; originally 12/11/07, on Phantom Sound & Vision, Japan)
Dance / Electronic (Electro house)
Pros: Hipsters rejoice, you have a new favorite electro-house album. Signed to Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak Records, Osawa brings plenty of that sweet electro on The One, kicking off the festivities with an ethereal cover of The Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar”, and moving into the dirty house realm with the filthy “Detonator”. Osawa moves things around in just the right spots to keep the set interesting, going from a downtempo pop sound in “Our Song” back into more filthy stuff with “Push” (which is very Spank Rock-esque), and finally into some volatile techno with “Rendezvous”, which is sure to turn any dancefloor on its ear. And the fun just keeps coming, with the break-a-rific “The Golden” and Hooverific “Maximum Joy”. God bless the Hoover. I propose much less Auto-Tune in popular music, and much more Hoover in popular music.
Cons: “State of Permission” sounds like the best Britney Spears song that she’ll never do, so any über-hipsters out there will either be turned off by it or will ironically embrace it just like they ironically embrace everything else.
This would make a good gift for… yourself. Go on, spoil yourself. You’ve earned it.
Once upon a time, I wasn’t Styles P’s biggest supporter. There was actually a time when he was my third favorite member of The Lox. But after the D-Block/State Property beef, Styles’ stock really grew. He was talking reckless and rhyming like crazy. That was when Styles caught my ear; from that point on I was a fan.
Now, the legend behind the album is that Interscope sat on the finished product at the behest of 50 Cent, because of 50’s beef with Ja Rule. Y’see, Jadakiss and Ja Rule were on a song together, so 50 went at Jada. Naturally, Styles got involved and Time Is Money was shelved.
But it finally came out, and it’s really a dope album. Actually, it’s very much one of those albums that serves as a snapshot of the time. Only one song doesn’t “feature” another artist, which would normally be a bad thing. But listening to Styles over a variety of different beats and collaborating with different types of sounds is kind of refreshing. I mean I love gully Styles, but sensitive Styles is kind of dope, as is club Styles.
Seriously, “Can You Believe It” is easily the best song ever to be produced by Lil Jon and to feature Akon. You’d think that the song would automatically suck balls, but it doesn’t. Even “Kick it Like That”, a song for the ladies, featuring Jagged Edge, is good for what it is—the song for the ladies.
Ironically, the song featuring Styles and his Lox brethren is one of the weakest. Granted, one of the reasons why it disappoints is because the expectations are high. And Swizz’s beat on the track is almost subpar.
On the plus side, “Testify” and “I’m Black”, which show Styles getting in touch with his more militant side, fit him well. It’s nice to hear him with righteous anger as opposed to the typical thug variety. Of course, “I’m Black” caused a minor stir when it was released as a lead single and some stations objected to the reference to rape.
A song that clearly suffered from the lack of release is “Favorite Drug”, a song that rides the same Crystal Waters sample as T.I.’s “Why You Wanna”. And even though it was recorded years prior, since it was released after T.I’s album, there’s the onus of biting that looms over it—at least to listeners old enough to remember when biting was a cardinal sin.
Still, Time Is Money is a dope album that’s worth the wait. It cements Styles as one of my favorite emcees out. And it was completely my slacking that landed it on this list.]]>