Friday, April 28, 2006

... but biting lyrics ain't one

With Pimp C finally out of prison and Bun B continuing to pop up on any and everybody's songs, UGK (Underground Kings -- the Texas-based hip hop duo the two are better known as) is back and trying to reestablish their place in the world of rap music that has been without them for about half a decade. Thus far, the two have appeared together on E-40's "White Gurl", T.I.'s "Front Back" (which is actually a remake of a UGK original), and the remix to Bun B's "Get Throwed", with the videos for the latter 2 getting respectable MTV airplay.

It's safe to say that UGK's name hasn't been this hot since they appeared on "Big Pimpin'" back in '99, and before then, it hadn't been hot at all, at least not on a national level. Their highly-touted '96 release Ridin' Dirty went gold with no promotion or radio/video singles, but solely off of their local fanbase and cult following -- Jay-Z is quoted as saying that he himself copped it some 10-11 times, and it was this album that inspired him to reach out to them to do a track together. I recently obtained a copy of Ridin' Dirty myself, and can agree with the 500,000+ folks that bought it that it is indeed an above-average hip hop album. I can also agree that Jay-Z must definitely be a big fan of the album, mainly after I got to track 7, "Touched". Check out the 1st 4 bars of Bun's verse and I think you'll see why...

"Now once upon a time not too long ago/
A n---a like myself had to strong arm a ho/
Now this is not a ho in the sense of havin' a pussy/
But a pussy havin' no goddamned sense, tryin' to push me"

Sound familiar? Like that one song about how many problems Jay's got? There was a 6-minute MP3 floating around the internet a while ago called "I'm A Biter, Not A Writer", which played various rhymes by Jay, followed by similar (sometimes the exact same) lyrics being rapped by other, older rappers (i.e. Biggie, Slick Rick, Snoop). Obviously an attempt to discredit Jay's rapping ability, it didn't convince me -- for one thing, you could probably cut and paste 6 minutes of anybody's musical career and make them appear to be lesser than they truly are, and furthermore, 10 years of quality albums goes a lot farther than 6 minutes of jacked rhymes.

Even more so, a lot of the times that Jay has used other people's lyrics, he hasn't really tried to fool anyone. For example, on The Blueprint, where he put "He is I and I am him, slim with the tilited brim" into one of his choruses, I'm sure the majority of listeners recalled Snoop Dogg's "What's My Name". Clearly, Jay wasn't trying to fool anyone into thinking he came up with it -- it was a classic line in hip hop music, in a sense it was more a way of Jay paying homage than jacking lyrics.

But in the situation at hand, it's quite different than that. Jay took 4 bars (which is kind of a lot) from a non-commercially-released song, off of a little-known album that has rarely been heard outside of the South, and tried to sell it off as his own on one of his hit singles, possibly his best-known song to date. Now, I'm not about to take away anything positive I've said about Jay in the past, as he still makes better songs than the majority of rappers out today, even if along the way he may steal a line or 2... or 4. But I do feel a bit slighted by this, not that Jay owes me something or anything (ahem**stake in the Nets**ahem). I'm just saying that if he could take 4 bars off of an album that isn't really recognized outside of the greater-Houston, Texas area and go largely unnoticed, who's to say that he hasn't done the same for albums in other cities? All I know is, once me and my crew from Studio City get our demo out, I know who I'm not passing one off to.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oh, how the once mighty have fallen

There was a time when Denise Richards was one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood, if not thee hottest. I recall this time rather vividly because, to me, it didn't seem like it was that long ago. It felt like just yesterday when she co-starred in Wild Things, playing a disturbed and rich (great combo) high school student getting her white t-shirt soaked while washing Matt Dillon's car and making out with Neve Campbell topless in a swimming pool. Or in The World Is Not Enough, the otherwise-lackluster Bond flick where she played the always-desired role of 'Bond girl' to sexy perfection -- persexion, if you will. Or in any of the other film and TV work she's done, where she brought back memories of making out with Neve Campbell topless in a swimming pool. She was still the shit when she married Charlie Sheen, which, at the time, had actually done more to bring Sheen's public image back to normalcy (of course, things change), rather than bring her own image down. Unfortunately, marriage eventually brings down even the prettiest of famous women.

Turns out that nowadays, Denise Richards is no longer making out with other attractive young actresses. Instead, she's making out with Richie Sambora. That's right, the guitar player for Bon Jovi; I almost typed "ex-guitar player" until I remembered that Bon Jovi inexplicably still has a career.

My initial reaction to this, following me hitting the floor and curling into fetal position, was, "Isn't Richie Sambora like 45 or something?" Turns out he's 46, so I guess I was actually being courteous. Then, I had to ask myself, for lack of not having anyone else around to ask, "What does a pretty young thing like her find in a fossil like him?" That is, besides the obvious fact that the only thing sexier than an aged rock star is an aged rock star with a cast on his arm. Then I read Denise Richards' age -- 35. THIRTY-FIVE! If I'm the only shocked by this, I'll stop, but I assume I'm not, so I'll continue.

This means that since Wild Things came out in '98, Denise Richards was either 27 or 28 in that movie playing a high school student. Looking back on it, I feel like I've been deceived, but I can't really place blame on anyone for it. After all, Hollywood has been doing shit like this for years -- matter of fact, I'm more than convinced that the main dude on "The O.C." with the brown hair is pushing 40. So, not 10 years after she won over men of all ages by showing off both her boobs and her lesbian tendencies, Denise Richards is now on the bad end of her 30s, soon-to-be a mother of 2, dating a has-been, and has an ex-husband who wants to kill her when he's not looking for kiddie porn.

Fallen, indeed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm pointing at you because I don't respect you

Here's a clip of the infamous "Lister Blister" that I alluded to in #17 of my previous extra-extra-large basketball post. Credit is due to my homie Alex for finding it, as well as for sparking off a debate between he and myself over whether Shawn Kemp can make it back to the league. Now, I'm a huge Kemp fan, and only make cracks about him (pun intended) out of love and admiration of his legend.

However, it's also out of this love and admiration that I don't want to see him in the league anymore. All good things must come to an end -- it's an undeniable truth that we all must deal with. Kemp might have lost a good amount of weight (or so he says), but he's been out of the league for 2+ years and has got to be on the deep end of his 30s. The Mavericks had actually been in close contact with Kemp recently after appealing to the NBA to be able to sign an extra 16th player (rosters are limited to 15) due to having 4 players injured, but when the league denied their appeal, so too did they deny Kemp his chance. I believe that the buzz will die down about Kemp wanting to come back before the start of next season, when he'll only be a year older and rustier.

Furthermore, if Kemp had really wanted to come back, why publicize it so much? Contact teams, not newspapers. If the comeback fails to happen (and all signs point to that being the case), you'll only end up more disappointed. I remember former Slam Dunk champ Isaiah Rider publicizing his desire to return to the league, crying his eyes out to John Thompson on TNT about how he had matured and put his troubled past behind -- he never did make it back to the league, and then this happened (and leave it to ESPN to outline all of his past crimes just for good measure).

So, while I applaud Kemp for his effort, I, much like the rest of the league, seem to agree that it's too little, too late. But I don't think he should be too disappointed -- losing a lot of his weight at least means that he'll live longer.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My longest post ever...

... and it's all about BASKETBALL!!! So, now that probably half of you have stopped reading, I'll continue on...

I could go on for a while discussing the accolades earned by SLAM, the premier basketball magazine in the world, but they have an oft-updated website that should solidify their reputation and stand as a fresh alternative to the Sports Illustrated's and ESPN's of the sports media world. More casual chatter, more attention to fanmail, more willing to admit their mistakes, more subtle hip hop references, and you can appreciate the contributors' positions as fans over journalists. Anyways, they've been doin' it since '94 and are coming up on their 100th issue, for which they put together a survey of 30 open-response questions for their readers to answer. The last day to do so is April 21st -- sorry, but I'm a chronic procrastinator (that rhymes with something else, I know). Case in point, I waited until the 2nd pass time to reserve my place in a graduation ceremony in June, and wasn't able to get a spot in the 9:00 a.m. ceremony that was for my major, but had to settle for the 1:00 p.m. ceremony which is actually better because, well, it's not at 9 in the morning. Also, it's 2 weeks into this quarter and I haven't opened books for 2 of my 3 classes, though I've done quite a bit of reading for the 1 other class I'm taking. Oh, and I totally lost my train of thought with the original point I was making, which was...

Oh yea, SLAM's 100th issue. Anyways, they ask readers to provide only answers to the questions -- no explanations, commentary, runners-up, etc. Well, that just doesn't do it for me, so I figured I'll play by their rules for the e-mail I send them with my answers, and go off on many a tangents here. Enjoy:

1. What's the best all-time SLAM cover?

Ahhh, the memories. Back when Shaq and Kobe got along, or at least could fake it well enough to keep it from being an issue. I'm guessing it'll be quite a while before a 2-man combination can win 3 straight, considering that all of this year's contenders have either a rock-solid 5 man starting lineup or 2 former All-Stars coming off the bench. Other notables are the 3-part cover for #50, and AI rocking the 'fro on #32 (complete with a Ras Kass via Eldrigde Cleaver reference in the title).

2. What's the worst all-time SLAM cover?

Ugh, the memories. I dislike very few players more than Karl Malone, and I spent all of the '03-'04 season trying to deal with the fact that he would spend what would be his worse statistical year with my favorite team. And as for that unfinished business... it'll be forever unfinished. SLAM's worst covers typically deal with them making outlandish attention-getting predictions that fail to come to fruition, so it's worth mentioning their claim that the Nets would be "Champs by 2001" [although they did make 2 Finals appearances, only 1 of the 5 in that picture was there for both, and Keith Van Horn was unceremoniously kicked out after the 1st loss... oh, and Jayson Williams killed his limo driver], as well as their predictions for T-Mac and Stevie Franchise for their new teams in '04 [Francis has since been traded and the Magic are doing better without him, while T-Mac's back is the equivalent of Bob Barker's].

3. Who's the most-deserving player of the SLAM era never to appear on a cover (retired)?

David Robinson. John Stockton deserves mentioning too, but he was always a bit too much of a square bear for SLAM's flavor. [And soon, Greg Ostertag.]

4. Who's the most-deserving player of the SLAM era never to appear on a cover (still active)?

Pau Gasol. A former Rookie Of The Year, he's played his whole career with one team, led them to the playoffs for the soon-to-be 3rd straight time, improved noticeably every year (he leads Memphis in points, rebounds, AND assists this season), and has even grown out a trademark hair-and-beard combo. What more does one need? SLAM wouldn't even need to do a photo shoot; just use this one right here.

Handsome fella. Also worth mentioning, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd and Chris Paul (who's bound to get a few covers in the not-so-distant future).

5. Who's the least-deserving player ever to appear on a SLAM cover?

Darius Miles. He managed to slip on #57 with Lamar Odom and Elton Brand, back when the Clippers previously had potential. Since then, while Odom and Brand have played sizeable roles on playoff teams (soon to be the case for Brand), Miles is the scapegoat for most of Portland's problems, falling out with any coach they bring in (that is, when he's not making bad movies). Also worth mentioning are current Knicks' teammates Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, who probably deserved covers at some points in their current careers, but a combined SEVEN between them! I'll pass on that.

6. Who's the best NBA player of the SLAM era?

Michael Jordan.

7. Who's your favorite NBA player of the SLAM era?

Kobe Bryant.

8. Who's your least-favorite NBA player of the SLAM era?

Alonzo Mourning. I can appreciate his ability to return from his kidney problems, but that's all I can appreciate about him. He signed a 4-year/$20 million contract with New Jersey, played less than half of his 1st year, and had the nerve to criticize their front-office's decision-making; I'd say everybody BUT 'Zo could criticize 'em. He got traded to Toronto and refused to show up, sparking a much-needed rule change in the NBA regarding disgruntled players being traded. He now plays for Miami, coming off the bench behind Shaq, where he has the best opportunity of his career to win a title, an opportunity which he got by bitching, whining, and making money. Think your job sucks? Well, 'Zo would agree.

9. What's the best NBA team of the SLAM era (specific year)?

The '95-'96 Bulls, who went 72-10 en route to a championship, the 1st of a 3-peat. Honorable mention to the '99-'00 Lakers, who went 67-15 en route to a championship, also the 1st of a 3-peat.

10. What's the worst NBA team of the SLAM era (specific year)?

The '01-'02 Bulls, who went 15-67 and, instead of trying to build on the foundation they had (which included Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Brad Miller), imploded and set back their progress by more years than necessary. Fortunately, ex-Bull and current GM John Paxson stepped in and was able to fix the mess rather quickly. Dishonorable mention to the '94-'95 Clippers, who went 17-65 despite the treacherous trio of Loy Vaught, Pooh Richardson, and the original overweight NBA player/closet coke fiend Stanley Roberts (where you at, Shawn Kemp?).

11. Who's the best NBA coach of the SLAM era?

Phil Jackson.

12. What's the most memorable shot of the SLAM era?

Michael Jordan's game-winning shot vs. Utah in '97-'98, to win Game 6 and a 3rd straight championship. It's pretty much accepted that he pushed off Bryon Russell to get that shot off, but you know what... he's Michael fuckin' Jordan. Deal with it.

13. What's the best fight of the SLAM era?

Ron Artest vs. Ben Wallace and the entire city of Detroit in '04. All other NBA fights ceased to exist after that, though I have faint memories of PJ Brown bodyslamming Chris Childs into cameras, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning going face-to-face while Jeff Van Gundy grabbed on to 'Zo's legs and got dragged around like a mop, Dennis Rodman going after various dude's nuts, and Rick Fox and Doug Christie's girlfight.

14. Who's the most gangsta player of the SLAM era?

Rasheed Wallace. Honorable mention to Iverson.

15. Who's the least gangsta player of the SLAM era?

Tim Duncan. Honorable mention to Karl Malone (gangsters don't wear cowboy hats... except on Halloween).

16. Who's the best dunker of the SLAM era?

Vince Carter. I'm still kind of unsure as to when the SLAM era starts in conjunction with my hazy memory of mid-'90s basketball, so Shawn Kemp might deserve this as well, but Carter's performance in the '00 Dunk Contest was the most amazing singular display of dunking ability. Jason Richardson also gets a mentioning for the off-the-glass-between-the-legs dunk.

17. What's the best Slamadamonth we've ever run?

Amare Stoudemire over Michael Olowokandi sometime in '02 (it's towards the end of that link, it gets replayed like 4 times). I have to admit to not being the most religious of SLAM readers over these years so I can't quite call out which dunks were in which issue, but this one was nasty. Also worth mentioning, Chris Webber over Charles Barkley (the very 1st SLAMadamonth, and the motivation behind Webber's TWO Nike commercials back in the day), Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's dunks over Patrick Ewing (which may or may not have been pre-'94), and Shawn Kemp's "Lister Blister" over Alton Lister after which he pointed at him mockingly (which probably was pre-'94). Oh, and insert-person-who-can-dunk-here over Shawn Bradley -- that was a good 22.

18. Who's the best shooter of the SLAM era?

Ray Allen. When I hear the word "shooter" I automatically think of 3-pointers; otherwise I would've picked either Jordan or Kobe. Honorable mention to Dana Barros, who went 89 straight games with at least one 3-pointer (an NBA record) between '94 and '96.

19. Who's the best college player of the SLAM era?

Carmelo Anthony. Led Syracuse to the NCAA title as freshman, 'nuff said. In my eyes, he's the best college player to become a great NBA player, but there are plenty who have succeeded in the former but not the latter -- for that, I give honorable mention to Duke's Trajan Langdon (a.k.a. J.J. Redick, Sr.).

20. Who's the best women's player of the SLAM era?

Chamique Holdsclaw (1st name I could think of).

21. Who's the best high school player of the SLAM era?

Lebron James. Honorable mention to Sebastian Telfair.

22. Who's the best streetball player of the SLAM era?

Rafer Alston. I never really followed streetball, to me it was always the WWE equivalent of the pro game -- sure, it requires athleticism and talent, but there's pretty much no rules to it, and though it's not staged like wrestling, it might as well be since it's all about individual skill rather than wins and losses. So I guess I'll take Rafer since he's the only one to start out having a big black dude following him around with a microphone and/or bullhorn to graduate to the pro level.

23. Who's the biggest flop of the SLAM era?

Ron Mercer. Plenty of choices I could go with -- Michael Olowokandi and Joe Smith were both equally terrible #1 picks, but 'Kandi will stay in the league as long as he's 7 feet and can commit 6 fouls in a game, and Smith has made himself into a valuable role player at least. Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic both failed miserably with the teams that drafted them, but since being traded to new teams they've both showed signs of mediocrity and occasional impressiveness. But if I'm looking for a flop to represent an era, I want someone who isn't in the league anymore. I thought about Ed O'Bannon, but besides the inner-disappointment I'd have talking shit about an L.A. legend, he also was plagued with bum knees. Ron Mercer, on the other hand, was plagued with bum talent. Selected 6th in '97 by Boston and newly-hired coach Rick Pitino (also Mercer's college coach at Kentucky), he never regained the 3-point shooting touch that he showcased in his incredible performance in the '96 title game. One of the few athletes to be represented by Master P's ill-fated No Limit Management, Mercer was hyped up to be the "next Michael Jordan"... by No Limit, only.

24. What's your favorite shoe of the SLAM era (first release)?

Lebron's Air Zoom Generation. At least, the all-khaki, Timberland-looking ones he wore in the Rookie Game in '04.

25. What's your favorite shoe of the SLAM era (reissue)?

Air Jordan I. Not sure when exactly they were re-issued, but the ones with the patent leather were nice. I hold the Jordan I's extra close to my heart ever since my pair of blue-and-black originals were stolen. There are some terrible people out there, my friends... and not just those of us with blogs.

26. What's the best NBA uniform of the SLAM era (specific team and year)?

Lakers, pre-'97

Since the Lakers are my favorite team, the question might as well have been, "What's the best Laker uniform of the SLAM era?" I'm still not too big on the V-neck jerseys and the color stripe along the sides; I'm all about the round neck and the big white shadow around the numbers. Basically, the key to a good jersey is keeping it simple -- the name of either the city OR the team on the front (never both) and 2 main colors with a 3rd color as needed for the lining, and a logo on the shorts if possible. The Jordan-era Bulls and Ewing-era Knicks had it right (I'm not down with having the logo on the upper back of the jersey, either), and the Celtics, Spurs and Nets have always been good about it.

27. What's the worst NBA uniform of the SLAM era (specific team and year)?

Hawks, '95-'99

The formula for a bad jersey is two-fold -- having too many colors, and, if the team is named after an animal, having an image of that animal on the jersey. The design of these Hawks uniforms would look more fitting on a spandex unitard for a pro wrestler (with a "hawk" gimmick, obviously), maybe with some matching facepaint or a lucha libre mask, and no basketball within his talons either (that is, unless it were a "basketball-playing hawk" gimmick... hmmm, has that been done yet?). Other jerseys that fall under this category but don't pull it off quite as godawfully as the Hawks are: the Vancouver Grizzlies during their expansion year of '95, who wore teal road jerseys that were, to be politically correct, mad homo; the fellow-expansion Toronto Raptors of the same year, whose jerseys offered a purple dinosaur that might as well have been spewing songs about love and sharing; and the Detroit Seahorses, er, I mean, Pistons of '96-'01. Honorable mention to the Charlotte Bobcats -- jeez, can an expansion team get a decent jersey for once?

28. Who's got the worst hair of the SLAM era?

Peja Stojakovic. Chris Kaman would be the easy pick, and granted his hair is disgusting, but I can recall a Kings/Clippers game a few years back where Bill Walton would not stop talking about how bad Peja's haircut was. Granted, it's Bill Walton I'm talking about here, who has the tendency to overexaggerate many things, but most of the time it's things related to the actual game. Peja's wasn't blessed with bad hair like Kaman; instead, he was blessed with the luck of always having his cut by the person at SuperCuts who had just started working there. Or maybe he does that by choice. Also worth mentioning is Steve Nash's current Tom-Cruise-with-down-syndrome look.

29. By position, name the ultimate starting five from the SLAM era.

PG Jason Kidd, SG Michael Jordan, SF Scottie Pippen, PF Tim Duncan, C Shaquille O'Neal

30. Who should be on the cover of SLAM 100?

Michael Jordan. Even though it'd be his 9th cover, who else deserves it?

E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card

In their quest to unveil more and more new talent to their viewers, MTV recently referred to Vallejo legend E-40 as a "new artist". Odd, considering his discography of 13 years and 10 albums and all (including a greatest hits record). Perhaps it's their prior blatant ignorance of the Bay Area's hip hop scene in general and E-40 specifically, as they've never really played his videos, except recently on MTV Jams when they played "Rappers' Ball" from his album Tha Hall Of Game, which they labeled as "Tha Hall Of Fame", totally missing the intended pun. Or perhaps it's because the public ain't been hit with a 40 track like "Tell Me When To Go" f/ Keak Da Sneak since... well, ever. Not to knock his past singles or collaborations with the likes of Fabolous and Nate Dogg, but with a whole (hyphy) movement behind him, 40 delivered their anthem. The true testament as to whether 40-Water's newfound hype will last lies in whether album #11, My Ghetto Report Card, has got the goods or not.

After utilizing the production ability of Lil' Jon for a track a piece on his last 2 albums, E-40 has joined up with Jon's BME Records imprint for this release, in exchange getting 8 beats from the dude who isn't blind yet wears sunglasses inside. Working with Lil' Jon is a good change of pace for 40, in the same vein as Kanye West piecing back together Common's career off the floor, on some "I scratch your back, you scratch mine"-type shit. Working with a creative personality like 40 (a far cry from the Trillville's and Lil' Scrappy's he's used to) allows Jon to pull some new tricks from up his sleeve, on the aformentioned hit single as well as "Muscle Cars" f/ Keak Da Sneak & Turf Talk, the electric guitars on "She Say She Loves Me" f/ 8Ball & Bun B, and the Billy Squire "Big Beat" drums on "White Gurl" f/ Juelz Santana & UGK. Not to be outdone, regular E-40 producer Rick Rock produces most of the remainder of the album, and arguably makes for a bigger share of the album's highlights with tracks like the opening banger "Yay Area", which turns a snippet of Digable Planets' classic "Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like That)" (the anti-hyphy, if you will) into a bouncy track, "Gouda" f/ B-Legit and "They Might Be Taping", 40's cautionary ode to wiretapping.

The album doesn't really hit a snag until over halfway through, when we're presented with "U & Dat" f/ T-Pain and "I'm Da Man" f/ Mike Jones (good lord) back-to-back, two Lil' Jon productions which are rather formulaic and sound stale in comparison to the rest of the album; they're not necessarily bad as party tracks (well, Mike Jones' contribution is), but limit E-40's versatility and style. Later on, tracks like "Just Fuckin'" and "Gimmie Head" are about as tame as their titles imply, representing the misogynistic tradition of Bay Area rap that dates back to the early days of Too Short; lyrics like "It feels like I'm in your pussy when you're sucking my dick" may not be for everyone.

If the hyphy movement blows up outside of Cali, My Ghetto Report Card will be heralded as the national introduction of a fresh sound into a rap game choking on normalcy and routine. If not, it's still one of the year's most impressive releases, and one of 40's best releases, up there with '95's In A Major Way, '96's Tha Hall Of Game, and '02's Grit & Grind. And actually, the hyphy movement staying exclusive to the Bay might be the best idea, as some just don't understand the whole idea of "ghostridin' the whip". However, I'm hopeful that thizz dancing catches on, at least amongst pro sports mascots.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Did you hear that?

Did you? It sounded like a clinch to me.

Not trying to say 'I told you so'... just trying to imply it (last paragraph).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ol' Dirty - A Son Unique

I remember where I was when Princess Diana died -- at a Tony Roma's in Palm Springs on family vacation, overhearing others talking about how "she didn't make it" before seeing the breaking news on TV. I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan died -- at my previous pad at 6693 Sabado, preparing to study for upcoming finals until I heard the news, then departed to the store to pick up a blunt to smoke to his memory. I remember where I was when Ol' Dirty Bastard died -- in Anaheim at a reunion show for A Tribe Called Quest, where it was announced over the loud speaker to much disappointment. Is it odd that I equate a rapper with a mile-long criminal record along side an ex-President and British royalty as far as the importance of their memories? More than likely yes, but that's what Ol' Dirty meant to me.

The recent death of rapper Proof and the circumstances that followed resemble that of Ol' Dirty's. When Proof's death first hit the news, the details were scarce, and mourners typically put together their own scenario -- a late night club, some argument, guns come out, Proof gets caught up in it, wrong place wrong time. But since then, new details have come out, stating that Proof had an altercation with a bouncer whom he pistol-whipped and shot, and then a fellow bouncer, actually related to the other bouncer, came to his defense and fired on Proof. The truth to this story is still in the air, but if it does prove to be true, it makes mourning Proof's memory a little difficult. Don't get me wrong, it's still a shame that he's gone, but what right to life does he have if he's willing to take that of another man? And if that other bouncer hadn't been there to fire at Proof, who knows if Proof would've fired more at the first bouncer? Proof wouldn't have been remembered as a gifted MC and integral part of Detroit's hip hop scene; he'd have been a murder suspect with a tarnished reputation and the focus of negative media reports on hip hop for years to come.

When Ol' Dirty's death first hit the news, it was equally shocking and mysterious. Ol' Dirty had pretty much lost all of the weight he had gained in prison, looking to be in good shape and spirits at the Wu-Tang reunion show in San Bernardino I attended in May '04. He was back in the studio recording music, and most importantly, he was sober, not only because of his probation status, but also as a personal choice to get his life back on track. Then, in November '04, he collapsed in a studio and died; initially labeled as "unknown causes", a month later it was ruled as an accidental drug overdose, after a ruptured bag of cocaine was found in Ol' Dirty's stomach. How could someone who would go on to be remembered as a kind, generous soul, deceive so many people by claiming he was drug-free before dying under such circumstances? It seems as if with so many questions that only Ol' Dirty himself could answer, it makes it unreasonable to focus on the negative details of his death and rather focus on the positive details of his life.

The most positive detail of his life, of course, was his music. After being released from prison in '03, Dirty signed with Roc-A-Fella Records, with plans to release his 3rd album, A Son Unique, as the 1st-ever joint venture between the premier record label of the 2000's with hip hop's most beloved empire of the '90s, the Wu-Tang Clan. But just as Roc-A-Fella had added a seasonsed vet to their roster in Ol' Dirty, so too did they add M.O.P., and Noreaga, and Joe Budden. Just as Damon Dash and Jay-Z had troubles trying to juggle release dates amongst these four as well as for albums from Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, State Property, Kanye West, Cam'ron, Young Gunz, and Jay himself, so too did they have troubles getting along with each other. Last year, after becoming Preisdent of Def Jam, Jay bought Dame out for his stake in Roc-A-Fella, leaving him with the rights to release albums through his "Damon Dash Music Group" (which may or may not still exist) for Beanie Sigel (who released the stellar "The B. Coming" last year), M.O.P. (who have since bounced to G-Unit), Noreaga (who's out doing reggaeton records somewhere), and Ol' Dirty (whose posthumous album still has not been released).

Will A Son Unique ever see the light of day? Not likely, considering that the most recent release date it was given was August 9th... of 2005. However, through my sources, I was able to hear the final recordings of the late Russell Jones.

With 13 tracks on the album, only 2 feature Dirty by himself; whether this was a result of Dirty's ultimely death, Damon Dash's oversight, or Dirty's choice can only be guessed. Chemistry between Dirty and his guests work where you'd expect -- "Back In The Air" f/ Ghostface and "Intoxicated" f/ Raekwon, Method Man and Macy Gray, both produced by the RZA, are the only tracks that have some sort of Wu-Tang influence, and "Operator" f/ The Clipse & Pharrell is a fun record in the same vein as the Neptunes' work on '99's N**** Please. The DJ Premier-produced "Pop Shots" offers one of Primo's best beats of recent years, but one of Dirty's verses from the original version is replaced with a verse from M.O.P.'s Lil' Fame, which doesn't hurt the song but limits one of Dirty's better performances on the album. The opener "Lift Ya Skirt" is catchy, but unfortunately, it was catchy enough to warrant Missy Elliott adding a verse.

Elsewhere, "Work For Me" f/ Young Chris and "How Ya Feelin'" are terrible attempts at club records, and the awkward female vocals in each are obvious reaches to recreate the success of "Got Your Money". Easily the worst song on here, however, is "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" f/ Macy Gray, a remake of a oldie and an embarrassment to anyone and everyone who has performed this song in the past, from Elton John to Burt Bacharach to Aretha Franklin. Ol' Dirty's previous attempts at singing were enjoyable because he was genuinely trying to sing; here, he's resorted to screaming the vocals at the top of his lungs, stretching out notes way longer than necessary. Other tracks focus away from the crazy personality that earned Ol' Dirty his notoreity, and more so on his lyricism, which was never his strong point. On top of that, his production is mostly uninspired, be it the unlistenable "Don't Hurt Me Dirty", or the lackluster RZA beats on "Stomp" and "Skrilla", which I wouldn't believe were produced by the RZA had it not said so on Wikipedia.

Do I feel good bashing the final album of a dead man who I otherwise admired? No, not at all. But it feels good to at least have some closure as to why this album has been delayed so much and has by now likely been shelved forever -- because it's not good, and wouldn't have aided Dirty's legacy at all. It's terrible to admit, but it seems that Dirty's ability to make good music was contingent on him being high, as much of A Son Unique sounds forced. Maybe Dirty himself was starting to realize this, and that's what led to that fateful day in November '04. But, once again, no one will ever truly know.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

R.I.P. Proof of D-12, 1975-2006

a.k.a. DeShaun Holton, who was shot and killed at an after hours club in Detroit early this morning. Proof won the Source's Unsigned Hype award in '99 after establishing a reputation as a superior battle MC, but he wasn't fully recognized in hip hop until '01 with the release of D-12's Devils Night, Eminem introduction to the world of his city's then-local talent. As 1/5th of the group, or 1/6th if you count Eminem (and 1/7th if you count Eminem's star power), he brought some credibility and a unique mic presence to a crew of rappers who, for the most part, tried to be "Eminem mini's" by emphasizing grotesque and shock value in their lyrics; few would disagree with the claim that Proof was the 2nd best out of the crew. Unfortunately, the embarrassing '04 single "My Band" practically confirmed the masses' acceptance of D-12 as Eminem's underlings. Proof was the 1st member of the crew after Em to release a solo album with '05 Searching For Jerry Garcia, which featured 50 Cent, Method Man, B-Real and Nate Dogg, in addition to Em and D-12.

For those that didn't know, Mekhi Phifer's character in 8 Mile was modeled after Proof, who went the farthest back with Eminem out of the rest of D-12, was the best man at Em's wedding, and also had a cameo in one of the movie's battle scenes. Ironically, in the video for "Like Toy Soldiers", Em's track intended to dead his beefs before he saw any one of his close friends killed, it was Proof who played the fictional victim whose funeral was attended by all at the end. Although I've been critical of him very much in the past year-plus, I have to say I feel bad Eminem right now -- with his recent divorce and ensuing child custody battle, the murder of one of his best friends is probably the last thing he needs right now. Also, following the death of legendary producer J. Dilla two months ago, and Shady Records' own Obie Trice getting shot in the head on New Years Eve (a wound which he has since recovered fully from), Proof's death continues what has been a tragic year for Detroit's hip hop scene.

Condolensces to all those closest to Proof, and may he rest in peace.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Back in the game

After over a month of soberness as a result of having Mono, which impairs your liver functioning, I made a stunning return to alcoholism this weekend. What started on Friday with a handful of Rolling Rocks ended on Sunday night with back-to-back games of beer pong culminating just moments before midnight, when it officially became today -- a day in which I had work at 8 in the morning. Maybe somewhat reckless, but for the record, my doctor told me last Friday to wait a week before drinking, so I was simply taking doctor's orders...

["out of context" is the end of that sentence.]

Friday, April 07, 2006

It's 50!

50 posts and still going strong. At least I think so. With my subprofile, I could always tell who had read it and how often they had read it, more or less. With this, I have no idea who/if anyone is reading. Blogger does keep track of how many people have viewed my profile, and it currently stands at 32. However, the last time I checked that number, it was at 16, and before that, it had stayed at 8 for a while. So maybe the number just multiplies itself by 2 randomly. I don't care really, and I apologize for wasting time discussing administrative shit; wouldn't you know it's the beginning of a new quarter here in SB.

Anyways, here's a funny encounter I had over this dastardly continuum we call the Internet. On Tuesday night, I received an instant message from what I could only assume was a woman, whose screen name I'll keep anonymous because it seems like the righteous thing to do. Our conversation was as follows...

******** (8:56:22 PM): hi
ariSTAcRat (8:56:33 PM): hi
ariSTAcRat (8:56:36 PM): who's this?
******** (8:56:39 PM): hi
******** (8:56:51 PM): this is linda i saw you on
ariSTAcRat (8:57:04 PM): no you didn't, because i'm not on
******** (8:57:25 PM): yahoo sorry
ariSTAcRat (8:57:38 PM): not on yahoo either
ariSTAcRat (8:57:46 PM): try again
******** (8:58:35 PM): brb
ariSTAcRat (9:00:14 PM): well, i won't be here when you come back, and i'm not signed up on any online personal ad thing, so if that's who you think i am, you've got the wrong person
******** (9:00:39 PM): i sent you an e mail is that not you
******** (9:00:43 PM): ok you do not live in madison
ariSTAcRat (9:00:51 PM): nope, i live in California
******** (9:01:14 PM): sorry to have bothered you.. wowww thats weird..... really weird... ok take care.. bye

I checked my e-mail, and sure enough found one from said screen name, and sure enough it was titled "linda". In the e-mail, I found three lines of text -- "aristacrat" "45-year old" "Madison, AL, US" -- accompanied by this picture...

Now, there are a lot of follow-up questions I have coming out of this situation. First of all, what kind of strange online dating service has you communicate with someone by sending them their own information? [Turns out it's, by the way.] If I actually were on posing as a 45-year old from Alabama trying to meet women (I'm not, for the record, I swear), what am I supposed to think when potential hopefuls send me e-mails with my own picture, age, and city of residence? Very odd.

Furthermore, why is this pictured douchebag giving women my e-mail address? Does he think it's his or something? And if you're 45 years old, isn't "aristacrat" kind of an immature screen name to have? I came up with the name when I was like 13-14 years old, when the Internet was fairly new to most of the nation's youth and the whole blatant-misspelling-in-screen-names angle was kind of the norm. I've kept it for this long because changing it, just like changing cell phone numbers, would require me to inform everyone I know about it... and trust me, that'd take days! [Just kidding... unfortunately.] But when I reach adulthood, have a professional job, and say, am trying to meet women, I doubt that telling people that my e-mail address is would get me much respect from them, and from myself for that matter.

Other questions I have are, "How nasty is this 'Linda' lady that she's lowering her standards so much?", "Is this some new sort of AIM spam/virus phenomenon?", "How the fuck did I get involved in this?", and "Look at that dude's hair!" [That last one isn't really a question... but seriously, look at it.] I'm sure there are logical answers to all these questions, but honestly, I don't want to know 'em. I'd just like to put this whole ordeal behind me, never talk about it beyond this post, and most importantly, never see this face again.

Except when I want to laugh...

... which is right now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dilated Peoples - 20/20

Dilated Peoples' rise to recognition in hip hop mirrors that fellow hip hop outfit Slum Village: both established heavy followings in their hometowns (Slum Village in Detroit, Dilated in L.A.), used their local popularity to get signed to major record labels, worked with well-known rappers and producers, and remained relevant (at least when they had albums due out) despite never selling many records. Dilated's 2nd album, Expansion Team, went gold mainly based off of its $7.99 retail price -- shit, even I bought a copy. Both groups even had the assistance of a Kanye West beat AND verse on the 1st singles of their 3rd albums, and then neither ever got a 2nd single on radio. Nowadays, Slum Village is making music on their own independent label. Dilated, however, remains backed by Capitol Records (Slum Village's former label, oddly enough). But for how much longer? Not to predict negativity, but in a rap game dominated by the likes of Mike Jones and D4L, I'm curious as to where Dilated fits.

On 20/20, Dilated takes it back to their roots, with entirely in-camp production and few guest spots outside of the extended fam. In the process, though, it comes off as predictable -- no real surprises, just another Dilated record. It leaves them at an odd crossroads, as they're not trying to reach out to the masses and make club records, but rather trying to keep true to their core fanbase by sticking to a formula that is now 4 albums old.

Not that the formula doesn't work anymore, though. Evidence and Rakaa's MC skills are without question, and they shine on tracks like the single "Back Again", and two of their best tracks to date, "You Can't Hide, You Can't Run" and "Kindness For Weakness" f/ Talib Kweli, both of which work off of dope vocal samples. Their solo tracks, Ev's "Another Sound Mission" and Rakaa's politically-driven reggae-sounding "Firepower" f/ Capleton, also find both at the top of their game. But for an album that's 13 tracks long, just like Neighborhood Watch, it contains more filler than one would want. Songs like "Rapid Transit" and "Satellite Radio" suffer from dated production and weak hooks, and "The One & Only", the obligatory DJ Babu-scratch record, has little replay value and wastes a tight beat that could've gone to making an actual song. We all know by now that Babu is a skilled DJ -- dedicating 4 minutes of an album to that fact is no longer necessary, and I wouldn't be disappointed if Dilated's next album broke away from tradition and left one of these off.

While 20/20 is a step up from Neighborhood Watch and proves that Dilated can still make good hip hop, it also appears as if they're content with simply making good hip hop their standard. It won't get them much notoriety outside of L.A. (and parts of Europe, for that matter), but if they're content with that, then good for them -- in fact, it's kind of refreshing. I'll still support 'em and check for their live shows, but I'll be hopeful that the set lists contain more of their older material.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That white girl

Some just can't stay away. It's a shame, really.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The 2006 NCAA Tournament: A Spielberg Production

After a tournament full of improbable 2nd-half runs, game-winning shots, overtimes, upsets, and teary-eyed white boys, you mean to tell me this is how it ended? The average difference in points between the winner and loser in the two semifinals and the championship game was 15.3 points. Do you know what that means? The losing teams were so bad that they somehow each managed to allow a basket worth exactly 0.3 points! George Mason looked against Florida just like LSU looked against UCLA just liked UCLA looked against Florida -- like crap.

The best comparison I can think of is the movie War of the Worlds. An exciting, incredible, practically-unbelievable story growing more and more intense, then ending with a half-assed effort narrated by Morgan Freeman. I guess they're right, because there's only one way to describe it -- madness.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Lebron, I take it back

Remember how I had said you were the man a little while ago? Yeah? Well...

It's him now. Sorry.

(P.S. I really miss listening to Howard Stern. Someone buy me a satellite radio.)