Tuesday, January 30, 2007

You can represent Gary Day, but you can't stop his party

So, one of the attorneys I work for got a voicemail today from a musician -- or at least, from a guy who is trying to be a musician -- named Gary Day (not to be confused with thee Gary Day, who was a bassist for Morrissey, and who I had no idea even existed until I looked up his name). Mr. Day is seeking representation for what he very confidently, as seen in his website, believes is his budding music career.

This brought to my mind a potential conflict of interest in the lawyering profession, specifically in the field of entertainment -- would someone choose to legally represent an artist (in this case, a musician) even if they didn't like the artist's work themselves? I posed this question to my boss, but before he could respond, he allowed a snippet of Mr. Day's potentially earth-shattering music -- a song titled "You Can't Stop My Party" -- to blare from his speakers. I immediately knew the answer to my query before he had to respond.

No. No way. And especially not Gary Day.

On the "Info" section of Mr. Day's site, he quotes himself saying that he has "these songs inside of me", and that he needs "to get them out". Hmmm... sounds a lot like a bowel movement to me. I feel bad knocking another man's work, especially when I myself have accomplished so little, but seriously -- if you want to hear what is possibly the worst singing in history, listen to "You Can't Stop My Party". And if you would like to see the equivalent of his music in picture form, head over to the "Look" page, and witness Mr. Day in all his greatness -- the sideburns, the crocodile-skin shirt, the Jesus piece entangled in his chest hair, and most importantly, the camping tarp that serves as the background to his performance photos.

Come to think of it, this dude looks kind of familiar... Gary Day, GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

Friday, January 26, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 4

It's difficult to get all that excited about a West Coast revival (of sorts) when every year it seems like someone else is talking about bringing the West Coast "back". So, to avoid any further confusion, let's just clarify that the West Coast is in fact "back"... from having already been back before. What 2006 had to offer, though, was a bit more enticing, as "gangsta rap", that which we all grew up on and subsequently hid from our parents, seemed to be bouncing back with some hunger. A few familiar faces popped up out of L.A. this year to drop some records that took them back to their roots, either because they had previously experimented with new styles, or because they had nothing else to bank on.

Snoop Dogg's Tha Blue Carpet Treatment falls in line with most of Snoop's previous albums in that it's a bit of a mixed bag, but the high points are undoubtedly higher (pun intended) than expected. You'll see all the usual suspects of a Snoop Dogg album -- the weed song ("Get A Light" f/ Damian Marley), the Nate-Dogg-hook song ("Crazy"), the posse cut ("Candy" f/ E-40, MC Eiht, Goldie Loc, Daz & Kurupt) -- but each one sounds more inspired and motivated than on past releases. In fact, "Think About It" is the closest Snoop has sounded to Snoop Doggy Dogg (remember him?) in a long, long time. The album is a good mix of old and new Snoop, as it features tracks with the man that brought him into hip hop, Dr. Dre (the best of which is their twist on the "ode to hip hop" song, "Imagine", which features a verse from Dre and hook by D'Angelo), as well as with the people he'd made his most recent money with, the Neptunes (whose offerings of "Vato" f/ B-Real and "10 Lil' Crips" are infinitely-many-times more hard-hitting than the bubble-gum shit that was R&G). As usually is the case, though, Snoop still doesn't know when to quit, and at 21 tracks long, the album loses interest with tracks like "Beat Up On Your Pads" (it's admirable that Snoop's into the whole youth football thing, but this one should've been saved for the sidelines) and "Psst!" f/ Jamie Foxx (who is great at imitating Ray Charles, and awful at imitating Prince, Bilal, or whoever he thinks he is on this song). Nonetheless, on Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, the effort is there and is much appreciated, as Snoop is no longer rushing out his albums like he did while on No Limit Records.

Continuing in the return to his roots, Snoop helped reunite Daz and Kurupt, better known as the Dogg Pound, for their first major release in over a decade, Cali Iz Active. The duo became bitter rivals after Kurupt jumped back into Suge Knight's arms back in '02 in an attempt to lead Death Row Records back to prominence (... yeah, that went well), but under the guidance of Snoop, who probably just simply reminded them both how little they've accomplished in each of their solo careers (with the exception of Kurupt's classic Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha, which did feature Daz on at least half of the album), they appear to have put their differences aside. And it's a good thing, too, because the chemistry is still there, be it on songs like the title track f/ Snoop Dogg and "It's All Hood", which capture more of the vintage Dogg Pound sound, or "Kush'n N' Push'n" and "Sittin' On 23z", which are fr-fr-fresh for '06. If the subject matter, or lack thereof, gets to be too much, then this album probably wasn't meant for you anyways. The only real downside to it is the number of out-of-place guest appearances -- no disrespect to Puff Daddy (who actually doesn't ruin "It's Craccin' All Night"), David Banner (who I actually don't mind as a rapper), Paul Wall (who I could really do without), or Jazze Pha (on second thought, a lot of disrespect to him), but how "active" does Cali appear when it's campaigning to other areas for guest spots on a Dogg Pound reunion album, which should be enough to sell itself?

Much like his debut album, being able to enjoy The Game's follow-up, the Doctor's Advocate, is an up-hill battle which most fans should be able to overcome eventually. On '05's The Documentary, it was the constant name-dropping of fellow artists (specifically 50 Cent and Dr. Dre) that made it difficult to fully embrace Game as the West's next big thing. This time around, it's the state of confusion created by Game's rampant inconsistencies with exactly where he stands -- is it "still Aftermath, and ain't nothin' after that", or is it "the Aftermath chain is gone"? If he's "got no beef with 50", why does he "wanna call 50 and let him know what's on his mind"? Listening to the album, it seems as if half of it was recorded while Game still thought he was an Aftermath artist and Dre's associate, and half after he was let go. Fortunately, once that's out of the way, the album is full of quality material -- he dismisses former friends on "One Night", pays homage to those lost on "Ol' English", and shows a sincerity most rappers would probably be ashamed to admit on the title track and the superb closer "Why You Hate The Game" f/ Nas. And, of course, the album is overflowing with West Coast flavor, highlights being "Da Shit", "Compton" (featuring production from an underrated-when-not-overexposed will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas), and "California Vacation" f/ Snoop Dogg & Xzibit. Continuing to never hold any part of himself back, the Game comes off as a lot of things on Doctor's Advocate -- flamboyant, full of himself, emotional, confused -- but never anything less than genuine.

Not to be outdone, the B(/Y)ay Area made a big splash, with E-40 and Too Short each getting their greatest national exposure within the past 10 years, and with both now double-digit-albums deep into their respective catalogs, it was just in time. Not that 40 Water shows any signs of slowing down, though -- My Ghetto Report Card is some of his best work ever, and definitely his most well-produced album. Short Dog, on the other hand, seems to have phoned in the effort on Blow The Whistle. Not to take any credit away from the man, as 16 albums is certainly a milestone (although he arguably hadn't had a hit single since album number 10), and even the most stuck-up, feminist, "who you callin' a bitch?" hip hop fans have a place in their heart for the one and only Todd Shaw. But missing from Blow The Whistle is the meaningful, social commentary that Short sprinkled on past classics like "The Ghetto" and "I Want To Be Free". In it's place instead? More Jazze Pha than the average person deserves to stomach. I really don't understand what's so appealing about this dude -- his beats suck, his singing is worse than his beats, and he introduces every track he's on with the same, tired "Ladies and gentlemen..." schtick (as if that's necessary when you're halfway through the album). Hopefully, Short can make some bank on the group he discovered recently, The Pack, who won't have to worry about making music people would actually enjoy as long as they name-drop brand names. Another NorCal vet, Brotha Lynch Hung, avoided the popular "hyphy" sound in favor of collaborating with Compton legend MC Eiht for The New Season, which is appealing in the same vein as Sean Price's album from last year (see #4) -- not groundbreaking in any sense, but consistently solid, and no songs worth skipping.

The rebirth of a vintage gangsta rap sound in West Coast hip hop really couldn't have come at a better time, as groups whose reputations were to stray from this sound struggled to find success in '06. I tried to be somewhat kind to Dilated Peoples' 20/20 earlier in the year, but looking back now, very little of it is worth remembering. Meanwhile, Jurassic 5, who downsized to an "official" quintet (they previously had six members -- four MCs and two DJs -- but stuck with the numerically-misleading name after a flier typo) for Feedback, were sorely missing the presence of former producer Cut Chemist, who apparently took everything that made the group interesting with him when he bounced. There's a reason the "old school" is called the "old school" -- not only because of it's elder status, but also because after a while, well... it gets old. Pretty much every song on Feedback sounds like a Jurassic 5 song I'd heard at least five times before, which is only forgivable for "In The House", a song that appeared on the soundtrack for NBA Live '06, the last good NBA video game. How many songs can a group make about how cool/dope/stupid fresh that particular song is? The answer: a mediocre album's worth.

[Part 5 coming soon... and yes, I too am getting kind of tired of this]

Monday, January 22, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 3

Think 50 Cent regrets kicking Game out of G-Unit? If you were to ask his ego, it'd probably say "no"; if you were to ask his business savvy, it'd probably say "no comment" and tell you to refer to his ego. The West Coast MC who refused to be enemies with people simply because 50 wanted him to showed no signs of a sophomore slump, releasing a quality album (more on that next time) without help from his former friend (50) and his "I-thought-you-were-my"-friend (Dr. Dre). Meanwhile, '06 wasn't quite as kind to 50 and his Unit (no homo) -- only two albums released from the camp, and I'll start by telling you which ones they weren't.

Olivia, G-Unit's female rapper/songstress/Amil, was blessed with a radio-ready single with a guest verse from 50, yet her album never came out, and while I'm not a "bettin' man" (my last trip to Vegas proved that), I'm confident that it never will come out. M.O.P., who signed around the same time Mobb Deep did, have yet to put anything out, other than an independent album and a guest spot on AZ's '06 release, The Format, which I haven't listened to but if it's anything like any of AZ's past albums, it's likely good for a few quality tracks (and for the record, this is the same AZ who 50 said put out "bullshit joints" not too long ago); clearly, 50's plan to try to market two of the ugliest dudes in hip hop to the masses is to wait as long as possible and hope they start to look less frightening. Up-and-comers Spider Loc and Young Hot Rod are likely being kept waiting in the wings until after 50's next album (due later this year) gets the G-Unit name popping again, while Tony Yayo, whose lacklaster debut Thoughts Of A Predicate Felon was what pretty much started this slump, will likely be relegated back to "hypeman" status soon enough, if not already.

On recent 106 & Park and Howard Stern appearances, when asked what the hardest thing was about running your own record label, 50 said something along the lines of "not knowing when to stop putting money into promoting an album that the public doesn't want to buy anyways". Somewhere off camera, Lloyd Banks and Mobb Deep embraced in a group hug, crying on each other's shoulders, convincing each other that they tried their bests. For Havoc and Prodigy, such was not the case, though -- Blood Money was as lazy an album as I've ever heard. For Banks, though, Rotten Apple was a bit more inspired, but poorly-produced (Exhibit A being "Iceman") and not topical at all (it comes off more like a mixtape, in fact). I'll admit that it shows Banks as being an improved rapper, as songs like the opening title track f/ 50 Cent and Prodigy, "You Know The Deal" and "Make A Move" have him less dependent on throwing witty punchlines in every lyric to get his point across. Unfortunately, his "point", if you can even call it that, rarely strays from him trying to prove that he's rich, iced out, fucks a lot of models, and so on and so forth. Here's another lesson I'm sure 50 learned from running a record label -- you can put bullshit in a CD case and sell a few copies in the first week, but eventually, word is going to spread about the smell.

Poor record sales not only plagued 50's G-Unit Records, but pretty much all of the releases under Dr. Dre's Aftermath umbrella. Busta Rhymes' The Big Bang wasn't all that bad in my opinion (then again, what do I really know), but even with about four music videos and Dre's name all over the place, it failed to catch much of a buzz. I'd say that in this case, Busta's marketing machine was in overload and worked against him, and showed the rest of the hip hop world some promotional techniques not to follow -- i.e. wearing T-shirts with your album's name printed all over it whenever you make an appearance (wish I had a picture, it's pretty embarrassing) and the way-too-long remix featuring more names than can actually fit on the TV screen.

Then there was the only prominent album release from Eminem's Shady Records, also under Aftermath -- Obie Trice's second album, conveniently titled Second Round's On Me. Lyrically, Obie has improved leaps and bounds over the MC he was on his '03 debut Cheers, which was a stellar debut in its own right. He's a lot more versatile this time around, surprisingly rhyming in double-time on several tracks. Where this album lacks is in the production department -- no Dre or Timbaland, but a LOT of Eminem beats (eight of the 17 total songs), none of them very impressive. Obie as a rapper and Em as a producer turn out to be a lop-sided tag team -- at times both hold their own (like on "Violent" and "There They Go" f/ Big Herc & Eminem), but most of the time Obie is forced to carry the weight ("Lay Down", "Ballad Of Obie Trice"), and sometimes that weight proves to be overwhelming ("Everywhere I Go", which can't even be saved by a 50 Cent chorus, and "Jamaican Girl"). When the production is on point, though, the results save the album from mediocrity, on stand-outs like "Out Of State", "Cry Now", and the as-heard-on-Entourage track "Wanna Know". Once Obie is able to combine the best qualities of his two releases, he'll hopefully release the classic album that he's capable of making. Whether more people will notice, though, is hard to tell.

So, is there a way to not sell that many records and still not feel disappointed in yourself? Yes -- the answer is to go the independent label route, and '06's best example of succeeding in this department would belong to Ice Cube (who's Laugh Now, Cry Later went gold mainly off of word-of-mouth and the fact that he was once great) and the almighty Dip Set (Dip Set! Dip Set! WHAT!). Being on a label like Koch Records, a rapper like Jim Jones makes something like $8 for each unit sold (much more than any major label), so a 100,000-records-sold opening week for his '06 release Hustler's P.O.M.E. (Product Of My Environment) banked him close to a cool million. A few more weeks on the charts, and what you have there is, in fact, BALLIIIIN' in every definition of the word. The Dips are probably so rich from pimping out record companies that they could give less than a fuck about what you think about the quality of their music, so I won't even take the time to critique Jones' album (other than that "Reppin' Time" is a swell "Hustlin'" rip-off, and the intro might be the best track on the entire album), Cam'ron's Killa Season (other than what I said here, and that "I.B.S." is actually quite ill, in more ways than one), and JR Writer's History In The Making (other than that at 20 songs deep, it was about 15 too long).

Then, of course, there's the underground rap scene, which has lost much of the attention that I used to pay to it. Part of it is due to the fact that a lot of the groups whose cult-like followings I found myself a part of either don't make much music anymore (Living Legends), no longer are together (Non Phixion), or seemingly fell off the fucking face of the earth (High & Mighty). A couple noteworthy releases worth noting (hooray for redundancy!) are Murs' Murray's Revenge, his 2nd collaborative effort with Little Brother member/producer 9th Wonder, Mr. Lif's Mo Mega, produced almost entirely by hero-to-independent-music El-P, and the Juggaknots' Use Your Confusion, which stars Breeze Brewin, one of the most uniquely-talented MCs of recent memory (and unfortunately, his two lesser-talented crew members). And kudos to Murs specifically, who will be looking to lose the labels of "overlooked" and "underrated" with his recent signing to Warner Music Group, the label which played some role in E-40 getting some long-awaited attention this past year (more on that next time, too... damn, these transitions are solid).

[Part 4 coming soon]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Vilen and I discuss the latest in the world of sports...

x VILEN x: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/soccer/01/11/beckham.mls/ index.html?cnn=yes
Aristacrat: has major league soccer even grossed $250 million since its inception?
x VILEN x: we have a soccer league?
x VILEN x: if this is true though, this is gonna be huge for them
x VILEN x: its the only name in soccer i know
Aristacrat: no we don't, beckham got $250 million to play soccer with some rich dude's kids in a backyard
x VILEN x: and of course half of team brazil
Aristacrat: remember kobe jones?

x VILEN x: oh yea
Aristacrat: tab ramos, he did some snickers commercials
x VILEN x: does he still play
Aristacrat: tony meola had a video game for super nintendo

x VILEN x: never heard of tab, unless ur talkin about that delicious drink
Aristacrat: none of these guys play anymore though, so i guess its kind of a moot point
x VILEN x: moooooooot
Aristacrat: and yes, tab is delicious
Aristacrat: i guess that's the only conclusion we can come to in a discussion of soccer -- that Tab is delicious
x VILEN x: bingo

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 2

One of the overarching themes in hip hop music this past year was a seemingly-never-ending (Is it over yet? Please?) feud between New York and the South over who's really runnin' shit. The South has felt overdue for respect for a while regarding their relevance to hip hop, and now feel as if it's their time since they produce more platinum artists nowadays. As a result, New York rappers feel compelled to reference their city as much as possible in their music. While the South is rightfully getting more recognition now, they can never be the representation of what hip hop is, was, or ever will be, mainly because... well, the fact of the matter is, the South makes hip hop look bad way too often.

Mike Jones made a career out of repeating himself -- he's like a rapping HeadOn commercial -- before he found out how long 15 minutes really lasts; he was supposed to have an album out this year, but fortunately, there is a God. The Ying Yang Twins are like a less-talented 2 Live Crew, which probably qualifies them as being mentally retarded; working with someone like Wyclef Jean, who is actually somewhat talented, on their new album won't hide the fact that their "music" rarely strays away from talking about the parts of the female body that protrude and/or allow entry (kudos to Dave Chappelle for airing them out on one of the few funny moments of The Lost Episodes). D4L felt the need to create dance moves that even white people could do; either they're mocking me, or they really don't have any rhythm. Newcomer Jibbs made a song about expensive jewelry to the tune of a kids song, even having children sing the chorus; children are the future, Jibbs! Is this the message we want to send to our future? And while on the topic of taking advantage of children (no pedo), let's all pray that this doesn't catch on nationally -- I think even Michael Richards would see that and say, "Damn, that's some fucked up shit."

This isn't to say that the East coast doesn't have their own reasons to be ashamed, but just not as many as the South. Beyond the bullshit, however, there is some good music made by respectable artists coming out of the South.

Ludacris' 5th album, Release Therapy, finds him angrier than usual -- perhaps the cornrows were ripped out in a fit of rage? Clearly, he putting in work to lose the "funny song making rapper" label (dressing up like Austin Powers characters will do that for you) with tracks like "Grew Up A Screw Up" f/ Young Jeezy and "War With God", two of his hardest songs to date. He also shows some newfound range by showing off his storytelling abilities on "Runaway Love" f/ Mary J Blige (A depressing Ludacris song? What gives?!?), and getting deep on the nation's fucked up justice system on "Do Your Time" f/ Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C-Murder, all three of whom recently served bids. While this newer side of Luda is certainly refreshing, it comes at somewhat of a cost -- the fun songs, while not bad, just aren't as fun as usual (I think most would agree that "Money Maker" was particularly ehhh), and for some reason the "R&B chorus" song quotient is up to 2 ("End Of The Night" f/ Bobby Valentino and "Woozy" f/ R Kelly, which fortunately are back-to-back so you can just hold down the SKIP button). And maybe I'm just being picky here, but the chorus structure of "Tell It Like It Is" and "Mouths To Feed" (i.e. saying the song title in every other line, see for yourself) makes the songs grow boring pretty quickly. While Release Therapy isn't the classic that Luda is capable of, it shows a versatility that has been otherwise absent throughout his career -- and hopefully it won't act to limit his talents on the next go-round.

T.I. took the "Jay-Z-best-rapper-alive" approach to being the so-called "King of the South" -- he put it on record first, then went out to prove it. Titling his 4th album King (and including Southern other heavyweights like Young Buck, UGK and Young Jeezy on it to co-sign), T.I. effectively takes another cue from Jay, making records catchy enough to pick up TV and radio airplay while also being likeable and smooth enough to not get tired quickly -- "What You Know" might be the biggest single of the year, "Front Back" serves as a fitting tribute/update to UGK's classic, and "Why You Wanna" was a nice head-nod to A Tribe Called Quest. Although the Southern drawl can a bit overwhelming at times ("Told You So" is particularly mush-mouthed), T.I. presents himself as a superior lyricist with an arsenal of flows, best evidenced when he turns up the intensity a bit on "You Know Who" and the Just Blaze-produced "I'm Talkin' To You", a subliminal diss likely aimed at rival/chump Lil' Flip.

Trivia time: name a physically-large-in-stature rapper from the South, with an instantly-recognizeable style, simplistic yet subtly-clever lyrics, a Def Jam record deal, and the ability to make a 19-track album in which every song is in some way, shape, or form about cocaine, crack, or something in between. If you said either Rick Ross (who put out his debut Port Of Miami this year) or Young Jeezy (who put out his sophomore effort The Inspiration), pat yourself on the head. It's not tough to see how Jay's newest artist signing (Ross) is quite similar to his last one (Jeezy), but considering that Jeezy's Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 sold close to 1.5 million copies, and Ross' "Hustlin'" is the 1st platinum-selling ringtone (you must have heard it somewhere, I know I have), it ain't broke yet, so no need to fix it -- nor to break it, for that matter. Port Of Miami is a summertime-friendly album, with production that is much less dark than either of Jeezy's releases, which is not surprising knowing that the backdrop to Ross' drug tales are Miami's warm weather and view of the Atlantic (which he's got them muthafuckas flyin' over, rest assured). He's clearly trying to have some fun with it, rocking over cheesy '80's samples for "I'm Bad" (which is what I want to have playing if I'm ever in a high speed chase) and "Boss", and being the 1st rapper to have Scarface samples on TWO different songs ("Push It" and "Street Life" f/ Lloyd, the latter likely being the 1st time a Scarface sample has been made into a club song). Unlike Jeezy, Ross actually isn't terrible as an MC, able to put together some clever rhymes though also liable to rhyme the same words together every now and again. However, also unlike Jeezy, the somewhat-inspirational "rags to riches" story of Jeezy's work is not found here, as Ross prefers to speak mainly on the "riches" part, with a few exceptions like the finale "Prayer" (hmmm, a "prayer" on a rap album, where have I seen that before?). Furthermore, a 19-track album for someone with such limited subject matter will get a little monotonous, but never more so than when the R&B hooks come in -- "Pots & Pans" is downright lame, and "Cross That Line" f/ Akon might have been more likeable if Akon didn't sing the chorus to the exact same melody as his song with Obie Trice (hope he got a discount for that).

As for Jeezy's album, he's clearly heard all the criticism of his lyrical ability (or lack thereof), so he's tries a new approach here and there on The Inspiration -- not trying to rhyme. Oddly enough, it works to a degree, as Jeezy has more to say when he's not limiting himself by trying to find words to rhyme. And with the relatively low-tempo of most of the album's tracks, it seems like he's almost bragging about his ability to catapult himself to the top of rap music by hardly "rapping" at all (he's also clearly not ashamed to show that he can't pronounce "Hypnotize" on the opening track of the same name). Still though, there's no denying the power of some of his songs -- "Bury Me A 'G'" in all of it's 2Pac-ness, the raw emotion of "Dreamin'" f/ Keyshia Cole -- and The Inspiration's uniquely-consistent production seems to borrowly equally from the popular "crunk" sound of Southern rap as well as the soundtrack to Bladerunner; even the club-favored tracks "Go Getta" f/ R Kelly and "3 A.M." f/ Timbaland don't stray for the overall sound of the album. I like to think of myself as someone who can explain most things, but I'm kind of at a loss as to why everyone (myself included) is so crazy about Young Jeezy -- perhaps in this day in age where rappers are judged as much on how real they are versus how talented they are, Jeezy is just too real to focus on writing good rhymes.

Elsewhere in the South, Lil' Wayne and Birdman put out an album together, Like Father Like Son, which I can't say that I've listened to -- not because I'm not a big enough fan of Wayne as an MC (I am, actually), but because I'm not at all a fan of Birdman as one. I'll just echo the sentiments of everyone else and say that half of a Lil' Wayne album is better than none (and speaking of "better halves"... kinda homo). Young Dro, one of T.I.'s artists, got a strong buzz off of "Shoulder Lean" for his debut, Best Thang Smokin', which showcases Dro as a surprisingly nice lyricist. He has potential and hopefully will take advantage of it once he learns how to make songs that don't all sound the same (as a result, not too many really stand out), and when he stops name-dropping food products to describe his cars ("watermelon Nova", "Cutlass look like carrot juice", "brown Rover look like pork and beans"... the album starts to sound like an episode of Supermarket Sweep after a while). Unfortunately, Southern mainstays Young Buck, 8Ball & MJG, and UGK were all supposed to put out albums this year but had them pushed back for various reasons -- respectively, because G-Unit keeps taking losses (more on that next time), because Puff Daddy would rather promote himself than anyone else on Bad Boy, and because Jive Records sucks at promoting hip hop music.

Finally, speaking of Jive, they decided to do something productive and release The Clipse's sophomore effort Hell Hath No Fury, which had been discussed, promoted, and pushed back for about two years. It's difficult for anyone to root against the Virginia-born brothers (and I say "brothers" because they're actually brothers, not because they're black, silly) after they've unfairly been put through record label politics bullshit for so long, as noted by the great reviews their new album has been receiving. But, personally, I just can't bring myself to like it as much as everyone else, and it's not really the Clipse's fault -- the album's production, done entirely by the Neptunes, is pretty bland. Most of the Neptunes' beats can be placed into one of two categories: minimalistic, experimental, and undoubtedly rugged OR overly poppy shit that the masses will eat up. On Hell Hath, though a few of the beats favor the first category (like "Wamp Wamp" f/ Slim Thug and "Ride Around Shining" f/ Ab-Liva), the majority are failed attempts to reach the second category (like "Dirty Money", "Ain't Cha" and "Trill"). This could be due to the absence of Chad Hugo, the often-unseen Asian dude who makes up the "other half" of the Neptunes (notice where he's standing here -- interesting), from the album's production. Not to create rumors here, but, for the sake of argument, let's assume that Pharrell kicked Chad out of the group because he wasn't cool enough -- that, coupled with Pharrell's newfound desire to rap (I happily admit to having never listened to this album) and to market ugly ass shoes that no one except him or the people he pays would wear, could mean that we are dealing with someone here who is hellbent on world domination... or, at least, on being the most egomaniacal of the young, rich, male musicians of our time.

If this is the case, be warned, Pharrell: the competition is fierce.

[Part 3 coming soon]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006: Year In Downloading -- Part 1

Hello! Hello! Hello!

Is anybody out there! out there! out there!

As you can probably tell, I haven't put much effort into maintaining this fine piece of internet real estate -- shit, you'd have to be retarded to have not noticed, although knowing the people who are likely reading this, I wouldn't put that past y'all. (JOKES!) Anyways, having a 5-day-a-week job, getting my law school applications ready, and trying to have some sort of life outside of all that (emphasis on "trying") has forced me to eliminate either the time I'd previously alloted to updating this blog or the time I'd previously alloted to playing the latest version of Madden. And for the record, my franchise in Madden NFL '07 is on the verge of defending its back-to-back Super Bowls behind the strength of recent USC legends Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White -- it's a face-spittin' good time!

However, in an attempt to maintain some sort of tradition, I'll be doing an end-of-the-year recap of what 2006 has offered as far as hip hop albums to purcha, er, downlo... let's just say "obtain". I had actually started putting a list together a few months ago, but then I realized that most of the albums I was really looking forward to (Jay, Nas, Snoop, Game, among a few others) hadn't even come out yet. Thus, instead of trying to put everything in a list of best to worst, I'll just throw my thoughts out there in some type of order, in as many posts as it takes me to cover everything that deserves being mentioned. To start things off, two artists (actually three, one solo and one duo) who had taken a few years off a piece before returning to record store shelves in '06, and something I like to call the "Taco Bell Theory". [Does linking to a company's website protect from copyright laws? Fuck it, let's hope so!]

Taking a three-year hiatus since the eclectically-likable Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Outkast released Idlewild, which doubled as the soundtrack to their feature film of the same name (a movie which I didn't see in part because no one I knew was as interested in seeing it as I was, and also because I wasn't even that interested in seeing it in the first place). Maybe seeing the movie would've helped me like this album more, as it isn't "bad", but is Outkast's worst album yet -- but, trust me, those statements mean two very different things.

For starters, calling an Outkast album "bad" would officially revoke my "Caucasian hip-hop fan" card, which I don't want to do. And furthermore, with the high quality of Outkast's entire catalogue, their worst album could more reasonably be considered their "6th best". Considering the relevance of the film (set in the 1930s) to the album, the sound of Idlewild is seeped in a combination of jazz and swing, blues and church choirs, Vaudeville and lounge acts, all of which ultimately limits the production, causing some tracks to sound fairly interchangeable. To Outkast's credit, they're still willing to try new things, as Big Boi's still making rap records differently from any other rappers out there today (most of which is heavy on Sleepy Brown's crooning, like "The Train" and the still-catchy-to-this-day "Morris Brown"), and Andre's still making whatever-you-wanna-call-it music differently from anyone anywhere (like "Life Is Like A Musical" and the twangy "Idlewild Blue"). But that ultimately leads to another issue -- too many solo tracks (think Speakerboxx/The Love Below made into a single CD) when their chemistry is still as good as it's ever been. "PJ & Rooster" nicely blends Dre's singing with Big's rapping, but when both are rapping, on "Mighty O" and "Hollywood Divorce" f/ Lil' Wayne & Snoop Dogg, the album is at it's best. Unfortunately, moments like these are sparse amongst a fair amount of solo tracks that find both Dre and Big running out of ideas ("Makes No Sense At All" couldn't have a more fitting title) and skit after skit after skit which I can only presume was actual movie dialogue (which I doubt convinced anyone who hadn't seen the movie to actually see the movie).

Fortunately for Outkast, though, they were wise enough to not stage a retirement during their hiatus.

Jay-Z often likens himself to Michael Jordan, and now he can do so with complete honesty, as Kingdom Come plays like MJ's 2-year stint with the Washington Wizards (that is, assuming Jay doesn't have any more albums planned, and we've been duped about that before). In fact, the downsides to Jay's comeback album are easily comparable to Jordan's mistakes with the Wizards. Receiving 25 beats from Dr. Dre (the proof is in here somewhere) and choosing what would become "Trouble" was like taking Kwame Brown with a #1 draft pick (except that that dull beat isn't going to help anyone else a few years from now... GO LAKERS!). Throwing weak disses at Cam'ron on "Dig A Hole", the only diss track I can ever recall having an R&B chorus, was like trading Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, giving up a lot (a reputation for ending careers) for a little (did Cam's rhymes about Jay's open-toe sandals really warrant a response?). Alloting valuable album space to a duet with girlfriend Beyonce on "Hollywood" was like giving the starting point guard spot to a yes-man like Tyronn Lue (Jay, you help Beyonce sell records, not vice versa).

If all of that sounded harsh, it's only because it hurts me the most to admit this. To me, The Black Album was the perfect way for Jay to step aside and leave the game that he helped make great -- in a day in age where rappers can make a fortune off of overstaying their welcome, it served as the proper swan song to an immaculate career. If Jay really wanted to make a worthwhile comeback, he would've waited until he had something truly special to offer, and Kingdom Come is no such thing. It does have its high points -- the chemistry between Jay and Just Blaze (who's better than Kanye West now, if you hadn't heard) shows strong in the consecutive trio of "Oh My God", the title track, and the lead single "Show Me What You Got"; Jay's ability to reveal himself (no homo) through his music is still strong, as seen in the Dre-produced "Lost One" and the Kanye-produced "Do You Wanna Ride"; shit, he even makes growing older sound fresh on "30 Something", another Dre production. However, these 6 songs make up tracks 2 through 7, and after that, it's all kind of downhill from there, until the pleasant surprise of "Beach Chair", an incredible collaboration with Coldplay's Chris Martin that closes out the album well, and also serves as the best-produced song on the whole album (which says a lot, good and bad).

Most college students (whether current or former, especially at UCSB) should be able to relate to the following: a homie is making a run to Taco Bell, and you throw some money his way to get you your usual three items, which you personally rank from best to worst (and if you're like me, #1 is a Cheesy Gordita Crunch, #2 is a Double Decker Taco, and #3 is a Chicken Soft Taco). Unfortunately, due to some miscommunication, likely between your homeboy and the cashier, or the cashier and his/her brain, one of the three is forgotten. Ultimately, you have a right to be pissed about it, and if you wanted to, you could go back there to complain... but by the same token, you've got some of what you wanted, you've been waiting for it and anxiously anticipating its arrival, and besides, it is Taco Bell, some of the greatest fast food of all time.

Basically, Idlewild is like them forgetting the Chicken Soft Taco, and Kingdom Come is like them forgetting the Double Decker Taco. I don't know about the rest of y'all, but to me, that makes too much sense.

[Part 2 coming soon]