Tag Archives: hip-hop

The Apocalypse by Hip-Hop

So the world might end later this week. If civilization does go all Cormac McCarthy on us, I think I owe a beer to Nas, a spliff to Busta Rhymes and whatever the thinking-man’s drug is to Chuck D. Now, I won’t actually be able to make good on this promise on December 21. I mean, I’ll be dead, probably roasted by nuclear lasers, and I don’t personally know any of these musicians. It just feels like I do. Their apocalyptic thoughts and predictions have been swirling around my head for way too damn long.

Yes, it’s true. Hip-hop musicians actually do have something in common with Glenn Beck: They preach apocalyptic messages all the freaking time. Continue reading

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Way It’s Been That Long

Fifteen years ago, a mogul who’d lost his best friend to murder and had his name implicated in the murder of an enemy changed the world of rap music despite the fact that he could barely rap. Remember? Maybe the glare from this glimmering jumpsuit will refresh your memory.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Jazzmatazz (Way Overdue)

I should have written this post two years ago.

Somehow, I didn’t realize until today that Guru died. He died of cancer in April 2010. Guru, with counterpart DJ Premier in the duo Gang Starr, rarely appeared on MTV and never transitioned into the mainstream, but for some reason he was one of the first rappers I listened to, way back in fifth grade. Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Unsolicited Endorsements: V

Because sometimes you just want friends to tell you about cool things… the Brew House team offers up its weekly mix of author-supported goodness.

Album: “Nothing is Wrong” — Dawes

Ever since the first time I heard the first few riffy bars of “If I Wanted Someone”, I’ve tried to place Dawes in a certain time and place. By most contemporary definitions, they are not purely indie rock — at least, if we determine that a band can be classified as indie if a music director at a college rock station would want to put their album into rotation. And they don’t quite fit in with the stringy acts that have proliferated today’s alt-country scene — the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, the Devil Makes Three — or even the kings of the indie/alt-country world, Wilco. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rapping in the late 90s

The journey down Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park) began with Nas and his Illmatic album. I had just moved a CD wallet containing some of my oldest CD’s from my room to my car and felt like listening to rap music. Illmatic begat DJ Clue’s Backstage Mixtape begat Ruff Ryders Ryde or Die Volume II begat Silkk the Shocker’s Charge It To Da Game, which got me thinking back to a time passed.

In 1997 to at least 2000, many commercial hip-hop/rap artists weren’t defined by the lyrics he spit or even the thumping beats in the background. A rapper was defined by one’s crew. One’s label. One’s association with someone better and more well-known than him or her.

It went like this. A talented artist, a Nas or a Jay-Z, released a couple of successful albums. He made enough money to buy the island of Cyprus. He released a clothing line. Then he decided to share the wealth amongst his friends, giving them a platform to rap while dreaming the friends could attain similar accolades but actually and smartly knowing they sucked but it didn’t matter because people would pay $14 for an album by a nobody and think it was decent because they were affiliated with said famous, successful rapper.

I was anointed into this rap community with Puff Daddy splashing the holy Cristal on my forehead. It was the same way every white millennial from suburbia experienced the dive into rap. His album No Way Out dropped in 1997, when I was in fifth grade. Puff Daddy, who actually went by Sean “Puffy” Combs for about seventeen minutes that year, had groundbreaking hits then, notably “Mo Money, Mo Problems” (actually on B.I.G.’s album) and “I’ll Be Missing You.” “Mo Money, Mo Problems” rocked and still does, but he was parroting off the fame of his late friend the Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie was the center of Bad Boy, the originator. He had the talent. He made the money. He lent cache to anyone with a microphone who drew near. Because of him, Bad Boy exploded. Artists like Lil’ Cease and Puff Daddy, as a rapper, became household names to hip-hop heads because they hung around with and recorded with Biggie.

And there was nothing terribly wrong with the Bad Boy clique, as far as music goes*. The Lox was a talented group, Mase a talented rapper pre his born-again Christian phase and Lil’ Kim was at least tolerable as a featured artist. The problem came because others across the country replicated the formula.

*The opinion that opposing rap alliances Bad Boy (east coast) and Deathrow (west coast) contributed to the deaths of Biggie and 2Pac is valid, if not irrefutable, but not the point of this blog post. I am simply here to discuss how much rap music sucked because of these amalgamations of non-talented musicians who just had good connections.

As Bad Boy reached its apex and then plummeted, other groups around the country took off. There were the Ruff Ryders. DMX, maybe the first rapper to be charged with both sodomy and animal cruelty, was the originator, his song “Ruff Ryders Anthem” announcing their arrival.

Besides DMX, there was Eve, a good musician and then people with names like Drag-On, Young Wun and Jin. Drag-On is such a terrible, forgettable rapper that you can’t even find his second-most famous song, “Groundhog Day,” on YouTube.

Other East Coast groups included the Flipmode Squad, headed by Busta Rhymes, Roc-A-Fella with Jay-Z and a short-lived effort by Nas’ Ill Will Records. Those mistakes brought us artists like Spliff Star and the Bravehearts and gut-wrenching songs like “Oochie Wallie.” But the worst offenders came from the South. The worst offenders included No Limit Records.

Other crews had a talented musician at the center; No Limit had Master P. He became famous because he uttered “ugh” every four seconds in his songs. He made two movies, “I Got The Hook Up” and “Foolish,” that no one, to this day, has ever seen. He played an exhibition basketball game for the Charlotte Hornets. He was not talented.

No Limit Records never aspired for artistic greatness, nor did it pretend to. The word business is commonly thrown out to describe the rap game, and no crew approached music as a business more than No Limit. Master P wanted the rappers from his legion, as he termed them soldiers, to release 20-song albums at a near-weekly basis. Wikipedia tells me that in 1998, 23 No Limit albums came out, a number that included a CD titled My Balls and My Word by a rapper named Young Bleed.

There was no thought put into any of it. Each album was the same. They contained forgettable odes about drug dealing and ghetto stereotypes and the requisite “fallen homies” and “crew shout-out” songs that featured seven artists. Nepotism got you signed. Master P’s brothers, Silkk and C-Murder, were on the label. The majority of the artists, like Mr. Serv-On, hailed from P’s hometown of New Orleans. None of them were good. None of them. Yet Fiend’s album reached No. 8 in the entire country, and rappers like Serv-On and Big Ed and the Gambino Family had albums in the top 20. Silkk the Shocker had an album go No. 1.

The commercial success led to No Limit’s greatest sin, spawning the Southside’s other mistake, Cash Money Records. Like No Limit, it differed from some of the other rap crews. It had talent at the center, in Juvenile and a young Lil’ Wayne, but usually crews were started by rich, established stars. No one had any money for Cash Money records. As you could imagine, this became a problem, considering the sole gimmick of Cash Money was to describe how much money they had even though they didn’t have any.

Every single song was about Bentleys and Rolexes. A song like “Rich N*****” would have a verse that would then turn into the chorus for the song “Loud Pipes.” It was cut and paste, and borrow the sweet cars and platinum chains that were in the music videos. Thankfully a few years ago, Cash Money handed everything over to Lil’ Wayne so the label actually survives today and resembles little of the genre-ruining entity it was years ago.

Back then, rap had changed. The music at its origins was largely about MC battles. One person rapped to the same beat as another, and a crowd decided who was better. Individual talent won out. If someone grew up on the same street as DMX, it didn’t matter. You were exposed if you didn’t have the necessary skill. But in the late 90s that was no longer the case.

The rap industry resembled the real world in that who you knew mattered as much as what you could do. The talented didn’t necessarily catch the breaks. Sure, some did, but far too many got in through connections. Memphis Bleek was from Marcy, so Jay-Z gave him a spot on Roc-A-Fella and the opportunity to release two terrible albums, maybe more.

That was the late 90s and the early aughts for hip-hop. Excess and undeserved opportunity. Fortunately the Internet came along and gutted the music industry. Commercially successful rappers don’t make near as much as they used to, and the cliques full of wannabes dissolved years ago because stars can’t afford to offer alms to their friends. All that’s left are the Drag-On and Silkk the Shocker albums tucked into a CD wallet in the front seat of my car, albums I still listen to and still question why.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Someone deserves the blame

I really didn’t want to write this blog. The idea, after all, has been marinating since last summer, before The Brew House existed, and then simmered a little into the fall.

I thought the crux of the idea, a song, would gracefully pass into the Satelite radio netherworld where all other one-time, bubble gum pop/rap/R&B hits go to spend eternity after they’ve received their last mainstream FM DJ spin.

The song still plays, though. It does on the FM dial.

And it gets worse. This song won a Grammy.*

*I know the Grammy’s aren’t held in high regard compared to the Oscar’s or anything, but A FREAKING GRAMMY. Upon realizing, days ago, this song won a Grammy I had to write this.

You may know it. Jamie Foxx croons about blaming it on the goose. T-Pain screeches about blaming it on the ‘tron*. But regardless of where the blame actually lies, the consequences stick. They’ve created, with their song titled “Blame It,” the worst song of all time.

*That’s an abbreviation for Patron, the alcochol. How cool would it be if T-Pain and Foxx instead meant Tron, the movie. Now that would be an interesting lyric.

Of course, that last statement sounds like ridiculous tunebole.* A Google search for the worst song of all time turns up more than 21 million results. VH-1 has crafted multiple shows that highlight musical nadirs. Blender, Spinner and a bunch of other publications with dizzy-sounding names have joined the list of those who have declared a song the worst. Heck, any time a new Black Eyed Peas song comes on the radio someone is liable to call it the worst song ever.

*Joe Posnanski came up with fanbole to describe moments where sports fans greatly exaggerate about their favorite teams. For instance, a K-State fan might say that Ron Prince was the worst football coach hire in history. Consider tunebole the musical equivalent.

All these attempts to find the worst show that there are thousands of bad songs out there, from Kid Rock’s “Only God Knows Why” to Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” But few of those ruin a talent as good as Jamie Foxx with an auto tune sound scratchy even for auto tune, capture so many rap/ R&B clichés into so short of a song and contain a jarring lack of non-repetitive lines. And none of them do all of that.

“Blame It,” somehow, does. It manages to pull off that impressive feat, and it all starts with the song’s main artist, Foxx.

Jamie Foxx, you may or may not realize, has a legitimate opportunity to win an EGOT. He has the Oscar for his performance in “Ray.” And he has a Grammy, even though it shouldn’t count, for this terrible song.

Foxx could easily turn his attention to Broadway and win a Tony. And who knows, if UPN brings back “The Jamie Foxx Show” and somehow it becomes good and Emmy’s devolve further than they already have, well, OK, that was a bad example. But you get the point. The movie “Stealth” not withstanding Foxx has crafted an impressive resume in multiple entertainment platforms.

Plenty of famous people do this, but they don’t do it well. Like Beyonce. She almost single-handedly ruined “Austin Powers: Goldmember,” and that’s saying something considering the movie starred Mike Myers.

Other examples? Jennifer Lopez. Cher. Mariah Carey.

It’s clear they only get to act because they’ve established themselves as good singers. Or, they only get to sing because they’ve established themselves as good actors. In some cases, like Lopez, they’re terrible at both.

Foxx is different. He’s talented.

He can really act. He can really sing.

Most people probably don’t know if he established himself as a singer or an actor first. Unlike most dual-medium performers, it’s unclear. That’s rare.

So while songs like “Shots” by LMFAO are hideous, they are performed by people who have no discernible talent and therefore cannot be considered the worst songs of all time. Foxx has talent, or at least did, until he threw all of that away when he joined forces with T-Pain.

“Stealth” may have ended his Oscar honeymoon before it even really began, but “Blame It” belongs on another level. This is clearly Foxx’s malus opus. This is clearly music’s malus opus.

In “Ray,” Foxx not only acted like but sounded like the great Ray Charles. He repeated that for the song “Gold Digger” with Kanye. In his other songs, he sounds soulful and smooth, a voice wiser and older than his face suggests.

Here, he sounds like T-Pain.

That’s not exactly something to strive for considering that anyone who downloads an Auto Tune program off the Internet can sound like T-Pain. And that’s where the awfulness of “Blame It” begins, Auto Tune.

Auto Tune, in my opinion, is not a bad thing. It has a time and a place. It gives rappers like Lil’ Wayne an opportunity to jack around and try singing, but it should never be used by anyone with a shred of talent.

In “Blame It,” Foxx’s soulful, recognizable voice is reduced to crackles and scratches, the sound not unlike the bumping and hissing of an old LP.

Of course, a good voice wouldn’t save this song. Neither Foxx nor T-Pain sings anything you couldn’t hear . In fact, they take generic to another level.

You see, the majority of party hits in rap music follow a certain formula. Mention alcohol (not beer, something stronger and more expensive) and mention scantily-clad women (preferably term them hoes), and you have success.

Most artists, though, try to get creative with these references. The songs are about alcohol and women, only they aren’t. Not here. The chorus contains the words alcohol, ‘tron, vodka, blue tap, henny and goose. The lyrics in the very short verses contain references to shots of Nuvo and creative, classy rhyming like “fill another cup what, feeling on your butt what.”

And then there’s this nugget of a line from T-Pain: “Then my pants got bigga/ she already knew what to figga/ looking at her boyfriend like ay, ay, ay, ay, ay.

Don’t understand that scratchy nonsense T-Pain spits at the end? Well, that’s unfortunate. At least a total minute of this song is comprised of scratchy nonsense. It comes when Foxx stutters about a hundred times before saying alcohol in each chorus, and it comes pretty much with every other line T-Pain sings.

But maybe this song isn’t the worst. Maybe this is just a long rant of tunebole.

This is possible because there is one redeeming line in the song. You can hear it a few times because everything is repeated incessantly in “Blame It.”
Just before the chorus, Foxx sings, “see what we could be if we press fast forward.”

It’s a great line; it’s a reminder of what we can all do the next time the song plays.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Tech, tech, tech, tech, nine, nine, nine

Everyone from the Kansas City area has a Tech N9ne story.

There was one time that he showed up in the parking lot at a Saint Thomas Aquinas football game.

He arrived in a massive van, decorated with a mural of his recent album, “Absolute Power.” The car was somewhat out of place. This was St. Thomas Aquinas for a Friday night football game. The parking lot was filled with mothers’ minivans, Leawood* students’ Lexus’s and the car jockeys’ Preludes and souped-up Civics.

*My bad, I mean Leahood.

Tech N9ne styled his hair in orange dreads that night, just like on the album cover/side of the touring van. He didn’t quite fit in.

No, the car, the hair, the fact that Tech N9ne was rumored to have worshipped Satan – it all didn’t quite feel right in a parking lot in a southern Johnson County Catholic school.

But no one seemed to care. A celebrity had come to Aquinas. This was automatically big news, no matter the person. Fran Drescher could have arrived, giving out free DVD’s of “The Nanny,” and we would have thrown a parade.

And here was Tech N9ne. Tech-FREAKING-N9ne at our high school. He was famous. Yeah, he must have been famous. He was Tech N9ne.

That mattered to us.

***

I write this blog now because I just noticed that Tech N9ne has a new CD. I saw it at Best Buy in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. It’s called K.O.D., an acronym for King of Darkness. I don’t expect many people down here will buy it.

They won’t understand it. They won’t understand Tech N9ne. They’re not from Kansas City.

To us, he’s the most famous rapper to ever come out of the city, probably the most famous musician of the last 10 to 15 years, assuming you don’t count David Cook (and I don’t).

When he released his “Killer” album in 2008, Kansas City Star music critic Timothy Finn called it a classic. Jason Whitlock called it the best rap album since Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.”

It sold 36,000 copies in its first week. That’s certainly not bad, but something hailed as a classic in Kansas City carried little weight anywhere else.

And that makes total sense.

To everyone outside of Jackson, Johnson, Cass and Douglas Counties, Tech N9ne is nothing. He’s a guy who likely seems disturbed given his album covers and song titles. He’s a guy who hasn’t appeared on MTV, who has done few songs with other reputable musicians in this decade. He’s a guy who’s not…famous.

Those of us in Kansas City don’t quite understand that.

***

There was one time a friend of my brother’s hung out with the fast crowd at Shawnee Mission South during his freshman year.

One of the passengers on this night smoked what may or may not have been an illegal substance and didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group.

He was Tech N9ne.

This story, along with mine from the beginning, should illustrate a bigger point. Think about it. Two times, at least, Tech N9ne was spotted hanging out among people I know in Johnson County.

That doesn’t exactly help out with street cred*. And if you’re interested in becoming a famous rapper, you need street cred, something that doesn’t come easy in hip-hop.

* Whenever people say “street cred,” it’s always “cred” never “credit.” What, does it show a lack of street cred to use the word credit?

You see, rap music is strange in that lame suburbanites such as myself buy the great majority of records. So to become famous and keep your street cred you have to make music that alternately pleases this suburban crowd, yet also alienates them so as to impress the urban crowd.

This can be done in multiple ways.

One, you can include words and messages that lame suburbanites don’t quite understand. An example of this would be the famous song by Lil’ Jon, “Get Low.” He repeated a highly explicit word in the chorus that I will not write because this is a family blog. No one who lived within 10 miles of a cul de sac knew what that word meant until Dave Chappelle hilariously brought this up on his TV show, sending suburbanites scrambling to urbandictionary.com.

Two, you can glorify crime and boast of a criminal background. 50 Cent does this as well as anyone. He talks about how he was shot several times before he got famous. Every once in a while he makes sure to get accused of a minor crime for which he will get acquitted, allowing him to skate off freely yet still put on the façade that he is a gangster/thug.

Three, you can start an imaginary feud with another rapper. Just mention some obscure line that doesn’t quite call someone out, but under the right circumstances could be interpreted that way. Then, six months later, declare that “the beef is on wax,” meaning it was all in good fun and won’t lead to any real fighting.

Tech N9ne didn’t pull this off. At the beginning of his career, he rapped about more standard topics such as repping his neighborhood and visiting far away hoods.

Then he dyed his hair orange. Then he wrote songs like “Slacker” and deeper, almost scary songs like “This Ring.” Then he started showing up in St. Thomas Aquinas parking lots and Shawnee Mission South social functions.

He didn’t hang around 56th and Highland too often.

He made moves that were innovative and bold, but in rap music, where clichés and catchy, formulaic hooks equal money, that’s not how you become famous.

***
Kansas City always wanted Tech N9ne to break through.

Maybe it was because of the way he uttered the name of our city in nearly every song, not to mention outlying places like Lawrence and Cameron, Mo. Maybe it was because he invented or at least popularized the drink, Caribou Lou*.

*That’s 151, Malibu Rum and pineapple juice. And if you are to listen to Tech, you can’t get the party started without it.

Maybe it was because no famous musicians (again, I’m not counting David Cook) have come from Kansas City since the Jazz age.
We knew we couldn’t compete with LA or New York, but other Midwest cities had their artists.

St. Louis had Nelly and even a one-hit wonder from J-Kwon. Omaha had 311. Chicago had Common and Kanye. Denver had India.Arie.

We knew Tech N9ne was our opportunity. So we built him up. We imagined that “I’m A Playa” would be a perfect club anthem, and that yes, the album “Killer” could be a classic.

In the ears of outsiders, the lyrics and beats didn’t sound the same. I remember asking people who lived at my dorm my freshman year in college about Tech N9ne. I would always get the same response. Yeah, he’s OK.

Tech N9ne is OK. That’s the prevailing opinion, not that he is too out there or that he doesn’t have enough street cred, and it leads into the final Tech N9ne story.

There was one time a reporter from Yahoo conducted a Q&A session with Aqib Talib during KU’s dream football season of 2007.
He asked him about the year, asked him about his daughter, asked him about coach Mangino and asked him about music and Tech N9ne.

“Yeah, he’s a Kansas City guy,” Talib said. “I haven’t gotten into him yet. I haven’t lived up here long enough.”

Tagged , , , , , ,