Every Monday morning. Music so good… it must be shared.
Two years ago, I petitioned to the world, i.e. to the loyal, super-awesome readers of this blog, the need for Halloween songs. And I wasn’t talking about scary sounds to hear in the dark like you might hear at one of those $72 Haunted House in Kansas City’s West Bottoms or Dallas’ Deep Ellum. I mean real songs. Pop songs. Rock songs. Rap songs. Songs that aren’t made for Halloween but sound like Halloween.
So…I decided to make a Halloween soundtrack this year. You’ll see some songs from that old list and plenty of new ones. You won’t see the “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett because who the hell would honestly want to hear that song at a party. Feel free to add some Halloween songs you can think of in the comments section.
And if you have a Halloween party this weekend, I highly recommend all of these. Or bring it to a party if you’re not throwing one. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
“Amazing,” by Kanye West
Yeah, “I’m a monster. I’m a maven.” This song will do just fine. It’s also a really good song for warming up for a basketball game.
This is a man. This is a man dancing. This is a man dancing to the Black Keys’ new song, “Lonely Boy”, the first single off their new album Camino.
The only question: Where is this dancing man? Outside a movie theater? A cheap hotel? A carnival?
Will we ever know?
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.
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.
So here’s a new, hopefully recurring series I’m working on. I’ll dissect chosen songs from the ever-complex world of popular music. I will attempt to do this in a sort of literary fashion, discussing characters, the summary, the setting, the conflict and a proposed solution for that conflict because let’s face it, sometimes these songwriters just leave us hanging.
Oh, and a quick note: Being that this is March, I should have a good college bball post up tomorrow and possibly another on Thurs. or Friday.
1. Akon “Sexy (Chick)”
Summary: Akon is at bar, and a dancing woman piques his interest. He wants to find a way to describe her, a respectful way, but is struggling with this concept.
Setting: Nighttime, at a bar where most of the other girls, except for the one of Akon’s focus, look like, we can assume, “neighborhood hoes.”
Akon: A performer of Senegalese descent, his first single was “Locked Up” from 2004. He was once criticized for allegedly simulating improper on-stage acts with a 15-year old. Gwen Stefani also once kicked him off their tour.
Sexy Chick: This is a girl who is a diva and could be on the low down and who people say needs to slow down. Others have also said that she’s the baddest thing around town. Akon finds himself infatuated with Sexy Chick.
Universal Conflict: Man vs. Self
Specific conflict: Akon vs. His inability to describe this so-called “Sexy Chick”
Akon is battling the limitations of his own vocabulary. He’s trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful. If he could find these words, perhaps he could walk over toward her, hope that she is not underage as is allegedly his past mistake, and make a move.
Proposed solution: As a writer, I can totally relate to this conflict. Finding that perfect word is sometimes impossible. In that sense, there really is no feasible solution. There is, however, a recommendation. Instead of finding a way to describe this girl without being disrespectful, Akon simply starts chanting: “Damn, girl, you’s a sexy chick” (and it’s sexy bitch in the unedited version). Now, maybe I’m not as much of an expert at life as Akon, but I do know that describing a girl as a “sexy bitch” is not respectful. He says he is trying to not be disrespectful, and he obviously is. So here’s my suggestion: Akon should say, “Damn, girl, you’s an upstanding citizen.”
2. Lady Gaga and Beyonce “Telephone”
Summary: Lady Gaga and Beyonce are out at a club, presumably with several friends, and someone, presumably a male, calls each of them. At first, it seems that Gaga tries to answer but isn’t getting any service. But for the rest of the song it seems that neither woman can answer their cell phones because they are too busy dancing.
Setting: Nighttime at a bar that is a dead zone for phone service. It also just so happens that Gaga’s favorite song is about to come on.
Lady Gaga: Talented performer and singer who has risen to “Fame” (get it?) in the last year. She loves to dance. This is evident from the song, “Just Dance.”
Beyonce: Another talented performer and singer who has been around for a long time. She is married to Jay-Z. Although she hasn’t previously professed to be as much of dancer as Gaga, we can assume she also enjoys the pastime.
Unknown caller: Someone is obviously trying to contact these two. It is unlikely that this person is Jay-Z because Beyonce would likely want to speak with her husband. He has their cell phone numbers and thinks for whatever reason that he could meet them at this club. Gaga may have wanted to meet him earlier when she was free, but now, clearly, she is not. Beyonce also says that it’s not that she doesn’t like this caller, but it is just not a good time.
Universal conflict: Man vs. Technology
Specific conflict: Beyonce/Gaga vs. Their cell phones.
Both Gaga and Beyonce are having problems with their phone, whether it is from bad service or that it won’t stop ringing. Really, all they want to do is dance, one of the most primal forms of human entertainment, and their phones, technological devices, are preventing them from doing so. They are romantic beings trying to enjoy the simpler forms of life without relying on science or technology.
Proposed solution: The easy way out is to throw away the phone. But who would want to do that? You would lose your sim card, and it would be a waste of money. I suggest that Gaga and Beyonce suck it up and try to text while dancing. They argue that they can’t dance, hold a drink in one hand and text with the other. Why not? They could even implement the phone and their texting motion as part of the dance.
Let’s see here, the Super Bowl drew huge ratings two Sundays ago, the Winter Olympics opened on Friday with tragedy and cauldron malfunctions, and on Saturday, Danica Patrick crashed — literally — NASCAR’s party at the Daytona 500.
Yep, there’s a lot going on in the sports realm. But really, there’s only one sports that matters right now — and that’s basketball.
I thought about this on Friday night as I was driving home from a high school basketball game in Lansing, Kansas.
I was thinking, that this has to be one of the best basketball weeks of year.
League races are heating up in muggy high school gymnasiums across the country. College teams are trying to find themselves before that final push into March.* And the best basketball players in the world just descended on JerryWorld in Dallas for All-Star weekend.
*And if you’re a fan of a certain University in Lawrence, Kan., it’s that time of year when you’re team heads to Henry T.’s for a feast of spicy chicken wings and turkey wraps.
So yes, if you’re a follower of the Church of Hoops, then it doesn’t get much better than this.
But here’s the question? Could it?
So let me just say that this is going to be one of those posts that would play a lot better if this blog actually had an audience.
And right now, I’m pretty sure this blog’s readers could be counted on the fingers of Antonio Alfonseca*.
*He had 12 the last time I checked.
No worries. You see, I have lots of strong feelings about the game of basketball.
I have passionate feelings about the best player I’ve ever seen live — Kevin Durant. And I have passionate feelings about the idea that you can’t win a NBA title with your point guard leading your team in scoring. And I have passionate feelings that Tim Duncan is still underrated — and Kevin Garnett may be a little overrated.
In short, I believe that basketball is greatest game the world has ever known.
But don’t worry, this won’t be one those posts.
This post is just about a small idea that could make the NBA better — or at least more entertaining for fans.
The idea begins and ends with a simple concept: pep-band music.
If you’ve ever been to a high school or college basketball game, you know what I’m talking about.
But first, picture yourself at an NBA game.*
*And by the way, I hope this doesn’t come off as an anti-NBA post. I love the NBA. Love LeBron. Really love Durant. Love Dirk and Steve Nash and that song by Nelly Furtado that references Steve Nash. I’ve never understood NBA-bashers. Perhaps they don’t understand the game, or perhaps they were soured on the League during the post-Jordan era when the quality of play seemed to be, well… a little down.
Anyway, so you’re at a regular season NBA game between the Mavericks and Wizards. It’s mid-December, it’s the middle of the first quarter, and there’s little life in the Arena.
Jason Terry begins to bring the ball up the court, and then, you hear it…
The familiar music… “dun-dun-duh, dun-dun-duh, DUN-DUN-DUH…”
It gets louder and faster as the shot clock runs down, but it’s there, and it’s artificial, and it’s annoying.
And the thing is, I’m not sure when it started. I’m not sure when NBA teams started piping in music during games (sometimes, nowadays, it’s even real songs. Like Usher’s “Yeah”). But I know one thing. It has to stop.
Now let’s compare this with another scene.
I was out covering high school basketball the other night in Lansing, Kan., a small town a handful of miles northwest of downtown Kansas City. There’s a prison in Lansing. A lot of people seem to know that. Most people don’t know much else.
But on Friday night, Lansing High School was playing host to Basehor-Linwood, the defending 4A state champs in the state of Kansas*.
*If you want a mental picture on what the Basehor-Linwood team looks like, picture Northern Iowa or Butler. They’re the equivalent of a mid-major — a skilled group of shooters, passers and cutters with a lot of, well… let’s call it the “Duke” gene.
It was a frosty night, and there were probably about 1,200 people in the gym. But when the Lansing team stormed out of the locker room, and the Lansing High Pep band started blasting out pep-band tunes, the gym suddenly became as juiced as Allen Fieldhouse during a Big Monday game in February.
If 15 high school band members could send a small high school gym in Kansas into a frenzy, imagine what a 15-member pep band consisting of professional musicians could do to Madison Square Garden.
Of course, I will admit that I have some personal experiences that may be clouding this opinion.
If you’ve ever been a high school basketball player — especially a short one with little athletic ability — you know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve ever been at a bar in Lawrence, Kan., on a Friday night when the KU Bar Band rolls in and starts jamming on “Hey Jude” and the KU fight song, you know what I’m talking about.
Pep bands just make things better.
*A quick story. And I promise this won’t be an Uncle Rico story, but bear with me. When I was a junior in high school, my team at SM South advanced to the state tournament in Emporia for the first time in 14 years.
Of course, that says more about the talent running through our program than anything, but whatever. So we drew Emporia — the home-town team — in the first round of the tournament. And, of course, we all scoured the internet for information on our opponents.
It just so happened that the Emporia program had a team website with some highlight videos. Emporia had a pretty solid team that year — two of its starters would go on to start at Emporia State — and one of the videos included a backdoor cut that resulted in a monsterous dunk over some poor defender. But it wasn’t the dunk that made the video intimidating. Instead, the moment that made the video great took place a split-second after the dunk. Right on cue, after the ball was slammed through the hoop, you could hear the drummer in the pep band go directly in to a nasty drum solo, punctuated with a huge symbol crash.
Now that was intimidation. And yes, we lost.
So yea, it’s not just the warm-up music. It’s also the bassist in the pep-band doing short little riffs after each made shot. It’s the crowd singing along to “Louie, Louie” or “The Hey Song” or any other pep-band anthem.
Listen, I know that the connection between hip-hop music and the NBA is sacred. I get that. And anybody that wants to ignore it, well, in the words of Isiah Thomas — “You just wouldn’t understand.”
So I’m not saying that I don’t want to hear Ludacris and Snoop and Hova blasting from the speakers during certain parts of pre-game.
But how about this: We abolish all piped-in music when the ball is in play. C’mon, we can do this.
Just imagine. You’re at Madison Square Garden. Jay-Z is courtside. The Knicks are playing the Cavs. LeBron is in the house.
And on the baseline, there is a 15-piece pep band. There’s a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and trumpets and tubas and trombones.
And when the Knicks charge out of the locker room, the Knicks’ pep band starts bumping “Empire State of Mind” — and then you hear the crowd. They’re swaying back and fourth and belting out the chorus…
“Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York”
Now switch the song and imagine this scene playing out in every NBA arena in the country.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m way off. Maybe it’s because it’s a Tuesday afternoon.
But I think we might be on to something.
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.”
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.” — Dazed and Confused
I first saw the movie “Dazed and Confused” when I was 10 years old. It was 1996. This of course, was a year when people still rented movies, still popped VHS tapes into VCR’s, and still had to push play.
Anyway, my older brother had returned from a movie-rental place with a friend. And they planned on watching some movie I’d never heard of.
Sometimes I wonder why I remember this night. Nothing eventful happened. Nothing memorable happened.
But I do remember it. I remember watching the beginning scene at the high school. And I remember the next scene when they go to the middle school and yell at Mitch Kramer through the loudspeaker.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the movie. On one hand, I feel it’s wildly underrated. Richard Linklater directed it. He’s the same guy that directed Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — two masterpieces that I’ve always loved. On the other hand, I feel it’s still pretty flawed and a little bit phony.
*I’m pretty sure that my contradictory feelings stem from my high school experiences. I remember being in high school in Overland Park in the early 2000’s. And for some reason, the kids in the burnout clique adopted Dazed and Confused as their favorite movie. Of course, I was friends with most of these people. But I always thought they were missing the point. They all wanted to drive around and listen to music — like the people in the movie (and when you’re in high school, who doesn’t?). But it seemed like three or four guys started talking exactly like the stoner archetype from the movie.
“Hey, man, you just don’t understand, man. Martha Washington, man, she was a good lady, man. Yea, yea. Yea. Whoa, man.” So, yea, maybe my view of the movie was tarnished.
But here’s the thing: If I’m watching television, and Dazed and Confused comes on — I just can’t turn the channel.
This happened again last Tuesday. Dazed and Confused was on television for the 1,713th time. And I had to keep watching. And that’s when I heard Cynthia, the nerdy redhead from the movie, say that quote about her “Every other decade theory.”
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.”*
*I’m fairly certain that Linklater was trying to add a little ironic humor.
Of course, I can’t remember the 80’s… so I can’t be sure. But I’m fairly certain that most people would never describe the 80’s as “radical.”
I’m not exactly sure why, but on this particular viewing, on this particular night, these words made me think a little deeper.
Maybe it was the chilly winter weather. Maybe it was because it was 1:30 in the morning. But mostly, I think it was because I’ve been thinking a lot about decades recently.
We’ve been inundated with lists the last couple weeks. The Top 10 Movies of the Decade. The Top 500 Songs of the Decade. The Top 10 Moments of the Decade. On and on and on.
And at its core, Dazed and Confused is simply a cheap little piece of 1970s nostalgia. It’s about a bunch of high school kids in 1976. They cruise around town, drink, smoke, and listen to music (for all intents and purposes, they basically listen to a greatest hits collection from the 1970s).
They throw ragers at the local park, attempt to throw keggers in their basements, and shoot pool at the local pool hall.
I’m sure there were a few people that did these kinds of things in the 1970s. For all I know, maybe there were lots and lots of people that did these things. But I’m guessing — in fact, I’m fairly certain — that the majority of high school kids did not do these types of things in the 1970s.
Sure, some probably drank. Some probably smoked. Some probably did illicit drugs. After all, it was the 1970s. But that’s not my point.
And here’s the thought I’m stumbling to get to.
One movie cannot define the youth culture in the 1970s. It just can’t.
But here’s the sad truth. For millions… that’s how it works.
Pop culture — movies, music, television — has totally corrupted our views of the past.
When I think of the 1970s, I think of Dazed and Confused.
When I think of the 1980s, I think of Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.
When I think of the 1990s, I think of Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait and Clueless and all those other average Generation X films.
And all that pop culture clouds my perception of those decades.
I guess I’ve been thinking about all this as all these “Lists of the Decades” and “Retrospectives of the 2000s” have been coming out.
For some reason, we feel compelled to peel away the complexities from each decade, and repackage 10 years into a nice, short, easy-to-digest synopsis.
The 1920s – a roaring good time with flappers and drinking and excess. Sign me up.
The 1930s – a dusty decade immersed in a depression… and, oh yes, the New Deal.
The 1940s – WAR! …World War II …and the beginning of the Cold War.
The 1950s – A decade of innocence; moving out to the suburbs; the American Dream
The 1960s – A chaotic period; assassinations, protest, civil rights and more war.
The 1970s – Drugs and disco and long hair.
The 1980s – A new decade of excess and yuppies and Reagan and the end of the Cold War.
The 1990s – Microsoft and computers and the Internet and the tech boom.
…And so on.
So what short synopsis will come to define this decade? How will we remember these long 10 years?
Well, if you’re listening, it’s already started to develop.
And I’m sure we’ll hear about 9/11 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’ll remember Bush and Obama – their differences and similarities. We’ll remember Google and the iPhone. We’ll remember Katrina. And we’ll remember the financial collapse.
So I suppose people will remember this decade as a period of struggle. A lost decade of calamitous events. Tragedy and terror and more bad news.
And I guess that’s OK. I’ll remember all those things.
But then, some hot young director will make a movie in 2027 — a piece of cheap nostalgia about high school kids in the 2000s — and I’m not sure I’ll totally be able to recognize it.
Because if you strip away all the stuff that the the 2000s were “supposed to be about,” you might just be left with your own memories and your own experiences.
You might just realize that the 2000s were a pretty damn-good time to be alive.
…And yet, as I try to make sense of the decade, and the things that resonated with me. I’m left thinking about the music I listened to. Each song, each album, each downloaded piece of music helps me reflect on 10 years of memories and friends and growth.
So, to make sense of it all –- and to cure a little Christmas-break boredom, I knew I had to make a list of The 10 Best Songs of The Decade. The only problem… I couldn’t stop at 10.
So here’s 20 songs that shaped the decade. Well, they shaped my decade. And that’s the point. We all have our own 20 songs. Listen to your songs. Don’t listen to everyone else’s.
The Late Greats
In 25 years, young hipsters will still be wearing Wilco T-shirts. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s incomparable frontman, will be ordained a music legend. And Tweedy will be on some stage somewhere, collaborating with some young hip band trying to steal a little of Wilco’s mojo.
And I’ll tell my kids, “You know, I loved Wilco when I was growing up.” I’ll say this because I’ll assume that it will give me some marker of credibility, some points in the coolness quotient. I’ll assume that my kids will care. Of course, we know they won’t
19. Empire State of Mind
Jay-Z , ft. Alicia Keys
So, I was convinced to replace Jay’s “Roc Boys (And the winner is…)” with “Empire State of Mind”. After all, “Empire” is one of the newest songs on the list.
Of course, it’s one of the best tracks of 2009, and Jay and Alicia performed at the World Series at Yankee Stadium — and that was a great moment.
But I am curious to know what we will think about this song in 20 years.
Will kids be humming it, like they hum “Sinatra’s “New York, New York?” But in the end, Jay-Z — the new Sinatra — had to be on the list.
18. My Love
Justin Timberlake Ft. T.I.
17. Road to Joy
This is the final track on Conor Oberst’s seminal 2005 record, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.”
…The sun came up with no conclusions
Flowers sleepin’ in their beds
The city cemetary’s hummin’
I’m wide awake, its mornin’
16. The Needle has landed
She’s one of the best artists of the last decade. She was the lead singer in the New Pornographers — one the most underrated bands of the decade. And her voice is iconic.
Around the time I first started to listen to Neko Case, I was in a record store in Fort Collins, Colo. This song was playing in the background. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was Neko Case. He said, “Yea… I think she’s going to be an all-time great.”
15. Paper Planes
It suffered a little bit from being overplayed. But if you weren’t jamming to this song in 2007-08, you just weren’t paying attention.
Simply put, it’s the most danceable song of the last 10 years.
Plus, anytime you can have a hit record with the lyrics, “We pack and deliver like UPS trucks,” you’re doing something right.
14. New Slang
Artist: The Shins
When I was 17 years old, my older brother took me to a show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence. We saw two bands I’d never heard of. The Rapture and The Shins. When you’ve never heard a band before, it can be hard to totally enjoy their live show. The Shins were different. Within the next year, I had both their albums — “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow”.
And then the movie “Garden State” came out. You know, the indie hit starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. Of course, it became my favorite movie — mostly because it had three Shins songs featured in it.*
*One time, when I was a senior, I used my nerdy Student Council connections to get like seven kids out of class, and we went to my house to eat lunch and watch this movie.
Well, this song, according to Portman’s character, was supposed to “totally change your life.” I’m not sure it changed anyone’s life — except for Braff’s. But it introduced the world to The Shins. And it made me feel cool because I was a high schooler listening to some quality “college rock.” And that was good enough.
13. Remix to Ignition
Here’s why this song is on the list. If you had a time machine, you could travel back to the year 2003.
And if you travelled back in time, you could walk into any high school lunchroom in America, and within a few minutes, you’d hear somebody singing “And after the party, it’s the hotel lobby…”
12. Fred Jones Pt. 2
This song is about an old newspaper man who loses his job. It was great in 2001, and it means even more to me now.
Let’s hope people don’t forget about the greatness of Folds’ first solo album, “Rockin’ the Suburbs.”
11. Whatever You Like
For me, this song means college. And in 20 years, this song will mean college. And in 30 years, this song will mean college. And when I hear it, I’ll be in college again. And there aren’t many things better than that.*
*Oh, and I guess T.I. just got out of jail. Good for him.
10. I And Love And You
The Avett Brothers
Haven’t listened to the Avett Brothers? Then you’re missing out on the best rock song of 2009.
9. Crazy in Love
Here’s my Beyonce story. If you live in Kansas City, you surely know about the radio station 95.7 “The Vibe.” Well, once upon a time, 95.7 decided it was going to try to challenge 103.3 Jamz, the top Hip-hop station in Kansas City. So 95.7 started playing the top 20 hip-hop and and R&B songs in the country. And that was all it played. It was annoying, but at the same time, it was comforting.
For example, if The Vibe was around in 2003, you would have been able to turn to it and hear “Crazy in Love” withing the next 20 minutes… guaranteed. And that’s what I think about when I think of “Crazy in Love.”
You might not want to listen to it forever, but in a decade that was defined by downloading and iTunes and all the rest, it’s the perfect single. You hear it once, and you want to hear it again. And that’s why I liked 95.7 The Vibe. I wasn’t crazy about the music. (Sure, I enjoyed it enough.) But I knew I was going to hear the same 20 songs.*
*Oddly enough, 95.7 still calls itself The Vibe, but it plays Nickelback and other atrocious mainstream rock songs.
8. This Year
The Mountain Goats
My brother introduced me to The Mountain Goats sometime during the first couple years of the decade. It was essentially one guy, John Darnielle, playing lo-fi, folky, indie-rock. It was raw, and it felt like you were listening to the greatest secret in the word.
A few years later, I was driving on K-10, on my way back to school at KU. This song came on the radio — 90.7 KJHK, the student-run radio station at the University of Kansas. For the next three minutes, I sat and listened. I downloaded the song a few hours later, and it still has the greatest chorus of the decade.
“I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me…”
7. What Am I To You?
…What am I to you
Tell me darling true
To me you are the sea
Vast as you can be
And deep the shade of blue
6. Do You Realize?
The Flaming Lips
…And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
5. Where’s the Love?
The Black Eyed Peas
This song introduced us to the Peas, to will.i.am, and to Fergie.
Justin Timberlake stops in for a cameo, and against all odds, we somehow get one of the best peace anthems and protest songs of the last 25 years.
4. The Decemberists
The Crane Wife 1&2
The Decemberists spent the decade spewing out sophisticated indie-rock. Songs with inspired lyrics, and albums with actual themes.
They had a pseudo-rivalry with Stephen Colbert, and they wrote the second-best rock album of the decade (the first is coming up).
Here’s my Decemberists story. When I was in college, I worked at the college radio station. I mostly did sports broadcasting stuff, but occasionally, I’d fill in and do a D.J. shift. Sometimes I’d bring my brother to help me with D.J. shifts. Anyways, one time, my brother decided to play The Decemberists’ song, “The Shankill Butchers,” perhaps the most depressing song ever.
Basically, it’s slow and creepy, and it’s about butchers killing people with cleavers and knives. Like I said, it’s depressing.
So my bro puts the song on, and within two minutes, this really laid back dude calls. He’s real laid-back, talking deep and slow. And it seems the laid-back dude thought we were a real downer. I guess we ruined his day by playing such a depressing tune.
As I recall, he said something like this: “Yo, man… come on guys. It’s just not right. Just not right. You gotta bring people up. Bring ’em up, man. Give ’em some hope. This song is just a real downer, man. A downer, man. I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to do your jobs. But let’s bring a little joy to the world, let’s bring people up…”
It was a strange conversation. But I think the weird laid-back Lawrence townie had a point.
3. Death Cab For Cutie
Not sure who said it, but here’s the greatest way to describe this song…
You just never want it to end.
2. Hey Yea
The most ubiquitous hit of the decades. If Outkast is the artist of the decade — and they just might be — this is their “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Andre 3000 and Big Boi have had their Lennon/McCartney moments, but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Outkast.
1. Neighborhood Pt. 1 (Tunnel)
You could pick any song off Arcade Fire’s 2004 album “Funeral” to put in this slot. In fact, I almost chose “Rebellions.” But this is the first song, your entrance to the best album of the 2000s.
So go listen to the album straight through, and you’ll never hear music the same again.