Tag Archives: music

Boxer

We’re half awake in our fake empire.

***

Push through a revolving door and break the plane of a cold that hangs solid in the air and amplifies all the small sounds, making the busy sidewalk feel almost empty. The lights from the taller buildings — 30 or 40 or more stories up — create a soft electric glow, a warm blanket of false twilight that hovers and holds the city close.

Maybe you’re headed home to dinner and bed. Perhaps you’re off to the gym. If it’s Thursday, you might be bound for a bar or dinner to meet co-workers or make connections. No matter where you’re going, you’re headed to whatever semblance of home you’ve built sooner rather than later, because tomorrow’s Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. Another day of work.

This is all you have and this is all you have looked forward to. This is life as one in however many million, this is growing up and growing older in New York City.

The National is the soundtrack.

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#MusicMonday: II

Every Monday morning. Music so good… it must be shared.

This week: “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?She and Him, off the album, “Volume One

Honorable mention: “White Cliffs of Dover” — The Checkers; “Jack Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)” — Van Morrison

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#MusicMonday

Every Monday morning. Music so good… it must be shared.

This week: “Santa Fe”Beirut, off the album “The Rip Tide

Thanks for stopping by the Brew House.

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Your Halloween Soundtrack

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.

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Lonely Boy

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?

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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.

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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.

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Pop Song Analysis Vol. 1

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.”

Character list
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.

Character list:
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.

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A Pep-band jam

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.

So imagine:

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.

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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.”

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