Monday, November 25, 2013

Most and Least Favorite Comic Book Artists

This isn't a 100% comprehensive list and is open to revision as I remember more artists and read more comics, but my current lists of favorite and least favorite comic book artists:

Least Favorite Comic Book Artists

  • 17. Howard Chaykin
  • 16. Paul Pope
  • 15. Adam Kubert
  • 14. Sal Buscema
  • 13. Joe Madureira
  • 12. David Finch
  • 11. Todd McFarlane
  • 10. Curt Swann
  • 9. Steve Dillon
  • 8. Mike Deodato
  • 7. Igor Kordey
  • 6. Greg Land
  • 5. Jim Lee
  • 4. Marc Silvestri
  • 3. Milo Manara
  • 2. Frank Miller
  • 1. Rob Liefeld

Most Favorite Comic Book Artists

  • 36. Ron Frenz
  • 35. Sergio Aragones
  • 34. Dave Gibbons
  • 33. Olivier Coipel
  • 32. Skottie Young
  • 31. Greg Capullo
  • 30. Humberto Ramos
  • 29. Bernie Wrightson
  • 28. Alan Davis
  • 27. Moritat
  • 26. David Aja
  • 25. Walter Simonson
  • 24. Joe Kubert
  • 23. Bill Sienkiewicz
  • 22. Alex Maleev
  • 21. Mike Mignola
  • 20. Chris Bachalo
  • 19. Charlie Adlard
  • 18. Keith Giffen
  • 17. Al Feldstein
  • 16. Jim Starlin
  • 15. Jim Steranko
  • 14. JH Williams III
  • 13. Jae Lee
  • 12. Jerome Opena
  • 11. Alex Ross
  • 10. Chris Ware
  • 9. John Buscema
  • 8. Neal Adams
  • 7. John Romita Sr.
  • 6. Dave Cockrum
  • 5. George Perez
  • 4. Jack Kirby
  • 3. Steve Ditko
  • 2. John Byrne
  • 1. John Romita Jr.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Slave" (With Footnotes)

Here is the eleventh in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Slave."

"Slave" is the second song I ever wrote. This was when I was doing my songs mostly a capella at open mic night and it was definitely done in a style that would work well for slam poetry nights. The rhymes are simple and the rhythm primarily comes from repetition, something I over-relied upon in the early days. I still like the sound of it, though, and crowds always seem to like it, even grabbing on to the repetitive chanting.

The premise is pretty simple, I think most people enslave themselves to various things that prevent them from becoming enlightened or evolving or being free or being happy. The second and third verses explain what the cost of that mental slavery is. The song probably most owes its origin to the Public Enemy line from "He Got Game," where Chuck D says: "payin mental rent/to corporate presidents/one outta million residents/bein dissident/who ain't kissin it." The lyrics are pretty simple and don't need a lot of explanation.

You made yourself a slave to the man

"The man" is pretty open-ended here, whether it be a politician, your boss, the police, whatever.

You made yourself a slave to beer can
You made yourself a slave to the crack

Addiction is an obvious slave master.

You made yourself a slave to the payback

This one works in multiple ways, most notably financial debt or revenge.

You made yourself a slave to herd

Groupthink, hive mind, whatever you want to call it when people go along to get along and refuse to think for themselves.

You made yourself a slave to wrong words

This one also could mean many different things: ideology, religion, media, propaganda, etc.

You made yourself a slave to hate

The things we hate often shape us more than the things we love. That's a bad idea.

You made yourself a slave to going rate

The metaphor here alludes to the idea of being resistant to change or to always doing things the same way, even if there might be better ways to do things.

You made yourself a slave to grass

This is for the extreme potheads who do nothing but smoke and watch TV or play videogames or whatever.

You made yourself a slave to wrong ass
You made yourself a slave to vd

Obviously if your life is based around getting laid, you're probably in trouble and VD is just one of the worries you'll have.

You made yourself a slave to tv

Most TV sucks and the worst TV is very, very dangerous to our ways of thinking.

You made yourself a slave to grind

When your life becomes only about work, making money, materialism, keeping up with the Joneses, etc., you have no life.

You made yourself a slave to wrong minds

There are many so-called thinkers, experts, and philosophers who really don't know what they are talking about and the millions of people who follow them, at best, are fooling themselves. At worst, they're killing others.

You made yourself a slave to a fake god

This can mean a literal god or a metaphorical one, but any "god" that teaches you hate, materialism, greed, or other similar sins is false.

You made yourself a slave to the cash wad

Again, if it's all about the Benjamins for you, you have problems, you're focused on the wrong things in life.

Get up, get up, get up, get up
Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up
Stand up, stand up, stand up, stand up
...and get down

The chorus is telling the listener to break out of their slavery and become free. The "and get down" part is very much performed in a Beastie Boys voice and usually cracks the audience up after the seriousness of the rest of the song.

What's the price you pay for being a slave

The focus of this verse is to ask, now that we've identified what makes people a slave, what does that mean? What is the cost of being a slave to these various things?

What's the price you pay for the roads you don't pave

The failure to invest in infrastructure is a drag on the economy and particularly hurts the lower classes.

What's the price you pay for being cool

As an individual, what problems do you create for yourself based upon your efforts to be "cool" or acceptable to others, particularly when those things aren't part of who you really are?

What's the price you pay for being a fool
What's the price you pay for being dumb

These two are synonyms, of course. They say ignorance is bliss, but is that really the case? Dumb people seem to die a lot younger and they seem to have a host of other problems, higher debt, more jail time, etc. It's easier not to learn things, but how bad does that mess your life up? And how much does that end up meaning that you cost yourself more in the long run?

What's the price you pay for getting some

A lot of people live their lives for sex. Sex with the wrong person or at the wrong time can cause lots of problems and if your only focus is on sex, it's unlikely you can find any happiness that way.

What's the price you pay for being asleep

Many people are smart enough to realize what's going on but turn a blind eye, making them complicit in the wrongness that happens.

What's the price you pay for not making a peep

Similarly, people that know something is wrong and don't speak up about it are complicit.

What's the price you pay for being greedy
What's the price you pay for ignoring the needy

One of the biggest problems we face as a society is greed and the connected ignoring of those in need because of that greed.

What's the price you pay for hating the ladies

Closely connected is widespread sexism and treatment of women as second-class citizens...

What's the price you pay for not feeding the babies

...which goes hand-in-hand with the failure to adequately care for children (as a society).

What's the price you pay for being numb

Many of these problems are interconnected, like the idea of tuning out or ignoring horrors when they happen because they are just too much to deal with. Doesn't matter why you don't act, just that you don't act.

What's the price you pay for dropping the bomb

The idea that we need to drop bombs on countries to save them has to be one of the most ludicrous ideas ever foisted upon the masses.

What's the price you pay for being a slave

Bring it back full circle to the beginning of the verse.

What's the price you pay for the lives you don't save

And tying it all together, the idea that all of these forms of slavery and failure to stand up and fight those forms of slavery lead to many, many lives lost, both literally and metaphorically.

Get up, get up, get up, get up
Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up
Stand up, stand up, stand up, stand up
...and get down

The chorus again.

It destroys your goals to be such a fool
It steals your soul to be such a fool
It eats your mind to be such a fool
It burns your eyes blind to be such a fool
It ends your schemes to be such a fool
It crushes your dreams to be such a fool
It costs you your name to be such a fool
It makes you lame to be such a fool

It takes all your power to be such a fool
It makes you a coward to be such a fool
It cuts you like a knife to be such a fool
It ends your fucking life to be such a fool
It spends all your ends to be such a fool
It drives away all your friends to be such a fool
It makes you a slave to be such a fool
It drives you to your fucking grave to be such a fool

There really isn't a lot to add to the third verse, it's pretty straightforward and addresses the potential problems with being a blind fool.

Get up, get up, get up, get up
Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up
Stand up, stand up, stand up, stand up
...and get down

The chorus once again.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Pearl Jam Is the Best Band In the World

Pearl Jam is the best band in the world. Here's why:

1. Talent. Each of the members is in the top 10 working musicians in popular music at what they do. Matt Cameron and Eddie Vedder might be the best at what they do. Few people can solo like Mike McCready. The others are nearly as good at what they do, too.

2. 23 years together without breaking up, with most of the original lineup still intact. This means they have worked out the dynamic for working and creating with each other, they trust each other, they work well together, and they respect each other. That means

3. Ticketmaster. Yes, they lost that battle, but it was a battle worth fighting and they were the only ones to fight it.

4. Few, if any videos. So many artists over the years complained about how videos spoiled music, then they went out and made them anyway. Not PJ. They said videos distract from the music and they stopped making them, only

5. Variety. Few rock bands are more experimental and try so many different things and have so many of those things succeed. There really aren't any bad Pearl Jam songs and they can play an acoustic show and a heavy show on the same night. They can do arena rock, radio-friendly ballads, experimental music, punk, classic rock, grunge, pop, bluesy, etc. And they do them all well.

6. Live shows. They play a lot. They play nearly their entire catalog. They throw in great cover songs. They rework songs to make them better or to experiment and try new things. They rock.

7. Vs. Almost an entire album where they upset the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure and it works really, really well.

8. Ten. Few albums from the 90s were more listened to or more influenced everything that came later. Sure, Smells Like Teen Spirit tore down the doors to radio stations, but more bands tried to copy Pearl Jam because Pearl Jam was more accessible. And then Pearl Jam realized that and started getting less accessible and moved on to bigger and better things that the imitators couldn't follow.

9. "Mind Your Manners" and "Sirens." 23 years in, they write one of their best ballads and a song that rocks just as well as their early stuff.

10. "Jeremy." Few songs are more powerful. Few videos are more powerful.

11. "WMA," "Glorified G," "Bushleaguer." Few bands do politics more artfully than PJ.

12. The live bootleg series. They didn't like the way that their fans were getting crappy inferior products from bootleggers or that the copies that they allowed fans to make for themselves weren't as good as they could be, so they started giving the fans every show as recorded at the soundboard.

13. Charity. Few bands have been more involved in trying to change the world and few bands have given more songs to tribute albums.

14. Fan club and Wishlist. PJ is among the best in the business at rewarding their loyal fans with an annual x-mas single, early access to shows, secret shows, etc. And the fan club does charity, too.

15. "Black." This is an incredibly sexy song. I didn't quite lose my virginity to it, but I almost did.

16. "Daughter," "Elderly Woman Behind the Corner In A Small Town." Eddie Vedder has no problem writing from the perspective of a woman because he respects and understands women.

17. "Long Road," "Man of the Hour." Few songs are more poignant examinations of loss than these two.

18. "Yellow Ledbetter." Nobody knows what this song is about, not even the band. And yet we all yell along with it at the top of our lungs because it's just that awesome.

19. "Gremmie Out of Control," "Last Kiss," "Soldier of Love." How many other bands can cover such disparate oldies and make them all sound better than the originals and sound like they wrote the songs.

20. "Lukin." It's short, but damn is it punk. Especially live.

21. "Spin the Black Circle." Yes, I like vinyl, too. Especially when it rocks this hard.

22. Vitalogy, No Code, Yield. There is so much variety and so much good music on these three albums that it'd be silly to try listing the individual highlights. This is some of the most experimental music ever made by a band that sells millions of albums and almost all of it works really well.

23. Survival. They survived the pressure. They survived the media machine. They survived more drummers than Spinal Tap. They survived drugs and addiction. They survived expectations. They survived the pressures of being a band on the road. They survived the Roskilde tragedy. Who else survived as much?

Monday, September 23, 2013

"Sorry to Bother You," The Coup (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Childish Gambino album "Camp," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

If it weren't for Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," "The Magic Clap" would the hardest banging song of the year, maybe of the decade. It was one my favorite videos of 2012 (although not even the best video from this album). And it is one of the best songs of any year. The lyrics are amazing, it's technically difficult, it challenges both lyrically and musically, and it's pretty damned fun to sing along with and dance too. Just plain perfection. And maybe one of the best ways to start off an album ever.

"Strange Arithmetic" is a great follow-up track, elevating the challenge of the album in terms of politics and critical thinking. Not to mention that it is an artistic song with a great concept. And it's another song you can easily dance to.

Just when you don't think an album can start off any better, along comes one of the most wildly creative songs ever written, "Your Parents' Cocaine." And the video is even better. Leave it to Boots Riley to combine kazoos, Anti-Flag, hardcore social commentary, and drug-using muppets. And it works so amazingly well.

After three songs, the album would already be a success, but Riley is far from done. "The Gods of Science" is one of the better rhyme schemes I saw all year, backed with superb production as every other song on the album is. Then that is followed by "My Murder, My Love," which has probably the best hook and a album filled with great hooks.

"You Are Not A Riot" shows Riley's amazing ability to balance incredibly catchy, danceable, original, unique songwriting with hardcore political commentary that doesn't hold back and pretty much always gets it right. It's a powerful combination and if radio and TV in the U.S. wasn't dominated by evil corporate interests, this was, by far, the catchiest set of songs released in 2012.

At some point, it starts to become repetitive to talk about this album, not because the album is at all repetitive, but because all of the adjectives I've used on previous songs keep applying. "Land of 7 Billion Dances" is original, danceable, political, great production, etc., etc. It's not at all like the rest of the album, sonically, and it has a more casual delivery than earlier songs, but that gives you a great break from the hardcore stuff that came before, so those are compliments.

"Violet" has some of the most beautiful music on the album and Pam the Funkstress' hook is a album highlight on an album filled with highlights. "This Year" brings in Jolie Holland as the vocalist and it helps keep the album very fresh, giving a bit of a break from Riley's voice which wasn't getting tiring at all, but that's how good the album is, it switches gears early enough and often enough that you keep being marveled at where it's going and awed at how it gets there.

"We've Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green" manages to shock you with it's creativity and commentary when you didn't think the album could do that any more. And yet it does. Riley tries yet another approach to songwriting and he just knocks it out of the park in a way that you'd have a hard time thinking of anything else like it. Maybe ever.

For "Long Island Iced Tea, Neat," Riley brings in Japanther and damned if that doesn't work out perfectly, too. He continues to vary song structures as well and the production is varied enough that this is one of the few albums, of any era, that is so consistently listenable. "The Guillotine" comes in as a pretty amazing activist anthem and the album closes out on a lighter note, although still very socially conscious, with "WAVIP" which brings in even more amazing collaborators, Killer Mike and Das Racist.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. Riley has an amazing flow and he varies it enough on this album to keep it always interesting.

Lyrics: 10. There aren't many lyricists better than Riley and his metaphors and politically-charged rhetoric are right up my alley.

Message: 10. This album is all about politics and it's all about the right politics. Sometimes Riley is direct, sometimes he's metaphorical, but he's always on point.

Technical: 10. Hard to think of a rapper who more consistently tries to different things vocally and he always pulls them off on this album.

Production: 10. Every song is different and yet, they sound connected enough to be coherent.

Versatility: 10. This album tries to do a lot of great things and each song is significantly different than the others.

Collaborators: 10. Another area that is just plain perfect. There aren't an excessive number of contributors and every one of them is used to perfection.

History: 9. With a rapper as political as Riley, it'd be hard for the album not to be dripping with history. This one is, even if not a lot of it is explicit.

References: 8. There are quite a few, particularly if you also include the music videos, and the ones that exist are good.

Originality: 10. Albums don't get more original than this.

Total Score: 97. It's hard to imagine any album ever getting a higher score than this.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Retroactive Freshmen Classes of the Hip Hop Era

Building on my previous post, I went ahead and built retroactive Freshmen Classes for all of the previous years of the hip hop era. Consider this list a bit of a draft, as some parts of these lists are a little beyond my inherent knowledge and I had to do some research, which isn't a perfect thing in this case, so I might change it based on your feedback.

Also note that each year's list isn't in any particular order.

1979: Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Rahiem, Wonder Mike, Ron Hunt, Big Bank Hank, Kurtis Blow, Paulette Winley, Tanya Winley, Lady D

1980: Spoonie G, Jimmy Spicer, Brother D, Sister Nancy, Special K, Kool Moe Dee, TJ Swann, Kool Kyle the Starchild, Spyder D, Sicle Cell

1981: Kool Ski, Kid Delight, Disco Dave, Pee Wee Mel, Lovebug Starski, T Ski Valley, Busy Bee, Jimmy Mac, Mr. Nice, Mr. Schick

1982: Boogie Knight, Romeo J.D., Lil Raheim, Fab 5 Freddy, Duke Bootee, Missy Dee, Sweet G, Jalil Hutchins, Ecstasy, Grandmaster Caz

1983: Run, DMC, Man Parrish, Hashim, T La Rock, Jazzy J, Adrock, MCA, Mike D, Ice T

1984: Roxanne Shate, Davy DMX, The Real Roxanne, Egyptian Lover, Doug E. Fresh, LL Cool J, Fresh Kid Ice, Educated Rapper, Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock-Ski

1985: Slick Rick, Salt, Pepa, Scooly D, Toddy Tee, Kid Frost, Too Short, MC Shan, Sparky D, Steady B

1986: Luke, Brother Marquis, Kool Keith, Ced-Gee, Rakim, KRS-One, Kool G Rap, Biz Markie, Fresh Prince, Dana Dane

1987: Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, KRS-One, Rakim, Erick Sermon, Parrish Smith, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte

1988: Queen Latifah, MC Ren, Dr. Dre, Afrika Baby Bam, Mike Gee, Bushwick Bill, Rob Base, Posdnous, Trugoy the Dove, Chubb Rock

1989: Kool G. Rap, Wise Intelligent, Guru, Large Professor, Sadat X, Lord Jamar, Scarface, Shock G, Greg Nice, Smooth B

1990: Lord Finesse, Paris, MC Eiht, Brother J, Professor X the Overseer, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, D-Nice, K-Solo, Jay-Z

1991: Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Tim Dog, B-Real, CL Smooth, 2 Pac, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Bootsy Thornton, Dres, Treach

1992: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Common, A.G., Redman, Bun B, Pimp C, Nas, Everlast, Zev Lov X, Apache

1993: E40, Black Thought, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Andre 3000, Big Boi, Jeru the Damaja, Notorious B.I.G.

1994: Pras, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Craig Mack, Keith Murray, Nate Dogg, Warren G

1995: Big L, Cee-Lo Green, Big Gipp, Khujo, Mack 10, Da Brat, Aceyalone, DJ Paul, Juicy J, Lord Infamous

1996: Lil Kim, Xzibit, Capone, Noreaga, Ras Kass, Master P, Big Shug, Slug, WC, Puff Daddy

1997: Mase, Pusha T, Sonny Cheba, Geechi Suede, Peter Gunz, Canibus, Missy Elliot, Aesop Rock, Murs, Lord Tariq

1998: DMX, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Cappadonna, Big Pun, Eminem, Mystikal, Juvenile, Cam'Ron, Afroman

1999: Lil Wayne, Eve, Bumpy Knuckles, Pastor Troy, RA the Rugged Man, Screwball, Dizzy Dustin, Andy Cat, Young Bleed, No Malice

2000: Black Rob, Ludacris, Nelly, Beanie Sigel, stic.man, M-1, Madlib, Memphis Bleek, Mac Dre, Royce da 5'9"

2001: TI, Proof, Bizarre, Sleepy Brown, MF Doom, Devin the Dude, G. Dep, Fabolous, C-Rayz Walz, Immortal Technique

2002: Edan, Killer Mike, Big Noyd, Styles P, Infamous 2.0, Tragedy Khadafi, Cage, Chamillionaire, Sage Francis, Gift of Gab

2003: 50 Cent, David Banner, Turf Talk, Blaq Poet, Bonecrusher, Juelz Santana, Tony Yayo, D-Roc, Dizzee Rascal, Brother Ali

2004: Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Kanye West, Mannie Fresh, MC Jin, Lil' Flip, Lil' Scrappy, Slim Thug, Keak Da Sneak, Jim Jones

2005: Young Jeezy, The Game, Sean Price, Mac Mall, Mistah F.A.B., Paul Wall, Rhymefest, Rapper Big Pooh, Ohmega Watts, K'Naan

2006: Rick Ross, Sway, Joe Budden, Termanology, Travie McCoy, Lady Sovereign, Blueprint, Obie Trice, Naledge, Double-0

2007: Stat Quo, Rich Boy, Huey, ST 2 Lettaz, Yung Clova, Shawty Lo, Chuck Inglish, Mikey Rocks, Skyzoo, NYOIL

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ranking XXL's Freshmen Classes

So I read XXL Magazine's Freshman Class 2013 issue and I was really fascinated by the idea. For those that don't know what it is, every year for the past six years, the hip hop magazine has released an issue with its Top 10 newcomers for the year, giving them some free press and getting them new audiences. I really like the idea, even if the execution isn't particularly awesome.

This made me think of two things that I'm going to write about. The first is to go over the six freshman classes they've done so far and ranking the artists. It'll be a combination of how much I personally like the artists mixed with some measure of their success and output since they were recognized. A combination of subjective and objective rankings. The second thing would be to do a retroactive list of Freshmen for every year during the rap era. I'll do that second one later, for now I want to rank the classes...

(Take these with a bit of a grain of salt, though, since a lot of these rappers I've only heard a little bit from and some of them I'll be listening to for the first time while writing this. I'll update it in the future as I learn more).

2008

1. Lupe Fiasco: Seemingly, by far, the most successful member of the first class. I like him quite a bit. I like his style and I like songs like "Words I Never Said" and "Kick Push" quite a bit.

2. Papoose: I first heard of Papoose doing a track about a police brutality incident in NY and I loved the track. I've liked some of his other stuff, too, but I wouldn't say I love anything he's done, although I do keep listening, because he's far from whack.

3. Crooked I: Like his flow and his voice. I'm definitely going to listen to more after hearing "Dream Big" and "Pac and Biggie."

4. Saigon: Mostly know of him because of his appearances on "Entourage." The tracks I listened to, "Come on Baby" and "Ryders" were solid, but not spectacular. "Come on Baby" has a great beat and really takes off when Jay-Z comes in, but that's not a spectacular sign for Saigon.

5. Joell Ortiz: Not a bad writer, but his style doesn't stand out to me. He's far from terrible and "Hip Hop" isn't a bad track.

6. Lil Boosie: He's been pretty successful, but I tried listening to "Devils" and it didn't do anything for me.

7. Plies: I can't get past how much I dislike the production on the tracks I heard, "Bust It Baby Part 2" and "Shawty," although "Hypnotized" wasn't terrible. He doesn't seem to be horrible technically.

8. Gorilla Zoe: While I totally respect the idea of releasing a mixtape a day for an entire month, the tracks "Echo" and "Hood N*gga" really left me cold. They're really part of what I call the "lazy" trend in hip hop. Slow, awkward delivery, pointless lyrics that could've been delivered by anyone and nothing to stand out from any other song.

9. Rich Boy: Really don't like the choppy style and run-of-the-mill production on "Throw Some D's" and I hate songs about cars.

10. Young Dro: "FDB" and "Shoulder Lean" are even lazier than Gorilla Zoe.

2009

1. Kid Cudi: I'm not yet a massive fan, but I could be on the way since I've liked quite a few of his tracks, including "Day N Nite," "Poke Her Face," and several tracks off of "Indicud."

2. Blu: A much better sound than most of the 2009 class, I'm really interested in hearing a lot more of his sound, which is influenced by the genre that shares his name. His flow is pretty solid, too.

3. Asher Roth: Silly throwaway stuff, but "I Love College" and "Party Girl" are fun songs.

4. B.o.B: He's obviously massively successful, even if he leans very poppy. Although to be fair, he isn't exactly poppy in a bad way, more Justin Timberlake than Britney Spears. Teaming up with the likes of Eminem, Lupe Fiasco, and Morgan Freeman get him a boost and his response to "Control" was pretty strong, but then again, he did a song with Taylor Swift, so...

5. Charles Hamilton: "Brooklyn Girls" is a pretty awesome track, so it's hard to understand why such a prolific rapper has little to no mainstream stuff out.

6. Mickey Factz: He's pretty good on "Paradise" and as a guest on "I'm So Tall," but he really needs to step up the production schedule or risk being a footnote.

7. Ace Hood: He seems to have a lot of potential, but he's hanging out with people like Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Future, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa, all of whom he's better than and bring him down on songs like "Body 2 Body" and "Bugatti," although he does much better when alone, like on "Hustle Hard."

8. Cory Gunz: Hard to say much about someone who has so little output. He did guest on the only Lil Wayne song I can stand "6 Foot, 7 Foot," but I don't get much of a feel for him from "Foreign." Maybe "Colder," which is somewhat better is a better example of what he can do. Remains to be seen.

9. Wale: Really not my type of music. After listening to "Bad" and "Lotus Flower Bomb," I respect the quality of the production and the guest appearances are solid, but they music is just too R&B and light for my tastes.

10. Curren$y: "Jet Life" and "Capitol" both sound kinda dull to me. Not quite in the lazy category, since the production is better than that, but you can see a bit of the Master P/Lil Wayne influence on him and it hurts him when you hear it.

2010

1. Big Sean: The fact that he got Kendrick Lamar to join him for "Control" puts him to close to the top of the 2010 list, but "Hall of Fame" is growing on me, so he's probably at the top of what looks to be the weakest of these lists.

2. Fashawn: He has better production than most of the people on any of these lists and has a flow that is well above average, even if some of his lyrics are a little cliche. "Samsonite Man," "Relaxation" and "Nothin For the Radio" were all well worth listening to more than once. "Life As A Shorty" also has a really great overall sound.

3. J. Cole: Been listening to "Born Sinner" and I definitely don't hate it. It's going to take some additional listens to make me know how much I like it since nothing jumps out at me.

4. Donnis: He's a little too poppy for my tastes, generally speaking, but his stuff is better than most of the pop rappers out there right now. I checked out "Gone," "I Made It," and "Knockout" and while none of them, well, knocked me out, I didn't hate them, either.

5. Nipsey Hussle: His name alone gets him further up the list. His flow isn't bad at all, and "I Need That" and "7 Days a Week" don't sound terrible, although the production is a bit weak and the lyrics are a little cliche.

6. Jay Rock: On "Say Wassup" and "Hood Gone Love It," Jay Rock has solid production and a good enough flow, but the songs just don't grab me. I'm wait and see on this guy.

7. Pill: The first two tracks I listened to, "Pacman" and "Don't Let Go" (a guest verse) were marred by intros that featured Rick Ross and autotune. The lyrics on "Ride Dat Pole" are atrocious. Pill's flow is solid, but I've already heard these songs. Today.

8. Freddie Gibbs: By this point in the list, I'm really coming to the conclusion that the 2010 class is by far the worst in the freshman era. Gibbs' work on "Bout It Bout It," "BFK" and "Eastside Moonwalker," is passable, but, again, sounds just like everything else that is on this list that I've complained about already.

9. OJ da Juiceman: To start off, his name is pretty dumb. "Make That Trap Say Aye" is so annoying that I couldn't listen to anything else he was involved in.

10. Wiz Khalifa: I do not like Khalifa. He's so dull he almost messed up Tyga's "Molly" song and it isn't like Tyga's the best technical rapper in the game, so if you can't hang with Tyga...

2011

1. Kendrick Lamar: Of anybody on this list, he has the profile to launch him into megastardom. "Backseat Freestyle" might be the most banging track of the last decade and I love it when he starts rapping in Spanish. His calling out of pretty much every rapper in the game was a genius move from a marketing standpoint AND from the point of view of trying to elevate the artform.

2. Mac Miller: Just started listening to him, but I really like "Donald Trump," "Knock Knock" and "Goosebumpz." A bit poppy, lyrically dumb and white boy silly, but still well done.

3. Lil B: Unlike most entrants on the list, Lil has a strong sense of humor and a willingness not to take himself so seriously, particularly on standout tracks like "I'm Paris Hilton," "California Boy," and "Barbiie Girl," and, to a lesser extent, "Wonton Soup."

4. Yelawolf: There's a lot of potential here. I really liked the menace of "Pop the Trunk," and "I Just Wanna Party," "Let's Roll," and "Daddy's Lambo" all caught my attention. Definitely will listen to more.

5. Cyhi The Prynce: Prince has some impressive writing credits and guest appearances, but is a little short on his own original songs, although his flow on songs like "Sideways" and "Far Removed" is pretty strong.

6. Meek Mill: Man I hate when the first song I hear someone on involves Rick Ross, as does Mill's "Ima Boss," which is totally forgettable. Much better without Ross is "Dreams and Nightmares" which is a great song. "Levels," with too many lines I've heard before, is somewhere in between.

7. Diggy Simmons: I gather that Diggy has a very high opinion of himself, maybe higher than the rest of this list, which is saying something. I can't say as I agree with him, though. His flow isn't weak, and his voice is somewhat original, but what is he saying? Same old stuff on tracks like "Fall Down" and "You Got Me Now."

8. Big K.R.I.T.: Well, he at least gets some great guests on songs like "Country Shit" and "Money on the Floor," but nothing in either song stands out to me and I'll have to listen more to figure out whether or not he's any good.

9. Fred Tha Godson: I don't really have anything bad to say about "Doing My Thing" and "Work," but I don't really have anything positive to say, either.

10. YG: Really, really dull. Songs like "Snitches Ain't" and "You Broke" could've been written by a crap rap music song generator and while "Toot It and Boot It" sounds a lot better, the name is "Toot It and Boot It."

11. Lil Twist: On "Turn't Up," Twist gets a great guest appearance from Busta that clearly outshines the young rapper. On "Love Affair," you have the opposite situation, where Lil Wayne comes in to suck things up a bit. Twist has a similar voice to Wayne, but he's not as lazy. After listening to "New Money," though it seems the highlight is the Busta Rhymes appearance.

2012

1. Macklemore: Maybe the most successful single and album of any of the freshmen ever, he's already one of my favorite rappers.

2. Hopsin: I didn't think anyone would beat out Danny Brown for second on this list, but after hearing songs like Hopsin's "Ill Mind" series (particularly 4 & 5), it wasn't that close. Hopsin has a lot to say and a lot of very cool ways to say it.

3. Danny Brown: Just started listening to him, but "Radio Song," "Grown Up," "Black Brad Pitt" and several others have already been in heavy rotation for me.

4. Iggy Azalea: She's trying a bit to hard to be one of the guys, but she isn't exactly failing on songs like "My World" and "Work," which are good songs.

5. Don Trip: He's not exceptionally different than anyone else, but he's more honest and songs like "Letter to My Son" and "Rep My Hood" are worth a listen.

6. Roscoe Dash: "All the Way Turnt Up" made me almost immediately want to turn it off, but "Good Good Night," was much better. Still a little bit too similar to everything else out there, but he has some potential and I might listen to more.

7. Machine Gun Kelly: Not a lot of his stuff is freely available online, but "Alice in Wonderland" is a promising start. The beat is somewhat original and his flow is pretty technically difficult.

8. Kid Ink: "Money and Power" and "Hell and Back" are similar enough in title and sound to make me not particularly interested in listening to much more.

9. French Montana: Apparently, after writing the hook to "Ain't Worried 'Bout Nothing," French Montana wasn't worried about writing anything else, as the song only has 16 bars that don't mention all of the hook. If you take out lines that also have the word "nothing" in them, there isn't even a full verse in the whole song. That really, really didn't make me want to listen to anything else he wrote.

10. Future: At the beginning of "Karate Chop," Future uses autotune to talk about how real he is. Then Lil' Wayne comes in. Then Future uses that lazy-ass flow that I hate with a passion. Then I was done with him.

2013

1. Schoolboy Q: What I've heard so far, I love. "Collard Greens" is one of my favorite songs right now.

2. Action Bronson: I love his voice and his delivery, but I haven't heard a lot of truly great tracks from him, beyond "East Bound and Down," which is amazing.

3. Ab-Soul: "Terrorist Threats," "A Rebellion" and "The Book of Soul" were all in my rotation, although none of them quite made my hall of fame.

4. Angel Haze: Listened to her for the first time today and "New York" and "Werkin' Girls" went straight into my rotation. Her voice and flow are great and the production's even better.

5. Joey Bada$$: "Waves" is growing on me and leaves me wanting a bit more, but I haven't heard the other track that I'm gonna listen to a lot.

6. Trinidad James: "All Gold Everything" is pretty solid, but "One More Molly" could've been written by anyone else on this list. Probably better done, too.

7. Logic: I listened to "Young Sinatra II" and it was nice, but it didn't make me fall in love.

8. Dizzy Wright: Seems to be a bit familiar, might even be biting his style. "Cant Trust'em" sounds pretty good, but it also sounds like deja vu. Pretty sure Kanye said "don't let me get in my zone" first.

9. Travi$ Scott: "Upper Echelon" is not in the upper echelon. And can we really, really stop using dollar signs for letters? Please?

10. Kirko Bangz: Am I supposed to stay awake during "Drank In My Cup"? Very hard to do.

11. Chief Keef: "Love Sosa" isn't a terrible song. It's not really a good one, either. And it's all down hill from there.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Meant to Be" (With Footnotes)

Here is the tenth in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Meant to Be."

This was one of the last songs written for the album and one of the last songs I fully wrote in Tallahassee. It was a straightforward message song that fits in my category of songs that have a very definitive poetic structure. Some people don't like that structure as much, thinking it too repetitive, and considering that I do it more than once, they probably have a bit of a point. But I do really like the specific list of "dos" and "don'ts" listed here and the overall message it sends, so I included it in the first mixtape.

We're not all meant to be a parent
We're not all meant to give our consent
We're not all meant to be a spouse
We're not all meant to own a house

Messages in these four lines: 1. Parenthood isn't for everyone, despite what societal pressures say. 2. Some of us aren't meant to just go with the flow and accept what society tells us to do, some of us are supposed to fight back. 3. Much like marriage, parenthood isn't for everyone. 4. The third in the opening trifecta of what a "good" American is supposed to do. But some of us don't want to and shouldn't become homeowners. We don't all have to dream the same dreams and live the same lives, and we shouldn't.

We're not all meant to join the trends
We're not all meant to break or bend
We're not all meant to wear a uniform
We're not all meant to hide from the storm

Messages in these four lines: 1. Just because something is popular doesn't make it valid. 2. Some of us in life will end up losing because we refused to give in. That may hurt us personally, but it paves the way for future successes by others. 3. Uniforms are never given out for the benefit of the individual. They benefit the organization, if anyone. If we recognize that, sometimes it's better to resist that conformity. 4. The safe bet is to stay inside and bundle up when the storm comes. But there are good things in some of those storms and their are always opportunities for greatness during trying times.

We're not all meant to wear a nametag
We're not all meant to salute your flag
We're not all meant to follow the leader
We're not all meant to be mind readers

Messages in these four lines: 1. Jobs with nametags usually suck. Those of us that have figured out what we want to do and are willing to work hard for it shouldn't be forced to work those jobs. 2. A flag is a very sketchy thing to have allegiance for, while a country is only marginally better. Loyalty is for human beings who have earned it, not abstract concepts. 3. While it's true that we do need some people to follow leaders when we are trying to change the world for the better, we're usually better off with more people trying to be those leaders than we usually have. 4. Communication is one of the biggest problem areas we face in society, where people get mad at others who can't read their mind or anticipate their wants and needs. The reality is that its incumbent upon us to express our desires, not upon others to magically pick up on them.

We're not all meant to do what we're told
We're not all meant to be bought and sold
We're not all meant to act our age
We're not all meant to hold back our rage

Messages in these four lines: 1. Those who speak out against unjust authority are amongst the true heroes in society. 2. We're all marketed to constantly and pressured to sell ourselves out, it takes courage to resist. 3. People telling us to "act our age" is just another way for them to control us. The way I'm "supposed" to act is however I want to act. 4. "Anger is a gift," says Rage Against the Machine, and when injustice is in front of us, anger is the only valid response.

What are we meant to be
What are we meant to see
What are we meant to say
What are we gonna do today

The chorus is meant to ask the questions that the rest of the song is answering. I'm asking these questions first person, but they are questions we should all be asking first person, on a regular basis.

We're not all meant to watch the Superbowl
We're not all meant to jump in the fox hole
We're not all meant to eat a Big Mac
We're not all meant to earn the 20-year plaque

Messages in these four lines: 1. I personally am a sports fan, but I've seen too many people be ridiculed or pressured for not paying attention to games played by adults. 2. We frequently put military service at the top of our list of heroes, yet there are many other forms of heroes who deserve no less attention than our soldiers. 3. It's easy and cheap to eat a fast food diet. There's no standard by which it is good for you, though. 4. The day-to-day, 9-to-5 job lifestyle works for some, but it doesn't work for many others. A lot of us are better off looking for a different way to approach life.

We're not all meant to own a dog
We're not all meant to live in a fog
We're not all meant to wear a tie
We're not all meant to float on till we die

Messages in these four lines: 1. Some of us just aren't dog people and we don't need as much of the condescension that dog people give to non-dog people. 2. Actually, none of us are, but too many of us do. 3. Jobs with ties aren't for everyone. 4. The reference here is not at all a dig at Modest Mouse, whom I like quite a bit, but is a reference to taking a more active role in your own destiny.

We're not all meant to live in a small town
We're not all meant to always back down
We're not all meant to stay in one place
We're not all meant to date only one race

Messages in these four lines: 1. I personally hate small towns and small town values and think they hurt the world more than help it. 2. Some of us are meant to fight for what we believe in. 3. While there are some virtues to living your entire life in one place, it seems to me that moving around makes you a better, smarter, more well-rounded person. 4. There should be no boundaries on whom consenting adults want to date.

We're not all meant to pray to your God
We're not all meant to live on Cape Cod
We're not all meant to shop at Wal-Mart
We're not all meant to play a bit part

Messages in these four lines: 1. Religion is not for everyone and tolerance is necessary both towards other religions, but also towards the non-religious. 2. While wealth has its privileges, it's hardly a positive goal in and of itself. 3. Wal-Mart isn't great for anyone except its owners, although many people are sucked in by the low prices, not understanding the harm those low prices do to other human beings. 4. The world needs more superstars, even if those superstars are only so on small stages.

What are we meant to be
What are we meant to see
What are we meant to say
What are we gonna do today

The chorus again.

We are all meant to have free thought
We are all meant to foil the plot
We are all meant to knock the walls down
We are all meant to become a proper noun

Messages in these four lines: 1. One of the most important things people can do is learn to think for themselves. 2. Someone is always trying to do you or your friends and family or your society some kind of harm. How can they be stopped and what role do you or I play in that? 3. Literal walls are often important and serve valid purposes. Many metaphorical walls don't, they just block progress. 4. Do something in life that makes your name worthy of an entry in Wikipedia.

We are all meant to hop the globe
We are all meant to use our frontal lobe
We are all meant to push the limits
We are all meant to make the pivot

Messages in these four lines: 1. Travel is one of the most important things you can do to expand your mind. 2. Thinking and using one's brain is vital for the world to improve. 3. Most limits we face, even if they are self-imposed, are put there to stop us from succeeding, so we must bust through them. 4. Change is a vital part of life. If you don't change, you stagnate and die. But be careful to change for the better.

We are all meant to expand our minds
We are all meant to taste the wine
We are all meant to dance in the rain
We are all meant to do it again

Messages in these four lines: 1. 2. 3. 4.

We are all meant to run the race
We are all meant for first place/last place
We are all meant to graduate
We are all meant to play with fate

Messages in these four lines: 1. Everyone's life has the potential to be a game-changer, but only if we try. 2. We are all going to have successes and failures in life, neither should be a final judgment on who we are. 3. If not from school (although that, too), we all should progress in wisdom through our lives and "graduate" from the school of life. Many of us don't. 4. Tempting fate is the only way to make massive changes that improve our own lives and the lives of others. Risk is necessary in order to get the better rewards.

What are we meant to be
What are we meant to see
What are we meant to say
What are we gonna do today

The chorus again.

We are all meant to be free
We are all meant to describe what we see
We are all meant to want equality
We are all meant to scream like a banshee

Messages in these four lines: 1. Freedom is the ultimate state a human being can exist in, and we should all have the chance to earn it. 2. Most things we see have some importance and it is our duty to reveal those important things to others. 3. There are many different types of equality, and we should steadfastly pursue equality, unless someone (i.e. a murder or child molester) has forfeited that right to equality. 4. It's not enough to just speak up when injustice happens, we mus cream loudly until it goes away.

We are all meant to help the poor
We are all meant to get up off the floor
We are all meant to break some ground
We are all meant to rebound and rebound

Messages in these four lines: 1. Society should be judged by how it deals with those at the bottom rungs of the ladder. 2. We will all be knocked down, we should be judged by how we respond to that. Those who get up off the floor and fight are more heroic than those who don't. 3. In whatever field it is, we should all strive to leave our mark. 4. Life is a constant struggle and battle and the measure of a person is how much they let hardships or obstacles prevent them from success.

We are all meant to tell our story
We are all meant to strive for glory
We are all meant to wow the crowd
We are all meant to speak real loud

Messages in these four lines: 1. Our story has implications and lessons for others, not just ourselves, so we have a duty to pass our story along. 2. Glory can be defined many different ways, but whatever way we personally define it, we should pursue it. 3. Those of us who are creative or good-hearted always have the possibility of surprising others in positive ways and we should strive to do so. 4. And when we do, we can't do it quietly.

We are all meant to be real odd
We are all meant to be real flawed
We are all meant to change the world
We are all meant to change the world

Messages in these four lines: 1. It's strange to want to change the world or create art or do anything notable. But those things are what are important. 2. Nobody is perfect, but those of us who learn from our mistakes get closer and closer every day. 3. Even if it's in a small way. 4. Seriously.

What are we meant to be
What are we meant to see
What are we meant to say
What are we gonna do today

What are we meant to be
What are we meant to see
What are we meant to say
What are we gonna do today

The chorus two more times.

"Camp," Childish Gambino (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Childish Gambino album "Camp," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

"Outside" is a strange way to start out the album. It's not a bad song, far from it, it's just not the typical song to start off a hip hop album, particularly one by a popular actor. It's a deeply introspective track where Gambino talks about peeing his pants in school as a kid. I like how revealing he is, but this seems more like a end-of-the-album track, not the lead.

"Fire Fly" is a great song, and yet still sounds a bit off in the sequence. The hook and the guest vocals here are both great and this song really goes into Gambino's ability to provide masterful wordplay and great references. The backing track is also pretty great as well.

"Bonfire" is the song that got me into Gambino in the first place. It really is just simply one of the hardest banging tracks by any artist in the last decade. Both musically and lyrically it is quite ahead of most of what's being produced these days. It's pure nerdcore, but at the same time it's a hard song that any rapper who respects talent would have to appreciate. And, as "street" and "gangsta" as other MCs are, there are few lines in any song delivered any way that hit harder than the "human centipede" and "Casey Anthony" lines in this song.

"All the Shine" is a pretty awesome track as well, opening up about Gambino's music career and the trials and tribulations he's faced based on his style of rap. Very good flow, revealing lyrics, a good backing track. Not much to complain about.

"Letter Home" is a brief aside that gives a pretty good look into Gambino's heart, once again showing that he has a way of approaching lyrics that a lot of other rappers don't. This isn't groundbreaking, but it's another snippet of information that reveals the bigger picture of Childish Gambino.

"Heartbeat" is one of the few rap songs about relationships that isn't a ballad and totally works on every level. Gambino sings a pretty powerful hook that it's hard not to get addicted to. On top of that, the lyrics describe a relationship that is complicated and unsimilar to any other depicted in any song I'm aware of. Pretty much like Gambino himself.

"Backpackers" isn't the best song on the album, but it continues things well enough to sustain the momentum that peaked with "Heart Beat." Another song taking on critics of his music/personality, it is worth a few listens.

"L.E.S." is the first drag on the album. Up to this point, things are mostly upbeat and fast-paced and this not only doesn't fit that, it seems to slow the momentum the album had up to this point.

"Hold You Down" is the second track in a row that doesn't quite match up to the earlier tracks. It's not bad, but it does seem to be getting a bit repetitive at this point. Lyrically, it's impressive, but the sound just doesn't transcend.

"Kids" helps get things back on track with one of the better beats on the album. Gambino's imperfect singing makes the hook more original and catchy than it might otherwise be.

"You See Me" really brings things back with the best beat on the album and some of Gambino's best wordplay and flow. The song is very technically difficult and switches styles frequently enough to catch just about anyone's attention, even if its racial and gender politics is awkward at best.

"Sunrise" is a fun song that has some great lyrics and wordplay in the verses, but probably could've done with a better hook and maybe a loss of some of the jarring backing vocals.

"That Power" is an interesting end to the album, with a initial track that is pretty similar to a number of other tracks on the album, but continuing well past that "song" into a lengthy monologue from Gambino that is loaded with his personality and entertaining, showing that Gambino is a good storyteller.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. I love the way Gambino flows. He's probably my favorite rapper right now in terms of the way words come out of his mouth.

Lyrics: 9. Gambino does have a mysterious problem with slipping into stale misogynistic lines from time to time that show a laziness that he doesn't show anywhere else. If it weren't for that, this album would be perfect from a lyrical standpoint.

Message: 9. This album is really about Gambino's personality and the things that make him tic. In that vein, it's pretty amazing. I get a really good feel for the person these lyrics are about.

Technical: 10. Gambino really is trying to do something with the way he raps and he succeeds almost all the time.

Production: 8. It's hard to complain about any of the sounds on this album. They aren't all perfect, but they are close enough to stand up to repeated listens.

Versatility: 7. While there isn't a ton of versatility from song to song, there is so much within the individual songs that

Collaborators: 7. There really aren't too many besides producers. This makes a lot of sense in context, though, since the album is deeply personal and since everyone else does so many songs with guests, he's making a bit of a statement by not having anybody dilute his personal story.

History: 6. Not a lot of history is very obvious here, but there are quire a few pop culture references and some other nods towards what came before.

References: 10. Gambino makes a lot of current and clever references that are both hilarious and powerful.

Originality: 10. If anything else like this exists, I'm not aware of it.0

Total Score: 86. This album is loaded with potential and in quite a few places, it more than exceeds that potential. Gambino is a rapper to watch.

Friday, August 30, 2013

American Dream (With Footnotes)

Here is the ninth in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "American Dream."

Another track with a strong core premise, this time it's the pairing of marketing slogans that were famous and kinda had that earworm thing going for them with military images and language. If you think about it, it's pretty obvious that the two things often come from, if not the same people, the same type of people. War is sold to us the same way that fast food and batteries are sold to us. This song just makes that more explicit.

You can Just Do It. You know I'm lovin' it.
You can just hurt it. You know I'm stabbing it

The first slogan is Nike, the second McDonalds.

A diamond is forever. A little dab'll do ya!
Armor piercing bullets'll run right through ya

The first is De Beers diamonds, the second is Brylcreem, a hair product.

Have it your way. Home of the Whopper.

Both of these are old Burger King slogans.

Get your batteries topped with the copper
They keep going and going and going and going
Our bombs keep blowing and blowing and blowing and blowing

Coppertop batteries are, of course, Duracell, while the "going and going" slogan comes from their competitor with the bunny, Energizer. I really liked the comparison here with the bombs "blowing and blowing."

It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Keep on fighting, keep on kicking

The watch that keeps on ticking is Timex.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
Kill the enemy like you're playing Rock Band

The candy that supposedly melts in your mouth, not in your hands is M&M's, but they always melted in my hands, which became covered with dye. The second line alludes to how much easier it is to kill the enemy with things like drones and long-range missiles where the soldiers sit in booths far from the enemy, effectively playing a war video game. This was something that George Carlin alluded to by calling them "Nintendo pilots," bring the video game reference full circle.

Raid Kills Bugs Dead
Knives kill kids dead
Guns kill men dead
Bombs kill countries dead

The hardness of the Raid slogan was easy to translate to bigger weapons and bigger results.

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

The chorus really gets at the main idea of the song, as you can't tell whether it's referring to the commercials or the war allusions. In reality, it's both.

GE, We bring good things to life.
But not today, hide your kids, hide your wife

The old GE slogan was an obvious one, but pairing it with the Antoine Dodson line was my second favorite line in the song and a little bit of needed comic relief in the middle of a dark song.

Bounty towels, The quick picker upper
Laser-guided bunker-buster

I really like the contrast of the two "problem solvers" mentioned here, from the really soft and friendly Bounty towel to the life-ending bunker-buster bomb.

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids
Silly Rabbit, ak's are for kids
Silly Rabbit, claymores are for kids
Silly Rabbit, its all for the kids

Everything in politics is "for the kids," which makes an obvious connection to Trix and its famous slogan. The implied criticism here is that things that are really important, like war, don't take kids into account at all, whether as collateral damage or for the kids who lose parents in war. There is also an allusion to child soldiers here as well.

Think outside the bun
Think inside the gun

The "bun" slogan is from Taco Bell.

Give a hoot, don't pollute
You surrender, I'm still gonna shoot

"Give a hoot" is the first slogan here that isn't a corporate slogan, but was part of a PSA campaign. I remember it fondly and it helped make me a non-polluter as a kid. The second line is a reference to the fact that soldiers are so heavily trained to kill and that the enemy is so dehumanized that people end up dying even after they stop fighting.

What would you do for a Klondike bar
What would you do for a brand new car
What would you do for a MAC-10
What would you do to make sure that you win

Really the big philosophical question of the song is "what are you willing to do" to win and it is an easy tie-in to the Klondike slogan.

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

The chorus again.

Tastes great, less filling
More death, more killing

The Miller Lite slogan is inherently musical and was featured in a 2 Live Crew song, "If You Believe in Having Sex."

It's Miller time, It's killer time

Miller was an obvious rhyme with killer.

Obey your thirst, do your worst

Sprite wanted you to obey your thirst.

Got Milk? Snap! Crackle! Pop!
White phosphorus, Good to the last drop

This one throws three references in to two lines: the milk campaign, Rice Krispies (where the milk goes), and Maxwell House coffee, supposedly good to the last drop. Also, both the milk and the phosphorous are white.

Be all that you can be
Burn all that you can see

The first line here ties the song together well, since it's a advertising slogan, but since it's for the Army, it hits both of the songs component themes.

Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun
Two hundred dead kids laying on the ground
Rough shots from my big bad gun

This is my favorite line in the song. The old Big Mac song from McDonalds is already a jingle, so very musical, but nothing contrasts more strongly with that song that kids used to sing all the time than the death of those kids.

Betcha can't eat just one
Betcha can't shoot just one
Betcha can't kill just one
Betcha can't drop just one bomb

Lays Potato Chips were the ones you couldn't eat just one of. And it was true, they were addictive. As is the killing and violence of war.

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

This is what you're dreaming of
This is what you wanna do
This is what you gotta do
This is what they tell you to
This is what they make you do

This is what they make you do

The chorus with a repeat until the end.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Izdashit (With Footnotes)

Here is the eighth in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Izdashit."

The premise of this song is one of the simplest on the album, just a list of things that I find really cool. The only caveat is that I didn't want it to always be too obvious. The repeated "izdashit" at the end of each line was the first thing I came up with and the idea was that it would be one of those sing-along parts of a song that would get a crowd involved in the song. I haven't fully performed it yet, but people did like it and sing along the one time I attempted it.

1, 2...izdashit
3, 4...izdashit
Professor Rex...izdashit
The name of this song...izdashit

I wanted an intro here so people could see what the pattern was before the song got started, that way they could sing along.

Chuck D...izdashit
Being free...izdashit

Chuck is, of course, the lead MC of Public Enemy, and my all-time favorite MC.

KRS-One...izdashit

My second-favorite MC is KRS-One, originally of Boogie Down Productions, but long since a solo artists.

All o' my sons...izdashit

I have three songs, Carlin, Jack and Miles.

Scooby doo...izdashit
Spongebob, too...izdashit

These are the two shows that my sons have watched that I liked the most. They watch shows over and over and over again and most of them became really annoying. Except Spongebob and Scooby Doo.

Walking dead...izdashit

My favorite TV show and comic at the time I wrote the song.

Lizz Winstead...izdashit

Lizz is a stand-up comedian and helped create the Daily Show. She isn't nearly as famous as she should be.

Rum and DP...izdashit

DP here is Dr. Pepper. Rum and DP was the drink of choice for me and my crew the year I wrote this.

No more CDs...izdashit
Vintage vinyl...izdashit

I never got heavily into CDs, I basically went from cassettes (had a collection that was at the end over 10k) to digital, skipping over CDs. I have very fond memories of vinyl, though, from back in the day and particularly love that little crackle that comes out of the speakers when you first drop the needle on the record. I've since started collecting vinyl pretty heavily again.

NBA Finals...izdashit

My favorite sport nowadays is basketball. I used to be more into football, but it's much harder to play that as an amateur in any way that resembles the real game. Basketball is easy to play, even if you're alone. When I was younger, baseball was my sport, but steroids drove me away from that sport.

Lee Camp...izdashit

Lee is a stand-up comedian and political activist but isn't that famous, although he's getting more so.

11 on my amp...izdashit

A reference to "Spinal Tap."

Elon James White...izdashit

Elon is a stand-up comedian, political activist, and online radio host who started "This Week in Blackness."

Saturday night...izdashit

This one is a double reference, to both the actual night, which is the most common party night in most towns, and Saturday Night Live.

Garofalo...izdashit

Janeane is a stand-up comedian and political activist.

Playing in the snow...izdashit

Just a little personal thing that isn't particularly important, but fits.

Pirate bay...izdashit

Torrents rule!

Cassius Clay...izdashit

Cassius, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali, is one of my idols.

I have a little time
To bust a few rhymes
It's not a crime
Ain't payin no fine
Ain't doin no time
This shit's all mine
This is the way
We like to flow
This is the way
To save my soul
This is the way
We like to do it
The name o' this song...izdashit

They key thing I wanted for the chorus was for it to be much faster than the rest of the song in order to break up the potential monotony of the repeated "izdashits." They key part tying it into the rest of the song is "this is the way to save my soul," since the things in the song are the things that feed my soul.

Pulp Fiction...izdashit

One of my favorite movies of all time and one that changed how I understood film, pop culture, and myself.

Starting a little friction...izdashit
Rubbing her hips...izdashit
Licking her lips...izdashit

I generally stay away from sex in my songs (for a variety of reasons), but I wanted to hint at it a little bit here. Notice, of course, the potential double entendre.

Dark Tower...izdashit

My favorite series of novels, by Stephen King.

People power...izdashit

Both a reference to the grassroots power in politics and Howard Dean, one of my favorite Democratic leaders.

Purple rain...izdashit

Prince was a huge part of my life and "Purple Rain" isn't just his best album, it's one of the best albums ever.

Bring the pain...izdashit

This is a reference to a Chris Rock stand-up comedy special that I thought was brilliant.

Blazing saddles...izdashit

Mel Brooks, the director of this comedy milestone, was hugely influential on my sense of humor.

Zombie battles...izdashit

I'm a fanatic for anything post-apocalyptic and particularly anything with zombies.

Thirstbuster...izdashit

Circle K used to have a 75-cent fountain drink that was called the Thirstbuster (and you could get it in a 44 oz. size). We used that to mix our rum and DPs and other things. Then they changed the name of the drink to the much less cool "polar pop."

Spicy mustard...izdashit

This one was strictly in here as a joke, because why the fuck would I be rapping about mustard? In a literal sense? But numerous people have pointed this out as their favorite line in the song.

The X-Men...izdashit

All my friends...izdashit

X-Men comics are a powerful influence on who I am, and my biggest fans are my friends.

Gravity bong...izdashit
This fucking song...izdashit

Both things you can get high off of?

Helter skelter...izdashit

An obvious Beatles reference.

Fucking bomb shelter...izdashit

The early bar that I did most of my early performances in and typically spent two nights a week singing karaoke at for more than a year was called, at the time, Bomb Shelter.

Off the Wall...izdashit

I've always been a big Michael Jackson fan, particularly his pre-HIStory stuff.

All a y'all...izdashit

Why not end with a shout out to the crowd, especially if they've been singing along.

I have a little time
To bust a few rhymes
It's not a crime
Ain't payin no fine
Ain't doin no time
This shit's all mine
This is the way
We like to flow
This is the way
To save my soul
This is the way
We like to do it
The name o' this song...izdashit

The chorus again.

"Wolf," Tyler, the Creator (HHES Review)

Prior to listening to "Wolf," I had only heard negative things about him. I listened to it a little bit and I found his voice and flow interesting, but wasn't wowed. There were a couple of songs that grabbed me a bit, but I didn't think they were world-changers or anything. Then I saw an interview with him and realized that I grew up with guys like him, so I kinda get where he's coming from, even though I disagree with a lot of his choices.

A eponymous first track is almost completely pointless and offensive. It doesn't sound horrible, but the words are horrible. It's followed by "Jamba," which is catchy and well-produced, but once again, contains enough misogyny and homophobia to detract from its quality. The next track "Cowboy" doesn't differ from "Jamba" in any notable way. "Awkward," is kinda different, particularly since it has an actual topic and it reduces the offensive stuff.

"Domo 23" sounds quite a bit different in terms of the production and flow. The lyrics, however, are totally pointless and go back in the more offensive direction. "Answer" shows the production on the album starting to really vary, but the lyrics and flow have been heard a bunch of times already. On this album.

"Slater" is a song about Tyler riding on his bike, and it isn't as exciting as that sounds. "48" is the first time on the album that Tyler really has consistently good lyrics that tell a real story and reveal something about his actual thought process. It also has the worst production so far, despite the Nas samples. Lyrically, "Colossus" is the best writing on the album, with its tale of fan-artist tensions, and the minimalist beat is more than sufficient, even if he still does include some offensive lyrics.

"PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer Lyrics" is a old school freestyle jam that is too mundane to be particularly funny or interesting. "IFHY" is another one of the more lyrically revealing and interesting tracks and although the beat is better than "48," it's still not particularly great. The next track is the most similar to "Colossus," a deeply personal track that gives Tyler the chance to bust loose and show both his songwriting and his vocal skills. The beat isn't amazing, but there are a lot worse on this album. "Parking Lot" is a typical crew shout-out jam, but it's not particularly entertaining. Apparently Tyler doesn't even care for it that much and he said if there's a vinyl version of the album, he'll leave it off.

"Rusty" is a pretty good song in terms of finding a creative way to do something that has been done over and over again, this time it's a combination answer song and "inside the game" complaint song. The lyrics are pretty interesting and original, for the most part, but he once again falls into the pattern of using misogyny and homophobia in a way that is supposedly ironic, but there's no real way to know that unless you've seen interviews with him. On "Trashwang," Tyler and his crew are really angry at someone, but it's not really obvious who. Maybe they're angry at the producer(s) of the album where this is one of the more creative beats and it's not exactly groundbreaking. "Treehome95" is announced as an incomplete song when it comes on. And it is. And it's mostly not Tyler. And it's got an above average beat for this album, but it barely sounds like a Tyler song. Next up is "Tamale," which is the best beat and catchiest song on the album, even if, once again, the lyrics devolve into the same pointless "let's offend just to offend" nonsense. The final song, which includes more of the pointless skit parade on the album. The song is over a totally jacked song (not even a sample) and while the lyrics are above average for the album, the delivery doesn't really match the backing track.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 8. Tyler has an interesting flow, but he doesn't vary it enough and doesn't try to do too much that is challenging. He has two basic flows, his normal voice and his raspier voice. They're both pretty good, but very repetitive.

Lyrics: 7. Most of Tyler's lyrics here are pretty good. He makes two mistakes, though, and he makes them over and over again. The first is the totally offensive language he uses towards women and homosexuals. And he does it so much that it becomes lazy and repetitive. The other thing is that quite a bit, he just randomly throws out lines in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and it makes the songs run together and have no real coherence at times.

Message: 3. Most of it doesn't have much of a message and when it does, despite his protestations, it seems like the message is I don't really like gay people (other than Frank Ocean), and I only like women for one thing.

Technical: 6. Sometimes Tyler tries some more advanced rapping techniques, and he usually succeeds, but he doesn't do it too often.

Production: 5. I like minimalism, but it has to be minimal and catchy and connect with the lyrics. That doesn't happen too often.

Versatility: 4. There's only a little bit on the album, most of it is the same thing over and over and over again.

Collaborators: 6. Pretty good people and hot young guys are on the album, but for the most part, they don't stand out and don't add a lot to the album.

History: 7. References: 8. Tyler's a smart guy who has consumed a lot of pop culture (and some history) and that shows throughout the album.

Originality: 6. Tyler's choice of content and his delivery are pretty original, but the rest of what makes up these songs isn't.

Total Score: 63. Tyler has a lot of potential, but he's one of those guys who thinks he's being edgy by using homophobia and misogyny as if that isn't what everyone else is doing. If he got better production and attached as much creativity to the parts of the songs that are anti-woman or anti-gay, he'd be great.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Against the 80s (With Footnotes)

Here is the seventh in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Against the 80s."

This is an answer song, not in a negative way, as if I'm trying to battle someone, but in that it's a song that I agree with and I'm extending that conversation. Punk bassist Mike Watt did a solo album in the early 1990s that had a series of guest singers, including a song with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam called "Against the 70s." The basic point of the song was summed up by the chorus: "The kids of today should defend themselves against the 70s/It's not reality/just someone else's sentimentality." They were protesting the fact that 70s nostalgia had become a big business that was being foisted on teenagers as a marketing ploy. I agreed with that and by the time I wrote this song, which was the second full song I ever wrote, I also thought it was true of the 1980s. Hence the song.

The kids of today should defend themselves against the 1980s
It's not reality, just mass-marketed sentimentality

The hook comes directly from the Mike Watt song, with minor adjustments to the lyrics to fit this song.

Flipping through the channels and I'm almost done
Find I love the fucking 80s on Vh1

VH1 and their 70s and 80s nostalgia shows are one of the key drivers of this problem.

Sweet like honey-dripped triple chocolate cake
Bullshit nostalgia, served up nice and fake

This maybe my favorite simile I've ever come up with. It's a great image and it flows well.

What they don't tell you is the movies sucked
Try expanding your mind and your ass was fucked

This is one of my big problems with nostalgia, people remember the great stuff and forget the bad stuff and act like things used to be better, when that's rarely true. 80s movies were particularly notable for their lack of intellectual content most of the time.

What they don't tell you is the music sucked
A few good artists, a whole lot of junk
Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, some kind of curse

Same problem with music and looking back at it retroactively, most 80s music was terrible, particularly the more popular stuff.

What they don't tell you was the tv was worse
Superstation reruns of Gomer Pyle and Ralph Malph

Even most of the good shows from the 80s haven't held up well, but with cable being limited back then, you ended up watching a lot of reruns of older shows.

Stupid, racist and that little guy Alf...wait, I liked Alf

I love the way the music drops out here so I can respond to this line. I'll repeat it later.

Gordon Gekko said that greed is good
On the backs of the poor his followers stood

The movie "Wall Street" was widely lauded but many people took it the wrong way and embraced its villain, and the 80s were the time of evil corporate tycoons who screwed over the economy and the average person.

That Wendy's lady said where is the beef
A b movie actor was commander in chief

Even a lot of things we remember fondly from the 80s, such as the "where's the beef" lady are pretty terrible. And, of course, Ronald Reagan was one of our worst presidents, something I'll come back to several times in the song, since it's one of the most important factors in the 80s sucking.

Wax on, wax off, I'll be back
Like, oh my god, Grody to the max

So much of the pop culture of the 80s was shallow and vapid, from "Karate Kid," to Arnold Schwarzeneggar, to valley girl slang.

Nancy Reagan said just say no
No to the broke, no to the low
Seriously, in 1981 the Reagan USDA declared that ketchup and pickle relish were vegetables for the purposes of cutting nutrition in the school lunch program

The "just say no" campaign was really one of the dumbest things I remember from growing up and the overall war on drugs is a nightmare. The Reagans were also very strong champions of screwing over poor people. I love this part of the song ending in this little rant, too, which is totally accurate.

The kids of today should defend themselves against the 1980s
It's not reality, just pre-packaged sentimentality

The chorus again, but with a little change in what type of sentimentality it refers to. This has a payoff later.

They bombed Honduras, bomb, bombed Grenada

The format of the next section is based on a John McCain quote where he said "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys "Barbara Ann," which was a horrible thing to joke about. The series of countries listed here were all places where we had military interventions and this section was to show how warlike the 80s were.

Sold us crack, the smack came later

We learned that the government played a role in the distribution of hardcore drugs in the inner cities, in particular.

They bombed Libya, bomb, bombed Iran

I think the bombing of Libya was my first memory of watching a U.S. military intervention in realtime. At the time I was opposed to Qaddafi and supported the campaign. Then I grew up. The fact that Reagan played both sides in the Iran-Iraq war was a pretty significant war crime and help set the stage for al Qaeda's rise and attack on us.

Ignored AIDS, Bush was the man

Reagan's ignoring of the rise of the AIDS epidemic was just another in his long list of crimes. Reagan begat Bush, of course, whose mediocre presidency would later lead do his son's horrible presidency.

They bombed Panama, bomb, bombed Iraq

I was obviously no fan of Noreaga or Hussein, but we killed civilians and interfered in the sovereignty of so many countries in the 80s.

Made us all afraid of a nuclear attack

Those who naively say that terrorism is the worst threat we've ever faced don't remember how pervasive our fear of total annihilation via nuclear weapons was.

They bombed the media, bomb, bombed the airwaves
Tried to turn us all into mental slaves

The 80s also was a pure assault on the media, news, accuracy, fairness and the like. It was also the real rise of the horrible marketing industry.

They killed John Lennon, Marvin Gaye dead

The next section goes down a list of personal icons who died in the 1980s. Lennon was of course the musician who most influenced me early on. Gaye's death by gunshot from his own father was one of the first times I realized how fucked up the world is.

They killed Andy Kaufman, John Belushi dead

Kaufman is one of my favorites in any field of performance and I always think of his tactics when I'm writing. Belushi's movies were huge in my development, as was Saturday Night Live.

They killed Bob Marley, Ian Curtis dead

Marley's "Three Little Birds" is one of my all-time favorite songs and he was obviously my introduction to reggae. Curtis was the lead singer of Joy Division, and I not only was a big fan of his music, but he was one of my first introductions to alternative/indie rock, which remains one of my favorites.

They killed television, radio is dead
They killed the movies, art is dead

I was a big fan of TV, radio and movies when I was younger, not surprisingly, but the tactics introduced in these industries, as well as the commercialization of art, pushed all of these things in worse directions.

They killed D Boon, Phil Lynott dead

D Boon was the singer for the Minutemen, a band that Mike Watt was also in. Lynott did some amazing things with Thin Lizzy.

They killed Gilda Radner, Andy Warhol dead

Radner was one of my first female comedic icons (along with Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball). I've always been fascinated with Warhol and the web of connections and artists he kept around himself. I do a milder version of that now.

They killed Alfred Hitchcock, they let Ronald Reagan live? Seriously?

Hitchock's movies and TV show were some of the first scary stuff I got into, which is something which later became a major part of my life. After all of Reagan's sins, some of which were listed in the song, he obviously deserved death more than anyone else on this list, yet he was merely wounded in the assassination attempt against him.

The adults of today should defend themselves against the 1980s
VH1's not reality, just mother fucking sentimentality
It won't work for you, it didn't work for us
A little bit of shiny, and a whole lot of rust

The chorus slightly tweaked again. Then another line from Vedder's vocals, coupled with a metaphor that I really like.

The kids of today should defend themselves against the 1980s
It's not reality, just
mass-marketed
pre-packaged
mother-fucking
freeze-dried
vacuum-packed
state-of-the-art
high-concept
super-sized
cutting-edge
long-lasting
fast-acting
oven-ready
ready-to-wear
built-to-last
user-friendly
toll-free
bite-sized
fully-equipped
order now
don't delay
act now or forever rest in pieces
...sentimentality

This is meant to emulate the fast-talking spokesman of the MicroMachines toys and several other ads and also to allude to the rise of the MTV-style quick editing that greatly contributed to our declining attention spans. The terms here are mostly marketing terms from commercials, but quite a few come by way of George Carlin's bit "Modern Man," which I'm turning into a song. Also, the first three go back to the earlier choruses, repeating the changed adjective before sentimentality for each one of them. Theoretically if there were more choruses, they would continue to go down this list in order.

Help me, I've fallen and I can't get up

Another line from an 80s commercial, the ubiquitous MedicAlert bracelets that were unintentionally funny (and sad).

"N.W.A. and the Posee" (HHES Review)

Most people's introduction to N.W.A. was "Straight Outta Compton," but for me and my friends, that was the third N.W.A album, after Eazy-E's solo album and "N.W.A. and the Posee." We were Southern white boys, but this one of a few albums that really shook us to the core and made us see the world in a different way. There is no album I've purchased more times than this one, with it being played so many times that the cassette broke more than once. Or people stole it. Either way, none of us could have a car that didn't have a copy of this in it. We didn't differentiate, either, between the N.W.A. tracks and the songs by others, it was all one big shot of lightning to us. We played this nonstop, getting dirty looks, racist comments and getting ignored by the girls who couldn't believe what we were listening to.

Eazy-E - "Boyz-n-the-Hood": One of several perfect songs on the album, I still know every word to this song today. The album starts off with tremendous production from Dr. Dre and never lets up. Even if the words and messages on some of these songs are terrible in retrospect, it was hard to care about that when they sounded so good. This one was my introduction to gangsta rap and what street life was like in places like Compton. The lyrics are just plain genius, so good that even Easy-E's subpar rhyme skills can't mess them up. His signature voice, though, remains one of the most original sounds to ever hit my ears.

N.W.A. - "8 Ball": Another perfect song, sonically, from the evil gremlin voice of Eazy-E to Dre's amazing beat that showed already that he was one of the best and that he was willing to use good sounds to make his songs, even if they seemed inappropriate, such as the Beastie Boys samples here. This is one of the few songs in history that specifically made me buy a product. We drank a LOT of 8 Ball because of this song.

Fila Fresh Crew - "Dunk the Funk": The first misstep on the album isn't Dre's fault, his beat is still dope. And it's not D.O.C.'s fault, he's tight. The rest of the Crew, though, just can't hang and they really seem out of place on an album with Ice Cube. This song is a throwaway and we used to hit fast forward here a lot.

Rappinstine - "Scream": This one was always a bit better than "Dunk the Funk," but we usually fast forwarded through it as well (until they took it off the album for the reissue). It's not terrible, but lyrically and delivery-wise, it just doesn't belong on this album.

Fila Fresh Crew - "Drink It Up": This one is the highlight of the Fila Fresh Crew tracks. It's a silly song, but damn if we didn't laugh our asses off and sing along with it over and over and over again.

N.W.A. - "Panic Zone": One of the flaws of this album was that there wasn't enough Arabian Prince. His voice is amazing and this is a perfect vehicle for him and another great slice of the gangsta life.

Eazy-E and Ron-De-Vu - "L.A. Is the Place": While Ron-De-Vu isn't on Eazy's level, this song is kind of the early gangsta rulebook. It's not in the top five songs on the album, but is just below them.

N.W.A. - "Dope Man": Perfection. This ridiculously awesome introduction to Ice Cube made me a hip hop fan for life. No matter how many crappy family movies he makes, Cube gets a lifetime pass from me because of this song, which still remains the best explanation of drug dealers and their lifestyle ever written.

Fila Fresh Crew - "Tuffest Man Alive": The biggest problem with Fila is that anyone who isn't D.O.C. sounds like they are rapping in 1981, as if they never learned the smoothness of flow that later rappers have. Stilted and awkward and less rhythmically valid. Another throwaway song.

Eazy-E and Ron-De-Vu - "Fat Girl": Even then I knew this song was horrible, but it hit hard and as teenage boys we thought it was funny and we hadn't figured out women yet, so we had a lot of that virginal anti-woman stuff running through our heads.

Fila Fresh Crew - "3 the Hard Way": The best of Fila's straight ahead songs is propelled by an amazing beat and hardcore rhymes from D.O.C. It's a little light lyrically speaking, and the jokes in it are kinda stale and weren't that funny then, but it definitely belonged on the album. The inclusion of the band members doing the dozens at the end is also an important document and was really funny at the time (even if it's less funny to me as an adult).

N.W.A. - "A Bitch Iz a Bitch": This replacement song was added to get more Cube out there and it improved the album. It was this song that helped make it clear to me that rappers are fictional characters and their words shouldn't always be taken literally. Cube makes it clear that he's not calling all women bitches, he's describing a particular type of woman that is materialistic and out to exploit a musician. N.W.A. even gave women the chance to jump on the track and argue back, which was quite entertaining.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 8. Cube, Arabian Prince and D.O.C. are amazing, Eazy's solid, Ron-De-Vu is passable and the rest are kinda weak.

Lyrics: 9. While a lot of the non-N.W.A. tracks are weak lyrically, the N.W.A. stuff is so important and powerful that it makes things better.

Message: 7. A lot of misogyny, fat hatred, and homophobia run through the album, which are obviously problems, but the album is a great opening document for what became known as the "CNN of the streets." As a description of a lifestyle and historical document, it's important.

Technical: 7. The same guys I mentioned who were good on flow are good here, but the rest are subpar.

Production: 10. Near perfect. Dre already knew what he was doing and his use of samples and beats to compliment the raps is unparalleled even 25 years later.

Versatility: 10. Again, look at the list of performers that came out of this album and see how different they are. The topics aren't super varied, but the voices and delivery styles are.

Collaborators: 9. A couple of rappers probably didn't belong on this album, but this is damned near a supergroup album.

History: 8. Music history is very well mined here and this is an important historical document about L.A. street life in the 80s.

References: 9. Many of them are musical or samples, but there are a lot of them and they are well-chosen and well-placed.

Originality: 10. This album didn't just change my life, it changed popular music. Cube and Dre alone are responsible for the majority of what hits the charts these days. There was some gangsta stuff before this, but everything became more gangsta after this, to the point where Miley Cyrus is giving shout-outs to Jay-Z.

Total Score: 87. It's far from perfect, particularly the Fila Fresh Crew songs, but this album changed my life. And much of it still stands the test of time and it set the table for so much that it's hard to ignore the importance of this one.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"good kid, m.A.A.d city," Kendrick Lamar (HHES Review)

Here's my review of Kendrick Lamar's album "good kid, m.A.A.d city," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

The first song, "Sherane" isn't a great start to the album. It isn't a bad song, but it's not my type of song, kind of a slower, getting laid type of jam. It's better than most songs like this, but that's not a high bar. The transition to the next song is great, with the recording of Kendrick's parents being fun and entertaining.

"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" is a much better song. I had to hear it a few times for it to sink in, and I don't love the title, but the rest of the lyrics are just plain poetry and Kendrick is opening up about his internal thoughts and feelings like few rappers do.

The next song is one of my favorite songs of 2012. "Backseat Freestyle" bangs harder than just about any song in the last 10 years. The production is perfect and while the lyrics don't exactly tear the world up, Kendrick's delivery is complicated, varied and just plain amazing.

"The Art of Peer Pressure" is the N.W.A. song written by the smart, quiet member of the gang. The guy that's the opposite in attitude of Ice Cube. It's totally some "CNN of the Streets" type shit and it's an impressive song, even if the production is a little more subdued that I would like. It matches Kendrick's vocal style, but he's so low-key at times, you underestimate him.

If anything on the album jumps in your head and sticks, it's the repeated "ya bish," on "Money Trees," another downtempo song that continues the ongoing story that effectively makes the album a "hip hopera." It's a song that grows on you over time and is hard to get out of your head once it gets in.

I'm a big fan of conceptual puns and the next song, "Poetic Justice," is built on a pretty good one, with a Janet Jackson sample being the driving force of the track. Janet played "Justice" in the John Singleton film with the same name as the song. It's catchy, but it's far from my favorite song on the album, lyrically speaking, as it revisits the themes of "Sherane."

"Good Kid" is a bit jarring at times, because Kendrick's speed, which is impressive, frequently outpaces the beat and the hook. The lyrics are are pretty thoughtful examination of gang life and, again, are more personally revealing than most songs of the same genre.

"m.A.A.d city" probably has the best production on the album aside from "Backseat Freestyle." I get the brilliance of having laid back, downtempo tracks matched up with Kendrick's very fast and diverse delivery, but I'd like more of hearing him work with faster, harder beats. This is one of those times and it stands out. MC Eiht adds a great guest appearance to an album that doesn't have many of them.

On "Swimming Pools (Drank)," you probably have the most successful example of the slower beat/faster flow phenomenon I just explained. This song also has one of the better hooks on the album. It's also a good enough rumination on addiction that it would've been at home on a Macklemore album.

The next track "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst," is loaded with lyrics that continue the album's ongoing story well enough, but the hook is so jarring it turns me off. The production here is amongst the best on the album, but Kendrick's delivery is starting to get a little repetitive by this time on the album and it doesn't help that this song is 12 minutes long.

"Real" improves upon the previous track quite a bit, except for another inexplicably bad hook. "Compton" is another song held back by the "hook," although the rest of the song is pretty good, and an appearance by Dr. Dre gives a nice vocal contrast to Kendrick's voice, which after this point is losing its originality and novelty.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. Kendrick has a great voice and he has a lot of range and changes up his style frequently enough that it stays exciting.

Lyrics: 10. Kendrick is a poet with a strong voice, and an honest open writing style.

Message: 8. The messages here are pretty loud and clear, although I'm not sure I love the concept behind the concept album.

Technical: 9. Kendrick does a lot of complicated things on this album and most of them work.

Production: 7. The beats here are mostly very original, but too many of them are downtempo and sometimes jarring.

Versatility: 8. Starts off very strong, but gets into a little bit of a rut by the end.

Collaborators: 8. There aren't many, but most of them are strong, particularly MC Eiht and Dr. Dre. I didn't even notice Drake on "Poetic Justice," which is probably a good thing.

History: 9. This album is all about personal and real world history and it tells a good story. It's lighter on music history, but that's okay, it's not really about that kind of thing, so the absence is valid.

References: 8. Because of the heavy emphasis on the story and ongoing theme, there aren't as many obvious references here as you might find on other albums. But the references that are here are usually pretty good and smarter than your average rapper.

Originality: 10. There aren't other albums like this.

Total Score: 87. Great album, and a higher score than albums like "Yeezus" or "Magna Carta...Holy Grail," that I reviewed recently. If Kendrick can improve upon this on his next joint, he'll have a pretty good case for being at or near the top of the rap game.