Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kanye West - Yeezus (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the new Kanye West album "Yeezus," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

First up I'll say that I'm really impressed by the overall new direction of this album, which is one of the more exciting directions I've seen a rapper go in for a while. Second, I like that it's short and no-frills in terms of packaging, since the focus really should be on how original the music is.

"On Sight" starts the album off in a brilliant way. The first few sounds out of the speakers give you a very clear indication that this isn't what you've heard before, this is something new. At least from a sonic standpoint. Once the lyrics kick in, you see that this isn't the song where Kanye is going to challenge you with his words, although it does have quite a few good puns and references in it. They key is the production, though, which is possibly the strongest part of not only this song, but the album.

"Black Skinhead" kicks it up a notch. Or several notches. Not only does the song have one of the best backing tracks on the album, one that hits so hard you feel it physically, it's one of the strongest tracks Kanye has ever dropped lyrically. It's not even the best on the album, though, but lyrically it's a very good take on racism and haters that you are likely to hear on anyone's album. Ever.

"I Am a God" isn't quite as great lyrically as the songs that surround it, but it's an interesting response to a critic, particularly in defining how strange a person Kanye is and how big his ego is. The only bigger statement that "I am a god," would be "I am the god." That'll be on the next album. The production continues the theme of the other early songs on the album and continues to be radically different than most things other rappers have done.

"New Slaves" may be the best song Kanye has ever made. It has probably the most intelligent and hard-hitting criticism of the racism in the system by a popular artist since "Straight Outta Compton." It goes off the rails a little with the misogyny at the end of the second verse, but that can't take away from the power of the hard-hitting backing track and the attack on privately-owned prisons and the revival of the prison-lease system. The outro, sung by Kanye and Frank Ocean, adds a beautiful end to a great song.

What had been a near-perfect album up to this point starts to lose it a bit when "Hold My Liquor" comes on. Chief Keef adds nothing to the song which doesn't seem to have much of a point, other than continued quality production. The lyrics are a bit inane, really. The lyrics aren't much better on "I'm In It," which really isn't about much more than getting laid, and is quite a bit sexist.

"Blood On The Leaves" brings the socially conscious part of the album back, if not in Kanye's lyrics, which are about relationships, but in the Nina Simone sample. This isn't the first time on the album where Kanye compares or couples something non-political and seemingly inconsequential beyond his life with political or social content, but this is the place where it works best. The production continues to be epic and most of the songs on the album to this point could easily be part of a soundtrack for a large-budget movie that combines violence and strong emotion, like "Black Hawk Down." That's a compliment. The songs sound good enough that they'd be a great compliment to a scene about life and death.

"Guilt Trip" is far from the best song on the album, but the Chewbacca reference is probably the best line on the album. The song itself is a bit of filler, but it isn't harmed by the Kid Cudi interlude at the end.

"Send It Up" is the best use of guests on the album. King Louie is pretty good, but Beenie Man's outro is one of the emotional high points of the album. The noisiness of the backing track is perfect.

"Bound 2" is another song where the lyrics are pretty pointless, like many of Kanye's previous albums. But sound-wise it's the first song on the album that has a hopeful sound and it's a bit of a palate-cleanser that you need after the hardcore noise and darkness of the rest of the album's sounds (and that's not to downplay how powerful those tracks are, just stating that factually).

Overall Analysis

Flow: 8. Kanye has never had the best flow in the world, but he does keep getting better. This is the best he's done and on songs like "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves," he's damned-near perfect and totally original.

Lyrics: 7. This may be the best collection of lyrics that Kanye has written, another thing that is not his strong point. There are a lot of clever turns of phrase on these songs and

Message: 8. While the message is a little messy at times and a sense of humor is largely absent except in spots here and there, the important messages are not lost. There are few better explanations of the reality of institutional racism than "New Slaves." Much of the rest of the album is the same message that Kanye always sends: I like getting laid, I'm awesome, I'm rich, I work harder than you do, my critics are stupid, etc., but there are enough touches of serious thoughts throughout the album to make you not worry too much about the repetitiveness of the messages from earlier records.

Technical: 8. Vocally, Kanye tries a lot of things here and they pretty much all work. In particular, the punk rap that he does on the first half of the album is amazing and not many other rappers could pull it off without sounding kinda dumb.

Production: 10. This has got to be one of my favorite albums, production-wise of the last 10 years. It is not only adventurous, it's ground-breaking. There might be some other rappers who have had albums with this kind of music behind the vocals, but you've probably never heard of them. And neither have I. This stuff will be around for a long time.

Versatility: 9. The album is too short to offer much chance for versatility, and yet it manages to do it not only well, but better than most hip hop records. The hardcore industrial of the early songs, the sample-led songs like "Blood on the Leaves" and "Bound 2" that totally change the style, the reggae vocals and judicious use of autotune offer a wide range of choices for any current rapper, but especially in 40 minutes.

Collaborators: 8. Vocal collaborators on the album are few and far between, but considering the vision that Kanye is putting forth here, that's legit. Having too many other people voicing these words wouldn't make sense and the songs that have the most additional vocals on them come off the weakest. There are some well-placed verses and samples here and there that are great and the producers on this are just plain amazing, so it seems like most of the choices in this area are very wise.

History: 9. The album shows an amazing mastery of the knowledge of music and rap history in the production and samples. Then it goes into songs like "New Slaves" that give a concise and important look at things like the prison industrial complex. If you don't learn something from this album, you aren't paying attention.

References: 9. The audio references are the most diverse and entertaining, but Kanye has just enough pop culture and rap references to keep the peeps at Rap Genus busy. This is the perfect mix of such things, I think.

Originality: 10. This is not only the most original album Kanye's put out, which is saying something, it's likely the most original album by a popular artist, in any genre, that 2013 will produce. It's hard to imagine anything that will be more surprising and out of left-field than this coming from other rappers. Or anyone else for that matter.

Total Score: 86. A total classic and likely the best thing Kanye will ever produce.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Charlie Sheen (With Footnotes)

Here is the fourth 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 "Charlie Sheen."

The basic idea on this one was to take a lot of the crazy things that Charlie Sheen had been saying in the media at the time and turn them into lyrics. Almost every line in the song is based on a Sheen quote. Somehow in compiling the words in that way, it turned into some kind of empowerment anthem, which is very strange and was unintentional, but totally embraced after the fact.  After each song excerpt is the original Sheen quote that inspired it and explanation, if necessary.

A disease is what you said I had I cured it with my brain, man, I ain't dead

"I have a disease? Bullshit! I cured it with my brain, with my mind." The idea here is that there are some things that society says are "illnesses" that some people can handle or that some people can fix on their own, without the confines of programs like AA, which Sheen was sent to.

Who I am you just don't know

This one isn't a specific quote, but is related to numerous things Sheen said with the basic premise "you don't know me." It's kind of representative of things that most haters do, come to conclusions about people without knowing anything about them.

I'm battle-tested bayonets, bro

“I am battle-tested bayonets, bro.”  The idea that one can handle pretty much anything that comes at you because you've already been through so much that you can handle anything.

I'm tired of pretending that I'm not winning
I'm tired of pretending that I'm not bitchin

"I’m tired, I’m so tired of pretending like my life isn’t perfect and bitchin and just winning every second and I’m not perfect and bitchin and just delivering the goods at every frikin turn..." People are expected to be humble in any situation, no matter how successful they get.  Sometimes, though, being humble is self-denigration and shouldn't be done.

This shit ain't ending,
I'm breaking down the bars

I can't find where these lines came from, but I assume that they come from a Sheen quote. The reference here is that no matter how much shit is thrown at the song's narrator, he/she continues to move forward and break out of his/her own prison and the prison that society has put him/her in.

I'm a total bitchin rock star from motherfucking mars

"I’m tired of pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars." What could be a more awesome job title than this one?

Banging seven gram rocks cuz that's how I roll
I got one speed, one gear, that shit says go 

"I was banging seven-gram rocks, because that’s how I roll.  I have one speed, I have one gear: Go." Some people have a much higher tolerance for drugs and debauchery than others.  Some people live life at a faster rate than the rest of us.

You can't understand me with a normal human brain
You can't comprehend me when I bring down the reign

"You can't process me with a normal brain."  Pretty straightforward: I'm not like you and you can't even understand me.

Look what I'm dealing with, fools and trolls

"Look what I'm dealing with, man. I'm dealing with fools and trolls."A diminishing of critics who the narrator doesn't feel are worthy of criticizing him/her.

Drop McDonalds, TMZ, your Us Weekly blues 

"So just shut your traps and put down your McDonald’s, your magazines, your TMZ and the rest of it and focus on something that matters." Clearly these things, which are important to a lot of people, shouldn't be important.

I'm on the 6 o'clock, 7 o'clock, 11 o'clock news

Not a direct quote on this one, but considering how much Sheen was on TV at the time, totally appropriate.

I got no time for this, bring me Dr. Clown Shoes 

"Bring me Dr. Clown shoes." Pretty unfathomable, yet entertaining, name to anoint a critic with.

You just don't believe in me I'm still winning
You don't see me, feel me I'm still winning
You don't know where I'm from I'm still winning
The game is almost over I'm still winning

The lead-in to the chorus isn't a direct quote, but tries to encapsulate the Sheen spirit.  He constantly talks about how people don't understand what he's dealing with and that he's "winning" despite their dislike for him.  This is meant to reinforce that concept.

I am on a drug
It's called Charlie Sheen
I am on a drug
I said it's called Charlie Sheen

"I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available. If you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body."  Maybe one of the greatest quotes in town.

A new sheriff in town with an army of assassins

"There's a new sheriff in town. And he has an army of assassins." This is one of my favorite Sheen quotes.  A new sheriff in town means that the old ways of doing things aren't going to work anymore.  A change has come.  The army of assassins is the group of friends, family and allies who support the person making the changes.

You have the right to kill me, but no right to judge me 

"You have the right to kill me, but you do not have the right to judge me." Put your money where your mouth is, don't just talk shit, confront the person rather than talk about them behind their back.

I'm gonna alter time, teleport off this rock 

"When friends asked me, Can we help? I'd say, Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off this rock." My take on the quote gives the narrator power.

I got 37 goddesses riding on my cock

Sheen calls his girlfriends "goddesses."  The other reference here is a Kevin Smith allusion to the 37 men that Dante's girlfriend in Clerks had gone down on. The premise here is that no matter what you do or say about me, I'll still be winning and still attract the ladies.

I've got magic and poetry in my fingertips And most of the time, this includes naps

"I'm sorry, man, but I've got magic. I've got poetry in my fingertips. Most of the time — and this includes naps — I'm an F-18, bro." The narrator is a creator, not just someone who passively accepts life.  Even when he/she is taking a nap, they're more creative than the average person.

This song is a work of magic warlock art 

"I'll make this a work of magic warlock art." The song is bragging that it is in the tradition of the "magic warlock art" that Sheen creates.

I got tiger blood flowing through my motherfucking heart

“I have Tiger Blood running through my veins.” The narrator is not like everyone else.  He/she has the strength of a tiger because he/she is infused with tiger blood.

That's life, that's nobility, it's crystal and it's pure 

"That’s life, there’s nobility in that, there’s focus, it’s genuine, it’s crystal and it’s pure and its available to everybody." The pursuit for art and hedonism and fun is more noble and pure than the other pursuits that people go after.

Dying's for fools, dying's for amateurs

"Dying's for fools, dying's for amateurs." One with tiger blood would naturally live longer than others and could figure out how to defeat even death.

My adonis DNA dominates any room

"I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path because it was written for normal people, people who aren't special, people who don't have tiger blood and Adonis DNA." What's more powerful than a tiger?  A god.  What god would you want to be?  Maybe the god of beauty?

That's the whole movie, that's life, boom

"Boom, that’s the whole movie, that’s life." Everyone else is complicating their lives too much and pursuing the wrong things.  The narrator is saying that his/her take on life is simple and a better way of doing things.

I got volumes on how not to behave
I got more info than guy should at my age

"I've got volumes on how not to behave. I've got more information now than a guy should have at my age." Tiger blood has allowed the narrator to survive things that others couldn't and has given he/she a wisdom that most others can't obtain.

If at first you don't succeed, then fucking what

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If at first you succeed, then what?" Don't give up if you fail, but if you have tiger blood, you don't fail that often.  You get things right the first time.  If you do, what happens next?

Boom, crush, night losers, winning, duh

"Boom, crush. Night, losers. Winning, duh." How else would you end such a speech? 

You just don't believe in me I'm still winning
You don't see me, feel me I'm still winning
You don't know where I'm from I'm still winning
This game is fucking over And I won

Same lead-in to the hook as before, but now the game is over and the narrator is no longer "winning," but has won.

I am on a drug
It's called Charlie Sheen
I am on a drug
I said it's called Charlie Sheen
I am on a drug
It's called Charlie Sheen
I am on a drug
It's fucking called Charlie Sheen

Repeat of the earlier chorus.

All My Neighbors Went to Afroman (with Footnotes)

Here is the third 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 "All My Neighbors Went to Afroman."

This is the newest song on the mixtape, I probably only completed writing it a few weeks before the album was released. The original idea for it goes back months earlier, though, to when I was still living in Tallahassee. One night I went to a club to see Afroman. He was really, really late. Late enough, in fact, that I didn't get to see him. When I drove back to my apartment with my friend Sarah, I noticed that the entire parking lot was empty. I turned to her and said "all my neighbors went to Afroman." The phrase struck me as awesome, so I wrote it down. I had no idea for a song at that point, just the phrase. The rest of the song was written in Washington, D.C., mostly while riding the bus and metro to and from work.

All my neighbors went to Afroman
They didn't take me, not part of the plan

The chorus begins with the title and refers to the fact that I didn't actually get to see the Afroman show.

Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't the one

A line taken directly from N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton."

Let's get high and make our own fun

And, back to Afroman, because what would Afroman do if he wasn't going to get to go to a show? He'd get high.

1, 2, 3 and to the four
Indo, four beers, out the door

A shout-out to Snoop and Dre's "Nuthin But A G Thang," one of my signature karaoke songs.  I've probably done this song live more than any other.  Coupled with a reference to Snoop's "Gin and Juice," another one of my most common karaoke tracks.

Feeling funny, looking for the metro

Here you can tell that the song definitely shifts to D.C., since there is no metro in Florida.

This shit's not rap, it's electro

And then a zombie reference, directly relating to a line Ed says in "Shaun of the Dead."

Mulatto, albino, mosquito, libido
Han shot first, down goes Greedo
Roll to the church in your new tuxedo

These lines bring in the third city in which the song was written in.  I was living in the Seattle area for a job and, not surprisingly I was soaking up a lot of Nirvana and listening to a lot of their music.  I was listening specifically to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," when I realized that Star Wars' Greedo would easily fit into that rhyme scheme, so I made a reference to one of the movie's biggest controversies.  I liked the repetitive rhyme here enough that I wanted it to continue, so the idea of "Bust a Move," by Young MC popped into my head and that stuck.

Lookin like Borat in a fuckin speedo

This part was added in D.C. because I needed one more rhyme.  Obviously a reference to the movie by Sascha Baron Cohen.

Fritos, Funyons, pizza no onions
Cutting shit down like I was Paul Bunyan

Pretty straight-forward references here.  Part of the idea with the song is for there to be a lot of non-sequiturs,  both because I find them fun AND because the narrator is getting high, and therefore might say a lot of random unconnected things.

Jamming on the one

Reference to an old "Cosby Show" episode where the Huxtables visit a recording studio and Theo says this line, which is then put in a song.

I ain't done with the fun, hun
Son hand me all those sticky buns
Not a dry run, I'm not a hired gun
Getting my tan in the midnight sun

No real specific references here, but a continuation of the previous randomness of the song.

My shit's so heavy, it weighs a metric fuckton

In a number of of online circles that I run in, "a metric fuckton," is the preferred reference to "a lot" of anything.

All my neighbors went to Afroman
They didn't take me, not part of the plan
Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't the one
Let's get high and make our own fun

This is a fun chorus to sing.

I'm not an alcoholic, I just drink a lot

To me, this is a reference to the song "Development," by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip.  I think it's a wonderful bit of irony.  Apparently, though, it comes from a Pitbull song I've never heard. I thought that the irony was awesome and the lyrical presentation was great, so I spun it off into a rapidfire group of similar lines.

I'm not a drug addict, I just smoke a lot
I'm not a sex addict, I just fuck a lot
I'm not a fat rhymer, I just scheme a lot
I'm not a Sandman, I just dream a lot

Most directly, this last line is a reference to Neal Gaiman's Sandman, but it applies to other similar characters, as well. 

I'm not Limp Bizkit, I just rock a lot
I'm not machine, I just rage a lot

I only mildly have any interest in or admiration of the music of Limp Bizkit, but when Wes Borland is playing with them, they certainly do rock.  I love Rage Against the Machine either way.

It's not a revolution, I just fuck shit up

The last line in the eight bars is an ironic line in a list of ironic lines.  I think that "fucking shit up" is revolutionary and does lead to revolution.

Like Afroman, we're about to get high

A reference to Afroman's biggest hit, "Because I Got High," and his 80-90 other songs about getting high.

Like R. Kelly, we believe we can fly

Double reference here, one to getting high and one to the R. Kelly song most well-known by pop fans.

Like Ben Grimm, we're about to get stoned

Another double reference, one to getting high and the other to the Thing of Marvel's Fantastic Four, who is made of orange rock.

Like Skeletor, we're about to get boned

A sexual pun directed at the He-Man villain whose face is a skull.

Like Amy Winehouse, we're about to get drunk

Only a single reference on this one, to one of the most famous people in the world in the last few years for being publicly drunk.

Like the Clash, we're about to get punk

A reference to one my two or three most favorite punk bands and the idea that punk artists both like to party and like to engage in revolution.

Like Ron Jeremy, we're about to get fucked

Another sexual reference, this one about the ubiquitous everyman porn star.

Like a black hole, we're about to get sucked

One last sexual pun, referring both to oral sex and the "sucking" power of gravity from a black hole.

All my neighbors went to Afroman
They didn't take me, not part of the plan
Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't the one
Let's get high and make our own fun

The chorus again.

Don't laugh at me, come laugh with me
Then I'll turn it around and have you thinking

The idea of many of my songs is for me to say a bunch of silly, ridiculous stuff and mix it in with serious stuff.  So you are laughing or saying "I can't believe he just said that," and then you are thinking about the political or social commentary in the other lines or songs.

Then I'll turn it around and have you drinking

Also, that I want to party with you.

Then I'll turn it around and have the ladies winking

Also, that I love women.  On multiple levels.

Then I'll turn it around and have you lip syncing

Typical rap boast about how much listeners are going to like my music.

Then I'll turn it around and have you rethinking

But, then again, the point of the songs is not the laughter or getting women or anything like that, it's to have the listeners think about the things I'm rapping about.

Then I'll turn it around and have your ego shrinking

A boast about my rap prowess and how few others rap like me.

Then I'll make you shit your pants and you'll be stinking

This one works on two levels. The first is about other rappers, following in the vein of the previous line.  The other is about those who don't use their minds much and don't think much.  They won't have a choice after listening to my rhymes.

Don't scoff at me, come drink with me

The idea, though, is not that I'm trying to elevate myself above others.  If someone doesn't like me or doesn't like what I'm saying, I'd rather sit down and talk with them about my ideas and theirs than get in a fight with them.

The last bit of the song takes the partying aspect further.  Early in the night I like to talk politics and music and all that, and as the night goes on, I like to move on to other pursuits.  These are local to the D.C. area, for the most part.

Then we'll go to Black Cat and start dancing

One of my favorite clubs to see shows or dance at.

Then we'll find food trucks and start eating

Partying always makes me hungry.  Food trucks are big in D.C.

Then we'll find some brats and commence to beating

A reference to another one of my favorite punk bands, the Ramones and their song "Beat on the Brat."

We'll get Michael Cera and start tiny prancing

A reference to one of, to me, the funniest memes on the Internet, the Michael Cera "Tiny Prancer" one.   Also, again, showing the distractedness and non-sequitur nature of being high, which the narrator obviously is by this point.

Then we'll go to Quarry House and keep on drinking

A bar in Silver Spring, Maryland, that I go to about once a week.

Then we'll go to Japone and start singing

One of my favorite karaoke bars, a place in the Dupont Circle area of D.C.

Then we'll go to Cloisters and start fucking

The name of my apartment complex at the time of the song.  Any good night of partying is best capped off by a bit of lovemaking.

All my neighbors went to Afroman
They didn't take me, not part of the plan
Fuck that shit, cuz I ain't the one
Let's get high and make our own fun

The chorus, one more time.  With feeling.

Go (With Footnotes)

Here is the second 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 "Go."

The origin of the song are in two other songs.  The first was the one that is now "Liquid Thunder."  There is a line in that song where thunder goes "boom boom boom," and I really liked that line and thought it would be good to rhyme again.  That line became the first line of the song.  The concept also was influenced by a song from the band I used to be in "Cap City Mob," which had a couple of lines in that repeated the same word at the end of the line and I really liked that part of it and though there should be a song with more of that.  So between those ideas, I though, what if I did a song that had a repetitive word at the end of each line, with rhymes and as a poetic trick, I would use that as the through-line of the song and not have a chorus.

The theme was pretty straight forward, I wanted a song where it was just about partying and having fun.  I had written mostly political songs to that point and I wanted to show that I wasn't always serious. My other songs were almost all Chuck D and I wanted a little Flavor Flav.

I walk in the room, go boom boom boom

The aforementioned reference to "Liquid Thunder" and the establishment of the premise that the partying is about to begin.

Jump in my car, go zoom zoom zoom

What else would a car do?  A specific reference to the massive Mazda "zoom zoom zoom" ad campaign.

Call you on the phone say yo yo yo
I get to your house time to go go go
Time to hit the party say yes yes yes
Are we ever gonna sleep say no no no

No real direct references in these lines, but the idea was to contrast the "yes" and "no" here.

Looking at your face, say what what what
Kiss you on the lips, smack your butt butt butt

At this point in my writing career, I had almost no sexual references in my songs, so I decided to add one here.

Hand me my drink time to say say say

Reference to the old Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney song "Say Say Say."  The idea was starting to be that I wanted to reference any thrice repeated one syllable pop culture reference, as long as it wasn't something I hated.  I liked Jackson and McCartney.

No time to work, time to play play play
Don't wanna play golf, no putt putt putt

As teenagers, we always ended up drinking and going to play Putt Putt golf.  To contrast that, since this is an adult song, so no more of that kind of entertainment.

Feel like I gotta bust a nut nut nut
Feel like Santa yelling ho ho ho

I couldn't think of two more disparate lines to follow each other.  I laughed out loud when I came up with this.  The Santa line makes no sense.

Just got paid, spending dough dough dough

References to two other popular party songs, "Just Got Paid," by Johnny Kemp, and a vague reference to "I Got a Feeling," by Black Eyed Peas.

It's after 10 o'clock, hit the club club club
Before we do that, hit the pub pub pub

No references here, but these things often happened when I was in Tallahassee, so they made it into the song.

Getting kinda ready to fly fly fly
Singing Johnny Gill kinda my my my

This song has a few more R&B references than I usually have, but I was a Gill fan back in the day, both as part of New Edition and solo.

Getting low, taking shots, shots, shots

Reference to two Lil' Jon party songs, "Get Low" and his collaboration with LMFAO, "Shots." Also a reference to the fact that the "shots shots shots" thing was something that me and my friends were saying constantly in 2012.

Don't wanna see no cops cops cops

Obviously, cops add little to the party.

Feelin good, need more shots shots shots
Quit partying? Probably not not not
On the agenda tonight: fun fun fun

Definitely a Beach Boys reference in the "fun fun fun" line.

Party until the world is done done done
Party like its one nine nine nine

I'm fascinated by anything apocalyptic and this couplet reaches into one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists, where Prince asked us to party like it's "1999."

The fun in the world is all mine mine mine
Tomorrow its back to work work work

This line points to the fact that most of my partying is done on week nights, not weekends.  

On the floor doing cool jerk jerk jerk

I was always a fan of the song "Cool Jerk," by the Capitols (and more importantly the Go-Go's cover).

Dropping all the bills bills bills

I was never a fan of Destiny's Child or "Bills, Bills, Bills," but it was too good a rhyme and too appropriate for the song to leave out.

Popping all the pills pills pills
Drinking all the drinks drinks drinks
Enjoying all the hijinks jinks jinks

These lines are pretty obvious.

Get out there bust a move move move

Shout out to Young MC, who I'm still a fan of.

In my heart is the groove groove groove

I also really, really like the Deee-Lite song "Groove Is In the Heart."

It's time of the day to be free free free

Finally, the real message of the song...

Too many drinks gotta pee pee pee

...followed immediately by the most juvenile joke of the song.

Club's clearing out, get some food food food
Not ready to kill my mood mood mood

This is always the way I feel after dancing/partying.

The night's almost at an end end end
Get some sleep, get up, do it again gain gain

This describes how I felt in much of 2012 and 2013.  Never wanting the party to end and have to go back to real responsibilities, but realizing that there will soon be another party...

Liquid Thunder (With Footnotes)

One thing I wanted to do is to give the story and explain the references in the songs I write and produce. I wanted to do "Liquid Thunder" first because it contains the line "my rhymes are so dense, you're gonna need footnotes," which is actually the line that inspired this series of posts. So lets take a closer look at "Liquid Thunder."

As an individual song, it came together while I was sitting at open mic night at the Warehouse. I had some verses that I had written for some Cap City Mob songs that I liked, but since the other members of the band weren't performing at that point, I didn't want them to go to waste, so I came up with this song as a place to house those other lyrics for solo stage shows. So to bring them all together, I sat down and wrote a chorus that would make it clear that this song was a freestyle song -- not the way most people use the word now -- but the way it was used in the old school, where it meant a song that didn't have any particular binding theme, that it was just a series of cool rhymes. The name of the song, which is nonsensical, but references the first two verses and the later beer line, was meant to reinforce that freestyle nature of the song kinda the way "Rapper's Delight" doesn't tell you anything about the lyrics of that song.

The earliest version of the song had a couple of verses that were written by Kane Gruber of Cap City Mob, but when we parted ways, I ditched those lyrics and added a newer verse that I had written for a song with Cap City that never developed. At this point, everything in the song was written by me, although there is some possibility some line or phrase here or there was influenced by something Kane said or wrote. The first version of the song was done a capella at the Warehouse once or twice. The final version, with the below lyrics, was debuted at my first solo show and was part of the set at the frist H20 show and is scheduled for the Gaines Street Fest later this month.

The first 16 lines were written while driving in a car back from Marianna, Fla., where I had been teaching college classes. It was an hour-long drive and I did quite a bit of writing on those drives. This is one of the earliest things I wrote, shortly after songs like "The Lesson" and "Slave." The idea was simple, to write a series of metaphors and similies that revolved around lighting and thunder. These first 16 lines originally appeared in the Cap City Mob song "Pantheon," which was performed live a number of times.

I came to drop some thunder like the Tampa Bay Lightning

When the song was written, the Lightning had won either the previous Stanley Cup or the one right before that, so they were one of the top hockey teams in the world.

My rhymes are kinda scary and my rhymes are kind of frightning
You'll pull out your strap, you'll pull out your chrome
You know you can't survive in my verbal thunderdome

And obvious reference to the third movie in the Mad Max series.

I'll hit you with a hammer like a god named Thor

I was always a big reader of Marvel comics and liked the Thor character a bit when I was younger, so this reference was obvious.

I'm gonna make you stammer like a fool on the Repor(t)

A reference to the Colbert Report starring Stephen Colbert. In the early days of the show, people who came on the show unsure of what he was doing were often left stammering in the wake of his sharp wit.

I step on the stage you're gonna get wary then
I'll slice you up like Thundarr the Barbarian

One of my favorite cartoons when I was a kid, even if it was a rip-off of Star Wars and He-Man. Thundarr, of course, had the equivalent of a lightsaber.

Boom, boom, boom, the sound of your heart breaking
Boom, boom, boom, your foundation is quaking

The "boom boom boom" line was something that I had a memory of from another song at the time, but I can't currently remember where it came from.

Dead as a ghost if ya stepping up to me
Your girl can't put her arms around a memory

"Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" is a song by punk rocker Johnny Thunders that I first learned about from the Guns N Roses punk cover album "The Spaghetti Incident."

Thunder, all through the night
You pray to see Jesus in the morning light

A direct lyrical tribute to the Prince song "Thunder," off the "Diamonds and Pearls" album.

Pray as hard as you can, pray as hard as you might
Even he can't save you from the pain you earned tonight

A continuation of the Jesus reference from the Prince song, I had to figure out a way to make the reference not imply that I was a believer, but that the target of the song was willing to try anything to get out of the conflict.

This is a song, all about how
I'm talking shit and getting on down
I know you don't believe a word I've said
I told you step up to my face and you'll be dead

The chorus, again meant to imply that the song isn't really about anything, but also to give an ironic boast, since I'm totally non-violent.

The next section was originally featured in the song "Cap City," which was originally an intro song for Cap City Mob with four different guys rapping. It was a good song and I really liked these lyrics, so I had to make sure I could re-use them. These are the first lyrics I ever wrote. Kane invited everybody over for a recording session, even though I had never done anything like that before, and this was the result.

My name is T. Rex, I love freaky sex
I'ma fuck your mama and your sister's next
My dick is hard and my back is week
I'm gonna need a nurse to be my freak

The first four lines was specifically meant to be a ironic parody of a 2 Live Crew song. I have never had sex with someone's mother and her sister. My back isn't really weak, either.

We can step on the court and I'm gonna blast
Like Bill Laimbeer, I'ma bust ya ass

I've always loved playing basketball and I was playing a lot at the time I wrote this. My style of playing has changed a lot since then. At that time, I wasn't a good shooter or scorer, but was a good rebounder and defender and played a lot of rough street ball, hence the reference to Bill Laimbeer, once of the rough-and-tumble "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons of the late 80s early 90s.

Eating szechuan, drinking Union Pabst Brew
Do what you wanna do, I'll do what I wanna do

The original line here referenced being part of Cap City Mob and after that was no longer true, I felt like I had to change it. "Brew" was the first word that came to mind and since my favorite beer is PBR, that was a natural fit. It was also a direct Beastie Boys reference to the line "Eating Colonel's Chicken, Drinking Heinken Brew" from "Slow Ride." Since I don't really eat KFC, I switched the line to something I do eat. The "do what I wanna do" line, which has a different rhythm from the rest of the original "Cap City" lyrics, and is repeated below, I was always very pround of, since I love the way it sounds.

My rhymes are so dense, you're gonna need footnotes
You're gonna memorize very word I wrote
I'll write your ass into a corner
Once you hear me, you're gonna need a coroner

I really loved the "dense" line when I wrote it and that line more than any is why I came up with "Liquid Thunder" as a way to keep these lyrics alive.

The people of Tally all call me the prof
I give 'em all an F and tell em fuck off

As an actual professor, this line was written as a mildly exaggerated complaint about bad students.

And if you don't like it, then motherfuck you
Do what you wanna do, I'll do what I gotta do

This is a song, all about how
I'm talking shit and getting on down
I know you don't believe a word I've said
I told you step up to my face and you'll be dead

The repeat of the best vocal part of the song and the chorus again.

The next verse was written many years later than the first two parts of the song. The first two verses were written in maybe 2007 give or take a few months. The next verse was written in late 2011 or early 2012. Kane originally had an idea about writing a song that was about how we were older guys, but we were still kicking ass. This was my contribution to that idea. I don't think that Kane ever did anything more with the song idea.

Derailing your dreams like I was Super 8

Obvious reference to the train crash that sets off the drama in the Stephen Spielberg/JJ Abrams monster movie.

Fucking with your future like Jon and Kate

When I was married, I was forced to watch a whole lot of the show "Jon and Kate Plus 8," which was a horrible "reality" show about how these two self-absorbed and annoying people had to raise eight kids, which can't possibly be a good thing. They've since divorced.

I'm old like fire, older than dirt
Still got your girlie pulling up her skirt

Another Beastie Boys reference, this time referring to the line "I told her some rhymes and she pulled up her skirt," from "The New Style," one of my favorite Beastie Boys songs.

The girls the girls they love me

This one is directly from Heavy D "The girls, the girls they love me/I'm the overweight lover Heavy D," from "Gyrlz."

You shackle 'em and I set them free
I take 'em to heights you'll never even try

This couplet is an homage to LL Cool J's "I'm That Type of Guy," where LL explains how he's so much better than other guys at how he treats women.

I don't believe I can, I know I can fly

Kicking R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" up a level.

Yeah I'm vintage, yeah I'm old school
That means I know a lot more than you do
I forgot more things than you'll ever know

The way I say "you'll ever know" here is another Beastie Boys reference, this time to "There's more to me than you'll ever know," from "Hey Ladies."

Every word I write minimizes your flow
I write metaphors that blow your simple mind

I kinda liked Simple Minds in the 80s and their name fit well into this line.

You can't grok what I rock when I tick and I tock sock

Pretty sure this is the only rap line ever written to combine Robert Heinlein and Dr. Dre. I loved the concept of "grokking" something from Heinlein's "Stranger in A Strange Land," and "Nothing But A G Thang" is one of my karaoke staples, combining them in a technically difficult line seemed natural to me.

Tearing down the system like an SLC Punk!

The final line of the movie SLC Punk is one of my guiding philosophies, so I had to give it a shout out.

No junk in my trunk, your girl's still bitin' my chunk

Another reference to the LL Cool J song "I'm That Type of Guy."

This is a song, all about how
I'm talking shit and getting on down
I know you don't believe a word I've said
I told you step up to my face and you'll be dead

Final chorus.

The first two times I performed this song, it was a capella. The current beat I use for it was one that I was trying to use for "The Lesson," but I realized it worked better for this song, so I transferred it over.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Conservatives Try to Appropriate Hip Hop Again

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently published a Top 21 conservative hip hop songs list.  Which means that a bunch of dumb shit followed.  In addition to having a bit of a questionable definition of what rap is, most of the article is about picking lines out of context, ignoring the artist and any inconvenient lines, projecting things on to songs that aren't there, getting songs totally wrong or endorsing things that either conservatives generally don't like or that are just plain wrong.  Here's their list, with my comments:

21. Justin Bieber featuring Busta Rhymes – Drummer Boy (2011)

Important update for AEI: Justin Bieber is not rap.

20. 2pac – Keep Ya Head Up (1993)

Maybe the most feminist rap song by a major artist in history, it's also pro-welfare and calls for spending money to feed the poor and not on wars.

19. Eminem – Role Model (1999)

Among the advice that the song gives people: rip out women's tonsils, smoke weed, take pills, drop outta school, kill people, drink and drive, slap women, eat shrooms, kill Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, destroy the ozone, defile corpses, hit your mother over the head with a shovel, have sex with women with HIV, and tie a rope around your penis and jump from a tree.

18. Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg – Still D.R.E. (1999)

Highlights of the song: Smoking weed, got love for the streets, representing for the gangsters all across the world, smoking weed, smoking weed, seeing young blacks get money, getting mothers out of the hood, smoking some weed.

17. Cidinho e Doca – Rap das Armas (2007)

The song is Brazilian and the moron author of the article talks about how the song deals with "Second-Amendment solutions."  Does he not realize that Brazil doesn't have a Second Amendment about guns?

16. Nas – I Can (2003)

Nas wrote a song about black empowerment and black history because no one else was talking about these things.  Conservatives oppose black empowerment and teaching black history at any opportunity they can.  The writer also implies here that success and staying off drugs are conservative things and that liberals do the opposite of that.

15. Wyclef Jean – Perfect Gentleman (2001)

"This one's goin' out to the strip joints."  That's how Wyclef starts the song, then he says: strippers aren't hoes and he fell in love with a stripper.

14. Jay-Z featuring Beanie Sigel — Where Have You Been? (2000)

Jay-Z is famously close to Barack Obama, but is pretty public about being further to the left than the president and the Democrats.  The song is about the responsibilities fathers have to their children.  There is literally nothing in the song that either political side could disagree with on the topic.  The implication is, though, that only conservatives actually believe this and that liberals and rappers (or even black people) don't.

13. Eminem featuring Dr. Dre – Guilty Conscience (1999)

The author embraces this song as conservative because it's a morality play that shows how the song's characters struggle with right and wrong and ultimately embrace right.  Except that the last line of the song erases all that and the narrator becomes a murderer over the fact that his girlfriend cheated on him.

12. 2pac – Brenda Got A Baby (1991)

The whole point of the song is to show that the community failed Brenda.  Conservatives totally oppose that concept and say that there should be no collective responsibility for negative social trends like those Brenda faces.  The author also extrapolates, falsely, that 2pac is saying that government programs can't work, when in reality he's criticizing them for not working when they should work--something that is 100% the fault of conservatives.

11. Bone, Thugs ‘n’ Harmony – Tha Crossroads (1997)

The author claims the tribute to Eazy-E and other fallen friends and family is a conservative song because the group is religious.  That falsely assumes that non-conservatives aren't religious.  More importantly the song laments the deaths of people who died from AIDS and guns, prevention efforts for these problems have long been fought by conservatives.

10. Kanye West – Jesus Walks (2004)

Again, the author assumes that religious equals conservative, which is nonsense.  That also oversimplifies the song and leaves out the fact that many of the references in the song are anti-conservative.  Kanye laments racism and police brutality and is pro-teacher.  It also criticizes conservative-owned radio stations for only wanting to play rap songs that fit racist stereotypes.  The author also misreads Kanye's line about the "victims of welfare" as being a criticism of welfare in general as opposed to a criticism of underfunded and hamstrung welfare programs as put in place by conservatives.

9. Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing) (1998)

A strongly feminist song that the author seems to think is about abstinence (even though it says no such thing, it just says that women should be more selective with who they sleep with).  It calls for women to only have sex with men who respect them.  It also oppose assimilation, materialism, men fronting with guns, domestic violence and calls for men to not act macho.

8. Warren G featuring Nate Dogg – Regulate (1994)

Hilariously, it seems that this song is about "rampant government expansion" and "property rights," as opposed to being about what happens in government-free zones like the inner cities where racial segregation leads to poverty, violence and lawlessness.  The song explicitly says if someone tries to steal your watch, it's okay to kill them and their friends.  The song is also about random sex with strangers and smoking weed.

7. Lauryn Hill featuring Carlos Santana – To Zion (1998)

The idea that its a conservative value not to have an abortion so you can be a famous rapper is a really stupid idea.

6. Jay-Z – 99 Problems (2004)

The author says this song is conservative because at the end of the song the drug dealer gets away because the cop couldn't search his car because he didn't have probable cause.  He says the song is about rule of law because the cop explicitly tried to violate rule of law because the dealer was black.  And, of course, the author ignores the racism that Jay-Z is criticizing and the fact that Jigga is pointing out severe problems with the way the war on drugs is conducted.

5. 2Pac – Dear Mama (1995)

Only a conservative would think that a song that celebrates a revolutionary member of the Black Panthers was somehow conservative.  The song explicitly criticizes the way that welfare and minimum-wage type jobs aren't sufficient to raise a family--things, once again, that are created and reinforced by conservatives.

4. Will Smith featuring Coko — Men In Black (1997)

The author says this is a song about criticizing unchecked government law enforcement agencies, something that conservatives universally seem to favor when Republicans are in power.  Considering the song doesn't actually have any such criticism in it makes this explanation even more ridiculous.

3. Daddy Yankee – Gasolina (2004)

This is a typical dance song about partying, dancing and the high life.  The author thinks that makes it about "drill baby drill" and fracking.  I'm not kidding.

2. Jay Sean featuring Pitbull – I’m All Yours (2012)

If a song about falling in love is conservative because it has one anti-Castro line, then I guess this one is conservative.

1. The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy (1994)

The author makes this out to be conservative in a Horatio Alger kind of way.  The reality is that the song defends dealing drugs, smoking weed, the rise in power of black men, smoking weed, casual sex, smoking weed, dropping out of school, stereotyping of black men, and right-wing landlords.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jay-Z - Magna Carta...Holy Grail (HHES Review)

This is the first album review using my new Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES), Jay-Z's "Magna Carta...Holy Grail."

The first song on the album, "Holy Grail," is probably the best overall track.  It starts off with Justin Timberlake at his best.  The lyrics on the song seem to be examining the rigors of success, family and the challenges of fame.  Not the most profound song ever, but pretty good.  And the Nirvana reference is pretty awesome.

The next track, "Picasso Baby," is maybe the best stuff, lyrically speaking, that Jay has ever written.  It seems a bit more complex that his usual work and the thickness of the art-related references is kind of mind-boggling coming from a popular rapper.  You'd expect this type of stuff from a underground rapper, but this is the King.

And then he follows it up with a fashion mogul check on "Tom Ford," that is good enough lyrically, but has an amazing backing track that sounds damn near Nintendocore.  Yeah, a Jay-Z song about fashion set over a Nintendo beat.  That happened.

The album was going so good and along comes Rick Ross to fuck it up on "FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt."  The song isn't terrible, but the performance by Ross wastes what is a pretty good backing track and makes Jay-Z's verse a bit worse because he adopts Ross's lazy style for part of his verse.  He ramps it up after that, but closes out with the same kind of lazy shit Ross brings.

On "Oceans," Frank Ocean helps bring it back to the good shit.  So far this is the deepest song on the album, once again with great production and a very good hook from Ocean.  The song touches on the journey from slavery to rich black men riding luxury boats on the same oceans that the slaves traveled in slave ships.  And it does it in a way that isn't preachy or disrespectful of the topic the way that LL Cool J's recent "Accidental Racist" fiasco was.

The next three tracks, "FUTW," "Somewhereinamerica," and "Crown" are pretty standard Jay-Z album tracks.  Which is to say that they aren't spectacular and they pretty much say the same things he's already said a bunch of times.  The production is pretty good, but not as good as the earlier tracks.

"Heaven" steps things up quite a bit.  The production isn't the greatest thing ever, but is a step up over the last three tracks.  But the lyrics are pretty heady stuff for someone in Jay's position.  From dropping R.E.M. lines to telling listeners to question religion, existence and pretty much everything else is pretty impressive for a popular musician.  This is doubly emphasized by a Timberlake hook.  when Jay-Z and JT are telling you to step up your critical thinking, something good is happening.

Too bad "Versus" is only 52 seconds long.  It may be the best 52 seconds of the album.  It sounds amazing and the lyrics are pretty hard-hitting.  They're typical rap boasts, but very good typical rap boasts.

At times I really like what Beyonce brings to a song.  "Part II (On the Run)" is not one of those times.  Jay's raps here are pretty good, better than on many of the other songs on the second half of the album, but they are interrupted by weak Beyonce performances.

"Beach Is Better" is probably only worth its 56 seconds.  It's not bad, but it seems like an undeveloped idea and probably could've been left off the album.

Next up is "BBC" and in his verse, Nas has the verse of the album.  He brings it as strong as he's ever brought it and just a few minutes after listening to Rick Ross, I can't see how Ross even calls himself a rapper when people like Nas bring it.  Jay seems to work with the level of the guests on whichever track he's on.  Ross brought him down, where Nas brings him up.  This has probably the best hook outside of the first track and definitely has the best production of the album.  If this song isn't a big hit, there's a problem with how we choose hits in this country.

The next three tracks are mostly filler.  "Jay Z Blue" probably means a lot to Jay and Beyonce, but doesn't grab me like it should.  "La Familia" is a tried-and-true, but played out hip hop topic song.  "Nickels and Dimes" is most notable for a pretty strong beef with Harry Belafonte that is entertaining and a few other references that are entertaining.  None of these are terrible, but they don't carry much weight, despite good production.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 9 Jay is one of the best (if not most technically competent) of the popular rappers and this is one of his better albums in terms of consistent flow. 

Lyrics: 8 Creative and original for Jay-Z, but at times they seem to go off the rails or get a bit repetitive.

Message: 7 The album starts off with really good songs with strong messages, but comes and goes a bit after that.

Technical: 6 Jay doesn't do the most technically difficult raps, but he does do some creative things from time to time on this album, although there isn't anything here that other above average rappers couldn't do pretty easily.

Production: 8 Probably the best production Jay has had in a while, particularly on the stronger first half of the album.

Versatility: 5 Jay isn't known for his versatility and he doesn't attempt to stretch beyond his normal vocals here, although what he does is far from terrible.

Collaborators: 7 This is mostly a Jay-Z album and the collaborators aren't that vocally present except in a few songs.  Rick Ross and Beyonce are bad, but Frank Ocean, Nas, and the guest producers add a lot to the album.

History: 8 Jay knows his hip hop history and lets that come through in quite a few places.  In several songs he takes on broader history, particularly on "Oceans," and does it well, if not often enough.

References: 8 Some great references on some of the songs, particularly the first few songs, but a lot of bland or repetitive references come in later that drag it down a bit.

Originality: 7 Most original album that Jay has done I think, which is to say that it isn't groundbreaking, but it's different than most of what you hear on the radio.

Total Score: 73, which means it's a quality album, but not quite a masterpiece.  The album starts off really strong with 4 of the first 5 songs being great before hitting a lull in the middle that it only sometimes recovers from.