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.

Alter Ego (With Footnotes)

Here is the sixth 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 "Alter Ego."

This is another song with a simple premise. It's a straight ahead rap boast song, but all the metaphors are based on comic book superheroes, but only using their alter ego names, not their superhero names.

Like Peter Parker, it's time to swing
You can't comprehend the misery I bring

Parker is Spider-man, of course, known for swinging around on webs. The second line is a bit of a call-out to the lyrics to my song "Charlie Sheen."

Like Bruce fucking banner, it's time to smash
My words go boom, my words go crash

Banner is the Hulk and his catchphrase is "Hulk smash!" The second line is a reference to something, but I can't remember what, I want to say it's meant to evoke KRS-One.

I can see through your shit, like you were Sue Storm
You ain't got style, you ain't got form

Storm is the Invisible Woman.

Like Ororo Munroe, I ride the wind
Weak-ass rappers? You started that trend

Munroe is Storm of the X-Men, who flies by riding the wind.

Like Johnny Storm, it's time to flame on
In the game of life you're just a pawn

Storm is the Human Torch, whose catchphrase is "flame on."

Bringing down the hammer like I was Don Blake
Your soul I'll steal, your spirit I'll break

In the early days, Thor had a human alter ego, Don Blake, who was a handicapped doctor. Thor's weapon, of course, is his hammer.

As if you were Reed Richards, stretchin the truth
Your fans go bye, your friends go poof

Richards is Mr. Fantastic whose powers involve being able to stretch his body to extreme lengths.

My rhymes fly over your head like Norrin Radd
I don't hate your flow, it just makes me sad

Radd is the Silver Surfer who flies around on a cosmic surfboard.

Bigger, faster, stronger, more
You already lost when you walked through the door
Smarter, wiser, better, best
You think you're the shit, but you're just like the rest

The chorus was probably the first thing I came up with on the song. The "bigger, faster, stronger" part was marketing language that I can't remember where I first got it from. On some level, it's probably a reference to the title of the South Park movie title, "Bigger, Longer and Uncut." There is also a documentary about steroid use--"Bigger, Faster, Stronger"--that I had seen that probably influenced it as well, but it's almost certainly a combination of factors.

It's clobberin' time like my name was Ben Grimm
You need to hit the track, you need to hit the gym

Grimm is the Thing, rounding out the Fantastic Four references. His catchphrase is "It's clobberin' time."

I'ma make you start drinkin like Tony Stark
Gonna lose your ass like Indy lost the ark

Stark is Iron Man. One of the most famous storylines he's in is where he's an alcoholic. The second line is a reference to the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where Indiana Jones who has found the Ark of the Covenant, but has it taken away, first by the Nazis, and then by the U.S. government.

Coming back from the dead like I was Jean Grey
You're stepping on stage like it's casual Friday

Grey is Marvel Girl or the Phoenix from the X-Men. She's known for repeatedly coming back from the dead.

Fists like Danny Rand, skin like Luke Cage
You're growing any anger, you're growing my rage

Rand is Iron Fist and Cage is Power Man, the two are the Heroes for Hire. One of Cage's powers is his impervious skin.

Like Bruce Wayne, I'm make your night dark
Blowin up your world like Kent to the Clark

Here at the midpoint of the song's verses, I make the switch from Marvel Comics characters to DC characters. Wayne is obviously Batman, also known as the Dark Knight. Clark Kent is Superman, whose origin story involves this homeworld, Krypton, exploding.

Like Dick Grayson, you never get the spotlight
You're hiding back stage, crying with stage fright

Grayson was the original Robin, the world's most famous sidekick and always in Batman's shadow.

Like Barbara Gordon, you got no legs
Eatin green ham, eatin green eggs

Gordon is Batgirl and was formerly known as Oracle after she was shot by the Joker and bound to a wheelchair for many years because of her injuries. The second line makes absolutely no sense in any context, but it popped into my head when I was writing this and it made me laugh my ass off, so I decided to keep it.

All ladies treat you like they were Kate Kane
Your love life is circlin the drain

Kane is Batwoman and she is a lesbian.

Bigger, faster, stronger, more
You already lost when you walked through the door
Smarter, wiser, better, best
You think you're the shit, but you're just like the rest

The chorus again.

I'ma make you tell the truth like Diana Prince
Who loves me more? Your own fucking parents

Prince is Wonder Woman, whose magic lasso makes people tell the truth.

Like Barry Allen, I'm running past your ass
You can't Punch Out even fucking Joe Glass

Allen is the Flash. Punch Out was a popular boxing simulation game for the original Nintendo. Your first, and weakest, opponent was Joe Glass, as in he had a glass jaw and was easy to beat.

I'm Hal Jordan, this is my space
Get out of my face, get out of my place

Jordan is the Green Lantern, effectively a space cop who serves as the guardian of Earth and its surrounding space.

You got no power, you got no wish
Like Arthur Curry, you can talk to fish

Curry is Aquaman. He has long been a punchline because of his power set, which people falsely limit to "talking to fish."

As if you were Alec Holland, sleepin in the muck
You're all outta time, you're all outta luck

Holland is the Swamp Thing.

Like Ted Kord, you're about to get capped
Your own fuckin friends stab you in the back

Kord was the Blue Beetle, who was shot and killed by his supposed friend, Max Lord.

Using acronyms like Billy Batson
I'm H.A.M., T.R.O.Y., what son?

Batson is Captain Marvel a.k.a. Shazam. Shazam is an acronym which is made up of the names of seven ancient heroes who he draws his powers from. The H.A.M. acronym comes from the Kanye West song of the same name and stands for "hard as a motherfucker." T.R.O.Y. is from the Pete Rock and CL Smooth song and means "they reminisce over you."

Like Oliver Queen, I'm hitting bullseyes
Your rhymes are so shitty, they're covered with flies

Queen is Green Arrow.

Bigger, faster, stronger, more
You already lost when you walked through the door
Smarter, wiser, better, best
You think you're the shit, but you're just like the rest

The chorus again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Twisted (With Footnotes)

Here is the fifth 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 "Twisted."

The premise of "Twisted" is very straightforward--team up childhood tongue twisters with hardcore drug references. The idea was to do something that would be provocative by its very nature, but would also be the most technically difficult song to rap. The song is not an endorsement of drug use, more a depiction of it. But it's also NOT an anti-drug song. The idea is that drugs, like most other things, are a topic that is loaded with misinformation and paranoid propaganda and that the subject needs to be demystified in order to lead us to a better place. Casual responsible drug use can be a very good thing, particularly in a situation where drugs are regulated and safe. They can expand one's mind, in particularly in getting one outside their own myopic ways of thinking about things and they can increase sympathy and empathy, things that our society sorely needs more of. They are, of course, also very dangerous, not only for those who abuse them, but for those who take them when their are interactions with other medications or medical conditions that individuals have. My take is that prohibition is EXACTLY the worst way of dealing with the problems associated with drugs. That's the context behind the song, but the song itself is a humorous song and is not meant to be a serious examination of the issue, but something that makes people dance and laugh.

The title refers to three things: 1. The tongue twisters, 2. The narrator is high or "twisted," 3. How fucked up it is that someone is rapping about drugs and kids rhymes.

A to the B to the C to the D to the E to the F to the G
To the 1, 2, 3, you and me, he and she

One of the things that people on drugs do is talk nonsense. I wanted to give a taste of that here at the beginning, by having the narrator just start rapping the alphabet. I wanted it to go on long enough to just start to annoy the listener or make them question what the hell they were listening to right before I switched and moved on.

Her and him, Jane & Jim, Jack & Jill
Bill & Hill, let's get ill

In addition to the nonsense references throughout the song, another drug-related idea is the stream-of-consciousness style thinking that high people engage in, where they jump from topic to topic, often with little connection or with connections that only they perceive, based on the drug they are using. "Jane & Jim" here is also a little play, as it refers to the "Dick and Jane" books that kids used to be taught to read with, but, as is often the case with people who are high, the narrator gets the names wrong. Most people won't get that reference, but they will get the next one, which is the first obvious reference to children's lit. As the narrator is already high, he randomly jumps to the Clintons with the next couple, probably only because of the rhyme. The last part of this one, the word "ill" has multiple meanings, primarily that the song is about to get sick and twisted, lyrically speaking, but also that it's also going to be some difficult technical rapping that most people couldn't do.

Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled rolling papers
Down at the corner store

Peter Piper is probably the most famous of these tongue twisters, at least it was when and where I was growing up, so I led with it. I don't know what pickled rolling papers are, but I'm pretty sure you can't get them at the corner store.

Dime bag, zig zag, Phillie blunt
More fucking more fucking more

The first part is total free association with weed-related terms. The second line is a typical drug reaction, that you want more and more of whatever drug it is, as the euphoric feeling declines and the addictiveness goes up.

Rubber baby buggy bumpers
Flubber baby snuggy dumpers
Pretty baby tourist humpers
Shitty baby forrest gumpers

"Rubber baby buggy bumpers" is another really famous one, and the idea here was to try to make the four lines here rhyme as much as possible (also making them more difficult to memorize). "Flubber" was an obvious rhyme and cultural reference. "Snuggy dumpers" was specifically a baby reference and goes along with "shitty baby." The Forrest Gump reference made me laugh outside when I first thought of it, so I had to include it.

Squier like Billy, Steve like Perry
AC to the DC in Washington D.C.

This song was written well before I moved to D.C., but I've always been a fan of the city. The rest of this section is an inside joke for people who know me. Journey, AC/DC and Billy Squier rank among my least favorite musical artists ever, thus I'd have to be high to want to listen to them or reference them.

My mammoth is wooly, my jacket is fleecy
When I was a kid I knew Ryan Creecy

"Fleecy" rhymed with "D.C.," and "wooly" related to jackets as well, thus the reference, but still part of the scrambled drug train of thought. I did know a guy named Ryan Creecy when I was a kid and I've never heard a word that rhymed with Creecy and not thought of his name, so I figured it fit well here.

I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop
Where she sits, she hits
When she hits, she shines
When she shines, she dreams
When she dreams, she screams

I wasn't as familiar with this rhyme, although I had heard it before. I figured in the context of the song, why would she just be sitting in a shoe shine shop if she wasn't high. There is also a hint here that her trip started to go bad at the end.

It's not about morality, it's all about reality

The chorus begins with a line that I took from an NWA song "Gangsta Gangsta," because NWA also did "Dopeman." The original sample comes from Boogie Down Productions' song "My Philosophy," which was the inspiration for my first song, "The Lesson." Two references to hip hop artist who heavily influenced me and another subtle drug reference as well.

Leavin shit behind, bustin out my mind
Steppin over the line, snortin the line

A string of getting high references culminates in stepping over the line, but line, of course, has a strong drug connotation, so I couldn't let it go by without making this reference, which made me laugh out loud when I wrote it.

Swinging on vines, be kind rewind
Steppin on land mines, feeling fine
Being blind, outta wine
Outta my mind, outta time
Outta my mind, out of time

A string of random references here showing the effects of the drugs on the narrator. Also a reference to the movie "Be Kind Rewind," which stars another of my favorite rappers, Mos Def, and the fact that I'm guessing that movie's biggest audience is stoners.

Next is the next is the next is the E
Floggy Molly is just a hobby holly
MDMA got you feeling like a champion
Getting super ill like King's Charles Campion

This might be my favorite section in the whole song. The lines here revolve around the drug MDMA, which is also frequently referred to as "molly," "ecstasy" and "E" (in its various forms) The first line is from a Moby song, with Moby being the type of artist you might find playing at a rave or other place where you might find widespread use of MDMA. The second line takes the band name Flogging Molly and turns it into a synonym for using the drug. Also in the narrator's claim that he doesn't do that much molly, he makes the "hobby holly" reference, which is a song title from the band Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, which I'm guessing, is NOT a band that a lot of molly users would be into. The narrator of the song, however, has more eclectic tastes than most, partially as evidenced by the next line, which is a direct quote from Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." The last reference is to the first named character in Stephen King's "The Stand," Charles Campion, who is effectively patient zero in superflu outbreak that takes out most of the world population, and is also among the first to die in the novel. But "ill" also has two other meanings here, one is a reference to being very high, the other is to being a dope rhymer, which in and of itself is a reference back to the drugs in the song. Layers upon layers in this song.

To sit in solemn silence in a dull dark dock
In a pestilential prison with a life long lock

I will admit that this one was new to me when I looked up tongue twisters for this song, but I liked it so much that I had to include it. I figured that it would be really difficult to memorize, but it turns out it wasn't. The line comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Mikado" and obviously fits the tough tongue twister mold, but it could just as easily be taken as a drug addiction reference.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for nice dreams

The childhood ice cream quote is twisted here to match up with the Cheech and Chong movie "Nice Dreams," wherein the stoners sold weed out of an ice cream truck.

I cream, you cream, we all cream for tight genes

The rhyme here was pretty obvious to me, with the sexual innuendo being legit because many drugs make people horny. But I also went with the double reference that people would only get if they read the lyrics. "Tight jeans" are obviously a turnon, but so would be an attractive person who has "tight genes."

She sells seashells down by the seashore
She sells crack out the back of the seashell store
Don't come before 10 o'clock, do the special knock
She gotta glock, she got rock in stock

Another really famous one here and I immediately thought that if "she" were going to sell anything, it would probably be crack, so the famous seashell store became a front for a drug dealer, who has her rules about when users can come by and buy things, her code for announcing that you were a buyer (and not of seashells), the weapon she uses to protect her stash, and her product of choice.

She's a fox in some socks, ants in her pants

She'll make a little love, she'll do a little dance

When tweedle beetles battle in a bottle with a paddle

It's a tweedle beetle paddle puddle bottle battle

Ever since I first read "Fox in Socks" to my kids, I thought the part with the tweedle beetles needed to be in a hip hop song, it was just too much like rap not to be. That thought was probably the original germination of the idea of this song. The first, third and fourth lines come directly from the Dr. Seuss book and the third one, added in for the rhyme, comes from KC and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight," with "getting down" being a synonym for getting high. Also, as a disco song, KC's music was heavily played in drug-fueled nightclubs of the 1970s like Studio 54.

It's not about morality, it's all about reality
Leavin shit behind, bustin out my mind
Steppin over the line, snortin the line
Swinging on vines, be kind rewind
Steppin on land mines, feeling fine
Being blind, outta wine
Outta my mind, outta time
Outta my mind, out of time

The chorus again.

Can you can a can as a canner can
Can a can?
My dealer is a woman, yours is a man
Bills, bills, bills, wham bam thank you man

I really liked the heavy use of alliteration in the canner line and the woman/man lines here brought in the same type of rhyme repetition. The use of the Destiny's Child song title also reinforced that repetition/alliteration pattern. The final part is a pun on the old saying that Urban Dictionary suggests in a crude way is about a sexual quickie.

Snorting weed, smoking lines, dropping tabs, getting pissed

Some might think that the lines are messed up when I perform this live, but the idea is the narrator is getting high enough now that his speech is getting messed up. I purposely switch the ingestion methods of coke and weed here to get that across.

Fuck you Harris, I do exist

Watching stand up comedy while high is a very common activity in some circles. This line is a quote from Aziz Ansari's first comedy special, which is hilarious, and also seems like something a high person would say.

My agent said my moneys in Security First and National Trust
But I can't pay attention cuz I'm on that dust

The second line here was added first and is a reference to both "Slow Ride," by the Beastie Boys, and "Same As It Ever Was," by House of Pain. The other line was added because of the rhyme. When singing these lines, I always space out as if I'm not paying attention, an obvious verbal version of the second line.

What the shit am I talking about
My brain is on walkabout

The next few lines are one of the most obvious sequences of the narrator's stream-of-consciousness ranting because he's high. He says his brain is on walkabout and then proceeds to verbally go on walkabout, with a stream of unrelated references.

I got 99 for my Klout

The social media influence site measures your influence on a scale of 1-100, with 99 obviously being really good.

Shout, shout, let it all out

Tears for Fears, "Shout."

Shout, shout, heavyweight bout, got no doubt

Continuing the Tears for Fears reference with two unrelated rhymes.

Gwen Stefani, jam on it, ride the pony, Mony Mony

Continuing the "no doubt" line above with the lead singer of the band No Doubt, then an old school rap reference to the famous song by Newcleus, then a R&B reference to the Ginuine song and ending the line with the Tommy James/Billy Idol hit.

Hey, hey what, get laid get fucked

Back when we were young and the song "Mony Mony" came on, there are these long pauses in the lyrics that we as teenagers had learned to fill in with this chant.

This song izdashit, check out my gravel pit

The first part is a reference to one of my other songs on this same mixtape. The second is a Wu-Tang Clan song.

It's not about morality, it's all about reality
Leavin shit behind, bustin out my mind
Steppin over the line, snortin the line
Swinging on vines, be kind rewind
Steppin on land mines, feeling fine
Being blind, outta wine
Outta my mind, outta time
Outta my mind, out of time

The chorus again.

How much pot could a pot roast toast
If a pot roast could get roasted
How much toast could a toastmaster toast
If a toastmaster could get toasted

These two were pretty easy to repurpose as drug references, since "roast" and "toast" are words often associated with getting high and/or drunk.

How can a clan cram in a clean cream can

Stuck in another one with really great alliteration, which I continue in the next few lines.

How can the Klan konklave in the cream corn

Total nonsense, but meant to poke fun at the KKK

How can Kimberly Kane profit off of web porn

Kimberly Kane is a real porn star and this was meant to represent the idea that people who are high have really deep thoughts and ask big questions about completely pointless topics.

How can I get a crest on my head like Michael Dorn (he played Worff on Star Trek)

And really stupid questions about pointless topics, too.

How much woodchuck could a woodchuck drink
If a woodchuck could drink woodchuck fuck

Bringing back the toastmaster/pot roast rhymes from above, this time with the more famous woodchuck rhyme, which was easy to pair with the cider drink of the same name.

How many boards could the Mongols hoard
If the Mongol hordes got bored

Another tongue twister, this one being one that people seem to love the most when they hear the song.

Mushroom mountain, chocolate fountain
Tip drill, road kill, Beverly Hills, purple pills
I've been to the motherfucking mountaintop
Watching panties drop, escapin the cops, using visine eye drops

Another stream-of-consciousness rant, this time with references to: psychedelic mushrooms/the drug song "Purple Pills" by D12, the gross chocolate fountain at Golden Corral, the even more gross song by Nelly, dead animals on the road, the Weezer song, D12 again, a reference tying in Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream Speech"/the D12 song/really subtle commentary on the freedom from the war on drugs, sex, and measures to avoid getting in trouble for using drugs.

It's not about morality, it's all about reality
Leavin shit behind, bustin out my mind
Steppin over the line, snortin the line
Swinging on vines, be kind rewind
Steppin on land mines, feeling fine
Being blind, outta wine
Outta my mind, outta time
Outta my mind, out of time

The chorus again. I noticed that, unlike a lot of rappers and singers, I don't do a lot of the off-the-cuff stuff at the end of songs, so I wanted to add that in here, but I don't really do much in the way of adlibbing or freestyling, so I wrote them into the song.

Time, time, time, time
Twisted, twisted, twisted, twisted

The continuation of the last line of the chorus and then the name of the song.

Sister, sister, sister, sister
Brother, brother, brother, brother
Father, father, father, father
Mother, mother, mother, mother
Fucker, fucker, fucker, fucker

The first line was meant to tie in with the previous line and reference the 80s hair metal band. Then it went through the whole family so it could end on "mother fucker."

Uh ah, uh uh ah
Uh ah, uh uh ah

These seemingly random sounds are actually a reference to an old Kid N Play song, "Funhouse."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I've been to the motherfucking mountain top
I've been to the motherfucking mountain top
I've been to the motherfucking mountain top
I've been to the motherfucking mountain top
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Ending up with a reference back to the mushroom mountain/MLK reference in the last verse, which seemed like a great place to end the song.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Response to Kendrick Lamar's "Control" Verse

The Twitter is ablaze with talk of Kendrick Lamar's new verse on the Big Sean track "Control," which throws down the gauntlet for pretty much every young rapper in the game, quite a few of them explicitly. Kendrick is bold in calling himself the "King of NY" and for telling pretty much every other rapper that they should just give up. While none of the rappers named in the song have dropped response tracks yet, quite a few others have.

First, though, let's take a look at Kendrick's verse:

Miscellaneous minds are never explainin' their minds
Devilish grin for my alias aliens to respond
Peddlin' sin, thinkin' maybe when you get old you realize
I'm not gonna fold or demise
Bitch, everything I rap is a quarter piece to your melon
So if you have a relapse, just relax and pop in my disc
Don't pop me no fucking pill, I'mma a pop you and give you this
Tell Flex to drop a bomb on this shit
So many bombs, ring the alarm like Vietnam on this shit
So many bombs, make Farrakhan think that Saddam in this bitch
One at a time, I line em up and bomb on they mom while she watching the kids
I'm in a destruction mode if the gold exists
I'm important like the Pope, I'm a Muslim on pork
I'm Makaveli's offspring, I'm the king of New York
King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both
The juggernaut's all in your jugular, you take me for jokes
Live in the basement, church pews and funeral faces
Cartier bracelets for my women friends I'm in Vegas
Who the fuck y'all thought it's supposed to be?
If Phil Jackson came back, still no coachin' me
I'm uncoachable, I'm unsociable
Fuck y'all clubs, fuck y'all pictures, your Instagram can gobble these nuts
Gobble dick up til you hiccup, my big homie Kurupt
This the same flow that put the rap game on a crutch
I've seen niggas transform like villain Decepticons
Mollies'll prolly turn these niggas to fucking Lindsay Lohan
A bunch of rich ass white girls looking for parties
Playing with Barbies, wreck the Porsche before you give em the car key
Judgement to the monarchy, blessings to Paul McCartney
You called me a black Beatle, I'm either that or a Marley
I'm dressed in all black, this is not for the fan of Elvis
I'm aimin' straight for your pelvis, you can't stomach me
You plan on stumpin' me? Bitch I’ve been jumped before you put a gun on me
Bitch I put one on yours, I'm Sean Connery
James Bonding with none of you niggas, climbing 100 mil in front of me
And I'm gonna get it even if you're in the way
And if you're in it, better run for Pete's sake
I heard the barbershops spittin' great debates all the time
Bout who's the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y'all
New niggas just new niggas, don't get involved
And I ain't rockin no more designer shit
White T’s and Nike Cortez, this is red Corvettes anonymous
I'm usually homeboys with the same niggas I'm rhymin' wit
But this is hip-hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you niggas

Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I'm tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive
Out the exit window of 5 G5’s with 5 grand
With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryna land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg
Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said
That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a dread

I'll say this first, I like Kendrick and he had one of the best albums of 2012, but he isn't quite the king of anything yet. He might get there, but he hasn't put in the time and earned it and he pretty much knows that and says it by pointing out that Jay-Z and Nas are at his level or higher, making it obvious one of them is more the king of NY than he is.

But I like what he did here. When's the last time there was the last time that you saw this much talk about a newly released song? Particularly a song that wasn't being criticized for dumb-ass references to Emmett Till, sexual assault or equating gold chains with slavery? Probably Kanye when he dropped "New Slaves," and before that not much. And I can't see any of those other songs inspiring so many responses, not only including the ones that are already out, but the many more to come.

Let's take a look a look at those that have come out so far...

Artist: KR
Song: "Lost Control"
Originality?: I guess, it doesn't sound like the other responses or what you hear on the radio, but it doesn't grab me
Does it come hard?: Mostly, KR goes after a number of additional rappers that Kendrick didn't
Best line: Doesn't really have any standout lines
Verdict: I probably wouldn't listen to this again and it doesn't make me want to listen to any of his other stuff

Artist: Cassidy
Song: "Control Freestyle"
Originality?: Mostly, there are some tired lines, but most of it is stuff I haven't heard before
Does it come hard?: Yeah, despite his voice, which is a little squeaky
Best line: "Even if your flow is sick/I disinfect you/I'm special/if you're plugged in I disconnect you"
Verdict: This is one of the better responses, I'll check out more of his stuff and will probably listen to this again.

Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Song: "SLR 2"
Originality?: Yes. Some of the dopest lyrics on any of these tracks and a wide variety of delivery styles that show that he isn't playing
Does it come hard?: Yes, not just lyrically, but in the intellectual weight of the lyrics and the ability to copy Kendrick's style and other people's styles, as if there isn't anything anyone else can do that he can't do
Best line: "Team me is like meat eating animals meeting a meteor/Dinosaurs, I'm fine with all kinds of wars/Knives and swords, lions, tigers bitin' boars"
Verdict: Lupe is my favorite rapper of this group and this just adds to that

Artist: Mickey Factz
Song: "South Park"
Originality?: Yeah, he seems to have put more thought into the lyrics and metaphors than most of this gang, particularly with the series of puns on various other young rappers names. Very nice.
Does it come hard?: Yeah, not as hard as some of the others, he says he's having fun, but it's hard enough to get the point across
Best line: "I'd rather battle Picasso and Dali in the gardens of Garvey/Shadowbox with Ali, postin up Barkley"
Verdict: Enough to make me a fan

Artist: Astro
Song: "KONY"
Originality?: Yes, very good backing track and funny and intelligent lyrics dripping with references
Does it come hard?: Pretty much. It's not 2Pac hard, but it's Jay-Z hard
Best line: "Let's battle, it's nothing, you weak, I feel like you're bluffing/You the king? Oh my bad, boy, I feel like you puffin'"
Verdict: Good stuff. I'd listen to this and Astro again

Artist: B.o.B
Song: "How to Rap"
Originality?: Musically yes, lyrically, not t all
Does it come hard?: Not really. He defends himself by making a poppy song and by playing guitar
Best line: "25 million singles worldwide, I'll guess I'll take another hit/Matter of fact I find this rap shit boring, man I'm over it/Give me my guitar pick, I'll show you shit"
Verdict: Better than most of what I've heard from B.o.B, but he isn't convincing anybody that he belongs in this conversation

Artist: Los
Song: "Control (Freestyle)"
Originality?: Maybe, it's hard to figure out what the hell he's talking about. The track jumps all over the place and doesn't really address what Kendrick is talking about.
Does it come hard?: No. It tries to for a few seconds in the middle, between talking about Facebook and Twitter and saying how much he likes Kendrick and everyone Kendrick mentions
Best line: "They gone have to have me shackled and tackled at tabernacles/While havin my adams apple detached in a baptist chapel"
Verdict: Nope. Probably the worst of all the tracks. Doesn't sound terrible, but the words just don't make any sense.

Artist: Fred the Godson
Song: "Say My Name"
Originality?: Not at all. I've heard these rhymes before, some of them today
Does it come hard?: A little bit. He's trying to come hard, but the boringness of the lyrics undercuts it. And when the lyrics come hard, he doesn't
Best line: "You got New York sick so you the cancer/It's like Philly '96 draft, I'm the answer"
Verdict: The backing track is tight, but this is mostly worthless

Artist: Joell Ortiz
Song: "Outta Control"
Originality?: Lyrically, it's pretty good after the first few bars, which seem pretty typical. His flow, though, doesn't engage me that much
Does it come hard?: Not as hard as he thinks it does, but it's not horrible
Best line: "I'm Optimus Prime trucking your boulevard, just wishin'/That a star screams so I can go on a bombing mission"
Verdict: Not feeling his style, although he did have some pretty good lines

Artist: Iman Shumpert
Song: "Dear Kendrick"
Originality?: Yeah, the only one of these tracks with a sense of humor and one of the few with a variety of deliveries within the song
Does it come hard?: Not quite as hard as some of the others, but that's because Shumpert has a sense of humor
Best line: "Got dammit/you could tell that I planned it/Them X-Men come help me take over the planet"
Verdict: Probably my favorite flow of any of these rappers, most of whom I never heard of before. I'll be checking him out more.

Artist: Mysonne
Song: "Uncontrollable"
Originality?: Pretty much, some very good rhymes, metaphors and flow
Does it come hard?: Yep, although he makes the same "NY is mine" claim that Kendrick made, and it belongs to neither of them
Best line: "Jewish, Christians, Baptists, Muslims/Scholars, hippies, trappers, hoodlums/I ball with any being, believing in authenticity/This money shit these rappers be screaming don't mean shit to me"
Verdict: Good shit, I'll check out more of his stuff and this is probably the best of these tracks that uses the original song's beat

Artist: Da Youngfellaz
Song: "Turn Down That Sound"
Originality?: Not particularly
Does it come hard?: No, they don't go directly after Kendrick and a lot of the lyrics its kinda like, how is this a response?
Best line: "We spit crack here/the way that he rap rare/Like rhyming with black hair"
Verdict: I like some of the lyrics, but the beat and the hook put me to sleep. May listen to some of their other stuff, but that'd be despite this, not because of it.

My favorite response, though, has got to be Kevin Hart's parody, which you can watch at Vibe.

Lots of good Tweets about the verse, too, which you can check out at AllHipHop.com.

My favorite is from Big Daddy Kane, who said: "ATTENTION M.C.'S: Complaining about @kendricklamar verse on twitter is Gossip. Getting in the studio trying to write a better one is Hip Hop"

Update: Two more responses have come in, so I'm adding them below. I'll continue to add new responses as they come out, although anybody who has waited this long has waited too long and whatever they come up with will be weaker just based on its lack of timeliness. Where are the guys Kendrick called out? Where are people like Fabolous, who tweeted about finding a studio that day? Still nothing?

Artist: Riff Raff
Song: "Ballin' Outta Control (The Neon Response)"
Originality?: Yep, the lyrics are poetic and lofty and really unlike any of the other rappers that have done responses
Does it come hard?: Unless its ironic, not at all. He loves everybody
Best line: "Still I wish success on everybody, never had a carbon-copy/I hope you have a beautiful family and your label is successful, financially"
Verdict: Once you get past the really annoying and repetitive intro, it's not bad. It's light on material and it's a little hard to understand what he's saying, but it at least tries to do something different

Artist: Papoose
Song: "Control (Freestyle)"
Originality?: Nah, not really. The same kind of homophobic and anti-woman insults we hear all the time
Does it come hard?: Hell yeah, hits harder than any of the previous response
Best line: "Singing like a lady/you get away with murder/you George Zimmerman"
Verdict: I already liked Papoose, and this doesn't change that much. I don't agree with everything he says in this verse, but it's a strong one that should help him elevate his name a bit

Update: Joe Budden jumps in the mix
Song: "Lost Control" (Freestyle)
Originality?: Pretty good, the sound isn't super original, but the lyrics are better than most of the previous responses
Does it come hard?: Yeah, although it doesn't seem like he's filled with rage or hate
Best line: "I state facts, not to say it's wack but check the playback/Outrhyming A$AP ain't showing me where your weight at"
Verdict: Don't know much about Budden, but this will make me pay attention in the future

Monday, August 5, 2013

"The Heist," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis album "The Heist," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

From the beginning of the album, Ryan Lewis' production is top-notch. These beats don't sound like anything else I can think of, yet, at the same time, they don't sound alien. They sound familiar without sounding derivative or stale, which is one of the best sets of feelings a group of beats can evoke, I think. Add to that the complexity and original style that Macklemore delivers on each track, and you're in for something good.

The first song, "Ten Thousand Hours," is a perfect lead off track for a hip hop album. It doesn't cover much new territory, it's about making it in the game and the hard work and new ideas that Macklemore is bringing, but the fact is that he IS bringing new ideas, so the song gives a fresh take on the familiar.

Saying that "Can't Hold Us" is my least favorite single off the album isn't to say that I don't like it, just to say that I don't think it's as good as the other singles, as good as it is. And keep in mind that a lot of people disagreed with me, since they sent this song to #1. In terms of the album, it really just builds off of the first track, continuing those themes, but taking it up a level in terms of the rhetoric, as if this song was written quite a while after the lead track.

There isn't much to say about "Thrift Shop" that hasn't already been said. It's a perfect single, seeming like it's a gimmick song, but not really being a gimmick, since it's credible and its not just making fun of its subject, it's embracing it in a way that no one thought of first, yet in a way that so many people identify with. That's what great writing should do and there are few songs that do it as well as this in recent years.

"Thin Line," is, once again, a surprisingly original take on a well-worn subject in hip hop (and music in general for that matter), the battle that the performer faces in trying to balance the career of an artist with relationships that have normal expectations about what someone is supposed to contribute to that relationship. Again, nothing really original in the topic, but it all sounds original in Macklemore's voice and lyrics.

"Same Love" is most notable not because it's a pro-gay hip hop song, it's most notable for the very personal and accessible way that it tries to convince people of its key message. It isn't preachy and it doesn't talk down to the listener, something that is easy to mess up with such an important topic.

By the time we get to "Make the Money," the topics start to get a bit redundant on "The Heist," with yet another song about the game. Not much is added here that we didn't already hear in "Ten Thousand Hours" or "Can't Hold Us." Going in a new direction, for this album, at least, is "Neon Cathedral," which gives Macklemore's story of his own personal fight against addiction. And, again, the words here are more creative and original than most rappers these days, giving a new take on an old topic. "BomBom" is an odd instrumental interlude that shows that Ryan Lewis' compositions work better with Macklemore's voice than they do on their own.

"White Walls" is an odd interlude on the album, not only because of the guest appearance by Schoolboy Q, but because it's the only song on the album up to this point that engages in misogyny (mostly because of Schoolboy). The guest rap isn't poorly performed, it's just that the lyrics don't make a lot of sense in the context of the rest of the album or with Macklemore's overall image.

At this point in the album, "Jimmy Iovine" leads one to wonder why, if Macklemore is so good at writing the individual lines in the songs--and his lyrics are some of the best I've seen in years--why he's so bad at coming up with original song topics. "The Heist" almost seems to have a checklist of "official rap topics" that it is checking off. As noted above, most of these songs are better than most of the songs they follow in topicality, but wouldn't it be more interesting to write interesting takes on new topics, not just the same old stuff rappers have been talking about for decades? Another case in point is the next track, "Wings," which is one of the best shoe-related songs I've ever heard, but it's still yet another rap track about shoes, so we once again have an artist who really could help move the game forward taking a path that minimizes his ability to do so. And yes, I know that "Wings" is deeper than just being about "shoes," but shoes are the centerpiece of the song, so my point is still valid, I think.

The self-examination is a key to "A Wake," where Macklemore takes a look at his place in the national conversation on race as a white rapper. And, it seems, his reflection is not only a good look at his internal struggle, but a good look at the struggle that artists who care about issues that they aren't personally harmed by. As with "Same Love," Macklemore comes out on the right side of the issue and he does so in a way that should give quite a few others room to think and improve themselves as well.

The extended "Gold" metaphors on the next track are interesting and explore both materialism and the ideal world of the average rapper, but ultimately, the message of the song isn't exactly clear. I'm left wondering what the point is. "Starting Over" is exactly the opposite, where the message of recovery, relapse, rebirth, falling off the wagon and how one individual, even if he gets famous, doesn't have all the answers, no matter how much fans want them to, is not just clear, but powerful.

"Cowboy Boots" is a great closer, and one of my favorite songs on the album. I was originally pulled in by the "PBR" chorus, but the powerful nostalgia, not only of a certain time in life, but with a part of Seattle I visited a few times when I was working there, was what really kept me on board. This is a great song, one of quite a few on this album.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. Mackelmore has an original voice that is amplified by the fact that he takes a very original approach to delivering his lyrics.

Lyrics: 10. His lyrics are some of the most creative and original rap lyrics of all time, even when he's talking about tired topics.

Message: 9. On most of the songs on this album, it's clear what Macklemore is talking about, but he doesn't do all the thinking for you, he lets you come to your own conclusions.

Technical: 9. If you've tried to sing along to any of these songs and even remotely get close to Macklemore's delivery, you've probably failed a lot.

Production: 9. I don't think Ryan Lewis' stuff is the greatest in the world, but it's certainly better than most of what's on the radio and it matches up very well with Macklemore's flow.

Versatility: 6. There is some repetitiveness on this album that is forestalled a bit by the originality of the lyrics.

Collaborators: 10. While this group is mostly underground an unknown, Macklemore and Lewis did an amazing job of choosing people that complimented the songs. A lot of these people will go on to be more famous.

History: 10. These songs are dripping with history on many levels -- Macklemore's personal history, hip hop and music history, broader history. This is an artist with something to say and he's saying it well.

References: 9. Another area that Macklemore excels at is weaving historical and cultural references into his songs. There are so many of them in some of these songs that you have to have Rap Genius up to know what the hell he's talking about.

Originality: 10. Total originality. It won't be long till we see a bunch of imitators of this, since there isn't really anything like it already in existence, there's a lot of room for biters to copy it without being too derivative.

Total Score: 92. This really is an original statement and something new in hip hop, which is relatively rare these days when it comes to radio-friendly albums. One of the best of the last decade and beyond.