Archive for the 'Stuff I Liked 2013' Category


Stuff I Liked in 2013: Wack Rappers

January 7th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

If you asked me in 2012, I’d say that A$AP Rocky, Big Sean, and Childish Gambino were wack.

I went home for Christmas in 2012 and spent a lot of time with my little brother for the first time in a few years. It might have been the first time we hung out as real deal adults, rather than me being older and him being a younger brother. We watched basketball, he drove me to get a new tattoo, fun times were had.

He played a lot of Big Sean in the car, when me and our cousin let him instead of trying to bogart the stereo. My position on Big Sean has been “son is wack” for ages, at least since GOOD Fridays. He’s not awful so much as boring, like he’s doing a poor impression of someone I might have liked.

But my brother kept at it, talking about how lyrical this verse is or deep that song’s concept is, and so on and so forth. I was hesitant, but you know what? Sitting in that car, talking about the raps, running tracks back, I had to rub my chin and admit that this guy got it in on occasion.

My brother told me to cop his Detroit tape, and I got really into it. It sounds better than anything Sean has done, and while he’s still not great, he’s definitely somebody who I’m willing to check out on occasion. So I guess I kinda like Big Sean.

I hated on A$AP Rocky for a long time because he rapped like he was from the South, but about half as good as the people who influenced him. I liked his video for “Purple Swag”, especially the visual impact of the lady in the grill, but as a rapper, he didn’t move the needle. I wasn’t into his LiveLoveA$AP either. I didn’t like him, but I liked a few features, like his cut on Main Attrakionz’s 808s & Dark Grapes II album and “Hands on the Wheel” with Schoolboy Q.

But his Long.Live.A$AP…I think it was Sarah Horrocks (twitter, tumblr) who kept talking about him while I was busy ignoring him. I hadn’t even heard any singles until I bootlegged Long.Live.A$AP, but by the end of that week, I was hooked.

More than hooked—I copped the vinyl at my first opportunity and binged on the videos. (The vinyl is translucent orange, and it warps easily if you fall asleep listening to the album on a lazy Saturday while the sun’s out.) So much of it is way hotter and way deeper than I’d ever imagined. It opens on a few hot lines (“I thought I’d probably die in prison; expensive taste in womennn/Ain’t had no pot to piss in, now my kitchen full of dishes”) and then Rocky is off and running. The biggest surprise was that it’s my type of album, and I felt dumb for sleeping on it. Now I like to play “Wild For the Night” at max volume when playing video games.

Childish Gambino was in that Big Sean box, too. I like Donald Glover’s stand-up comedy a lot, but his raps were firmly in the “dorky Drake” vein, but less listenable than pretty much every other Regular Guy Rapper I messed with. It felt like a pantomime to me. He definitely found a fanbase and kept making music, but I got to the point where I wouldn’t bother, even though random people would ask me what I thought about him for reasons I still can’t figure out.

I picked up Jhené Aiko’s Sail Out a couple weeks ago, mainly off the strength of her being a killer guest on basically every rap song I ever heard her sing on. I wanted to see her in her element, guiding the ship instead of playing First Mate, and it delivers. It’s a good album. It includes this song, “Bed Peace:”

And Aiko is good, as expected (pick a line, they all stuck with me), but Gambino goes in on a verse that puts me in mind of Tabi Bonney, who I like a whole lot. It’s sensitive guy raps, love raps, but his delivery and contents kill me. He hit the triple axel and stuck the landing, and I’m glad I got to hear it.

2013 involved a lot of dumb personal and professional stuff, but I experienced a lot of change over the course of the year, too. Pusha T, who was once a Scorn Lord, dropped a weak album. I went from ignoring Lana Del Rey to really digging her stuff. I slept on Future, mistakenly thinking he was another cat out of Atlanta who I thought was mediocre, and now I listen to “First Class Flights” and “Same Dame Time” (remix and original) four or five times a day.

I don’t mind being wrong, especially when being wrong about one thing doesn’t stop you from enjoying other things. All of this stuff, opinions to typing on the internet, isn’t set in stone. It’s okay to change, and it’s definitely okay to be wrong. I’m constantly re-evaluating and thinking about why I think what I do, and sometimes giving a little gives you a lot.

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Black Is

January 3rd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

The thing about the black condition is that it’s exhausting. If it’s not major stuff, like living in fear of police brutality or struggling under the weight of being born behind the eight ball, it’s smaller things, little aggravations like realizing that “ghetto” is a code word or googling to make sure you got a joke right in an essay and accidentally finding a white supremacist site. You gotta keep your guard tight as you bob and weave through your everyday life, and that makes it easy to miss things. You find yourself trying to weather the storm and forgetting about the sunshowers.

As a kid, my knowledge of what Black People Did was limited by my education, my family, my region, and my society. “Black People Don’t” do this, that, and the third. I’m sure you’ve heard a few. Sometimes it’s spoken outright, but a lot of times, it’s an assumption. If I didn’t know that black people were specifically doing something, if there wasn’t some obvious signifier, I’d assume they didn’t. Milestone Media in the ’90s was a revelation because it made it very obvious that black people did, in fact, make comics, and excellent ones at that. Sean Combs and Master P did own record labels. Barack Obama did become president. Spike Lee made movies. There was a wall here before, but it’s gone now. Now it’s become a door. It’s become an option.

In December 2013, cartoonist/animator LeSean Thomas shared this post on tumblr, which featured these images, plus a few more:

LeSean Thomas

Ron Wimberly

Roni Brown

That’s LeSean Thomas himself (in an ill One Piece shirt), Ron Wimberly, and Roni Brown. Thomas is the Creative Producer/Supervising Director of Black Dynamite, Wimberly does character design and layout assists, and Brown is Production Coordinator on the show. There are several more people through the link, too.

Black Dynamite is a brutally funny show, a worthy successor to an excellent movie. It’s a cartoon, a good-looking one, and it airs on a popular channel. As a kid, the thought of a team that was all, a majority, or even partly black probably didn’t even cross my mind. Cartoons were from Japan or Hollywood, and black cartoons were Fat Albert. (Were there more cartoons starring talking cats than blacks?) But this, and The Boondocks, where black people aren’t just on the ship, but guiding it through the waters? Outfitting it with all types of guns and accessories to make it the biggest, baddest ship on the block? It was unimaginable. But it’s beautiful.

As an adult, the tumblr post struck me. I know Ron, Ron’s a friend, but it was more than just “that’s my man doing big things.” It’s bigger. It’s an example, and it’s something that I hadn’t necessarily seen put into one place like that. It’s a reminder that black people do, and do it well.

It’s the flip side to the black condition, the narrative that gets tamped down in favor of slaves and graves. We’ve got rock’n’roll, wild sci-fi tales, ancient civilizations, rap music, soul music, R&B, Richard Pryor, Milestone Media, all types of wild and unbeatable innovations and creations.

I wish I’d had it as a kid, or at least that that idea was easier to access than it was back then. I was talking about this with a few friends the other day, and we were all…not in awe, we’re all grown-ups here, but we definitely felt something warm. “This is good. This is right.” Our news, our culture, delivers a constant stream of misery, condescension, and death, so it’s nice to have reminders that black is, and has always been, more beautiful than I ever realized.

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Loving Bas-ket-ball

December 30th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 01

Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk (manga, anime) is basketball. Inoue is a tremendous talent, one of those guys who I always forget is a favorite artist until I trip over his work or am reminded of it. Inoue worked on Slam Dunk from 1990 to 1996, long before he reached the heights he would achieve in Vagabond and Real. It’s interesting as a time capsule. There are a couple moments where Inoue’s art takes a leap forward, becoming closer to what we’re used to seeing from him. I think volume 12 was the first major one, but even the gradual growth is pretty impressive.

There’s a story in Slam Dunk, full of cute characters and motivations and things that make for good comics. It’s geared toward children, so the bad guys are rarely out-and-out bad. They all have their reasons, and most of them are very good. But what I’m here to talk about isn’t stories. I want to talk about basketball.

Part of the reason why Slam Dunk is so good is that it’s about the fundamentals. Kuroko’s Basketball, the current hit basketball anime, works on magic. The main guy is invisible and racks up dozens of assists per game, other characters have unlikely specialties, and there’s generally not much real basketball to be found. It’s all right, but it’s not real. In Slam Dunk, every character has a skill, but that skill’s the result of practice based in real world fundamentals. The main character sucks at basketball, so they make him shoot two thousand shots as practice. Another character may be the greatest one-on-one player in Japan, and it’s a direct result of not just his drive, but the fact that he played against his father since he was knee-high all the way up through to high school. He put in the hours and earned the results.

Inoue will explain basketball terminology in the middle of a story, but generally in a natural way. The eyes of players or journalists will widen, they breathe the name of the move that they just witnessed, and break down how and why it works, but only rarely dip into Naruto-style “Here’s a few diagrams and charts and exposition.” It feels more like commentary than edutainment, but like good sportscasting, you come away from it with new or deepened knowledge.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 02

That grounding makes Slam Dunk really enjoyable. Kuroko’s isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not basketball basketball. It doesn’t scratch that same itch for me. It’s a drama set in a basketball gym, rather than a basketball drama. Slam Dunk is all ball. The realism makes the cartoonier aspects work, because you’ve already bought in. It feels like the real thing.

I’m knee-deep in basketball right now. I was reading Slam Dunk and playing NBA 2k14 before the season started, and now I’m doing both of those, watching NBA games a few times a week, and going to a game a month or so. Next year, I’m going to start going to pickup games with a coworker, because why not?

There is something about that is pleasing, relaxing, stressful, and wonderful. I was watching Hawks @ Cavs on 12/26 while I cooked. I was listening mostly, but the closer they got to the end of the 4th quarter, the more time I spent standing in front of the TV while mixing or waiting out a cooking time. At the last play of the quarter—in a game that I did not bet money on and have no stake in beyond liking the Hawks—I threw my arms up and cheered when Jeff Teague hit a deep three to tie at 108 with 0:04.2 left in OT. I was into it, I was feeling it, and that’s a feeling that’s worth chasing.

That feeling has levels, too. Slam Dunk is by far the most passive basketball experience, but it’s still incredibly deep. The NBA season has narratives and storylines, but they’re nothing like the stories in Slam Dunk. Slam Dunk will squeeze tears out of your cold heart when you realize what’s at stake for the cast and how bad they want a win. The non-basketball parts, the relationships and history, are lethal when combined with Inoue’s storytelling abilities. In real life, it’s never so cut-and-dry, which is fine. They’re serving different masters.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 03

Watching ball is active, especially with friends. You’re critiquing the game as it evolves, hoping for your team to come home with a W and maybe a few good highlights you can brag about and watch on youtube or tumblr over and over. You then take that experience to work with you the next day and talk about your favorite plays, like this absurd Iguodala almost-highlight that dominated my day job. The athleticism and acrobatics will stun you in every single game if you let them. I’ve got an NBA League Pass account, and being able to watch replays on demand is incredible. (Not being able to watch Warriors games live, however, is garbage.)

NBA 2k14 is video game ball, a fantasy land where you can make anything happen, assuming you’re good enough. In previous versions of the title, I binged hard on a single mode (create a player, Jordan, Association, whichever appealed) and playing online with a friend. In NBA 2k13, before we called it, I’d won 57 games and the homey won 66. We kept a spreadsheet, too, so I knew that I’d racked up 8489 points to his 8498, and we were both averaging around 69 points per game—69 on the dot for me, 69.098 for him. Keeping track of that stuff changed the game, in a way. The stakes changed from trying to beast him in one game to trying to match him in dozens. That changed how we played, and I think made the games even more interesting and intense for us.

I’m taking it easy in 2k14 this time around, though. I play a few times a week, usually the featured game of the day or whoever the Hawks or Warriors are matching up against that day. (Sometimes I use it for revenge, too.) I’m only dabbling in the Lebron James fantasy mode, and I’m not playing a full season or two in a sports game for the first time since they put seasons into sports games. It’s all about will and skill this year, because the AI is punishing enough that if you slip for a quarter, you’re going to have to fight to get it back. But it’s all about you. It’s what you can and cannot do, your own personal talent for fake basketball. You can’t re-create things you’ve seen in real life, but you can get into the ballpark and make highlights of your own. I’ve been paying closer attention to how the commentary will guide you or subtly suggest tactics or players to focus on. If you pay attention, they can give you vague hints that’ll let you turn a game around or avoid a pitfall you keep running into. (I shoot a lot of frustration threes, and the gang is rarely happy about it.)

I can’t get enough of basketball, be it drawn, broadcast, or programmed. It’s my favorite sport, hands down, at this point. It feels good.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 04

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Bleach Back

December 27th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Tite Kubo’s Bleach always had one thing over its peers: it was cooler than anything else out. It had a swagger, a style, that couldn’t be beat. From the title pages to the fashion, Bleach was cool, even when it was bad. After a point, the bad started to outweigh the good, so I bailed.

After a break earlier this year, Kubo is back at it and Bleach is in its final arc. Bleach was soft for a long while. Now that we’re in the home stretch, though, Kubo’s clicking again, and the proof is in scenes like this, from a recent chapter in Weekly Shonen Jump:

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 01

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 02

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 03

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 04

A little cool goes a long way. Turning aside the blast at the last minute, the fur, a timely one-liner, a cool gimmick, impeccable title placement, and an unavoidable sense that it’s about to go down: Bleach is cool again.

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Momentary Catharsis

December 13th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures, like this clip from Trisha Goddard’s tv show.

The woman in red’s laughter is the sound of the pain of centuries of oppression finally finding an outlet. It reminds me of a moment from Howard Chaykin’s issue of SOLO, when a Neo-Nazi finds out that he’s part Jewish.

It’s not a victory. That would be overselling it. This guy is still walking around North Dakota and actively trying to turn a town all-white using terrorism.

But it still feels really, really good. I laughed until I cried watching this video. It was one of those things that can totally make a night. It’s worth hooping and hollering.

Sic semper tyrannis.

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Stuff I Liked In 2013: Discovering Vince Staples

December 11th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I didn’t have a name for it until I read music critic Andrew Nosnitsky talking about Vince Staples, but I got into dead-eyed rap and Vince Staples in a big way this year. When it comes to threats, rap’s usual mode is like something out of John Woo’s heroic bloodshed films. The threats are amped up past the point of believability and into the realm of myth. I love 50’s “If you was smart, you’d be shook of me/’cause I’d get tired of lookin for you, spray your mama crib, and let your ass look for me.” It’s a threat, but there’s a playfulness, an exuberance, that makes it great. It’s showing off and showing out, a threat that’s a boast simultaneously.

Vince Staples goes in the other direction. I first really noticed dude on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hive” from Doris, though he’d made appearance on a few other projects I’ve dug. But his verse there made me sit up and take notice. Doris is full of fallen world music, and Staples absolutely nailed the mood Earl was going for. It’s more fatalistic than braggy, more flat than simple posturing. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a pose, but it’s a pose that Staples performs very well.

It’s the fatalism that gets me. 2012 was tough, and 2013 has been tough in an entirely different way. Things I took for granted aren’t there any more, habits I used to have don’t work, and things are complicated. I can be mad and feel bad about it, or I can accept that it is what it is and still feel bad about it. “It is what it is,” like its sisters “that’s life” and “that’s just the way it is,” is inherently fatalistic. They indicate acceptance of the fact that you can’t fix or control everything because it’s bigger than you. It’s an indicator that since you can’t win, you’re gonna make do.

Staples does a lot of making do. On “102,” he says, “Never could be rich enough/’cause I grew up broke as fuck.” “Trigga Witta Heart:” “Rap ain’t never did shit for a nigga with no options/ You want some positivity go listen to some Common.” “Versace Rap:” “I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know/ She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home.”

He talks about his mom a lot. She plays a variety of roles in his songs, but rarely hope. She’s reality, responsibility, love, missed opportunity, better, and worse. A few examples:

“Stuck In My Ways:”

Mama trying to figure what the fuck my problem is
And why I gotta live this way
I know my path ain’t straight
But in the field, don’t nothing but grit matter
Just get it how you live, and figure the shit after
Nigga, gotta get it before I die out here
Don’t wanna see my momma cry out tears

“Beeper King Exclusive:”

Hit a couple hundred licks, stash the money at the crib
Mama going through my shit, had to pass it off to Nick


Watch the shit that you talkin’, promise it’s with me often
I got to stop with the trigger talking, I promised mama


My momma told me I’m living crazy
I’m just being what she made me
Dealing with the luck she gave me

“Thought About You:”

Just found God and I still don’t pray
’cause Satan prey on the weak, swear I can do it myself
Soul stuck in the beats, it’s like I’m crying for help
Still my expression is bleak, because my mama ain’t raised no bitch
Never take no shit from no nigga unless he want to see the black four-fifth

“Winter in Prague:”

Now, back to the story at hand:
They handed me nothing, I took it in stride
Take a shot at your head for taking shots at my pride
The only son my mama got that she can talk to…
So you don’t want no problems. That’s never been a smart move.

There’s a lot going on here, a lot to chew on, and all of it’s dark. It’s not music to feel sad to. It doesn’t have the uplifting punch of songs that are meant to get you hype when you’re blue, nor the “You’re not alone” message the blues has. There’s no glory, no joy, and no hope, just expressionless faces and dead eyes that hide dark thoughts. It’s music to feel bad to, flat and hopeless raps.

Staples hasn’t had a proper album release yet, but he’s got three mixtapes I enjoyed a lot. Shyne Coldchain is good, and Winter in Prague (a collab with Michael Uzowuru) is a lot of fun, too. But the one that stole the show for me, upsetting expectations and surprising me with how solid it is, was Stolen Youth. It was produced by Mac Miller under his Larry Fisherman alias and features a fistful of entertaining rappers. This one made me go back and re-evaluate Mac Miller, because I’d honestly written him off before 2013. But his verses are good and his beats are a great foundation for Staples to show out on. “Guns and Roses” is fantastic and totally unexpected.

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