Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year or whatever, which gives me a good excuse to crank out a bunch of capsule reviews for you. I haven’t been writing on here as much as I’d like (turns out moving is stressful and time consuming???) so this is like… a catch-up post, in a way. If you order stuff off Amazon via these links (any stuff, not just the stuff I’m linking) 4l! gets a cut, which keeps the lights on and the electrons flowing or however it is the internet works. If you don’t order stuff off Amazon via these links, thanks for reading anyway. I don’t really know how to express it, but I’m extraordinarily thankful that me, Gavin, Esther, Thomas, and Hoatz have managed to build up a little fan base over the past few years just by typing dumb things about comics and cartoons and wrestling and movies and music. I feel like we’re real idiosyncratic compared to basically every other comics blog — who else has long-running Chikara posts and Nelly Furtado themed weeks? — but y’all keep showing up and talking, even when I go ultra anti-pop and write about rap minutiae for a month. So: thank you.
Now: capitalism and commentary.
-The Alchemist – Russian Roulette: Alan the Chemist is one of my favorite rap producers, in part because he’s got his feet set in two of my favorite types of rap: indie joints and mean mug New York rap. You can tell that hanging around Prodigy from Mobb Deep really helped Al turn into an ill rapper.
Russian Roulette is one of my favorite albums this year. The promo describes it as a 30-song soundscape, and that’s true enough. It’s a concept album, basically, and Alchemist has produced beats that utilize Russian themes and sounds. It’s not all legit — I’m pretty sure that Joan Rivers talking to Dolph Lundgren about playing Ivan Drago is not actually a Russian thing — but it’s all ill. It’s not a DJ album at all, but the songs fade into each other perfectly. They’ll share a sample or some other sonic element, a vocal sample will begin at the end of one and finish up when the next song begins.
I don’t think I could ever listen to this album on shuffle, even though there are a gang of emcees I like spread over the album. It’s so much better when viewed as a complete hole. It doesn’t tell a story or anything, but it’s… it’s a soundscape. You just listen and let it simmer and enjoy the emotions it sparks. It’s a trip, in at least two senses of the word. It’s got raw raps, atmospheric tunes, real boom bap New York production, and everything in-between. It’s also got Mr. MFN eXquire kicking magical realist storytelling rhymes for a story, which is something I love. He’s done a couple of these — I think there was one on Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick, “The Maltese Falcon”? — and they’re always great.
I liked Vodka & Ayahuasca a whole lot, too. “Gladiator Music” is hard body, and the title track is super tight:
-Frank Ocean – Channel Orange: I dig this guy a whole lot, and this album is worthy. It’s a quiet, sort of a downer joint about sad subjects and heartbreak. “He is Frank Ocean and he is here to make you think about death and heartbreak and get sad and stuff!”
But it’s good. It feels downtempo, the kind of album you put on for a quiet night. It’s melancholy, but the kind of melancholy you want to sing along with. You want to croon and moan along with Ocean, even if you can’t match his falsetto. He feels very lost and vulnerable, like he’s just trying to live but things ain’t working out. He’s a little off in the distance from his problems. Far enough to spell them out for you in intensely relatable ways, but still close enough to feel burnt.
“Bad Religion” is probably my jam. I love “Thinkin Bout You,” especially “No, I don’t like you/ I just thought you were cool enough to kick it/ Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho/ since you think I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute/ that’s why I kissed you/ Got a fighter jet, I don’t get to fly it though/ I’m lying down thinkin bout you”, but “Bad Religion” is like a gunshot.
“Bad Religion” is about Ocean’s unrequited love for another guy int he form of a conversation (kinda) with a taxi driver. “He said ‘Allahu akbar’, I told him don’t curse me/ ‘But boy you need prayer’/ I guess it couldn’t hurt me/ If it brings me to my knees/ It’s a bad religion.” I like the wordplay and emotion in there, from the reminder that God is Great to being open to anything that won’t hurt you. Great song to sing along to.
Ocean’s good at making songs you wanna sing with.
-Sean Price – Mic Tyson: You need that real raw hoodies and timbs rap? Well. P!
Pyrex: “(Pyrex) Don’t make me abuse my power/ One telephone call, shoot this coward/ I was the bum, but the pendulum switched/ Now my whole team Supreme, no Kenneth McGriff”
Bar-Barian: “P! The jerk that retired, I’m nice so I’m back niggas/ Smack Earth, Wind, Fire, and ice out that nigga”
Price & Shining Armor: “All in my face like a rap battle/ Fuck around and catch all of the eighth when the gat rattle/ ‘That hardcore rappin is played out’/ until I hardcore slap you then ask you what’s played out”
Hush: “‘These rap niggas wack, Ruck, call ‘em out’/ Everybody wack except me, fuck is you talkin ’bout?”
Straight Music: “Fuck bein humble, I’m better than everybody/ Melancholy niggas get hit with a heavy shottie/ Dumb fuckers don’t know how the rules go/ Young pups can’t fuck with the Cujo/ You bark better than your bite/ Yeah I bark, but I’m better when I fight/ P!”
Bully Rap: “Uhh; you cowards are bogus/ Split head like Red Sea power of Moses/ Due to my weight gain I had to double the dosage/ of drugs that I do, a nigga stay toasted”
“Haraam,” a bonus cut:
This album’ll put hair on your chest and a gun in your glovebox. P!
-Jessie Ware – Devotion: This album’ll run your life if you let it. It’s super good, just a lady going in on singing, but the highlight for me is “110%.”
It’s a good song in and of itself. It’s about a woman trying to get a guy to dance with her. Chorus: “Now if you’re never gonna move, oh my love/ You’ll make me come to you/ But I’m still dancing on my own/ Still dancing on my own”. That’s cool. But the crazy part is that it samples Big Pun’s “carving my initials on your forehead” from the sublime “The Dream Shatterer,” a song with a first verse that goes like this:
Aiyyo I shatter dreams like Jordan, assault and batter your team
Your squadron’ll be barred from rap like Adam & Eve from the garden
I’m carvin my initials on your forehead
So every night before bed you see the “BP” shine off the board head
Reverse that, I curse at the first wack nigga with the worst rap
’cause he ain’t worth jack
Hit him with a thousand pounds of pressure per slap
Make his whole body jerk back
Watch the earth crack; hand him his purse back
I’m the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull
Master the flow, niggas be swearin I’m blacker than coal like Nat King
I be rappin and tongue’s packin, who wants magnums, cannons and gatling guns?
It’s Big Pun! The one and only son of Tony… Montana
You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana
C’mon, pana, we be mob rhymers
Feel the marijuana, snake bite, anaconda
A man of honor wouldn’t wanna try to match my persona
Sometimes rhymin I blow my own mind like Nirvana
Comma, and go the whole nine like Madonna
Go try to find another rhymer with my kinda grammar
Big Pun! The only one with over a thousand guns.
It’s a really weird sample for an R&B record. In fact, it’s incredibly off-tone, you know? Pun is like Sean P!, he goes in when it comes to hardcore rap. It’s like when Tupac would spend the second half of a song about getting laid talking about his enemies.
But Jessie Ware makes it work. She made it work so well that it got a music video. Here’s her comments on the song: “Writing a pop song was a new thing for both of us, and I started to feel really self-conscious and out of my depth.” To break the tension, the pair started flicking through a hip-hop magazine, alighting on a striking image of heavyweight rapper Big Pun in a yellow PVC suit, sitting on a throne. “I decided, ‘Right, I’m going to write a song about a girl trying to get him off his throne and dance’.” Her gorgeously restrained summer smash 110% was the result, and Jessie was thrilled when Big Pun’s estate gave them permission to use a sample of the late rapper reciting the line “carving my initials on your forehead” throughout the track.”
So it’s a song that not only samples Big Pun to curious effect, but is ABOUT Pun. Awesome. It’s the song I connected to the most, because I love Pun, but the whole album is good.
-Curren$y – The Stoned Immaculate: Curren$y Spitta makes songs and albums about smoking weed, women, cars, ~jets~, weed, clothes, grinding, and smoking blunts. If you can relate to that, this is gonna be your jam.
I don’t particularly mess with Wale and Wiz Khalifa, but they came off super dope on this album (clever/cleaver & arose/aroused aside), and 2 Chainz was tolerable, if ultra-pandering, as expected.
This is an album you want to ride to, if you’ve got a car, or relax to, if you’re just chilling.
(I should probably revisit my opinion of Wiz at some point, but I’m pretty content with only listening to dude when him and Curren$y are rapping together.)
-Justin Cronin’s The Twelve: I’m reading The Twelve now, but you should start with The Passage. Here’s the hook: a government agency created vampires in a lab in an attempt to control their destiny and basically never die. Things went south, the vampires broke out, and now America is dead. The vampires aren’t the sexy blaaaah, blaaaah types, either. They’re basically savage animals, humans that have been stripped of their memories and reduced to their thirst and hunger. The vampires ran roughshod over the continent, and one hundred years later, our cast lives in cities protected by bright lights.
But then they have to leave that city. And there’s a young girl who was around when the apocalypse happened. And things keep going wrong.
It’s a good read.
-Katsuya Terada’s The Monkey King Volume 1: Terada is one of my most favorite artists, a real inspiration, and this book is a filthy and disjointed retelling of the story of the Monkey King. You want it. You just don’t realize it yet.
-Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk: I wrote about this one, too. But get this: if you buy Slam Dunk on Amazon, you can take advantage of their 4-for-3 sale. Instead of paying 32 bucks for ~1000 pages of comics, you just need to pay 24.
There’s a lot of these. The longer the series runs, the better the games get. So get up on it so I have somebody to talk to about it.
-Josh Richardson & David Brothers’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale: Prima Official Game Guide: I cowrote this one with a friend. I think we did a pretty good job.
-Bill Watterson’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes: Buy me this because it’s the best and I deserve it. Thanks in advance.
-Ninja Scroll: I saw Ninja Scroll when I was a kid. It wasn’t my first anime (whattup Akira and Fist of the North Star double feature that I only saw 2/3 of before being kicked out of the room by my grandmother after my cousin snitched on the violence in Akira) but it is one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve never even watched it subtitled, come to think of it. It would sound too weird, too fake.
Jubei Kibagami is a vagabond with a sword and skills that are just barely explained. He’s going up against the Shogun of the Dark and the Eight Devils of Kimon alongside Kagero, a poisonous ninja girl (“niiiiiinja girl!”) and Dakuon, a deceitful monk.
It’s hard to overstate how much I like this movie. My only issue with it, and one which I only realized after I grew up, is how rape-y it can get. But past that? The action, the dialogue, the action set pieces, and every single battle against the devils is amazing. It’s violent and fantastic and surprisingly well-written, considering the type of movie it is. It was my first real introduction to a few tropes I love these days — battles in bamboo forests, wandering ronin, swinging a sword so hard the air can cut people, punching a dude so hard the wall behind him breaks, blind swordsmen, swarms of ninjas dashing through the trees, delayed effects of attacks — and like… you won’t find a better movie for a 14 year old, you know? Sex, violence, blood…
But even as an adult, this is the kind of hardcore fast-paced I still enjoy to this day.
Remember when you could theme Windows 95 and 98? Like download a pack and transform your whole OS into a tribute to whatever it was you downloaded a theme for? Mine was Ninja Scroll in 1999. It’s been a while, but I think that the dialogue boxes trigged the “What’s the matter, monster?” sample and shutting down was “Burn in your golden hell!” I was all about that life. Still am, if we’re being all the way real with each other.
-Fist of Legend My uncles put me onto this movie, way back when I was first discovering kung fu flicks and before I had a chance to pillage Video Warehouse for their $1.50/5 days rentals. It’s a world rocker. It isn’t my favorite Jet Li flick (that’s probably still Once Upon A Time In China 2, and I want to die exactly like Donnie Yen does in that movie), but it’s amazingly good. It’s a remake of an old Bruce Lee picture, Chinese Connection, but better. Jet Li’s a student during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in the ’30s, his master dies, and Li wants to know why.
Li’s invincible for most of the movie. Invincible is kind of understating it, honestly. Li sons, stepsons, grandsons, and great grandsons dozens of men in this movie. He grabs one guy by the mouth, plays kiss chicken with another guy just to show how slow he is, and beats up not one, but TWO different groups of martial arts students. He’s a steamroller and it’s nuts.
Normally, that’d be a bad thing. Heroes need to be vulnerable. But here, the vulnerability comes later, when Li goes up against a juggernaut and masters, instead of goons. There’s a fight in the wilderness that’s fantastic, full of importance and emotion, and the ending fight has gotta be one of my favorites in any movie ever. It feels like an even more dangerous fight on account of how invincible Li was for most of the movie. It made me a believer in Jet Li.
Great title, too.
-Closer: Hey, do you want to watch a movie about the dissolution of romantic relationships? One with heart-rending arguments that’ve got to be heard to be believed? Great performances from Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Clive Owen?
What do you mean “No, that sounds like it’ll make me cry?”
-Alien Anthology: You already know that 3/4 of the movies in here are great and one’s unwatchable. What I didn’t expect was how crazy these movies, especially the first, look in HD. Alien looks like it was made yesterday in a retro style, with all the details and colors that are suddenly present. It’s nuts. I’m so high on this set I’m even down to watch the alternate versions of movies I’ve already seen.
I wish they would just post the opening sequence to Alien on Youtube. You remember when people would be like, “Hey, buy The Matrix to show off how good your DVD player is!”? That sequence is the 2012 version of that.
-Afro Samurai: The Complete Murder Sessions [Blu-ray]: I should probably do a full post once I rewatch these, but it goes like this:
In the ’70s, blaxploitation and kung fu flicks were big. Both of them connected with the black community in a major way. In the ’90s, anime hit and Wu-Tang hit and that connection was reignited. The Wu are kind of the next step in the evolution of that connection. They grew up on the original connection, processed it, and came out with their own. Anime expanded the connection even further.
Afro Samurai: Resurrection is one of the latest entries in that connection, and it is the blackest anime you’ll ever see. Low bar, yes, obviously, but while I was watching this, I felt like I was watching something that was tailor made specifically for me. It’s so good. The original series was straight, it was aight, but Resurrection is more john blaze than that. It’s a ton of things I’m into boiled down into one thing. The way they blended Japanese and black culture (pop culture?) is nuts. The game was pretty cool, too, and the soundtrack is a must-buy if you like the RZA and/or good music.
No one bleeds until the sword is sheathed.
It’s Ninja Scroll 2009.
-Super Mario 3D Land: I love platformers. I think LittleBigPlanet has the best engine for pure platformers, creation stuff aside, but every once and a while, Nintendo has to remind people that they invented the remix.
Super Mario 3D Land is incredibly fun. They’ve taken Mario to some new heights. I’m maybe halfway through the game and impressive things keep happening. They either flip old gameplay, revamp old graphics, or invent new things for Mario to do within the constraints of the Mario formula. This joint’s wonderful, and makes me pretty happy about buying a 3DS XL. You gotta have great posture, but some of my favorite types of games are on that thing. The ruler’s back.
-Metal Gear Solid HD Collection: I can, and recently did, talk about Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series for hours. It’s probably my favorite franchise, or at least the one I keep coming back to, even if I’m half as good at them as I used to be. The plot’s a sprawl and you have to make a few leaps to keep up, but if you’re willing, Kojima is going to take you on a ride that can’t be matched by pretty near anything else. It’s emotional, it’s cinematic, it’s action-packed, it’s full of heart, it’s everything I wanted out of the series.
It’s a sprawl because Kojima covers a lot of ground, from meme/gene/scene to child soldiers to the effects of war and technology and pop culture on our collective psyches. It’s about individuality and authority, sex and death, nihilism and legacy. It’s also about vampires, dudes who shoot bees, ghosts, and ancient old men who can be killed by leaving your system off for a few days. Over the course of the series, a guy whose entire gimmick was his upset tummy and gross poops was transformed into an actual character, and a widely-hated dude went from a pariah to one of the highlights of the franchise.
The Metal Gear Solids are video games, ambitious ones, and I wouldn’t change them for the world. They glory in being video games, even during the cinematics, and they are better for it. These are library games. You should own them, you should have access to them.
-NBA 2K13: Like this wasn’t going to be on the list.
Get real and get NBA 2k13 for the best NBA experience yet. I messed around and went through a real wack streak and lost seven games in a row against the dude I play against all the time. I’m 30-48, 5393 points to his 5494. I’m not too far behind, and I’ll get my uzi back, but whoof, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.
-Prince of Persia Trilogy HD: I wrote about this for my man Michael Peterson, but here’s the short version: these are good games with a well-told story that perfectly matches the extremely solid gameplay. Sands of Time is a Platform King, and Two Thrones is the perfect marriage of the ill combat system in Warrior Within and the great platforming mechanics in Sands of Time. Like MGS, these are library games.
-PS3 games on PSN: You should buy Tokyo Jungle if you like running around as cats and dogs and sheep and gators through a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. You should buy Papa & Yo if you dig being terrified and experiencing someone else’s child abuse metaphor. You should buy Rock Band Blitz because I know you have a bunch of DLC from that game.
Alternately, cop that Tekken Tag Tournament 2 if you want to see what modern fighting games should look, feel, play, and function like. It’s grrreat.