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Tumblr Mailbag: We got jokes on jokes on jokes on jokes

August 10th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

On tumblr, franzferdinand2 asked:

What are your favorite pieces of comedy? Like, from movies, tv shows, stand up, etc.

Talk about the best question for a Saturday morning! Let’s get it:

My most favorite stand-up bit ever, like bar none forever and ever amen, is Richard Pryor’s “History Lesson,” off That African-American Is Still Crazy, a bonus disc on a boxed set of his work (my set is old, but it should be on No Pryor Restraint: Life In Concert (7 CD/ 2DVD)). He starts with talking about the black revolution lasting just six months before dudes went back to singing groups, how the Bicentennial was celebrating two hundred years of white folks dominating the world and killing natives, and ends the first half of the bit with “But it only happens in dreams, though… you motherfuckers killed dreams.”

He’s got a lot of pointed, crucial, hilarious stuff in here, and goes off on this tangent about America getting away with two hundred years without getting murdered that I like a lot, and then he flips it and asks:

I wonder how it would be though if niggas was taking over? See, if niggas take over tomorrow, not only would white people be in trouble, a lot of niggas would be in trouble. Be in court for lot different shit, though. A motherfucker’d be in court for…

“What’re you here for?”

“Trying to get someone to murder him.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, he was fucking with me your honor, so I tried to kill the motherfucker.”

“Come here. Why did you make this man angry at you? Twenty years.”

There oughtta be some shit like that, you know? It oughtta be against the law to make a motherfucker want to kill you. I think that would be a good law, ‘cause a lot of people are in jail for killing good people… that needed to die at that particular moment.

I don’t know why, but this kills me every time. Just slays me. The whole scenario is outrageous, but then you realize that what he’s saying is that black people are no different from whites.

Immediately after, he says, “I’ma win you motherfuckers back. See a little racism sets in, I love it, then I can fight against that. ’cause humor… breaks through all that shit.” And he laughs a nervous laugh and goes, “Does-doesn’t it?”

Dude is basically the boss of all bosses, and the way he knows how to work the crowd and throw jabs at them always impresses me.

But I also really like this Hannibal Buress bit called “Bomb Water” off his Animal Furnace album:

The album is amazing, from the intro to the outro, and I could easily pull like five “favorites” off it, but “Bomb Water” is too hard. I don’t even want to talk about it because you can just listen to it. By the time I got to “sippable bomb water” I was through, straight laid out, and the bit stayed great even after that.

Later in the album he says “Why don’t we let time kill Jimmy Carter?” and that’s part of another favorite bit. “Nah Jeezy, those are closets.” I’m listening to this album right now.

My favorite bit of comedy tv is Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast‘s “Flipmode.” There’s a transcript here but you really have to watch it. It’s perfect, as far as I’m concerned. Every joke hits. Maybe it’s because SGC2C had built up a lot of goodwill with me by this point, but honestly, it’s just incredibly funny and utterly nonsense. None better, forever.

My favorite comedy series, at least at this specific moment in time, is gdgd Fairies, which is like… absurd extinction level event-quality meta-humor. It’s exceedingly low-quality visually, but at the same time, it’s the perfect quality for the show’s sense of humor.

It’s about three fairies who live in a forest and have conversations. The conversations start as something innocuous before getting complicated thanks to one character’s stubborn laziness and then absurd thanks to another character’s prankster nature. Then they play hypothetical games or do things like trying to raise the popularity of the show by staging a livestream. The third segment in the fifteen-minute show is usually Dubbing Lake. The fairies watch a lake, and in that lake they see what are basically wacky and brief youtube videos. Old men doing weird things, Mochida Fusako guest appearances, gorillas watching a knight and another guy make out, and so on. Then the voice actresses improvise dialogue, music, and everything for those clips, often shedding their character entirely in the process.

It’s great. It sounds like the least appealing thing ever, but it’s so well-written (there’s an impeccable time travel joke, a great Super Mario Bros. joke, several DARK jokes) that I ate it up.

There’s a sister show, Straight Title Robot Anime, that’s about a trio of robots try to end the thousand-year robot civil war by mastering humor. They do this by explaining how a type of joke works, trying and failing to make those types of jokes, but the failure itself is usually a great example of that type of joke, and then they do things like run hypothetical situations to lower the tension of the robot war. Things like “What if everyone made dramatic glances at each other?” and “What if the robots kissed instead of fighting?” and so on. It’s not gdgd, but it’s pretty good.

The closest American joint to these is The Eric Andre Show, which is uncomfortable and amazing. It’s like nightmare comedy.

I don’t read a lot of funny books, but Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) was great, I really like Erma Bombeck, and Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black was fantastic. But the GOAT is probably ego trip’s Big Book of Racism!. It’s devastating and hilarious and should be required reading for anybody talking about race on the internet.

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“Gotta think outside the box, know how to connect the dots”

November 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Killer Mike’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II is one of those albums that means a lot to me. Here’s an excerpt from the intro:

You can never lead if you only follow. What I mean is, if you sit around, and you look at people, and you wait for them to give you permission to do something great, you will never do anything, so get up, brothers! Get about your grind! If you have a boss, maybe you should fire your boss. Maybe you should change your life.

It’s a real inspirational album, as opposed to being merely aspirational, like most flossy rap records. Mike’s entire point is that you, you sitting there reading this, you need something of your own. You need something that’s yours that you can be proud of. It’ll improve your quality of life and open doors for you that were previously closed. If you’re lucky, and by “lucky” I definitely mean “talented at your thing and in the right place at the right time” and not “lucky” because luck is worthless, it might let you make money, too.

I heard this at the right time and it really sunk in. Working for someone is all to the good, if it works for you, but it’s not the same as owning your own thing. “Maybe you should fire your boss” is a mantra. You need to have something of your own.

4thletter! is mine. It’s Gavin’s and Esther’s, too, of course, but the parts I wrote are mine, like the parts they wrote are theirs. I do what I want to do when I want to do it, and I can’t understate how important that is to me. It’s freeing. It’s freedom. 4l! is like a refuge, if that makes sense. I know that I can come here and write posts about rap music with a little stinger at the end that’ll make my friends laugh. I can try and improve my craft in public and try new things. I feel comfortable failing here, and that sometimes counts for more than succeeding elsewhere.

If you’re an adult, you’ve got to be about your grind, even if you spend some of your time being about someone else’s grind. You have to make money, but money isn’t everything. You need something that makes you happy, too. You have to dream, and sometimes, you need to dream a little bigger, darling. Aesop Rock got at this a little in “9-5ers Anthem” on the exquisite Labor Days when he said, “We, the American working population, hate the fact that eight hours a day is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us. And we may not hate our jobs, but we hate jobs in general that don’t have to do with fighting our own causes.”

It’s true.

Cycling back to Mister Michael Render, alias Killer Mike: Lauryn Hill once said “And even after all my logic and my theory, I add a ‘motherfucker’ so you ignant niggas hear me.” That’s close to what Mike does, but it isn’t right. It’s not about ignorance. It’s about meeting people on their level. It’s about knowing that you can’t just preach to people and expect them to listen. You’ve got to get in the door and show and prove before people listen. Meet them on the couch and talk face-to-face, rather than hollering at them from the pulpit.

That’s what Mike does. He effortlessly switches from inspirational talk to drug raps to jiggy raps and back again. It’s not even a switch, if we’re being real. He’s just reflecting the full spectrum of our lives. Sometimes smarty-art types just want to fool around, and sometimes that listless stoner you know has some real smart ideas. And who doesn’t like having money?

Common, on “The Questions,” asked “Yo, if I’m a intellectual, I can’t be sexual?/ If I want to uhh tah uhh does that mean I lack respect for you?” (Uhh tah uhh is I guess onomatopoeia for sex. It makes more sense if you can hear it. Kinda.) There’s this idea that if you’re one thing, you can’t be another thing at the same time, but we all know that ain’t true. Everybody’s got their hands in all types of pots. We all like a wide spectrum of things, even things that may go against what we or others perceive as what we’re all about.

One song I like a lot off Pledge II is “Can You Buy That,” featuring Rock-D. It’s a good song, and pretty representative of Mike’s style and the way he can flip any subject. It’s about having things that other people don’t have, which is undoubtedly a rap staple. But when viewed in the context of the thesis of the album — “Work hard and get yours” — it’s not just braggadocio. It’s an example. It’s rejoicing in having things of your own. I like that.

“Can You Buy That” opens with and features a sample from The Mack, a 1973 film directed by Michael Campus and starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor. You can hear the source of the sample around three minutes into this video:

The Mack is a classic. I know that Shaft and Superfly are probably more respected or whatever whatever, but The Mack will always be a favorite of mine. An uncle showed it to me when I was (too) young and hyped it up super high, and it somehow still delivered. It’s a raw blaxploitation flick, sleazy and violent and wonderful.

Blaxploitation is weird, isn’t it? It came hot on the heels of the collapse of the civil rights movement, and a lot of people feel like it puts black people in
a bad light. Which is maybe true, but it was also a chance for black people to get their foot in the door of Hollywood and make the types of movies they wanted to make. But when I think about the genre, I feel like blaxploitation was something that black people owned. (Aside: a lot of people don’t know that Shaft was created by a white guy. True story.) Not entirely, obviously, but Ron O’Neal, Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, and a dozen others made a mark that Hollywood will never be able to forget, no matter how far they run from it. They proved that a market was there.

They made their mark.

Another thing about blaxploitation is how it was an answer to the decade before. It was a statement. “This is what life is like. This is what our dreams are like.” You saw scumbag slumlords and people fought “the man” in whatever form the man chose to take. Why? ’cause the man was screwing up the country in real life, too. A lot of those movies were sublimated revenge fantasies, like how Punisher comics in the ’80s were ripped from the headlines. What do you do when the man is keeping you down? You tell him to move over and let you pass ‘fore they have be to pullin’ these Hush Puppies out his motherfuckin’ ass! Can you dig it?

The Mack is a good example of how art imitates life and vice versa, too. The Mack is where the player’s ball, an annual gathering of pimps, originated, or at least that’s how the story goes. You don’t get Snoop Dogg without The Mack, either. And surely you’ve heard OutKast’s ode to the ball? It’s an all-time classic.

Rappers keep going back to The Mack for inspiration. “Now we can settle this like you got some class… or we can get into some gangsta shit” is a pretty incredible threat, one that’s been sampled or used or spoken by everyone from Snoop Dogg to your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Ghostface borrowed Pretty Tony’s name for his Pretty Toney alias, and I’m pretty sure you could make a case for Goldie having inspired Goldie Loc’s name, too. If you ever hear somebody say “stick yourself, fool” or talk about throwing someone in a trunk with rats? They either got it from The Mack or got it from somebody else who got it from The Mack. This movie looms large.

I know you’ve heard this song before. It’s UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)”, featuring none other than Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin.

(I love it when Andre 3000 says “I know you ain’t a pimp, but pimp, remember what I taught ya.” This came out at a point when Three Stacks was killing every song he got on, and this is no different.)

The sample on this song is Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You.” It’s from The Mack‘s soundtrack.

Ain’t it the most majestic-sounding thing tho? It’s about getting married to the prettiest girl you ever did see, which is exactly what Andre’s verse is about on the UGK version. He’s homaging the original song on a remix that’s all about pimpery and divorce. Kinda wild. I like how deep that goes. It’s like a tribute, a thank you note, for Willie Hutch.

I think my favorite use of Willie Hutch in any song not actually by Willie Hutch is in Sugar Tongue Slim’s “Sole Music,” a love song about shoes and girls. (I straight up love this song because those are two of my favorite things.)

In the second verse, he says, “Okay, so now she’s in the mood, I got her in the groove/ She into soul music, no pun on the shoes/ I turned on some tunes and rolled up a dutch/ ‘I Choose You,’ she don’t know ’bout Willie Hutch” and right when he says “I Choose You” that melody comes in and a voice starts singing the original song.

It’s clever, like pretty near everything else STS does, and I like how it adds to the song. If you know about “I Choose You,” you get that he’s talking about a girl he’s really, really into. He’s doing that dorky dude thing where he puts on a song that’s actually a hint, right? Y’all never did that? That was just me? Yeah, right. Okay.

I like this love song because it flips the script. It’s not just about bubble butts and make-outs. STS makes the shoe and fashion comparisons work, and if you’re looking to be put on game with regard to sneakers, he’s got you. I’m an Air Force 1 type of dude personally — six pairs and counting, scholar at your boy — but I like certain Jordans, too. But it’s still cool how STS flips his encyclopedic knowledge of shoes into useful and clever commentary on dating and relationships. I especially like the bit where he talks about how if a girl chills with her shoes off in your place, it means she’s pretty comfortable. It sounds dumb, but when you think about it, what do you do when you kick back and relax? You kick off your shoes. It’s a sign of comfort and safety. (“The way she rock Dunks got your boy in love” is all about how dumb little inconsequential things can be incredibly endearing and make your heart jump into your throat.)

I can especially relate when he says that “Let me slow it down, I’m moving too fast/ I don’t wanna scuff it up/ I’m hoping this might last.” You want to keep your shoes clean because yo, shoes are wild expensive and you need to show them off to people. The same is true of relationships. I remember the second day I wore my pair of Chris Pauls (CP 2’Quicks in White/Dark Concord/Black), I had my bike accident. At first, I could recognize that my bloody knee was going to be a problem and was actually hurting kind of a lot, but I was more upset over the fact that I’d just put a big fat scuff on my new sneakers. I had just got them and didn’t even really get a chance to show them off before I ruined them. I was so mad that I went to Walgreens on my way home from work, bought toothpaste, and was in the process of trying to scrub it out when I finally decided to hobble to the hospital. Now, take that feeling and apply it to a relationship. You’re the person who says something dumb too soon and blow everything. Hurts times ten, yeah? The shoe comparison works. “This could’ve been something cool!”

STS is another rapper that was influenced by The Mack, I figure. It’s not as overt as it is with Snoop or Kast, but that aura is there, plus the fact that Slim was the name of another cat in the movie. STS is a self-professed former pimp turned poet, which is shades of the marketing that OutKast got buried under in the ’90s (The Pimp and The Poet, screamed the label, not realizing that both men were both things and so much more.). He’s one of those rappers that never met a pun he wouldn’t make or joke he wouldn’t tell. I forget when I first discovered him, probably on an album from The Roots or a mixtape somewheres, but I dig this remix of La Roux’s song “In For the Kill” that I heard fairly early on.

STS has turned flipping songs into a solid gimmick with his GOLDRUSH series of mixtapes. It’s fun to see how he incorporates the original themes of the song but turns it into his own specific thing. I think it works because dude is funny, even when he’s saying things that would make me grimace.

I like how he flipped Gotye’s song into a really good breakup tale:

Rapping, at its best, is a kind of acting, I think. You have to play a character and do it well enough to convince people that your character is you. He’s acting here, and pulling from a lot of different sources. That “crazy bitch, crazy bitch” bit is straight outta OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, specifically Andre 3000’s “Roses,” Which is interesting in terms of rap geography and influences, because STS is from Atlanta, but moved to Philadelphia and connected with The Roots, who he shouts out in this song as being real important to him. I can hear OutKast and Black Thought and The Roots in him, but his sound is all his own. He builds on what came before him and pays homage to it with his skill, like how Andre and Big Boi paid homage to The Beatles (amongst others, including Motown in general) in a couple different ways with that “Hey Ya!” video.

“Sole Music” is a straight-up storytelling song, too, which is one of my favorite kinds of rappity-rapping showcases. It’s kinda Slick Rick-y in tone. He was killer at that singsong/half-serious storytelling style. Both of these guys just ooze charm, like hanging out with somebody’s cool uncle, so when STS is talking about how he thought he saw his girl, but it was just somebody who reminded him of somebody he used to know, you feel a little sad for him. It’s a pretty great take on the original song, I think, and the conversational format is a whole lot of fun.

Where was I…. oh. You want to learn something?

Listen to rap music. You just gotta scratch the surface to get started, because this stuff runs deep, pimp, like Iceberg Slim.

(I didn’t even talk about how Willie Hutch doing the soundtrack for The Mack relates to Curtis Mayfield doing the soundtrack for Superfly, did I? Or the influence of Mayfield on Anthony Hamilton, the best R&B singer alive today? And how he works with several rappers on songs that generally turn out to be awesome? Or how Hamilton got a shout-out in Santa Inoue’s Tokyo Tribes, a manga that’s basically a rap-oriented sensational crime comic set in Japan? Blaxploitation by way of Shibuya, 1997. Follow the breadcrumbs. History is amazing.)

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“Oh Miriam… that’s a pretty name.” [Norah Jones - Miriam]

August 2nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

One of my favorite things comes from an anecdote Richard Pryor told about Jim Brown on his Wanted album. (Apparently you can’t buy that album in MP3 form, which is a crime. I found the vinyl in a record shop for $1.99, and please believe I bought it just because. If you see it, cop it. There’s at least three all-time classic bits on there, if not more.) Here’s a quick sample:

I had a friend, he was gon’ have a fight with Jim. Another big nigga, ’bout six-five. You know, he said eight dudes was holding his ass, he was gonna get in, just, “Motherfuck Jim let me go motherfucker motherFUCK a Jim Brown!”

And he said Jim said something that just chilled his shit. All right, he said, Jim said, “Gentlemen, I think if you let the man go, he could express hisself a little better.”

Motherfucker said he started whispering to the motherfuckers that was holding him, he was saying, “Any of you niggas let go of me, I’ll kill any motherfucker that take erry finger off my body. Now just ease my ass out the door, that’s right, don’t start no shit.”

That’s cold, Jack. I love Pryor’s Jim Brown stories, because Brown comes off as this real indomitable, unmovable force of nature. “Gentleman, I think if you let the man go, he could express hisself a little better” is the most confident thing in the entire world. It’s so cold-blooded that you can’t help but love it. More than that, though, it’s just good writing. It’s evocative and real, totally believable and alluring, to an extent. You want to see Jim Brown whup this dude just because you knows he can and he knows he can.

This sort of thing is why I enjoy crime fiction and action movies so much. There’s always that point where someone gets to say something and it just infects your brain. “Hey, you” in King of New York, “You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’,” from Inglourious Basterds, “We gotta kill every last rat-bastard one of them,” from Sin City: The Big Fat Kill. “No AC, but the heater work — MURRRRK!” off Schoolboy Q’s “Nightmare on Figg St.” (great music video for that one, too, love that intro) from Habits & Contradictions. And, of course, “I’ve punished him from ear to ear, now I’ve saved the best for you,” from Norah Jones’s “Miriam” is a stellar example of murda muzik.

Murda muzik is a term I stole from Mobb Deep, but it’s basically exactly what it sounds like: songs about doing people in. The more creative or technically proficient the better, right? I feel similarly about crime novels and action flicks. You have to wow me. I’m not looking for comfort food, I’m looking for something nuts. So imagine my surprise when one of the top 3 best examples of murda muzik thus far was made by an R&B singer who I don’t usually associate with people getting done in. (The other is Spaceghostpurrp’s “Get Ya Head Bust” off that Mysterious Phonk, and the third is variable because I always forget good ones.) The video is perfect for the song, as far as I’m concerned:

I can’t believe the blood on the oar. Astounding.

This is the second video for Little Broken Hearts that features someone getting killed over love. The album is about heartbreak, obviously, and “Miriam” is my favorite song on the album. It’s low key and stripped down, with not a lot of majestic production on anything but Jones’s voice. Her delivery is a little… not raspy exactly, but rougher than I expect from her.

“Miriam” is about heartbreak, but it’s really about revenge. Miriam slept with Jones’s man in her own house, Jones found out, and now somebody’s got to die. The man is already gone, and now it’s Miriam’s turn.

“I’ve punished him from ear to ear, now I’ve saved the best for you” rocked my world when I first heard it. I thought I heard it wrong, honestly. I tend to have my first listen of albums while I’m out and about and traveling, so I’m not always listening. Words and lines sometimes reach out from the background radiation of the music to grab me, and that’s exactly what happened here.

“I’ve punished him from ear to ear” is such a strange phrase, but it’s not hard to understand at all. You just have to work for it, just the tiniest bit. It’s delivered in such a flat and matter of fact tone. I could see someone quietly confessing to it, or screaming about it as a threat, but Jones’s delivery feels even more menacing. It feels like a foregone conclusion. It sounds inevitable. Hopeless. Like she’s telling Miriam this, with an empty smile on her face and her head slightly cocked. “This is going to happen. You deserve this.”

“Oh Miriam, that’s such a pretty name.” That’s the most cold-blooded thing of all, the way Jones approaches this murder like it’s just a conversation that needs to be had. It’s a responsibility. It’s fate, justice, and right. She’s being sincere, but it doesn’t matter. You’re going to the bottom of the lake. She just wanted to let you know.

I love this stuff. It’s not just about one liners. I’m generally not big on those. (“Stick around” is an exception, of course.) It’s about the intent and malice and sheer cold-bloodedness. Just a complete and utter unwillingness to accept the fact that another human being is an actual person, instead of an object. It’s hard to explain without sounding like a monster, but as an example of escapism, as a fan of revenge tales, as a dude who will read or watch almost anything where people smoke cigarettes and shoot each other, it’s great. I’ve fetishized stylish murder, I guess.

Norah Jones performed the song live on Letterman at some point. I missed it until today, but check it out:

I like how the different instrumentation changes the flavor of the song just a little bit. The addition of that warbly guitar solo and the more prominent drumming… I dig it. I like that she has a backup singer on a few lines, too.

Little Broken Hearts is 3 bucks on Amazon today, and I think eight or nine any other day. I’ve bought a lot of albums this year, but this is one of my favorites.

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