Archive for the 'music' Category


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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It’s what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it

November 11th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I like rap. I like the way rap feels.

It’s hard to quantify in human terms, but if you enjoy music, you definitely know what I’m talking about. It’s that thing that makes you nod your head to the bass coming out of somebody’s car, because even though you can’t hear it very well, you know exactly what Slim Thug’s “Get That Gwop” sounds like. It’s that thing that makes you dance a jig across your apartment in the dark, because Icona Pop and Charli XCX screaming “I DON’T CARE!” is super-motivational. It’s that thing that makes you feel momentarily brave enough to try to hit those same notes as Lauryn Hill when she goes “That thing, that thing, that thiiiiing,” even though you’ll never manage it, because you’re just feeling yourself so hard listening to that song. It’s why people get so hype for “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke.

I really like the way “Pre,” the first track on Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, feels. It makes me want to be a part of it, to own it. The beat feels slow and dragged out, like it’s been stretched. SK Laflare opens the song with “Baby girl, what you wanna do?/Hop in this ‘Cedes, girl/She like where we goin’ to/ A new life, new world”. It’s basic, but Laflare’s flow is tight, so full of confidence that I can’t help but get into it. Those bars, and a few more couplets down the line in Laflare’s verse, are what I’m talking about here, that je ne sais quoi that makes you grunt and run it back when somebody gets off a hot line.

Around the time of New York Comic Con last month, one lyric from this song kept running through my head. Earl starts his verse with “I’m a problem to niggas,” which is already one of the hardest things I’ve heard all year. But toward the end, Earl delivers these eight bars:

Hard as armed services, y’all might have heard of him
Escobarbarian, best call the lawyers up
Bruh, the broad aryan, know the squad loiterers
Not with the grain and these bitch niggas’ wishes
Dealt with addiction, fell for the bitch with the
Pale butter skin who just packed up and dipped
In the land of the rent-less, stand with my chips
In a stack and a grin, fuck ‘em

“Bruh, the broad Aryan” killed me. He’s referring to his girlfriend, who is white, and the scansion of that line matches with the first half of the previous line, “Escobarbarian.”

Something about that combo, Escobarbarian and bruh the broad aryan, has stuck with me. “Bruh, the broad Aryan” has a “cellar door” feel, in that it’s pleasing to say and a pleasure to hear. It’s smooth, despite the hard D in broad and snap of the bruh.

There’s an easygoing glide in there that I enjoy a whole lot. I love rap music as a whole, from the culture on down to the weird samples, but I spend most of my time talking about the content of the lyrics. The truth is, the lyrics are hugely important to me, but so are the beats and how the rhymes shake out, the performance aspect of things, what the rhymes sound like. What everything feels like. Delivery and flow are harder to explain, but they’re so vital.

Saying “My girlfriend’s white” is one thing. “Bruh, the broad Aryan” shows a keen understanding of the fact that language can be pleasing to the ear, musical above and beyond the fact that it’s set to music…rap music, y’all. There’s so much to appreciate, so many songs that have moments of greatness lurking just under the surface.

More on Earl’s Doris (and Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady) here.

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Musical Crumbs

September 20th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes a song will have that one part that I kind of obsess with more than the rest. As a kid, back when Wayne’s World was the big thing, I’d feel like I was waiting out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for that section towards the end where it picks up and starts talking about devils and the fandango and whatnot. And while I’ve always loved Alice in Chains’ “Rooster”, it’s really the intro and outro that act as the star of that song.

There are times when I only hear a brief snippet of a song and find myself wanting more, whether it be part of a full-fledged song, a commercial or a cover medley. It’s kind of like how awesome it was when Eric Cartman sang “Poker Face” on South Park that they eventually released a full version for Rock Band. That was a dream come true.

Here are six other songs I would have killed for seeing expanded into something bigger.

6) The Snickers Carpool Singing “Greensleeves”

A few years ago, Snickers had a beautiful ad campaign about a Viking, a pilgrim, a Hawaiian dude, Henry VIII and Caesar on a road trip to Asgard, enjoying the FEAST of Snickers all the way. This led to a commercial where Henry VIII reminisces about how he used to have a troupe of minstrels sing to him when he’d eat. The Hawaiian dude, who hasn’t said a single word or done a single thing in all the other commercials ever since being picked up, starts singing “Greensleeves” with a most beautiful voice. After a moment of confusion, everyone joins in.

I’m inexplicably intrigued with Henry’s reaction when the singing starts. He freezes up like he either doesn’t know what the fuck is going on or he’s getting overly wistful. Then the comradery kicks in and I smile every time.

Coincidentally, the awesome “Every Man has a Plan” theme that played in the first commercial was released in full, which is sadly gone from YouTube.

5) Weird Al’s Polka Cover of “Chop Suey”

Weird Al Yankovic is known for tossing polka medleys onto most of his albums, usually to touch on songs from the era he didn’t get around to parodying. They tend to be catchy, though not especially spectacular compared to his other stuff. Off his album Poodle Hat, he sang a medley called “Angry White Boy Polka” featuring everything from “Down with the Sickness” to “Real Slim Shady”. 50 seconds into this song, he sings a really unique take on System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” that I’d love to hear a full version of.

Similarly, I would really love to hear more from his polka cover of “Blame it on the Alcohol” off his last album.

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The Electric Lady & Doris: “Something sinister to it.”

September 20th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

For Janelle Monae’s Metropolis, a series of albums which in turn contain suites that tell the story of Cindi Mayweather, a robot sent from the future to restore freedom and love, the apocalypse brought with it stifling social mores, unbearable rules, and emotionally-devastating limits on personal expression. It gave us a squeaky clean Pleasantville at the expense of everything that makes us who we are.

Janelle Monae as Cindi Mayweather, and sometimes just Janelle Monae, has a lot to say to you, fellow citizen. Here she is on “Lettin’ Go”:

Oooh! I got a call today, from my job up the block
It was my boss to say, “You know we like you a lot
But we don’t need you, J, you daydream too much!”
Well, man, I’m glad y’all let me go!

’cause with no 9 to 5, it’s a brand new day!
My rent’s due but I’m a party any way!
I feel so alive, stress just faded away!
It’s time to live my own life!

Getting fired sucks, but she sees it as an opportunity, not a tragedy. It’s something that puts her closer to her goal, so she’s going to take it in stride. The stress came from not following her dream and living her own life, right?

On “Sincerely, Jane” after listing a litany of problems with how we live, she exhorts us to be better:

Are we really living or just walking dead now?
Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
The way we live, the way we die
What a tragedy, I’m so terrified
Daydreamers, please wake up
We can’t sleep no more

On “Tightrope,” a collab with her longtime associate Big Boi of OutKast, she digs right into it:

Some people talk about you
Like they know all about you
When you get down they doubt you
And when you tipping on the scene
Yeah they talkin’ about it
‘Cause they can’t tip all on the scene with you
What you talk about it
Talkin’ about it
When you get elevated,
They love it or they hate it
You dance up on them haters
Keep getting funky on the scene
While they jumpin’ round you
They trying to take all your dreams
But you can’t allow it

People are going to hate on you, and the proper response is to dance all up on them. You let your glow do the talking. The point is that you do have dreams, but your dreams are being taken from you. You’re meant to keep your dreams closer and damn the consequences.

“QUEEN,” featuring Erykah Badu, opens with a punch:

They call us dirty ’cause we break all your rules down
And we just came to act a fool, is that all right (Girl, that’s alright)
They be like, “Ooh, let them eat cake.”
But we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground

Monae wants you to know exactly who she’s talking about through the android metaphor: it’s us, the normal people, the people with restrictions imposed upon us that we just can’t abide. We don’t play that aristocrat stuff over here. That’s not our life. I like that the music video is explicitly presented as being about how Monae and Badu created works of art that are repellent to the restrictive, oppressive future:

She’s got a few bits in here that sound like rhetorical questions, but they aren’t, not if you listen closely.

Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror?
And am I weird to dance alone late at night?
And is it true we’re all insane?
And I just tell ‘em, “No, we ain’t,” and get down!

She’s not willing to argue any of these points. She’s just explaining to the person giving her grief about being who she is that she doesn’t care what they have to say. Is it crazy that we’re like this? No, of course it isn’t. None of this matters, no one else’s approval matters, because she’s going to do whatever she wants and have her a good old time. The booty don’t lie, because it knows what it’s meant to do. It has purpose, and that purpose is to dance. And that is true of Monae-as-Mayweather, too. She has a purpose. And you don’t get to stop it.

I like that she positions dancing as a weapon, in addition to being fun. Dancing is one of those things that’s often seen as a corruptive influence by puritans and squares. It’s about sex and getting to do whatever you want, no matter how illogical. This is closer to being a sexual and love-oriented revolution than a violent uprising. She makes it plain on this excerpt from a skit called “Good Morning, Midnight” on The Electric Lady:

Woah, woah, woah! That’s that ignorant rusty-dusty nano-thinking nonsense I been warning y’all about. Please stay away from fools like that. Love not war, we’re tired of fires, quiet no riots, we are jamming, dancing and loving. Don’t throw no rock, don’t, break no glass just shake your ass. Ooh just shock it shake it baby with the Electric Lady. Here at 105.5 WDRD.

But you get my point—Janelle Monae makes motivation music, and she’s doing it through a classic type of sci-fi story to do it. The Electric Lady, the latest release in Metropolis, parts four and five of seven. I’m having trouble picking a favorite song on this album, because though I like a few of them more than others, they all sound so good to me in context with each other that I couldn’t pick if I wanted to. The front of the album is weaker than the back half, but the back half has bangers, too.

I talk a lot about Young Jeezy over Lex Luger beats is black superhero music. And it is, or it was back when Jeezy was the man on these streets. Because Jeezy was talking about rising above, or having risen above, and doing incredibly exciting things with an iller-than-it-needed-to-be flow. Jeezy, at his height, is music to flex to.

But Monae’s motivation music is cut-a-rug music. You want to bounce, you bob, you tap your foot. I like the video for “Dance Apocalyptic” a lot, because at first you think it’s kind of a “Hey Ya!” riff:

which is super tight if you believe the totally untenable idea that Killer Mike is following in Big Boi’s footsteps and Monae stepped into Andre’s shoes, but honestly it’s just cool because it’s really cool. It’s well done. But if you think about what you know about those music performances in the context of The Electric Lady, you might realize that she’s spreading love and freedom through a format that was once considered harmful for teens because it got them all worked up with all the gyrating and such. Nothing’s an accident. You’re listening to a story.

Like the X-Men at their very best, Monae’s Cindi Mayweather represents all of us. She is dancing for all of us. She’s a messianic figure because she is meant to show us the way to brightening our lives, and through our lives, the world. It’s not necessarily afrofuturism, I don’t think, but she’s definitely doing that sci-fi thing of talking about the modern day through a very thinly-veiled metaphor.

Cindi Mayweather is here to save us all. But maybe we ain’t worth saving.

An early single from Doris, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All’s resident superlyrical dude Earl Sweatshirt’s highly-anticipated album, was “Chum.” Here’s a chunk of the first verse, and the music video, too:

It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless
And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest
When honestly I miss this nigga, like when I was six
And every time I got the chance to say it I would swallow it
Sixteen, I’m hollow, intolerant, skipped shots
I storm that whole bottle, I’ll show you a role model
I’m drunk pissy, pissing on somebody front lawn
Trying to figure out how in the fuck I missed moderate

And the first half of this kicks my guts out, and the flash-forward to sixteen hits bone. Doris isn’t a story like The Electric Lady, but it is a picture. It’s what Earl chose to reveal on wax, a point of view he has developed as filtered through music. That POV probably isn’t 100% Earl, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s here, and we can look at it, and we can figure out what kind of picture Earl is painting.

Earl’s Doris is post-apocalypse too, and this apocalypse brought with it a different kind of emotional devastation. Where Monae’s audience are suppressed, Earl’s are depressed, wobbling under the weight of the world. They’re depressed because nothing can be trusted, not girlfriends, as on “Pre”:

Dealt with addiction, fell for the bitch with the
Pale butter skin who just packed up and dipped

not his perception, as on “Sunday”:

All my dreams got dimmer when I stopped smoking pot
Nightmares got more vivid when I stopped smoking pot
And loving you is a little different, I don’t like you a lot
You see, it seems like

and definitely not his city, as on “Hive”:

From that city that’s recession-hit
With stress, niggas could flex metal with peddle to rake pennies in
Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish
But most niggas Hyde and Brenda just stay pregnant
Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose
It’s lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through
Fish-netted legs for them eyes that she cater to
Ride dirty as the fucking sky that you praying to

Stress kills, and he smokes an incredible amount of weed, which is actually not surprising on “20 Wave Caps,” which features supersmoker Domo Genesis:

Smoking ’til I’m loopy as a motherfucking toucan
20 minutes, burn a fucking quarter back to two grams

and he can’t even trust himself, as on “Burgundy,” which opens with Vince Staples letting him know that nobody cares how he feels, they just want raps:

My grandma’s passin’
But I’m too busy tryin’ to get this fuckin’ album crackin’ too see her
So I apologize in advance if anything should happen
And my priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m gonna blow it
And all them expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right?
Talk all you want I’m takin’ no advice

I’m a sucker for all of this stuff pretty much, from the dadraps to the sadraps. And I think Earl is pretty great at it, and it’s down to both his lyrics but also something in his voice. He sells the frown better than most guys do. Drake can do it, but there’s no hint of opulence behind Earl’s words. Drake had it and lost it, but Earl never had it. The city’s dying and everything’s rotten inside.

Earl paints a vivid picture, and I’ve been spinning Doris pretty much since I got it, with A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord being the previous winner and Monae’s The Electric Lady being the latest. There’s something about Earl’s lyrics, and Monae’s lyrics, that keep me thinking about the songs and mulling over lines until they take crystal-clear shape, and it’s for entirely different reasons.

Monae wants us to rise up from the mud. Earl makes us follow him through it. It’s frustration music, that kind of thing you put on so you can say “Bruh, I don’t fuck with no cops” or feel bad about your absentee father or just narrow your eyebrows and put a mean look on your face. Earl’s stuck, and we’re stuck alongside him. He’s not going to be doing any dancing any time soon, and really, he talks about his vices like they’re burdens, too. He’s doing what he can to cope and keep his head above water, but that doesn’t mean that he’s thriving. He’s getting by. He’s maintaining maybe. But even that can slip. And then it’s a wrap.

“Muddy” is how Doris feels to me, but without any of the negative connotations “muddy” might bring with it. It’s slow head nod music, something to vibe to or relax to, but not necessarily something I would want to drive around to, even though I bet it sounds amazing coming out of a trunk. It’s a downer, but a pointed one. Earl’s lyrics and the music are both gonna wear at you, but they feel good when you’re in a foul mood. It lets you focus that black cloud over your head onto something other than yourself for a minute. And that’s necessary.

Monae and Earl are both talking about us as we live today. They just have different points of view on what we need to do to survive. Dancing is catharsis, but moping and spewing venom can be cathartic, too. Monae wants you to know that there is a brighter day, a better way. You can dog on her all you want, you can raise your voice all you want, but you do not have a say in her life. She’s going to do her thing, and in so doing, show us the path to Heaven. Earl, though. He has no interest in saving anyone, not even himself, but the act of just telling his story is enough to tell somebody else “You’re not alone.” When he said that he used to say he hated his father in dishonest jest, but couldn’t work up the nerve to just say he misses him, that kind of thing is heart-stopping. I know what that feels like.

Monae is salvation. Earl is confirmation.

Two sides of an argument. Both well worth listening to.

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Loosies: Off to the Races b/w Murda Something

August 30th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I like Lana Del Rey in part because there’s something about her lyrics and performance that makes me want to ask questions. Fabolous and blur are pretty self-evident to me. I don’t listen to “No Distance Left to Run” or The Soul Tape II and have to untangle what they’re talking about. I still have to untangle how they’re saying it, yeah, but the subject matter I get pretty much instantly. But something about Del Rey makes me listen real closely to her music. I’m sharp enough to know there’s something there, but not sharp enough to catch it.

“Off to the Races” is one of those songs that made me sit up and take notice. The song blends Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita with a bit of Bonnie & Clyde. But there’s a performative aspect to it, something in her voice and delivery that makes it feel like a role or pose, one that goes beyond the implied roles in every other song. She’s portraying something or someone, building a world and telling a story, that I want to know more about. There’s a performance there.

None of this would matter if she didn’t sound good, obviously. Liz Barker at Strawberry Fields Whatever described her style as being “sexy music that feels like being asleep,” and I like that. The music feels very relaxed, something to sit around with friends and vibe to, but the tension comes from how the play against the music, like a smiling face saying “I’m going to kill you.” The juxtaposition clicks.

A lot of the songs on Born To Die feel like they’re about relationships, rather than love. There’s not a lot that feels like the usual I Love Him, He Loves Me, or He Did Me Wrong. It’s more about the structures we build and the ways power works in male/female relationships, who has control and when or how. In “Off to the Races,” Del Rey sings about a lover who spends a decent amount of the song watching her, whether she’s swimming or getting dressed, as opposed to doing things or being loving. There’s a voyeuristic aspect that feels significant. “National Anthem,” on the other hand, sounds like obsession to me.

The video for “National Anthem,” like a lot of Del Rey’s work and videos, feels like coded language. It features Del Rey as Jackie Kennedy and A$AP Rocky as John F Kennedy. It’s a simple thing and they don’t do much that’s transgressive or surprising with the idea, but that makes it even more interesting to me. It’s pretty much just a 1:1 swap, with allowances made for our idea of fun—Rocky playing dice, Del Rey dropping low, that kind of thing.

But by and large, the video portrays the First Family having fun and living life before Rocky gets shot. It’s touching and loving. There’s a weird tension here, too. The idea of a black husband and white wife, their cute children, their friends, their parties, all of these things are normal to me. But push it back to the ’60s, and slip it into the fantasy of Camelot, and it makes me feel uneasy. It feels a little unreal, a little like a dream where you know things are about to go hideously wrong, but still compelling.

I’m really interested in Del Rey and Rocky’s hands in this video, how he touches Del Rey and how she touches him back. His hand on her thigh before dying, their closeness on the beach, the butt grab when they’re dancing, her playing with his braids… “sexy music that feels like being asleep.”

I like Lana Del Rey because she makes me want to have conversations about her music. There is something there that I want to know.

I hated on A$AP Rocky for a long time because he tended to rap like the dudes who influenced him and that bothered me. But at the same time, I’d praise his features, like somehow all of the features I liked were exceptions to the rule that Rocky sucked. But I was wrong, obviously, because that’s silly. “I don’t like dude, except for all these songs where I like dude, but really, son is wack.”

The first feature where I sat up like “Wow, this guy is getting it in” was probably Rocky’s turn on Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel,” from Habits & Contradictions. The song has a great sample. The woman singing “hands on the wheel” on the chorus is an artist named Lissie. She covered Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”, a song I like quite a bit. I like the different feeling songs have when women sing songs originally sung by men or vice versa. Otis Redding’s “Respect” is a different animal than Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” both for the mechanical differences between the songs and the way both singers apply their own style to that blueprint.

It’s not the same situation, but you should probably listen to Notorious BIG’s reference track for “Queen Bitch” and then Lil Kim’s version, too. Just having a different voice in there changes the game.

Q rides the beat real well in this song, as usual, but Rocky kinda outshines him. His flow is super swaggery, with colorful punchlines and a killer interpolation of the chorus. It’s not particularly deep or technically proficient in the spherical lyrical miracle sense, but it’s good. It’s rapping. Saying something mundane in a tight way is equal to saying something tight to me, and Rocky does it real well.

I especially like his feature on A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba.” The song is raunchy, but supremely catchy thanks to a great gimmick. The music video, though…

I like this new trend of rap videos being conceived as weird, stressed-out, feverish nightmares, and this is definitely a solid example. It’s just off, from the Shabba Ranks impersonator to the cameos to the last supper scene to the 4th wall suddenly shattering about three minutes in…and that’s all before Shabba Ranks himself shows up. This song is real hype, but the video is just uncomfortable enough to be super tight. It’s a party video, no different than “I Get Around,” but slanted.

Rocky’s on the remix to A$AP Ferg’s “Work,” along with Trinidad Jame$, Schoolboy Q, and French Montana. Rocky comes correct, Trinidad Jame$ too, but man. French Montana? Dude is wack, but “When they mask up, comin’ for your ice/When they barefaced, they comin for your life” is pretty tight. But even then, he can’t compete with Schoolboy Q’s “Yeah, put in work, spray his ass in front the church/ Deacon said I did my shit, the pastor said, ‘That nigga turnt!’” It puts me in mind of Ghostface’s “Wu Banga 101,” where he kicked a whole verse about a crooked church.

Euge Ahn, alias Adam Warrock, put me onto A$AP Ferg. I had basically written off the whole A$AP Mob as weed carriers, but Euge’s enthusiasm for Ferg’s Trap Lord record got me to buy it sight unseen… and it was worth it. With the exception of a sex skit, the whole album pretty much goes. Euge said it was something like gangster music made by a space alien, and that’s pretty close to how I feel. There’s a lot of singing, some patois, and a lot of swag rap. There’s a lot of posturing for the sake of other men in there, too, which leads to some truly absurd scenarios, but sure. I listen to rap, I can deal.

It’s tight, though. Ferg knows how to utilize a feature, too. Bone Thugs is on “Lord,” and Krayzie Bone blacks all the way out when he steps up to bat. Ferg brings out B-Real and Onyx on “Fuck Out My Face,” which gives Sticky a chance to say “I’m a CBGB… crazy bald-head grimy bastard!” and make my year.

Ferg’s not really saying anything new, lyrical content-wise, but again, he’s saying it in a dope way, so who cares, really? He reminds me a lot of Young Dro, who I like a lot. They just do what they do and do it well. Reliable dudes who go in on occasion.

The highlight of the album for me is “Murda Something” with Waka Flocka Flame. I know Waka is on record as not wanting to be seen as a lyrical dude for whatever dumb reason, but this type of song is exactly why I like him. It’s fast, almost to the point that he can’t keep up with his own raps, and A$AP Ferg chanting “ain’t afraid to murda something” before he comes in with a verse that’s half the speed of Waka’s is too dope. It’s music to throw bows to, run miles to, lift weights to. It’s motivation music. Black superhero music.

Also Ferg drops this during that song:

Y’all quick for the tweeting, y’all quick to be tumbling
How about a Vine? Two clips to your spine
And Instagram pics of me dumping

First rapper to beef with tumblr? Might be.

I keep talking about Schoolboy Q on this, but he’s been on my mind. He’s got a new album dropping this year, #oxymoron, and he’s been on a tear all year with hot songs and hotter features. This is “Collard Greens,” with Kendrick Lamar:

This is what I like. The beat’s remarkable, Schoolboy Q’s flow is… I called it a eurostep flow on Twitter the other day, because it takes a step in one direction before jetting down another. It’s jerky, but jerky in a way that feels natural, or normal. It’s not like “Dang, son’s way off-beat.” He’s hitting different marks and changing direction, is all.

I like the video, for the most part. It turns out adding a kaleidoscope effect to your average video featuring parties, half-naked girls grinding on dudes, and Macklemore turns something average into something that’s a little interesting. The inset transparent rapping faces aren’t special, neither are the colorful visual effects, but for some reason, that kaleidoscope effect feels perfectly paced for the song. This is another nightmare video, too, and Q kinda dances like Grover at a few different points, thanks to the jittery cut frames.

Kendrick’s got verse two, and he blacks out, as usual. I like the whole TDE crew, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Rock. It’s dope they have such a range of personas and characters, from Soul’s stoned conspiracy theorist to Q’s groovy gangster. I have half a hunch—I haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet but it feels right—that if Kendrick is the GZA of the group, the most technically proficient and deep, for whatever value of deep you prefer, that makes Q the Method Man. Remember when Meth was the charming one in the Wu-Tang, the fashionable player? That, and their shared smiley face/dark subject styles, makes me think that’s a fair comparison, even if it isn’t 1:1.

Here’s E-40, Danny Brown, and Schoolboy Q, “All My Niggas”:

40 is one of those dudes like Bun B or Scarface who go extra hard when they’re featured on someone else’s song or have hype guest features. 40 can phone in verses better than a lot of dudes, but Danny Brown and Q simultaneously keep up and pay homage to the legend.

I like this old video for “There He Go”:

“Got my daughter swaggin’ like her motherfuckin’ daddy, though!”

Let’s go out on the first A$AP Rocky song I heard and a video I’ve grown to like a lot, “Purple Swag”:

This song has grown on me over the past couple years, and the sample from the Akira soundtrack is hot.

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Loosies: RAP MUSIC!!!

August 15th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

If you’re on tumblr, you’ve probably seen this fantastic gif set of Rinko Kikuchi talking about chocolate from this interview with What’s Up Hollywood:

rinko kikuchi chocolate 01 rinko kikuchi chocolate 02 rinko kikuchi chocolate 03

If you’ve ever been around me for forty-five seconds or more, you know that she be to chocolate like I be to rap. I want to have conversations about rap all the time, give or take a few minutes in the day. Sometimes it’s over something big, sometimes it’s over something small. I like rap so much that I feel like saying “RAP MUSIC!!!!” is a coherent way to say “This song bangs.” I’m painfully earnest on this subject to an absurd extent.

So here are some loose thoughts on rap, because sometimes all you have is an idea, not an essay:

A lot of my love of books, and crime (or crime-inflected) stories specifically, comes from how basic acts, usually acts of violence, are turned into something more poetic or interesting than the flat statements like you’d see on the news. I really like this thing I read in Charlie Huston’s novel Skinner, his latest release: A single bullet that perhaps goes in one ear and out the other, like a complicated idea quickly dismissed for the effort it requires.

There is an elegance there that works really well. The mental image of a thought considered and discarded is a peaceful one, while a bullet passing through a head is anything but. But there’s a middle ground in there that makes the line sing. It’s very vivid and easy to imagine.

I get the same feeling out of that line as I do out of this sort of line, from Fabolous’s “Can’t Deny It” off the album Ghetto Fabolous: When the time’s right, I’ma put this nine right/ to the left side of your head, push ya mind right.

There’s a parallel in there that I really like. I feel like the rappers who are best at this sort of rap tend to be talented at creating innovative threats and boasts. Being direct is all well and good, but eventually you’ll have to make another song and you can’t reuse your old stuff. So rappers get creative, and that’s where they start to shine.

Shyne’s “That’s Gangsta” is another crime song I like a lot. Where Fab doubles down on his punchlines, winks, and sly grins, Shyne opens his mouth and a flood of apocalyptically nihilist lyrics come flooding out. He flips Rakim:

I got a question as serious as cancer
Where the fucking safe at? Somebody better answer


Got dead gangstas rollin over like, “Yo, this nigga cold”
The way he cut his coke, his murder game, to his flow

and even:

Mac-10s, crushed rocks, and drops
The best respect the feds only—cops

and especially:

Riches my only reason for being, shit
I never had hope until I sold dope

So yeah, this song made an impression on me. The beat is memorable, too.

What got me earlier today, though, was hearing the sample on that beat on a new song. The sample’s Foster Sylvers’s “Misdemeanor,” and it’s been sampled more than a few times. I’ve heard it in other songs, but not in years, so when it popped up in a song called “Love Traps,” off Pete Rock & Camp Lo’s 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s 2, I sat up and paid attention.

It actually took me a second to figure out where I knew the sample from, since this song is pretty far from “That’s Gangsta” in sound, lyrics, and approach. But I kinda dig it, so I went digging.

There’s a neat symmetry in Shyne flipping that Rakim line on “That’s Gangsta,” because Eric B, of the legendary Eric B & Rakim, made a song called “Love Trap” back in the day.

And from here, I could easily fall down a rabbit hole. I could make an infinite number of connections from song to song, taking my own constantly shifting trip down memory lane, with just this at my base. Rakim leads to lyricism, which could loop back around to Fabolous (he’s nice) or anywhere basically, and from there, I could go anywhere. It’s all connected.

I tried to write an essay earlier this week about this RA the Rugged Man song, “Lessons.” It’s a catalog of things Rugged Man has experienced, from labels telling him to find a black dude to rap with to knowing Norah Jones before she blew up. Rugged Man is a talented dude, so even though this song is seriously just a series of one- and two-bar anecdotes, it still manages to be not just coherent, but pretty fascinating.

I couldn’t make the essay work, but I was going to focus on this line: I don’t want fans that don’t know who G Rap is.

At the time, I took it as Rugged separating the real from the fake, and I was into it for that reason. ’cause, you know, fake rap fans are annoying, and they probably didn’t even listen to real hip-hop, and several other equally tiresome thoughts. I’m older and smarter and hopefully less annoying now, and I still like the line, though I read it much differently.

It’s about curiosity and history to me now, about being in a constant state of learning about the music and culture. It’s not a requirement—I won’t hold out the “You Must Be Able To Name Three Big L Songs To Vibe” signs for now—but it enhances the experience of listening to rap so much to know a little bit about a little bit.

I talk and think about context a lot in terms of criticism or social issues, but it’s true of even something as culturally neutral as “music.” Connecting those dots is so much fun (I’ve done it before on here) and so enlightening that I can’t imagine listening to rap and not wanting to dig in. Things branch out to weird places, songs show up in weird places (remember the Numa Numa song? Just Blaze, TI, and Rihanna sure did), and sometimes you discover people who are right up your alley, despite being before your time.

Here’s Big Daddy Kane and Big L rapping together (kinda) on “Platinum Plus”:

They used this Big L verse on Lyricist Lounge Volume 2, sans Kane. That’s a shame, because Kane says this:

If you block the cash, we locking ass
I’ma put it in your chest like a Stockton pass
Only out to earn figures like we please
But I don’t mind to burn niggas like CDs
Now: exhibit, styles I kick with it
[*COUGH*] Pardon me, but I’m fuckin sickwiddit

Got me fanning myself like I’m in church over here.

Here’s Big L and Kool G Rap getting it in on “Fall Back”:

More head from chickens, it’s time to turn the ape loose
Bust out the cage and let the gauge loose
Blow the feathers out of your North Face goose
It’s G Rap coming back with a clique of brave troops
Have y’all niggas running for home base like Babe Ruth
Have you holding holes in your body like you play flute
Lay you down til you get found up in the sprayed coupe
Prepare for the takeover—give you the face makeover
The seat of your Rover, sheet draped over
Be found on the block with the street taped over
or comin out of deep coma, your speech made slower

What I like about G Rap is that he raps like this pretty much all the time.

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“He got me hyped when he played this incredible song”

August 9th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been doing this thing on Twitter for a month or two that I’ve just been calling “rap tweets.” I’ll get off work, head home, and chill outside while tweeting with people about raps. Usually it’s me picking three songs and sending out three tweets each, plus some conversation. I like it a lot, honestly. It’s low key, a nice distraction, and easy to do while doing other things. I just love talking about music, and rap specifically, and it’s cool to be able to do that with people on Twitter who are into it. Immediate feedback is nice, I guess.

I found an essay on gamers and geeks taking over rap on a video game site the other day. I saw it at work and decided to tweet about it that evening, after I’d had time to read it. But when I actually read it, I disagreed with basically every single point because I’m a snob/obsessed/whatever. It was ignorant of the greater context of everything in the article, including rap history and greater cultural trends. But it did make me think about the intersection of so-called nerd culture and rap music and how it’s been misrepresented over the years. There’s a gap between the perception and the truth, as there often is, in how we talk about rap and what it contains.

That essay prompted this one, in an indirect way, but really, I feel guilty for not posting here more often and that essay just gave me an excuse. So walk with me a minute while I talk about these three songs, each of which I like a whole lot.

If you asked me to boil down what I like about rap to just one sentence, I couldn’t, but I’d mumble something about “coded language” before you realized I was trying to cheat. The fact that a lot of things have two or three meanings is really impressive to me. I like having to do the work to pull the rhymes apart and see how somebody else created a puzzle. It’s fun, and it’s funny, and Beanie Sigel’s “Mac Man” is a great example why.

It’s a thugged out version of Here’s A List of Video Game Characters, where Beanie Sigel shouts out, references, or interpolates some aspect of a video game character over the course of a song. So you know, Latin King Koopa, Donkey Kong brings in weed by the barrel, Sonic can’t catch Beans because he’s good at Track & Field, and plenty more in that vein.

Beans places himself at the top of the pyramid as Mac Man, which is great, but then he also ties together every single video game he mentions in a story with a coherent plot and cast of characters. And I know that’s Tommy Westphall/Wold Newton conjecture, which is whatever, but it’s also funny. People, usually people who don’t listen to rap, talk about this kind of rap as if it were full of stoney faced thugs and ice-cold killers, but it really wasn’t. Jokes are a huge part of the style. 50 Cent, DMX, even hardheads like the Boot Camp Click had jokes. Otherwise this song is ridiculous.

XV’s “Mirror’s Edge” is sorta sadboy rap, but that’s cool, because I like that, too. I like this song so much because the metaphor is so strong. A lot of times I feel like metaphors for life in rap tend to be thin-but-good, like the idea that pigeons evolve into phoenixes on Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein. It’s kind of dumb when you think about it, but it’s a really powerful and direct image. It’s strong and you can hook into it.

But in “Mirror’s Edge,” the central metaphor is dead-on. The video game is about Faith, a free-running messenger in a super-clean fascist utopia. The song takes the danger of the free-running and applies it to being happy with your life. It’s obvious when you read it: “It feels like I’m runnin’ on walls and I don’t wanna touch the ground/ And if they say that I’m lost, then I don’t wanna be found.” Obvious, but good.

“Super Brooklyn” is by the Cocoa Brovaz, who used to be Smif-n-Wessun of the almighty Boot Camp Clik on Duck Down Records. But they got cease-and-desisted by the gun manufacturer and switched to Cocoa Brovaz. “Super Brooklyn” is great because it leans so heavily on the Super Mario Bros. samples. (The album this came from, Game Over, also featured Eminem and Masta Ace on a Soul Calibur beat. I can’t find the interview where he’s asked about it now, but he only found out this song even came out within the past few years. He’d given a verse to someone and it ended up on there. Rap is weird.)

I feel like this song shouldn’t work half as well as it does. It’s weird, it’s not really something you want to play at high volume except for novelty reasons, and the rhymes and music are wild dissonant. But I dunno—it works for me. Sometimes songs just go.

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Time Goes By…

July 19th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m at San Diego right now, chilling in a hotel room. It’s busy, it’s nice, I’m digging seeing the show from this direction. But I need to write, and so I’m writing this:

I love weed songs, from Bone thugs~n~harmony’s “Buddah Lovaz” to Kid Cudi’s “Marijuana.” I’ve had OutKast’s “Crumblin Erb” stuck in my head for a couple weeks now, particularly Sleepy Brown’s work on the chorus, which is one of my favorite of his performances:

There’s only so much time left in this crazy world
I’m just crumblin’ erb
I’m just crumblin’ erb
Niggas killing niggas they don’t understand
What’s the master plan?
I’m just crumblin’ erb
I’m just crumblin’ erb

I’ve been thinking about this song, mostly by mulling over the lyrics as best I can remember. Andre’s “splish/splash/of blood” bars stick out, Big Boi’s first four bars or so are stupendous, “sprinkle sprinkle motherfucker, don’t be crying on me” is one of those things I’d love to say in real life, but what I only just realized now–and please believe by “now” I mean 8:00 on Friday morning, July 19–is that this isn’t a song about the joy of getting high. It’s a weed song, but it’s not a weed song.

I love Meth & Red’s “How High.” It’s an OG weed song as far as I’m concerned, and it’s basically just a regular rap song with tight lyrics that talk about weed. “Crumblin Erb,” like a fistful of other references to weed in rap, isn’t about how being high feels good in and of itself so much as how being high feels good because it pushes back against the pain. It’s melancholy, not exuberant. It’s a coping mechanism.

I feel like I knew this before now, because I’ve honestly listened to pretty much every OutKast song a hundred and fifty-eleven times, the joints on Idlewild included, and they’re one of my favorite groups, so they occupy a lot of space in my head. But I didn’t know it in relation to, say, Tupac’s “Krazy,” which has this for a chorus:

Time goes by, puffin on lye
Hopin that it gets me high
Got a nigga goin cra-zy
Oh yeah, I feel cra-zy

Before segueing directly into these four bars:

Last year was a hard one, but life goes on
Hold my head against the wall, learning right from wrong
They say my ghetto intrumental detrimental to kids
As if they can’t see the misery in which they live

Or this verse from Deck on “CREAM”:

Though I don’t know why I chose to smoke sess
I guess that’s the time when I’m not depressed
But I’m still depressed and I ask what’s it worth?
Ready to give up so I seek the Old Earth
Who explained working hard may help you maintain
to learn to overcome the heartaches and pain
We got stickup kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks
and stray shots, all on the block that stays hot

Or even Layzie and Krayzie Bone’s couplet toward the end of “Buddah Lovaz”: “It’s a Bone thang how a nigga like me smoke and maintain/ Maintain, maintain.”

“I’m maintaining” is a phrase I love and have used myself, the rap version of “I’m fine.” I can only hear it in El-P’s pitched-down voice from “Tasmanian Pain Coaster” now, part of the first verse on the song. I bit & edited these lyrics from OHHLA but they seem pretty right:

Bumped into this kid I knew, he often would walk strange
So I ignored the blood on his laces so this cat could save face
The dunks and the gaze stayed in an off-grey haze
And the lump in his pocket talked to the ox that he clutched safe
So I saluted him there, waiting for the A
Trapped on the empty platform without the option to escape
Gave him the standard: “Yo, what up man, how you landing?”
And the hypnotized response was no surprise: “I’m maintaining.”
“Yeah, we all do, that’s the standardized refrain
“But on some really real man, good to see you, really, what the dealy deal?”
Oops, fuck, screwed the pooch, asked too much, knew the truth
On the train now, a caboose
In his brain now, no recluse
80 blocks to uptown spot, destination vocal booth
MetroCard like: “You get what you pay for, stupid!”
No excuse
He pulled his hoody off his cabbage, rugged practical
And began to fancy the words I mistakenly jostled loose
The stogie he brazenly lit where he sit looked legit
But when the flame touched to the tip I could smell it’s of another nit
He leaned his head back and inhaled the newpie dip and said:
“The whole design got my mind cryin’, if I’m lying I’m dying.”

Even Kid Cudi’s “Marijuana” leans melancholy. “I-I, I be on it all day like my nigga Big Boi said/ That’s the only thing that keep me level up in my crazy head.”

Lauryn Hill is the queen of this, though. Remember “Ready or Not”? How ill of a way is this to open a verse: “Yo, I play my enemies like a game of chess/ Where I rest no stress if you don’t smoke sess.” I love it so much. Rap music!

I don’t have a point or big revelation here for you at all. I already knew that weed is an amazing coping mechanism, and I knew that rappers sang about that aspect of it regularly. But I was struck by how “Crumblin’ Erb” took root in my head recently and that I never made the obvious connection that the song made between weed and melancholy, between weed and what we like to call The Black Condition.

This is what people mean when they say rap is real or the CNN of the streets. This is rap reflecting life reflecting rap reflecting life.

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Take What You Want: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

June 26th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

One thing I really like about TI’s “Front Back” is that he shouts out UGK at the top of the song. It’s not just a regular shout-out, either. He’s explicitly and purposefully trading on their fame by shouting them out as legends and then placing himself and others in the ranks of the “UGK alumni.” “They’re the greatest, they’re legends, and I studied at their feet,” in other words. It feels like he’s snatching a cosign, instead of suggesting or accepting one, because most people are much more subtle about it.

Either way, that stuff really counts. It adds to the verisimilitude of rap songs, something that’s important since these guys are implicitly playing a role on wax and believability makes all the difference. TI’s shouting out UGK on a song with UGK, and that’s got heads rubbing their chin and going “Pocket full of stones… yeah… yeah…” It connects the two in your head, especially so in the case of “Front Back” because the cosigned and cosigners are on the same track together. If you recognize and accept the one, you should do the same for the other.

It happens all the time. Yelawolf said “Bitch, you know I got Bun B in the front seat and we got these boppers on the chrome!/ One time for ya boy Pimp C: POCKET FULL OF STONES!/ Yeah, I got a pocket full of stones ’cause I fell off my dirt bike in cargo pants” on “Good to Go” because it was a way better choice than “I’m a white dude but I like raps too, plus these other established dudes like me and I like them.”

In a scene early on in The Bling Ring, three characters drive to the beach while blasting Rick Ross’s “9 Piece” (NSFW video here). It starts around the line that goes “MJG, bitch, I got 8Balls” before segueing into the Suave House shout-out and eventually fading out. It really tripped me out, because while I could see the cast of the film–abstractly wealthy kids in Calabasas, CA–banging Ross on their way somewhere, I had a harder time believing they’d be specifically yelling the part that shouts out 8Ball & MJG or being into anything Suave House. That feels like inside baseball to me, the rap equivalent of making a joke about Cypher from New Mutants. It’s prejudice, obviously, but my mental picture of that specific type of person doesn’t really involve them being into Memphis rap. I’m not particularly into the song (there are better MJG/8Ball references to be had elsewhere), but I liked seeing that specific stretch of the song in the movie. It’s Ross showing off his bonafides, bonafides that are entirely fictional and thus remarkably apropos for this movie. He’s an actor acting as if he has the cred his forebears do, and the actors in the film are buying into his hype and using it to generate hype of their own, or maybe just to get hype.

The presence of that song in the beginning came back into my mind further into the movie, as I was beginning to realize exactly how much of the soundtrack would be rap songs that I own or have intentionally enjoyed (Twelve rap songs in all, including Frank Ocean, and I knew seven and would have heard an eighth if I still listened to leaks). Like TI borrowed cred from UGK, like Ross borrowed from 8Ball and MJG, The Bling Ring borrows cred from rap music. There’s a lot of dance music in the movie, but the way the rap music is deployed (Kanye’s “Power” plays over the type of scene you’d expect, Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” plays over the credits, “All of the Lights” has a singalong, “212″ plays in a hip club context) it’s associated with edginess, victory, the good life, fabulous crime or violence, and almost everything else that particular sort of rap is associated with.

A lot of the reason I like Rick Ross’s Teflon Don as much as I do, despite not really messing with Ross on a regular basis, is that it’s full of well-told tales of guilt-free and consequence-free crime. Ross-the-character does what he wants when he wants, and there’s something very enjoyable about that. It draws people in, myself included, and that aspirational aspect is part of why Ross is so much of a success.

The Bling Ring clicked for me when I realized that the celebrity culture Sofia Coppola was indicting has a similar effect on the cast of the movie. They want to be on, and the people who are most visibly “on” are Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Kirsten Dunst, and Megan Fox. There’s a similar type of aspirational motivation at work, and it’s easy to draw a line between, say, my wanting that confederate flag belt Andre 3000 wore in the “Ms. Jackson” video or watching a video of 2 Chainz getting robbed in San Francisco and Becca Ahn–played to the hilt by Katie Chang–taking note of the latest star to get caught drunk driving and wanting to wear what Lindsay wears, even if she has to go into Lindsay’s house to get it.

There are several sequences, usually after a break-in, that show the characters wearing their stolen goods and posting them to Instagram and Facebook. They’re showing off. They take incessant pictures while in the club when they aren’t spotting celebrities. They vamp in front of each other and the internet. Coppola, in conversation with Lee Radziwill, said, “When I go to a concert, everyone is filming and photographing themselves and then posting the pictures right away. It is almost as if your experiences don’t count unless you have an audience watching them.”

She means it as an indictment, but I don’t see it that way any more. A line from Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past comes to mind, Jeff Bailey saying “Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it.” It’s my favorite movie and that’s one of the lines that’s stuck with me the most since I first saw it in school. It works for romance and friendship alike. Sometimes you want to share something’s majesty because you love someone else and want them to have that experience and sometimes you want to share it because you want confirmation that it’s dope. The two are twisted up with each other, almost to the point that the difference between them is academic. It’s selfish, sure, in a way, but utterly natural and sensible.

The Facebook shots in The Bling Ring struck me as being a clever way to show what was happening, instead of just saying it. What do you want to do when you get something new? You want to wear it immediately, you want to show it to people, you want them to compliment it and tell you how cool it is. It’s a twist on the quote from Out of the Past, but not much of one. When I finish this piece, I’m probably going to send it to a few trusted friends to read, and my hope is that they’ll enjoy it. After that, I’ll put it on this website. I don’t have to–I wrote this because I needed to organize my thoughts on the movie and essays are the easiest way to do that outside of conversation–but I want to share it. From sharing comes conversation, support, and a gang of other things I’m invested in.

All of this would be well-executed, but hollow, if not for the actors in the film. Chang’s Becca impressed me the most out of all the cast. There’s an emptiness to her that I enjoyed, a sense that she does things simply because she wants to do them, and consequences aren’t even on her radar. It isn’t heartlessness, though that was the first word to come to my mind, so much as “might makes right” played out on a different battlefield. “But I want it” as golden rule. She’s remarkably pretty, almost distractingly so, and I think that only adds to the effect. She’s the picture of a modern femme fatale. (Jane Greer’s Kathie Moffat is the classic femme fatale for me, for very similar reasons.)

Israel Broussard’s Marc is a close second for me. He’s more or less the main character of the film, and Broussard balances the anxiety, love, and fun of the character very well. There’s a brief glimpse in the trailer of him dancing and goofing off with the girls, and he’s got a specific pose and smile that’s split between being goofy and loving life that killed me. The webcam scene, everything about the shoes, all of it felt real in a very warm and welcoming way.

There’s a lot of intentional comedy in The Bling Ring, more than I expected. The introductory shots of Paris Hilton’s house got a rising laugh out of the audience I saw the movie with, as we realized that 1) Hilton’s face is all over her house, like a musician who only plays his own records when he invites people over and 2) she has a lot of stuff. It felt like every scene in that house revealed a secret door, hidden box, or drawer full of jewels on top of all the ridiculous possessions that dot the house.

At one point, in a scene that struck me for its use of color as much as the (mostly-silent) acting, we watch a character eating while sirens play in the distance. The camera stays still as we watch the eater, their family, and pets going about their business. It clicks for us before it does for them–cops are coming. The scene goes on almost uncomfortably long, though it was probably just thirty seconds or a minute. It’s put-a-smile-on-your-face funny.

I didn’t find myself disgusted or troubled by the Bling Ring. I expected a little friction between my prejudices, tastes, and the movie itself. I was surprised to see aspects of myself and my friends reflected in these characters. Claire Julien’s Chloe was the most street-smart of the gang, and also the one most likely to be like “Hey, bitches” or use slang a certain way. Emma Watson’s Nicki was a lot of fun, too, a girl who rolls her eyes through life and its obstacles while looking for a chance to get big by any means. I know and have known Marcs, Beccas, Nickis, and Chloes.

My reaction to The Bling Ring was way more positive than I expected. I bailed out of Girls pretty much as soon as Lena Dunham asked her parents for rent money, but this movie full of pretty people doing petty things really worked for me. They go to the bad school in town–Becca for dealing drugs, Marc because he was home-schooled and needs to catch up–but their school is much nicer than the good schools where I’m from. They’re young, well-off, and if you know the real story, you know how little jail time they got for stealing millions of bucks worth of stuff. There’s a lot in here that should’ve ruined the movie for me, but the aggregate and execution were on point. The Bling Ring is a low-key feel-good crime movie, like Rick Ross’s lyrics, where people do big things for the sake of doing them and brag about it later.

One last point: The Bling Ring has a title that derives from BG’s “Bling Bling,” featuring the Big Tymers and Hot Boys. The entire point of the song is getting something new and showing it off to the squares. “I pull up in a Expedition, they be like ah no, no, no he didn’t!/ Tattoos and fast cars, do you know who we are?” It would’ve been entirely too on-the-nose to fit it into The Bling Ring, even moreso than “Super Rich Kids,” but you know what? It’s the movie in miniature.

I often think of rap culture as being a black and brown thing, something we co-created and co-own with just a few others, but that isn’t really true now that we’re decades past the origins of rap. This stuff bleeds into the culture, whether it’s Miley Cyrus with golds in her mouth or a movie about a real group of burglars sporting a name that derives from one of the hottest songs from 1999. It’s bigger than hip-hop.

Related links:
-Sofia Coppola’s Journey Into the Heart of Low-Culture Darkness, by Emily Yoshida
-In Conversation | Lee Radziwill and Sofia Coppola, on Protecting Privacy
-Girls in Hoodies Podcast: The Bling Ring, This Is the End, and Rape Jokes, with Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch, and Emily Yoshida
-“Compton, USA made me an angel on angel dust” [Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city] by me
-Sofia Coppola and Brian Reitzell, by Carrie Battan
-Rick Ross – “BMF”
-Rick Ross – “I’m Not A Star”
-8Ball & MJG – Pimp Hard”
-UGK – Pocket Full of Stones”

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monday mixtape kryptonite

June 17th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I was telling a friend last night that I don’t think I’ll ever stop being impressed by rap. I was talking specifically about the lyrics at that point, but it goes for beats, too. There’s always gonna be something to rock my world. Example:

Left Brains produced this Hodgy Beats joint, making it a de facto Mellowhype song. “Sale” sounds tinny and bad on Youtube for some reason, but the bass is way deeper on my headphones. My first thought was “I need to hear this in a car” when the beat started up and that bassy rumble started. I don’t think I was expecting a beat like this on Hodgy’s Untitled 2, which made it even more hot.

Over on the lyrical side of things, Fabolous has bars. I’ve listened to “We Get High” from The Soul Tape 2 dozens of times at this point. Video:

My favorites are at the top of the second verse. “How high? How high? Just came from the O.G. man/ My eyes so Redman, that M-E-T-H-O-D, Man!”

The skill needed to make good weed songs is an increasingly rare talent. Curren$y can knock them out, maybe, but most cats are slacking. Fab, right here? He’s doing pretty good.

-I read and enjoyed Cheryl Lynn talking about that new Kanye. She’s right about Yeezus, I think. The beats are super hot, or at least interesting/baffling in an interesting way when they aren’t hot, but Kanye is just not good enough lyrically. He’s not that dude. And it’s starting to show.

-I read and enjoyed Jeff Parker talking about Man of Steel. I haven’t seen it, but he makes it sound like a movie I’d want to see.

-I read and enjoyed a Jog two-fer–first an old look at Frank Miller’s The Spirit and Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch, and then a piece on After Earth, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and more besides. I’ve only seen Sucker Punch and The Spirit, so I guess today is the day I recommended essays about movies I haven’t seen.

-I posted this last year, but I put “dice-k” up on my stories site. One night in the life of a yakuza, shortly after the death of his uncle.

-It’s been slow running here on my part as I get caught up with this new job. I’d intended to write this weekend, but instead I saw a movie, bought some clothes, and managed to spend Father’s Day sleeping and playing Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker. Much-needed weekend of nothing, I think, but now it’s time to get back at it. Full service to resume if not this week, then next.

This Is The End was really, really funny. Michael Cera stole the show, then Danny McBride stole it back, and then James Franco snatched it away in the final minutes.

Open thread. What’re you reading/watching/hearing/enjoying?

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