Archive for the 'Music Videos' Category


“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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Furtadofest: No Hay Igual con Residente de Calle 13, 2006

June 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize it, but the one thing that runs through all of Nelly Furtado’s singles are that they’re fun. They’re upbeat smiley face music, whether she’s doing fun anthems or throwing bedroom eyes at you.

One thing that’s always interesting about R&B and rap collabs, which I generally think of as being lady singer + dude rapper, is how the two musicians are portrayed in the video. Meth & Mary’s “All I Need” portrays the two as musicians solely, since Meth already has a lady in the video. Nelly Furtado’s “No Hay Igual” is the other one, as it suggests that Furtado and Residente of Puerto Rican group Calle 13 are in some type of flirty relationship.

I can’t find it now, but a few years back, 2008 or 2009 I think, there was an R&B girl group, maybe a duo, that released a single. It was pretty okay, and the rap feature was solid. It was probably Fabolous, but I think Maino or Pusha T might have been the dude. I don’t know. I swear I’m not making this up. Anyway, it came out on rap blogs, and then it went. A few weeks later, a different version of the same song came out with a different MC. It was an earlier cut, one that was leaked from the studio, and it was grimey. It was easy to see why it was shelved. Dude spent his whole time talking about how much he wanted to do the singers, which was kind of on-topic, but it was a bit much.

I only mention that too-long story because my favorite part of this song explicitly addresses the tension that comes along with these types of videos. You see a lot of Furtado and Residente dancing and flirting, and then you hit the bridge at the end of the song:

“Te vo’ a sacar a pasear (¡Wey!)”

You wanna take a walk? Cool.

“En una nave espacial (¡Wey!)”

In a space ship? Hm, aight. Kinda weird, but let’s roll.

“Cosmodrogado yo quiero surfiar (¡Wey!)”

Okay, so there’s a space-drug thing he just made up, but surfing is cool. This is getting weirder though.

“Por tu órgano genital (¡¿Qué?!)”

¡¿Que?! Even I know, judging from the wreckage of my Spanish knowledge, that you don’t need to be talking about any part of a lady’s ladyparts!

But this part is my favorite because Furtado’s response, and the reaction in the video, are so perfect. “Bro, you crossed a line and you’re about to kill a fun thing.”

It also gets at another fun part of these videos, which is that if they’re big enough, if they turn into real deal anthems, then the singers become audience stand-ins. There’s a reason why TLC’s “No Scrubs” blew up so huge, and why Sporty Thievez felt like they had to answer back with “No Pigeons.” Especially in songs with a lot of call and response, the singer is her and the rapper is me. I love that stuff. Something like Missy’s “One Minute Man” with Luda and Trina got a lot of play because it has both that raw girl power flavor and whatever the guy equivalent of girl power is. It sets up this competition, kinda like Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” between the sexes, that’s a lot of fun. Everybody gets a chance to be brash and dirty. Everybody’s got something they can scream at the boils and ghouls across the room.

In thinking about it, Trina’s done more than a few of these songs. “Five Star Chick”, the wild scandalous and NSFW “Look Back At Me” with Killer Mike, and of course the unforgettable “Nann Nigga” with Trick Daddy Dollars. Do you know how many girls I heard yelling “You don’t know nann hoe!” on the bus to and from school? It’s not just songs that are boys vs girls, tee hee. There’s a competitive aspect that’s gotta be there. That’s what makes it fun.

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Furtadofest: Promiscuous, 2006

June 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I was watching Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” a few weeks back and jotting down notes. I wrote that I might like pop crossover Timbaland more than I like rappity-rap Timbaland. You know what I mean — Nelly Furtado versus Jay-Z, with Missy Elliott being the only person to successfully split the difference. I haven’t done any hard research but that idea feels right to me. Timbaland’s greatest strengths are making catchy and weird tunes, these sort of things that are great pop songs until he layers in baby noises or frog croaks and then they’re memorably great pop songs. In “Promiscuous,” Timbaland doesn’t have a dog barking or anything, but those synths that come in over the chorus are amazing. I thought that it was maybe a sample or something, but knowing Timbaland, he probably just hammered them out on a keyboard one day. But they’re the perfect ’80s touch, trading on the same nostalgia as the soundtrack to Drive, and they elevate a pretty good song into a memorable one. And I don’t think all of this could add up to a great rap song, going by my preferred definition of “good rap song,” as well as it adds up to a good pop song. So yeah: probably indefensible because the boundaries are so vague, but Pop Timbo > Rap Timbo. Argue that.

The video’s cute, too. Where “Maneater” was about submitting to your queen, oooooohohohohoho, “Promiscuous” is a tease. It’s dancing and flirting, and it’s actually a little funny. Furtado and Timbaland trade drum and vocal duties in some scenes, which I think is funny. My sense of humor is stupid though. But overall, the video’s really about getting as close to somebody as possible and teasing them all the way. It’s sexy, but it’s not… explicitly sexy. It’s a love spell. It gets across the erotic urgency of dancing, I guess is the best way to put it, in a cool way. There’s this bit at 2:40 or so, where the guy tries to kiss her? And then it comes back after flashing to another couple of scenes and he tries to kiss her again, and then it flashes away and back and one more time, this time his kiss attempt is a lunge. When it comes back around, Furtado is on him, instead of vice versa, and he’s holding back. That’s nuts, and it’s totally perfect as an example of what I mean. There’s a back and forth tease, a wanting, that comes alongside dancing with someone else, and I like how this guy’s wanting spills over before he has to rein it back in.

The conversational structure of the song is great, too. It sells the song as a booty call negotiation anthem. It’s not catchy so much as undeniable. You don’t really need to sing along with it to know it, barring a few money lines (that Steve Nash line, “How you doin’ young lady?, and I really really like “Chivalry is dead but you’re still kinda cute”). The weird thing is that something about Furtado’s delivery on the verses reminds me of Hot 97’s Angie Martinez, especially her style on “Live At Jimmy’s”. I don’t know what it means, exactly, but the comparison won’t go away. Furtado sells it, though, even if she isn’t from Brooklyn. There’s a playfulness to it, a flirtiness, that enhances the song.

I also love the weird harmonizing she does on this weird beat at the end of the song, but I don’t even have anything to say about that but “Yes, more please.”

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Furtadofest: Maneater, 2006

June 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The video for Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” is basically a back-alley warehouse orgy masterminded by a queen who dominates everyone else with her very presence. The warehouse is set up as this very dangerous place, the type of place an innocent lil lady like Nelly Furtado shouldn’t visit at night. But, like Michael Jackson, whose videos often portrayed dancing as rebellion or violence, Furtado can move, and that means she rules the roost.

That bit in the first verse, the “I wanna see you all on your knees, knees/ either wanna be with me or you wanna be me”? I love that. Her delivery in this song is so plastic that it comes off as the most “Call me Queen, worm” thing ever, especially when combined with her vaguely zombie-esque dance moves. I love how it instantly creates a story, too, because suddenly the warehouse orgy turns from subtext to text. Everyone in there is on their knees, and they all want her in one way or another. She’s the queen bee.

Those two lines front-loads the sex oozing out of the video, too. The only person that’s alone in this video is Furtado. Everyone else is confined (ooh!) in some way or gyrating against someone else (oh my!). It’s a very intimate video, the sort that makes you think about sex without just focusing on somebody’s boobs or butt.

I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate video for “Maneater.” It’s a thematic, rather than literal, translation of the lyrics, which are all about being so obsessed with Furtado that you completely destroy your life. Timbaland’s beat is pretty undeniable, with a solid rhythm and what I’m pretty sure is the sound of a cymbal sliding instead of clanging. The angry buzz of the melody during the verses kicks things up a notch in a really pleasing way, and the reversals sound great. Furtado’s voice is more nasal than I usually expect, kind of like a loose whine, but it fits so well with the beat and it’s great to sing along to, which is pretty much all I ask out of pop music.

I’ve liked Nelly Furtado since her first album, but I think that this song and video were her take on Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” The rap collab, harsh beat, and overtly throbbing sexuality shifted how I thought of both of these sings. That sounds way more filthy than I wanted it to, but what I mean is that “Dirrty” was the point that I noticed that Aguilera shifted from “Genie In A Bottle” passive high school sexiness into “Dirrty” sexy as she wanna be sexiness. I got the same feeling from Furtado’s “Maneater.” This was when I realized she’d shifted from the softer shade of pop on her first album to something with more of an edge. There’s an axis for this thing, it goes Michael Jackson to Prince, and both of them looked around and took a giant step toward Prince and owned it.

I think it’s interesting that both went with the warehouse orgy for a setting, too. It’s not what I’d go to, but it’s a solid visual.

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31 Things That Make Me Happy: Part 3

May 31st, 2012 Posted by Gavok

21) Flash vs. Luthiac

Justice League (Unlimited) is to animation what Avengers is to film. Just this perfect chain of world-building that escalates more and more, delivering all the while. While the first season of Unlimited was quite fantastic, it had one glaring flaw: no Flash. Wally only went as far as showing up a couple times with no lines in group shots. It wasn’t until the following season that he even got to do anything.

Everybody stopped being mad about that after the episode “Divided We Fall”, where the core members of the Justice League are taken apart by the hybrid of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. The villain prepares to kill off Flash, a prophecy set up throughout the season. Flash – the comic relief of the team – frees himself and runs off scared.

…or does he?

I don’t even care about anything after he vanishes. It’s the limit-breaking beatdown that I go back to. The beautiful way the score starts to creep in the moment he hits his first surprise punch. The way Luthor seems so taken aback that he doesn’t even try to come up with any plan, which, if you look at it, means that Luthor’s idea of merging with Brainiac is their undoing, since Brainiac wouldn’t have been so distracted by ego. Flash is someone who’s been ignored from episodes because he’s so hard to write and they’ve even nerfed his powers so much that he had a hard time catching up to a van one time, so his existence on the cartoon is vindicated in this moment where he kicks ass with such speed that he vibrates in place, Zoom-style.

22) It’s the YETAY!

When you ask a wrestling fan about the funniest and most absurd concept in the history of the business, they’ll give you one of two answers. One is the Gobbledy Gooker, a much-hyped and mysterious giant egg that finally hatched to reveal a dancing guy in a goofy turkey suit. Then there’s the Shockmaster, a complete failure of a segment where a new wrestler meant to be the next big thing proceeded to trip on live TV, knocking off his mask and causing the entire scene (as well as his career following) to fall apart.

For me, nothing is as gleefully silly as the Yeti.

The Yeti was born from a storyline involving Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage against the Dungeon of Doom, no doubt the silliest of all major factions in wrestling history. It was made up of an old, fat man barking orders at his “son” Kevin Sullivan and a collection of henchmen wrestlers, all goofy as all get out. The whole thing is such a clusterfuck that I’m going to bypass most of it, but the main conflict is Hogan vs. the Dungeon’s biggest and newest threat, the Giant. The Giant is billed as being Andre the Giant’s son, wanting to avenge his father against Hogan. On an episode of Nitro leading up to their big PPV match at Halloween Havoc, they show a huge block of ice. Kevin Sullivan refers to the figure inside as the Yeti, only he insists on pronouncing it “Yeh-tay”.

At the end of the final show before the PPV, Hogan fights off the Giant in the ring and some crazy lights start going off. The crowd is excited and with only a second of airtime left, the ice on the stage explodes to reveal… a seven-foot-tall guy dressed as a mummy.

And if that doesn’t tell you to purchase the PPV, I don’t know what does.

The match itself continued its clusterfuck ways and by the end, Randy Savage and Lex Luger come to Hogan’s rescue. Soon after, the Yeti follows, accompanied by Tony Schiavone on commentary screaming, “And the YETAAAAY!” Yes, even he’s insisting that not only is this giant mummy a yeti, but it’s pronounced exactly the way Sullivan insisted. Somehow, it’s that little detail that acts as the lynchpin to why this is so wonderfully ridiculous. Hell, they’re so focused on the YETAY! that it’s a footnote that Luger has already turned on Hogan and Savage in the ring. During this beating, the Yeti and Giant bearhug Hogan from each side and Yeti moves his hips back and forth in a way that makes him look like he’s raping Hogan. When he isn’t attacking anyone, he wanders the ring with his arms out like Frankenstein. Despite being in the ring for only two minutes, his bandages have already torn a bunch and we can see plenty of his skin, showing how flimsy a concept the mummy wrestler idea was to begin with.

As far as I know, there was no follow-up to Yeti fighting Hogan. Instead, he faded rather oddly into obscurity with no fanfare. First he started dressing like a ninja instead of a mummy. Then he kept that look and changed his name to Super Giant Ninja. He immediately lost to the One Man Gang and was repackaged for another day.


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Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Commodity Culture (or, “Watch out now, they’ll chew you up”)

May 30th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Here’s the video for Jay-Z & Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” off their Watch The Throne album. This joint features Frank Ocean and The-Dream.

Within about thirty seconds of starting this video, I was reminded of one of my favorite bits from Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez’s The Invisibles. This page:

More specifically, this quote: “The most pernicious image of all is the anarchist-hero figure. A creation of commodity culture, he allows us to buy into an inauthentic simulation of revolutionary praxis. The hero encourages passive spectating and revolt becomes another product to be consumed.”

And of course, The Invisibles is guilty of this critique. Grant Morrison wrote it and DC Comics, the comic book wing of Warner Bros. published it. It sells anarchy to the masses. It is a book that is meant to make money, no matter the ink on the page, and as such supports our capitalist system and all the exploitation and misery that is part and parcel of that system.

But it’s apt, I think. Morrison is a good writer, and he nails a phenomenon that I think is fascinating. Our culture — maybe as a result of capitalism, maybe just because that’s how culture works — chews up and spits out everything, even things that are theoretically counter-culture.

One of the vilest concepts in American culture is the fear of the black man’s penis and hatred for the black woman’s body. Black women were considered animalistic and savage, to the point where raping them didn’t even really count as rape. Black men were savage, too, and the myth of black dudes being better hung than any other race derives from this idea. They’ve got bigger dicks because they’re closer to apes and savages. It’s not a compliment. They’re calling you a monkey. Black people were considered hypersexed. Interracial love was miscegenation, a corruption of white women’s virtue. White men who raped black women were safe, I guess, because the screwer tends to have power over the screwed.

Gross, right? No right-thinking person still believes in that stuff. But have you looked at interracial porn lately? At how many videos are based around a black guy deflowering a white girl with his huge penis, how many feature white girls actually saying the words “giant nigger dick” aloud, how many videos feature black women in all-white gangbangs featuring dudes with Klan robes or Confederate flags… none of that is rare. Our culture will take in anything and everything, including the worst of us, and spit it back in a format that you can spend dollars on. Racism as fetish, 29.99 a month. Malcolm X hats, conscious rap, drag queens, black nationalism, all of it will eventually fall prey to commodity culture. That’s just the way it is.

Which brings me back around to this Jay and Ye video. What is it about? It isn’t about anything. It depicts protests, sure, but what are the people protesting? What are Jay and Kanye protesting? Nothing. The video is message-less and meaningless. Jay-Z’s verse is borderline incoherent, a loose suggestion of sadness and distrust. Kanye’s verse is about his issues with love. The video depicts revolt for revolt’s sake.

Revolution is cool now. There’s even a catchphrase: “We are the 99%!” Protesting is cool, man. Protests are sexy. Occupy Wall Street is protesting economic exploitation, at least nominally. But what is this video protesting? There’s no message, and no signs. There’s just protestors and cops and police brutality. It encourages an us vs them mentality, which I think is poisonous to begin with, and takes advantage of the fact that protesting is cool these days to get a neat video out of it.

It’s exploitation, basically. An exploitation of Occupy Wall Street and protests in general. A protest without a point, without a goal, is not a protest at all. It is not civil disobedience. It is not revolt. It’s just mindless, empty violence. It’s the exact opposite of what protests are supposed to accomplish.

What makes this video even worse is that Watch the Throne is an album about consumption to the point of excess. It’s about how awesome and rich Jay and Kanye are, and how much stuff they have. It’s an album about being the 1%, though Jay and Ye are both small fish in that pond. To an extent, most rap albums are about being awesome, but Watch the Throne felt like a step far beyond the conspicuous consumption I’ve grown used to. It was too much.

Put the two together. The most commercial and capitalist rap album in a long time, one that’s almost overwhelmingly and off-puttingly about material wealth. A music video that co-opts revolutionary concepts to illustrate a song about Jay-Z creating a loose idea of sadness and Kanye working out his issues with love. There’s no connection, beyond maybe a loose sense of unrest. There’s just two mildly rich dudes jacking the imagery of people who have legitimate grievances with authority and furthering the story that protests must turn violent, or are violent by their nature.

Violence, or the threat of violence, has a very important and essential place in revolutionary acts. That is true, I think anyone who has read a book will agree with that. But this is not it. This is counter-revolutionary. This is the culture chewing up and recycling protesting. This is culture as commodity.

Jay-Z is actually a great example of this phenomenon. He’s made a career out of jocking fads, and even other rappers. He stepped into Christopher Wallace’s shoes after Big died and couldn’t keep Big’s lyrics out his mouth. Remember “The Death of Auto-Tune?” He delivered a hilariously sub-par verse on Juvenile’s “Ha” remix. He rode UGK to success off the back of “Big Pimpin.” He dallied with the Neptunes, Just Blaze, and more. He finds what’s hot and joins in. Which is fine. That’s how you stay relevant, and he’s managed to turn “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” from a hot line into a hot life. He knows how commodity culture works, and the “No Church In The Wild” video is just another example of that fact. Everything gets recycled, remixed, and sold, even things that are already for sale.

I don’t think commodity culture is a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think it is important to be able to recognize it when you see it in action. There’s nothing wrong with digging this video, as long as you’re conscious of exactly what it represents. This isn’t a realistic representation of revolutionary action or any type of revolutionary statement. It is exploitation, from top to bottom, and paints an inaccurate picture of civil unrest.

“No Church In The Wild” looks even dumber when you look at Yasiin Bey, fka Mos Def, and his song “Niggas In Poorest,” a direct answer to Jay & Ye’s smash hit “Niggas In Paris.” Video:

This song has a very clear message and it’s reflected throughout the lyrics, video, and even the awfully clunky title. See here for example:

Poor so hard, this shit crazy
Walk outside the whole world hate me
Nervous stares at the thoroughfare
Surveillance cameras, police tracing
Poor so hard, this shit weird
We be home and still be scared
There’s grief here, there’s peace here
Easy and hard to be here
Psycho: liable to turn Michael
Take your pick:
Myers, Myers, Myers, same shit

and here:

Fake Gucci, my nigga. Fake Louis, my killer.
Real drugs, my dealer. Who the fuck is Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest, I ain’t got no insurance
It’s them niggas in poorest, be them rebel guerillas, huh

These statements are clear as day. Being poor sucks. It’ll make you do things that people describe as unthinkable. It makes going to the doctor an expensive dream. People watch you. Nowhere is safe, not even home. It’s easy to become poor and hard to be poor.

It’s not perfect, but there’s a message. There’s a point. It’s a rebuke to the excess that Jay and Ye displayed on Watch the Throne, and it is pointed. It puts the lie to Jay and Ye’s fake revolutionary video, too. It’s sympathetic without being exploitative. The violence that Bey suggests is a result of a specific thing, not just “well it’s a protest so I guess people gotta fight?” “Niggas In Poorest” is a product, too, but it’s much more sound, politically, than “No Church In The Wild” or any of Jay’s stabs at political relevance. He’s a businessman, and his choices reflect that. But that doesn’t make “No Church In the Wild” any more authentic.

Recognize commodity culture when you see it. Don’t fall for these people’s lies. Don’t get caught up in no throne. They’re never gonna let you sit on it.

(It’s worth noting that Romain Gavras, director of “No Church In The Wild,” also directed MIA’s obnoxious and incoherent video for “Born Free.”)

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neither revolutionary nor particularly gangsta

May 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I used to really bang dead prez songs, especially their RBG: revolutionary but gangsta tapes. But as I got older, I realized that there’s a serious disconnect between what they profess to be (conscious rappers, whatever that means) and what they put on wax (half-examined garbage and conspiracy theories). I have the same problem with Immortal Technique, too. It’s like these dudes fused bland, freshman idealism with like… obnoxiously libertarian-infused realpolitik and came up with revolutionary rap. Even worse, they stay complaining about the more pop rappers, like what they do is somehow more valid than somebody rhyming about their cars or whatever.

Case in point: “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System).” What I like about this song is that it’s probably the purest example of how high school dead prez’s philosophy is. The song’s a banger, don’t get me wrong, but it’s stone stupid. The title makes it seem like it’s all about pimping the system because you’re broke, turning the man’s methods against him, but in terms of actual content, it’s about robbing a pizza delivery man, pulling a credit card scheme so that you can buy fancy stuff, pulling a different scheme so you can get food stamps (???), and robbing whatever store you work at because “doing dirt is a part of living.”

I hate the first verse. I can’t even tell you how much I loathe it. Their big idea of getting a break from poverty is robbing a pizza delivery man. Now, I dunno if y’all have met any pizza deliverymen, but these cats are not the 1%. Not even close. They’re regular people working a crappy job where people regularly try to cheat them out of cash and short them on tips. A pizza delivery guy is a dude that’s sitting exactly one rung higher on the ladder than the characters in the song.

Robbing that guy is a sick idea. First, son is going to have sixty bucks on him, max, plus maybe three pizzas. Good haul, dunny. Second, it’s poisonous and stupid to attack someone who’s basically on the same level as you. If you’re going to rob anyone, you need to be running up in a rich man’s house or pulling Bernie Madoff into a dark alley or putting a gun to a celebrity’s back or something, not robbing somebody who makes six bucks an hour plus tips. The rest of the song isn’t much better. The credit card scam isn’t a way to escape poverty so much as to buy fly clothes and ruin your friend’s credit while he ruins yours. How is that pimping the system?

dead prez has got a few genuine bangers. “Hip-Hop” and “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” still go (trivia: Kanye to the West produced the latter). “The Pistol” is pretty okay, and that last verse is pleasantly cold. But a lot of their stuff, stuff like “Mind Sex” and every time they talk about running up on white folks just because and whatever… it’s good agitprop, but it isn’t good philosophy. It’s not workable. It’s not real. It’s terrible, in fact, and for it to be positioned like something to emulate, as something that’s more real and important than Scarface serving cocaine to the geeks is just… dishonest. At least these dudes pushing jiggy or crack raps have a coherent position. “I like money more than I like my fellow man.” dead prez has a chaotic assortment of overcompensatingly militant Black nationalist rhetoric, and precious little of it is applicable to your life.

I mean, look at the video for “Hell Yeah.” You rob a white family, steal their video camera, and throw a party? What part of the game is that? That’s revolutionary? That’s J Edgar Hoover’s wet dream.

Every time somebody is like “Do you know dead prez????” I basically react the same way I do when someone asks about Ron Paul/Ayn Rand/Johnen Vasquez/Charles Bukowski/MIA. I know that I’m in for a painful conversation that’ll probably be about black helicopters and how school exists to brainwash you into being a robot and la-di-da. And I mean, I went out and got “uhuru” tattooed on my actual body. I’m down for the cause or whatever, but having a cause or claiming to be a socialist or vegan or feminist or whatever is no replacement for actually having ideas that can be applied to real life and have a possibility of causing change.

“Rob a white family, throw a party” isn’t going to cause any change I want a part of. “Stick up a pizza delivery man to feed your folks” is a shortsighted and stupid plan. And dead prez’s music is rife with this stuff. It gets to the point where my eyes are rolling while my head is nodding. It’s frustrating.

I think it’s awful that Jay-Z, of all people, got on the remix to “Hell Yeah” and had more compelling content than these conscious rappers, when all he was doing was biting The Eminem show-era Eminem. Ice Cube’s “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” is more sound and honest than any dead prez song you care to name:

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Method Man, Spaceghostpurrp, and Blvck Gxds

May 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is a series of twenty focused observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. This is the seventeenth. It started as a simple post to make you go watch the new Spaceghostpurrp video, with a few things to watch for, but somehow turned into some lengthy remarks about Method Man’s horror phase and how that relates to 2012. You know how I do.

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan), Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”, Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), On why I buy vinyl sometimes, on songs about places, Mellowhype’s Blackendwhite, a general post on punk, a snapshot of what I’m listening to, on Black Thought blacking out on “75 Bars”, how I got into The Roots, on Betty Wright and strong songs, on screw music, on Goodie MOb’s “The Experience”

There’s this bit from Method Man & Mary J Blige’s “All I Need” video that’s stuck with me for years. No lie, ever since I was a kid. It’s a brief burst of strange horror in a video that’s set to a love song. If you start around 3:10, you’ll see it. Mef peeks up over a ledge. His eyes are whited out, the fronts in his mouth give his jaw a weird shape, and then he taps his fingers and disappears. There’s something alien about it. It didn’t scare me, but I recognized that it was scary, if that makes any type of sense. There’s a creepy, unsettling aspect to that specific image. It’s the beginnings of a horror movie.

Method Man’s Tical gave me the same feeling as that video. It’s an album that teeters on the edge of being uncomfortably dark. It definitely doesn’t sound like the other Wu joints from that first wave. It’s hazy, obviously, and the layered samples and ad-libs give it a haunting feel at times. The female vocalist on “Biscuits” isn’t harmonizing so much as wailing (which is different from a scream, mind you). His token love song has a deep, bass-y, and very un-love song sound, not to mention Streetlife salting Method Man’s game. It’s a down album, not quite as down as Pac’s Me Against the World, but it sounds and looks like it was recorded in a dungeon by an old black dude who used to be a slave and is wild upset about being in chains again.

Tical having such a horror influence is sorta funny, actually, because Method Man is by far the most fun-loving and charismatic member of the Wu. He was the crossover champion, the dude who rocked fly clothes because he could. He’s still classically handsome, even twenty years later. You can hear that charisma on “Release Yo’ Delf” more than anything else, I think. It’s strange that Tical was so dark, because if anything, Mef should’ve dropped a Ready to Die or like… I don’t even know, an “Ain’t No Nigga” (which “All I Need” eventually became once they drafted Mary J) instead of “Meth vs Chef.” Remember when he did “The Riddler” for that Batman Forever soundtrack? That’s no pop song. But: here we are. He should’ve been on songs with Blackstreet or whoever.

Meth doubled down on the dark image on Tical 2000, which I remember as being a lot of smoke and not enough fire. It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older (everything from “Shaolin What” to “Spazzola” goes, and “Play IV Keeps” is no joke), but it’s still no Tical. But he made the subtle apocalyptic subtext of Tical into text, full stop. It was an interesting choice, and while how loyal he is to that sound meanders around (“Sweet Love” is out of place and off-tone, and the entire last quarter or so of the album are pop joints), it’s an album that puts the thought of the end of the world in your mind. I honestly haven’t gone back to listen if he’s Behold A Pale Horseing it, like a lot of rappers were doing around ’99. I don’t think so, for the record — I think he’s pulling from Mad Max, Cyborg (both of which are explicitly shouted out in the lyrics), and other pop-apocalyse films rather than conspiracy theories and secret societies. Secular apocalypse, rather than religious. The fall of man, and then the fall that comes after. Nuclear winters, poverty-stricken ghettos, whatever.

But Method Man’s steez around then (“around then” being like six years I guess) stuck with me, in part because precious few people were in the same lane of occasional horror rap (Company Flow is another highlight of this era, Bone Thugs was another, Three 6 Mafia of course, Geto Boys on occasion) and in part because it’s such a departure from his aboveground work. Somewhere out there lurks Method Man with the white eyes and the grill, waiting to pop out of a dark alley and hit you with a grin that chills the soul. In the meantime, we’ve got the laughing, cooldude stoner and family man.

The video for Spaceghost Purrp’s “The Black God” dropped the other day. It took me a minute to get into his sound for whatever reason, but Ray the Destroyer’s review over at Мишка got me pointed at the right project. I like God of Black volume 1 quite a bit, especially “The Black God.” Baow:

What’s crazy is how SGP reinvigorated and reinvented Meth’s ’90s lane. The grill and glasses, the Lee Bermejo-style skeleton, and a host of near-faceless black men in hoodies… it feels cultish, almost, like there’s a secret here and you’re not invited, even though that secret will definitely destroy your soul. “When you think of us, think of pyramids and pistols, and shimmering gold teeth that shine like crystals,” right, like dead prez said? This is that. It’s the barest hint of a face in the dark and a shine you can’t quite make out.

(Sidebar: consider the monsters in Attack The Block. Think of their shapes and their teeth.)

I wrote “faceless horrors” in my notes as something I wanted to talk about. I can’t fit it in here in a natural way, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The focal point of the video shifts and blurs as people move in front of the camera and change clothes. The only distinct figure is son in the white t-shirt, isn’t he?)

“The Black God” puts me in mind of The Nation of Gods and Earths, too. The idea that the Asiatic Blackman is God, Allah representing Arm Leg Leg Arm Head (a human body, keep up), the 5% knowing the truth while the 85% remain ignorant and self-destructive… all of that is in here. SGP talks about how he’s “no longer a black man,” meaning he evolved past that. He’s The Black God, and the song is all about self-improvement laid over a spooky piano melody and deep drums.

And I mean, SGP is obviously not biting Wu-Tang or whatever here. I doubt there’s many 5%ers in Florida, for that matter. But SGP in 2012 and Method Man in 1995 were both definitely working out some of the same ideas on wax and aesthetically, and even using some of the same language — whether that’s visual language or spoken language — to do so. I like that a whole lot. Grab The God of Black here. Amazon’s got Tical and Tical 2000: Judgement Day if you’ve somehow not heard them before now.

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hell is other people, but heaven is, too

January 9th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I tripped over a reference to the video for El-P’s “Time Won’t Tell” off his Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3, directed by Shan Nicholson, by accident the other day and thought to myself, “Oh, it’s my favorite video from last year.” I don’t know when I decided that, or if I’d ever been consciously aware of that fact before now, but it’s true. I watch a lot of music videos, and this is the one this year that grabbed me the most.

Part of it is El-P’s production. El is easily the best at making sinister sounding tracks. A lot of classic songs sound like impending violence, like somebody’s about to get his whole head bust outside of the club. El-P makes joints that sound like the beginning of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia or the cityscapes from Blade Runner or Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira look. They sound like impending doom on a level far beyond DMX barking in your ear about how you didn’t ride, so you must wanna die arf arf arf.

It’s the way the bass pulses and buzzes under the track, and just how dirty and dusty everything sounds. It sounds processed, but like it was fed through a meat grinder, not Pro Tools. The drums are messy, there’s a throbbing horn infesting the middle part of the track, and a wail that hints at something horrible. And then, at 2:10, the track takes a breath and comes back majestic.

Nicholson’s direction clinches the deal, though. The beginning is a tour, as we follow this kid around town and check out foreclosed homes, decrepit section 8 homes, the presence of authority figures as something to fear, and generally just life in the projects. It feels lonely, because this kid never interacts with anyone and looks uncomfortable around the people he does run into. The long shots of him walking alone push that loneliness even further, begging you to extrapolate a little.

He walks past four kids who then follow him around town and the suspense kicks up. The first thought to come to mind was one of danger, of kids who goose step over innocence. He grabs the mattress, the kids follow, and you know something bad is going to happen. And then it doesn’t, it’s just some kids playing together and having a good time. The first kid has something dope and the other kids appreciate it.

And jeez, man, I can relate. Boy, can I relate. We’re trained to think of other humans as possible threats. You stand real close to the ATM, you ignore strangers in public, you don’t wear short skirts, you practice defensive driving, you don’t make eye contact in the street, you get told to stay away from that white girl, you wonder if that guy is really talking about monkeys or if he’s just dog-whistling, you push forward on the sidewalk with your head down and dare people to not get out of your way, you sign a pre-nup when you get married, and your heart skips a beat when you hear footsteps behind you on a dark night, all because “what if something happened???”

I know what it’s like to be a lonely, skinny black kid. I went to two elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools. The longest time I spent in one house after elementary school was my last two years of high school. I’ve been the new guy, the guy who doesn’t get to hang because he wasn’t there when the group formed. I’ve been the guy who didn’t want the new guy in the crew.

But sometimes you connect to other people off the back of stupid things like comic books or music or jumping on a mattress out where the factories used to be and just vibe and things are wonderful. I remember as a kid, there was this big mound of red clay that the neighborhood boys would use as a bike ramp. I never did it–the thought of going in the air on my bike terrified me, and I’d had a bad bike wreck shortly after moving in–but we would hang out and that would be our sun. I have other memories–the woods between our school and our hood or the filthy creek near the dumpster where we found a gang of playboys or the youth center on base–where the “we” involved is different every time.

It’s nice when people actually connect with each other, no matter the catalyst. This video is as good a depiction of what it looks and feels and sounds like to let other people in as you’ll ever see.

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undun is out, Back to Love is coming soon

December 6th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

undun, by The Roots, drops today. I bought it before I went to work just so I could have it to listen to today. You can stream it for free on NPR, but personally, it’s an album worth owning. It’s four dollars on Amazon right now, which is a steal. It was eight when I bought it this morning, but I don’t regret it at all.

I wrote a little about undun here and here. There’s an iPad app that includes all of the music videos and a lot more promo besides. There are interviews with people who knew Redford Stephens, lyrics, a few photos… it’s good stuff. It’s a great way to do promo, really. It’s something that adds to the experience.

Now that undun is out, what’s next? Well, next week, Anthony Hamilton, basically my favorite soul sanger, releases his sixth album, Back to Love. Great title, right? You can stream it on NPR, too. “Pray For Me” knocked me out of my chair the first time I heard it. Saddest joint he’s done since “Comin’ From Where I’m From,” easy.

Here’s the video for “Woo”:

I think this album’ll be a good chaser for undun. I’m probably gonna buy the deluxe edition of Back to Love for the bonus tracks.

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