Lyricist Lounge: “It is the thickest blood on this planet.”

November 16th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I walked into a record store the other week after doing some apartment hunting. I was feeling good, the kind of good I haven’t felt in weeks. I felt like I was getting things done.

I hit the rap section and the first thing I saw, the very first record, made me stop in my tracks. It was sitting there in the used vinyl section, right at the front. I honestly couldn’t believe it, but there it was: Lyricist Lounge Volume 1. Four discs of some of the most important music I’ve ever heard. Twenty dollars.

I bought it. Even if I’d been broke at the time, I’d have bought it. I saw it and realized that I couldn’t live without it.

I still remember the day I first discovered Lyricist Lounge Volume 1. Not the specific day — it was the summer, it was boring, and that’s all I got — but the day is what I remember. That moment in time. I was at the Mall of Georgia with my aunt, my cousin, and my cousin’s friend. It was a warm summer day in 1998. My aunt went off somewhere to do grown-up things like shop at JC Penny and buy towels or whatever, and us teenagers had the run of the mall. It took me about twenty minutes to realize that shopping with two teenaged girls in a gigantic mall is secretly like being on an exclusive level of hell, but I stuck it out for the whole six hours, in part because I had no choice. I was too young to have my license, and that meant I was trapped. They weren’t trapped in there with me. I was trapped in there with them.

A couple hours in, we wandered into a music store. Maybe an FYE, but probably something else that has since gone out of business. I had a little money in my pocket — we used to clean houses with my aunt and she would pay us in small faces at first and eventually big face twenties — and I had to do something to drown out the trauma. I poked around and found a tape for cheap. A double-tap set, actually. It was Lyricist Lounge Volume 1.

I loved rap before I heard Lyricist Lounge, but after I heard that tape, that loved turned into something else. I went from a passive and “oh that sounds good, who is this? I like this” listener to an active one. I started paying attention and I started demanding more, two things that have served me well in life.

The thing about Lyricist Lounge Volume 1 is that it was my introduction to underground rap. I wouldn’t become a backpacker for another couple of years, but this set me down that path. At that point in time, underground rap was as much a reaction to mainstream rap as it was an attempt to reclaim past glories and invent new ones. All these gangsta rappers, these jiggy dudes, were fakers. They weren’t about that life. They’re actors. The underground is where the real raw is. If you want true rap, you had to head underground.

This probably sounds familiar to you. It happens in comics, too, and probably your favorite genre of music.

Underground rap was new to me at the time, and I was caught flat-footed by how lyrical these guys were. Don’t get me wrong, either. Jay-Z is nice, and has been nice for years. He knows his way around a similar and he can murder a metaphor. But like… this was a whole other level. It was like opening your front door and seeing your neighborhood different. Everything is thrown into high definition and you see details you never noticed before.

Lyricist Lounge is a paradigm shift. At the time, it was just a dope, funny album with weird skits. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I can see that it shattered what I knew about not just rap, but communication. It showed me a new way to use words. I learned, even though all I wanted was something that sounded cool so I wouldn’t have to answer whether I wanted to go to Claire’s or Spencer’s next.

This album was my introduction to the Indelible MCs, a crew composed of Queen Heroin, J-Treds, Breeze Brewin, and El-P and Bigg Jus of Company Flow.

Queen Heroin:

Flows aquatic like fishes’ surroundings
Underground and it’s pounding, like pregnancy
with the expectancy of three times three


I can be a bit demanding, accepting nothing less than the best
I don’t just flip shit. Anyone can, kid, I stick the landing
And stand out amongst most, so don’t stress
Trying to touch us? You can’t come close like phone sex


Background posers fiend for limelight exposure
When we rally back and touch the microphone playtime is over
Who’s trying to see the CF graf crew that visualize top to bottom
and stand out in New York like an LA gang tag do?


You talking about “Respect mines,” steady missing your layups?
Hoes to foes, I start staring, wild truculent
Heart-tearing style, fuck you then, order your demise


Prophets turned skeptics, skeptics found Jesus
Right-wingers turned leftist, everybody jumped on the dick of independence
Sorry, we don’t want you any more.
Get lost, kid, find the exit!
But is it live, you fucking suckers?

It’s the words plus the music plus the confidence that unlocked something in me. And not just this song, either. It’s the whole album. The thing about this type of rap is that you’re expected to keep up whether you understand what the lines mean at all. Breeze ends his verse with “Listen, you’ll hear voices like ‘Damn, that’s a sucker’/Paranoid, looking like Fuzzy Zoeller at the Rucker.” I didn’t have the internet as a kid, so Fuzzy Zoeller was as opaque to me as whatever the Rucker was. But I got it. I didn’t need to know the specifics to get the line. All I needed to know that it sounded great and that it’d make sense in time. “Be like water.”

It’s about magic tricks, basically. That’s what made me turn a corner in how I listened to rap and how I used words. School essays were nonsense. Five paragraph structure: introduction, thesis, content, conclusion. They were stiff and confining. I phoned them in when I had to write them and I skimmed them when I had to read them.

But raps? Raps demand close attention. “We’re bringing rap back like Wu did Wallabee Clarks” is nonsense at first glance, but once you learn about Ghostface making Wallabees some of the illest shoes ever, you get it. Literally: Ghostface made Wallys cool like Cipher Complete is about to make rap worthwhile again. Metatextually: Wallos were tired and busted before Ghost got to them, and then he hit them with that dye like boom, and check it: they’re cooler than glaciers of ice now. Rap is old and busted, behold to corporate interests, but Cipher Complete’s about to bring it back through the strength of sheer spitting.

The best rap punchlines work on several levels, no matter how dumb it is. When Jeezy’s talking about “my passenger’s a redbone, her weave look like some curly fries,” you’ve got color-based play and some incredibly evocative descriptions. You know exactly what this chick’s weave looks like. It’s like chicken & broccoli Timbs.

Clarity through obscurity.

It’s like jargon. There’s in and there’s out. If you’re in, you can listen and enjoy it. If you’re out, you’ve gotta consult white devil sophistry like RapGenius (shoulda stuck with OHHLA). Even the most basic of slang is segregated along regional lines. Everybody gets their own thing. You might want to cut or smash or drill (Black & Decker!) when you meet a pretty girl, and none of them have to do with hurting somebody else. You can shoot the fair one or scrap. Some people might squab, and the soft hearted might get their face rocked. Your girl can be your shorty or earth or ma or wiz or bird. Corner boys, d-boys, dope boys, and trap stars might hit you with the chopper or the ‘K or the nina or the ratchet or the roscoe if you’re not careful. Knahmean, yadadamean, knahmsaying, you feel me, g/gangsta/god? You can rock ice grills and mean mugs without ever seeing diamonds or coffee. Some people speak with criminal slang, and they’ll never stop speaking it.

The obscurity lets you own your words. No one can listen in and peep game unless they’re already in the know, and that in and of itself makes people want to pay attention to you. It’s yours and they want it. So they’ll do that work and figure it out, and that means you’ve won. You spun that web. You set up that trick. You made them come to you.

It’s not gibberish. It was never gibberish. You can’t treat it like gibberish and expect to ever actually understand it.

It’s a new way of thinking.

It was Lyricist Lounge first. That put me on game. I had a bunch of names to look out for now, so when Soundbombing 2 came out, I was right there. And Soundbombing 2, after the intros, starts with Eminem’s “Any Man,” a song I still know by heart. Em, at his nicest, is one of the nicest ever, and he goes off on that song.

It sets the stage for the album, because every song features somebody going off in a different way. It’s mind-expanding. “B-Boy Document ’99,” by the High & Mighty featuring Mos Def and Mad Skillz, is nuts. “1-9-9-9” by Common and Sadat X, is nuts. “Cross Town Beef,” “Next Universe,” that interlude with Tash and Dilated Peoples, and don’t even get me started on “Stanley Kubrick” (Stanley Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick…) and “Patriotism.”

A couple songs off Soundbombing 2 were too weird for me at first. I couldn’t make heads or tails of Pharaohe Monch’s “Mayor” because he had a weird flow and the song was awkward and weird. “7XL” was just aight, even if I kinda sorta knew about Brand Nubian at the time. I just didn’t get it, basically. I wasn’t on that level yet.

But the older I got, the more things changed, and now “Mayor” is one of my favorite songs. Pharoahe has some of the most amazing breath control in rap, despite his asthma, and “Mayor” is transcendant. The storytelling, the flow, the chorus, that beat, all of it is so real. Monch paints a perfect picture and gets across the stress and horror of the situation extremely well. “Peripheral vision now, doorknob shifting… optical illusion from all the coke that I’m sniffing.” dzed waggling my leg imagining i’m not afraid

But my jam is always going to be Company Flow’s “Patriotism.” I hadn’t heard Funcrusher Plus yet — good luck finding that stuff in Smalltown, GA — but I knew I liked those CoFlow cats from Lyricist Lounge. And “Patriotism” is like a blast of hate. It’s political, in the “a pox on both your houses” sense, but it’s so much more than that. The beat is dirty, dusty, digital ish, full of creeping menace, and DJ Mr Len the Space Ghost’s cuts make it sound even filthier.

The entire song is just El-Producto blacking out like so:

I’m the ugliest version of passed down toxic capitalist
rapid emcee perversion — I’m America!
Your bleeding-heart liberal drivel gets squashed
Wash em with sterilized rhyme patriot-guided weaponry bomb
from the makers of the devious hearts — I’m America!
You bitchy little dogs don’t even phase my basic policy
The bomb’s smarter, my Ronald Reagans crush Carter
With Bay of Pig tactics makin young men into martyrs

It’s coded, but the code is content, too. He’s saying things, layering words on top of words, but it gives the song an oppressive feel. You’ve gotta sprint to keep up. Who will survive in America? “Patriotism” has the answer.

It was a one-two punch for me. After Soundbombing 2, I was lost. The allure of coded language was too much, and I got big into this stuff. The homey Darryl Ayo was talking about Jadakiss freestyles on tumblr the other day, and how rappers are proof positive that writers’ block is only as real as you think it is. Rappers write and write and write and they’re always on, year after year. They produce an insane amount of content. I want to be able to do that.

All of my favorite writers, the most important inspirations for my craft, are rappers. Nas: being able to paint a photorealistic picture with just a few short lines. CoFlow: understanding that sometimes absurdity and opacity can make things crystal clear. OutKast: never, ever resting on your laurels and always pushing the envelope. Scarface: being real. UGK: being country. Jay-Z: confidence. Canibus: knowing how to stack wordplay on wordplay and come up with something ill. Lauryn Hill: carving out your own place and saying damn the consequences. Eminem: bending language to your will. Mos Def: talking about something bigger than yourself. Jadakiss: crucial punchlines. Method Man & Redman: the importance of having fun while you do it to it. Ghostface Killah: creating a new style and daring people to dislike it. Big Daddy Kane: being smoother than the average. CoFlow: being independent as fox. Rakim: being better than everyone else.

These are my heroes.

It’s only obvious to me in hindsight, but I haven’t been chasing Stephen King or Fred Saberhagen or Ezra Pound or Candide or whatever other writers I was really into as a kid. I’ve been chasing these other guys.

Lyricist Lounge changed my life, and I don’t mean that in the trite way where people actually mean “Oh, I just like this a lot and it means a lot to me.” I mean that buying those cassettes that said Lyricist Lounge down the side actually, literally, legitimately changed my life. It changed how I think and though it took a while to show, it changed how I write. I never struggled with writing, exactly, but I definitely felt more comfortable with it once I started trying to lace the phrases with magic tricks, even if every paragraph needed a translation attached to it. Make people keep up, but still keep it simple. That felt right.

Rap’s in my blood. It’s in how I approach conflict — “Be a man, say my name if you’re talking to me/ You ain’t said it? Well, I guess you ain’t talking to me” — and how I think. I love turns of phrase and dumb puns and stories and rap has all of that, and rap does it better than most everything else. I don’t think I’m that great of a dancer, and it’s probably because I grew up listening to songs that made you want throw bows or two-step rather than get down on the floor on the floor. “See, me and my niggas don’t dance, we just pull up our pants and do the rockaway… now lean back.”

Variations on a theme, off the top of my head:

Method Man, 1995: “I call my brother son ’cause he shine like one.”
Big Pun, 1998: “Been sonning niggas so long I think I got a grandson.”
Sauce Money, 1999: “Hammers fly, might miss you, but your man’ll die/ What’s the difference? Either way I’m sonning your crew.”
Talib Kweli, 1999: “I told him to slow down, he said the sun don’t chill.”
Angel Haze, 2012: “Naw, I run shit. I’m Ra, I son shit.”

There’s so many ways you can use the word son. It’s such a small word, but you can load it down with meaning.

I’ve been listening to Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing 2 near-constantly since I picked up that album. It’s been a weird trip down memory lane, but it’s like tumblers falling into place. The act of listening, of living in these albums, has been revealing things I already knew to myself. I get it. I understand it. Just the fact that I own such a big album feels good to me.

Rap is a source of infinite inspiration for me. I went through that phase when underground rap was the only real rap, but now I realize that all rap is real. I get down with Kitty Pryde, 8Ball & MJG, the Dungeon Fam, Black Hippy, Rakim, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, XV, Esso, Kilo Ali, and Kilo Kish. It’s whatever, man. If you’re coming with hard punchlines and speakerboxxx music, I’m there. If it’s murda muzik, I’m there. If it’s laid back music to smoke a blunt to, I’m there. If it’s goofball rap, I’m there. If it’s Jim Jones over an indie rock or dance band, I’m definitely there. If it sounds like the soundtrack to a black black mass, I’m there.

I don’t like everything, but I love it all. I love that it exists. I want it all. I want to be as prolific and diverse and amazing as my heroes. I’m trying to be That Dude, not just that dude. I want Pun’s punchlines, Vast Aire’s metaphors, Nas’s grace, El-P’s off-kilter ferocity, Killer Mike’s knowledge, The Clipse’s contempt, and Jadakiss’s steez. Bone Thugs’s style, Fabolous’s track record with punchlines. OutKast’s creativity, Goodie MOb’s sense of place and self. 50’s swagger, Weezy’s charisma. Even Drake knows how to build a situation with perfect clarity. “And promoters try to get me out to their clubs/ and say I’ll have fun, but I can’t imagine how/ ’cause I just seen my ex girl standing with my next girl/ Standing with the girl that I’m fucking right now.”

I want to do it all.

I tried rapping, back in high school. I wasn’t good at it. I can be spontaneous, but rap requires spontaneity within a structure. I can’t freestyle, but I could write. Me and my friends would kick raps over pause tapes full of homemade instrumentals. We’d load mp3s into our lackluster computers and create instrumentals out of hot singles, assuming there was enough of an outro for it. But what I wrote was a pale imitation of the people I liked. It wasn’t mine. I was trying to be them, instead of trying to be me, who had been influenced by them.

Evidence said that “emcees without a voice should write a book.” Aesop Rock said “That means when I wake up and decide to comprise the new shit/ It’s not some watered down version of what my favorite crews did.”

So I quit rapping after I graduated and focused on writing. You have to destroy to build, and you have to build to destroy.

I found my voice. I figured out how to move the crowd.

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Event Comics & Posse Cuts: So What So What’s The Scenario?

March 8th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

It’s hard to come up with a solid working definition of event comics. Is Blackest Night an event or a crossover? Is there a difference? What about Civil War? House of M? Kree-Skrull War? Some people look at event comics, whatever definition of event comics they subscribe to, as a cheap cash-in, a waste of time, or everything that’s wrong with comics. My personal definition is a little nebulous, but it boils down to event comics being those comics where big action goes to get bigger. It’s where you go to see people you’re familiar with come out of their comfort zone (or ongoing series) and do big things. When properly executed, event comics are great. When done poorly, they suck. That’s true of anything, though.

When trying to define my idea of event comics, I came up with a pretty apt comparison. Event comics are the posse cuts of comic books. Posse cuts are an integral part of rap these days. You gather up three or more emcees and tell them to get to work. DJ Khaled has made a career out of creating innumerable posse cuts, and classics like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” Noreaga’s “Banned From TV,” and Cool Breeze’s “Watch for the Hook” still go hard years or decades after they came out.

Noreaga’s “Banned From TV” is a classic example of a posse cut. He enlisted Big Pun, Cam’Ron, Nature, and The LOX for the first full song on his NORE tape. The only thing all of them have in common is that they’re all New York rappers who were buzzing hard at the time or known for being reliable spitters. “Banned From TV” is the rap equivalent of the NBA All-Star Game. You might not want to see Derrick Rose play with Carmelo, Dwight Howard, LeBron, and Dwyane Wade all the time, but once a year? It’s a treat. It’s usually a hot mess — but it’s a treat.

This is true of “Banned From TV” as well. Big Pun is undeniably the nicest rapper on the track, but everyone who showed up is more than capable of acquitting themselves well. And yet, it’s unassuming and underrated Nature that steals the show with the very first verse. Even if you were a Nature stan back in the day, this probably came as a huge and pleasant surprise.

There’s always someone who blacks out on a posse cut and steals the show. Nicki Minaj absolutely won Kanye West’s “Monster,” out-rapping three of the hottest rappers in the game with a lopsided flow. Busta Rhymes did it on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” TI’s smash hit “Swagger Like Us” showed us that he could out-perform Lil Wayne at the height of his Best Rapper Alive period. Posse cuts are guaranteed to be full of surprises, and that’s what makes them so delightful.

Divorced of any intent beyond just making a cool song, posse cuts are essentially artist showcases. You listen to posse cuts because you want to see how these people work together and so you can pick sides once the track’s done. Who has the best verse of Wu-Tang’s “Triumph?” (It goes Ghost, then GZA, and then Meth.) What about Cool Breeze’s “Watch For The Hook?” (Gipp Goodie.) Or Khaled’s “Holla At Me” (Paul Wall, or maybe Rick Ross.) and “We Takin Over” (It’s TI, and then Weezy a close second.)?

I wouldn’t buy an album of just posse cuts (sorry Khaled), but they serve a valuable purpose, and a lot of their appeal is shared in event comics. On the most basic level, they’re cash-ins. People will check on an event if someone they like is in it, just like you’d listen to a posse cut if your pet rapper is featured. It increases your potential audience. Events and posse cuts also tend to be light in content. You’ll rarely hear a posse cut about pain or love. It’s always just a chance to have someone really go in.

It’s true in comics, too. You’re not going to find a heart-breaking work of outstanding emotional resonance in an event comic. At best, some character you have an irrational affection for might die and you get a little weepy like a cry-cry. But really, you’re buying those comics because you want to see Spider-Man punch Doctor Doom or Superman light up whatever forgettable arch-villains Wonder Woman has.

When I think of the relatively few event comics that I’ve enjoyed, they’ve been high on action and maybe a solid medium on melodrama. X-Cutioner’s Song was a fun ride because you ended up with the three baddest X-Men at the time — Cable, Bishop, and Wolverine — fighting, teaming up, and then battling bad guys. The stakes were high, every character got a chance to talk about the focused totality of her psychic powers or smoke cigarettes in the dark, and I finished the book pleased that I saw a sufficient number of cool scenes for my money.

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The Cipher 04/20/11: “Disco Dynamite”

April 20th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

it’s dynamite

created: I get out ahead of things until I hit that point where I’m suddenly not. I’m gonna try to double my output soon, I think. More of more than ever before.

-I like Tonci Zonjic’s work a lot.

-a new weekly feature on digital comics to buy

been broke before, all i’m saying’s get dough

consumed: Sore throat’s gone! But my voice is still kinda raaaaaaaaspy. (yo, I totally forgot that David Banner was in this joint. The old Banner, too, back before he turned himself into a sex symbol!)

This interview with David Simon is excellent. Reading this guy always makes me want to do more and do better, and hurt whoever deserves it. He’s dead-on about everything he says, too, from newspapers to how America is more than willing to eat its young.

-Sometimes you just read this stuff and get depressed, like the train is already off the tracks, sailing down the cliff, and we’re just waiting for the impact.

-Soundtracks… I’m listening to Blu right now, so bump this while you read. I’ll be listening to DJ Quik before this post is done, so put this joint he did with Kurupt on.

-Actually, bump that last one first so that I can talk about it.

-“9x Outta 10” is absurd rap, with this brutal beat and sample haunting Kurupt’s sideways verse. And then Quik fades in, Kurupt fades out, and then it stops–

-But it’s gonna start again, where it started at, ended up, and restart again. Get your mind in the right position before it start again.

-I can’t tell you how much I love Kurupt’s performance on this song. Quik came through in a huge way with the beat, creating a beat that’s simultaneously classic boom-bap (ignore the sample, and just listen–it ain’t that complicated) and like a dirty, grimey version of early Kanye, but Kurupt’s delivery is just… it’s not all over the place. He’s too good for that and everything lands where it’s supposed to be. But he breaks from how rap songs usually get broken up and completely changes how the song sounds. You can’t drop a regular verse on this track after this, and I don’t even really want the instrumental for a ringtone (yes I do).

-Kurupt came with that tongue-twister Jenga skyscraper flow, just pulling out blocks and putting them where you wouldn’t expect them to go. The chorus blends into the verse, Quik’s verse is part of Kurupt’s verse, and the sample bleeds and bends until it’s not even words any more, it’s just music.

-Two things: that shot of Kurupt breathing out smoke is incredible. “Don’t talk to me no more about no motherfucking money.”

-Quik and Kurupt are west coast legends. I’ve been a fan for years. Longer for Kurupt, I think, ’cause I liked Tha Dogg Pound a whole lot.

-More on drinkin’ smokin’ straight west coastin’:

-I bought two albums today. One was DJ Quik’s The Book of David, which I’ll come back to in a bit. I’m listening to Blu’s Her Favorite Colo(u)r right now, the other album I bought, and it’s got about ten minutes left. I haven’t listened to Quik’s record yet, but I liked Blu’s joint back when it dropped for free, unmastered, in 2009.

-I’ve tried to put what I like about Blu down on paper before, but trying again couldn’t hurt, right?

-I just got distracted for like ten minutes trying to ID the piano from Blu’s “Pardon”. It’s from Curtis Mayfield’s We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue”. He chopped up Mayfield’s vocals (that’s Mayfield going “Pardon me brother”) and sped up the music.

-Blu’s whole sound is really interesting to me, and that brief burst of sample digging kinda illustrates why. He’s not particularly lyrical (like “I’m lyrical miracle dropping bombs like spherical dirigibles”). He comes across as genuine in his rhymes, like a normal dude who just likes to make music and is talented enough to have a national platform.

-His beats tend to be these relaxed, soulful joints that I really dig. He’s not really about pumping out hits. Every rap song out right now sounds like Lex Luger produced it. Luger is dope, but that’s wack. Blu’s a nice corrective. You can just vibe out to his music, put it on in the background, and get your bougie smart-art cat on.

-And when it comes to songs that have some knock… well, listen to “Disco Dynamite” again. He can do that, too. I’m assuming him and Mainframe co-produced that joint, and maybe I’m wrong, but that beat is undeniable. It’s not as “What did the shotgun say to the head?” as Kurupt and Quik’s “9x Outta 10”, but it’s a definite headnodder. He’s got that Raekwon Juggernaut flow, just kicking rhymes.

-Also the girl(s) at 2:00 and 2:05.

-Quik’s album just came up on iTunes.

-Versatility is nice. You could definitely put Blu in a lane if you wanted to, maybe because of his movie and music samples, but he knows how to pull in these disparate influences and sources and create something new. Some of his songs positively meander. He’ll drop a verse, let the sample breathe for a minute, drop another verse, and out. A minute or more of no vocals, and the beat just riding out. I like that a whole lot.

-DJ Quik I have less to say about, but I dig him a lot, probably for similar. If you put a Quik album and a Dr. Dre album in front of me… I’m gonna grab the Quik record. Dre is dope when he tries, but his perfectionism and stage fright basically make him a dude who has coasted for at least ten years now. Quik has consistently put out dope tracks for everyone from 8Ball & MJG to himself to Tupac. You can be a genius producer, but if you never bother to produce, why should I care?

-Quik’s name is David, too, so that’s bonus points right there.

-Quik didn’t ever really fit into the West Coast sound. He wasn’t G-Funk enough for the mid ’90s and he didn’t have that hypnotic Dr. Dre knock of the late ’90s into the ’00s. But he’s versatile, too. “Do Today” just came up on iTunes and it goes. Apparently it’s got part of The Family’s “Screams of Passion” in it, and it’s definitely got that ’80s synth funk pop sound. Quik’s dope with the keyboards, really.

-Quik was an alternative to Warren G, Battlecat, and Dre, but never took that hard turn toward New York that Alchemist did. I don’t think he ever had that underground, Dilated Peoples/Hiero/Murs sound, either. He’s always been his own dude. Someone with a better sense of history than me could probably tell it better.

-I bought Portal 2. What’s up with not having a body in first person games? You pick up and hold things constantly, but never see your arms. You run around and jump, but never see your legs. I don’t think the water even splashes when you move through it.

-It’s this weird uncanny valley thing, and it keeps me from getting engrossed in the game. It’s a reminder that it’s fake, like some schmuck in a comic book mugging at the camera or saying something like, “We’re not in a comic book, Captain America! Life doesn’t work like that!”

-Angie Wang is a dope artist and I swear she finds the best games. She’s working on a book for First Second right now. When it’s announced and ships, buy it.

-Play that one. I’m finding a strange amount of enjoyment in these arty/non-violent games. It forces me to mentally shift gears, so that it’s not about competition so much as the experience in and of itself.

-Achievements, trophies… all that stuff is stupid. I reject being a completionist or proving my worth. I’m all about the experience now. Scores don’t matter. Rankings don’t matter. I don’t care. Is it fun? Am I interested? If I spend five minutes with it, will those five minutes keep my attention?

-These little art games tickle a part of my brain that rarely gets tickled when I play games, whether for pleasure or for work. They’re nice.

-A bit more about music…

-Jim Jones, “Everybody Jones.”

-This song goes.

-The beat is hot, and while Jimmy does more or less his regular flow (“We Fly High,” “Pop Champagne,” “Get Like Me”), he’s pulling that ’90s jiggy swag into 2011 more or less intact. This whole joint is just “Capo got stuff and girls like him. Harlem!” It’s a shopping list set to music, the 2011 equivalent of a poster of a Porsche on a teenager’s wall.

-Jones’s swag has been interesting lately, though. Him and Dipset had that whole pink Polo thing on lock, but at some point, probably shortly after Dipset broke up, they got into that rock star style. Skull & crossbones, wallet chains, properly fitted jeans (which is tough, for real), kick game vicious, chains back to ’90s size but either solo or in absurd numbers… the swagger is definitely black, for lack of a better word, but at the same time, it isn’t. Rock star rapper swag.

-The neon green and purple that Jones is sporting is fresh, too. It pops against his otherwise regular clothes. I couldn’t pull it off, but I’m definitely down to swagger jack some of his normal style.

-I bought another album, though it was the other day. Exile & Free The Robots’ LA Series 10.

-It’s a vinyl project, so it probably loses a little in the translation to mp3. Exile did one side, four songs that combine to form one long song, while Free the Robots did the other side. It’s not really a collaboration. It’s the tenth in a series of records about LA.

-I don’t want to say too much about it, because I think I want to do an Albarn post on it, but I dig it a whole lot. Both sides are good, but Exile’s wins by a mile.

-The thing about Exile’s half is that all the words I want to use it describe it are negative. His songs sound like the aftertaste of poison on your girlfriend’s lips after your last kiss or like looking at a broken, rotting building feels.

-I mean that in a good way, is the thing.

-“There was a hole here. It’s gone now” music.

-Even the track titles… “Distopian Utopia,” “PCP Laced Beedies,” “Love for Sell/Bots have feelings,” and “Dawn of the Nothing.” All of that feels wrong, like a body that’s about half as warm as it should be.

-Exile made this little four song sequence that crawls up under your skin and whispers in your ear while you sleep. I’m really glad I bought this joint. It’s music to think about.

-It sounds like parts of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira feels, and that’s already got a mean soundtrack (here and here) that’ll sit in your hindbrain.

-Exile worked with Blu on the Below the Heavens LP. I recommend that joint.

-Gonna ride out to some Blu this week, I think. I’m looking forward to No York, his next full-length of original material.

TheExplaNation from Johnson Barnes on Vimeo.

a new shooting star, falling off the roof

David: Hellblazer 278, Hulk 32, Thunderbolts 156
Gavin: vivaaaaaaa las vegas

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Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”

April 4th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is an ongoing series of observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. Here’s the fifth.

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan)

Just a bit of fun.

The Roots feat. Common: “Act Too (Love of My Life)” (from Things Fall Apart)

Eric B. & Rakim – “I Know You Got Soul” (from Paid In Full)

Compare Thought, a top 5 dead or alive emcee and one of precious few in the running for GOAT lyricist:
“The anticipation arose as time froze/ I stared off the stage with my eyes closed/ and dove into the deep cosmos/ The impact pushed back the first five rows”

To Rakim, similarly top 5 dead or alive, and also in the running for GOAT:
“I start to think and then I sink/ Into the paper like I was ink/ When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines/ I escape when I finish the rhyme… I got soul”

I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from rap for my writing. Any glance at my posts over the years is proof positive of that, and even the name of the site (“4thletter!”) is a direct reference to Rakim, the 18th Letter. Wordplay, structure, slanguage, whatever whatever. This is where I’m my most unfiltered (in public, anyway), and it bleeds out.

Rakim’s bars from “I Know You Got Soul” are things I’ve had running through my head probably ever since I first put pen to paper. The writing process there is something magical, isn’t it? Starting to think being the trigger that brings on ego death (or ego imprisonment, more properly), and then you accomplish a task (I almost said “must accomplish a task,” but that’s not what Rakim Allah is saying at all) and you escape. And then, at the end, an affirmation: “I got soul.” Soul is what makes us go. You got it or you don’t.

As a burgeoning writer, this was hugely important in how I saw the craft. It’s bigger than him, bigger than me, and the only way to do it right is to get lost in it. It happens almost on automatic, like you just can’t help it. It’s God speaking through you. You’re his bullet, he’s your gun. This quote was a source of–what, strength? That’s not quite the right word. I’d think of it when I was having trouble writing, like a mantra, until it became true for me.

I like Thought’s bars, too. It speaks to the same idea, though in this case, it’s hip-hop that’s bigger than everything. Right before the show starts, in that pregnant pause between the speakers coming to life and the emcee doing his thing, and time freezes, compresses down into one moment. And then, when he lets go, when he dives into space, the impact is huge. Metaphorically speaking, right? I love this metaphor, the idea of just completely shutting everything else out and embracing this huge, unknowable thing, and it having some type of effect.

When I think about writing, I tend to think about rap, first. As much as I enjoy books, it’s this stuff that made me want to do it. I wasn’t going to write this post, but Things Fall Apart came up on iTunes while I was thinking about starting a Stan Sakai post. The comparison shot into my head fully-formed–“This is Thought’s take on being trapped in between the lines. It’s so obvious now.”

For this post, I was trapped in between the lines for about 20 minutes, including sourcing links and chatting on Twitter. Sometimes it just spills out of you.

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The Cipher 03/24/11: “Evian backwards.”

March 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers


created: I feel like I’m so behind on stuff all the time. I’ve got a lot in progress, but not enough done, as far as I’m concerned. Gonna have to play catch-up this weekend.

Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro is ill.

Marvel makes comics, here are some good ones


consumed: Pusha T and Young Dro dropped mixtapes that are, at best, mediocre. Far as I’m concerned, that translates to “unlistenable.” There’s not much worse than somebody with talent, whether for punchlines or scorn, to come anything less than 100% correct. Ain’t no half-stepping, fellas, so do us all a favor and get it together.

Jared draws two of the best fictional characters ever. I don’t really want to buy any more original art, but seeing artists take on Akira makes me second guess my stand. Akira is basically the best comic, and I don’t even know. It provokes reactions I keep forgetting I had. And that tac vest is such a sharp look, too, bird chest or not.

-How good is Asaf Hanuka’s The Realist? I love the art and the kind of airy way the strips progress. You get to fill in a lot of blanks yourself, and sometimes that takes a little mental legwork. It’s alternately funny, melancholy, and real.

-Nardwuar interviews Das Racist, Odd Future, Lil B the Based God, and Curren$y. Nardwuar is dope, and all of these are pretty entertaining. Curren$y is super weeded in his, too.

-Nardwuar’s interviews always end so poorly, man. He gets some good footage out of people, but he’s just so oppressively awkward that nobody knows how to take him.

-DC rolled out a bunch of new good digital stuff. We3, Flash, Garth Ennis’s Hellblazer, Catwoman, and New Frontier. I’m a fan of all of these, and while We3 is overpriced, these are all worth owning. Those Brubaker/Cooke issues of Catwoman are all pretty good, and I think that the Comixology run has the point where Brubaker really hit his stride. Get those!

Amy Poodle takes on Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles for the second time. You can read part one here.

-Video games! I was going to make this a post on its own, but ehhh, it’s just some brief thoughts.

-I play games for work, so I generally avoid games at home. They’ve gotta be all-star affairs, you know? I don’t have time for mediocrity or “just okay.” Why would I waste that time?

-Currently playing: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Killzone 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Valkyria Chronicles, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Final Fantasy 7, and Angry Birds. And maybe something else, I don’t know. Oh, Metal Gear Solid 4.

-I graze. I haven’t played a few of these in months (most particularly FF7 & P4). What I tend to do is focus on one game for a few weeks, then move on, eventually cycling my way back as the spirit moves me. Right now, it’s Brotherhood. Next is probably Persona 4.

-What I look for is an experience broken down into discrete portions. I like being able to drop in, get something done, and drop out. Sometimes this means ill multiplayer. Sometimes it means a compelling story with a lot of subplots. Anything that lets me sit down and have a bit of fun and leave it right there works. Shooters don’t really cut the mustard any more, multiplayer aside.

-I play games to relax, not to get frustrated, so something that pulls me in and is a brief escape is what’s nice. I purchase like… four new games a year. Last year, I don’t think I bought hardly any. Just Tekken, maybe?

-Sometimes, less is more, is what I’m saying. I could easily get a full year of gameplay out of what I own right now, but the way I play means that I sit down for 20 minutes or two hours (rarely), have some fun, and come back a week or so later. I could probably not buy a new game until 2013 and be okay. That’s a nice feeling.

-That new Pharoahe Monch is good, innit?


David: Hellblazer 277, Hulk 31, Power Man and Iron Fist 3, Uncanny X-Force 6
Esther: Yes: Batman Incorporated 4
Maybe: Batman: The Dark Knight 2, Superman/Batman 82
Gavin: Batman Incorporated 4, Green Lantern Corps 58, Green Lantern 64, Justice League Generation Lost 22, Invincible 78, Astonishing Spider-Man Wolverine 5, Daken Dark Wolverine 7, Deadpool MAX 6, Deadpool 34, Hulk 31, Namor The First Mutant 8, Power Man And Iron Fist 3, Uncanny X-Force 6

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“Y’all know the name” [Pharoahe Monch – We Are Renegades]

March 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

You can stream Pharoahe’s new album here:

I don’t see the mp3s on Amazon, but it’s ten bucks on iTunes, so go ahead and cop that. I bought it this morning because I didn’t want to hold out hope that Amazon would get it in anything even resembling a timely manner.

Pharoahe is one of the nicest emcees ever. Compared to Pharoahe, your favorite rapper isn’t even nice. He’s just polite.

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The Cipher 01/19/11: I lost my girl to the Rolling Stones

January 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

get olga

created: We’re talking good comics strictly here.

-You should be reading Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Simon Bisley, and Stefano Landini’s Hellblazer. Here, let me help you out–read this and then pick up Hellblazer 275 to see John get married.

B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs Hardcover Collection Volume 1 is a long title for a good book, and it’s got my first pull quote on the back, too. It’s credited to ComicsAlliance, but it’s my words. Go on ahead and buy that. You won’t regret it. Here’s the piece they quoted from.


consumed: When did I start liking video games again?

-More blogs from friends! 4l! reader Taters has a couple you should check out. In Continuity is her general comics blog, while UnMasquerade is a tumblr devoted to heroes unmasking.

-I started playing Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. Tactics is my second favorite FF (after 7), but it’s the one I’ve played the most. I’ve probably put 300 hours into that stupid game since 1998, and I can tell that I’m already hooked on the PSP joint. It’s just exactly what I want out of a game–a little different each time, plenty to explore (in terms of abilities), and pretty much a puzzle game. What combinations work best? How much can I dominate out of sheer skill before I get TG Cid and roll over everything in the game?

-It’s funny, but I never beat a Final Fantasy after 7. No, that’s not true. I think I beat Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I came close with 9, and I played a lot of 10, but man, that story got super dumb toward the end. I played probably an hour of 12 before I got bored, I worked on 13 and wasn’t impressed so I just skipped it… I enjoyed my six or eight months playing FFXI more than most of the other Final Fantasy games, and I quit that game because it was work and I’d been bamboozled into thinking it was fun.

-All I play now is Rock Band, FFT, Persona 3, and NBA 2k11. Weird, isn’t it? I was completely different just a few years ago.

-I don’t usually buy singles, but I made an exception for Wiz Khalifa’s Black And Yellow. He’s put out a couple of ill mixtapes (Kush & Orange Juice and How Fly specifically), and since I don’t go to shows, the least I could do is kick him a dollar for a hot song.

-Killer Mike is one of the most interesting rappers out right now. He’s clearly studied Tupac, Ice Cube, Scarface, UGK, and a bunch of other cats who mixed their thug raps with real life issues and black empowerment. He keeps it honest, is what I’m saying, and I think that’s why I regularly bump his whole catalog. He drops an ill black power track every once and a while, too. There was that “Bad Day/Worst Day” remix with Ice Cube, and it’s semi-sequel “Pressure”, which also featured Cube. It’s just coincidence that these two feature Cube, but maybe not. They’re the ones that stick in my mind the most, cause Mike holds his own up against a rap legend. I mean, “Pressure” goes SO hard, man, from the beat to the lyrics to that Malcolm X excerpt at the beginning. The video is pretty crazy. His latest joint is called “Burn”, and yes, you guessed it: he goes all the way in from the first line on. He also puts the whole Johannes Mehserle situation on blast.

-It isn’t as strident, but “Grandma’s House” is fantastic, too. “My life dope?” “straight cocaine.”

-Gonna be nearly silent running next week here on 4l!. Light posting at best, linkbloggy type stuff, and comic excerpts. It’s so I can bang your head all throughout February without stressing myself out and Ustreaming a murder/suicide. I’ma show you how to do this, son.

tell her i’m very single

David: Hellblazer 275
Esther: Maybe Superman/Batman 80, but probably just Tiny Titans 36
Gavin: Green Lantern Corps 56, Deadpool MAX 4, Avengers Academy 8, Darkwing Duck 8

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“I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.”

January 18th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is an ongoing series of observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. Here’s the second:

Let’s talk about The 7 Day Theory, even though everyone just calls it Makaveli. It’s twelve tracks long, just shy of a full hour, and his best record.

1) “Intro/Bomb First (My Second Reply)” – I learned recently that Tupac would record his vocals three times and layer all of those on the track. This was so that if he missed a word in one take, he’d probably get it on the second, and maybe do it better on the third. I don’t know the term for this (“wall of sound”?), but it makes Makaveli sound very full and very, very messy. It’s overflowing with Tupac, basically. You can sometimes hear the differing takes floating below the final track, like ghosts.

You can even hear it on this intro. The church bells, the news report, heartbeat, and the dense background noise all stack up. It’s intense, and what really blows my mind is the transition from introduction to the actual song around 1:20. Everything builds to a crescendo before dropping out in favor of the church bells, and then the song comes in. The heartbeat becomes part of the beat, becoming a more traditional drumbeat, and then a gunshot heralds the arrival of Makaveli the Don. Tupac’s flow is fast, but he puts so much emphasis on every word that you can’t help but keep up.

2) “Hail Mary” – The church bells make a return, providing continuity between “Bomb First” and “Hail Mary.” This time, they stick around, and are accompanied by light keys.

There aren’t many rap songs with a better first two bars than “Hail Mary.” “I ain’t a killer but don’t push me/ Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin pussy” is top 5 dead or alive material, and when you consider that “Hail Mary” is about being damned, it takes on new meaning. This isn’t about killing your enemies and glorying in your victory. It’s about being hopeless because you stepped on a path and you couldn’t get off it if you tried. It’s not a prayer so much as a confessional, and the lines between traditional Catholicism and the black family twist and blur over the course of Tupac’s verses.

When he says, “Institutionalized, I lived my life a product made to crumble/ But too hardened for a smile, we’re too crazy to be humble, we balling” he’s talking about how playing a role can remove you from happiness. It’s the price of fame–you get what you want, but you can’t even enjoy it. You revel in it, and you ball out of control, but you can’t smile any more.

The Outlawz go in on this, but Young Noble almost steals the song. “Peep the whole scene and whatever’s goin on around me/ Brain kinda cloudy, smoked out feelin rowdy/ Ready to wet the party up, and whoever in that motherfucker” The flow is on point, and he’s just the personification of what Tupac is talking about. He’s lost and he knows it.

3) “Toss it Up” – Tupac took a sex song that was intended for a K-Ci & Jojo album, added another verse dissing Dr. Dre and an outro manhandling Puffy, and put it on Makaveli. That same trio had rocked “How Do U Want It” earlier, and what’s funny is that he did the same thing there. He dissed Bob Dole and C Delores Tucker in verse two and talked about his demons in verse three, and bam, out.

But really, that was Tupac. He could spit something grimy over a smooth beat, and it would all work. Something for the thugs and something for the ladies, all in one song. It shouldn’t work, but it’s that “understandable smooth shit that murderers move with.” You want to know where 50 and Ja Rule got their style from? This song right here.

4) “To Live & Die in L.A.” – This is one of four love songs on Makaveli, and the first of two dedicated to inanimate objects. But really, “To Live & Die In LA” is like Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.” It’s just a smooth joint you put on at a cookout or when chilling and reminisce. It’s about belonging somewhere, loving your people, and repping for your home.

What I like is that Tupac isn’t even from LA. He was born in Harlem, lived in Baltimore, moved to Marin City as a kid, repped the Bay Area for years, and then he made his way south as an adult. LA is his adopted home, but it’s clear he loves it anyway. That’s a good feeling, I think.

5) “Blasphemy” – There are a lot of references to God and religion throughout this album, from the provocative cover art down to “Hail Mary” and “Blasphemy.” It’s usually pitched from a position of mistrust or confusion. He constantly blurs the line between God and a father, absentee or present, and rather than being a comfort, religion is something that’s unknowable and scary.

Tupac often dealt with fatalist themes, and this song just might be the peak of it. If you turn this one up, you can hear Tupac harmonizing in the background, just below the bass. It sounds sad,

6) “Life of an Outlaw” – “The shit you heard ain’t do me justice–got a death wish, bitch!”

The reason why Tupac clicked with so many people probably comes down to a few things. He wasn’t the most lyrical rapper, and Biggie definitely wins on that front, but Tupac was a guy who used charisma, rhythm, and emotion to pull you in. Tupac understood the importance of playing a role and acting in rap music. He could mix something deeply personal with something that was straight up false, and it would still come off true.

It wasn’t about faking, or exploiting a lifestyle you didn’t belong to. It was more like he wanted to represent every aspect of black culture so that he could reach as many people as possible. So he had the songs dedicated to death obsession, screwing women, loving women, guns, and black power. He talked about pain and fame in equal parts, and it worked. Everybody loved him, “from the hood to the burbs.” Tupac, to an extent more than probably any other rapper, represented us. He ran up and down the spectrum of black experiences in his songs, and he did it in a way that everybody kept the volume knob turned all the way up.

7) “Just Like Daddy” – Love song number two, and the only one that’s just a straight up traditional joint. This is Tupac and the Outlawz in a “Dear Mama” mode. It’s sweet and protective, but also apologetic. There’s this strain of guilt that runs through Tupac’s library, and it tends to go hand-in-hand with loyalty.

It’s about sticking by your people, especially through the rough times. It’s about knowing better, but falling short, and getting another chance to do things right. Tupac’s verse is about a woman sticking by her man while he’s in jail and him promising to stick by her.

The sweetness is all in the chorus. Do people still call into radio shows to dedicate songs to their girls? This is more “Summertime” music.

8) “Krazy” – One of the illest, and most true, lines on 36 Chambers came 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.”

It’s a verse that I think represents a lot of what I feel like it’s like to be black in America. Tupac’s “Krazy,” then, takes those six bars and blows them out into a full-blown song. Every single line is rings true, from trying to escape from real life with drugs or drink, trying to do right by your mom, and, no matter what, feeling like you don’t belong. Bad Azz drops the best verse of his career…

“Krazy” is one of the most melancholy songs I know. It’s just about getting by. Life goes on.

9) “White Man’z World” – Love song number three, this time to his people.

On “Bomb First,” Tupac talks about how he’s down to “murder motherfuckers lyrically, and I’m not gon’ cry.” When he’s talking about love, black people, or his family, he cries. He says, “Dear sister, got me twisted up in prison, I miss ya/ Cryin lookin at my niece’s and my newphew’s picture.” On “Krazy,” he mentions crying for weeks after getting a letter from his sister Sekyiwa.

Crying doesn’t really fit the media narrative of Tupac. You’d think he was Alpha Male Plus if you judged him by the papers. To them, he was the guy who came through and wrecked New York nearly singlehandedly, in between preying on women and running wild in the streets. But no, that really wasn’t it. This song alone puts the lie to it. Tupac was raised by Black Panthers. He knows what he’s talking about, and there’s been a strong pro-Black theme running through most of his albums.

This is another one of those songs that’s both universal and personal. That second verse is lethal.

“Proud to be black, but why we act like we don’t love ourselves?/ Don’t look around busta (you sucka) check yourselves!/ Know what it means to be black, whether a man or girl/ We still struggling, in this white man’s world.”

10) “Me and My Girlfriend” – Love song number four, this time to his pistol.

This one is just an eternal banger, from Lady of Rage to the hook to the concept.

This is where the layered vocals come back in a big way. If you turn this one up loud with some good earphones, you can hear the vocal tracks slipping and sliding up against each other, particularly on the chorus. You can hear these alternate Tupacs behind every line, sometimes synchronized, sometimes off just a little bit, and sometimes just emphasizing a single word.

It makes “Me and My Girlfriend” sound like a ghost story, like Tupac is haunting his own song. It makes a song that’s just dope into something that’s real, real creepy. There’s a reverb (or reverse?) effect around some of the lines and chorus, too, which only adds to the effect. Tupac’s earnest personification of the gun as the only girl he loves and the implications of the hold it has over him is powerful stuff.

What’s more is the fact that, alongside guilt, the idea of being trapped is something that has been deep inside Tupac’s lyrics, ever since the beginning.

11) “Hold Ya Head” – This pro-black joint is like “Krazy,” but even more obvious in its meaning. It’s also another price of fame song, as Tupac relates how going hard at all times and making money cost him friends and happiness. He knows that people would lock him up forever if they could, but he also knows that he couldn’t stop if he wanted to.

It’s as much an encouragement and advice to others as a message to himself. His advice at the end, about how no matter how hard it gets, you need to do whatever you need to do to hold your head, are all things he did himself.

12) “Against All Odds” – “Hit ‘Em Up” was nice, but “Against All Odds” is the nail in the coffin. Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, and everyone else are treated as less than potholes in Tupac’s path in “Against All Odds”. He’s left the buckshot blast of hate that was “Hit ‘Em Up” behind in favor of something new: “Plan, plot, strategize, and bomb first.” It’s an updating of his THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody) and NIGGA (Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished) credos. You think it through first, and then you destroy whatever stands in your way.

This song puts every major figure in New York on blast in a such an amazing way that its only competition is “Ether” or “Takeover”, and those are a distant, distant second and third. This is just a straight up, no frills diss song–“this is why you’re wack.” He calls Nas out on biting Rakim’s style before dissing and dismissing Mobb Deep in two lines. He creates what is hands down the best line in a diss song ever when he says that De La Soul is “looking like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick.”

Makaveli began with church bells and ends with the sounds of war. There’s something meaningful lurking behind that, isn’t there? I don’t know.

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The Cipher 12/15/10

December 15th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

black is something to laugh about. black is something to cry about.
created: It’s Digital December at ComicsAlliance, and we’re gawn in. So far, I’ve got interviews up with Boom!, IDW, and Dark Horse. On Thursday, DC Comics hits. On Friday, ???. Next week… something more. 2010 is the year that CA put the boot to your favorite comics news site.

It’s also music countdown at the Factual Opinion, so I’m pitching in to help out Marty Brown and my Joe Casey Fan Club brothers Sean Witzke and Tucker Stone figure out what was good this year. You can check the entire category here, and check out the first of my contributions on the top 50-31 songs list. More to come, of course, including a bit of writing that I ended up being really happy with. That’s rare for me, so stay tuned.

black is serious. black is a feeling.
Charlie Huston wrote a short story, The Impossibility of a Diaphanous History Machine, on the Mulholland Books site. I like Huston’s work. He writes dialogue like people talk, where punctuation may not mean what it traditionally means, and I dig that a lot. This story is about bombs, and I like the gag about mental ones.

-Here’s a piece he wrote about children, poverty, and fuel for stories. I generally don’t like people writing about writing. I think that you should just shut up and do it, because “This is how I write” is one of those things that’s just awfully boring, but this is practically a statement of intent. It’s hype. A voice coming out of a dark alley that says, “I have a gun.” Needless to say, I’m hyped for this new book. Drops in 2012, though.

Huston’s website is here. Get familiar.

Matt Seneca goes in on a Wonder Woman piece by Bill Sienkiewicz. It’s from an aborted series written by Frank Miller and drawn by Sienkiewicz called Wonder Woman: Bondage. I would trade every issue of Wonder Woman and JLA published over the last five years to see this series. That creative team is one of the best in comics. Every time they get together, somebody needs to sit up and take notice.

-I liked this comic by Sloane, especially the way the grid explodes toward the end.

-Ron Wimberly posted a dope story, too.

-Did y’all hear that they killed Brother Voodoo?

-I read Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo 3 on my lunch break today. That series is three books long and I dug them a lot. They can be mean and gross, hysterically so on both fronts, but man, they click along pretty well. Last volume had a great action scene, while this one ended up having a lot of heart. Morimoto Mazza Fakkin’ Rokkustaa is one of the best new characters of 2010, too. More on this later, once I sort my thoughts out on it. I kinda laughed at the end. I don’t need more, I think the wrap is fine, but I’d read more.

-Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! 9 was fantastic, as expected. Juralumin got one of the hands down best scenes in the book, Yotsuba has some great physical comedy with an exercise ball, and Azuma nails some really nice things over the course of the book. The dinnertime conversation which was very adult, the Yanda/Yotsuba relationship… good stuff. The translation still bugs the life out of me, though. Do I really need to know what the Japanese onomatopoeia for rolling is? And do I need to see it untranslated every single time? Just write “roll roll roll” and we’ll get it.

-The translation really and truly sandbags the book. Stop explaining and just show us. They did well with a dinner scene that would have been tough to translate without notes, but for every one of those, there’s a “Fuuka-onee-chan” to wade through.

-New music: on pause. Been listening to old stuff and have been too busy to buy new joints. Gotta get a lot of stuff did before the Christmas break, and that means doing a couple weeks of work in a few days. Gross.

-But while we’re on the music tip–one of my favorite lines this year is from Evidence, on Copywrite’s Three Story Building. At the end of his verse, he goes, “Started to rap, told my mama I’d be Common/ She thought I meant normal/ I said, “Let’s be honest.” Something about that stuck with me, it’s just ill from top to bottom.

-Copywrite is responsible for another line that I think about a lot. It’s from “Fuck Soundcheck,” off his T.H.E. High Exhaulted tape from forever ago. “I don’t blame you for being wack. I blame your fans for being dumb enough to feel you.”

-I’m not saying that I believe that it’s a fair statement or anything that you should say in polite company. But it’s probably true.

-You hear that Steel might be dying next year in this Doomsday event? I should probably care more, but I could care less, instead. Sorry, John Henry.

-New issues of Chew, Bulletproof Coffin, and Atlas hit ComiXology today. Be nice to catch up on the first two and to ditch a few floppies of the last one.

-I keep trying to think through why I’m uncomfortable with “fun” being a crap descriptor of a comic. I’m trying to purge it from my vocabulary because it’s become vague and meaningless. I think Tucker came closest to how I feel with his review of Batman & Robin 17, a book I thought was mediocre at best. Something else I need to think through, clearly.

black is us, the beautiful people.
David: Amazing Spider-Man 650, Thunderbolts 151
Esther: Batman and Robin 18, Birds of Prey 7
Gavin: Batman And Robin 18, Green Lantern 60, Green Lantern Emerald Warriors 5, Green Lantern Plastic Man Weapon Mass Deception 1, Time Masters Vanishing Point 5, Avengers Academy 7, Chaos War 4, Chaos War Thor 2, Strange Tales 2 3, Thunderbolts 151, What If Spider-Man, Darkwing Duck 7

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“I’m living in that 21st century, doing something mean to it” [Kanye West]

November 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Kanye Tudda’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy comes out this week, and Amazon’s got it for four bones.

I like this album a lot, but getting to pay just four bucks for it? That’s a steal.

Do yourself a favor, though. Use this album art instead of that wack painting he has on the official joint.

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