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

August 9th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Language: XV – “Mirror’s Edge”

October 4th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I like it when songs, or musicians, rather, come up with an ill metaphor for living life. I like it because it’s always interesting to see life through someone else’s eyes, and seeing how they approach that life is often valuable or uplifting. My favorite’s probably always going to be the pigeon/phoenix metaphor on Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein (Pigeon bird got a breath left/ Heart beat no more/ Phoenix bird morph and we live off the G-force”), but XV’s “Mirror’s Edge” is one that I think about a lot lately, and dig a whole lot.

The hook sets it up: “It feels like I’m running on walls, and I don’t wanna touch the ground/ And if you say that I’m lost, then I don’t wanna be found.” The verses are about being on the come-up and living life better than you ever expected, and they always come back around to the chorus by way of a direct lead-in. The chorus is kind of the point of the song. It’s what XV is feeling about where he’s at in life.

I like that this song sounds very open and casual, kinda dreamy. There’s a pointed refusal in the chorus and XV’s delivery, like someone’s pointed out that he’s about to fall, but he’s too busy enjoying the moment to take a moment to accept that. And that’s why this POV works so well for me, I think. It’s about being in a moment and appreciating that moment. It’s about understanding that moments are momentary, but that isn’t a reason to not enjoy that moment to the fullest.

But “Mirror’s Edge” is also about appreciating what you’ve got, but not getting so wrapped up in that moment that you lose sight of what’s coming. Enjoy, but be prepared. Walk that knife’s edge, but have the stitches ready. You can hear it in his voice. He’s incredulous and elated, but with his eyes wide open.

It’s a simple metaphor about living in the moment, but it works so well because XV doesn’t drape it in magic tricks or wordplay. Even if you don’t know Mirror’s Edge, the game that inspired XV’s song, it’s easy to get. It works.

(The reverb-y sound of the song puts me in mind of Gorillaz’s “Doncamatic,” too.)

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