Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Favorite Singles of 2006 So Far (most of which admittedly were released in '05 but are peaking in '06)

1. Twista f/ Pitbull - "Hit The Floor" (mp3)
2. Beyonce f/ Slim Thug and Bun B - "Check On It"
3. Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"
4. Daddy Yankee - "Rompe"
5. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
6. Remy Ma - "Conceited"
7. Ne-Yo - "So Sick"
8. Pussycat Dolls f/ Will.I.Am - "Beep"
9. Ludacris, Trick Daddy and Luke - "Throw Da D '06" (mp3)
10. Click Five - "Catch Your Wave"
11. Three 6 Mafia - "Poppin' My Collar"
12. Morningwood - "Nth Degree"
13. T.I. - "What You Know About That"
14. Donnell Jones f/ Jermaine Dupri - "Better Start Talking"
15. Shawnna - "Gettin' Some" (mp3)
16. Mary J. Blige - "Be Without You"
17. Ghostface f/ Ne-Yo - "Like That"
18. Don Omar f/ Fabolous and Swizz Beatz - "Dale, Don, Dale" (remix)
19. Pitbull f/ Pretty Ricky - "Everybody Get Up"
20. Dem Franchize Boyz - "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It"
21. LL Cool J f/ Freeway - "Whatcha Want"
22. Young Jeezy - "Trap Star"
23. Keyshia Cole - "Love"
24. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go"
25. Nelly f/ Paul Wall, Ali and Gipp - "Grillz"

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Narrowcast watches MTV Jams

Monday, January 30, 2006
Dre - "Naomi"
Much as I like Cool & Dre as a production team (although they really came soft on the last Fat Joe album compared to their beats on Loyalty), I've been predicting and dreading that Dre was gonna try and get some shine as a rapper ever since he starting sticking his face in the camera in the "New York" and "Take You Home" videos. And what do you know, he got signed to Jive and they shot a video for his wack single "Naomi." Jesus, and I thought Pharrell was a terrible rapper. If this guy blows up you are officially not allowed to complain about Kanye's mic skills ever again. Christina Milian is cute in her cameo, although she still has the ill-advised blonde dye job. I can't quite tell if one of the girls at the end of the video is the song's namesake Naomi Campbell, but if so, hey, she was in the "Change Clothes" and "Nasty Girl" videos, too, and those were also wack songs.

Young Jeezy - "Trap Star/Go Crazy"
"Trap Star" might be my favorite record released off his album so far, although I think it's just kind of a video Jeezy got to make for a song he likes because he has a lot of pull at Def Jam right now, because there's already a video for "My Hood" too, which seems to be the official current single. The spelling on the chorus ("I'm a T-R-A-P S-T-R") makes me think of Homer Simpson ("I am so smart, I am so smart, S-M-R-T").

Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"
In the last couple weeks, suddenly they've been running a new version of this video that's about half new footage, half the same footage as the original version. I think maybe they shot some new scenes just so Jamie could show off Eva Longoria, or maybe because they wanted to show Jamie in his classic low key mustache look, and less of his creepy fu manchu and fake-tiger-stripe-tattoos look. I think I liked the old version better, though, mainly because the colors were more uniform and it fit better with the weird triple frame letterbox video style that Hype Williams has been using in every video except for "Gold Digger" lately (Slim Thug's "I Ain't Heard Of That," Beyonce's "Check On It," Twista's "Girl Tonite," Ne-Yo's "So Sick," Young Jeezy's "My Hood," etc.). They kinda messed up the look the video used to have, the original "Unpredictable" was probably the best looking video in that style next to Smitty's "Diamonds On My Neck." It's kind of funny how Hype is so into letterbox innovation, remember what a big deal it was when he premiered the white "milk box" look in the "Big Pimpin'" video?

Robin Thicke f/ Pharrell - "Wanna Love You Girl"
Yet another busy wide screen letterbox Hype video. And y'know, I liked the single off his first album, but I'm starting to get tired of this cat, it seems like people are way too eager to write about him and drop the "oh my god, did you know he's Alan Thicke's son?" bomb like anyone doesn't know by now. This song is absolute trash, like a bad parody of contempo R&B, saying "wanna love you girl" over and over in monotone and then layering a falsetto vocal. Another nu-Neptunes beat with unquantized drums that are supposed to sound "raw" and "live" but just sound like they were programmed by someone who doesn't know how to work a drum machine. Thank god the Neps aren't working on the new Timberlake album due to disputes with Jive, so they can pawn off their terrible would-be Justin tracks to their wannabe Justin.

Chris Brown - "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)"
The song has a nice quiet, intimate vibe, and his voice has less of that shrill, piercing tone than it does on "Run It," which makes my ears bleed, but oh my god, his dancing in this video is the most bizarre, embarrassing shit I have ever seen. It's like Usher's most ill-advised moves crossed with the Elaine Benes dance with the elbows and the kicks.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006
AOL Music has the video for Fiona Apple's "Not About Love," which features the always entertaining Zach Galifianakis lip syncing the song Chevy Chase/Paul Simon-style.

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Reading Diary

Saturday, January 28, 2006
1. The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, by Motley Crue with Neil Strauss
I've never been real into the Crue's music, aside from a few Dr. Feelgood singles, but the band's autobio has gotten so many raves over the past few years for its completely unadalterated debauchery that when I was buying reading material for my vacation a few weeks ago, I went ahead and grabbed it for some light reading. Although my jaw didn't drop quite as many times as I expected it to, there are some pretty good yarns in here. I also really like the way it was structured, with band members taking turns writing chapters seperately. The overlap with some of them having extremely different recollections of certain events leads to some of the funniest moments of the book. Also, they don't really get into the upbringing and personal background of each member all at the beginning, but instead kind of spread it out. So Vince Neil, who's always been kind of had the public image of an unsympathetic prick, keeps that image for the first two-thirds of the book, and only then do you learn about his growing up in Compton and later having to watch his 4-year-old daughter die of cancer, and he suddenly becomes a three-dimensional character. Mick Mars is the only one who comes off as completely sympathetic and likable, although half of his chapters are full of insane sci-fi theories about life on other planets and how the dinosaurs became extinct.

2. Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley, by David Browne
As far as rock bios go, this almost the polar opposite of The Dirt; instead of a metal band full of raging maniacs who rarely seem to pay the consequences of their actions, you get two fragile, sensitive singer-songwriters who didn't live on the edge nearly as much, but still died fairly young. I bought this at least 2 or 3 years ago, but didn't finally get around to reading it until I took it on vacation. The parts about Jeff Buckley really fleshed out what I already knew about him and had some pretty interesting details. But a lot of the parts about Tim Buckley were really transparently cribbed from surface-level research, like Browne was much less interested in him and just got enough on him to flesh out a book about Jeff into a book about both of them. Before reading the book I was only really familiar with Jeff's music, but since then I've picked up a 2-disc Tim Buckley best-of. I think my opinion of his music is kind of out of step with the critical consensus, aside from obvious stuff like "Song To The Siren," what's really grabbed me so far is the more MOR post-Starsailor stuff that gets a pretty bad rap.

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Friday, January 27, 2006
My silly, half-assed, but actually more or less sincere tribute to the late Chris Penn on Powet Movies.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Ying Yang Twins - "Wait (Ultimix Remix)" (mp3)

No relation to the remix with Missy and Busta, this is a new, weird-ass 6-minute dub by Mr. Collipark with a bunch of spacey vocal effects and random bits of other Ying Yang songs mixed in, from U.S.A. Still United.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Ying Yang Twins
U.S.A. Still United
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: C

Since becoming America's favorite supplier of crunk and in turn one of the biggest independent labels in the world, TVT Records has begun quickly establishing itself as the master of the stopgap mini-LP. In hip-hop's current climate of big budget, high risk investments, albums are all-or-nothing propositions, stuffed to the gills with music that's been rigorously market tested. There’s no such thing as b-sides, and almost everything is shooting for radio or club spins. But by sequelizing its biggest albums with quickie follow-ups, like Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz' Part II and Pitbull's recent Money Is Still A Major Issue, TVT has provided an official outlet for the kinds of remixes and outtakes that so often fall into the purgatory of mixtape-only material. While superstars like Usher, 50 Cent, and Mariah Carey have taken to re-releasing their entire albums with a new single or two to lure some of their fans to buy basically the same CD all over again, TVT's mid-level stars are offering upwards of an hour's worth of unreleased material along with a DVD for one low price.

And the Ying Yang Twins, who previously followed up their 2003 commercial breakthrough Me & My Brother with such a collection, My Brother & Me, have given the 4th quarter cash-in treatment to 2005's platinum U.S.A. United State Of Atlanta. And here on the half-assed second time around, the duo of D-Roc and Kaine come closer to making the kind of fun, low-calorie party record people expect. U.S.A. was a soggy 70-minute ride full of mood swings in which sentiments like "I hate bitches and bitches hate me" and "fuck the Ying Yang Twins, they ain't shit" were aired out as often as "twurk it" or "get crunk." But as producer Mr. Collipark indicates on the intro at the beginning of the disc, this is nonetheless a release with ambitious goals: "This gon' be the biggest party startin'...re-release of a album ever, ever, ever."

U.S.A. Still United belongs less to the Ying Yang Twins than to Mr. Collipark, who produces all but one track. The Twins, on the other hand, don't appear at all on one of the songs, and are credited as featured performers on 2 songs by other artists. Since his days as DJ Smurf and Beat-In-Azz, Mr. Collipark has long been one of the South's strongest producers and as responsible for the importing of sounds from Miami bass into Southern hip-hop as Lil Jon. But he's only started to gain mainstream name recognition in the past year with the popularity of his harshly minimalist beats for Ying Yang's "Wait (The Whisper Song)" and David Banner's "Play," for which he coined the term "intimate club music."

For the most part, the new Ying Yang tracks are goofy throwaways or enjoyable diversions. "Duts," which, as Kaine helpfully explains, means "my dick and my nuts," has a promising guitar-driven beat, but lasts barely two minutes and includes a lengthy spoken intro, a scratched DJ outro, and only one full verse and chorus, as if they couldn't be bothered to flesh it out. And "The Pink" is a playfully filthy take on Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme that presumably won't appear on the soundtrack to the upcoming Steve Martin vehicle. "4 Oz." is a somewhat unexpected collaboration between Ying Yang and Memphis's Three 6 Mafia, a head-on collision of two sensibilities that couldn't further apart while co-existing on the same spectrum of contemporary Southern rap. For the most part, though, the DJ Paul and Juicy J-produced track adheres to Three 6's aesthetic and little of Ying Yang's, dragging out the syrup-sipping dirge for six minutes. The catchy U.S.A. outtake "Wiggle Then Move," which leaked a few months ahead of the album, makes its official debut on U.S.A. Still United. And for no apparent reason, one of U.S.A.'s worst songs, "Bedroom Boom"'s quiet storm variation on the intimate club sound with R&B crooner Avant, is given an unwanted encore here.

The two tracks on which Ying Yang are billed as featured artists, "Ms. New Booty" and "Git it," are primarily credited to Bubba Sparxxx and Bun B, respectively. The Twins are a little more obnoxious than usual on "Ms. New Booty," and Bubba seems to be testing out a bizarre Young Jeezy impression on the first verse. "Git It" is yet another generic Bun B collaboration like the dozens he's recorded in the past two years, in sharp contrast to Ying Yang's previous track with Bun, U.S.A.'s downbeat, sincere Pimp C tribute "23 Hr. Lockdown." And the two tracks that introduce Collipark's new artists are a similiarly mixed bag. D-Roc's new group the Muzicians don't divert from Ying Yang's usual strip club anthems in any discernable way on "Get Yern." And "Legendary Status" by Homebwoi and the Kadalack Boyz unfortunately lacks any of the personality or seething menace of Homebwoi's collaboration with B.G. from last year, "Where Da At."

Mr. Collipark is an assembly line hitmaker in the mold of Lil Jon or the Neptunes, getting as much mileage as possible out of every sound or idea he comes up with. Every now and then, he produces a track with a fresh new synth line or drum patch, and then milks it for months, pairing it with other sounds for endless combinations, like stacking Legos together. And much of U.S.A. Still United is an essay in how much he can recycle his best known tricks in new contexts. "Play" in particular is stripped for spare parts, with its booming intro's drum sound repurposed on "Ms. New Booty," and its siren riff reused on "Get It." And the infamous "Wait" tom-tom pads also come into play on "Get It." Collipark's trademark intro, the shrill scream that began the U.S.A. single "Badd," kicks off a couple tracks on U.S.A. Still United and becomes a recurring riff for "Wiggle Then Move."

Still United ends on a high point with a pair of remixes of the original album's biggest hits, "Wait (The Whisper Song)" and "Shake" featuring Pitbull. "Wait" has already been given the all-star remix treatment with a version featuring Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott, but "Wait (The Ultimate Remix)" is an entirely different affair, in which Mr. Collipark constructs a dubbed-out 6-minute reimagining of the song full of vocal effects and spliced in bits of one of Ying Yang's previous hits, "Salt Shaker." And "Shake," far and away one of the original U.S.A.'s highlights due to Collipark's inspired sample of George Kranz's oddball Eurodance classic "Din Daa Daa," is given new layers of culture clash when Pitbull delivers a new verse entirely in Spanish and Jamaican dancehall star Elephant Man wreaks his usual havoc on the track. The Ying Yang Twins, on the other hand, only appear on the track in the form of their vocals from the original chopped up into a new hook, emblematic of how they take a backseat to their producer and even their guests on U.S.A. Still United.

U.S.A. Still United packs 90 minutes of footage onto the bonus DVD, but it's mostly the kind of perfunctory filler that you've probably seen already if you watch MTV with any regularity, including the album's 3 videos and the group's appearance on Punk'd. But it also goes the extra mile with an array of promotional TV appearances, which consist of various C-list talk show hosts asking the Ying Yang Twins about their grills, an awkward conversation with Adam Corrolla on his short-lived Comedy Central show, and a bizarre MTV Cooking segment in which D-Roc has trouble reading the cue cards. It's all fairly unnecessary, and so is the CD, but at least that part of the package has some replay value.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-01-25

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In My Stereo

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Little Feat - Little Feat
Talib Kweli - Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD
Jamie Foxx - Unpredictable
The Notorious B.I.G. - Duets: The Final Chapter
Three 6 Mafia - Most Known Hits
John Mellencamp - Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits
Tim Buckley - Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology
Top Of The World Records - The Grand Opening
Under Sound Music - Breaking Ground, Vol. 1
Mike Crosby & Kenny K - In Da Club, Vol. 1

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Monday, January 23, 2006
What's up with Anthony Hamilton being one of VH1's You Oughta Know "artists on the rise"? They do know that his last album went platinum and was on the Billboard chart for a gazillion weeks, right? At what point is someone an established artist these days?

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Sunday, January 22, 2006
Last week's issue of the City Paper featured a cover story that breaks down Baltimore's 2005 murder statistics, by Anna Ditkoff, who's been covering the homicide beat for the past couple years in the Murder Ink column. It doesn't purport to contain any solutions or revelations, but's worth a read nonetheless. I think in some ways I'm still a little naive about this city's violent crime problem just because I've fortunately had very little direct or indirect contact with it. I know some parts of the city are safer than others, but reading something like this brings home the fact that there have been murders in the past year not far from from where my girlfriend works or where we live (and we definitely live in one of the safest parts of the city) or in the parking lot of a club I go to regularly. I definitely try not to be cavalier about it, all the "Bodymore, Murdaland" bragging and shit, but it is what it is. It can be heartbreaking or infuriating or frightening to think about, but it needs to be thought about.


Saturday, January 21, 2006
Enon - "Diamond Raft" (mp3)

Since Fluxblog just posted my favorite Enon song, I'll post my 2nd favorite. Initially I thought of High Society as a disappointment and only really liked the jangly guitar songs like "Sold!" and "Window Display" (still more or less my general stance on the album), but this song all the way at the end gradually creeped up on me. At first I regarded it as too similiar to the last song on Believo!, but I eventually became kind of obsessed with it, especially the weird structure and that incredible guitar solo at the end.

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Cover Connections

Friday, January 20, 2006
That new Strokes album that I have no interest in hearing, and my 9th favorite album of 2005:

By no means identical, I know, but kind of striking nonetheless.


Movie Diary

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
1. Tristan & Isolde
J.G. and I saw this the other night because it's one of her favorite stories/myths and she was curious to see how a film adaptation would come out, although she found the "the original Romeo & Juliet" tagline pretty distasteful. Although there are few things I'm more wary of than the post-Gladiator new school of historical costume epics, I found it relatively painless, although not great. Apparently they changed a fair amount of the specifics of the original story and removed a lot of magic and mysticism from it. James Franco is still on the 8-year streak of rebellious brooding that began with Freaks & Geeks, although his performance was actually pretty strong, and the rest of the cast was decent, Rufus Sewell being a standout.

2. I Heart Huckabees
Maybe it was because I watched this really late at night while grappling with insomnia, but this was kind of a listless, unpleasant viewing experience. It definitely seemed like he was going for something kind of unique and with more depth than the average 'quirky' 00's comedy, but the fact that almost everything about it, from Jason Schwartzman down to the Jon Brion score, carried the stench of that trend made it hard to seperate from all the other movies of the past few years that it harbors obvious comparisons to. Plus, almost everyone in the cast aside from Wahlberg was tremendously annoying. I might give it another chance sometime, but I don't know if mileage will vary.

3. Jersey Girl
Saw this on cable recently, and I have to say, despite the Bennifer and poor box office and negative reviews and being disowned by even View Askew nerds, it was actually alright! If Kevin Smith's goal was to make something as un-Kevin Smith-y as possible, he did a pretty decent job, even if occasional reminders kept popping up, like the bartender from Dogma making a joke about crotch rot. Even George Carlin had a role that required him to do something other than mug and raise his eyebrows, which was a little refreshing. And there were some parts that were genuinely funny and surprising, like the Will Smith cameo, which was kind of subversive and clever in a way that Huckabees only wishes the Shania Twain bit was.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Last month I bought a new computer and for the first time finally have a CD burner. The first CD I burned was a mix that I gave to J.G.'s brother John as a Christmas gift:

1. Fugazi - "Song #1"
2. Medications - "Safe And Sorry"
3. The Dismemberment Plan - "The Ice Of Boston"
4. Apollo Sunshine - "Ghost"
5. Sonic Youth - "Teen Age Riot"
6. Superchunk - "Detroit Has A Skyline"
7. Brendan Benson - "I'm Easy"
8. Private Eleanor - "Estimated Distance"
9. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - "No Action"
10. Spymob - "It Gets Me Going"
11. Bob Dylan - "Simple Twist Of Fate"
12. Jeff Buckley - "Grace"
13. Lake Trout - "Pill"
14. Ted Leo/Pharmacist - "You Always Hate The One You Love" (mp3)
15. The Geraldine Fibbers - "Lilybelle"
16. Bruce Springsteen - "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"
17. The Posies - "Song #1"

The Ted Leo track was the first thing I ever heard by him, way back in 2000 when I reviewed a crappy indie comp for Pitchfork that it was on, and it slowly had me hooked by the time Tyranny of Distance came out. In a way it's still one of my favorite songs by him and I kinda wish he'd do a whole record like that, solo and lo-fi but still energetic and song-driven.

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Monday, January 16, 2006
Nels Cline / Wally Shoup / Chris Corsano - "Beard Of Pine" (mp3)

Last week Stylus ran my review of the album from which this comes, Immolation/Immersion. I probably could've written a bit more enthusiastically about it to earn it a grade higher than a C, but as far as Nels Cline improv discs go, I've heard better. One reader took it upon themselves to write a big long comment, though, about how great Nels is (no argument there) and how this is better than stuff like Sunburned Hand of The Man or No-Neck Blues, neither of which did I mention, nor have I ever even heard.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Nels Cline / Wally Shoup / Chris Corsano
Strange Attractors
Stylus rating: C
Adjusted rating by reviewer: C+

The endlessly inventive guitarist Nels Cline's 20-year recording career has gained much of its steam from his growing fame as a member of rock bands like the Geraldine Fibbers and Wilco, but his output in his original arena, experimental jazz, has never slowed as he perused more song-based genres. Immolation/Immersion is just the latest of scores of improvised recordings from Cline in some manner of group configuration with other noise/jazz journeymen. In this particular instance, his sparring partners are alto saxophonist Wally Shoup and percussionist Chris Corsano.

The Seattle-based Shoup, who previously collaborated with Cline buddy Thurston Moore on 2000's excellent live disc Hurricane Floyd, seems to lead the trio for much of Immolation/Immersion, softly blowing snatches of melody as Cline finds jazzy licks and guttural noises to complement them with. Corsano is the relative newcomer in the ensemble, and it's the instruments to which he's credited in the liner notes, "drumset, wires," that intrigue the most. It's unclear what kind of wires Corsano plays or how he plays them, but the sounds that he apparently makes with them during the moments when he's not drumming are curious and unique even in the context of an anything-goes improv session.

Immolation/Immersion is comprised of five tracks, recorded live in the studio, but more than half of the disc is taken up by the 28-minute title track. It's preceded only by the shortest track, "Lake Of Fire Memories," two minutes of horn blowing and amp noise that might seem to be a typical excerpt from such a session, but is scarcely repeated throughout the rest of the album. "Immolation/Immersion," is a comparatively restrained piece, but does work its way up to a slight climax at its conclusion, after a long series of seemingly unconnected sounds that could arguably be divided into movements.

The three shorter tracks that follow Immolation/Immersion's title track each feel like more unified and successful variations on one idea. On "Minus Mint," Cline and Shoup push around quiet, minimal themes, and the closing "Ghost Bell Canto" is an appropriately titled piece full of spare, spooky sounds. The 13-minute "Beard Of Pine" traverses several different phases more successfully and more organically than the title track. In its first half, Corsano's drums resolve into a fast bebop swing beat for the first, and possibly only, time on the album as Cline lets loose his trademark skronky runs of melody. But the second half reaches a frenetic collapse into a looser series of interactions between the instruments, and when those fragmented sounds build up again into ear-shredding noise at the end of "Beard Of Pine," the track becomes the closest thing to a satisfying composition that appears in the set.

If you find comfort in the nervous, unpredictable sounds that these improvisers make on dozens of releases and in hundreds of live dates, this noise will be music to your ears, but it's not going to set the discriminating listener's world on fire. Immolation/Immersion ranks behind last year's Ash and Tabula with Andrea Parkins and Tom Rainey in terms of Cline's recent improv trios, and Shoup and Corsano have had better showcases. But it's nonetheless a sturdy addition to the vast and growing catalogs of each musician.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-01-12

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Sunday, January 15, 2006
We got back from the family vacation yesterday, it was a fun week, and my brother wrote a thorough wrap up of it.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006
So I turned 24 yesterday, thanks to everybody that came over for our little party. And tomorrow I'm going on vacation for a week, so no posts while I'm away relaxing and clearing out the mental cobwebs of the past year. When I get back Narrowcast may or may not become some kind of mp3 blog.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006
Black Rob - "Help Me Out" (mp3)

I already posted my favorite song from The Black Rob Report when I listed it among my favorite albums of 2005, but since my Stylus review of it is out today, here's my 2nd favorite. Not as lyrically deep but the piano sample is some kind of amazing aural equivalent of a marionette's limbs flopping around. Or at least that's the visual it conjures for me.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Black Rob
The Black Rob Report
Bad Boy

Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

In 2005, Black Rob's reappearance is like a relic from a past society. Five years is a lifetime in hip-hop, and Black Rob's been absent from the public eye since his debut album Life Story and its massive single "Whoa!" hit in 2000. Though signed to Bad Boy since back when Biggie was still alive, Black Rob didn't drop an album until years later—part of the label's mid-period wave of rappers like G. Dep, The Loon and Shyne, who were enlisted to bring Bad Boy back from R&B singers and reality show contestants to its hip-hop roots.

But after half a decade of trials and tribulations including prison time and health problems, Black Rob is still here and, amazingly, still with Bad Boy for his second album, The Black Rob Report. Lead single "Ready" is by no means a hit like "Whoa!," but it's been one of New York's biggest street records for months, and for good reason. "Ready" sounds like a bizarre scrambled up combination of every record with militant snare drums or children singing (in this case, children who cheerfully sing "he's Block Rob / He's a thug / Fuck with him, you'll get fucked up"), with Pharrell's egg timer bit from "Drop It Like It's Hot" on a loop, assembled by Scram Jones into some wonderful new form for Black Rob to spit hostile shit over.

Aside from the obligatory exec producer credit and a "Yeah, I'm still fuckin' with Diddy" assertion on "Help Me Out," Sean Combs is nowhere to be found on The Black Rob Report. But longtime Bad Boy brass and producers are present in full force, from D-Dot to Tony Dofat to Harve Pierre. Even a few members of Da Band make an appearance (Ness on two tracks, and another that didn't make the cut for the album!). Without Diddy around to keep it jiggy, Black Rob is left to do what he does best with hardheaded but catchy traditional street rap. Even the more accessible moments like "Star In Da Hood" remain a little rough and greasy around the edges. And "Watch Your Movements" is the same dope single with Akon that everyone's got right now, but only slightly less great than the ones Styles P. and Young Jeezy have.

Though the skits and interludes peppered throughout the album slow down The Black Rob Report's momentum (some of the skits are genuinely funny, but also too long and too plentiful), the music itself is steadily consistent. Black Rob's presence is laid back enough that his tracks live and die by the beats, and here they mostly live. Buckwild, who produced "Whoa!" once again gives Black Rob one of his best beats for "Smile In Ya Face," complete with tinkly "Who Shot Ya" pianos. And out of the Bad Boy team that dominates the production, D-Dot shines the most with the insane player piano loop on "Help Me Out."

The accolades awarded to Black Rob's lyrical talent usually involve the word "storyteller," which is a broad label often thrown around blindly to describe any MC who can stay on one topic for more than a couple lines at a time. But Black Rob really knows how to spin a yarn. The album's last track, "Long Live B.R." is the best example of his storytelling skills. What begins as seemingly just another bawdy sex rhyme—"The way she filled her mouth with spit / You wouldn't believe how she was suckin' my dick / From the balls to the tip / Between me and you, I even got my saaaalad tossed," he drawls—quickly turns into a dark tale of getting framed and locked up. And it ends up as a stirring statement about the type of live he lives, and a perfect closer for the album.

Selling 27 thousand copies in its first week, The Black Rob Report seems unlikely to measure up to Life Story's platinum sales. But it also feels like a new beginning for Black Rob, and possibly the best display of his talent to date. And in a year that nearly every other New York MC whose name still draws water has dropped a mediocre album, Black Rob is the rare exception.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-01-05

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Shareefa - "I'll Be Around" (mp3)

Surprisingly, the single best track on the new Ludacris/Disturbing Tha Peace album is the one straight R&B track, and it's not even Bobby Valentino. Salaam Remi brings the perfect horn samples and Shareefa paraphrases "How We Do" and "Release Yo Delf". She'll probably never squeak an album out on DTP after Field Mob and Playaz Circle but if she's got more like this she definitely deserves to.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Various Artists
Ludacris Presents...Disturbing Tha Peace
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

s of 2004's Red Light District, Ludicrous has remained one of Southern hip hop's sturdiest franchises, with four straight platinum-plus albums to his name. And while his sales have yet to slip, it feels like at least something about him has, and it's not necessarily his rubbery, versatile rhyming skills. Early in his career, he was second only to OutKast as Atlanta hip-hop's ambassadors to the mainstream. But in recent years, that distinction has gradually been shared with several others, from Lil Jon to T.I. to Young Jeezy, to the point that Ludacris is now only edgy in the context of Usher and Ciara songs. Of course, danger has never been an ingredient of Ludacris's appeal: he's all cartoonish creativity and motormouthed charisma. There's no need for him to start talking about the trap now, and if he did it would be laughable. Nonetheless, his career seems a little lackluster these days, and one gets the feeling that if he decided to focus on movies, the game wouldn't miss him much.

When Luda first showcased Disturbing Tha Peace on the 2002 group album Golden Grain, the label's roster was comprised of only Luda and five other rappers: Shawnna, I-20, Lil Fate, Tity Boi, and Dolla Boy. Since then, St. Louis rapper Chingy joined the company and dropped the multi-platinum debut Jackpot, and then acrimoniously split from DTP. In 2004, Shawnna and I-20 both quietly issued slept-on solo debuts, and this year Luda signed R&B singer Bobby Valentino. And somewhere along the way, the DTP family got a lot bigger. Counting members of newly signed groups like Field Mob and Lazyeye, 16 individuals signed to the label appear on Ludacris Presents.

As such, Ludacris Presents gives the individual artists far more breathing room with solo tracks and fewer posse cuts than Golden Grain. And although Ludacris remains by far the label's biggest and most magnetic star and shows up on more tracks than anyone else, he keeps a low profile on the album's first half, appearing on only one song and a few tedious Ocean’s Eleven-inspired skits before track ten. Surprisingly, the mid-album stretch of Luda-dominated tracks is a slight downer compared to the album's first half of spirited newcomers. New solo tracks like "Sweet Revenge" don't leave much of an impression, nor does the remix of Red Light District's "Two Miles an Hour," where Luda's Xeroxed verse from the original is upstaged by Playaz Circle.

Shawnna, who held down Golden Grain's standouts "RPM" and "Posted," comes back to flip a Too $hort sample on the fellatio anthem "Gettin' Some," but is missed on the rest of the album. On "Come See Me" with Interscope's boring next hype Stat Quo, Smoke of Field Mob drops tired punch lines such like, "Never seen like Stevie and Ray Charles" as if you've never heard them before, but the spiky, unpredictable peaks and valleys of his voice keep his flow twisting around and around over a sick Bollywood sample. Tity Boi and Dolla Boy, two DTP lifers who combined form the duo Playaz Circle, have long been among the label's most promising shelf dwellers, and they prove their worth on various posse cuts and "You Ain't Got Enough," with Tity Boi unleashing hilarious boasts such as, "My ring look like I peed on my pinky" in a perfect matter-of-fact tone.

Although the accents won't let you forget DTP's Atlanta roots, a conspicuously large amount of the album's hottest beats come from New Yorkers. The aforementioned "You Ain't Got Enough"'s insane hi-hat stuttering beat was produced by Buckwild, and new trio Norfclk get a great look from G-Unit producer Needlz in the herky-jerk bump of "Put Ya Hands Up." Salaam Remi, who helmed the bulk of Nas' last few albums, comes through with two of the album's best beats, including Shareefa's R&B banger, "I'll Be Around."

When the album's first single "Georgia" leaked several months ago, many mistakenly credited Just Blaze with the production, but it turns out that producer Vudu Spellz was just convincingly aping some of Just's trademark sound effects. "Georgia" feels like a badly flubbed attempt at an event record, in which Luda announced the signing of Field Mob with their collaboration, making an anthem for their home state over a Ray Charles sample. But the beat is an awkward bump that fails to make crunk out of the delicate piano loop, and Jamie Foxx softly sings the hook without the spirited Ray mimicry of his appearance on Kanye West's "Gold Digger."

Although Chingy's producers Trak Starz turn in a couple beats, the simmering discontent between Luda and his former labelmate is brought up in the form of a couple of jokes at Chingy's expense. In his absence, Bobby Valentino is now the label's biggest star next to Luda, and the dull singer mercifully only makes one appearance on the album for "Table Dance." Rap-metal trio Lazyeye follow in the footsteps of Fuzzbubble and Spymob as the lone rock band on powerful rap labels, and their single contribution to the album, the bonus track "Blood In The Air" is not an encouraging preview—even though the guest verses by Shawn Jay of Field Mob and Small World of Norfclk persevere, saving the track from becoming a total train wreck.

Ludacris Presents...Disturbing Tha Peace is the kind of album that doesn't get much love in hip hop these days. As a rule, group albums sell less than solo albums, and label compilations sell even less. Consumers want more of the A-list rapper and less of his crew, even if the hungrier MCs around him are making more exciting music. So far, Ludacris hasn't had much luck turning his label into a star factory on the level of, say, 50 Cent's G-Unit. But on this album, several of DTP's artists show potential, and hopefully they'll become the kind of artists that can sell records on their own, and not just on a bigger star's coattails.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-01-04

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Movie Diary

Tuesday, January 03, 2006
1. King Kong
I never had much interest in the King Kong story, but considering how well Peter Jackson executed the Lord Of The Rings movies, I was looking forward to seeing what he did with this. The end result was overwhelming but not entirely in a good way. I liked the long first half of character development, and the cast, especially Jack Black, definitely rose to the occasion, but once the action got going, I wasn't entirely on board. There were definitely some amazing sequences, but some of the scenes with the dinosaurs and giant insects were just too long and eventually became overkill (something that always bothered me: if there's an island full of dinosaurs and all kinds of giant creatures, why would the movie be ostensibly just about the giant ape?). For a while the movie became kind of a house of horrors that was both impressive and a little greuling to watch in the same way that War Of The Worlds was.

Also, Peter Jackson has a couple habits that seem to be holdovers from his low budget gore movie days that keep plaguing this and LOTR, specifically the way he switches to a lower rate of frames per second so things move kind of slow and choppy every time there's some dramatic or pivotal scene. I swear he does it 20 times in the first half of King Kong and it gets so annoying. That said, there are some pretty spectacular sequences. And I have to give J.G. credit for noting the little in-joke reference to Dead-Alive (a crate in the boat labelled "Sumatran Rat Monkey").

2. The Producers
Covered on Powet Movies.

3. The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe
We were taken to a dreamworld of magic. Never read the books but enjoyed this, particularly for Tilda Swinton, who's really good at playing the same kind of evil/ethereal being as she did in the underrated Constantine.

4. Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
We saw this in the theater when it first came out a couple months ago but I don't think I ever wrote about it. I was always a fan of the earlier shorts, though, and they did a good job of expanding out into a longer and more complex storyline and making use of a bigger budget. My favorite might remain The Wrong Trousers, but they made the jump to theatrical features really well.

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