'06 Running Tally

Friday, March 31, 2006
1. T.I. - King
2. Prince - 3121
3. Jon Auer - Songs From The Year Of Our Demise
4. Donald Fagen - Morph The Cat
5. Jaheim - Ghetto Classics
6. Remy Ma - There's Something About Remy
7. Little Clayway - Still Movin' Independently
8. various artists - Unruly Club Classics Vol. III
9. B.G. - The Heart Of Tha Streetz, Vol. 2 (I Am What I Am)
10. Juvenile - Reality Check

1. DJ Khaled f/ Paul Wall, Lil Wayne, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Pitbull - "Holla At Me Baby"
2. Toni Braxton - "Take This Ring"
3. T.I. - "What You Know"
4. Foo Fighters - "No Way Back"
5. B.G. f/ Mannie Fresh - "Move Around"
6. Remy Ma - "Conceited"
7. Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"
8. Ray Cash f/ Scarface - "Bumpin' My Music"
9. Heather Headley - "In My Mind"
10. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go"
11. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
12. Lil Wayne - "Hustler Musik"
13. Prince - "Black Sweat"
14. Chamillionaire f/ Krayzie Bone - "Ridin'"
15. Kelly Clarkson - "Walk Away"
16. Chris Brown - "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)"
17. Daddy Yankee - "Rompe"
18. Lil Kim - "Woah"
19. Fall Out Boy - "A Little Less 16 Candles, A Little More 'Touch Me'"
20. Twista f/ Pitbull - "Hit The Floor"
21. Pussycat Dolls f/ Will.I.Am - "Beep"
22. Cassidy - "Cassidy Theme"
23. DJ Shadow f/ Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk - "3 Freaks"
24. Keyshia Cole - "Love"
25. T.I. - “Why You Wanna”
26. Three 6 Mafia - "Poppin' My Collar"
27. Click Five - "Catch Your Wave"
28. Morningwood - "Nth Degree"
29. Donnell Jones f/ Jermaine Dupri - "Better Start Talking"
30. Shawnna - "Gettin' Some"
31. Beyonce f/ Slim Thug and Bun B - "Check On It"
32. Ghostface f/ Ne-Yo - "Like That"
33. Ne-Yo - "So Sick"
34. Notorious B.I.G. f/ Twista, Bone Thugs N Harmony, 8Ball & MJG and Swizz Beatz - "Spit Yo Game" (Remix)
35. Christina Milian f/ Young Jeezy - "Say I"
36. Sean Paul - "Temperature"
37. Teddy Geiger - “Confidence (For You I Will)”
38. The Lox - "Take Everything"
39. Kirk Franklin - "Looking For You"
40. Rihanna - "S.O.S."
41. The Fray - "Over My Head (Cable Car)"
42. Dilated Peoples - "Back Again"
43. KT Tunstall - "Black Horse And The Cherry Tree"
44. Dem Franchize Boyz - "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It"
45. Alicia Keys - "Every Little Bit Hurts"
46. LL Cool J f/ Freeway - "Whatcha Want"
47. Matisyahu - "King Without A Crown"
48. Kelis f/ Too $hort - "Bossy"
49. T-Pain f/ Mike Jones - "I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)"
50. Jaheim - "The Chosen One"

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Cover Connections

Thursday, March 30, 2006
I'm pretty excited that Carla Bozulich, who's dabbled in seemingly dozens of bands and projects over the years, has finally set a date for her first solo album of original material, Evangelista, to be released in June. However, my first glance at the cover art was eerily familiar, for its similarity to her frequent collaborator Nels Cline's 2000 album The Inkling, which was actually dedicated to Carla:

Also, this is apparently the template that the hip hop industry was using for self-titled flops in '03:

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Dem Franchize Boyz f/ Bun B - "My Music" (mp3)
"I keep white, keep purp, like a crayon box." The only song on the Franchize album produced by JD (even kinda has the same wobbly synth groove that was the only thing I really liked about "Grillz") and the best song on the album that hasn't been a single, which probably means it's a future single (but still not as good as Ray Cash's "Bumpin' My Music"). My review ran in the City Paper this week. And with all due respect to my wise and powerful editor, I have to say I just about did a full-body wince when I saw that 2 references to minimalism had been added to my draft that'd originally included none. Maybe one of these days I'll rant about how I take issue with the M-word being tossed at hip hop beats (particularly all that crisp Southern 808 stuff) anytime they don't have the ambient hiss of a dusty sample or a ton of Dr. Dre/Irv Gotti windchimes and wooshing atmospherics slapped on top, when usually the word doesn't really fit at all, in my opinion. Oh, I guess I just did.

Also in CP, I finally review a good movie, Inside Man.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Today on Stylus, I represent for Bmore with a review of Unruly Club Classics Vol. III, and an accompanying post with mp3's on Gov't Names.

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
Unruly Club Classics Vol. III
Stylus rating: B
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B+

In the late 80's, while hip-hop was talking hold as the dominant urban soundtrack of most American cities, something else was happening in Baltimore, Maryland. Local DJs stuck with the "hip-house" trend way longer than folks anywhere else did, and gradually, club sets full of national house music hits like "Percolator" and "Brighter Days" were overtaken by a growing legion of locally produced dance records that were a little rougher around the edges than the stuff coming from Chicago, New York, and Europe. Built around a fast, programmed beat akin to Miami bass, these tracks that relied less on 808s and more on classic breakbeats like Lyn Collins's "Think" and Gaz's "Sing Sing," became known simply as Baltimore club music.

The producers responsible for some of the earliest Baltimore club music records, Scottie B. ("I Got The Rhythm") and Shawn Caesar ("Yo Yo Where The Hos At"), ran the premier club music label, Unruly Records, in the 90's, as well as a record pool that distributed the genre's biggest records to the city's network of DJs. And in the late 90's, as mix CDs replaced vinyl as the primary form of club music consumption among non-DJs, Unruly kept up, issuing popular mix CDs by DJ Quicksilva and Reggie Reg. But over the last few years, Unruly's output had slowed down, as other labels and DJs held down the scene and club music became more and more intertwined with Baltimore's hip-hop community.

After over a decade of evolving in a seemingly unwatched and undisturbed petri dish, Baltimore club music finally started catching the attention of out-of-towners a couple years ago. By that point, it was a fully formed genre, with dozens of artists and thousands of tracks. But it was also a fiercely provincial and shortsighted scene, with little access to distribution channels outside the tri-state area. The rampant sampling in club music couldn't have helped, either, in terms of the possibility of major label deals.

But recently, Baltimore club's upper echelon has started to catch up with the music's popularity around the country, and has finally begun to distribute records outside of Maryland. DJ Technics now sells CDs and vinyl all over the world through his website, and Rod Lee's first nationally distributed album, Vol. 5: The Official, rode high on the wave of Baltimore club media attention last year. But most promising of all these developments might be the rebirth of Unruly Records. The label was never entirely dormant, and in fact released one of last year's most popular mix CDs, Club Queen K-Swift's Vol. 6: The Return. But the release of the third volume of its Unruly Club Classics series is being touted as the label's big return to a newly booming market.

In addition to being one of the genre's founding figues, Scottie B. has been one of the first hometown originators to embrace Baltimore club's popularity at indie dance nights around the country. Teaming with hipster DJs like Low Budget of Hollertronix, Scottie B. has helped spread the music to an audience that's considerably, well, whiter than its following in Baltimore. He also served as executive producer on last year's Bmore Gutter Music, a Hollertronix mix that mashed club music up with club-influenced tracks by newcomers like an awful rapper named Spank Rock. With Unruly Club Classics Vol. III, however, Scottie B. is back to representing Baltimore club music in its more traditional form.

Despite the title, Unruly Club Classics is not an attempt to tell the story of Baltimore club music chronologically, like DJ Technics's History 101 mix series, and doesn't restrict itself to a particular period of club music either. Instead, Club Classics Vol. III gathers music from throughout club history, including tracks from only a couple years ago, like Debonair Samir's "Throw It Up" (one of the earliest of the countless Lil Jon samples that dominated club music for a while) and DJ Class's "Next To You" remix.

What makes Unruly Club Classics Vol. III unique is in its assembly: Virtually all of Baltimore club music hovers around the same tempo (130 BPM), allowing DJs to mix back and forth between tracks quickly and easily, and in most DJ sets and mix CDs, any given record is rarely played for more than 2 minutes at a time, usually cramming over 30 tracks into an hour. But for the first disc of Club Classics, Unruly has collected a mere 13 tracks, all appearing in unmixed form as they would on the 12"s distributed to DJs.

Unruly might have chosen to present the material in this form to show the tracks as they were designed, in full, or maybe just to throw a bone to all the CDDJ's out there. But for someone who's used to the brisk pace of Baltimore club mixes, it can be kind of a downer to listen to a disc where the tracks average over four minutes, and one of the most abrasive tracks, Karyzma's "KONG," stretches out over nine grueling minutes.

Baltimore club music is frequently criticized as too repetitive, and while that is the nature of dance music, many club producers have taken to creating tracks with several discrete sections to flex actual songwriting skills. But the fact remains that usually you can hear all a song has to offer in no more than two or three minutes, making some of the longer cuts on Unruly Club Classics a difficult listen. While the 13 tracks on the first disc can only cover so much ground as far as the variety of Baltimore club music, several of the genre's greatest producers are represented, including K.W. Griff, Booman, Debonair Samir, DJ Class, King Tut, and of course, Scottie B.

The second disc of Unruly Club Classics, Vol. III is relegated to "Bonus CD" status and not even given a tracklist in the album's packaging. But that disc, a 31-track DJ mix by Scottie B. himself, is the real reason to buy this album. It features several tracks from the first disc in abbreviated form, as well as a much wider selection of club classics, including Rod Lee's "Feel Me," DJ Technics's "Ding-A-Ling," Booman's "Out My Way," and K-Life's "Let's Get High." As a club mix CD, it's far from the best the genre or even the label has to offer, and sometimes Scottie B.'s beatmatching skills leave something to be desired as rhythms fall out of sync a few times during a stretch midway through the mix. But as a faithful representation of what you'd hear in clubs like the Odell's back in the day or Club Choices today, it beats the hell out of the first disc or, for that matter, Bmore Gutter Music.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-03-28

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Monday, March 27, 2006
While I'm engaging in some meta-blog whining, let me just say for the record that I'm tired of this "after the jump" shit where I have to click to read the whole post. I guess it's a an odd position to take, considering I've got to click a whole lot of things just to get to the page. But it's a goddamn blog, I should be able to scroll up and down and see everything you've posted without clicking, unless it's an outside link. Also, I'm kinda glad I don't have one of those hugely popular blogs when I look at them and see people scrambling to be the first to comment on a new post, usually saying nothing other than "first!"...What the fuck is the point of that?


Saturday, March 25, 2006
The other night I went to post something on one of my blogs, and this message from Blogger.com popped up:

"Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive. You won't be able to publish posts to your blog until one of our humans reviews it and verifies that it is not a spam blog."

It took less than 20 minutes for them to review my site and allow me to start posting again, so I'm not really complaining. But, it's all kind of funny to me, because I do have a spamb1og, but that's not the blog that got locked by Blogger's anti-spam bots. Get on your job, Blogger!

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Two Dollar Guitar best-of mix, part 1:

1. Everybody's In A Band (mp3)
2. Happy Guitar
3. Kilroy
4. Song For A Dead Friend (mp3)
5. Cascade
6. Path Train Blues
7. Interlude
8. Blood On The Plow
9. Canny
10. Conversation With Myself
11. Guilt
12. Black Star
13. Star Sixty
14. T-Shirt (mp3)
15. Twilight Limited
16. Stones Vs. Zep

Yesterday, I talked a bit about my Stylus piece on Smells Like Records, and posted some tracks from the label's releases. But I only mentioned in passing my favorite Smells Like band, Two Dollar Guitar, the band led by Tim Foljahn that featured Steve Shelley on drums and (usually) Dave Motamed on bass. Ten years ago when I was a teenager obsessed with Sonic Youth, I would rummage through the SY bin at stores and snap up whatever was in there, side projects, noise improv solo albums, whatever. And I bought Two Dollar Guitar's Burned And Buried without having any idea what it sounded like or even what the SY link was. And that just ended up being one of those random indie records that I fixated on at that age, even though it didn't really sound like SY or anything else I was listening to. Tim Foljahn just sings these morbidly funny and sometimes genuinely sad songs in a low, unpolished voice, and most of the other artists that I've since realized are probably comparable (like, I don't know, probably Nick Cave) never really grabbed me in the same way.

A couple years later, my first foray into making a website was a Two Dollar Guitar fansite. You have to remember, this is back in the 90's when a lot of bands didn't even have official sites, so this was maybe less geeky thing to do than it would be today, although still really geeky. And it's a thoroughly 90's webpage from my personal AOL account with very barebones design and primitive HTML and everything. The amazing thing is that even though I started this site almost 8 years ago, and probably haven't updated it in about 6, it's still there, which I guess is the sole benefit of keeping the same AOL account going all this time. I don't think I even would know how to take down or update the site if I wanted to at this point.

In the course of running the site, I exchanged a lot of e-mails with the SLR folks. And in October '99, by complete coincidence, Two Dollar Guitar ended up playing a show opening for Mike Watt in the tiny Delaware resort town where I lived. So I set up an interview before the show, and my brother and I got to interview Tim, Steve, and their bassist at the time, Janet. I thought about editing and reprinting the interview here on Narrowcast, but ultimately decided against it, partly because it's still there, and partly because it's pretty rambling and trivial, and pertains largely to the album that they released a few months later, and goes off on tangents about the lounge singer I used to work for as a soundman and a bunch of other random stuff. It's kind of a funny read, although I wouldn't necessarily reccomend that you bother with it, unless you care at all about TDG or at least Steve Shelley. There are a few pictures of the band and me with the band, if you have any interest in seeing a 17-year-old version of me, thinner and with more hair, standing next to some of my musical heroes.

The album that Two Dollar Guitar released a few months later, Weak Beats And Lame-Ass Rhymes, has some of their best stuff, and I saw them live a couple more times after it was released. But that was about 6 years ago, and there's been barely any activity from the band since. Tim has played a few solo shows in New York since then, and in 2003 he played a show in Baltimore and I got to catch up with him a little bit and hear the new songs he was working on, including a really promising one based around the guitar line from "Cascade," from the Train Songs instrumental album. But it's been 2 and a half years since then and no other hint of a new album yet, so I'm not holding my breath, although I would be the first in line to buy it.

I just kinda threw this mix together, and I mainly call it Part 1 because I wasn't able to include a lot of stuff I'd like to have. Ideally I'd include stuff from their 7"s (the b-side "Music Don't Matter" is easily one of my all-time favorite TDG tracks), Tim's bizarre cassette-only releases on Old Gold Records, and the Weak Beats-era Insound tour support EP, which has some great covers and originals on it, but is all packed into 2 long tracks and isn't really usable for a mix CD. So someday if I can split up the tracks on that CD and digitize the other stuff, there'll be a part 2. Plus, their songs are generally pretty long, so I definitely can't fit all my favorites on one disc. This band has pretty limited appeal and I don't really expect them to cast the same spell on anyone else that they did for me, but I'm still gonna keep throwing the stuff I love out into the ether of cyberspace, like I've been doing since I was 16.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

This week in Stylus, I contributed to the Non-Definitive Guide to the Artist-Run Label feature, writing the last 2 label profiles for Roc-A-Fella Records (nothing that people don't really already know about in there) and Smells Like Records, who are close to my heart and considerably more obscure. I don't have every release on Steve Shelley's label, and I don't love all of the ones I've heard (the Mosquito album is one of the rare instances in which I took a CD back to the store after one listen for reasons other than scratches on the disc). But it's still probably my favorite tiny indie vanity label ever, and means way more to me than just any old Sonic Youth side project. Here are some of my favorite selections from their catalog:

La Lengua Asesina - "Hotel Opera" (mp3)
For anyone who's ever wondered about the origin of my AOL e-mail address, it's this, the brief slide guitar instrumental title track from Hotel Opera, the 1998 album by La Lengua Asesina, a side project of Tim Foljahn. Foljahn's main project is Two Dollar Guitar, my favorite Smells Like band, who I'll talk more about tomorrow. It kind of amazes me that I've had that e-mail address since shortly after this record came out, almost 8 years ago. Man, that makes me feel old.

Chris Lee - "Mount Venus" (mp3)
One of the most memorable introductions I've ever had to an artist via a live show would have to be when Chris Lee played a Smells Like label showcase in 2001. He opened his set with an amazing solo rendition of Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren," and then played with the same backing band from his self-titled first album (including Andrew Barker, who I've barely heard anywhere else but might be one of the greatest drummers I've ever seen/heard). Chris Lee is a soul singer with a voice like Steve Perry from Journey with a little Southern twang added in, which might look terrible on paper, but he's made some really good, slept on records, in addition to playing with The Sands. And the best of his 3 solo albums is the one he did for Smells Like, 2001's Chris Lee Plays And Sings Torch'd Songs, Charivari Hymns & Oriki Blue-Marches. His official site has mp3's of some of my favorite songs from him, but here's another that's real quiet and pretty, and is kinda long because there's a hidden instrumental track at the end that sounds pretty awesome awesome..

Scarnella - "Release The Spring" (mp3)
Carla Bozulich's official site has mp3's from throughout her entire career, including some of my favorites by The Geraldine Fibbers ("Lilybelle," "Dragon Lady," "Butch") and Ethyl Meatplow ("Ripened Peach"), but the selection from Scarnella, the wonderfully bizarre 1998 album with Nels Cline, "Death By Northwest," is one of my least favorite tracks on that record. For a record that was made entirely by 2 people in a short span of time, it really does cover a pretty wide range of their abilities, from aggressive noise improv to torch ballads to giddy punk. I'll have to go with "Release The Spring," though, partly for the timeliness of the selection, and partly for that amazing spidery opening guitar riff, and the way Nels stomped on a bass drum to keep time during the song the one time I saw them play as Scarnella, opening for The Boredoms in '99.

Cat Power - "Rockets" (mp3)
I'm of the minority that was only really feeling Cat Power on those first 3 albums with Shelley/Foljahn backing where Chan Marshall's voice really cut through those muddy lo-fi riffs. Moon Pix, while about half really good, was the beginning of the end, as far as smoothing out her sound for a Garden Stateified fanbase that would actually put up with the bullshit she calls a live show.

Christina Rosenvinge - "Green Room" (mp3)
This tune has a somewhat convoluted history, from being penned by Tim Foljahn and originally released as "Chambre Vert" (the title translated to French, although the lyrics were always in Engligh) on the La Lengua Asesina album, and then recorded by Two Dollar Guitar for Weak Beats & Lame Ass Rhymes with Christina Rosenvinge guesting on lead vocals, and then recorded again by pretty much the same personnel (but with a slightly softer, less rock'n'roll arrangement) for Rosenvinge's Frozen Pool album. Plus there's a full band TDG version with Foljahn on vocals that they played on tour, which might be my favorite.

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:

Smells Like

Started: 1992

How It Started: Sonic Youth is an almost an indie cottage industry unto itself, with its various side projects and noise improv one-offs spreading out over countless homegrown labels. Meanwhile, drummer Steve Shelley has quietly gone about building a catalog of of rootsy, down-tempo lo-fi that owes a greater debt to Neil Young than the band's post-punk influences with his Smells Like Records label, over the course of 15 years and a few dozen releases.

Smells Like's first release was a 7-inch by Lou Barlow's Sentridoh, and true to those origins, the label's become something of a haven for side projects, including Dump (Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew), Mosquito (Half Japanese frontman Jad Fair), and Scarnella (a stunning and experimental 1998 collaboration between Carla Bozulich and Nels Cline of the Geraldine Fibbers). But Smells Like is more than just a vanity label for sidelines by estalished indie lifers, having signed a number of young unknowns including The Clears, Nod, and New York crooner Chris Lee, whose 2001 sophomore album stands out as one of Smells Like's finest moments.

Smells Like has also fought to keep cult heroes in print, including a 1994 EP by the reunited Raincoats. But perhaps the label's most ambitious project has been a 1999 campaign of reissues of solo albums by iconoclastic 70's pop songwriter Lee Hazelwood, including his first new album in decades. But Smells Like might still be best known as the home of the SYR imprint, which has issued Sonic Youth's series of experimental EPs, beginning with 1997's SYR1.

Where They Are Now: Smells Like still occasionally takes on new artists, most recently issuing debut albums by Ursa Minor and Tony Scherr. And they continue to foster long-term relationships with new albums by Christina Rosenvinge, Nod, and Fuck frontman Timothy Prudhomme, while Tim Foljahn has been hinting at a new Two Dollar Guitar album for years. The SYR series is still going strong with this year's SYR6, and Smells Like has handled the vinyl releases of Sonic Youth's more recent major label albums and its latest spate of reissues, including the long-awaited repressing of their 1981 debut EP.
[Al Shipley]


Started: 1995

How It Started: Hip-hop has virtually redefined the business model for artist-run labels, with nearly every up-and-coming MC now aiming for the ownership of their own company. And although Master P's No Limit Records set the standard for the independent grind in the South, no label has been more influential in popularizing the artist-run major label imprint than Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records.

Founded with business partners Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke after they had no luck getting him signed to a major label, Roc-A-Fella issued Jay's earlier singles, including "In My Lifetime," before getting distribution from Priority Records for his debut album, the 1996 classic Reasonable Doubt. It wasn't until 1998 when Roc-A-Fella partnered with Def Jam that Jay-Z was propelled to multi-platinum status, however.

It's to the credit of Jay-Z's marketing skills that he made Roc-A-Fella a recognized brand name despite being one of its only successful artists for several years. Aside from DJ Clue's two platinum mixtape albums, no non-Jay-Z release sold a million copies until Cam'ron's Come Home With Me in 2002. By that point, Roc-A-Fella had only modest sales to show for Philly hardcore rapper Beanie Sigel, Jay's Brooklyn crony Memphis Bleek, and the flop debut by female rapper Amil. But together, they presented a unified front as one of the most feared crews in the rap game.

The 2000 album Dynasty: Roc La Familia, stuffed with posse cuts, went a long way toward establishing the brand. But what really solidified Roc-A-Fella as a sound all its own was Jay-Z's 2001 album The Blueprint, which made in-house producers Just Blaze and Kanye West the hottest beatmakers in the game overnight, and brought soul sampling back in vogue in hip-hop. And in 2004, just months after Jay-Z announced his retirement from hip hop with The Black Album, West became the label's second multi-platinum franchise with his debut as a rapper, The College Dropout.

In recent years, Roc-A-Fella haphazardly expanded its roster, signing countless artists who never ended up releasing an album, including questionable choices like ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham and several underutilized veteran rappers. M.O.P. was on the label for years before moving onto a new deal with G-Unit, and Ol' Dirty Bastard passed away while working on an album for the label. Meanwhile, rumors swirled of a growing rift between Jay-Z and Dame Dash, which they denied adamantly right up until their partnership was dismantled.

Where They Are Now: Def Jam were so impressed with Jay-Z's business acumen in running one of the company's most successful labels that in 2004, he was offered the job of President of Def Jam. But the terms of the deal included Jay-Z, Dash, and Burke selling their remaining 50% share of Roc-A-Fella to Def Jam, effectively ending the partnership that the label had started. Dash has moved on with the unsuccessful Damon Dash Music Group, and one of the artists he brought to Roc-A-Fella, Cam'ron, left Def Jam and dissed Jay-Z on record. Aside from Kanye West's sophomore album, the continued success of Roc-A-Fella has yet to be seen, with meager sales of recent albums by Memphis Bleek, the Young Gunz, and Teairra Mari.
[Al Shipley]

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Prince - "I Would Die 4 U (Extended Version)" (mp3)
I'm not really gonna get into the debate about whether 3121 is worth the hype or just another fake comeback, but on the first listen I enjoyed it. Instead, let's talk about the 2-disc Ultimate compilation of Warner-era material that Rhino was going to put out this month, until Prince made them change the tracklist, and then push it back so as not to compete with the real new album, so it now has no certain release date. The most recent announced tracklist for it, cached here, is interesting because several of the tracks are dances mixes and extended remixes from the original 12"s instead of the better known radio or album versions. I've always been intrigued by all these alternate mixes Prince put out in the 80's, which are talked about in some detail in this ILM thread, without actually having heard many of them. But my homeboy Mat, always a dependable Prince fanatic, hooked me up with a couple, including this 10-minute version of one of my favorite Prince singles of all time, which isn't even one of the extended mixes set to appear on Ultimate. It's definitely more of a loose jam with a different structure than, say, the basic song with a longer outro like I expected, but there's some really fantastic bits in there.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Remy Ma - "Crazy" (mp3)
Somehow I got through my entire review of There's Something About Remy without talking about how good this song is. The album is definitely not gonna stay the best I've heard this year, though, slipping down the list pretty quickly. I gotta say, it was really kind of heartwarming to read the other day that Remy is friends with Shawnna, because I could easily picture her being the Foxy Brown type who has to beef with every other chick in the industry.

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.

Remy Ma
There’s Something About Remy
Universal Motown
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

Successful female rappers are such a rare phenomenon that they're usually discussed in hypothetical terms, speculating about what they need to make it: lyrical talent, some sex appeal, but not too much, a just-one-of-the-guys swagger, and ties to a respected crew or male rap star. Of course, post-Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, several female MCs have come down the pike fitting these criteria and selling more than sex. But for every Eve who crosses over and gets a platinum plaque, there's a dozen like Rah Digga and Shawnna plagued with album delays and meager sales.

Remy Ma, formerly known as Remy Martin before looming Cognac copyrights forced the name change, knows a thing or two about release dates getting pushed back. It's been two years since her breakthrough verse on Terror Squad's #1 single, "Lean Back." But her debut LP has been in the works since even before her mentor Big Punisher, one of the greatest rappers of all time, passed away in 2000. The Big Pun collabo on There's Something About Remy, "Thug Love," was even completed specifically for this album while he was still alive. Just think, There's Something About Mary was probably still a current pop culture reference when she titled the album.

That kind of wait would frustrate any artist, but especially so for Remy, whose entire persona seems to be based on an arrogant sense of entitlement. It's a quality that doesn't make people especially likeable, but for rappers it's a classic archetype that can make for hot records, and no female rapper has ever carried a chip on their shoulder quite like Remy. Her first words on There's Something About Remy are “What do you mean I'm your 2nd favorite female rapper? That's crazy, I'm better than most of these niggas...”

Although she sometimes affects the petulant tone of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (i.e. "Tight"'s temper tantrum: "ain't nobody fuckin' with me, me me me me me me me!"), Remy usually expresses her high self regard by rapping in a bored, slightly pissed off monotone. And nowhere is that approach used to greater effect than on the single "Conceited," where Scott Storch's "Lean Back" rehash works better than it has any right to as Remy recites her daily affirmation, which basically translates to: I'm the shit, I'm better than you, and doggone it, people like me.

Unfortunately, it's not a good omen for an album when the two most appealing songs, "Conceited" and the Swizz Beatz-produced banger "Whuteva," were already singles, and didn't do particularly well on the charts at that. Still, There's Something About Remy is at least consistent, and she turns in uniformly strong verses even over ill-fitting beats like the token Southern joint, "I'm," produced by David Banner. But Remy is at her best when she has a solid concept to sink her teeth into, like "Bilingual" featuring Ivy Queen or the brief, perfectly executed storytelling track, "Guilty."

After nearly an hour of relentless swagger and aggression, Remy finally shows some emotional depth during There's Something About Remy's last two songs. On "What's Going On" featuring Keyshia Cole, Remy raps from the perspective of a pregnant teenager who struggles with the decision to have an abortion. It's the kind of conflicted but vulnerable side that might connect with more listeners than all the bravado and bluster Remy has to offer. The album closes with "Still," a more deliberate attempt to show her vulnerability, but Remy nonetheless manages to come off like a spoiled celebrity with statements like "even people with a fanbase have bad days." By that point, though, it doesn't really matter, because anyone who's still listening has figured out that this is one cocky bitch who's earned the right to brag.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-03-20

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Monday, March 20, 2006
I feel overly dependant on this blog shit, when blogger.com was down for most of the past 4 days it was really unnerving me like some kind of fiend. This weekend was cool aside from that, though, went out for St. Patrick's Day for the first I can remember in a while. We live a few blocks from all kinds of cheesy bars, and the one we went to was blasting music like Stabbing Westward, I don't know how people are supposed to party and get their drink on to that bullshit.

On Saturday, I hung out with Jim for a bit and went to the Talking Head. We saw a few local bands were opening for Palomar, who I’m not familiar with and didn’t stick around for. Jim wanted to see a band he knows called Pontiak, who I kinda liked. Three unshaven dudes in knit caps making grubby, unadorned indie rock, like Lungfish with more groove. And they opened with a decent cover of "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" by Tom Waits. The band after them, Squaaks, is one of those bands that makes me feel like a sexist pig by virtue of being pretty boring to watch with the exception of their hot chick bassist. The band after that sounded decent for their first couple songs but not good enough to keep me from ducking out.

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In My Stereo

Friday, March 17, 2006
Jon Auer - Songs From The Year Of Our Demise
Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Mobb Deep/DJ Whoo Kid - G-Unit Radio 17 - Best In The Bizness
Chamillionaire/DJ Smallz - Man On Fire
T.I./DJ Drama - Gangsta Grillz: The Leak
2Pac - All Eyez On Me
Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death
Tyree Colion - The Problem And The Solution
Bosslady presents On Da Grind, Vol. 3
Skarr Akbar/DJ Radio - Da Labotomy: The General Pt. 3

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006
My adventures in reviewing crap movies continue in this week's City Paper with The Shaggy Dog. Unfortunately I didn't have room to expound on how ridiculous Robert Downey Jr. is in this, how squandered Philip Baker Hall is but still really funny when he says his one line, the obligatory "Who Let The Dogs Out?" scene, or the walking gay joke that is Tim Allen's son in this movie.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Jaheim - "Like A DJ" (mp3)
It seems kind of unlikely that 4 R&B albums have hit #1 on Billboard already this year, but what's really ridiculous is that I've posted songs from all of them in the past week. I need to space this stuff out more, I promise I'll ease up on the R&B for a minute. I think Ghetto Classics is the best of the bunch overall, though, Stylus slapped a B- on it but I thought my review pointed more toward a B or B+. This track is kind of unrepresentative in its club-readiness but still, one of the best tracks, and the lyric's whole extended metaphor appeals to music nerds like 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.

Ghetto Classics
Stylus rating:B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

Either Jaheim Hoagland is consistent to a fault, or he's crafted his album titles to give that impression. 2001's Ghetto Love, 2002's Still Ghetto, and the new Ghetto Classics work their theme as monomanaically as Trick Daddy's five album run of Thug-related titles. But maybe it's the "classics" part that's more key to Jaheim's appeal, because despite modernized hip-hop production touches, his music is all big-hearted, old school soul that owes more than a small debt to Marvin Gaye. He's also a far more skilled disciple of Luther Vandross than, say, Jamie Foxx.

Of course, Jaheim has to reaffirm his ghetto aesthetic on tracks like "I Ain't Never" with references to cooking bricks in the kitchen and standin' on the corner pitchin'. But then, he's one of the few R&B singers today who can pull off such claims convincingly, and sounds right at home when collaborating with the Diplomats or D-Block. In fact, in an R&B climate where sometimes entire albums can be littered with cameos by rappers, Jaheim limits Ghetto Classics to one appearance apiece from Lox members Styles P. and Jadakiss, like he's keeping it all in the family and not just collaborating with rappers for the hell of it.

DJ Kay Gee, the non-rapping third member of Naughty by Nature, has made a graceful transition from the soulful bangers that drove early 90's pop rap to the similar production styles that dominate contemporary R&B. And he's responsible for four of the best tracks on Ghetto Classics, including the new single "The Chosen One," which continues the hit parade of Willie Hutch samples on urban radio that was jumpstarted by the Three 6 Mafia. Elsewhere, hip-hop producers like Scott Storch and Bink! from Roc-A-Fella conform to Jaheim's aesthetic with lush, melodic backdrops that actually suit a singer better than a rapper.

Ghetto Classics might not contain a breakout single as inspired as "Fabulous," which crept into the Top 40 in 2003, but the lack of obvious hits doesn't hurt the listening experience. At 43 minutes, it's Jaheim's shortest album. But it's a smooth, cohesive ride that never lapses into boredom like, say, Ne-Yo's recent debut In My Own Words. And when Ghetto Classics does divert from Jaheim's usual style, it's just once, and results in perhaps the best song on the album.

Propelled by a stuttery keyboard riff and club-ready drums, "Like a DJ" stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the album's pillowy mid-tempo arrangements. But the upbeat dance track is propelled by a perfectly realized lyric paralleling a romantic relationship with a hit record's journey up and down the charts, complete with clever nods to the Vandross sample from Twista's "Slow Jamz." Jaheim laments falling "from top ten, to not even bein' in your countdown," until his lover goes digging in the crates and plays him again. It's a sly metaphor that might have a special resonance for, say, a singer who hasn't released an album in four years and might worry that his fans have moved on. But it's clear that the fanbase Jaheim built with his first two albums hasn't forgotten him, because Ghetto Classics became his first #1 album, despite no hit single and minimal promotion. The narrator of "Like a DJ" might fret about being passed over for a newer sound, but it looks like Jaheim shouldn't have to worry about that.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-03-14

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Monday, March 13, 2006
Websites that consist of nothing but funny/cute pictures of cats are great fun and all, but does Stuff On My Cat.com make anyone else think of "Slob On My Cat"?

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The Funk of 40 Thousand Years

Sunday, March 12, 2006
Petra Haden - "Thriller" (mp3)
I suppose the novelty of Petra's a cappella covers will wear off at some point, but it hasn't yet. Jeffy once again put me up on the MJ cover on her MySpace page, and I had to track down the mp3. She even does the Vincent Price parts!


Friday, March 10, 2006
The O'Jays - "I Swear, I Love No One But You" (mp3)

Mary J. Blige - "No One Will Do" (mp3)

Ne-Yo - "Get Down Like That" (mp3)

In one of those instances of sampling synchronicity that's become increasingly frequent in the hip hop era, two R&B albums that recently topped the charts both sampled the same O'Jays jam from 1976, and not even a particularly well known album cut, either. The Ne-Yo one was the first I heard, and it completely blew me away on the first listen, to the point that I haven't really gotten into the rest of In My Own Words. I mean, I'm happy that the dude stomped out Hawthorne Heights on the Billboard charts, but when one track is so much better than everything else on the album it's really hard to pay attention to the other stuff. The album ends with a hidden track that's a remix of "Get Down Like That" with Ghostface, but if you ask me it doesn't really add anything to the Ne-Yo solo version (besides a mild "yeah, it makes sense that this is the track Ghost would get on" reaction), and I like the way Ne-Yo sounds on the verses better. Plus the title is way too close to their other collabo, "Back Like That." I have no problem with them putting it on the album twice, though, since I already listen to it way more than twice as often as the other tracks. So I was definitely intrigued enough to want to check out the O'Jays original, and when someone on ILM mentioned that the first track on Mary J.'s last album sampled the same song, I decided to go and complete the trifecta. Mary's version takes the more typical sped-up chipmunk approach to the sample, but all three songs do pretty much the same thing with the chorus, singing the title right over that big melodic hook, with the Mary version not really even changing the words much. The O'Jays one is great in and of itself and has a brilliant tempo change at the end, but to my ears it works best as a piece of the perfection that is "Get Down Like That," maybe my favorite song of the year so far.

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TV Diary

Thursday, March 09, 2006
1. American Idol
As I mentioned a few weeks back, this is the first season of A.I. that I've committed to watching pretty regularly, and I've only missed one or two episodes since then. I always figured if I ever got really into it I'd get pissed about decisions or be really vehement about my favorites, but that hasn't really happened yet, although it started to creep in with this week's eliminations. For the most part, I've been pretty good at predicting who's going home, although it got a little harder as it got narrowed down to the 12 finalists tonight. Out of the 24 contestants that went to Hollywood, I don't really have any problems with who went home, although I felt like Brenna could've hung in there a little longer.

People I was glad to see go: David Radford, the boring teenaged crooner who clearly got a lot of encouragement performing in his living room but clearly was petrified of the thought of singing anything not Sinatra and hung in there way longer than he had a right to. No versatility or range of selections = people are gonna get sick of you fast. Also Patrick, who had a pretty good audition and seemed promising, but totally destroyed his chances when he sang "Come To My Window" and came off like the biggest male lesbian since Clay. I was also glad that Ayla got voted off tonight, since she never really impressed me with her singing, and had that really awkward body language of tall teenagers that makes for bad bad stage presence. Plus it was between her and Melissa, who I really like with her whole trashy hot chick look and husky vocal tone, even though she's clearly kinda hanging by a thread with the voters and people have been predicting she'd be gone every week so far. I hope she stays in for at least a little while longer.

I was a little mad that Kevin stayed in once again this week, even though he's even less versatile than the crooner kid. But I think everyone is overestimating his granny/pre-teen fangirl voting bloc, considering that he was in the bottom 3 a week or two ago and narrowly escaped elimination. So all he needs is another week or two of boring performances to get outta there. Also surprised that Bucky is still there, considering his singing never really impressed me, and his difficulty speaking seems to go way beyond just being Southern. Plus, Chris (J.G.'s favorite, along with Taylor) is holding down the token rocker dude position much more successfully. Gedeon wasn't great but probably deserved to stay longer than Kevin or Bucky.

Kelly Pickler is alright but I think also hanging onto her cutesy backstory/accent appeal and is one bad song choice away from elimination. Lisa Tucker had a lot of hype early on but she's faded into the background with some pretty boring performances, so time will tell with her. Katharine McPhee is definitely still the one to beat, and if the Kelly/Carrie tradition of cute white girls winning continues this season, it'll be her. I hope the Scientology rumors aren't true and she's not too psycho because she is really good and seems normal enough. Paris or Mandisa or pretty boy Ace might give her tough competition, though, and I'm rooting for the talented but ugly dude set (Elliott, Taylor and arguably Chris) to stick around and do well.

2. Project Runway
I don't really like this show but J.G.'s into it hardcore so I ended up kind of paying attention to it this season. But I have absolutely no ideas or opinions about fashion or clothing so I only really followed the people element and never really knew who was doing good work or not until they got the boot. Santino's antics and the token nutjob of the series were entertaining enough, though, and I was kind of surprised he got to the final three, although I'm kind of glad he lost because hey, he's probably going to remain more famous than the actual winner no matter what. I'm a little shocked that since the finale the other night I've found no discussion anywhere of the fact that Santino made his own music to go with his fashion show, which I thought was funnier than any of his other antics the entire seasno. Especially the "and the boys all blow you kisses" line that he seemed to repeat over and over. I was dying. Maybe he'll start selling CDs off his website, considering that he seems to be shilling everything else possible -- and by the way, is anyone else bothered by the fact that a professional clothing designer is selling an official line of Cafe Press shirts? That just seems wrong.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Jamie Foxx - "Heaven" (mp3)
Large sections of Unpredictable, as covered in my City Paper review, are truly laughable (I'm still not entirely sure that "Storm (Forecass)" isn't supposed to be a quiet storm parody), but he totally pulls it together for the 2 ballads at the end, especially this Stevie-style one that he wrote himself and Babyface produced.

Also in the City Paper, Jim reviews the Grand Buffet show I talked about last week.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006
This is a mix CD I made for J.G. a few weeks ago:

1. Apollo Sunshine - "Today Is The Day"
2. Simon & Garfunkel - "Cecilia"
3. Brendan Benson - "The Alternative To Love" (Metarie EP version)
4. The Posies - "21"
5. Spymob - "National Holidays"
6. Superchunk - "Detroit Has A Skyline"
7. The B-52's - "Private Idaho"
8. Chisel - "River High"
9. Soul Coughing - "So Far I Have Not Found The Science"
10. Medications - "This Is The Part We Laugh About"
11. Alicia Keys featuring Adam Levine - "Wild Horses"
12. The Rolling Stones - "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
13. John Mellencamp - "Cherry Bomb"
14. Travis Morrison - "Any Open Door"
15. Ken Stringfellow - "Any Love (Cassandra Et Lune)"
16. Jeff Buckley - "What Will You Say" (live Mystery White Boy version)
17. Ted Leo - "Bleeding Powers" (solo Tell Balgeary EP version)
18. Randy Newman - "Baltimore"

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Monday, March 06, 2006
LOL @ Just Blaze being up at 5am flipping a sick "Superfreak" sample and talking over the beat making MySpace jokes.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006
The Minutemen doc We Jam Econo, which I saw a screening of last year, still isn't due out on DVD until June (2 discs with a bunch of extra interviews!), but in the meantime, some dedicated fans have digitized an Nth generation bootleg of Corndogs, the legendary-but-never-officially-released SST home video from 1985, which is full of all sorts of videos, performance footage, interviews, general bizareness and evidence of George Hurley's amazing hairstyles, much of which was re-used in Econo.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006
I mentioned a while back that Rjyan (aka Cex) recently resumed his long-running diary/blog thing, and since it's been going again, he's been posting mostly long diatribes about what the world or the music world needs to do to arrive at some moment of epiphany or liberation or something like that, the vague ideal of a big cultural Nevermind moment that I don't buy into at all. But now and then I've found a kernel of something I identify with or am intrigued by in what he's saying, and this is one in particular:

From whom do we hide our nerdiration? This is a good question. It's not from the squares, because the squares have no voice. Squares don't have a real strong opinion about anything, although they occasionally try on the passions they see on television. But the heart and soul of the square is his desire to BLEND IN--- he doesn't want to call any real attention to himself, because he knows that will bring CRITICISM his way. So any time you read something in a magazine or on a website that claims to speak for the squares, it's really a nerd writing that. People whose hustle is writing=nerds. Do you know how long writing takes? It takes a fuck of a long time (sometimes weeks), and you know that nerd with the e-zine column isn't typing his shit on somebody else's laptop. To extend the metaphor for a second, self-denying nerd-writers=Pharisees, capitalizing on the guilt present in all nerds for their own benefit. Basically, all of humanity has been converted to Nerdism, they've got the Nerdist altar glowing in their homes and they pray to it regularly, but rather than show them the true way to the mountaintop, the self-denying nerd-writers have played to their basest instincts and we've got waterfalls of ill will pouring out of virtually every crack in the virtual world.

I'm kind of proud of the fact that I've managed to almost never bring up the spectre of the whole blogger/critic obsession with "rockism" and "popism," and I hesitate to do so now, but it strikes me that he's come up with a kind of different outlook on that dichotomy without meaning to and perhaps without even being familiar with that whole debate. The whole rockism/popism thing has always rung a little hollow to me precisely because the self-identified "popists" are laying claim to a certain kind of populist everyman status as a weird reverse elitism over the obscurantists, even if by very real social standards, both sides of the argument are pretty much all nerds. So, this kind of boils the two sides down to a matter of nerds and squares, instead of rockists (=nerds who revel in nerdy elitist values, who are maybe unaware of the inherent biases of those values) and popists (=nerds in squares' clothing, who understand the nerd value system and probably once subscribed to it, but have since decided to defect to some vague ideal of what the common man or working class joe believes). Anyway, I just liked his perspective on it. But then, he's also written some stuff that I think is really toxically wrong lately, so I'm not necessarily co-signing all of it.

This entry isn't really on the same topic, but rings true with me for other reasons, especially this part:

I must admit, I didn't go out of my way to hear any Bloc Party or Thrills or LCD Soundsystem before last night, and I kind of maintained this ignorant idea that their music was probably OK, just not really my thing. But now I've heard it, I've seen the videos (which I imagine are for these bands' singles, Jesus help us all) and I feel like an old Southern belle catching the vapors.

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Friday, March 03, 2006
SPAMB1OG is my new weird and possibly pointless concept blog, from the same team that brought you A Current Affair Blog. If you get any excessively strange or funny spam, please send it my way. It's turning out to be way harder than I expected to seperate the stuff from the stuff, you have to read through a lot of ones that are boring or made from the same formula before a truly noteworthy one pops up.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006
Ja Rule - "Exodus (Intro)" (mp3)
Today on Stylus, I eulogize the career of Jeffrey Atkins Represents Unconditional Love Existence.

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.

Ja Rule
The Inc
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: C+

eleasing an album a year is almost standard practice in hip-hop, but few can boast several consecutive years of back-to-back releases, and even fewer can hope to compete with Jay-Z's eight year streak. Though few will admit it, Ja Rule is one of the few who did come close, with six albums in six years and several million sold. But in contrast to Jay's almost unanimous acclaim and popularity, Ja Rule is possibly the most hated multi-platinum artist of the past decade this side of Creed, reviled by critics and underground hip-hop heads alike, as well as probably a fair number of the people who bought his albums.

This isn't entirely Ja Rule's own fault. Plenty of rap stars have taken their fame for granted and insulted their audience's intelligence with brainless love raps, but few took that approach to the bank more successfully and relentlessly than Jeffrey Atkins Represents Unconditional Love Existence. In 2002, after three albums, each of which sold roughly twice as much as the last, mounting anti-Ja sentiment found a very vocal spokesperson in the form of rising superstar 50 Cent, who waged a savage and frequently hilarious smear campaign against his Queens competitor. But contrary to popular belief, 50 Cent didn't halt Ja Rule's career. It was already crumbling. The Last Temptation and its single "Thug Lovin'" featuring Bobby Brown flopped a couple months before Get Rich Or Die Tryin' was released or most people even really knew who 50 Cent was. He just accelerated Ja's downfall.

In a move that can be either be seen as admirable or suicidal, Ja Rule never retreated, even as his fanbase retreated from him, continuing to release albums in 2003 and 2004 that each struggled to reach Gold status. But as 2005 came to a close and his good friend and Murder Inc. label boss Irv Gotti was still embroiled in a money laundering trial, Ja Rule finally broke his album-a-year streak by releasing a greatest hits collection, Exodus, in lieu of a new album. So now, while Ja still seems to be hanging onto the hope of a major comeback, seems to be a good time to look back on what happened to his career in the first place.

Exodus may not be an enticing listen for most, but there's no getting around the fact that it features roughly a dozen of the biggest hip-hop radio hits of the past few years. Although the selection is sometimes muddled by the inclusion of a few new tracks and non-hits, and the conspicuous absence of some major hits, it's nonetheless nearly a complete picture of one of the biggest pop rap franchises of this decade.

Ja's first solo hit, 1999's "Holla Holla" is preceded by two new tracks. "Exodus (Intro)" is a stark reminder that Ja's cookie monster growl really can sound fantastic over gritty New York hip-hop, with an uncharacteristically hard beat from 7 Aurelius, the producer responsible for many of Murder Inc.'s softest, slickest R&B hits. And then there's "Me," a dull attempt at a new club anthem. But from track three onward, the middle 2/3rds of Exodus is a straight up hit parade.

Some of Ja Rule's most sugary pop confections, particularly the Ashanti collaborations "Always On Time" and "Mezmerize," might leave a sour taste, but beyond those, Exodus exhibits a body of work that holds up surprisingly well. ""Livin' It Up" featuring Case and "Wonderful" featuring R. Kelly and Asanti are slick radio jams of the highest order, and "New York" featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss is one of the East coast's strongest street records of the past couple years.

But even on some of the collection's better songs, the criticisms leveled at Ja Rule are legitimized. Ja was frequently accused of imitating 2Pac and DMX, but on the mournful, sincere "I Cry," he shows range by imitating Scarface. And "Clap Back," the sole inclusion from Blood In My Eye, the 2003 flop released at the height of his beef with 50 Cent, is one of Ja's hardest singles, but also shows how poor he is at hardcore rap without the kind of expert assistance he later got on "New York." "Clap Back" begins with over a minute of Ja ad-libbing, sometimes with multiple voices layered over each other into a paranoid, incomprehensible babble before the hook even starts. And once he does actually rap, it's a venomous, unfocused mess.

"Put It on Me" featuring Vita is one of the greatest, if not the greatest love rap of its era, a dramatic, gamelan-driven masterpiece. But unfortunately, the album version is featured on Exodus instead of the superior single mix in which singer Lil Mo's melodic ad-libs cover up Ja's shortcomings as a hook singer and bolster the song's emotional impact. The disappointing omissions don't end there unfortunately. Rule 3:36's lead single "Between Me And You" featuring Christina Milian is strangely missing, as is the Pain Is Love hit "Down Ass Chick" featuring Charli Baltimore. But while the "I'm Real (Remix)," his 2001 smash with Jennifer Lopez is absent, the superior J. Lo collabo, "Ain't It Funny (Remix)" does appear.

Between Exodus's most recent hits from 2004 and the closing new track "Exodus (Outro)," Ja slips in three non-singles from his first three albums to fill out the CD's 78-minute running time. "Never Again," "Daddy's Little Baby," and "Love Me, Hate Me" are each slightly more serious and lyrical than Ja's best known songs, and go a little way towards showing that Ja Rule made more than just pop jams. But if you want to hear that, the albums themselves are lining used bins everywhere. When you put on Exodus, you want to hear the hits, and for the most part, that's what it gives you.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-03-02

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
A while back, I decided to try something a little different and do some little movie reviews for the City Paper, and told the arts editor, Bret, to feel free to toss me any mainstream flick the real film critics don't want to be bothered with. And I got exactly what I asked for, because my first review is of Aquamarine.

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