2006 so far, very tentatively

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
1. Remy Ma - There's Something About Remy
2. DNA - True Crime: Harm City, Volume 5
3. Jaheim - Ghetto Classics
4. Dem Franchize Boyz - On Top Of Our Game
5. Ne-Yo - In My Own Words
6. Morningwood - Morningwood
7. B. Rich - Born Rich
8. Jamie Foxx - Unpredictable
9. The Sands - 9 song demo
10. YoungBloodZ - Ev'rybody Know Me

1. T.I. - "What You Know"
2. Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"
3. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
4. Remy Ma - "Conceited"
5. Lil Wayne - "Hustler Musik"
6. Twista f/ Pitbull - "Hit The Floor"
7. Beyonce f/ Slim Thug and Bun B - "Check On It"
8. Prince - "Black Sweat"
9. Ghostface f/ Ne-Yo - "Like That"
10. Foo Fighters - "No Way Back"
11. Daddy Yankee - "Rompe"
12. Lil Kim - "Woah"
13. DJ Khaled f/ Paul Wall, Lil Wayne, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Pitbull - "Holla At Me Baby"
14. Ne-Yo - "So Sick"
15. Pussycat Dolls f/ Will.I.Am - "Beep"
16. Consequence f/ Kanye West - "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly"
17. Ludacris, Trick Daddy and Luke - "Throw Da D '06"
18. Click Five - "Catch Your Wave"
19. Ray Cash f/ Scarface - "Bumpin' My Music"
20. Three 6 Mafia - "Poppin' My Collar"
21. Morningwood - "Nth Degree"
22. Donnell Jones f/ Jermaine Dupri - "Better Start Talking"
23. Shawnna - "Gettin' Some"
24. Juvenile - "Get Your Hustle On"
25. LL Cool J f/ Freeway - "Whatcha Want"
26. Pink - "Stupid Girls"
27. Kanye West f/ Lupe Fiasco - "Touch The Sky"
28. Don Omar f/ Fabolous and Swizz Beatz - "Dale, Don, Dale" (remix)
29. Pitbull f/ Pretty Ricky - "Everybody Get Up"
30. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz f/ E-40 and Sean Paul - "Snap Ya Fingers"
31. Dem Franchize Boyz - "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It"
32. Heather Headley - "In My Mind"
33. Dilated Peoples - "Back Again"
34. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go"
35. KT Tunstall - "Black Horse And The Cherry Tree"
36. Nelly f/ Paul Wall, Ali and Gipp - "Grillz"
37. Rhymefest f/ Kanye West - "Brand New"
38. Mary J. Blige - "Be Without You"
39. Imogen Heap - "Hide And Seek"
40. Chris Brown - "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)"
41. Christina Milian f/ Young Jeezy - "Say I"
42. The Fray - "Over My Head (Cable Car)"
43. Pharrell Williams - "Angel"
44. Busta Rhymes f/ Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Rah Digga - "Touch It (Remix)"
45. Mary J. Blige - "Take Me As I Am"
46. Kirk Franklin - "Looking For You"
47. Jagged Edge - "Good Luck Charm"
48. Blue Da Vinci f/ Fabolous and Young Jeezy - "Streets On Lock"
49. Sean Paul - "Temperature"
50. Gwen Stefani f/ Ludacris - "Luxurious" (Zone 4 Remix) (mp3)

I just barely decided to count the "Luxurious" remix, since it's apparently a few months old, but 92Q's been playing it heavily lately. And I like it a lot, especially considering I've disliked all of Stefani's solo singles except "Cool" (and, ugh, "Crash" is amazingly by far the worst yet). It's a total improvement on the original, replacing the poorly employed Biggie/Isley sample with gorgeous strings and a Miami bass-ish beat, switching out the sluggish Slim Thug verse for Ludacris rapping through weird vocal effects, and ditching the horrible "chi-ching" bridge for the "if you ain't got no money take your broke ass home" chant. The complete change of context even makes me like the melody and tolerate her Olive Oyl vocal timbre.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006
Grand Buffet - "Nate Kukla's History Of Lemonade" (mp3)
Last night, I went to the Ottobar to see one of my favorite live bands, Grand Buffet, with Jim, who's reviewing the show for the City Paper. It was at least the 8th time I've seen them in the past 4 years, maybe more like 10 times, I'm not sure. I think the best job I've done of explaining what I like about them was in my Five Years Of Fireworks review last year, but they're still kind of hard for me to defend, because usually I abhor the kind of tongue-in-cheek, pop culture referencing white boy indie rap that they do. But they're an incredibly entertaining live outfit, and they clearly put a lot of work into their lyrics and production, and I don't know, they just rule. Last night was kind of a weird show, though, maybe the first I've seen that wasn't all that fun.

One thing about Grand Buffet is that though they're from Pittsburgh, they're friends with many Baltimore artists and play here constantly and refer to it as their second home. So a good sized crowd always comes out for them, but venues always seem to be grasping at straws when putting together a bill for them to play on. They've played shows with indie bands like Deerhoof and Of Montreal, and old school hip hop like Black Sheep, and local white indie rappers and guys like Sage Francis. But sometimes they get thrown on a bill that's entirely novelty acts. Which is fair, since what Grand Buffet do is kind of novelty, although I'd to think that their skill at it kind of elevates them to something else.

When we came in, the first act, Shodekeh, a human beatbox was onstage. I'm not really gonna diss him as a novelty act, though, because beatboxing is just awesome. He did some duets with a saxophonist and then another beatboxer, and he later joined Grand Buffet for a song. He wasn't the best beatboxer I've ever seen, but he was still cool, I think he's local, I'd like to see him pop up at some of the Bmore rap shows I talk about on Gov't Names.

The second act was this guy, Dan Deacon, who is local and I've heard his name a bunch of times, but had never seen him before. He had this little table full of audio gear that he planted on the floor in front of the stage, and performed behind it. He had the stage lights turned off and operated strobe lights and stuff from his table. And he played pre-recorded synth parts and sang through an array of weird vocal effects. Definitely a novelty act. I actually really liked some of the sounds he was making, neat chaotic digital effects, but seriously, it was just a slightly more left field version of Atom And His Package. Plus he looked like The Riddler. And did fake New Year's Eve countdowns between every other song. He did a lot of awkward jokey banter about dicks and poop, and kind of reminded me of Cex's early live shows, except it was all form, no content. I think he goes way back with that whole crowd, Cex and Height, unsurprisingly, but I'm more ok with those guys.

The next band was Peelander-Z, who are one of these cheesy Japanese novelty/noize bands that makes serious bread on the American indie circuit. They dressed like the Power Rangers and were all schtick and barely any music, props and a lot of audience interaction. And when they did play, it was just really weak sludgy punk rock. If they were at least really heavy and rocked hard or made some wild noise, I might've gotten into it, but I just couldn't stand that shit, they drove me into the back room by the bar. The main guy had that shaved-in-male-pattern-baldness hairstyle that's big with American noize dudes these days, and when he said "can you understand my Engrish?", I couldn't tell if he was commenting on stereotypes or unwittingly reinforcing them. The crowd ate it up. Fuck that shit.

After an incredibly long set of Peelander-Z's bullshit, I was thankful for Grand Buffet to take the stage, and them on a bad night is still better than many bands' best, but their set was weird. They frequently pull some antagonistic Kaufman-esque shit on audiences, and that's what it felt like when they clowned on the Ravens and bragged about Pittsburgh winning the Super Bowl, but at other points it felt like something else. They have some songs called "Let's Go Find The Cat" and "Treehouse" that they've been playing live for years from a children's album that has yet to be released, that they don't rap on and are even more of a novelty than their other material. And there were some people in the audience that were very adamantly requesting those songs, and Grand Buffet, Lord Grunge in particular, was clearly annoyed and kind of pissed about it. He also made a lot of comments throughout the night, kind of kidding but kind of like he meant it too, that you (the audience) doesn't like them as much as you used to, or that you won't care about them in 6 months. And I mean, I give them credit for being realistic about what their appeal is and what people like them for, but it was depressing to hear that shit, especially considering that I've been seeing them for years and am not particularly sick of them. In fact, I was pretty excited to hear that they have a new album, King Visions, coming out this year, since their last new release was in 2003 and since then have only put out a best-of and a rarities comp. The new songs they played sounded good, too, and at some points they performed as well as they ever have, aside from the weird vibe. I hope it was just an off night, for them, but I kind of understand. They've been touring constantly and doing this for years and years. And I was kind of amazed that they kept their cool even towards the end, when some asshole in the front kept splashing beer on the stage right up at them, in a very deliberate way.

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Friday, February 24, 2006
I keep wanting to read the headline of this article, A Rapper for Diddy Finds a Home That's Just Dandy, aloud in a Paul Harvey voice. I don't know why the NY Times decided to do an article about new Bad Boy rapper Aasim in the real estate section, but I'm so glad they did (and that they didn't subject Los to this). Key quote: "I like to make up the bed," he said, "and then put a book on the bed." Also: Aasim has painted uncannily accurate scenes of SpongeBob SquarePants and friends on the walls. If he gets a creative notion, he said, he simply goes with it. (Bugmenot for easy login, and also thanks to Josh for the link.)

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Thursday, February 23, 2006
Speaking of Rollins: something completely bizarre and hilarious.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006
YoungBloodZ f/ Daz Dillinger - "Diamond Rings" (mp3)
I was kinda rough on Ev'rybody Know Me in my review on Stylus. There's not much wrong with it on the surface, but it does kind of slide by unmemorably. There are some good tracks, though, mainly the ones produced by Jamil Debardlabon, especially "Datz Me" featuring Young Buck. I think I just like this one because it has the same kind of faint whistle sound that Daz used on T.I.'s "My Life."

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.

Ev’rybody Know Me
Stylus rating: C
Adjusted rating by reviewer: C-

A perennial hub of Southern rap's commercial explosion, Atlanta is a busy, crowded town. As new stars establish themselves on a seemingly weekly basis, though, local duo YoungBloodZ have remained low on ATL's pecking order, despite kicking around since the late 90's with three major label albums. Their two best known singles, "Damn!" and "85," were driven up the charts primarily by the star power of collaborators Lil Jon and Big Boi, respectively. And although "Damn!" established them in the mainstream and led to some high profile guest spots for YoungBloodZ members Sean Paul and J-Bo, the duo is mainly remembered as just a part of Lil Jon's hit parade.

That it's taken the YoungBloodZ three years to follow up their big breakthrough does them no favors either. Having a Lil Jon track doesn't make for an insta-hit the way it did in 2003's summer of crunk, but lead single "Presidential" follows the formula as if there's still high demand for it. And even with different producers throughout Ev'rybody Know Me, the YoungBloodZ seem only to be trying to recreate the Lil Jon sound with tick-tock hi-hats and sine wave synth lines. But the album does pack some sonic variety, albeit with of-the-moment productions that include a formulaic Mannie Fresh anthem and a formulaic Mr. Collipark intimate club track. Presumably, they wrapped recording too early to jump on the more recent "snap music" or "trap hop" bandwagons. On the other hand, Jazze Pha turns in one of his better recent productions on "Play Ur Position," and newcomer Jamil Debardlabon provides several of the album's best beats.

Despite being saddled with also-ran status, the YoungBloodZ are not without their appeal. They've got chemistry as perfectly balanced as any duo in hip-hop today, with J-Bo's gruff, forceful delivery providing a necessary counterpoint to Sean Paul's fluid drawl. Sean P. is generally regarded as the bigger star of the two, more frequently tapped for guest appearances and involved in a group with Bubba Sparxxx and Timbaland. But where Sean Paul gets by largely on his laid back charisma, J-Bo switches his flows up more often and generally is more interesting over the course of Ev'rybody Know Me. Lyrically, neither strays far from the drunk/crunk axis of subject matter, but manage some sharp punchlines nonetheless.

Of course, whenever a magnetic guest passes through the album, both YoungBloodZ are bumped down to second banana status. Young Buck of G-Unit handily steals "Datz Me," and relative unknown Ben-Hated grabs the spotlight on "Sum'n Like A Pimp," with a catchy flow, stretching syllables way out at the end of each line. Sean Paul and J-Bo might be able to hang onto their lowly rung of the Southern hip-hop food chain if they stick with their famous producers and guests, but if they keep getting upstaged, they'll never climb up any higher.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-02-22

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Last week, I went with J.G. and Mike to see The Boys Of Baraka, a documentary that follows four "at-risk" boys from Baltimore city, average age 12, who are enrolled into a boarding school in Kenya that is supposed to give them the education and discipline they can't get in Baltimore public schools, so that they might be given a better chance at going to a good high school and graduating. The City Paper's been covering the Baraka School for years, and I'd been looking forward to seeing this movie since it first screened at festivals last year, and it finally opened at the Charles a couple weeks ago.

The night we went, the movie had already been playing there for a week, but I guess since it was a Friday night, they went all out, with one of the film's 2 directors, Heidi Ewing (who, I have to say, is kind of a babe) speaking before and after the film along with the cinematographer. Two of the four boys the movie centered on, Montrey and Devon, who are now about 16, were also there, taking tickets before the movie, and after the movie answered questions from the audience along with Ewing. So it was kind of cool to see how they're doing now, and hear their own thoughts about their experiences in Africa. One of the classmates of the 4 kids featured in the film who's seen a little bit in the movie is now a local rapper named Ammo who I've met and seen perform a bunch of times, and also plays Spider on the 3rd and upcoming 4th seasons of The Wire, so it was cool to see him in the movie. And in other Wire news, we saw Detective Freamon in the lobby after the movie.

The movie itself is definitely worth seeing, although by no means perfect. At 84 minutes, it felt maybe too short, and sometimes I questioned what the filmmakers chose to focus on. It's decidedly a story about the 4 boys more than about the school, but I would've appreciated a little more background about how the school was started and how their teaching methods differ from that of U.S. public schools. Although it will definitely make more of an impact as a feature film, I almost wish they had gone the route of a mini-series or some other format that would allow them to show more footage and explore the topic at greater length. Maybe an eventual DVD release will offer more information, I hope. And sometimes the dramatic ambient music was a bit much, but for the most part, the storytelling was handled well and with a light touch, and allowed its subjects to define themselves. Although there are some incredibly sad and infuriating moments, there's also a lot of footage of kids just being kids, excited to be in Africa around lizards and hedgehogs.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting look at an experimental alternative to public schools that is unfortunately no longer available, as the Baraka School closed down a year into the shooting of the film due to political turmoil in Kenya. But the film will hopefully shed some light on what is happening in Baltimore and in cities like it all over the country, where young kids that are as full of potential as anyone are being statistically presumed to end up dead or in jail if they aren't given a fair shot at graduating high school. One of the most promising things that the director mentioned after the film is that current Baltimore mayor and possible soon-to-be Maryland governor Martin O'Malley's wife saw and loved the film and made him see it, and it's led to him discussing options for opening a boarding school like Baraka here in Maryland.

It is worth noting, though, that while the film closes with Montrey getting great test scores and getting into one of the best schools in the city and generally being the beacon of hope at the end of the movie, the truth is apparently a little different. I came across a blog post by a Baltimore city school teacher who had a little inside track on the situation, and reports that Montrey failed out of the school he got into after a year, and is now at a decidedly less prestigious public school (although he also has very positive things to say about some of the kids he's taught who went to Baraka). Of course, there's no way for the filmmakers to have really known that when they finished filming, but I noticed that noone mentioned anything about that or clarified his situation when speaking after the screening. I was tempted to stand up and ask a question about that or something else, but I do respect what the boys and the filmmakers have accomplished and didn't want to come off rudely. They said at the end of night that the movie is going to keep playing at the Charles as long as people keep coming to see it. So I hope it gets a long run and people from all over the city get a chance to see it and the movie isn't limited to the Charles' usual art house crowd and reaches the kind of people it's really about, so if you get a chance, definitely go out and see it.

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Monday, February 20, 2006
Consequence f/ Kanye West - "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" (mp3)
When Kanye released his first mixtape Get Well Soon in late '02/early '03, this is one of the songs I was the most obsessed with, I must've put it on so many different tapes. It was on the tentative tracklist for The College Dropout, and I was pretty disappointed when it ended up not being on the final album. I don't quite think as highly of it anymore, but it was still cool to see on his Grammy diary on MTV recently that they just shot a video for this song, for Consequence's album, a full three years after I first heard it. This is one of the old mixtape versions of it, not the 2-minute GWS version but a longer one from another mixtape, I'm sure they've rerecorded it since then. It's a trip to look at those old mixtapes and realize how many songs from them have become huge hits since then. I mean, I liked Kanye back then, but I didn't really predict the kind of success he's had, and I sure as hell didn't think "Jesus Walks" was gonna do what it did based on that 35-second snippet at the beginning of Get Well Soon.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006
Last night, I went up to Philadelphia to hang out with Joey O, which we decided to do because he had a couple free tickets to see Henry Rollins speak at the Electric Factory. I always end up going to Philly about once a year for some reason or another, and hadn't been there since April, so I guess it was about time for my annual visit. When I was driving up there, I thought back and figured out that I'd been to the Electric Factory 3 or 4 times when I was a teenager, but the last time had been about 7 years ago, which kinda blew my mind and made me feel old.

Joey used to work at Philly's alt-rock station Y100, which abruptly flipped formats and fired its staff a year ago. But he and several other ex-employees have kind of admirably and stubbornly kept it alive as Y100Rocks.com, and internet-only station, which now operates out of a "bunker" above a record store. So on Saturday we met up at the record store, browsed the used bins for a while, and then we went upstairs and Joey DJed for a bit. It's all run off a computer with playlist formulas and stuff, it's kind of cool and complicated, and can operate unmanned, or if a DJ is on duty, they can talk between songs and pick out what to play. So Joey and I talked on the air for a bit and I got to pick out a few songs, and I got to be heard on the radio by a few dozen people that happened to be listening on a Saturday night, that was kind of cool. The new White Stripes single that sounds exactly like their last single came on, so afterwards on the air I told the story about how my friends Tom and Jim were in the video and Jack White called Tom an asshole in the NME. After messing around on the radio for about an hour, we went and got some greasy pizza slices at one of those places that seem to be on every single corner in Philadelphia that make me kind of envious of Philly, and then went to the Electric Factory to see Rollins.

I'm not a big fan of any of Hank's music, but I've always liked his weird spoken word career. I've seen a couple of his talking gigs in Baltimore before, and of the albums I've heard, Think Tank is my favorite. I just like the fact that this straight edge punk icon grew up, got a little famous and got to be in some Hollywood movies, still makes pissed off records that sound the same every couple years, and has travelled the world more times than probably you or me ever will, gets to just go tell stories about his insane life and talk about how full of shit he is. If he counts as a standup comedian, he'd probably be one of my favorites working today. Last night wasn't as good as one of the shows I saw in Baltimore, but there were definitely some good stories in there. I think the single funniest moment, though, was at the beginning, when he came out on stage, right on time, and started to talk and kind of ease into it, but there were mic problems, and he'd just kind of interrupt himself being friendly and making jokes and suddenly turn to the soundman and go THIS IS A DISASTER, and then go back to telling a story, and then suddenly THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE, until the guy fixed the sound. I don't really blame him for being pissed, since usually soundmen at those venues have to deal with a dozen different mics and amps, and all he had to do was make one guy's mic sound good, but it was still funny how Hank reacted. He told some good stories about his USO tours and riding the Trans Siberian Express, but the best stuff was the random 20 minute tangents about Ted Nugent or deer hunting that he'd suddenly steer back into the story he was telling before.

After the show ended and Joey dropped me off at my car, I drove out of Philly listening to their hip hop stations, and was pleasantly surprised to hear them bumping a lot of Baltimore music. First Young Leek's "Jiggle It," then suddenly a whole half hour set of Baltimore club music, after a set of dancehall. And then I flipped over to the other station, and they were playing club music too! I know club music is kinda blowing up in the press, but damn, Philly, I didn't know you got down like that! Showing Bmore love on the radio and everything. So that was definitely the highlight of my drive home.

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Friday, February 17, 2006
Talib Kweli - "Right About Now" (mp3)
By far my favorite song on Kweli's newish sorta album/"official sucka free mix CD" (ugh) is the brief, hookless intro title track where he babbles about his career and hates on bootleggers and his former labels. Great beat!

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.

Talib Kweli
Right About Now
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: C+

Looking at Talib Kweli's career arc over the past few years, I can't help but think he blew it. Ever since 1998's Black Star, when I was of the minority opinion that he quietly outshined Mos Def in terms of lyrical talent, if not charisma, I'd been rooting for him. 2000's underrated Train Of Thought ingratiated him to me further, as did the fact that he was one of the few conscious rappers at the time who was giving props to Ice Cube and Jay-Z in interviews. I never necessarily thought he had the tools for serious stardom, but he had the kind of open mind and varied lyrical content that could bridge the still gaping divide between commercial and backpacker rap.

And with "Get By," he actually did bridge that gap, at least a little, with a song that had a preachy and vaguely uplifting message but was still hot enough for radio to spin it and for Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z to jump on the remix. Of course, the producer of that song was Kanye West, who went on to bridge that gap more explicitly and much more successfully, labeling himself "the first rapper with a Benz and a backpack." Meanwhile, Kweli, had to deal with the downside of raised expectations for his next album after "Get By," as 2004's Beautiful Struggle was widely bootlegged, and then delayed, and then released to poor sales and worse reviews. Beautiful Struggle wasn't exactly the hopeless mess that many fed up backpackers and critics made it out to be (including David Drake here at Stylus), but there's definitely a palpable sense that he was dropping the ball.

With hopes of crossing over to the mainstream, or at the very least into New York's elite of middleground MCs, dashed, Kweli's first release since Beautiful Struggle is Right About Now. Awkwardly subtitled “The Official Sucka Free Mix CD,” it's not quite an album, full of new music and recent outtakes, and released with little advance promotion on indie powerhouse Koch Records, before Kweli moves onto his next major deal and proper album with Warner Music Group.

On the opening track, "Right About Now," Kweli establishes right off the bat his motivation for turning out a quickie mini-album outside the major label system: "I'm gonna give it to you before the bootleggers get a hold of it." He also airs out the entire saga of label changes that have plagued his career, from Rawkus's deal with MCA (referred to as "Music Cemetery of America") to being shuffled around to Geffen and mishandled by Interscope ("Jimmy Iovine never signed me, I just kinda ended up there"). The frank, terse way Kweli describes this turn of events comes off as both sour grapes and surprising honesty. And, because of the lush, rattling 88 Keys instrumental, it's also the early high point of the album.

The rest of Right About Now features few moments as revealing, as Kweli returns to his comfort zone of tracks that would've fit on any of his previous albums. Kweli admits in the liner notes that several tracks were outtakes from the Beautiful Struggle sessions, along with mixtape holdover "Supreme, Supreme" featuring Mos Def. But Beautiful Struggle's flirtations with superproducers like the Neptunes and Just Blaze are long gone, as longtime collaborators like Dave West and the late Jay Dilla return to hold down the granola indie-rap beats. The uniformity of the production aesthetic is so thick that even an appearance by MF Doom on "Fly That Knot" fails to stand out.

Standing out might be the biggest obstacle facing the bulk of Right About Now's 12 tracks. It's significantly shorter than Kweli's best album, Train of Thought, but has far fewer shifts in sound or mood to keep it interesting. Tracks like "Who Got It" and "Flash Gordon" feature thunderous beats and some of Kweli's most confident flows, but disappear into the background when all the tracks are lined up next to each other. And then there's "The Beast," on which Kweli is guilty of the crime he's most often accused of: political tracks on which he raps at his angriest but also his sloppiest, spilling words all over the beat and cramming syllables and losing track of the meter.

One of the tracks on Right About Now that does stand out, for better or worse, is "Ms. Hill," Kweli's overly earnest ode to Lauryn Hill. Over a melancholy piano loop and a sped up Ben Kweller sample that makes the alt-rock singer-songwriter sound even more like a chipmunk, Kweli expresses sympathy for L-Boogie's situation as an incredibly famous and respected artist who's become increasingly criticized for her erratic and reclusive behavior. Although Kweli goes out on a limb to back up a peer and ends up coming off as a defensive fan, one has to admire the passion with which he pleads her case.

Kweli reaffirms his underground values with some choice words for the commercial rap world throughout Right About Now. And although frequently the first conscious rapper to extend an olive branch to mainstream artists, he does criticize hip hop's status quo in songs like "Drugs, Basketball, & Rap." And in the liner notes accompanying the song, he takes shots at hip hop's current platinum elite: "It is not a coincidence that T.I. and Jeezy call where they hustle at the trap. Capitalism is the bait and niggas are donkeys chasing that carrot on a stick." Between comments like that and Young Jeezy sideman Slick Pulla's recent subliminal disses against Little Brother, a whole new commercial/conscious rap divide could be widening before our eyes right about now.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-02-17

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In My Stereo

Thursday, February 16, 2006
Remy Ma - There's Something About Remy
Dem Franchize Boyz - On Top Of Our Game
Youngbloodz - Ev'rybody Know Me
Morningwood - Morningwood
Apollo Sunshine - Katonah
Willie Nelson - 16 Biggest Hits
DJ Heathen a.k.a. Young Trav/Choppa a.k.a. Young City - This Ain't A Game Vol. 1
Architects Recording Studio presents Street Radio 2
Comp/DNA - Independence Day: Bang-A-Rang Mixtape, Vol. 3
K.W. Griff (AKA) "K-Dubb" - The Professor

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
This week in the City Paper, I'm back on the local release round up beat with some more of that Baltimore hip hop: DNA's Harm City Volume 5 mixtape, B. Rich's new album, and Under Sound Music's new compilation. Accompanying posts with mp3's will be going up on Government Names over the next few days.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I might be in Philly this Saturday the 18th, so if anyone wants to hang out or grab a bite to eat with me, or can offer any suggestions of things I should check out while I'm up there, lemme know.


TV Diary (Baltimore Edition)

Sunday, February 12, 2006
1. Roc
I remember when I was like 10 years old and my brother and I would go visit our dad in Baltimore and sometimes watch Roc with him. Roc took place in producer/star Charles S. Dutton's native Bmore (although most of it was shot a soundstage somewhere else, there were a fair amount of external shots of real Baltimore blocks), and ran 3 seasons, an eternity considering how quickly network TV tends to eat up and spit out shows this different from the norm. I think a lot of it went over my head at the time, but watching reruns on TV ONE lately, I've come to the conclusion that this is maybe the bleakest, most politically conscious black sitcom of all time. Some of the humor is so dark it makes the Bernie Mac Show look like the Cosby Show. Sometimes the issues and the seriousness of the plots kind of piled on to worsen the fact that the show's comedy often wasn't very sharp, but I have to admire the fact that they pulled no punches. To give you an example, I've seen 2 different episodes (one of them a two-parter) that revolved around Roc, a humble, law-abiding sanitation worker, being charged by the police of crimes he didn't commit, one of them being the murder of a drug dealer Roc had personal differences with. Can you imagine a sitcom tackling a plot like that, like, say, any show that's been on UPN the past 10 years? The cast was really strong, but again, the actual comedic element of the writing wasn't that sharp. But my respect for Orlando Jones went up a bit after seeing his name on the writing credits, considering I've always thought of him as kind of a hack.

2. The Corner
I caught this when BET ran it recently. The Corner is kind of the underappreciated middle child of David Simon's trio of Baltimore based crime dramas, an HBO mini-series that aired in 2000 after the cancellation of Homicide: Life On The Street, and was a precursor to The Wire, which also featured a few of the same cast members. It's also much more about regular folks than those shows, with no cop drama elements as it focuses on the subject of drug addiction. Charles S. Dutton once again repping his hometown as he directs a dramatization of Simon's book of the same name, which followed a Baltimore family and several people around them who were all being impacted directly or indirectly by drug addiction. Khandi Alexander in particular does a great job of depicting a mother and former addict who's so stressed out by trying to keep her kids out of falling into that trap that she ends up lapsing herself. It's really heartbreaking to watch and you're rooting for them all along the way, even though they're the kind of people that get demonized on the evening news here every day. The part that really brings it all home is at the very end of the last episode, when you not only get real-life epilogues of what's happened to each of the people in the story, but Dutton meets and interviews 4 of the real people that the main characters were based on. It just makes it that much more real, seeing them stand on a real Baltimore corner, talking in real Baltimore accents (which are woefully absent from the cast of most of these shows, since I guess people outside Maryland have no idea what a Baltimore accent sounds like or that such a thing even exists).

3. Random 1
I originally wrote about this show back in November when it first went on the air, because my buddy Mike works on the show as an editor. Apparently A&E probably isn't going to pick the show up for a 2nd season, I guess it's not as popular as Roller Girls and they need to make room for more goofy shit like the upcoming Rock Paper Scissors tournament show. It was kind of a cool show, but I can see how they didn't quite develop the sparks, conceptually, and in terms of host charisma, to make it one of those weird popular cable reality shows. Only a handful of the episodes took place in Baltimore, but one of the more recent episodes we saw was centered around a local couple that wanted to open a bar. So the guys on the show helped them get a permit and get started, and the bar turned out to be a place that's like 4 blocks from my apartment, called Ale Mary's, that I've walked by a hundred times since it opened a year or two ago. So that was kinda cool. We keep meaning to go check out that bar.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006
Nels Cline Trio - "Where Is Your Woman?" (mp3)
Good recent interview with Nels Cline here, which reveals how close my opinion of his best work is to his own; 5 of the 6 albums he mentions in the answer to the question about what recordings he's most proud of are in the top 7 of my old list (which could stand to be updated). Real mind meld there, which is fitting I guess, since my birthday is two days after his and his twin brother Alex's.

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Friday, February 10, 2006
Jon Auer's Songs From The Year Of Our Demise might be my most anticipated album of 2006 by virtue of having anticipated it for around 5 years now, while Auer continually promised about it and kept pushing it back to work on albums with The Posies and Big Star and, uh, William Shatner. But I can just about stop holding my breath, because Pattern 25's website has a May release date, cover art, and two mp3's from it. The two songs are kind of initially underwhelming and show Auer maybe headed in the same direction of gooey keyboard ballads as his bandmate Ken Stringfellow's solo albums, but I'm still pretty excited to hear the whole thing soon.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006
System Of A Down - Hypmerize or Meznotize or some other equally silly composite title

1. Hypnotize
2. Attack
3. Cigaro
4. Vicinity Of Obscenity
5. Violent Pornography
6. Question!
7. Radio/Video
8. B.Y.O.B.
9. This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song
10. U-Fig
11. Sad Statue
12. Tentative (mp3)
13. Holy Mountains
14. Soldier Side - Intro
15. Soldier Side

All the songs on Mezmerize and Hypnotize would easily fit on one CD, but I instead tried to organize my 7-8 favorite songs from each into a 49-minute sequence.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Biggie Duets review in City Paper. I actually think there's some pretty good tracks on this, especially the surprisingly good Missy/Scott Storch one, but no mp3 because it's one of those bullshit copy-protected CDs that won't even play on my computer.

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The Giving Bon Jovi

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
My friend Mike sent this to me in an e-mail, which was apparently written by his friend Pittman. I wanted to link it, but since it's apparently from a bulletin on the guy's MySpace page and can't be linked, I'm just going to cut-and-paste the whole thing here:

Once there was a Bon Jovi...
And he loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would gather his pink bandanas and his 2 octave keyboard and play rock star.
He would listen to Slippery When Wet and dance in his room and headbang.
They would play Runaway.
And when he was grounded he would listen to Dead or Alive and stare out his window.
And the boy loved the Bon Jovivery much.
And the Bon Jovi was happy.

But time went by.
And the boy grew older and the Bon Jovi was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the Bon Jovi and the Bon Jovi said,
Come, boy, come rock out and listen to Slippery When Wet and dance in your room and headbang and be happy.
I am to big to play rock star, said the boy. I want to play sports and have fun. I want some soccer equipment. Can you give me some soccer equipment?
Im sorry, said the Bon Jovi, but I have no soccer equipment. I only have rocking merchandise. Take this screen printed sweatshirt, boy, and wear it to soccer practice. Then you will have soccer equipment and be happy.

And so the boy ordered the screen printed black sweatshirt from the debut, self-titled album and ran away to soccer practice. And the Bon Jovi was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time and the Bon Jovi was sad.

And then one day the boy came back and the Bon Jovi rocked with joy and they said,
Come boy, come rock out and listen to Slippery When Wet and dance in your room and headbang and be happy.
I am to cool for keyboards, said the boy. I want to be punk rock, he said.
I want died hair and I want a studded belt and so I need an attitude. Can you give me a punk rock attitude?
I have no punk rock, said the Bon Jovi. Id rather smile and wear cowboy hats, but you may take my new album Keep the Faith and ridicule my power ballads and my hip new haircut. Then you will have an attitude and be happy.

And so the boy made fun of the video for Bed of Roses and became punk rock. And the Bon Jovi was happy.

But the boy died his hair red for a long time.

And when the boy came back, the Bon Jovi was so happy he could hardly wail.
Come, boy, they crooned, come and play rock star.
I am in college and too old to air guitar, said the boy. I want to meet girls. Can you get girls to talk to me?

Put in my greatest hits album and listen to it when you drive around with girls, said the Bon Jovi. Then you can be a non-threatening yet cute dork. Then girls wil talk to you and you'll be happy.

So the boy dug out Crossroad and kept it in his car in college to sing along ironically with girls. And the Bon Jovi was happybut not really.

And after a long time the boy took his girlfriend to the MCI Center to see the Bon Jovi.
I am sorry, boy, said the Bon Jovi, but I have nothing left to give you--

My vocal range is gone, I can only sing near monotone harmonies of classic vocal lines.

My merchandise is covered by this red smiley face that Sprint thought would be a great logo for telephones.

My aging back is too weak to be strapped to a harness and fly over the audience.

My ears hurt from decades of touring, so I play only acoustic versions of your favorite songs.

I wish that I could give you somethingbut I have nothing left I am just a very pretty man with blinding white teeth and a classy swagger. I am sorry

I dont need very much now, said the boy, just an event to take my girlfriend on a night on the town. She likes to go on dates.

Well, said the Bon Jovi, smiling as pretty as he could, well, a Bon Jovi concert is good to taking your lady out. She will find Bon Jovi attractive, and she will want to have sex with you after the show. Come, boy, sit down. Sit down and watch the Bon Jovi concert.

And the boy did. And the Bon Jovi was happy.

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TV Diary

Monday, February 06, 2006
1. Puppy Bowl II
We caught this while channel surfing last night, and, oh my god. Apparently Animal Planet airs this opposite the Super Bowl, which consists of a bunch of little puppies cavorting around a room made up to look like a footbal field. For 3 hours. I kind of admire what a ridiculous, amazingly simple idea it is. It's not even like a competitive tournament where the dogs race or show off weird skills. They just play around with no human inolvement. For 3 hours. And it's bizarrely watchable. And I won't even get into the Kitty Halftime Show. Oh my god. You can even buy it on DVD.

2. American Idol
Every season, I try to get into watching this regularly, but end up only catching a couple of episodes. So far this season I've been better about it, though, mainly because I watch a lot more network prime time lately, and now live with someone who'll watch it with me. But I'm glad that this week is the end of the auditions phase, because it's easily my least favorite part of the show and I kind of fail to see why it's so popular. I like seeing the people who can actually sing and the excitement of them getting to go to Hollywood, but for every one of those, there's 10 that suck and don't know it, or worse, suck and know it and audition anyway. And that's just the ones they show. It makes me feel kind of bad for the judges to comprehend how many people they have to listen to. I don't know if the early seasons were much different, but it makes me wonder if the William Hung phenomenon turned the auditions into a Gong Show atmosphere with people with weird non-singing talents or no talent just trying to get on TV for a minute. And it amazes me that they did some 2-hour episodes of that shit. I couldn't get through it all, it was greuling. I don't know if I'm rooting for anyone yet, but I'm looking forward to moving onto the finalist phase.

3. The War At Home
Has this been cancelled yet? I was kind of enthused about Michael Rapaport starring in his own series, because he's awesome, but this is pretty lame. Not only does it follow in a long line of foul-mouthed/transgressive FOX shows about trailer trash trying to recapture the lightening in a bottle that was Married With Children, but it's almost exactly like one of those previous shows, Titus, right down to the father/husband lead character addressing the camera in weird little scenes of him standing alone in a room somewhere that are spliced between shots of him interacting with other characters.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006
There are a lot of webnerd photo/video manipulation things that people find funny but leave me cold, but I'm really enjoying the whole fake movie trailier craze, and Brokeback To The Future might be the best I've seen. For more YouTube madness, check out Tuberaider.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006
For anyone else who enjoyed my 20th favorite album of 2005, Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, her site currently has an mp3 of her rendition of "God Only Knows," which is ridiculously good. She might wanna be careful about a cappella classic rock covers becoming her niche, but then, I guess it beats being a Decemberist (but then, what doesn't?).
[Link via Jeff]


Friday, February 03, 2006
Three 6 Mafia - "Testin' My Gangsta" (mp3)
A pre-"Stay Fly" Willie Hutch sample from Da Unbreakables which wasn't a hit as far as I remember, but nonetheless is worthy of being resurrected on Most Known Hits. Still can't believe they got an Oscar nod.

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.

Three 6 Mafia
Most Known Hits
Stylus rating: B+
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B+

"Stay Fly" may have busted the doors down for Three 6 Mafia to finally become commercial hitmakers in 2005, but as they acknowledged on the accompanying album's title, Most Known Unknown, Three 6 have been operating on the fringes of the mainstream for roughly half of their decade-plus career. With a fistful of regional hits and at least a half dozen albums selling gold or near-platinum, the Memphis collective could hardly have been considered obscure before "Stay Fly." But with TRL and daytime radio on their jock and MTV offering them their own show, their status appears to be at an all-time high, the perfect time to release the greatest hits album and let the new jacks catch up. In other words, it's the package that casual fans like me, who've always enjoyed their singles and guest spots, but are intimidated by Three 6's huge back catalog and constant onslaught of new music, have been waiting for.

Released hot on the heels of Most Known Unknown and notably omitting "Stay Fly" as to not take away sales from that album, Most Known Hits covers the entirety of Three 6's major label career, starting with 1997's Chapt. 2: World Domination. And it begins with the two tracks that until recently were the group's biggest hits, both collaborations with Houston veterans: 2003's "Ridin' Spinners" featuring Lil Flip, and 2000's "Sippin' On Some Syrup" featuring UGK. They also set the precedent for the closest thing to a hit-making formula that the Three 6 Mafia has come up with so far, which consists of making an anthem about a trend or accessory already popular in Southern hip hop, including "Ridin' Spinners" (spinning rims), "Sippin' On Some Syrup" (recreational cough syrup consumption), "2 Way Freak" (Motorola two-way pagers), and "Tongue Ring" (sexually suggestive piercings). Other common themes among their hits include time-tested favorites: sex ("Slob On My Knob," "Ass & Titties," "Squeeze It") and violence ("Tear Da Club Up '97," "Hit A Muthafucka").

Of course, it's not the subject matter that's endeared Three 6 Mafia to a worshipful cult of fans, but the production of the group's only two permanent members, DJ Paul and Juicy J, the Super Producers. Many rappers have come and gone throughout Three 6's career before the lineup was whittled down to its current configuration: the two core members and Crunchy Black. But the only constants are Juice and Paul's dark, lush instrumentals, and the blocky, halting cadence of their raps. The fact that their sound has remained so consistent over the course of tracks that cover a nine-year timeline is a testament to Three 6's commitment to a strain of Southern hip-hop that scarcely had a presence on the pop charts until fairly recently.

To their credit, Three 6 Mafia have made what's likely to be seen as a quickie cash-in into a well-sequenced collection that holds together as an album. Many tracks segue gracefully into each other with fade-ins and fade-outs. And in addition to the hit singles, the selection of less obvious tracks is top-shelf, including "Hypnotize Cash Money," a 1999 collaboration with the Hot Boyz and the Big Tymers, and "Testin' My Gangsta," one of Three 6's dopest Willie Hutch sample-lifts prior to "Stay Fly." The absence of "Stay Fly" and one of the biggest hits to ever come out of the HCP, Project Pat's "Chicken Head," means that Most Known Hits isn't quite the comprehensive hits collection it could've been, but it's damn close enough.

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

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Thursday, February 02, 2006
Pazz!! (also: Jop)


1. '05 was the first year I was a paid critic in a real paper publication, and I wanted this to be my first year voting in P&J, but I missed the deadline, which is just as well, because now I can sit on the sidelines and cast stones at "them." I've only kind of lightly browsed through reaction threads like the ILM one (mainly because the internet cable on my street was cut off for most of the day following the publication of P&J), so there's a good chance I'll touch on some already overdiscussed stuff.

2. A quick side-by-side comparison of my top 20 albums of '05 and their P&J rankings, which, Kanye aside, are pretty different: 1: 1, 2: 596, 3: 30, 4: 388, 5: 83, 6: no votes, 7: 86, 8: 327, 9: no votes, 10: no votes, 11: 209, 12: 439, 13: no votes, 14: 1641, 15: 95, 16: 176, 17: 209, 18: no votes, 19: no votes, 20: 126. Someone on ILM does a stat break down of what voters are closest and furthest from consensus, but I don't know if there's any way to tabulate your own rank if you didn't vote.

3. Last year, I said that I hate the internet because the two albums with little/no official release or distribution that ranked highly due to online downloading, The Grey Album and Piracy Funds Terrorism, were cheesy mashup projects (I'm not really mad about Arular at #2 because it was a lock for near the top all year and I'm just happy that it got shut out by Kanye). This year, same old shit with the top 20 placement of The Legendary K.O. in the singles poll. I finally heard that thing maybe last week, and oh my god. You people like that shit? You can get amateurish bootleg remixes/freestyles of current hits off every rap board and soundclick page in the world, and most of them are just as terrible, just not as topical or 'important.'

4. Also last year, I noted that Southern rap (besides Outkast) tends to get the shaft from P&J, and that in 04, the highest ranking example was "Rubber Band Man" at #47 (unless you count "Yeah!" and "Goodies" in the top 40). So it's kind of refreshing to see "Stay Fly" in the top 10 this year, with "Still Tippin'" and "Wait (The Whisper Song)" not much further down.

5. On the other hand, the year of Houston didn't really materialize in the albums poll, with none of the Swishahouse guys or Bun B cracking the top 200.

6. I originally saw Joshua Clover's P&J essay when it appeared on the blog of his sketchy female pseudonym Jane Dark a few weeks ago, and I'm annoyed that that bullshit got such prominent placement. Or I'm more pleased that more people will get to see how ridiculous it is now. Partly it's funny because he keeps going on about what a genius Jazze Pha is while erroneously crediting him with the production of "Lose Control," which he had nothing to do with. But mostly it's just silly shitstirring, operating on the erroneous premise (among others) that only black artists/genres make records that are the creative product of someone other than the vocalist whose name is on the album sleeve, and that P&J needs to suddenly add a bunch of goofy award show-style "best artist" categories to make up for this. (Looking at the ILM thread, it looks like he got taken to task pretty well by them too, although that's to be expected since he calls out "ILXors" in the thing).

7. Well, that ship has certainly sailed.

8. I gave their album a fair chance and even saw a show of theirs, but I've come to the conclusion that The Hold Steady are bullshit. Or at least, all the press that compares them to the E-Street Band is bullshit. Seriously, has anyone who's made that comparison even listened to some old Bruce records? Fetishizing classic rock influences while putting down bands that are still rehashing new wave is just retro oneupsmanship. And "silly rabbit, tricks are for teenagers" is not something I want to hear out of the mouth of someone who's supposed to be a good lyricist.

9. "Trapped In The Closet" was robbed. Chapter 1 placed at #24, but if the 19 votes for Chapters 2-5 were counted with it, it would've moved up 10 whole places to #14. And deserved at least top 10. Yeah I said it.

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