the first 8 months of 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008
1. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
2. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
3. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
4. Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
5. A.B.N. - It Is What It Is
6. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
7. Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild
8. Nas - Untitled
9. Walter Becker - Circus Money
10. Sloan - Parallel Play
11. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
12. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
13. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
14. Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
15. Grand Buffet - King Vision
16. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
17. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
18. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
19. The B-52s - Funplex
20. Dwele - Sketches Of A Man
21. Little Feat - Join The Band
22. Dan Friel - Ghost Town
23. Apollo Sunshine - Shall Noise Upon
24. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
25. The Alchemist - The Cutting Room Floor Vol. II
26. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
27. The Roots - Rising Down
28. AZ - Undeniable
29. Pearl Jam - Washington D.C. 6/22/08 Bootleg
30. Ron Browz presents The Wonder Years
33. Three 6 Mafia - Last 2 Walk
34. Jim Jones & Byrd Gang - M.O.B.: The Album
35. Parts & Labor - Escapers Two: Grind Pop
36. N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds
37. Firewater - The Golden Hour
38. Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop And Roll!!
39. Usher - Here I Stand
40. Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
41. Elvis Costello - Momofuku
42. Young Dro - I Am Legend
43. They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123's
44. Grand Buffet - Escape From Anthony Baboon's Nautical Playhouse: The Sample-Based Remixes EP
45. Lil Boosie - Da Beginning
46. Bun B - II Trill
47. Webbie - Savage Life 2
48. Flo Rida - Mail On Sunday
49. R.E.M. - Accelerate
50. Fat Joe - The Elephant In The Room

1. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
2. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
3. Jazmine Sullivan f/ Missy Elliott - "I Need U Bad"
4. Ne-Yo - "Closer"
5. Paramore - "That's What You Get"
6. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party"
7. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
8. Coldplay - "Viva la Vida"
9. Young Jeezy f/ Kanye West - "Put On"
10. Hot Stylz f/ Yung Joc - "Lookin' Boy"
11. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
12. John Legend f/ Andre 3000 - "Green Light"
13. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
14. Soulja Boy - "Donk"
15. Jennifer Hudson - "Spotlight"
16. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
17. Plies f/ Ne-Yo - "Bust It Baby Part 2"
18. Robin Thicke - "Magic"
19. T.I. f/ Swizz Beatz - "Swing Your Rag"
20. Pink - "So What"
21. Ludo - "Love Me Dead"
22. Trina f/ Killer Mike - "Look Back At Me"
23. B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
24. Lil Mama f/ T-Pain - "What It Is (Strike A Pose)"
25. Ray J - "Gifts"
26. Lupe Fiasco f/ Nikki Jean - "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
27. Shawty Lo - "Foolish"
28. Nas f/ Keri Hilson - "Hero"
29. The Roots f/ Wale and Chrisette Michelle - "Rising Up"
30. Big Boi f/ Mary J. Blige - "Something's Gotta Give"
31. Kanye West - "Champion"
32. Jesse McCartney - "Leavin'"
33. John Mayer - "Say"
34. Lee Carr - "Stilettos"
35. Ryan Leslie f/ Cassie "Addiction"
36. Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold"
37. Nine Inch Nails - "Discipline"
38. Chris Cornell - "Long Time"
39. Busta Rhymes - "Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em)"
40. Ashanti - "Good Good"
41. Lil Wayne - "A Milli"
42. Ne-Yo - "Miss Independent"
43. Sara Bareilles - "Bottle It Up"
44. Plies f/ Jamie Foxx and The-Dream - "Please Excuse My Hands"
45. Young Jeezy - "Vacation"
46. Michelle Williams - "We Break The Dawn"
47. New Kids On The Block - "Summertime"
48. Jay-Z - "Jockin' Jay-Z"
49. Danity Kane - "Damaged"
50. Lil Wayne f/ Bobby Valentino - "Mrs. Officer"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A.B.N. f/ Bulletproof - "3-16's" (mp3)

It's funny, even though at one point my other blog was well known as a source for Houston rap coverage and one of the guys that used to write for it was totally obsessed with that stuff, I've always been kind of disinterested in that scene. I love and respect the elder statesmen, Scarface and UGK and so on, but most of the crop of post-DJ Screw rappers that made the city a hotspot a few years ago struck me as kind of talentless and corny (or, in Chamillionaire's case, talented and corny). So I didn't buy enough into the candy paint and drank mythology to get too sucked into it when the hype reached a fever pitch, and I wasn't surprised when most of those artists fell off the radar almost as quickly as the stormed onto it. But I always kinda liked the music I heard from Z-Ro and Trae, and their group name Assholes By Nature seemed cool as fuck to me ever since dk's posts on Gov't Names way back in 2005 about their "upcoming" album, which just finally dropped this July.

That album, It Is What It Is, is pretty damn good, too, these 2 guys with really distinctive, low, smokey voices calmly talking shit over slow, lush organ beats and those weird faux-West coast synth whine tracks that Houston rap has always been great at. "3-16's" has probably one of the last outside productions Pimp C did while he was alive, and it's some pretty awesome and somewhat uncharacteristically ominous shit. The song about slapping the shit out of Mike Jones, "S.O.S.", might come off as some lame beef shit, but now after Trae actually did give Jones a bloody nose since the album dropped, it's actually pretty funny. It's really just a pretty great regular-ass rap album that you can jam front to back during an era when there's a lot of hyped up "great" albums that are uneven as fuck and almost impossible to listen to all the way through.

Friday, August 29, 2008
My twentieth Corporate Rock Still Sells column is over on Idolator today.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nas - "Y'All My Ni**as" (mp3)

At the height of the Nas/Jay-Z beef, I was a total Jay partisan, always have preferred him, although a lot of that was partly because of the era I started paying attention to rap; It Was Written and its ridiculous videos were the first I ever heard of Nas and by comparison Jay just seemed way cooler, I didn't get into Illmatic until much later. But I will say this: Blueprint may have crushed Stillmatic, but I'll take all 4 of Nas's albums since then over Jay's last 4. In retrospect, I overrated Hip Hop Is Dead and think it's the weakest of that batch, but even that was pretty decent. And his untitled album formerly known as Ni**er takes a similar approach, but one-ups it by actually sticking to its controversy-baiting title for large stretches, and keeping Nas more focused, energized and on-topic than he's been in a long time. I'll never play the "best since Illmatic" game, but best since God's Son ain't bad.

I liveblogged Nas's Untitled the first time I listened to an early leak of it, and was pretty into it at the moment, and then proceeded to barely touch it for a few weeks. Revisiting it again lately, though, it's not as good but still pretty enjoyable. There's the usual goofy, contradictory Nas stuff and completely unresearched "knowledge"; who else but Nas would write a whole song about roaches without bothering to learn that they don't have 8 legs? All the "No matter what the CD called, I'm unbeatable y'all" stuff on "Hero" sounds like disingenuous rhetoric to me, but the song is still so powerful that I kind of buy it when he says it. Only real problem is that he shouldn't have let all the people sleeping on Salaam Remi's great work on his last few albums keep him from getting more of his beats on the Def Jam albums. And really Green Lantern should have more tracks on here, he's probably the one guy who's a potentially great producer who'd get more album placements if he wasn't so associated with mixtapes. And after Ni**er and The Ni**er Tape, I'm looking forward to Nas's next release, which I can only assume will be called Dump Truck.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I've got a mess of local music stuff in the Baltimore City Paper this week: a feature on the Dream Nation Marching Unit (which was something that never would've occurred to me if one of my editors, Bret McCabe, hadn't latched onto something I wrote about them in my review of the Charm City Community Block Fest and realized it would make a great story), and reviews of CDs by EJ and Ron Rico (more on those releases on Gov't Names in the next few days).

(photo by Rarah)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Alchemist f/ Ca$his - "Top Of The Foodchain" (mp3)

The Alchemist is straight up one of my favorite producers in rap the last few years, and one of the few in general whose tracks can actually hold up well over the course of a whole disc, possibly because he samples so heavily that he doesn't have on particular sound to ever get tired of (although his synth-based stuff is dope too). The entire Prodigy album he produced, last year's Return Of The Mac, was better than any multi-producer hodge podge could've been, and what I've heard of his 5 solo releases featuring various rappers on his beats (I reviewed two of them, 1st Infantry and The Chemistry Files for Stylus a couple years ago) have all been solid listens, including the newest, The Cutting Room Floor Vol. II. It's ostensibly just a collection of outtakes released as a warmup for this October's Chemical Warfare (P's Return Of The Mac line "this the mixtape, just imagine how the album sound" gets dropped into the mix a couple times), but it flows as well as any Alc beat tape.

It's funny how now and then Alc will get a placement on a big record, like Tha Carter III, and people will go nuts for it, but then they'll sleep on the literally dozens of tracks he does every year with A-list and B-list rappers that are as good or better than "Nothin' On Me." Cutting Room has the usual suspects like Mobb Deep and Evidence, but it's also got some new guys I'm not too familiar with that I'm actually kinda impressed by on here like Bobby Creekwater. And then there's somewhat unexpected collabos like "Ain't On Shit" with Twista, a rapper who I don't think I've ever heard work with Alchemist before, and is a surprisingly comfy fit. Alc just gives him a thumping, minimal beat, and lets Twista find ways to squeeze his doubletime flow into it in creative ways. But the busy, yelping prog synth beat on "Top Of The Foodchain" is far and away the highlight for me. Alc's specialty may be beats custom made for a weed-clouded head nod, but occasionally he does something approaching Just Blaze bombast, or some more flailing variation thereof, that demonstrates his range as a producer. Also the goofy-ass skit at the end of the track is kinda funny, whoever it is acting a fool on there.

In My Stereo

Sunday, August 24, 2008
Apollo Sunshine - Shall Noise Upon
The Alchemist - The Cutting Room Floor Vol. II
Jellyfish - Bellybutton
J-Roddy Walston and the Business - Hail Mega Boys
DJ K-Swift - The Jumpoff 14
Ron Rico - Music In Me Instrumentals
EJ - The Westside Hustle
E Major - Majority Rules
Ab Rock - The Mid Midlife Crisis
Raf a.k.a. Mr. Marcus - The Marcus Market Mixtape

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pearl Jam - "Grievance (live in Washington D.C. 6/22/08)" (mp3)

When Pearl Jam began their 'official bootleg' series 8 years ago, it was an idea before its time, literally. It was pretty brilliant, a band with a big, obsessive fanbase releasing every single concert they played as a live album. Especially since Pearl Jam rose to popularity in the early 90s, when some stores still sold outrageously overpriced, badly recorded unofficial bootlegs of popular bands (either my brother or I paid at least 30 bucks for a Vs.-era live recording, if I recall, at one point). But releasing all their shows since 2000 as double or triple CDs to stores, which clogged up Pearl Jam sections in record stores for a few years and struck a lot of people as ridiculously indulgent and kind of became a laughing stock, was maybe not the best execution of the idea. And it's only in the past couple years, with digital distribution easier and less expensive than ever, to the point that a lot of bands at or near Pearl Jam's level are releasing their studio albums that way, that they've realized that MP3s are the right format for these things (especially since the CD versions of these bootlegs generally have pretty barebones assembly line packaging with the tracklisting and a uniform look for each particular tour). And it was pretty nice to be able to just cheaply buy (for 10 bucks!) Washington D.C. 6/22/08 Bootleg, 2 hours of MP3s from the show at the Verizon Center that I reviewed in June, which was available 2 weeks after the show in early July but I just got around to getting this week.

As cool as it is to own recordings of shows you were at (I also saw the band once each in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and own CDs of the latter 2), it's also a little weird and sometimes spoils the memory. Apparently I was way too excited about them playing "Who You Are" that night (which I kind of saw coming, since they played "U" and "You Are" right before it) and Matt Cameron not butchering Jack Irons' original percussion arrangement, that I didn't really realize until listen to the recording that the rendition of it was kind of shoddy overall. But then, it's fun to hear stuff like the trainwreck that "Evacuation" turned into, before being abandoned about a minute in. I don't like that song much to begin with, so I probably got more entertainment value out of it falling apart than if it was played well. I remember hearing a bootleg from a London show from I think the 2000 shows where "Alive" fell completely apart, and it was kind of fascinating to hear them screw up the 2nd most-played song in the band's catalog.

There were a few surprises in the setlist that night, like opening with a b-side, and a short snippet of the rarely played (for good reason) "I'm Open," but the one I was most excited about was "Grievance." It was a little ragged at first and I think Eddie came in with the vocals a little late. But I don't think Pearl Jam has written a song I like as much as "Grievance" in the 8 years since Binaural, and I was always pretty bummed that they played the song on Letterman when the album came out and it sounded amazing, but then the 2 singles they released off that album were downtempo duds by comparison. The show also featured a particularly great "Rearviewmirror" and "Crazy Mary." And it was pretty cool to hear "Why Go" as a big end of the set (before encore) crowd-pleaser now, since the last time I saw the band in 2003 was the first time the band had attempted to play the song in almost 8 years and it was pretty shaky back then but still a neat moment to witness.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I've already posted a couple things here about my friends at Mobtown Studios. But I just wanted to note that I have begun contributing to the Baltimore music page on the studio's website, where I will mostly be reviewing local releases. My first review on the site is of the latest Beach House album, will be doing more in the near future and kinda trying to find more indie rock and other stuff that I don't usually cover on Gov't Names or in the City Paper. I mean, I cover a lot of local rock shows on Noise, I just haven't been in the habit of picking up records unless I really like the band, so that's something I'm gonna try to do more now. Submissions and suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Little Feat with Emmylou Harris - "Sailin' Shoes" (mp3)

Little Feat's original run, as led by Lowell George, lasted about a decade, from the late 60's until his death in 1979, the era that continues to define the band's recorded legacy with 7 mostly great studio albums and the classic double live Waiting On Columbus. But since 5 surviving members of the band's classic lineup reformed in 1988, they've now lasted twice as long, and released just as many studio albums, as well as way more live discs. Little Feat are up there with Steely Dan as one of the bands that my dad loved that I grew up hearing constantly, and gradually came to love myself (hell, I played two of their songs at my wedding). I think I realized just in the last couple years that Lowell George is probably the reason that slide guitar is one of my favorite sounds in the world. But dad always played almost as much of the band's 80's and 90's material as stuff from the original run, and a Little Feat show my mom took my brother and I to in the early 90's was probably the first concert either of us ever really went to. So I've always had a healthy appreciation for the fact that while the band might as well exist as a memory of the superior early stuff, it's nice that Bill Payne and Paul Barrere have kept its living legacy alive as a touring band for two decades now.

Join The Band, out on CD next week but released digitally over a month ago, is kind of the Little Feat version of the classic rockers + famous guest stars formula that Santana struck gold with on Supernatural and has kind of become a trend for aging artists ever since. It's a smart idea for a band like Little Feat, who were always kind of a little cult band who just happened to have fans in much bigger acts like the Stones and Zep, and I'm surprised they didn't do it sooner; the band's been playing the early material with big stars sitting in on lead vocals since the Lowell George tribute concert back in the year of his death. The guest list on Join The Band isn't quite as star studded as it could've been, though, and aside from Dave Matthews and Jimmy Buffett, it skews pretty hard to the band's country side with Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.

Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes comes closest to the capturing a vocal reminiscent of the original on "Oh Atlanta"; most of the artists kind of stay themselves. I don't really have much against Jimmy Buffett in theory, but his limits as a vocalist really make the version of "Time Loves A Hero" on this album pretty lame. And the Brooks & Dunn version of "Willin'" is almost overbearingly saccharine; if the song took one step up in slickness from the Little Feat version to the Sailin' Shoes version, this is like five steps (it's a shame, too, some other CMT jockeys like Montgomery Gentry probably couldn't given the song a more appropriate amount of grit). Still, the song is pretty much unkillable, and it's funny to think that maybe a version like this could be a hit in Nashville today, even with the "weed, whites and wine" chorus. Only "Spanish Moon" with Vince Gill packs a lengthy instrumental bridge to represent what the band's live interpretations of the songs tend to sound like these days. And while Inara George's appearance on "Trouble," singing her father's lyrics, is a really sweet moment, far and away the highlight of the album is the closing "Sailin' Shoes," with Emmylou Harris doing some lovely work on the title track from my favorite Feat album.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 8

Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Holy shit, this is the first one of these I've done without a single appearance by Lil Wayne, what the hell is going on (although there's one remix here of a song he was originally on). I could've shoehorned him in with the remix of Cassie's "Original Girl," but that wasn't really a single before he was added to it.

"Damaged (Remix)" by Danity Kane featuring Fabolous
I slept on this song for a few months but eventually that "DO! DO YOU! GOT A FIRST! AID! KIT! HANDY!" part got to me, and Fab is always a good choice to hit up an R&B track and manage to not sound like he's trying to get his LL on. But this is seriously one of the lamest verses I've ever heard from him, hitting syllables hard on the thumping beat with no real flow or accents and barely anything clever enough to count as a punchline. Fab tends to sound lazy even when he's on fire, so it's actually sort of illuminating to hear what he sounds like when he's really putting in zero effort.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Girls Around The World (Remix)" by Lloyd featuring DJ Khaled, The Game, T.I., Yung Joc, Rick Ross, Ace Hood, Young Dro, Pitbull and Busta Rhymes
Never really got the hype about the original, weak melody and awful Wayne verse doing nothing to breathe new life into a classic break, so an overstuffed remix at least has the potential of someone doing right by the beat instead of just recycling Rakim lines. This is pretty much just a sleepy parade of the usual suspects, though, and Ace Hood being less regonizable than everybody else and coming on shouting and kind of totally missing the point actually puts him in the plus column for breaking up the monotony. Dro has the best autopilot, though, and the way the mutes on the beat interact with his verse is really subtle and great (especially compared to the labored mutes on the Pitbull verse). WTF is up with Busta's nasally voice on this, though?
Best Verse: Young Dro
Overall Grade: C

"Heaven Sent (Remix)" by Keyshia Cole featuring Mario
Kind of nice of Keyshia to throw some work to my homeboy Mario considering that she's been slaughtering R&B radio with this and multiple other #1s lately while he's been drifting further away from the airwaves and making premature has-been moves like going on "Dancing With The Stars" at the tender age of 21. Mario's voice sounds a little raw, like there's some kind of filter or mixing that usually happens on his own records that wasn't done here, and it feels a little off, but he does a nice job of parrying around the rhythm in his verse and putting a good twist on the chorus.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Hi Hater (Remix)" by Maino featuring T.I., Swizz Beatz, Plies, Jadakiss and Fabolous
Never got too into the original, partly because the best thing about it, the beat, was just a 1-track jack from a superior oldie, and Maino's verses on it demonstrated that at least some of his haters have kind of a point. But he goes in and improves on his flow on the original, which I wish more artists did when jumping on the victory lap remix of a hit. I mean, they've probably spent the last few months hearing and performing the song constantly, and had plenty of time to think about how they could've flowed on it differently, so kudos to Maino for actually taking advantage of that opportunity. Plies, the most magnetically loathsome douchebag in rap today, continues to surprisingly redeem himself with some of the more memorable couplets ("9 outta 10 rappers is haters/ they get emotional when they ain't got paper"), while remix kings Jada and Fab are simply average.
Best Verse: Plies
Overall Grade: B+

"Need You Bad (Remix)" by Jazmine Sullivan featuring Kwame
The Kwame remix I wrote about last month was nice, and I don't blame Jazmine for going and doing another remix with a big time MC on it, but I wish she'd used that Kwame beat for this, as much as I love the original, just for a little different flavor. Anyway Tip adds absolutely nothing to this version, continuing in his general trend of really boring R&B collabs lately. Back when he first started talking about the concept behind Paper Trail and "No Matter What" dropped I really thought his circumstances of late would leap him to some kind of artistic breakthrough and really great lyrics, but between these guest spots and "Whatever U Like" it looks like he's just happily skipping along to rap & bullshit irrelevance these days.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Put On (Remix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Jay-Z
Jay is practically the last major rapper left who hadn't jumped on the Autotune bandwagon, so the first time I heard his verse on this it had the exact effect he intended: I cringed and braced myself when he said "Guru, put a little T-Pain on my shit too" and half-sang the title line, and then I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief when he revealed the fake-out and proceeded to rap in his regular voice. The original already kind of felt like a remix, the way Kanye comes on the end of the song and totally changes its tone, so it's kind of hard for Jay to take over the track and redefine it the way he usually does. And there's some unpleasant irony to the fact that his flow suddenly gets choppy and awkward the moment he crams some syllables in to say he has "the greatest flow in the world," but it's still a pretty solid new Jay-Z verse.
Best Verse: Jay-Z
Overall Grade: B+

"So Fly (Remix)" by Slim featuring Jadakiss and Freeway
Another song that I covered a remix of last month (one with Shawty Lo) that turned out later to have a more official remix. Jada's kind of uncharacteristically rigid flow actually works pretty well, and makes the throwback/bozack couplet that much funnier when it hits. And it's nice to hear Freeway still occasionally showing up on mainstream records, makes me optimistic that maybe he hasn't already been flushed out of the major label system after Free At Last.
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: B

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dwele - "A Few Reasons (Truth Pt. 2)" (mp3)

You gotta feel for Dwele a little bit. Last year he got the biggest exposure of his career when Kanye West featured him on a big hit, "Flashing Lights," but then Kanye managed to shoot 3 different videos for the song, none of which had a role for the guy who sang the hook. I can't imagine he's mad about that, though, Dwele seeming like such a deliberately low key guy. I was never real into his voice (or, at least, I hated that chorus he did on Slum Village's "Tainted," which was the first thing I ever heard him on), but considering how much I've been into albums by Erykah Badu and Raheem DeVaughn, apparently I'm a good audience for hippie R&B right now, and Dwele's latest, Sketches Of A Man is sounding pretty good to me.

Dwele is always a restrained presence, with smooth, mannered vocals and a persona that comes off as level-headed and strangely dispassionate for a soul singer. Even on the album's clubbiest track, "Body Rock," he spends half a verse explaining how anal retentive he is about people smoking inside his car. And while Dwele's similarly mellow production style is confident and detailed, I can't help but gravitate toward the one track produced by one of my favorite current beatmakers in rap, Nottz. "A Few Reasons (Truth Pt. 2)" is a sequel to a song from Dwele's first album, but it bangs way harder than that or anything else on the new album, with a beat so nice that I can almost overlook terrible Zeitgeist-chasing lyrics like "if we had computer love, I would let you hack my MySpace/ if my love was a dance, you could YouTube it." Almost.

Sunday, August 17, 2008
Producer Series Mix #10: The TrackBoyz

1. J-Kwon - "Hood Hop"
2. Nelly f/ St. Lunatics - "Air Force Ones"
3. D12 - "40 Oz."
4. YoungBloodZ f/ Backbone - "Lean Low"
5. Nappy Roots f/ Anthony Hamilton - "Po' Folks"
6. Ali f/ St. Lunatics - "Breathe In, Breathe Out" (mp3)
7. Ebony Eyez f/ Trina - "In Ya Face (Remix)"
8. J-Kwon f/ Petey Pablo and Ebony Eyez - "Get XXX'd"
9. J-Kwon - "Tipsy"
10. O'Ryan f/ J-Kwon - "Shorty"
11. SunN.Y. - "The Introduction"
12. Shawnna - "Weight A Minute" (mp3)
13. Comp - "Eye Problem" (mp3)
14. Comp - "Strip Down"
15. Gunnz - "Janky" (mp3)
16. 112 - "My Mistakes"
17. Ebony Eyez - "Act Like A Bitch" (mp3)
18. J-Kwon - "Underwear" (mp3)
19. J-Kwon f/ Sadiyyah - "You & Me"

In this space, I tend to spotlight hip hop producers from the past 10 years that could be considered both overrated and underrated: guys that maybe had a couple hits, but are far from household names, or even considered cool in an underground way. The St. Louis duo the TrackBoyz really epitomize that kind of uncomfortable middle ground, and I'd really planned to do one of my first posts in this series about them, back a couple years ago when I first started it, when they still had a little bit of buzz. Now that I'm finally getting around to it, though, it's been years since their last major label placement and it feels like the TrackBoyz' moment of relevance is ancient history already, which, in a way, is a more interesting vantage point from which to go back and look at what I liked so much about their beats to begin with.

The TrackBoyz have the kind of chaotic, noisy approach to synth-driven beats that you don't hear too often in the simplified 808 environment of post-Lil Jon southern rap, other than sometimes Swizz Beats and arguably Soulja Boy's production. I never much liked their breakthrough hit "Tipsy," but I still thought it was way off when most people seemed to regard it as a bite of the Clipse's "Grindin'"; both songs had loud, abrasive drum sounds, but the TrackBoyz used those sounds as the basic snare and kick sounds of their beat, where Pharrell used that sound as more of an accent or hi-hat kind of counterpoint to the main drums. Plus the sounds weren't actually that similar. But it wasn't until J-Kwon's follow-up single, and the realization that they'd done a random St. Lunatics soundtrack joint in '02 that got totally overshadowed by "Hot In Herre," that I really started to check for the TrackBoyz. In my opinion, "Hood Hop" and "Breathe In, Breathe Out" are two of the sickest beats of the decade, and it's a shame the rappers that got them happen to be corny as hell. "Po' Folks" proved they could so something kind of gentle and mellow, but even "You & Me" (which is kind of to "Tipsy" what "Soulja Girl" was to "Crank That") has a bunch of skronky weirdness thrown in over the guitar strumming and R&B hook.

Every time a St. Louis rapper blows up, they seem to have an in-house producer or team that produces their first hit, but eventually that rapper becomes a big star and ends up working with more established producers, as was the case with Nelly and "Country Grammar" producer Jay E. Or the rapper's career kind of drops off and as they get cold, so do their producers, as was the case with Chingy and the Trackstarz, Huey and The Bakery, and Jibbs and the Beatstaz (incidentally, what is in the water in STL that all the teen rappers from there look twice their age? J-Kwon, Jibbs and Huey were all ostensibly 15-17 but they each looked 22 and had 3 kids, shit was weird). After launching J-Kwon fairly successfully, the TrackBoyz got another shot at releasing a 2nd St. Louis artist on a major label, the female rapper Ebony Eyez. I still get shit from Ethan Padgett for putting her album on a year-end list in '05, and in retrospect, Shawnna murders her beat on "Weight A Minute" more than EE did any of the TrackBoyz beats she got, but her album still had some jams. In the years since she flopped, TrackBoyz have fallen farther off the map and have nurtured the careers of some more no-names like Gunnz, and did some tracks for my homeboy Comp, and as far as I can tell are still making good tracks, shame they're just not on the radar anymore. Why couldn't Cool & Dre have disappeared after a couple years instead of them?

Previously in the Producer Series:
#1: Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford
#2: Rich Harrison
#3: Kevin "Khao" Cates
#4: Chad Wes Hamilton
#5: Neo Da Matrix
#6: Carl "Chucky" Thompson
#7: Polow Da Don
#8: No I.D.
#9: Bink!

Saturday, August 16, 2008
Corporate Rock Still Sells #19, all about girls!! On rock radio!! Insanity!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Three 6 Mafia f/ Lyfe Jennings - "Hood Star" (mp3)

Although it'd be wrong or insincere to say that there isn't something depressing and distasteful about most of the things Three 6 Mafia has done since "Stay Fly" and their Oscar win seemed to put them in the best possible position they'd ever been in -- Adventures In Hollyhood, "Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)," you know the drill -- it's important to point out that the recent turn of events isn't actually surprising at all. Three 6 have always felt like upwardly mobile opportunists who'd do anything to get a hit. If a song called "Tear Da Club Up" hits, call yourselves Tear Da Club Up Thugs for a while and ride that wave. Then write singles about pretty much any trend or accessory that's hot at the moment -- spinning rims, 2-way pagers, tongue rings, syrup, whatever. It was their awesome but fairly dark production aesthetic, and the fact that DJ Paul has one of the most unfriendly voices to grace radio airwaves even in the era of Southern rap, that kept the group seeming mysterious and cool even as they slowly came into the mainstream limelight year after year. They just finally got out into the light enough to realize they can be pretty goofy, too, and willing to herb themselves out for the worst possible TV projects and cheesy-ass attempted crossover singles.

So Last 2 Walk (or, as I came to refer to it during Three 6's race with Jennifer Hudson to see who could squander their Oscar momentum for longer, Last 2 Drop) isn't actually a big sellout record. It sounds like a lot of their old stuff, and if there's anything holding it back it's that the group was more fun to listen to when it was more than just the two producers rapping (although even on that front Project Pat and Lil Wyte and plenty of non-HCP rappers show up with guest verses). Hell, if you take the T-Pain impersonator off of "Lolli Lolli" it would probably sound like a lot of Three 6 club songs. I can't even really hate on the song with Good Charlotte since my first exposure from it was when my friend Skarr Akbar did a great track over the beat. Even the collab I expected to hate the most, the one with horrible skeezy hoarse-voiced pious R&B balladeer Lyfe Jennings, turned out to be one of my favorite tracks on the album. I've never been that hardcore into Three 6 to begin with, though, so it sounding just like their older albums doesn't actually go that far with me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Milestone Media's 2nd annual Making The Right Moves Entertainment Conference will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center next Saturday, August 23rd, and admission is free. I was at the event as a panelist last year and wrote about my experiences there, and I'll be there again this year, to cover the event and to host a panel about independent artists at 2p.m. Here's the full itinerary for the event (UPDATED 8/14/08), including the concert the night before:

Download the original attachment

Making The Right Moves Entertainment Conference

Official Intinery

Friday August 22, 2008

Black Hole Club

216 German Hill Rd

Baltimore, Maryland 21222

This is a professional event be on time which means well before your perform

8:00 – 8:30 DJ Harvey Dent / DJ Franchise & Staff Arrive

8:30 – 9:00 Doors Open

9: 45- 10-00 Q 45

10:05- 10: 20 Slim Mil
10: 25- 10 :35 Brother
10-40- 10:55 Beveready
11:00- 11-15 Battle Music Group
11: 20- 11: 35 Gramz
11:40- 11: 55 EJ

12: 00- 12:15 Greenspan
12:15- 12:30 Skarr
12:45 2 Pistols

Club ends 1 :55

VIP After Hours

Making The Right Moves Entertainment Conference

Official Intinery

Saturday August 23, 2008

Baltimore Convention Center

1 W. Pratt Street

Baltimore, Maryland 21201
Fu Yah Martial Fusion Challenge

Presented by The Bamms
8:00 AM- 1 PM
9:00 AM- 11 AM Load In and Sound Check

10:00 AM Vendor Set Up
11:00 AM Interactive Booths Begin

12:00 PM Main Stage Event Begin


Authors/ Publishers and Spoken Word Panel - The Urban Written Word


(Deshawn Taylor, Lamonica Bratcher, Rafphael Gordon, Feleica Pride, Willie BAM )

1:00 PM

ACT 1: Kim Poole ACT 2: DEVANTE

ACT 3:

PANEL SESSION: Marketing and Promotions - I have my space and you tube now what ?

Hosted By: Rita Lewis - Marketing of BET J

Featuring: ( Mottz, Swen, Mathew Brown, Miesha Rice )

2:00 PM
ACT 1: Kyonte ACT 2: DG2 ACT 3: Battle Music Group



Hosted By: Al Shipley - Baltimore City Paper &
Featuring:(Mike Flight, Jim Fetzer, DOMINATION, Shaka Pitts, Mike Sky)

3:00 PM


ACT 3: Ikea Turner
PANEL SESSION: Matthew Lesko - "How To Get Free Money"


Featuring: ( Jay Funk, Say Whut and More...)

4:00 PM
ACT 1: 11’s EDGE

ACT 2: Kanika

ACT 4: Main Girl

IICE INC Modeling and Promotion Company FASHION PREVIEW





I GOT THAT FIRE (tentively w/ SLIP N SLIDE DJ's)

5:00 PM


Hosted by: Terrance J of BET 106 & PARK
Featuring ( Rashod Ollsen, Paul Gardener, Mary Nicols, Shadeed Elezer )



6:00 PM



PANEL SESSION: Producer VS. Beat makers: What is the difference ?

Hosted By: Kelly Connelly

Featuring: ( Diamond D, Dame Grease, BOOMAN, Shaka Pitts, Ademyi Omisore )

7:00 PM
ACT 1: BREE & Friends

ACT 2: The FA.Culty ft. Lil Clayway, Nik Stylz & Phreestyle, P. Lucky

With Young and Fly Records





10:00 PM Event Wrap Up

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coldplay - "Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love" (mp3)

When big populist bands decide to make their "difficult" record (and it's almost always a deliberate, calculated decision), it's usually a bad sign. Coldplay's pretty much always been a band whose self-image seemed a little out of step with reality, wanting to be artsy and credible and hugely popular, and only really achieving the latter. So they're prime candidates for one completely awful "difficult" album, especially when they went the obvious route of enlisting a producer whose hiring baldly telegraphed those intentions, Brian Eno.

But Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (see? even the title is pretentious mumbo jumbo!) is actually pretty damn good despite all of this, with Eno's gorgeous production helping even their most potentially embarrassing multi-song suites go over well. Chris Martin doesn't sublimate his ear for big hooks, he just manages to writing them for songs with rambling chorus-less structures instead of ones that sound just like "Clocks" again. It's the kind of album that hangs together well even when not every song is a knockout, because it's ambitious without actually being very long (a combination that unfortunately is rarer and rarer in albums these days).

I've even come around to liking "Violet Hill," which I think I must've hated at first just because it's not the kind of song I want to hear from them as a big first single, but it's actually not bad. I don't think it was ever clear to me whether Chris Martin actually played the piano on Kanye's "Homecoming" or that was just a sample or something, but I never even thought it might be him until I heard how he plays on "Lovers In Japan." I love that the one aspect of U2 that they bite the most on this album is the piano sound from 80's songs like "New Year's Day." I'm still suspicious of anything that sounds like a bid for respect from a band as vapid as Coldplay, lest they actually get enough respect to really becoming the U2 of their generation for real. But for now, I'm OK with them getting a little more ambitious if it means getting something like Viva La Vida out of them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Last week I ran a special edition of The Club Beat, my Baltimore club column on the City Paper music blog Noise: a roundtable discussion with members of Club Queen Entertainment (including DJ Say Wut, Buck Jones, Pork Chop and Darvin, pictured above) about the death of DJ K-Swift, and I'm really proud of how that came out. My other recent posts on live reviews of my weekend at the Virgin Mobile Festival with Nine Inch Nails/Shudder To Think/Paramore/Lil Wayne/Foo Fighters/Stone Temple Pilots/Jack Johnson/Wilco/etc. (I didn't write about what I saw of Kanye's set but his show is overrated as fuck), the Charm City Community Block Fest, the first night of the new Hip Hop 101 @ 5 Seasons (with Vision, Little Clayway, 1st Family and others), Son Of Avery/The Same Damn Thing/La For Another @ the Ottobar, and Smarts/Fiasco/Hawks/Chopper @ the Talking Head.

(photo by Al Shipley)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walter Becker - "Paging Audrey" (mp3)

I don't think I would've bothered to pick up Walter Becker's Circus Money if I didn't happen to be on a pretty big Steely Dan kick lately (although I don't think I even knew Becker had a new album out when I wrote that post). Through Becker and Donald Fagen are by all accounts a pretty equal partnership as far as the band's music and lyrics and go, Fagen is the voice of Steely Dan, so his solo albums are automatically a more palatable proposition, and I liked his Morph The Cat but by no means loved it. Since I haven't heard Becker's previous solo album, 1994's awesomely titled 11 Tracks Of Whack, my primary experiences with his singing voice were the somewhat unpleasant grumblings on Everything Must Go's "Slang Of Ages," and the rendition of Whack track "Book Of Liars" on the Dan's Alive In America.

So I was surprised by how immediately appealing Circus Money is. Turns out Becker's not a bad singer after all; he works that gruff tone with a nice amount of vibrato, and seems to share some of Fagen's ear for phrasing. He's actually probably more enjoyable to listen to now than Fagen, who's lost a lot of range and edge in his voice over the years. Like on Morph The Cat, the music is virtually indistinguishable from that of latter day Dan albums; it's not even noticeably less piano-driven for the lack of Fagen. But the grooves a just a little looser and heartier (love that booming floortom on "Somebody's Saturday Night"), with probably as little antiseptic smoothness as any Dan-related release since Gaucho, which was really when a kind of glassy film started to develop around their sound and came to define the band for a generation of whippersnappers who don't know better. Those Greek chorus backup singer girls are all over Circus Money, however. The lyrics sometimes feel a little too on the nose compared to Steely Dan; when you've got a song title like "Door Number Two" or "Three Picture Deal" or "Bob's Not Your Uncle Anymore," the lyrics kinda write themselves from there, or at least seem to as they hit the most predictable marks.

Movie Diary

Saturday, August 09, 2008
1. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I remember when the first movie came out I thought it seemed awful based on the trailer, then eventually caught it in bits and pieces on cable and it grew on me enough that I was up for seeing the sequel. The trailer for this one kinda sucked, too, but I was still optimistic about it, and the twerpy non-Hellboy protagonist guy from the first movie is gone, which is a big plus for me. This was pretty underwhelming, though; it sure looked great, and there were some particularly awesome special effects creatures (the tooth fairies!), but there were also some visuals that just came out looking cheesy (Hellboy-as-a-child prologue!). The 'funny' dialogue never even got up to the level of wit displayed in even the most generic comic book/super hero movies. It was almost as if they wrote a draft with a bunch of parts that just said "sassy exchange between Hellboy and Jeffrey Tambor," then never went back and came up with anything halfway clever for anyone to say.

2. Disturbia
This was alright, never really felt too suspenseful but I enjoyed the ride. Shia's generic high school outcast character in this was at least fleshed out better than the one in Transformers. Didn't think Sarah Roemer was particularly attractive (or at least not really my type, so to speak), but there was something really sexy and charismatic about her performance in this. Maybe it helped that they made her smarter than the guys in the movie.

3. Black Dahlia
I believe this is what the kids today would call an "epic fail." I'm not sure why people keep casting Scarlett Johansson in period pieces: sure, she has the hair and the figure to look good in '40s garb, but she doesn't have the face, or the voice. Or the acting ability. The love triangle involving her and the similarly poorly casted zombie Josh Hartnett takes up like half the movie, chugs along to the inevitable at a snail's pace, and isn't even that different from the storyline in L.A. Confidential.

4. You, Me and Dupree
This was pretty damn haggard, too. Owen Wilson getting creepier and creepier as he gets old and keeps doing the manchild act. Never really totally understood the plot to this. And the few funny lines and running gags in this kind of got stepped on when they made the whole ending one big self-referential bit about those lines. Also, I have some kind of irrational hatred of Kate Hudson.

5. Airplane II: The Sequel
As many times as I've seen the original, it was nice to finally check out this, which obviously isn't as good and recycles some stuff from the first one, but is still a pretty funny movie with the same basic cast and crew. The ending bit with William Shatner is great stuff from just when he was starting to become self-aware and play up his own campiness, but hadn't gone into total irony overkill yet.

Friday, August 08, 2008

My Brightest Diamond - "Bass Player" (mp3)

Eric Harvey: "I saw this little fucking dynamo live, and then started giving a shit about My Brightest Diamond, which I'd previously consigned to the milquetoast NPR bin of my promo pile." Me: ditto. My review of A Thousand Shark's Teeth is in the City Paper this week, and this song reminds me of one of my favorite Kids In The Hall sketches. Also got local reviews in the paper this week of Greenspan and the Unstoppable Nuklehidz (and posts over on Gov't Names about both).

In My Stereo

Thursday, August 07, 2008
Walter Becker - Circus Money
Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
Kanye West - Graduation
Squeeze - Argybargy
Say-Wut - Crank It!
Cutthroat - Words Can't Explain It Chapter 3
Shakean Da Analyst with Lucky Lays - More Than Just A Rapper
various artists - Heaven On Earth Vol. 1
Al Great - Great Expectations (Dedication to Will)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

N.E.R.D. - "You Know What" (mp3)

In 2005, Pharrell Williams proclaimed "N.E.R.D. is dead" to the press after the band's poorly received 2nd album, and three years later, I'm not sure why that isn't still true (I could crack the same joke about the "noone ever really dies" acronym as everyone else, but no). After a somewhat promising beginning, the group had quickly become a bizarre and mostly unappreciated offshoot of the otherwise hugely successful Neptunes production brand. The band got Pharrell and Chad Hugo the kinds of rock airplay and positive reviews that they probably never would've gotten just making beats for rappers and R&B singers, but it was still kind of perennially unclear what the fuck was up with N.E.R.D. and why they bother with a lot of dopey, sub-Red Hot Chilli Peppers funk rock, and it still isn't now in 2008 with the release of Seeing Sounds.

If you know me or read this blog with any regularity you probably know I am totally fucking in love with Spymob, the power pop band that were briefly signed to Star Trak and played backup on the first N.E.R.D. album (the version with live instruments, natch), and I'm still kind of bitter at overlooked they are, largely because they got some kind of 'funk-metal' stigma from being known mainly for being the guys who played on the rock versions of songs like "Lapdance" and "Rockstar." I think a couple of the Spymob guys are back on the new album to some extent and Chad has been playing much of the guitar on the band's records since the last album, but for the most part Seeing Sounds is just regular old Neptunes drum programming with a little more of that N.E.R.D. goofiness. Songs like "Yeah You" sound like they could've been scraped from the R&B half of another shitty Pharrell solo album, and the tracks that go for full on rock arrangements like "Happy" are mostly absolutely awful. Occasionally there are some gems, though, mostly on the R&B side like the closer "You Know What," not that they're even on the level of previous N.E.R.D. high points like "Maybe" or "Run To The Sun."

TV Diary

Monday, August 04, 2008
1. "Hopkins"
I'm not sure exactly how ABC decided that it'd be a good idea to have a documentary mini-series filmed at Johns Hopkins Hospital run this summer with "Grey's Anatony," perhaps the least realistic medical drama of all time, as its lead-in. But I'm glad they did, because I've always been fascinated by Hopkins since I was a kid and my dad would tell me how there was this amazing world-class learning hospital right up the street. I'm not wild about the whole execution of the show, the cheesy music and unengaging editing, but it's still pretty inherently interesting and often heartbreaking stuff, organ transplant stories and premature births. My wife worked in a Hopkins research lab for a couple years, so when I have watched this she'll usually walk in and go "hey, I know that stairwell!" One of her old co-workers was telling us recently that he knows one of the interns that was featured on this and how much of a jackass he is, so that kinda added to the entertainment values.

2. "Generation Kill"
I'm not sure I would've bothered with a hyper-realistic mini-series about the Iraq invasion if it didn't involve a number of crew and cast members from The Wire, but I'm glad I'm following this, especially since I took into account that David Simon and Ed Burns are just adapting a book here and checked any possible expectations of it actually being an Iraq equivalent to The Wire at the door. So far I don't think it's hugely rewarding and am just kind of along for the ride, enjoying the entertaining parts but not really feeling bowled over by it. The thing with a mini-series is that you can't necessarily expect the episodic payoff of each installment having its own satisfying arc; it's possible this is all building to something that won't totally make sense until the 7th episode, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part. But the major problem, I think, is that doing a faux-documentary style drama, based on real people and real events, about something like this just lacks the punch of if if it actually was a documentary. We're talking about the first U.S. war of the YouTube age, so there's an insane amount of real footage from the front lines that's gotta be 10 times more inherently fascinating than this. If anything most great military movies are either full of character composites and dramatic compression, or are made up whole cloth. The only benefit you really get from telling a story fairly straightforward and moment-by-moment like this is that the viewer can take themselves out of the usual dramatic beats; people don't die or give dramatic speeches at the moments you expect them to. And if there's one thing that Simon and Burns are truly great at, it's deflating those kinds of cliches while still actually giving you a satisfying narrative.

3. "Last Comic Standing"
I'm kinda surprised that NBC is still showing this at all, considering that they're burning off episodes like a mid-season replacement sitcom they decided to cancel before even airing the premiere. I mean, they ran 3 hours of this one night recently, one of the audition episodes back-to-back with the first episode with the 12 finalists. It's still not a great show, even by reality show standards, but I still watch it because, unlike cooking or clothes designing, standup comedy is something I'll always gladly waste time watching on TV regardless of the format. So far the eliminations have been the right choices every time; the 2 finalists I hated most (a cutesy Korean girl who's like the Carlos Mencia of tired Asian jokes, and this annoying duo act where 2 guys act like creepy children's entertainers or something) were the first to go so now almost everyone's pretty strong. The one woman left in the competition right now, Iliza Shlesinger, is by far my favorite. She's reminds me a little of Maria Bamford (with the voices she occasionally does) but she does more normal, observational humor and is also way way hot.

4. "Reality Bites Back"
Speaking of "Last Comic Standing," my acquaintance and onetime co-star Amy Schumer who was a finalist last season has shown back up on TV on this Comedy Central show, which is basically a parody of competitive reality shows with a bunch of comedians jumping through arbitrary hoops for meaningless prizes. The premise has potential and when it is funny, it's usually because someone says something hysterical in a 'testimony' voiceover, but sometimes in practice this can be almost as boring as a real reality show.

5. "The Gong Show With Dave Attell"
This is probably the dozenth time someone's tried to resurrect this show, and this particular version I think takes a good angle: putting it on Comedy Central and filling the host and judge slots with the lewdest stand-ups in mainstream comedy. Enough straightforward reality shows like "American Idol" play up the freakshow element of their auditions in a sneaky, doublefaced way that it's kind of refreshing to go back to a format that's completely honest about it. But really the biggest problem with this show, from what I've seen so far, is that in its hunger to showcase the biggest nutjobs, they're actually losing sight of the fun part and not hitting the gong very quickly when a really ridiculous act starts sucking it up. Instead they just let them linger onstage and amass some flop sweat, like the producers are keeping track of how many acts they have booked and don't want to run out ahead of schedule.

6. "Fear Itself"
A new horror anthology in the "Twilight Zone" mold that I've only caught a couple episodes of so far, but seems to be kind of hit and miss. On the one hand, it having an hourlong timeslot instead of a half hour seems like a bad idea, because some of these seem to run out of steam quickly, or stretch their premise a bit too far. But honestly an average episode of this seems to have a premise and writing on the level with your average contemporary horror movie, it's just the production values that are a little bit cheaper. And those movies rarely have enough going on to justify 90-minute running times, so chopping that in half is generally an improvement; the only real limit of it being on TV that's a problem is the general lack of serious gore or violence, but most of the stories don't really require much. The Briana Evigan episode was good, but mainly because I like watching Briana Evigan.

7. "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"
I guess this is technically an internet show, but considering that the cast & crew are all TV people just goofing off during the writer's strike, I think it's fair to slot it here. Never been much for Whedon in general, aside from thinking the "Firefly" stuff was pretty good, and I'm not sure if I would've stuck with this past 5 minutes if I didn't know the whole thing was one short, tidy package. Neil Patrick Harris continues on his path of becoming kind of one of the best famous people around these days, talented and self-aware but not just constantly parodying himself. The songs are mostly a bit cheesy (and I say that as someone with an embarrassingly big weak spot for musicals), though, and the tweeness gets overbearing after a while with not quite enough comic relief.

8. "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!"
Been wanting to watch this for a while, but it's pretty disappointing. I like the whole approach and the fact that being on Showtime lets them be really blunt and obscene where, say, "The Daily Show" or "TV Nation" covering similar ground would have to mince words and be more polite or underhanded with their satire -- not to say that it's better, but it's refreshing. But ultimately they seem to go for a really simplistic, smug approach to debunking one mindset, usually by buying into one that's equally bullshit -- that is to say, when they're not taking aim at ridiculously easy targets like sensitivity training or magic crystals.

9. "I Love The New Millenium"
It's been a running joke ever since VH1 did "I Love The 90s," possibly even back when they first did "I Love The 80s," that they'd eventually start doing nostalgia shows for this decade or this year or this minute. Everyone knew it would happen eventually, but I'm kinda surprised the jumped the gun instead of waiting at least til late 2009 to do it. This one's as vacuous but intermittenly entertaining as the others, but there's some moments that still make me uncomfortable, especially since they seem to be doing more "newsbreak" segments instead of straight up pop culture frivolity, at one point in the 2003 episode even talking about Saddam Hussein's capture. I mean, I know everyone made jokes about Saddam and his beard and that picture of him in his underwear at the time, but there's something kind of fucked up about recalling that and having some 4th rate comic call him a "hot mess" a few years later, after he's been executed. Also, wtf is going on with Hal Sparks's hair these days?

10. "The Venture Bros."
After the retcon frenzy of the first few episodes, this season has really settled into a nice groove. It's kind of hard to take this just one episode a week after devouring a lot of the first 2 seasons in big marathon DVD sessions, but I'm sure I'll watch them that way in a few months too. I feel like there's not quite enough Dean and Hank lately, even besides the couple episodes that they haven't been in at all kind of by design, but that's OK as long as they keep expanding the show's universe as well as they have lately.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Lil Wayne f/ Robin Thicke - "Tie My Hands" (mp3)

Lil Wayne was the most overdiscussed figure in popular music well before the release of Tha Carter III, and is only moreso two months later. But OK, let's talk about something specific about the album, and his transformation in recent years, Wayne's relationship with R&B. In the first few years of his career, it was a minor element in his music; the hooks on most of his songs were rapped, either by himself or another Cash Money MC, and what melody there was usually came from Mannie Fresh's production. Wayne sometimes rapped in a slightly melodic singsong, but never anything as overtly tuneful as a Nelly or early 50 Cent hit had at the time. His first single with an R&B hook, 2002's "The Way Of Life" featuring TQ, was probably the worst and most generic single of his career up to that point.

Even as recently as on Tha Carter II, "Grown Man" felt like a completely cynical, uninspired token R&B jam on what was otherwise a mostly lyric-driven straight up hip hop album. But that album also included "Shooter," the first of many collaborations with Robin Thicke, and it wasn't at all calculated; Wayne had just been a fan of the song from Thicke's first album, and wanted to rap over it. The song got a lot of critical praise; I remember my friend Tom Breihan called it the song of the year before I even heard it, and after he'd built it up so much I was surprised at how awful I thought it was. To me, it was just a bunch of scattered 8-bar verses shoehorned into a song where they sounded completely out of context and forced, like a bad mashup. To my ears, his latest song with Thicke, "Tie My Hands" is a much more successful collaboration between two different artists with a lot of mutual appreciation.

But that Thicke collab marked arguably the beginning of Wayne showing some active passion for R&B. And really, probably most rappers listen to a good amount of R&B, or at least follow it as much as any genre other than rap. Older guys like Snoop, who can actually remember a time before rap, always seem to have a deep knowledge about and love for soul music beyond what they occasionally sample. But starting around Wayne's generation, you've got guys who could have listened to nothing but hip hop for their entire life.

By Tha Carter II, Wayne had already started his run of guest spots on R&B singles with Destiny's Child and Bobby Valentino, and continued it over the next couple years with Chris Brown and Lloyd and Usher (and occasional flops by Avant and Mya). Any time a rapper is at the peak of his career and in high demand for features, he inevitably appears on some R&B songs regardless of what his general music or image is, but the R&B records Wayne did felt like such an integral part of his success during his mixtape monster period, the things that most kept him relevant to teenybopper radio listeners at a moment when his fanbase was skewing in a whole bunch of other new directions it'd never reached before. But he also seemed genuinely psyched to be on a lot of those records, doing goofy dances next to Chris Brown and mouthing Lloyd's lyrics in videos.

It was also around this time that he started playing guitar, albeit pretty badly, in stuff like the "Leather So Soft" video. When I saw Wayne on tour with Jeezy over a year ago, and he played guitar onstage, lamely twanging away tuneless leads over the same song, I wrote "A few years from now, this might be remembered as the moment when it all started to go wrong, and Wayne got on the road to becoming Andre 3000." That wasn't really fair to Andre, however; as much as I hate "Hey Ya," he actually did learn some chords and write a catchy rock song that crossed over to people who'd never heard him rap before. Arguably Lil Wayne did something similar with "Lollipop," a massive #1 on which he played some barely audible guitar in the background, and arguably sang the whole song. I say "arguably" because I personally think he just rapped it slowly through autotune; Yung Joc could've recorded the exact same verses and everyone would call it rapping, because Wayne happens to be rapping at a Yung Joc tempo and skill level on "Lollipop."

Meanwhile, Wayne started namedropping R&B artists out the ying yang. About a year ago, Wayne told The Fader, "I had an iPod full of Prince from my manager, and I sat and really listened. And like, this nigga can't sing! Nigga just got a distinctive-ass voice," and "I started practicing what Prince do." And this March, Wayne told MTV News, "I got to owe a lot to T-Pain. He made me really look at myself. I always look at somebody like, 'I can't do what you do, but man, I damn sure wish I could.' So when I figure out what I could do about that, I go and do it. So every time I get a chance to say it, T-Pain, Prince, Wyclef, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz — all these are people I looked at the past two years. I viewed them seriously and was like, 'Wow, I could do that without being totally them.' I can present it as Lil Wayne." When "Love In This Club Pt. 2" dropped, he was practically emotional with gratitude that Usher's people kept all of the virtually unlistenable verse he recorded for it, including the last few bars where he sang a few lines of an old Janet Jackson song. I think he realizes that he's testing people's patience with a lot of these melodic indulgences, but he's totally committed to the path he's on.

And even on his biggest straight-up rap hit to date, "A Milli" (the only Carter III single so far with no singer on the hook), Wayne addressed his rising stature as an MC while twisting the conversation toward R&B: "they say I’m rappin’ like Big, Jay, Tupac, Andre 3000 -- where is Erykah Badu at?" A lot of people took this as either a diss at Badu, a reference to her past relationship with 3000, or just another Wayne non sequitur, but in the context of the MTV quote, it's pretty clear he's expressing straight up admiration of her, and maybe some annoyance that critics overlook his influences that aren't rappers. Myself, I'm just curious if he's getting major inspiration right now from the crazy shit on New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War), or he's still just bumping Baduizm.

Last year writing about T-Pain and his transformation from no-name rapper to moderately talented but hugely popular singer, I mentioned "There aren't many artists in hip hop/R&B I have more disdain for than good rappas ternt mediocre sangas like Mos Def and Andre 3000." It's not so much that I think these guys should be rhyming in an expressionless staccato the rest of their careers; for the most part the rappers that take an interest in singing are the ones that had an ear for melodic hooks to begin with. But when they do, it usually seems to be part of a strategic career move, disassociating themselves from current hip hop to align themselves with more 'timeless' artists of the Stevie Wonder variety. It's frustrating for the same reason that Jay-Z suddenly repping rock music, but championing Coldplay of all bands, if frustrating to anyone who likes both hip hop and rock.

The other reason Wayne's R&B jones can be off-putting is because he sometimes approaches it amateurishly, but exudes the confidence of someone who thinks they can do no wrong; you know, the way, say, a celebrity with a drug problem might act indestructible, to pick a completely random example. The downside of Wayne's embrace of the daily grind of constant mixtapes and guest appearances is that you see every little step forward in real time, and he never has time to surprise you with a big growth spurt all at once, like he did with his rap skills on the first Carter album (which was only seen as an unexpected leap forward because few people heard his mixtapes with Sqad Up that preceded it). Under the old model, an artist who wanted to learn a new instrument or explore a new genre could go off and woodshed for a couple years, and then drop an album with their new style fully formed. Wayne doesn't have that option, or doesn't give himself one, so we've got all the little autotune mixtape tracks before "Lollipop," and a lot of really shitty attempts at playing guitar that he'll have to try hard to overshadow if he ever learns to play well and make music with a guitar.

So now you've got Tha Carter III, the album that was delayed for 2 years straight and preceded by so much hype and anticipation that Wayne was in the rare position where he probably could've put any guest he wanted on the album, or none at all. And you've got 6 or 7 tracks featuring R&B singers, a ratio that in the past would've been typical to a Ja Rule album. Pretty much the only track from the Carter III sessions that leaked prior to 2007 that still made the album is one of those R&B jams, "Comfortable," which Wayne reportedly kept because he's a huge Babyface fan. A lot of people shit on the song at the time of the leak as an ill-advised crossover attempt, just the kind of thing that could derail the album once it would finally be released. Turns out, though, that there are plenty of songs on Tha Carter III that hold it far far back from being the classic it was hyped to be, including a lot of the songs with no trace of R&B. But "Comfortable" is one of those songs that somehow sounds perfect, and when Wayne says "my momma gonna like this one...I think everybody gonna like this one," I feel like nodding in agreement.

Saturday, August 02, 2008
New Corporate Rock Still Sells on Idolator, all about Staind and the Foo Fighters and that awful Rehab band. In the course of the comments on that post the idea came up for me to do one of my next columns handicapping the chances of the latest blog band faves doing well on mainstream rock radio, but since I don't keep up with blog rock much at all I'm totally open to suggestions for that.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bun B - "Get Cha Issue" (mp3)

Pretending that Metacritic is actually accurate or even makes sense most of the time would be a fool's game. Still, now and then I really have to scratch my head if it represents the critical consensus to any degree, like when I noticed that Bun B's II Trill has the highest score of any hip hop album this year so far (just ahead of Wayne and the fucking Cool Kids, but still). That's crazy enough considering that Underground Kingz doesn't even have a metacritic score to compare it to (and you'd really think that got enough reviews to get covered by the site). But really II Trill just kinda sucks. It has most of the same stuff wrong with it that a lot of other major label southern rap albums I've heard this year have had, particularly cookie cutter trend-chasing guests and production, but the difference is that Bun B is an actually good MC who's just on total autopilot, and that it's on Rap-A-Lot, which Scarface put a pretty uncompromising album out on just a few months earlier.

I can't fault the guy for not having any more Pimp C beats to rap over, but the dream team of talentless white producers he's assembled here (J.R. Rotem, Scott Storch, Clinton Sparks) is really amazingly shitty. Even Jazze Pha, who I've always halfheartedly defended from his haters, turns in perhaps the most annoying track of his career on "My Block," a truly impressive feat given his track record. But like I said, the main issue is that Bun is just a zombie on the mic these days, aside from a few thoughtful or heartfelt verses. He used to switch flows and adapt to the beat all the time, but now he's spitting the same flow, the one where he echoes the last three syllables of every line (erry line) in that annoying way every other song (other song).

Of course, my view of II Trill might be slightly tainted by how I first heard it. A couple months ago when I was getting ready to leave for my honeymoon, I took an Amazon gift card I got as a wedding present and used to it try out their mp3 store and stock my iPod up with a bunch of new albums to spend time with on the trip. Bun was the only rap album I got in that haul, and since Amazon doesn't mark the difference between explicit and edited music in big bold text next to every song like iTunes does, I ended up buying a clean version of the album, which totally sucked. Not that Bun or his guests use that much obscenity or it's that key to their lyrics on the album, but it just feels like a really disruptive interference when I'm sitting down to listen to a hip hop album. I like Amazon's mp3 store, but I'm definitely gonna be careful about that shit in the future.