Monthly Report: January Albums

Saturday, January 31, 2009
1. Freeway - Month Of Madness: The Mixtape
Freeway is part of a whole wave of rappers who got a brief moment of major label shine at least 5 years ago, had a hit or two and maybe went gold, and then got caught in label limbo or otherwise let their careers go way offtrack, and are now clawing their way back by catering to the internet. But Freeway never seemed as whiny or entitled about his situation as, say, Joe Budden or the Clipse do now, and it's refreshing that he actually went away for a couple years by his own choice, going on a religious pilgrimage and seriously pondering whether to continue rapping. His 2007 album Free At Last was great and unjustly underpromoted, but when he returned in December dropping a new song for free every day of the month, he was just making good music again, not muttering about how Def Jam screwed him or Jay let him down. But what's great is that those songs, as compiled I think unofficially on this mixtape, are actually songs and not half-assed freestyles like most online rapper publicity stunts, with original beats by notable producers like Alchemist and Don Cannon and Erick Sermon and Needlz and Jake One, and Free is still rapping his ass off in that bizarre one-of-a-kind voice we've come to know and love.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream
The more I hear Springsteen's Brendan O'Brien-produced 21st century rock albums, the more I want some other producer to peel back the layers and let me hear the E Street Band be itself. Working On A Dream shows those layers a little more than Magic, and it's nice to hear the late Danny Federici's organ work a little more prominently on his final recordings. But I still hear O'Brien's '90s alt-rock sheen, which I always thought worked great for Pearl Jam and some of their contemporaries, and just year for something that captures the basic sonic character of E Street as they still sound onstage when playing old sons. It's still Springsteen, though, so it's still pretty good, and it's fun to hear him indulge in some of his iffiest ideas in a long time, like the 8-minute opener "Outlaw Pete" and the goofily charming "Queen Of The Supermarket."

3. Superchunk - Clambakes Vol. 4: Sur La Bouche - Live in Montreal 1993
I've been on a big Superchunk trip lately, so much so that I got excited just to see that they were announced on the Coachella bill the other day and might just maybe actually tour this year. But I feel like I'm a little younger than a lot of the other folks who love them, who I guess are old enough to have already been true indie heads in the early '90s. So maybe it's just a generation gap thing that I'm in the minority that thinks they only got really good with Here's Where The Strings Come In and that later albums like Come Pick Me Up slay most of the early stuff. But there are still lotsa good songs from those early records, so when they release a new-old live record from the Clambakes series from that era, I'll still snap it up and enjoy it. Really this bootleg captures the energy of the band at that time so much better than, say, No Pocky For Kitty in my opinion.

4. The Bird And The Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future
I always feel kinda bad for the offspring of famous musicians who become musicians themselves. Regardless of how they feel about their parent's music or legacy, it's gotta be awkward when people take an interest in them solely for that reason. So I kind of lame being one of those types of people when I only took an interest in The Bird And The Bee after I realized that singer Inara George is the daughter of the late Little Feat frontman Lowell George. But I enjoyed Inara's performance of her father's song on the Feat album Join The Band last year, and then saw that her band was about to release an album, so I wanted to check it out. Weird funky indie pop with one of the guys from Geggy Tah isn't necessarily right up my alley, but I am enjoying the kind of playful, singsongy vibe of this record, and it's really textured and well produced.

5. Young Dro & Yung LA - Black Boy Swag, White Boy Tags
T.I. has the best superstar vanity label in rap right now, but I can't help thinking that they're inevitably going to drop the ball, maybe as badly as Roc-A-Fella around that time they were snapping up guys like M.O.P. and doing absolutely nothing with them. Right now Grand Hustle's roster includes 8Ball & MJG, Killer Mike, Alfamega, B.o.B. and Young Dro, all of whom I'd probably buy an album from tomorrow if they dropped (B.o.B. I'm increasingly less sure about, though, especially after that terrible Andre 3k wannabe single). But I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the only CDs they release in 2009 were from mohawked twerp Yung LA and maybe another lame DJ Drama compilation. Pairing the former up with Dro, always an entertaining punchline artist, for this mixtape makes Yung LA just a little more palatable at first, at least until you realize that the kid has the most annoying flow ever invented. But you could still chop this up and get a decent half-album of newish Dro verses, which might be all we get this year anyway.

Monthly Report: January Singles

Friday, January 30, 2009
I always liked Tom’s quarterly report posts and I thought I’d just bite that whole idea (not for the first time, either), except accelerate the timeframe a little. It’ll be harder to pin singles to a given month than album release dates, so this’ll be a little loose and just whatever I’m digging at the moment than the albums report. But really I just miss writing about singles regularly ever since Stylus and the Singles Jukebox closed down:

1. Jamie Foxx f/ Lil Wayne – “Number One”
The first time I heard this on the radio was in December, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my ’08 singles list, and was briefly really torn about whether to just throw it near the top or hold off and hope it would blow up in ’09. I would like to think that Just Blaze had an epiphany in the last few months, and realized that his rightful place as one of rap’s best producers was slipping away as he saved all his beats for a Saigon album that’ll never drop and occasionally threw away a good beat on a shitty post-retirement Jay album. At least, that would explain how he kind of came out of nowhere to land his first #1, T.I.'s "Live Your Life," and it seems like he's really trying to make radio-friendly records now without really sacrificing his basic aesthetic. I had high hopes that the new Maino/T-Pain single he did would be up to the same standard, but it's pretty much a rehash of "Live Your Life" with seriously diminishing returns, but the shit he did with the claps on this song is insane. Right now it looks like Jamie's label isn't going to work this as an A-side, and I can't be mad because the current single "Blame It" is also really good, but every time I hear this on the radio I wish it was a heavy rotation smash.

2. Young Jeezy – “Who Dat”
Now that the ’08 is over and I know The Recession was by far my favorite rap album of the year, I can start being actively annoyed that it solid significantly less than, say, Paper Trail and Tha Carter III and trying to figure out why. And I think it all comes down to the singles campaign, which was kind of slow and scattershot for a big A-list rap album – the only advance single, “Put On,” was big, but then “Vacation” turned out to be kind of a dud. He finally got around to releasing a video for “My President” just in time for the inauguration, but really they could’ve given that song a big push the moment the election was over in November. In the meantime, he shot videos for street singles like "Who Dat" and "Crazy World" that were awesome but not really radio-friendly, but I'm enjoying their brief little moments of airplay. The "Who Dat" video is one of the more entertainingly chaotic low-budget rap videos in a while, and I especially love the neon "DA TRAP" sign, the T of which is blurred out in the MTV version so that it says "DA RAP." The chorus really loses something with the n-word censored out, though, there's kind of an awkward silence in the vocal track where those 2 syllables, or really any 2 syllables, could be.

3. Shinedown – “Second Chance”
I just realized that I’ve never mentioned Shinedown in any of my Corporate Rock Still Sells pieces, which is kind of funny considering how totally dominant they are on rock radio the last few years. But really they’ve just never stood out from the pack, even when the pack is other somewhat anonymous hit machines like Three Days Grace and Theory Of A Deadman, and I pretty much hated the band right off the bat when their first couple hits were that "staring down the barrel of a 45" song (true story: I worked with a guy who had that song as his ringtone, shit creeped me out) and a really bad cover of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song. They've slowly won me over with hooky singles like "Save Me" and that one Daughtry sang on Idol, though, and “Second Chance” is their best yet, some massive anthemic shit like a nu-grunge Bon Jovi (even moreso than Nickelback’s recent Mutt Lange-produced records). I have no idea what the song is about but it's just full of random phrases that are fun to belt out all dramatically in the car like "I just saw Haley's Comet" and "tell my mother, tell my father" and (my favorite) "I'm not angry, I'M JUST SAYING" which comes at the big climax of the chorus when the drums switch up.

4. The Veronicas – “Untouched”
This has been out a while but I think it's just now peaking in the U.S. and it took a while to really grow on me anyway. This song is a great example of how you can get really close to a grade A pop song if you have a big chorus and a strong riff or recurring musical theme, but shitty verses can still hold it back. The string pattern is awesome and the chorus has a huge insistent pull to it, but to get to that you have to sit through the most tedious jibber jabbering verses ever.

5. Rick Ross – “Mafia Music”
In keeping with the theme of #1 and #2, it seems like these days the songs artists are releasing as teaser/street singles are way stronger than the proper mass market singles lately. I didn't think Ross had a song like this in him, even when he's had better beats and no guests he's never been this compelling. If he makes a substantial step up in his rapping like Jeezy did in the past year or two, I’m gonna feel kind of conflicted; I at least always understood Jeezy’s appeal and why he had a career even when his verses sucked, but I’ve always rooted against Rick Ross. I was really hoping the whole correctional officer thing would end his career. Still, if he starts making good music, can’t complain about that, because we're probably stuck with him either way (and judging from the proper lead single, "Magnificent," he'll still make shitty songs too). The lines directed at 50 are kinda outta nowhere but are one of the funnier disses I've heard lately.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
My latest Corporate Rock Still Sells column is all about the shit sandwich that is Lil Wayne's "Prom Queen."

Monday, January 26, 2009

In the past month or so, my stuff on the City Paper's Noise blog has included: a Club Beat column featuring my top 10 Baltimore club tracks of 2008 (including DJ Class, King Tutt, Say Wut, Scottie B., the 410 Pharaohs, K.W. Griff, DJ Excel, Rod Lee and others), an interview with Height, and concert reviews of the Sonny Gunnz tribute show @ Sonar, the "eyes night" of the Baltimore Round Robin tour @ Sonar (with Beach House, Ed Schrader, Lexie Mountain Boys and others), E.Joseph and the Phantom Heart/FFHH/Ms. Sara and the Help/Red This Ever @ Fletcher's, and The Water/The NerfTones/Stugottz @ the Ottobar.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My latest review on is of the new album by Wilderness.

Pazz, Jop, etc.

Friday, January 23, 2009
This year's results for the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics poll came out yesterday, and it was my second year voting in it (my ballot is here). I have to admit, though, that at this point I get almost more excited for Glenn McDonald's statistical breakdown of P&J, All·Idols 2008, than the poll itself. New Times Media or somebody should really be paying McDonald for all the stuff he does -- up within hours of the poll results, no less -- including showing what albums appeared on the same ballots the most, or what voters have the most albums in common. The best part, though, is the voter centricity scale, which measures how much each voter is in line with the consensus. It'd be kind of missing the point, or perhaps a little immature, to say that it's somehow better or worse to have a more unique ballot, but I have to admit that I do take a childish little bit of pride in being in the bottom third on the centricity scale. I'm actually 20% higher up than I was last year, mainly because my #1 album, Erykah Badu, placed in the P&J top 10. This page shows how each album I voted for ranked, as well as the most similiar voters to me (which unsurprisingly includes a number of people I know and/or read regularly).

A little over a year ago, I posted a list of my 25 most anticipated albums of 2008, and in a way it was less an earnest prediction of what I'd enjoy than an experiment to see how well I could predict how the year would go down. I limited myself to artists that I knew had an album scheduled to come out that year, mostly ones that already had titles announced, and listed them in rough order of how high my expectations were. Now that the year's over, I can compare the anticipated list with my actual list of favorite albums of 2007, if they came out at all. Actual year-end rankings on the right of each album:

Apollo Sunshine - Great Mysteries Of The Old Soul : #61 (released as Shall Noise Upon)
Keri Hilson - In A Perfect World: delayed to 2009
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III: #16
Evangelista - Hello Voyager: #6
T-Pain - TBA: #43 (released as Thr33 Ringz)
Grand Buffet - King Vision: #9
Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2: #40
Jadakiss - Kiss My Ass: delayed to 2009 and re-titled The Last Kiss
Mike Watt & The Black Gang - TBA: delayed to 2009 and titled My Shubun No Hi
Peedi Peedi - Prince Of The Roc: delayed to 2009
The B-52's - Funplex: #31
The Roots - Rising Down: #50
Nas - Nigger: #53 (released as Untitled)
They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123's: #54
T.I. - Paper Trail: #27
The Disciplines - TBA: delayed to 2009 and titled Smoking Kills
DJ Drama and Fabolous - Gangsta Grillz: There Is No Competition: #81
B.G. - Too Hood To Be Hollywood: delayed to 2009
Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious: #44
50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct: delayed to 2009
Raconteurs - TBA: #12 (released as Consolers Of The Lonely)
Trick Daddy - Welcome To Thug Country: delayed to 2009
R.E.M. - Accelerate: #36
My Chemical Romance - TBA: delayed to 2009
Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told: delayed to 2009

Nearly half of that list, mostly the major label stuff, was shelved in '08 pending a future release date (the inclusion of Saigon was kind of a nod toward that inevitability; I just barely gave a shit about him a year ago and certainly don't now). But if you look at the rankings that are there, there's a pretty good measurement of how albums shaped up in comparison to my expectations: Apollo Sunshine was a crushing disappointment, and Lil Wayne a milder, less surprising one. Meanwhile, Evangelista and Grand Buffet landed right about where I thought they would, and only the Raconteurs really exceeded my expectations by surpassing their debut.

I'm not gonna make another list like this for '09, but I will say that I'm still anticipating Jadakiss and Keri Hilson and Mike Watt in particular. I'm also looking forward to new albums from Erykah Badu, Sonic Youth, Ted Leo, The Alchemist, Eleni Mandell, Asobi Seksu, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Paramore, the Lonely Island, Two Tongues, Beauty Pill, U2, Kelly Clarkson, Ryan Leslie, Big Boi and Consequence. But I'm sure there'll be a lot of great stuff that I don't know about yet too, there always is.

And finally, as I did last year, here are the top 8 year-end lists I compiled in the past 2 months:
1. The Producer Power 20: The Biggest Beatmakers of 2008
2. The 20 Best Shows I Saw In 2008
3. The Top 10 Baltimore Club Tracks of 2008
4. The Top 20 (and Bottom 20) Hip Hop/R&B Remixes of 2008
5. The Top 100 Singles of 2008 part one and two
6. The Top 20 Baltimore Hip Hop Releases of 2008
7. The Top 50 Albums of 2008 part one and two
8. The Top 20 TV Shows of 2008

Thursday, January 22, 2009
I reviewed Paul Blart: Mall Cop in this week's City Paper. It was pretty funny!

TV Diary

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
a) "United States Of Tara"
So Steven Spielberg came up with some corny and potentially really offensive idea for a comedy about a mentally ill woman with multiple personalities, and decided that the lady who wrote Juno's unparalleled ear for completely moronic slang was needed to write the series. But since they ended up with a pretty nice cast I decided to at least watch the pilot anyway. And Toni Collette is, as always, a really impressive and believable actress when she's given a good role to play, like the 'normal' personality in the first scene of the pilot. But really, even when she has to play her character's hopelessly broad and ridiculous other personalities, she carries it pretty well, but there's really just no getting past that Diablo Cody dialogue. I kinda feel bad for John Corbett, he has such an appealing low-key bro vibe that seemingly every role he gets is just the laid back romantic foil for crazy or neurotic women (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "Sex And The City," even "Northern Exposure" really).

b) "Tool Academy"
I had high hopes for this based on the title alone, but it really surpassed my expectations. VH1's had so many reality shows dedicated to the famous and almost-famous behaving badly now, and even the ones ostensibly about reforming them, like "Charm School," ultimately just give them chances to be rewarded for acting stupid on TV some more and rarely seem to change the participants. But this show, which takes a bunch of random douchebags who think they're competing to be "Mr. Awesome," and then reveals that they've been submitted to the show "Tool Academy" by their fed up girlfriends, actually combines the entertainment value of humiliating these tribal tattoo morons with a sense that they are actually learning something about themselves and their relationships. I mean the therapy sessions are pretty genuinely greuling stuff, to the degree that you can be sure that anything in a fake-looking reality show is genuine, and I felt some serious sympathy for the girls that put up with these guys. And now and then, one of them throws a tantrum and the host says "I'm sorry, you're just a tool" and kicks them out, and I go back to being entertained and not totally bummed out. Great show.

c) "True Beauty"
This kind of starts from the same premise as "Tool Academy," starting with a bunch of people thinking they're in a beauty competition but really being evaluated for 'inner beauty,' but the results are neither as funny as exec producer Ashton Kutcher intends, nor as deep and thought-provoking as exec producer Tyra Banks intends. In a way, it's kind of apt that a couple of former models who have spent the last 10 years trying painfully hard to prove that they're more than just a pretty face would come up with this show. But the execution is just really dull and the 'tests' they set up are really transparent and contrived and reveal little to nothing about the contestants. The only way this show could redeem itself is if at the end they reveal that it's actually a test of the host's inner beauty and tell Vanessa Minnillo that she's a terrible person.

d) "Hole In The Wall"
I only watched this for 20 minutes and I have no idea how they can stretch this show out for a whole hour, let alone multiple episodes. But for those 20 minutes I was laughing my ass off, as they say "it's time to FACE THE WALL" over and over and people try to bend into shapes and the wall comes at them and knocks them into a pool of water. It's the kind of bizarre mindless entertainment that would have to come from Japan, and would have to be put on U.S. airwaves by FOX, and I'll probably never watch it again. But most crappy game shows never even manage to be that entertaining once, so I can't really knock it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama came to Baltimore on Saturday, and I walked 20 blocks and waited out in the cold for a couple hours to hear the short speech and take some blurry photos, because I had to have my little "I was there" moment. I didn't anything as far as his campaign last year besides read about it and vote for him, and I sure as hell am not trying to get anywhere near D.C. on inauguration day, so it was pretty awesome that he happened to stop through my city 3 days beforehand. Pretty much every significant Maryland politician spoke, except, of course, for our crooked mayor that just got indicted. It was easy to kind of not even pay close attention to his speech after hearing so many of them, but just the whole vibe and the excitement were pretty crazy. Here's hoping the presidency comes anywhere near living up to the expectations built up in the campaign.

Friday, January 16, 2009
Height With Friends released a new record this week, and I did a buncha coverage for it: a review in the City Paper, a Q&A with Height on Noise, and a post on Gov't Names. His release party's tonight at Zodiac.

The 20 Best Shows I Saw in 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009
2008 was my second year of semiweekly live music reporting for the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog, and by far the most concerts and musical performances I ever saw in one year (roughly 70 by my count, including 10 at the Ottobar alone). I saw musicians perform at clubs, arenas, race tracks, opera houses, recording studios, convention centers, museums, street festivals, art galleries, churches, lofts, movie theaters, and a Best Buy, all in the Baltimore or Washington area. Local nobodies thrilled me and touring superstars bored me and vice versa. So before another year passes and the last one starts to blur together, let me try to figure out my favorite memories, which unsurprisingly feature some of the people as my 2007 list. I wrote about a couple of these shows on the City Paper's The Year In Live Music list, but I wanted to go ahead and do my own whole big list again. All I can say is, thank god I started wearing earplugs again. Artists in each show are listed in order of enjoyment:

1. Faraquet/Statehood @ the Black Cat
2. J-Roddy Walston and The Business/Grand Buffet/Soul Cannon @ The Ottobar
3. Evangelista/Vampire Hands/Garland of Hours @ the Velvet Lounge
4. Mullyman/Skarr Akbar/Comp/Little Clayway/Teop/Heavy Gold/1st Family/Huli Shallone/ SL Danga/Al Great @ Sonar
6. Firewater @ The Ottobar
7. Noble Lake/Golden Ghost/Viking Moses/Andy Abelow @ Floristree
8. Ellen Cherry @ Mobtown Studios
9. The Bow-Legged Gorilla/Magical Beautiful/Beans @ the Windup Space
10. Jonathan Richman @ the 8x10
11. Joan Jett/Dru Hill/K-Swift/Blaq Starr/Oranges Band/Mario @ Artscape
12. Avec/Karmella's Game/Remote Islands/A Sunny Day In Glasgow @ the Lo-Fi Social Club
13. Kix @ Ram's Head Live
14. Wye Oak/Deer Tick/Musee Mecanique @ the G-Spot
15. Little Feat @ the 9:30 Club
16. Nine Inch Nails/Shudder To Think/Paramore/Lil Wayne/Foo
Fighters/Stone Temple Pilots @ Virgin Mobile Festival

17. Diablo/Backyard Band/Rod Lee @ the Baltimore Museum of Industry
18. The Art Department/Turtle Neck Store/The Extraordinaires/The Microwave Background @ The Ottobar
19. Pearl Jam/Ted Leo @ the Verizon Center
20. John Legend/Raphael Saadiq @ the Lyric Opera House

Movie Diary

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
a) Enchanted
The wife was watching this one day and it was surprisingly alright. It's weird how James Marsden is turning out to be a pretty capable comedy actor after years of people only knowing him for playing Cyclops as a total humorless dick.

b) Hairspray
John Waters is such a cultural institution in Baltimore that it's weird to see his work adapted for larger audiences in any form, just because he already feels like this big pop phenomenon (albeit a subversive one) to me, not even so much a cult hero, just a cultural hero. And while it'd be easy to whine about the 2007 Hairspray's version of Baltimore taking place on a Toronto soundstage, I appreciate what they're going for, and as far as movies-turned-musicals-turned-movie-musicals go, it beats The Producers. Yet another movie where Marsden is pretty likeable, too. Does anyone else kind of hate Queen Latifah as a screen presence, though? She has this kind of smug, plastered-on grin and plays every character the same way, which didn't even bother me so much back in the "Living Single" days but now that she's in all these big movies, it's pretty annoying.

c) Grindhouse
Man, I really wanted to see this in the theater, but I'm glad I at least got to catch the whole thing on cable as one piece with the trailers and all, not split up into 2 movies. Of the features, I thought Planet Terror was way better, though I'm biased because I'm a big fan of that kind of over-the-top Dead Alive-style gore. I'm surprised how many people preferred Death Proof, though, even with the amazing car stunts and a couple great scenes it was still kind of stubbornly awkward in its structure and the dialogue-heavy scenes were so not up to the par of previous Tarantino movies. My favorite trailer was probably Don't! although they were all pretty good.

d) Ghost Rider
I had kinda gotten to the point where I thought Nic Cage only made worthless bad movies, and entertainingly bad movies like Wickerman, but this actually turned out pretty good. The villain and the plot were kinda lame, but Cage carried it well with his weirdo Elvis vibe and his glass of jellybeans. I could see them really stepping it up for the sequel.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jamie Foxx's last album, 2005's Unpredictable, sold almost 2 million records, but it only really had one or two moderately popular singles, and pretty much got all those sales because Foxx was in his brief little period of do-no-wrong superstardom in the direct aftermath of Ray and the Oscar and "Gold Digger." I found the album fairly enjoyable when I reviewed it, but when he took 3 years to follow it up it seemed even more like a weird novelty in retrospect. Of course, his new album Intuition does follow some fairly high profile guest appearances on that boring "MIss Independent" remix (included on the album) and "Please Excuse My Hands," which made perfect use of the guy's totally skeezy vibe. But Intuition's kind of by-committee hodgepodge of superstar producers and guests actually works pretty well, and I generally like those tracks on the album most, whereas on Unpredictable I preferred the stripped-down ballads.

There's a song on Intuition produced by T-Pain that interpolates The-Dream's "I Luv Your Girl," and a song produced by Tricky and The-Dream that interpolates T-Pain's "Can't Believe It." That just about says it all about the predictable trend-chasing on this album, although biting Andy Samberg for the "Just Like Me" video is some less predictable trend-chasing. Sometimes there's bad ideas, like doing a sex jam with the girl from Floetry (and Raheem DeVaughn also had the same bad idea on his last album), but mostly it's a pretty decent R&B album with some brief awesome moments. The Lil Wayne/Just Blaze track "Number One" is completely ridiculous, and I'd be mad that it's not the next single if the next single, "Blame It," wasn't also pretty damn good. That's not to say that there's anything on this album as entertaining as "I'm your conscience" and "what's going on with you, Iron Man, man" though.

Reading Diary (33 1/3 Edition)

Friday, January 09, 2009
a) Double Nickels On The Dime by Michael T. Fournier
I've always really loved the idea of Continuum's 33 1/3 series of books, with each volume dedicated to a single album, but until recently I'd only gotten around to reading one, Matos's Sign O' The Times book. The last few months, though, I realized that a local record store stocks a bunch of them and started buying them up like crazy, since they're quick reads and fit in my coat pocket so pretty much anytime I'm stuck somewhere or have to kill time, I have something good to read. Plus, I was really seriously planning on pitching something for their most recent round of proposals in December, but I flaked out because I was really busy and ultimately had trouble settling on one album. But even though I'm no longer 'studying up' on the series in hopes of contributing to it (at least until the next round of pitches), they're still pretty fun. Aaaaanyway, this book is about one of my favorite albums of all time, by the Minutemen. I wasn't too wild about the way it was written, the guy's style was kinda dry and it felt like he kept making the same points over and over in kind of awkward ways, but still, it was really cool how he went through all 40-something songs on the album one by one, with a lot of Mike Watt interview commentary, it was kind of like extended liner notes. Right after I read this, I re-watched We Jam Econo on TV and man, what a fucking amazing band they were.

b) The Who Sell Out by John Dougan
This might be my favorite book in the series that I've read so far. Part of why it worked for me is that I love The Who but this album's never been one of my favorites, so it was interesting to read someone kind of making a case for why it should be. But really the guy just did a great job of putting the album in its cultural context with a lot of good research about the era. I always kind of appreciated the satirical concept of the album, but I had no idea just how it came together or how tied in it was with the pop art movement of the time, or how the whole London pirate radio thing happened and how much of the interstitials from the album were taking directly from those stations.

c) In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar
This one was kind of a light read that I didn't feel fully engaged in, partly because I feel like I've heard the story of this album a thousand times before, read Come As You Are back in the '90s, and ultimately I'm not that huge a Nirvana fan. Still, this was my first and still favorite album of theirs, and it's cool to hear how it came together in really close detail. All the interviews with various engineers and producers and sound techs kind of tracking the development of individual songs is definitely the strong suit of this one.

d) Let's Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste by Carl Wilson
I kinda have wanted to hate this book ever since it was announced. I knew it was a matter of time before 33 1/3 published a book where the author didn't actually like the album, just for the sheer novelty of it, and picking an artist like Celine Dion seemed like such an obvious easy target. That's the point of course, and after the book got just one rave review after another, I figured I should sit down and actually read it instead of just hating on the concept. And it is really quite good, an extremely thoughtful and intricate examination of the concept of "bad taste," but I can't help resenting it just because the whole point of 33 1/3 and what I like about it is the limitation of the format, the fact that it's about just one album and not an artist's entire catalog. How writers use that one album as a prism to talk about lots of other things is, of course, important, but ultimately Wilson doesn't really use the album as the prism, but the artist herself. It just feels like he chose this one because it has the Titanic song on it, but doesn't really address the album itself. I'm not quite done this one yet, but I'm almost finished, and he's still yet to really say anything about any of the other songs. I realize that's not the point, and I'm sure he does get to them to some extent, but I still kinda wish he had found some other outlet for this work. That might be pretty OCD of me, though.

The Producer Power 20: The Biggest Beatmakers of 2008

Wednesday, January 07, 2009
One of the best features Scratch Magazine, which I briefly wrote for a couple years ago, had back in its last few months of existence in 2007 was a list in the back page of every issue ranking the top 20 hip hop producers of the moment. So I thought that as a logical extension of my Producer Series posts, I’d do a list like Scratch's for the whole year of 2008, but not just based on some vague sense of skills or buzz; I tried to measure their commercial success as objectively as possible. That involved creating a pretty convoluted tabulation system, in which singles were weighed based on their chart performance (i.e. their peak on the Hot 100), and other tracks were weighted on another scale with lesser value, based on the sales of the albums they appeared on. I won’t bore you with the details, but if anyone wants me to show my math I’d be happy to.

Like the Remix Report Card, the emphasis here is hip hop, but given how inextricably tied up and tangled the rap game is with R&B these days, I went ahead and included it, and unsurprisingly, R&B producers dominate a lot of the list. Even if you wanted to be a purist and cut this down to just the rap, where would you start? Would all of Kanye’s tracks stay, or just the ones without AutoTune? I could’ve gone all out and broadened the criteria to all genres, but I think the only pop/rock producer that keeps up a pace on the level of urban producers enough to rank would’ve been Max Martin. And again, these are all ranked on pure chart performance, but of course I’ll offer some commentary as to the artistic merit of each producer’s work.

I do realize, of course, the irony of making such a list at a time list this. Even's Scratch blog recently declared that the era of the "super" producer needs to end in 2009 and really, I don't disagree. In the past decade or so, producers have become name brands almost as much as rappers themselves, and while the rise of beatmakers with their own identifiable sound, personality and artistic development has been one of the most exciting things for me as a music listener and critic, I can also see the detrimental effect it's had on the industry. Every hit song begets 3 soundalikes, usually from the same producer, and most albums being released are patchwork messes, trying to capture of every sound that's already been hot in the last few months. And while I think it's great that the people who make the actual rhythms and melodies of the songs enjoyed by millions of people are now getting even a fraction of the money and attention the people who write and perform the lyrics have always gotten, the huge pricetags that the biggest producers are now commanding are increasingly absurd, as record sales drop, and a new crop of hungry producers is constantly coming up and making hotter shit for more reasonable fees (until they land a hit, and start asking for 100k a beat, and the cycle begins again). So this is list is as much a critique of that system as it is a celebration of its excesses, because when you see how rich and famous and influential some of these guys are, you have to really go back and listen to their latest tracks, and wonder if they're earning their keep.

1. Stargate
Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen have been dominating R&B radio for three years straight now, but it’s still kind of an amusing shock to see two thirtysomething Norwegian crackers at the top of this list. In a year when Rihanna, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo collectively seemed to own the charts, Stargate was responsible for five top 10 hits from that trio (including a couple ’07 songs, “Don’t Stop The Music” and “With You,” that peaked in ’08). Add in smaller Mariah and Jennifer Hudson hits, and album tracks for Beyonce, Nas and Usher, and they were downright unavoidable. While they weren’t always inspired, Stargate did show a bit more creativity in ’08 than they had in years previous, when they seemed to xerox the sound of “So Sick” or “Irreplaceable” a dozen times each. I can take or leave some songs, like “Take A Bow” or “Bye Bye,” but “Closer” was my favorite single of the year, and “Spotlight,” “Miss Independent” and “Don’t Stop The Music” weren’t far behind. And given the way American producers have been biting Europop the past couple years, it’s appropriate that some actual Europeans got a piece of the action.

2. Tricky Stewart
Much like Stargate's ascent was driven by their creative partnership with Ne-Yo, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart stormed the charts by hitching his wagon to another star singer/songwriter, The-Dream. Of course, Tricky had a pretty great little run of hits earlier in the decade (“Case Of The Ex,” “Who Dat,” “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” etc.), but it wasn’t until “Umbrella” ruled 2007 that he really became a brand name and started churning out hits at a ridiculous clip. I’m not a big fan of his two big #1s of the year (“Single Ladies” is an annoying “Get Me Bodied” redux, and Tricky vastly improved on “Touch My Body” with his 2nd beat for the remix), and LL Cool J and the Gym Class Heroes flopped hard by putting their faith in Tricky and The-Dream for lead singles. But he still delivered some tracks I loved, particularly Jesse McCartney's "Leavin'" and May J.'s "Just Fine" (which came out in '07 but peaked in '08).

3. Kanye West
Kanye stopped really being a producer-for-hire when The College Dropout went platinum almost five years ago. Even after that, though, he usually kept doing a lot of beats here and there for Common and other close friends and collaborators. But since his big production project for '08, The Blueprint 3, got pushed back to ’09, there weren’t a whole lot of Kanye beats in the past year that he didn’t rap (or sing) on himself, plus he did more guest appearances on other people’s beats than ever. 808s & Heartbreak was still huge enough that producing it and its two top 5 singles puts him pretty high on this list, though, along with “Swagga Like Us,” the last couple Graduation singles that peaked in ’08, and a small number of outside productions (including two of the best songs on Tha Carter III and a decent Game song). I’m pretty so-so on his current direction – “Swagga” is clunky as hell, and the production on 808s just isn’t interesting enough to offset the terrible vocals and toxic sentiment, in my opinion. Plus, with the number of co-producers on his best beats lately (Eric Hudson on “Flashing Lights,” Deezle on “Let The Beat Build,” No I.D. on “Heartless”), I’m starting to wonder at what point Kanye will just kind of become a name brand with a revolving team of collaborators doing much of the legwork, a la Dr. Dre.

4. Danja
I was really happy to find Nate “Danja” Hills so high on the list this year, given the fact that throughout his mentor Timbaland’s triumphant comeback of 2006, Hills seemed to be the secret weapon. He was the co-pilot on Loose and FutureSex/LoveSounds, and established himself as a solo producer in ’07 with hits like “We Takin’ Over.” In 2008 he got the best of both worlds, working on Timbo’s biggest hit of the year, “4 Minutes,” and several other tracks on Madonna’s album, while striking out on his own to produce singles for T.I., Pink and Lil Mama, and album tracks for (deep breath) Britney, Usher, Danity Kane, Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, and Day26, among others. He’ll probably never have a totally distinct identity apart from Timbaland, or match his accomplishments, but right now, I do think Danja is the better producer, and it’s fitting that he’s reaping the rewards.

5. Polow Da Don
I’ve been a fan of this guy all through his rise to A-list status. And while it was tempting to get cynical about him in 2008, considering that his biggest hit, “Love In This Club,” was exposed as a GarageBand jack move and his next biggest was a fucking chewing gum ad, he put in good work pretty consistently, from noble failures like the Nelly/Fergie and Ne-Yo/NKOTB collabs to the best Nas single in years. I just hope that “A Milli”-biting new Rich Boy single “Drop” isn’t a harbinger of things to come.

6. Pharrell Williams
There’s no doubt that the Neptunes have had an amazing run, and it’s impossible to ever fully count them out. But in my estimation, their consistency started to drop off a good 6 years ago (I remember buying The Blueprint 2 and expecting four “Give It 2 Me”-level jams, and being shocked at the garbage they came up with). And unlike their most frequent point of comparison, Timbaland, there haven’t been many high peaks since then to balance out the valleys. In recent years, they've kind of dismantled the Neptunes brand and worked together and apart on and off; in '08 Pharrell did a lot of stuff without Chad Hugo, while Chad only went solo to waste his talents on the Ashlee SImpson album. And Skateboard P remained a ubiquitous force in ’08, muscling his way onto this list mainly by virtue of the N.E.R.D. album and the many non-singles on the Common and Madonna albums (each was responsible for one of his two piddling Hot 100 entries in ’08). And, even more shockingly, he made a song I actually liked, on the John Legend album, although other people really liked that Solange single too.

7. Timbaland
As I mentioned previously, Timbaland and Danja Handz mostly worked separately in ’08, and to my surprise Timbo didn’t fare nearly as well on his own. Not that he was actually “on his own”: most of his latest tracks were just with a different set of protégés known as The Royal Court. Not that I begrudge guys like Tim or Kanye for relying on the helper of younger talent to help make hits, after they spent years and years proving they could do it themselves, but there’s something kinda depressing about it all the same. And unfortunately, carrying on from his Furtado/Timberlake hits, Tim went all the way pop in ’08, but every album he contributed multiple tracks to sold well below expectations, including Madonna, the Pussycat Dolls and Ashlee Simpson. Meanwhile, the hits he did have all seemed to be follow-ups to much bigger songs (Flo Rida’s “Elevator,” Rihanna’s “Rehab,” etc.).

8. T-Pain
I’ve been banging the drum lately that T-Pain’s hook-singing skills are distracting everyone from just how good and versatile a producer he is. A lot of his biggest hits lately, though, have been produced by other people (“Low,” “Got Money,” “The Boss,” etc.), leaving mainly Thr33 Ringz and its various singles, and Lil Mama’s “Shawty Get Loose,” to speak for his success as a beatmaker in '08.

9. Akon
I was surprised to see Akon right behind and almost tied with T-Pain on this list, since I’d gotten the impression that Akon had long since been outshined by his labelmate. But he kept up, largely on the strength of producing his own solo hits, and Lada Gaga’s awful “Just Dance,” which I avoided so actively all year that I never even realized until recently that it hit #2 on the charts.

10. Drumma Boy
Cocaine Blunts already proclaimed Memphis’s Christopher “Drumma Boy” Gholson the producer of the year, and I agree enough that I wish he had placed a bit higher on this list (although if you removed all the R&B and made it a straight rap list, he probably would rise very near the top). He was the common denominator between virtually every major Southern rap album in ’08 besides Wayne (T.I., Jeezy, Rick Ross, Plies, Soulja Boy, Ace Hood), produced a couple of my favorite singles (“Put On” and "What's Up, What's Haapnin"), and I kinda respect his beats even when I dislike the song (“Umma Do Me,” “Here I Am,” etc.). I thought he was a pretty generic producer for a while, and was annoyed that his big trademark (that ascending “WHEEEEEEE” synth whine) was already Just Blaze’s signature first, but the subtle variety within his body of work is increasingly impressive, while others in the same lane, like say, DJ Toomp, is just getting more predictable with every song.

11. J.R. Rotem
J.R. Rotem started blowing up pop radio a couple years ago by throwing Carribean teenagers on samples of megahits of yesteryear (Rihanna on “Tainted Love,” Sean Kingston over “Stand By Me” and “Red Red Wine”), and I thought maybe his whole steez would just be jacking big obvious pop samples over and over. But he turned out to be a pretty solid Southern rap producer with Rick Ross’s “The Boss” and Bun B’s “That’s Gangsta,” and able to turn out a big pop hit without sampling on Leona Lewis’s “Better In Time.” The proof of his ability, though, is that “Bust It Baby Pt. 2” was just one of those songs I wanted to hate so much, but the beat was undeniable.

12. Cool & Dre
A few couple years ago, when they were making “Hate It Or Love It” and “Holla At Me,” I definitely would’ve called Cool & Dre one of the best newish production teams in the business. But sometime around 2007, Dre started singing horrible hooks on most of their tracks, and the only difference in ‘08 is that he sang less and the tracks still sucked, so now they’re definitely the worst dudes on this list. This year their crimes included the Busta Rhymes/Linkin Park monstrosity, a bunch of Game and Gym Class Heroes bullshit, the worst beats on the Lil Wayne and Scarface albums, and putting Nas on a track with Chris Brown. I liked the one track they did on the DJ Khaled album, at least.

13. Rodney Jerkins
Jerkins is kind of the ultimate R&B journeyman, with over a decade’s worth of megahits on par with Timbaland, but he’ll never be as admired and recognized as Tim, simply because he’s neither as eccentric nor as chameleonic...or, well, good. The last few years, he’s kind of settled into this groove of producing lead singles for big artists that are just good enough to be hits, but not really especially liked by anyone as far as I can tell. For a while he was dragging down every Destiny’s Child/Beyonce project, but in ‘08 he kept the charts in dullsville with Janet Jackson’s “Feedback” and Ludacris’s “What Them Girls Like.”

14. Jim Jonsin
Jim Jonsin skated onto this list with two of the biggest hits of the year, Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and T.I. “Whatever You Like,” but he didn’t do much of anything else of note to get higher up. I'm sure there are a ton of album budgets with his name on them in '09, though.

15. Bangladesh
Like Jonsin, Shondrae “Bangladesh” Crawford got here almost purely on the strength of a massive Lil Wayne hit, “A Milli,” and gets extra credit for it being by far the most freestyled-on beat of the year. But he didn’t do much else besides bite his own shit a couple times for Beyonce, and make some completely unmemorable Busta Rhymes and Dem Franchize Boyz singles. And given the fact that Shondrae has a long history of way way way better beats than “A Milli,” I hope he takes advantage of the spotlight while he’s got it to show some more range soon.

16. Ron Browz
6 months ago, Ron Browz was a respectable mid-level NYC producer with a couple of genuine classics under his belt, and a steady clientele of C-list rappers like Jae Millz and Joe Budden. Then he bought an AutoTune plugin, created the abortion that is “Pop Champagne,” and became some kind of acceptable placebo for east coast MCs who want to make awful club jams but still think they’re too ‘street’ for T-Pain, bumping him up to a steady clientele of B-list rappers like Jim Jones, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe and N.O.R.E. You might’ve thought this shit was cute for a few minutes, but this dude looks pretty determined to make you completely sick of him in 2009. He's partly on this list because he released a pretty good pre-AutoTune indie album, The Wonder Years, over the summer, though.

17. Swizz Beatz
The second coming of Swizzy had pretty strong momentum, and he seemed to get more ubiquitous every year from ‘04 to ‘07. Last year he finally seemed to fall back a little, and the closest thing to a major hit that he had, “Swing Ya Rag,” got a raw deal from all the bigger T.I. singles and Gucci and LV squashing the video. He did have a pretty enjoyable run of sample-based remixes for Mary J. Blige, Leeshakeez and Maroon 5, but his actual album work for Luda, Fat Joe and G-Unit was generally pretty uninspired. And weirdly he was at his best when not sounding like himself at all, on Wayne’s “Dr. Carter” and Mariah’s “I Stay In Love.”

18. Jermaine Dupri
Back in ‘04 and ‘05, Jermaine was largely responsible for a ridiculous number of chart-topping singles and the biggest-selling albums of each year, with Usher and Mariah respectively. So it’s kind of odd that when both came back with new albums in ‘08, they buried J.D.’s contributions in the deep cuts, and even his boo Janet barely worked with him on her latest flop, and only has-beens like Nelly and Ashanti went to him for singles.

19. No I.D.
No I.D. is another favorite of mine that I’m really happy to see place here at all. Right now most of his major work is as a co-producer to bigger names (with Kanye on “Heartless,” with J.D. on the Usher/Jay-Z song, and with Polow on “Turnin’ Me On”), but he also recently notched a pretty big hit with a solo production on “Put It On Ya” by Plies, and I’m hoping he keeps inching towards being a big name producer in his own right.

20. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em
All through 2008, 2007’s biggest supposed one-hit-wonder kept showing up on the radio with self-produced hits like “Donk” and “Yahhh!” and making beats for V.I.C.’s “Get Silly” and Bow Wow’s “Marco Polo.” Now that his 2nd album has flopped everybody's writing obituaries for his career, but as long as this dumb kid can find even dumber kids to sell his (admittedly kind of weirdly awesome) beats to, he should be able to keep annoying us for years to come.

Missing In Action:
Of all the producers I thought would surely be running when I started working on this list, I was most surprised to see that The Runners didn’t make the cut once I added all the numbers up, so I guess they weren't as integral to the Miami rap explosion as I thought. Ryan Leslie was one of R&B’s most exciting producers in 2008, with his solo singles and tracks for Slim and Cassie, but it didn’t quite add up to a big chart impact. Just Blaze had one of the biggest songs of the year with T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” but that Saigon album spent another year on the shelf and he didn’t release much of anything else. The-Dream’s other go-to producer, Los Da Mystro, is still in Tricky Stewart’s shadow, even if I think he’s doing more exciting work right now. DJ Toomp has had all eyes on him since “What You Know” and the Kanye co-sign, but hasn’t done much to justify the attention lately. I’m sure Dr. Dre made a lot of beats in ‘08, he just didn’t release any of them. Lil Jon doesn’t have TVT to blame anymore, but he’s still not making a comeback anytime soon. And then there are guys like The Alchemist, Nottz, and Don Cannon, who put in great work on major label rap albums this year, but didn’t make any real noise on the radio tip, and tons more underground/indie producers who will never make this kind of numbers-driven list, but are dope just the same.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Keyshia Cole's 3rd album, A Different Me was released with surprisingly little fanfare last month, selling well but still seemingly caught in the 4th quarter shuffle, with an underperforming single, an ancient and previously released posthumous 2Pac collab, "Playa Cards Right." Her last album, released barely a year earlier, spun off 4 hits singles, 3 of which hit #1 on the R&B chart, basically confirming her as the major star that she'd been positioned to become for a couple years. And yet, it doesn't feel like she's arrived, it just feels like the label threw her record out there at Christmastime with a 2-year-old single. And it's a shame, because it's definitely her best album to date. Early tracks like "Please Don't Stop" and "Erotic" mark the album as her shift to a sexier image (the outro hilariously declares "thank you for hangin' with the sexier side of me"), but it's the strong uptempo modern that keeps it from being just a long run of slow, romantic babymakers. Polow Da Don's "Make Me Over" and the Runners' "Please Don't Stop" manage to set the mood with uptempo tracks that feel more of a piece with Keyshia's grown up retro R&B than the sounds those producers are best known for. But most of all, thank god she's finally using those great pipes for something other than overemoting on increasingly tiresome tales of heartbreak.

Viewing Diary

Sunday, January 04, 2009
a) Futurama: Bender's Game
J.G. got her brother the latest "Futurama" DVD movies for Christmas and we watched this one. I liked the first couple well enough, but I think this is my favorite to date, partly because the others kinda sagged under the weight of carrying a longer story arc than you're used to from half-hour show. This kind of kept things fresher over the duration partly because the stuff in the game/fantasy world felt like a whole other episode.

b) "Lost," Season 1
I always kinda wanted to get into this show, but I didn't really get back into the habit of watching primetime TV again post-college until the second season, and though I watched a few episodes by that point I was already pretty behind. Fortunately, my brother is a big "Lost" fanatic, and got me the first 3 seasons on DVD for Xmas, so I should be able to catch up and be all primed for the final season next year. Hell, considering that I blew through the first season in a week, I might end up being able to follow along with season 5 by the time it starts later this month. Anyway, it's good to finally get all immersed in it, although I do kinda wish I'd been able to get a good rush out of some of the twists that everyone knows about now. The plotting and characterization sometimes feel a little wooden and perfunctory, but ultimately it's a hugely watchable show because the cast is really strong and they string you along at just the right pace with the suspense and mystery.

The 2009 Remix Report Card, Vol. 1

Friday, January 02, 2009
"Arab Money (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Ron Browz, Diddy, Swizz Beatz, T-Pain, Akon and Lil Wayne
I included this on the list in last month's '08 wrap up along with the "She Got It" remix below, but I hadn't gotten to actually writing about them yet, so I'm just rolling them forward to this edition. The original "Arab Money" isn't any good, but the problems mainly lie in the fact that the beat is a pathetic synth wheeze along the lines of also-terrible new New York anthem "We Fly High" and Ron Browz's boring "Pop Champagne" soundalike hook, before you even get into the ignorant subject matter. Still, I gotta give the remix some credit for addressing the controversy in a clever way, while half-assing its attempt at a politically correct revision (with the changed pronunciation of the title and the actual Arabic lyrics). T-Pain already singled out Browz as the worst abuser of AutoTune, so it's kind of odd to see him show up here, but I'm glad he did, because his run of hyper remix verses in '07 (on "2 Step" and "Pop Lock & Drop It") were pretty key in me starting to really appreciate T-Pain, and it's bummed me out that he hasn't done more in the past year.
Best Verse: T-Pain
Overall Grade: B

"Forever (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco
I never really understood the appeal of the original (in other words, it's not one of the 2 or 3 Chris Brown songs that's great in spite of him), but Wayne's having a lot of fun on here and jacking Bay Area slang. In sharp contrast, Lupe sounds even stiffer than usual and really just proves that even if his stature has reached all-star remix level, it's not a playing field he's suited for. I'm kinda glad that Wayne is jumping on Polow tracks like this and "Turnin' Me On" and shouting him out a lot lately, I think if there's one producer that could really make sense of the direction Wayne's going in right now and do some good tracks with him, it's Polow.
Best Verse: Lil Wayne
Overall Grade: C+

"Go Hard (Remix)" by DJ Khaled featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West and T-Pain
In the past 5 years that Kanye has begun to eclipse him in terms of sales and awards, Jay has done a pretty decent job of keeping the upper hand, still seeming like ultimately the bigger star, not just 'big brother.' But really, his recent habit of only jumping on remixes of songs Kanye was on first ("Put On" and now this). I actually got kinda hyped at first when that "Jigga My Nigga" synth came in, but then it turned out to be the same old annoying beat as the original, and Jay sounding increasingly winded and lazy as the verse wears on. The Heath Ledger reference isn't even really offensive, it's just dumb.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"She Got It (Remix)" by 2 Pistols featuring Twista and Lil Kim
This is pretty ancient, but I was out of the country when it came out in May, and since neither the song nor the guests were really a big deal, its buzz didn't maintain long enough for me to hear about it at the time. My love for Twista is well documented and I think he should be on every remix, but damn does he kill it on this, even when he slows down the flow, lol @ "If you was dirty I'd still drink your bathwater." Kim is actually better than usual, since she leaves the AutoTune alone.
Best Verse: Twista
Overall Grade: B

"Show Out (Remix)" by DJ Unk featuring Jim Jones, Soulja Boy, Sean Kingston and E-40
Unk's first two big singles got a lot of mileage out of really memorable guest verses on their remixes (Andre 3K on "Walk It Out" and the aforementioned T-Pain on "2 Step," respectively), so you'd think he'd work to make this one an event, too. But just as "Show Out" is a pretty lame follow-up to those singles, this is a pretty lame follow-up to those remixes. It's weird to hear Sean Kingston out of nowhere after he kinda disappeared for most of '08, and you might think he could toss out a decent T-Pain/Akon-type verse, he sounds totally awkward and lost on this. Jimmy bites a Jay line, which you'd really think he'd learn to stop doing by now. 40 Water demolishes everyone else by default, and offers a great comeback to the most tiresome catchphrase of the past year: "y'all trippin'/if you think that/it ain't trickin'/if you got it."
Best Verse: E-40
Overall Grade: C-

"Turnin' Me On (Remix)" by Keri Hilson featuring Busta Rhymes
It's pretty sad just how unexciting it is to hear that Busta's on a remix these days, considering his gloried past. I mean, even a lot of older guys whose buzz is at an all-time low (Luda, Jada, Fab) still manage to turn in pretty dope remix verses, but Busta is just tapped the fuck out. He's kind of doing the same boring measured punchline flow that he did on Wayne's "La La" and it's just a bummer, although the weird new vocal line Keri does at the beginning is kinda cool.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"T-Shirt (Remix)" by Shontelle featuring The-Dream
The Shontelligent one on a track with the most Shontarded hook man in R&B, but the vibe is perfect for him and he somehow elevates what I thought was a pretty generic track into something much more listenable.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"We Break the Dawn Part 2 (DJ Montay Remix)" by Michelle Williams featuring Flo Rida
Another older one I'm just catching up to, this was one of my favorite sleeper jams of '08. Back around the time "Low" dropped I had high hopes that Flo Rida would hold it down for good uptempo Miami party rap since Pitbull fell off and everyone else started doing slow Rick Ross-style cruising beats. And while Flo Rida has kept doing fast party songs all of them have kinda sucked, so it's nice to finally hear him on a song I like again.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-