Monthly Report: July Albums

Friday, July 31, 2009
1. Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night
Maxwell's first 3 albums were all released during my teenage years, and they all seemed to pass me by, even during the time that my interest in R&B was really being awakened; it's like his singles always came out during periods when I wasn't listening to the radio or watching cable much, or I'd just tune them out because they didn't seem terribly interesting. But "Pretty Wings" just grabbed me from the very first listen and has yet to let go, and I'm loving the rest of the album just as much, especially "Help Somebody." Really need to give his back catalog a chance now.

2. Demi Lovato - Here We Go Again
Still haven't checked out her first album from less than a year ago that I liked all the singles from, but this is really good, moreso when she sticks to big stadium pop-punk bangers like "U Got Nothin' On Me" than the blander midtempo stuff like the John Mayer-penned one or the one that sounds exactly like Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning."

3. The Alchemist - Chemical Warfare
There's a skit on Chemical Warfare where cartoonish caricatures of a gangsta rapper and a backpacker nerd argue about whether the Alchemist is better when working with Mobb Deep types or when working with Swollen Members types, and even though it's not terribly funny, it kind of neatly illustrates the fact that Alc is one of the few guys in rap who has enough of a foot in each camp to capably make fun of both, and himself, in such a way. He's caught between two worlds in a way beyond just the one that all white guys involved in hip hop are. Of course, having people like Oh No and Lil Fame guest on the same album isn't nearly as novel in 2009, at a time when Freeway is signed to Rhymesayers, as it was 5 years ago when Alchemist had the same kind of subtle subculture clashes all over 1st Infantry. But even if other white boom bap producers like Statik Selektah have made albums like this feel a lot more commonplace now, Alchemist is still the greatest white boom bap producer of all time, and his beats just keep getting more tangled and dense with left-field samples and creative rhythms. "That'll Work" with Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile is anything but a token Southern beat, and is up there with my very favorite songs of the year.

4. Twista - Category F5
It probably says something about me as a rap fan that I consider Twista one of the greatest of all time, just on the flow alone, nevermind how generics his lyrics might be most of the time. But fuck it, I never get tired of that doubletime shit, and in an era when even good rappers are doing fucking slow-ass singsong Yung Joc flows, he's never been more of a welcome change of pace. I really have no idea which of his 3 post-Kamikaze albums is best or worst, they're all just kinda Twista albums, but I like them. You got the usual people that are always on his records (Do Or Die, R. Kelly, and Johnny P. sounding awesome with really cheap/distorted AutoTune), plus some guys that it's a little fresh to hear on a song with Twista (Lil Boosie, Gucci Mane), overall a good mix. The Kanye/No I.D. track "Alright" that got done too late and ended up an iTunes bonus track, is better than almost anything on the proper album, though.

5. Gucci Mane - The Movie 2: The Sequel
It's kind of funny how Gucci Mane has become this polarizing figure with bloggers taking these ridiculous positions about whether he's a lyrical genius or mentally retarded, when he's just a good solid wordplay-heavy Southern rapper along the same lines as Young Dro, who people have never had to argue that much about loving or hating. I guess that's what hype does, though, everyone's gotta pick a position. I still don't think I'm really on board with all the love, and generally like him in small doses, but this is a good quick follow-up to Writing On The Wall, really liking "Burr" right now. Plus we should really enjoy all these Zaytoven-produced mixtape tracks while we can, since Gucci is currently amassing the the boring-ass beats all-stars for his official album.

Monthly Report: July Singles

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
1. Jeremih - "Imma Star (Everywhere We Are)"
One of the most fun moments in pop music is when a presumed one hit wonder comes out of nowhere with something you like better than what they got their foot in the door with, and you have to totally reconsider them. This would just be another song with a crazy beat and subpar vocals if that fucking amazing outro didn't come in and change everything. But even his vocals, which I didn’t like at all at first, are growing on me. It helps if I just pretend it’s Slim from 112.

2. The Clipse f/ Pharrell Williams - "I'm Good"
I just said something other day about how “What Happened To That Boy” is now 6 or 7 years old, and really that was the last time I gave a shit about a Clipse song – I’ve always been mystified by all the hype they got for their thoroughly average mixtape material, and once the Neptunes’ batting average fell off inevitably their records got way worse, too. Still, Pharrell makes at least one beat every year or so that I find kind of infectious, like say Twista’s “Lavish,” and this caught me off-guard by being really fun and catchy, even if they sound more anonymous than ever and the “you can find me in the” chorus always feels like it’s going to lead into “In Da Club.”

3. Pink - "Please Don't Leave Me"
This has been out forever and I keep meaning to include it in here, but have been kinda underrating it since there are other songs on the album I like more, but it’s still really good.

4. Pearl Jam - "The Fixer"
"Worldwide Suicide" felt like a comeback by default, simply for the fact that it was the first time in ages that Pearl Jam released an uptempo song as a lead single, instead of almost daring radio to play something slow and ponderous. I like this song more, though, as well as probably more than the similarly fast and simple one they played on the Tonight Show a while back. I really like the verse melody with that big goofy nooooote Vedder uses as a hook and that weird segue into the bridge. It's pretty short for them, and might feel minor in the context of the album once it comes out, but for now this is a really pleasant surprise, and kind of raises my expectations for a band that I love but who’ve been on a steep downward slide with their last couple albums.

5. Chickenfoot - "Oh Yeah"
I’m not joking about this. I think.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some stuff I posted on the City Paper's Noise blog in the past month or so: a Club Beat column about DJ Jonny Blaze, and live reviews of the Paused In Time release party (featuring G.E.M., E Major, Sonny Brown, etc.) @ Sonar, Kane and Midas of Mania Music Group @ the Go-Green Hip Hop Tour, Melodic Mondays @ 5 Seasons, the Baltimore All-Rap Round Robin (featuring Height With Friends, AK Slaughter, etc. @ Load Of Fun, Sonic Youth/The Entrance Band @ the 9:30 Club (big thanks to Robbie for tickets), and Ted Leo/State Radio @ Rams Head Live.

The 2009 Remix Report Card, Vol. 7

Sunday, July 26, 2009
"Don't Trust Me (Remix)" by 3OH!3 featuring Kid Cudi
I wasn't impressed with Cudi before, and right now I straight up loathe him for giving me a reason to sit down and actively listen to this song in any form. It's pretty funny how his buzz has gotten smaller and smaller every time everyone hears a song where he actually raps.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade:F

"Maybach Music 2.5" by Rick Ross featuring Pusha T, Birdman, Fabolous, DJ Khaled and T-Pain
The only seeming point of doing a sequel to begin with was maybe just having the biggest guests available for Ross's at the album at the time, and usually with remixes, the point seems to be to up the ante with star power. So it's kind of funny that the remix of this is so strictly B-list, although I guess that's what you gotta do when the original features practically the whole A-list. Funny to hear Baby and Pusha on a song together 6 years after "What Happened To That Boy" (and years after the Clipse's constant sad attempts to bait Wayne into beef, which doesn't matter since you know everyone just e-mailed their verses in and didn't hear anyone else's) and Birdman's verse is even more half-assed than what he usually does.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: C+

"Obsessed (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring Gucci Mane
I think it would've been funnier if Mariah went the Rick Ross route and got a bunch of Eminem's enemies on the remix, but Gucci is a good fit for this beat, and it's entertaining how they just let him do his weird ad lib noises in the background of the entire song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"Throw It In The Bag (Remix)" by Fabolous featuring Drake
A few weeks ago when Fab was teasing on his Twitter that a remix of this song was coming, I kept picturing a typical posse cut version with guys like Jadakiss and Wayne trying to kick flows over those clunky drums from the original. So it was refreshing when it dropped and it was one of those increasingly rare remixes with a whole new beat, creatively crafting another The-Dream hook out of samples of "Fancy" from his album (curious if Tricky did the beat or someone else handled that). In my opinion one of the most underrated remixes of all time is the "Can't Let You Go" one where Just Blaze did a hard uptempo beat and Fab flipped every line from the original a new way, this of course doesn't live up to that but it's kind of in the same spirit. Drake is boring as fuck.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: B+

"Why R U? (Remix)" by Amerie featuring Nas, Jadakiss, Caine and Rick Ross
Another remix with a new beat, this one just trading in one retro beat for another. I was never that into the original, which always just made me want to listen to older songs with that Melvin Bliss break, so the Whodini sample on this is an improvement, even if the tune is still kinda weak. This thing just goes on forever, though, no remix should feature the chorus this many times. No idea who the Caine guy is.
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: B-

In My Stereo

Saturday, July 25, 2009
Neon Blonde - Chandeliers in the Savannah
Brainiac - Hissing Prigs In Static Couture
Klark Kent - Kollected Works
Big Star - Third/Sister Lovers
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III
Wye Oak - The Knot
The Seldon Plan - Lost And Found And Lost
Doo-Dew Kidz - Greatest Hits Volume 1
Mania Music Group - Soul Food & Sushi: A Mania Music Group Mixtape
Haz - The Game Need Change

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I have an article in the City Paper this week about K-Mack of the Annexx Clique, and I posted an mp3 and some more info about his new album over on Gov't Names.

(photo by Sam Holden)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I have a review of Cex's new record, Bataille Royale, up over on Big thanks to Rjyan for sending me the tracks and shooting the shit with me a bit about the ideas behind the project.

Reading Diary

Monday, July 20, 2009
a) Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist, by Stephen Janis
Stephen Janis is a Baltimore-based journalist, kind of a bigger fish in the same pond I dwell in, writes for some of the same places about some of the same things. He sent me a copy of his first book of fiction a while back, I guess under the dubious premise that anyone cares what I think on the rare occasion that I do post about literature, and I was happy to read it. The title, and the 'novelzine' tag, I have to admit had me a little nervous that it would be a little too pretentious, a little too post-modern, or something like that. But once I settled into the offbeat rhythms, and the line breaks and punctuation that felt more like poetry than prose, and got comfortable with the story's deliberate ambiguities (it takes place in an unnamed city that feels a lot like Baltimore if it were just a bit closer to total collapse), it was an interesting, unique little work. The big reveal of what the titular orange substance is all about, without saying too much about it to spoil it all, seemed kind of silly and unappealing to me, I don't know if I was wild about the theme that it all ended up being tied to, but I did like the way the story wound up and there was a lot of imagery that stuck with me.

b) The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, by David Simon and Edward Burns
As it happens, something else by a Bmore journo, and as with Homicide: A Year On the Killing Streets, I came to this well after seeing Simon & Burns adapt it for the television. I'm only a third of the way through and need to check it out of the library again to finish it, but I'm pretty wrapped up in it so far, it somehow feels a lot denser and more packed with bigger ideas than Homicide, and puts a lot of ideas that pop up later in "The Wire" into work as more detailed, rigorously thought out observations and philosophies, plus the actual stories are just heartbreaking in that way where it doesn't even matter that they're true stories, just the characters/people are wrenching to read about.

c) The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
Considering how much various permutations of noir and hard-boiled detective mysteries have kind of become this huge, enduring chunk of film and television and pop culture, I've been wanting more and more to go back to the source, read some of the stuff that all these cliches and archetypes were birthed from, and this seemed like a good place to start. What I was kind of surprised by, though, was just how cinematic the writing is, the way Hammett details everyone's appearance and facial expressions to the letter, almost compulsively so, which is not something you really pick up on when people create various Sam Spade-ish characters and give them various twists and double crosses to navigate through.

Friday, July 17, 2009
New Singles Jukebox blurbs! Almost everything sucks!

DJ Quik & Kurupt – 9xs Outta 10 [6/8.06]
Wale ft. Lady GaGa – Chillin’ [1/4.79]
Mariah Carey – Obsessed [7/6.4]
Mary J Blige ft. Drake – The One [2/4.73]
R Kelly ft. OJ Da Juiceman – Supaman High [2/5.1]
New Boyz – You’re A Jerk [3/6.78]
Jazmine Sullivan – In Love With Another Man [4/6.73]
Pitbull – Hotel Room Service [5/5.6]
Rick Ross ft. Kanye West, T-Pain & Lil’ Wayne – Maybach Music pt. 2 [4/4.92]
Richgirl – He Ain’t With Me Now (Tho) [4/7.17]
Cobra Starship ft. Leighton Meester – Good Girls Go Bad [5/5.56]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Baltimore City Paper's annual Big Music Issue is out today, and my article in it this year, Behind The Fence, is about Ogun, his music, and his work with Maryland prisons. The issue's other features include Brandon Soderberg on out-of-town variants of Baltimore club, Geoffrey Himes on Wye Oak, and Michael Byrne on Karl Ekdahl.

(photo by Rarah)

2002 Reconsidered

Monday, July 13, 2009
1. Sonic Youth - Murray Street
2. Raphael Saadiq - Instant Vintage
3. DJ Quik - Under Tha Influence
4. Brendan Benson - Lapalco
5. Scarface - The Fix
6. Justin Timberlake - Justified
7. Nas - God's Son
8. Rod Lee - Vol. 2: Operation Not Done Yet
9. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat
10. Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz - Kings Of Crunk
11. Fat Joe - Loyalty
12. Elvis Costello - When I Was Cruel
13. Enon - High Society
14. Lake Trout – Another One Lost
15. B. Rich - 80 Dimes
16. Talib Kweli - Quality
17. Pastor Troy - Universal Soldier
18. Nels Cline Singers - Instrumentals
19. Cex – Tall, Dark & Handcuffed
20. Jay-Z - The Blueprint²: The Gift & The Curse
21. Missy Elliott - Under Construction
22. Pearl Jam - Riot Act
23. Trick Daddy - Thug Holiday
24. Oranges Band – On TV EP
25. N.O.R.E. - Grimey: God's Favorite

2002 is a year I look back on fondly. It's the year I started dating the woman I married, was probably the most fun year of college, the beginning of some important friendships. I wasn't buying a whole lot of albums, though, so I have more memories of great live shows than great albums, and about half of this list is stuff I ended up hearing much later when I got around to pickin gup all the CDs I'd wanted to hear at the time, or caught up on some stuff I didn't know about.

1. Nas - "One Mic"
2. Usher - "U Don't Have To Call"
3. Aaliyah - "More Than A Woman"
4. Freeway f/ Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel - "What We Do"
5. Jimmy Eat World - "Sweetness"
6. Vanessa Carlton - "One Thousand Miles"
7. The Clipse f/ Pharrell - "Grindin'"
8. Kylie Minogue - "Love At First Sight"
9. Avril Lavigne - "Sk8er Boi"
10. N Sync - "Girlfriend"
11. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Oh Boy"
12. Nas - "Made You Look"
13. Eminem - "Without Me"
14. Ludacris f/ Mystikal and I-20 - "Move"
15. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule - "Ain't It Funny" (Remix)
16. Amerie - "Why Don't We Fall In Love?"
17. Eminem - "Lose Yourself"
18. Scarface f/ Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel - "Guess Who's Back"
19. The Clipse - "When The Last Time"
20. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "By The Way"
21. Phantom Planet - "California"
22. LL Cool J - "Luv U Better"
23. Avril Lavigne - "Complicated"
24. Nelly f/ St. Lunatics - "Air Force Ones"
25. Tweet f/ Missy Elliott - "Oops (Oh My)"
26. B. Rich - "Whoa Now"
27. Nappy Roots f/ Jazze Pha - "Awnaw"
28. Jimmy Eat World - "A Praise Chorus"
29. Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz f/ Mystikal and Krayzie Bone - "I Don't Give A Fuck"
30. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Hey Ma"
31. The Strokes - "Someday"
32. Justin Timberlake f/ The Clipse - "Like I Love You"
33. Avril Lavigne - "I'm With You"
34. Alien Ant Farm - "Movies"
35. John Mayer - "No Such Thing"
36. Freeway and Beanie Sigel - "Roc the Mic"
37. Chad Kroeger f/ Josey Scott - "Hero"
38. Big Tymers - "Still Fly"
39. Jay-Z - "Song Cry"
40. Musiq - "Halfcrazy"
41. Alien Ant Farm - "Smooth Criminal"
42. Mario - "Just A Friend 2002"
43. Aaliyah - "I Care 4 U"
44. N.E.R.D. - "Rock Star"
45. Truth Hurts f/ Rakim - "Addictive"
46. Kylie Minogue - "Can't Get You Out Of My Head"
47. Andrew W.K. - "Party Hard"
48. Queens Of The Stone Age - "No One Knows"
49. Brandy - "What About Us"
50. Nelly - "Hot In Herre"

I also have a lot of memories tied up in listening to the radio in 2002, mostly because that's the first time that I both had a car and lived in Baltimore, so I was just glued to the radio dial so much more than at any point before in my life. I'm still not sure if 2002-2003 is the height of pop music this decade or it just feels that way because of that whole experience.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This week on I have a review of the new album by Impossible Hair, who I also wrote a live review of a few months back.

In My Stereo

Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The Alchemist - Chemical Warfare
Deleted Scenes - Birdseed Shirt
Wreckshop - Ack'n A Azz
Master P - Game Face
Beanie Sigel - The Truth
Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
Chubb Rock & Wordsmith - Bridging The Gap
Cex - Bataille Royale
Austin Stahl - The Things You Carry
Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual

Monday, July 06, 2009

For years, the entire public image of D-Block was that it was basically the three members of The Lox, plus some boring guy named Jae Hood. Then, after a few of those years passed without him ever getting anywhere close to a solo album or any kind of major promotion, Jae Hood flew the coop and dissed the people who were responsible for him having any kind of fame at all, and it was all pretty embarrassing for everyone involved. But obviously, the D-Block brand is still valuable enough to keep going for 2 reasons: there are other hangers-on that were in line behind Hood ready to get their menial amount of shine, and putting out D-Block projects on indie labels is a nice way to stall while the Lox wait for a major deal to get in place for their long-promised 3rd album.

No Security is ostensibly the first official D-Block album, and I'm surprised I copped it all considering how half-assed that 'CD/DVD mixtape' was. It's not as bad a rip-off as that was, although there's still a general shortage of Lox verses (out of 12 tracks, 7 have Styles P. and 7 have Sheek Louch, while Jadakiss is on only 3). Jae Hood was always kind of a loser, more annoying than actually bad, and the other B-listers now on the squad are generally kind of inoffensively anonymous, although maybe if I ever get around to telling Bully from Straw from Large Amount (who has maybe my favorite rapper name right now), I'll decide that some of them are actually particularly good or particularly bad. But on first couple listens, No Security is pretty solid, with the peak being Styles on "Brother's Keeper." But it also has a song with a "wheels on the bus go round and round" chorus, which might actually be worse than Jada's single with the Swizz hook based on "if you're happy and you know if clap your hands." What the fuck is with Ruff Ryders going all kindergarten singalong lately?

Netflix Diary

Saturday, July 04, 2009
a) The Wrestler
It's really a testament to Rourke's performance that this movie got so much praise when he's virtually the only good thing about it. The level of believability of the character and the setting is offset by the fact that the story is boring and cliche-ridden as shit, and every single supporting character and plot point plays itself out in such a predictable way that even if you're wrapped up in it in the moment, it's just kind of there and leaves you with nothing at all to think about.

b) Australia
J.G. is a big fan of Baz Luhrmann's first 3 movies and I've come around to thinking that Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge were pretty great and the guy really does a good job of creating his own little worlds with odd storytelling devices and a really melodramatic over-the-top aesthetic. Plus, we went to Australia on our honeymoon last year, so we were pretty hyped up for this. And while I probably liked it more than most people, I understand the criticisms of it, especially the way it's structured, so that the real climax of the movie comes at the halfway point.

c) Step Brothers
Ferrell and Reilly have a pretty predictable dynamic at this point, almost as much as Ferrell movies in general, but this was pretty much hilarious anyway, definitely better than Talladega Nights.

d) The Foot Fist Way
I rented this mainly because I'm still kind of on the fence about Danny McBride and wanted to kind of make my mind up about him. And while it make me appreciate "Eastbound & Down" more, that was really because this felt like such an inferior warm-up that highlighted what the show got right by getting most of that stuff wrong. Still, it affirms his charisma by virtue of practically every other actor in the movie being incredibly awful, so it's basically just one funny character surrounded by the stiffest student film-level actors. I definitely like him more in supporting roles like Pineapple Express and Hot Rod, though, if he gets too many starring vehicles he's just going to become a less funny mini-Ferrell.

e) "The West Wing," season 4
This is the last season with Sorkin running the show, but at this point I'm attached enough to the story and the characters that I'm going to try to stick with it and see the whole series as it declines. I'm really liking this season, though, the way they handled Rob Lowe's character leaving was actually really good and consistent with his story up to that point, and while I don't think Josh Malina's character is really a great replacement yet, he was great on "Sports Night" so I'm hoping he will gel with the cast more in the future. Richard Schiff and John Spencer really just kick so much ass on this show, though, I love watching any scene they're in.

Thursday, July 02, 2009
This week in the Baltimore City Paper I have a review of The Boy Blesst's great new album Charmicidle, and I posted an mp3 over on Gov't Names.