Movie Diary

Saturday, October 30, 2010
a) Paranormal Activity 2
Last weekend was my wife's birthday and we got a babysitter and went out to the movies for I think only the 2nd time since our son was born. There were a few different movies we thought about seeing, but ultimately when we got done with dinner, the one that was playing soonest was this, and we just kind of went with that even though we hadn't seen the first Paranormal Activity. As the movie started, I got a creeping sense that may have been a mistake, since the family in the movie has a son that's just a little older than our kid, and watching a baby in peril is maybe not the best way to spend a night out when you're trying to enjoy yourself and think about your own kid at home. But thankfully neither of us freaked out and we ended up enjoying the movie. It was definitely well done and I feel like this newer generation of mockumentary horror movies has learned from Blair Witch's mistakes and they're better at making the characters seem realistic and likable.

b) When In Rome
The post-"Veronica Mars" movie career of Kristen Bell is starting to feel like one mild disappointment after another, considering that she only got a chance to be funny a couple times in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and that's probably the best flick she's been in. This one is pretty goofy and just visually is one of the worst-looking modern mainstream movies I've ever seen, I'm not sure what was up with the way they shot it. There are a couple of big laughs in it but for the most part it's a cast full of people who've done better and should know better.

c) The Vicious Kind
Since I'm generally most familiar with Adam Scott doing comedy in stuff like "Party Down" and Step Brothers, it was interesting to see him grow a beard and do this kind of serious role in kind of a dark movie like this. I wasn't crazy about the whole thing, the plot unfolded in a way that was kind of predictable, but there were some little moments where he got to be funny that cracked me up and gave the whole thing a little bit more character.

d) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
This was pretty good and very visually well done, easily one of my favorite non-Pixar computer animation features to date.

e) The Brothers Bloom
I wasn't the biggest fan of Rian Johnson's debut feature, the neo-noir Brick, but I thought he definitely had some potential and I also enjoyed the episode of "Terriers" he recently directed. So this is kind of a huge disappointment in the sense that with one movie Johnson goes from being a promising new voice to just another young filmmaker who cops all his moves from Wes Anderson. There are some moments when this is more charming than cloying, but not many.

f) Fanboys
Another entry in the underwhelming film career of Kristen Bell, although she's not in this much and doesn't deserve much blame. It was mostly just kind of stale and full of really tired nerd comedy signifiers, and did very little of interest with the premise, and ended on a really blah note. Also Seth Rogen's dual role thing is just embarrassing.

g) Dune
I'm still slowly working my way through David Lynch's body of work and trying to figure out if I'm really a Lynch fan or just like Eraserhead. And obviously this is kind of a divisive one and not a good one to judge him by, but I still wanted to see it, though I'd attempted to read the book as a kid and just never got through it. Visually there's some great stuff here, it's fun to see him work with a big budget back in the '80s when sci-fi movies still had to get kind of creative with their aesthetics and there wasn't a lot of established ideas about how space movies should look yet.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Recently on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog I've written live reviews of night 3 of this year's High Zero Festival @ the Theatre Project, Arbouretum, The Pilgrim and Caltrop @ the Metro Gallery, and Birds And Arrows, June Star, Mark McKay and Jason & The Butchers @ the Windup Space.

(The Pilgrim photo by Al Shipley)

My Mike Watt Interview, 10 Years Ago Today

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The above picture was taken on October 28th, 2000, and from left to right that's my brother Zac, myself, and punk rock legend Mike Watt, sitting in the Red Room bar inside the Black Cat club's old location, down the street from its current location, in Washington, D.C. I'm 18 in that picture and my brother is 20, and we'd spent a lot of our teenage years learning about Watt's history and idolizing the guy, particularly Zac, who plays bass. I had been writing for Pitchfork for a couple months and had pitched the idea of interviewing Watt, and then set it up with the ever-accessible bassist to sit down with him before the D.C. stop on his tour playing bass in J Mascis & The Fog, one of his first tours after an abscess in his perineum had left him ill for months earlier in the year and nearly took his life. Zac and I got to the club so early, while the opening bands were still loading in, that we just kind of walked through the front door without anyone asking us for a ticket or whether we had any right being there, and ended up wandering to the backstage area looking for Watt, and running into J Mascis and I think having an awkward moment before making our excuses and getting out of there. After we finally found Watt, we sat and spieled with him for almost an hour, and toward the end of the interview, my friend Mat Schulman (now Mat Leffler-Schulman), ran into us, and came over to say hi not realizing at first who we were sitting with, and snapped that picture, with Watt holding up the tape recorder I was recording the interview with.

Mike Watt was my 2nd interview with a musician ever, and even though I've interviewed dozens of others since then, he's still one of the coolest famous people I'm proudest to say I've met (the first, as it happens, was with another musical idol of mine, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, when his band Two Dollar Guitar opened for Watt in Delaware about a year earlier). His voice, accent and lingo are utterly his own, and if you've ever heard him speak or sing it should be easy to read this interview and instantly hear his voice in our head. He was extremely generous with his time, and even though Pitchfork wasn't as big a deal back then and he might not have even been familiar with the site, and we hadn't even been born when he started the Minutemen, he was generous with his time, thoughtful and never condescending, and even delayed a phoner with Magnet a couple times to let us ask some more questions (one of the highlights of my life is Mike Watt calling me "the spiel writer from Pitchfork"). We talked about the internet and how it might effect the future of the written word and musical collaboration, his 1994 album Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? (referred to in the interview simply as "the wrestling record"), 1997 punk rock opera Contemplating The Engine Room (referred to as "the opera"), and the album he'd just begun writing and would eventually be released in 2004, The Secondman's Middle Stand. We even got some interesting tidbits about playing the bass with a pick versus playing with his fingers, and a factoid about Double Nickels On The Dime that I've never seen mentioned anywhere else before.

I got canned from Pitchfork a couple weeks after the interview, before I got a chance to finish transcribing the tape and get it up on the site, and I'm not sure if it was ever published anywhere, possibly one of the sites Zac had online at the time. If I ever had the whole thing on file somewhere, it was on a computer that was trashed years ago. So one day a couple months ago, when I realized how much my year-old son James enjoys playing with cassette tapes, I went digging through an old box of tapes with him for fun, and I found the Maxell XLII tape with the label "Mike Watt interview!!!" and realized the 10 year anniversary of that night was coming up, and re-transcribed the tape, around the same time that Mat uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook, including the one you see here. It's also a good time to post this because Watt's latest band, Floored By Four, just released a great album a few weeks ago.

As with transcribing interviews usually goes, sometimes it's hard to totally follow the logic of the conversation if you weren't there, and since we were just kind of shooting the shit for a couple minutes before we got started asking questions, I'll just drop you in where Watt was talking about why he likes playing in Washington:

Mike Watt: That’s kinda neat about touring, you get to be right in there in the cradle. Sorta like here, well, not this pad as much, but the old 9:30 used to be right by the White House. D. Boon’s favorite gig was playing the 9:30 by the same alley as the, he thought from there, when we did our spiels and hollered, y’know, our points of view, that they could hear us, it was the closest we were ever gonna get to the eye at the top of the pyramid.

Al Shipley: Have you played the newer location of 9:30?

MW: Yeah, I have, I played there with Sonic Youth and Perry, Porno For Pyros, and I don’t like it as much as the old one.

AS: It’s a great venue for its size.

MW: Tall roof.

AS: But I’m too young to have ever been to the original.

MW: The original one, I played 17 or 18 shows there, that was the only place I ever played in D.C. for years. All Minutemen, all fIREHOSE except for one with the Beastie Boys, which was in Alexandria actually, with the indoor pool, some kinda like...

AS: What year was that?

MW: ‘93.

AS: We saw Elliott Smith in Baltimore last night, their encore, they did Blue Oyster Cult, they did...

MW: “Don’t Fear The Reaper”? Wow.

AS: He’s got the right voice for that song, too, it was dead on.

MW: He’s a good guy. Who’s in the band?

AS: Uh, the bassist is Sam from Quasi and I’m not sure who the other guys there are.

MW: Sometimes the Sleater-Kinney drummer?

AS: Yeah, she wasn’t there last night.

MW: I think they’re still tourin’.

AS: I think they’re about to take a break, they said they’re not doing a tour for 2 years.

MW: Two years? [sounding amazed, incredulous]

Zac Shipley: Yeah, that’s what they said. We tried to set up an interview with them but didn't get to make that happen.

MW: Carrie? Carrie usually likes to talk. [sounding disillusioned, disappointed]

ZS: Yeah, but they wreren’t doing press for that tour since they weren’t promoting a new record.

MW: Yeah, I was talking to her, she said it’s kinda hard for them to tour, she goes crazy.

ZS: They’re getting a lot of press, a 3-page spread in Time Magazine, well not just them but Ladyfest in general.

MW: Oh, I got to play there with Kira, that was something. You know, they look up to Kira big time, she was in Black Flag and everything to those girls that was...

AS: I really liked that last Dos album [totally mispronouncing the band name]

MW: We kinda say it like in Spanish, since there’s two of us, “dos” is more that Bill Gates thing.

AS: Ah, sorry.

MW: It’s okay.

Black Cat staffer: It’s the guy from Magnet, they’re on the phone now, do you want them to call back in 10 minutes?

MW: 20 minutes. OK, thanks.

ZS: Mile a minute press junket over here.

MW: Well, to me, man, the writing part, especially in the old days, and believe it or not the internet is kind of a written part, I know there’s gonna come a day when it’s big bandwidth and it’ll be just like television, but for now a lot of stuff is written, people have to go back to reading again, I kinda like that.

AS: I was talking to a guy who works for my school’s paper who gets 125 words for a review, whereas at Pitchfork I get 400-800 words, or if I like it I might go past a thousand. It's nice that online I don’t have to worry about column inches and limited space.

MW: In television you’ve got a lot of pictures.

AS: Yeah, on a webpage you might just have a banner or image at the top of the page and you can scan past it.

MW: That’s right...down, scroll scroll scroll.

AS: And there’s limited space or bandwidth but type takes up such a little amount of memory.

MW: So tiny, yeah. That’s why I think it’s a real good thing. It gets kids, and older people, back to readin’. There’s a art in usage of the written word. I can’t tell you how inspired I am by books. I mean yeah, I play bass, I make music, but I think I’m influenced by more writers than other music people, in a way. Because you don’t wanna cop other guys’ licks. But if you’re translating emotions and feelings through words, you don’t have to worry about ripping off licks.

AS: You mean just lyrically, or philosophically in a more general sense?

MW: Believe it or not, writing for me has flow, it has rhythm, I get rhythms out of it. But there’s also, yeah, philosophy, ideas, perspectives, tangents, with writing you can get several things being talked about, you have to get kinda linear with them. With music you don’t have to at all, you can have several things happening at once.

AS: I had this idea, it might be kind of corny, but because I'm a drummer and I'm talking writing class right now, but I thought about how drumming is almost like punctuation.

MW: Absolutely.

AS: A lot of times, the melody of the other instruments is the content, but at the same time punctuation is essential for it to make sense.

MW: Yeah, it makes it breathe, makes it live, so it’s not all monotone, robot... It’s really important, also, the kind of words you use. English is very flexible, you don’t have to use the same word for the same thought, so you can use a three-syllable word or a one-syllable word. This is where a book like Ulysses, the guy’s Irish, y’know, but he uses English so well, reinvents it. There’s this thing about, oh, you wanna be original, but if you get like Finnegan’s Wake, you start inventing too many words, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s still a way to be original and still use the same 26 letters and all the words, and that’s what I would like in music. They say there’s only 8 notes, but still, it’s the way you use ‘em, you write a novel.

AS: Yeah, English is amazing, even writers like Jerzy Kosiński, he was Polish and I've heard though he spoke several language he wrote in English because it’s so flexible. And it is, there’s so many options, quirks and inconsistencies in punctuation and pronunciation.

MW: Yeah, I think it’s very important, it builds the character into it. And also, it can get this simultaneous thing going, this idea of piling up things, not to be mysterious or somethin’, but when you get, it’s like...a soup that’s just not all salt, you got all these little, a symphony of flavors goin’ on. Now...Pettibon is a fine artist, makes drawings, a lot of his influences are from writing, I’d say about a third of his captions are right out of Henry James. The writing is the art that’s been stomped down the most in the last 20-30 years, because of visual and audio, TV and so-called music. Because I think real music embraces literature, it’s not really at war with it.

AS: Yeah, Kurt Vonnegut has an interesting perspective where he says he thinks literature isn’t going to survive in the long term because it’s only been around for a relatively short period of history, and deciphering all those symbols on paper takes more work than all the other mediums available now.

MW: But what more private medium? Since you have to go in there by yourself and get meaning out of the symbols, you’re almost one-on-one with the writer, there’s hardly anybody else in there. So I think in a way, like bacteria, where it was maybe very early in the beginning, it never had to evolve much, it found its niche. And I think writing, I wouldn’t like to be such a doomsayer saying that it’s gonna be gone or replaced, there’s just something about it. It’s like saying 3/4th time is old-fashioned. No, you just might get tired of always writing in 3/4ths but it’s always gonna be there for you. I tell you, as far as community, the old days with the fanzines is sorta like the vibe I get from the new internet world, this idea of communities that are kinda not really with the mersh, it’s not like they’re hidin’ from ‘em, but they’re just parallel to it.

AS: They can be more localized, too.

MW: Right, but with the web, they don’t even have to be localized, because it’s the worldwide exposure. But as far as the writers, you can just reach the listener with no middlemen, no Spin editorial, no Rolling Stone editorial or Washington Post, New York Times, none of that. In fact, think about newspaper reporters, why do they even have to go to a paper? They could publish their own stories on the web!

AS: I know, the dissemination of ideas is more interesting when it comes from more sources, when you get the same basic news story with the same wording from the same source, it kind of kills variation and different ways of thinking. Now everyone kind of gets the same news, the same music. It used to be that every country had its own sound, now it feels like everyone starts the same bands in every state.

MW: Yeah, that’s bad. See in the old days, the fanzines, that’s how you knew about what was happening in L.A. or what’s happening in Austin or what’s happening in Minneapolis, the Huskers, all these things, it was very literature-based, as far as, y’know, fanzines. Guys who cared about the music big time, not a lot of money in it, they were doin’ it pure out of love, intense, they were really the fabric that held a lot of it together. Because a lot of the big bands came and went, but the fuckin’... You couldn’t see all those bands, a lot of bands didn’t tour in them days, the fanzines were so important. And I’ve seen kind of a revival, not of fanzines so much, but of the ethics with these websites. These websites have a lot of personality, a lot of individuality, they’ve got a point of view, they’re not filler for ads.

AS: Yeah, like Pitchfork has ads, but the content is very opinionated, we all argue about ratings for albums, you’ve gotta be passionate about your take.

MW: Yeah, and you don’t have to make compromises with the big daddy, because you can get online so econo, and your website looks as big as theirs, it’s kind of an equalizer.

ZS: It takes a little know-how.

MW: A little bit. As much as that other cat, working for the corporate guy.

ZS: And those zines only reached so many people.

MW: Depending on the distribution, and then how many of them are ripped off? You know about Flipside? They were in big trouble because a distributor ripped ‘em off so much money.

ZS: Yeah, websites don’t have to worry about that if the overhead is lower to begin with.

MW: So it’s actually easier. So what’s the word, it’s the C word, content, it’s not the delivery system so much anymore, it’s just kind of helped. And believe me, those guys are beholden to their distributors, distributors really hold them, and they spend the money on their floatin’ crap game. I know this from Flipside, over 300 thousand dollars they owed. And that fanzine is old, that goes back to the ‘70s! Stapled and xeroxed. Anyway I still see the spirit, some people like to say “oh, the good old days,” but I think they’re still with us in some ways.

AS: Just travelling in a different format.

MW: Different, yeah, in fact maybe this format is a little better, like we were just talking about. It’s cheaper, it can reach more people, not so much risk so you can go crazy. When the real world risks go down, the ability to take chances goes up, you don’t have to worry about makin’ it mersh, you can really be raw, and I like that idea.

AS: Are you still doing your next record with Columbia?

MW: Yeah, well, I owe ‘em, I made a deal.

AS: But is it still the same idea you've been talking about, The Secondman’s Middle Stand?

MW: Yeah, bass/organ/drum. The problem is I was in bed all year, that’s why I didn’t record this year, talkin’ about the pissbag, I’m gonna do it next year. I had to tour right away because it cost a lot of money to save my life.

AS: Plus I guess you have to get your strength back.

MW: That too. My playing was really bad, it still is. This is real interesting, playing with J now, I haven’t used a pick in 17 years.

ZS: Why does he need a pick for his songs?

MW: He just asked me to do it. And I think it would be good, you know I used to do it in the beginning of Minutemen. And then I stopped. The last song, there’s one song on Double Nickels called “Shit From An Old Notebook,” everything on that record, there’s like 45 songs, so 44 of ‘em are with fingers. But everything before that’s pick, because punk was too fast for me, I used fingers before punk. When punk came, we started the Reactionaries in 1978, I had to use a pick. Then, I started playin’ like rhythm guitar! I said goddamn, I gotta make it a bass again, so I started playin’ with the fingers. Then I lost it. You don’t use it, you lose it. J’s helpin’ me get it back in a way. And through a Marshall!

ZS: I’ve played bass for a number of years now, and I started playing guitar and got used to a pick, and went back to bass and I was so out of practice, you think oh they’re both strumming instruments, but it’s a totally different beast.

MW: Such a diversity, there really is.

ZS: And also there’s the stigma that ‘real’ bassists don’t use a pick.

MW: Yeah, there’s like a macho thing, that I’d like to get rid of. I think it’s best to do both.

ZS: And there’s so many heroes if you’re a guitarist, like Hendrix, but not as many if you play bass.

MW: Jaco, maybe, I don’t know. That’s what was one neat thing about punk, because before punk, guitar players were like the big bosses of the band. Then when punk came, everybody was lame, so all the sudden the bass player was just as good as the guitar player, and had all the strings. You know, I played before punk, and I got the feeling that bass was where you put the lame guy, and all the sudden with punk, everyone’s lame, and so it was like “Yes, I like this!” It just had you thinkin’ more than just about the guitar guy. But I have to say that J Mascis is one of the guys who can fuckin’ play the guitar, man, reminds me of D. Boon and Greg Ginn and Thurston Moore, some of these guys that had their own voice, they can still take a tired old cliche like lead guitar and still make it theirs.

AS: It seems like the way you play bass has a lot to do with who you played with, D. Boon and Nels Cline and J, you play in ways that complement them.

MW: Oh, absolutely. Well bass guys, I think, look good makin’ other cats look good, that’s why they don’t stand out as much. It’s like when you walk in the bathroom, do you see the tile or do you see the grout? I’m more of the grout, I look at the grout. Most people look at those tiles, but you know without the grout those tiles would fall out! And think about that, too, bass is like glue. What’s glue with nothing to stick to? Just a puddle. See, I don’t wanna be a puddle, I wanna be stuck to somethin’. So it’s a trippy thing. You know, his mother, D. Boon’s mother made me play it when we were 13, I didn’t know what the fuck it was, because the gigs, arena gigs, are so far away, you couldn’t really see, they looked like guitars, I didn’t even know they were lower, a 4-string guitar. In fact, the first three years, I played a 4-string guitar.

AS: Yeah, I remember as a kid it took me a long time to figure out what a bass was.

MW: Yeah, they don’t really tell you about it. It’s really the left hand of the piano. And then John Entwistle slowly brought it out, Jack Bruce, the guy from Cream. And then with the punk guys, all them songs, Dee Dee Ramone was just as strong as Johnny, but then the quote ‘virtuosos’ like Flea, Les Claypool, they really brought the bass out.

ZS: The bass solo is almost unheard of in pop music.

MW: J’s havin’ me do bass solos! I have a box he gave me called the Super Hard On, and I step on that, I’ve never stepped on a box before, and I get louder.

AS: On what songs?

MW: One’s called “Back Before You Go” and one’s called “Get Me.”

AS: We were watching some of the soundcheck, I hadn’t listened to Dinosaur in a while, it was nice to hear that stuff again, a couple songs from the last Dinosaur record, I loved that one.

MW: We’re playin’ stuff off the first record, “Severed Lips,” we’re playin’ stuff off of You’re Living All Over Me, which to me is like the great record.

AS: Yeah, that’s a great album, I wish they’d reissue it, though, the CD doesn’t sound great.

MW: Well it was a moment in their time, they were such, they were young guys, that band started early. I’m about 8 years, 9 years older than him, I wouldn’t know it. The guy, there’s a weird perception of him that he’s somehow a slacker. The guy’s mind is always goin’!

AS: Yeah, he’d have to to play like that.

MW: Yeah, but I’m tellin’ you in real life, he’s always thinkin’. He talks, they think he don’t talk.

AS: It does strike me as funny how sometimes I notice writers kind of fill in the blanks and decide on what a musician is like as a person without meeting them, just basing it on their music.

MW: But even on the records, he’s playin’ most of the instruments. On this new record he plays everything except a couple things.

AS: Yeah, he’s really nimble on every instrument.

MW: Yeah. His mind is goin’, like I said, I might be 9 years older than him, but in some ways he’s way more ahead of me, he is quite the thinker. I don’t understand, maybe because he’s not loud and quick with the words, but he’s got words, believe me, he’s always thinkin’. Like if you listen, you think he’s not sayin’ anything, you hear him goin’. [moves his lips rapidly] He’s got these guitar things goin’ through his mind, out of his mouth, like mumbling.

AS: He probably has his own inner language.

MW: Oh, I know it.

ZS: I can’t tell you how often I’ll be driving and think of something and grab the tape recorder, hum into it, whether or not I can use it later, I might be making up some key in my head.

MW: The key of H. Yeah, that’s funny. And the other thing is, they say why do you play with a pick, why you lettin’ him tell you what to do? Like I don’t get my way enough with my own bands. How are you gonna learn if you’re always gettin’ your way? See this is the kind of society we’ve bred, really quote ‘making it’ is telling everybody what to do, always getting your way, and everybody knows the real world’s not like that. It’s about give and take, switching roles. It’s kind of a fascist idea. So I put myself in a situation to help a guy with his thing, and I haven’t done it for many people, I did it for J, I did it a little bit for Rickie Lee Jones, I did it for Perry. And I tell you, without doing that for Perry I don’t think I would’ve ever wrote the opera. He turned me onto a lot of ideas, I mean not like sitting me down like a schoolteacher, just being around these cats. That’s another thing. This is what’s weird about school, the idea of one guy lecturing everybody, I don’t know if you learn stuff, I think, if you get intimidated by that and learning how to take tests. But to really learn, you get put in a situation, and people start rubbing off on you and making your mind curious. Y’know, that’s the most intense disease is getting curious, nothing can stop you, all the sudden, you just want it. There’s no paying him off or materialism, it’s just something in your mind that’s gotta get quenched. And if a dude can fire that up in you, to me that’s schoolin’, the school of life. That’s kinda why I’m in here with Mascis, it’s really neat, it’s a really neat thing. And I’ll tell you, when I get done with this tour, I’m not gonna stop playing with a pick, I’m gonna write songs with picks, I’m not gonna let it go again.

AS: Is that how you’re gonna go with the next album?

MW: I’ve gotta play, believe me. I’ll write some songs with ‘em, believe me. I’ll tell you about this organ record, I want it to be more about the now, in the moment, so already these songs that I wrote this summer are really old, so I’m gonna write songs right after this tour.

ZS: So Engine Room was kind of a look at the past, and this one's about the present?

MW: Now I wanna be in the present. But the next record is gonna be about the future, cover all the...

AS: Are you gonna do a record with the Pair of Pliers band?

MW: Yes I am, in fact I’m gonna do a simultaneous record, I’m gonna do one record with Vince [Meghrouni] and Tom [Watson], the Pliers, and then a record with Bob Lee and Nels, the Black Gang, and release ‘em simultaneously through Joe Carducci, the guy who ran SST Records, has a label now with Billy from the Descendents, it’s called Owned And Operated, I’m gonna get back to them. I think things are changin’ back to indie, I mean my Columbia thing’s always been like an indie thing, but now with the internet and stuff... And Carducci, he tried this movie thing and stuff, but now he wants to get back to havin’ label. And there’s nothin’, like I said there’s nothin’ like fired up people. So that’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna do 2 records, Watt power trio guitar thing. Columbia one is gonna be first, and that’s the organ record.

AS: Who’s gonna play on the organ record?

MW: A guy named Barrett Martin, played drums for the [Screaming] Trees, great guy, Barrett Martin. And this guy from Pedro named Pete Mazich who’s from a Croatian wedding band, he’s a wicked fuckin’ B3 player. And what I learned since the wrestlin’ record is, bring somebody from the outside to make it exciting, a guy that you haven’t recorded with, it’s kinda wild. I did that with the opera with [Stephen] Hodges, Hodges played the blues.

AS: So you'd never played with this new combo before?

MW: Well, Mazich lives in the town with me, Pedro, it’s like the harbor of L.A. In fact, he plays with me in the Madonnabes.

ZS: Will there ever be a Madonnabes record?

MW: I don’t know, because they’re not our songs, although we change them radically, as you can imagine.

AS: It’s a shame you only play local shows out there, it’d be great if you toured here with that band.

MW: Yeah, I like playing with them. The girls go to college, we’ve got these dancers, Perry had dancers. [Answers cell phone given to him by Black Cat staffer to talk to Magnet] Can you give me 15 minutes? Call this number, bye.

ZS: I was working with a guy a couple weeks ago who carries his cell phone everywhere, and I was saying isn’t there any allure in being unavailable? I don’t even answer my phone on my days off.

MW: I don’t have one of these. I don’t have call waiting either. Like if I’m talking to you, I don’t think we should be interrupted.

AS: Then again, it’s a lot easier to get your e-mail address and contact you than a lot of people that make records.

MW: Like I said about the fanzine days, I always put my P.O. box on the back of the records, to me building community’s important. I call these things leashes. [holds up phone]

AS: They are, I would never get one.

ZS: They’re kind of like cigarettes where people carry them around because they wanna look cool.

MW: Ah, that’s the worst reason. I could see a girl using one if her car breaks down, in an emergency it’s a good idea. But just to have one.

AS: Yeah, I’ve seen people pick up their phones in the movie theater.

MW: Oh wow, yeah, turn it off. So he said he’ll call me in 15 minutes, so we should Pitchfork it. Tell you what, ask me stuff ‘til the phone rings.

AS: Alright, it’s a game. I have some notes, see if I forgot anything. I don’t know, I’ve covered a lot.

MW: It’s okay. Believe me, you know, in 22 years I’ve heard everything. The funniest question I was ever asked: What’s Eddie like? Like duuuude.

ZS: Incidentally [laughs]... What is he like?

MW: I call him Ed, for one thing. I mean, can you believe that? Kind of that? He’s okay. But really, I’ve heard everything, so you can ask me anything.

AS: How are you feeling with the illness, are you doing a lot better yet?

MW: No, I feel bad. I feel like, uh, scars inside of me, and the blood don’t flow so well. Well, there are scars inside me, where they cut, so the blood doesn’t flow through good there, and it feels like a puppet, where I’m not tied tight enough, in the middle, y’know? I get, like pitchin’, with only arms, imagine bein’ a pitcher and you can’t get your body in there, that’s kinda what I feel like. But that’s comin’ along, I think. I got a little foldup bike in the van, and I ride every morning.

AS: Yeah, I’ve been reading the tour diaries about that.

MW: Yeah, it’s important to me. My mind, too, I wrote the whole opera on the bike, the bike is somethin’ else. There’s something about being a little physical, I mean I’m not a jock or an athlete, but there’s somethin’ about getting the blood pumping.

ZS: Yeah, I rode my bike to work all summer, and then when Al went away to school I started driving because I had access to the car he was driving. And I noticed, and I stepped on a scale and I noticed I weighed 20 pounds more than I did all summer. I didn’t think I was getting a workout but I was.

MW: It’s got a unique rhythm, too, so writing songs, they fuckin’ flow in your head. Rhythms and motion, and you also get out of the linear regular world, you get detached, it’s more free association. When you’re sittin’ there with the bass in your lap, y’know, there’s something about motion and having to be plugged into the real world, so you don’t run into a hole, y’know, you’re alive.

AS: So you get the words goin’ and then get home and work on the music?

MW: I usually start with a title, and then I get the music goin’ on the bike, and then I get home and then the words are last. Get the title first, then the music, then the words.

AS: So the music has a direct relationship to the title?

MW: Yeah, well the title says everything. To me, when I see a title of a song, this tells me what the song’s about, so that’s what I start with. Y’know, other cats, it’s like “Oh, the title has nothing to do with the song.”

ZS: Sometimes it’s just the word they repeat in the chorus.

MW: Usually it is! Some Minutemen songs, the title’s longer than all the lyrics.

ZS: Yeah, great titles.

MW: Yeah, the titles, well, we always came up with the titles first. And then we got into, a lot of the Minutemen songs, the title isn’t even used in the song! Like “The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts,” it never says that in the song.

ZS: Titles can sell a record, too.

MW: “Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?” That’s never in the song. I just thought, like, when you go in a museum, and you see the painting, and they got a little caption, there’s no way they really relate. One’s trying to describe the other, but it isn’t a little version of it.

AS: Yeah, sometimes the description is really direct, sometimes it’s more abstract.

MW: Or talkin’ about where the artist was, this was where he went through his Paris period. That’s why, when you look at Minutemen words, they’re not in lines, they’re all in, like, a big block of writing, we were trying to make it like you were in a museum, and trying to describe the paintings. We always thought that was a funny dichotomy, that you would have. Why would you have to describe the painting, don’t you have to just look at it? And so in a way we were having fun with lyrics like that, don’t you have to just listen? Well, with lyrics, I guess it’s hard to tell what the guy’s saying. I remember, the Germs record, when I got that, I was like goddamn, this is what he’s saying? I’d seen them like 50 times, I never knew he said any of those things! But there was all this literate poetry, really wonderful.

ZS: It’s weird how lyrics sheets are like that. Sometimes you’re almost better off knowing.

MW: Like R.E.M. This is the first tour since Minutemen where I haven’t shaved, I haven’t grown a beard, I shaved.

AS: Why?

MW: Because I lived. I thought, well, if I live, I should maybe shave.I did some other things, too.

AS: Yeah, the little white suit.

MW: Right, I haven’t worn socks or underwear since I was 12. That’s the real fascism.

AS: [after my friend Mat stops by with his camera] You wanna do a picture?

MW: That would be great. [holds up tape recorder] With the very machine.

Mat Schulman: The berry machine?

MW: The very machine. You guys can stick this with the spiel. Cheese!

AS: We should get one of just you.

MW: And the machine. Sony? Yes, of course. Everything breaks! [ed. note: I still have the recorder 10 years later and have done dozens of interviews on it, and it still works, so Watt was wrong in that respect]

AS: OK, not much time left, let’s fire off some more questions.

ZS: Is there any kind of medium you wish you could get into?

MW: Film. In fact I’m gonna do my first film this January, I’ve been asked to do a soundtrack and score. Because I always thought my songs were like little films, especially Minutemen, we didn’t really repeat parts, they had beginnings, middles and ends.

ZS: I always thought that the opera was like a musical almost.

MW: Oh, that was like a film. It was really all supposed to be one song, that was like one film.

AS: Will you ever bring it back?

MW: I don’t wanna just play just one song from it, I wanna do the whole thing.

AS: Would you do it with the Pliers?

MW: If I do it with the Pliers, I wanna do the whole thing, I don’t wanna just do “Blue Jacket Manual” or somethin’ because to me, it’s gotta stay whole, because it’s for George and D. Boon. It’s important to me that it stays whole. By just doin’ the greatest hits and makin’ a rock’n’roll medley out of it, ah shit, I think I’d be makin’ it little. But that’s one medium I think I’d like to try out is film, and I’m gonna get my chance. It’s a weird, at least it ain’t a romantic comedy, it’s about a meth cook.

AS: How are you gonna do it?

MW: I’m gonna watch what they got on the film?

AS: Are you gonna have any other musicians on it, though?

MW: Yeah, I’m gonna work on it with Nels, I don’t wanna make it all bass, it’d be very heavy with bass. But Nels gets some wild-ass sounds.

AS: Yeah, he’s suited well for soundtrack work, because he doesn’t just sound like a guitar all the time.

MW: Yeah, like Jimmy Page. That’s where he’s really gifted.

ZS: And there’s only so much symphonic score you can stand in a movie. You watch a modern movie now and every score sounds the same.

MW: It’s too generic. They’re usually kind of a vehicle to sell records.

ZS: Or there’s a score CD and a soundtrack CD with the latest bands doing their new songs.

MW: It’s like a promotion, yeah, and I think that’s jive.

ZS: I like the Rushmore soundtrack because it mixes the soundtrack with the score, so it feels kind of like you’re watching hte movie with your ears.

MW: Right, right, I like that idea. So that’s one medium I’d like to get into. I’m really interested in some of the ways people can make music together on the net. This idea where there’s enough bandwidth where dudes can jam from their houses with each other, without havin’ to be in the same pad.

AS: Yeah, the idea of doin’ it real time is crazy. I’ve traded tapes with people, but in real time it might be a while before that can happen.

MW: I know, it might be a while, but this is something I’m curious about, because you can play, sometimes man, with everybody with different schedules, it’s hard to play with cats in the same moment. But I made that wrestling record with 60 dudes.

ZS: Lot of overdubbing, I’d imagine.

MW: It was hard, there was a lot of cats that couldn’t get on there, because of, y’know, conflicts. But maybe when we can play over the net, I’m not gonna say it’s gonna be perfect or anything, but it’s somethin’ trippy I’d like to check out. To me the whole idea of petri dishes, things like in an experiment, I like mediums like that, that aren’t closed, they’re open, you don’t really know what’s gonna come out of that. I like those things, I think chaos is on our side on those things, closer to what my state of mind is, which is kind of anarchy, y’know? I read a lot of Emma Goldman, and although she was a hundred years ago, some of this idea of lettin’ the freak flag fly I like, gettin’ a little wild. Artists always talked about this, but it seems like everything gets all narrow and there’s some very, uh --- [phone rings] -- Thank you very much, Pitchfork, we’ll put a link to the story, thanks so much, thanks for comin’ down! [speaks into phone] Watt!

The 2010 Remix Report Card, Vol. 10

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
"Deuces (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Drake, T.I., Kanye West, Fabolous and Andre 3000
I guess I'm not even necessarily justified in looking at things in these terms, since Rihanna hasn't really spoken out against Chris Brown lately and did a song with Drake recently, but there is something really odious about one of her exes appearing on a breakup song by her other famous ex that beat the shit out of her. The Drake verse is otherwise only notable for how easily it turns this into a Drake song, and it starts picking up some steam with the T.I. verse, and I like the way all the verses kinda go in a row with the chorus coming in at the very end. But the Kanye and Andre parts are two of the worst verses of the year, Kanye somehow coming off even more petty and nasty than on almost all of 808s and 3000 phoning it in with the laziest flow of his career. So Fab stands out just for getting in some decent punchlines and a goofy #drizzyvoice joke (on a track with Drake, no less!) in between horrible grocery bag lines like "old news...YESTERDAY'S PAPERS!"
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: C-

"Fancy (Remix)" by Drake featuring Mary J. Blige and Swizz Beatz
I was surprised to see this surface since I figured Mary singing on the "Fancy" performance at the VMAs was just a one-off live only thing (which would at least make more sense than a couple years ago when Lil Wayne rapped in place of T.I. on that Nicole Scherzinger song at the VMAs and no studio version of his remix ever came out). The stupid-ass Drake verses are still here and Mary's little bit in place of the T.I. verse is pretty uneventful, so this is just pointless.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Toot It And Boot It (Westcoast Remix)" by YG featuring Snoop Dogg and Too $hort
This shitty-sounding song made zero impression on me when it turned up on MTV Jams a few months ago, so I was surprised when a bunch of my music critic friends started acting like it was the jam of the year. But since my main gripe was always that it kind of felt like half a dope song, with a catchy bassline and hook but terrible raps and drums, it almost solves the song's problems to put a couple legends on the track. Surprisingly, though, the whole thing sounds a lot better than on the original, although part of that is that YG seems to have noticed how bad his verses were on his breakthrough single and stepped his shit up a bit, which improbably ends up more enjoyable than two seasoned pros on autopilot.
Best Verse: YG
Overall Grade: A-

"Whip My Hair (Remix)" by Willow Smith featuring Nicki Minaj
This pairing was a no-brainer, since Nicki basically has 9-year-old swag playing with her Barbies and doing cartoon voices all the time as it is, but the end product is pretty underwhelming since she just kinda does her minimum required wackiness, which feels especially dull after "Bottoms Up" and "Monster." And really if they were gonna do this they shoulda waited a little longer, Willow should bask in having her own hit before letting it become potentially part of Nicki's hit parade instead.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

Monday, October 25, 2010
Some new Singles Jukebox scores:

Marsha Ambrosius – I Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player) [5/5.86]
Rihanna – Only Girl (In the World) [2/5.55]
Kid Cudi ft. Kanye West – Erase Me [1/4.14]
My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na) [10/7.11]
R Kelly – When a Woman Loves [1/5.42]
T-Pain ft. Rick Ross – Rap Song [8/5.38]
Gucci Mane ft. Swizz Beatz – Gucci Time [4/4.36]
Kanye West ft. Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z & Nicki Minaj – Monster [4/5.92]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I wrote a review of the new self-titled album by J Roddy Walston and The Business on

TV Diary

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
a) "Terriers"
As my wife noted recently, I've been kind of hardcore into FX dramas the past year, renting a whole bunch of DVDs of past seasons of "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Shield" and "Damages" and enjoying "Justified," but right now I'm most excited about this show, which stars the not especially famous Donal Logue and has a misleading title and not much of a promotional hook, so the ratings are terrible and I'm already kind of nervous about it not getting renewed. Some of the one-off plots, like the 3rd episode with the adultery case, are really strong, and the long term story arc unfolding over the course of the season is going in some interesting places, and the sister character they just introduced a couple episodes is great.

b) "Rubicon"
"Rubicon" is the kind of show that's slow and deliberate by design, but now that the season's over, I have to say that I don't feel like my patience was rewarded, and that I think it will be if it has a second season. There were some good bits of storytelling and I liked the overall mood, and toward the end of the season there were some hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-standing-up moments, but really it just kinda ended with a sigh, and really you could've cut out 95% of the stuff with Patricia Richardson's character and not lost anything.

c) "Haven"
This is a show on SyFy that my wife likes and watched more regularly than I did, but when I did pay attention to it I enjoyed it, and the season finale was really really good and left off on an intriguing note, I hope they come back for a second season.

d) "The Big C"
In a way, this show's dramatic engine is the same as "Breaking Bad"'s: the main character gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, and immediately starts doing really wild, kind of irrational stuff that you're just supposed to accept as their way of coping or responding to the situation. "Breaking Bad" has a sense of heightened reality and a bit of payoff for some of the credulity stretching motivation, though, "The Big C" is a little more frustrating because Laura Linney's character is just kind of being a crazy jerk a lot of the time and you don't get a lot of justification for it. It's still a pretty light, watchable show, though, and I'm particularly enjoying the supporting cast, especially the homeless brother. The husband character, Oliver Platt, is pretty sympathetic, which makes Linney kicking him out of the house and focusing on raising their annoying son harder to accept, but again maybe it's leading toward something worthwhile.

e) "Mike & Molly"
Some folks really hate on Chuck Lorre shows, but really I think "Two And A Half Men" and "Big Bang Theory" are, if not great sitcoms, then really solid and consistent ones, and I'm happy to have another on the air that has a bit of a different feel from those (which is to say Lorre isn't quite putting the same show on the air 3 times like Seth MacFarlane). This show has a nice sweet love story at the center, along with the usual somewhat crude jokes, which mixes together surprisingly well, although some times the slapstick is just a bit too predictable and corny.

f) "Bored To Death"
I kind of strongly disliked this show's first season last year, but for some reason I'm really enjoying it this year a lot more. I don't know if it's gotten substantially better or what, the things that bugged me before are pretty much still there, but I feel like the comedy's a lot funnier or at least hitting me harder, it's kind of starting to feel like a dry satire of New Yorkers a la "Seinfeld" and the whole goofy conceit of the show is feeling more fun and adventurous than silly.

g) "Eastbound & Down"
This is another HBO show that debuted last year that I felt kind of ambivalent about, but with this one I'm starting to outright hate it. Pretty much the whole supporting cast from before is gone, except for Stevie, perhaps the most unpleasant character I've ever seen on television, and the main character is placed in Mexico for a lot of stupid fish out of water jokes and "hey isn't racism funny?" LOLs and general bullshit.

h) "Raising Hope"
This show is really growing on me in a big way, possibly because I can identify strongly with a show about a young guy caring for a baby, but also it has a really nice balance of sweetness and kind of absurd dark humor. Kinda glad Skyler Stone was dropped from the cast after the pilot, don't really like that guy, and also happy to see Shannon Woodward from "The Riches" turn up in a new show, too.

i) "Running Wilde"
I was never a big fan of "Arrested Development," always thought it went a little too heavy on clever and not enough on outright funny, but it had its moments, so I'm giving this show a chance, partly because I like to look at Keri Russell. It's had a few laughs, the Alan Alda bit a couple weeks ago was classic, but for the most part this just isn't my thing.

j) "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret"
This is another show that I'm not actually sure why I'm watching it other than to kill time since I don't really like David Cross or Will Arnett much at all, but it's only 6 episodes and I'm already halfway through, so I'll probably stick with it. Cross really does pretty much suck, though.

k) "Children's Hospital"
I've always had such an intense like of Cartoon Network airing anything not animated that I nearly flew into a rage just at the existence of this show, but it had enough people I like involved that I gave it a chance and it is pretty funny and ridiculous.

l) "No Ordinary Family"
It's really hard to get past the feeling that Michael Chiklis just wanted to make "Fantastic Four: The TV Show" and settled for this instead. I probably enjoy this show more than I should, but really most of the main family is kind of boring but the supporting cast is good, and I'd almost rather just watch a show about Romany Malco being funny and Autumn Reeser being pretty.

m) "Outsourced"
I had some vague hope that this show would do something good and funny and interesting with its premise, but that's been quickly dashed. It's not terrible, it's not outright offensive most of the time, but it is a bit uncomfortable and tonedeaf when its culture clash comedy isn't outright cliched and predictable. Some of the joke writing is strong and some of the characters are funny, but it's kinda flat, hoping it gets cancelled.

n) "Better With You"
This didn't seem promising at all at first, but it's slowly emerging as one of the better new comedies of the fall season. A lot of it's very rote and predictable, but the actors are starting to inhabit their characters beyond vague types and they're some great running gags and callbacks here and there, and Jake Lacy's character is occasionally hilarious.

o) "The Event"
This never had much potential but I've been kinda trudging along with it, and after a pretty underwhelming pilot I actually started to get a little bit interested in the premise in the second episode, but then the next two episodes kinda put me to sleep. Hopefully the news that NBC has for some reason given this a full season order will help me kick the habit.

p) "Hot In Cleveland"
This show feels almost like a deliberate attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the past year's campaign to appreciate Betty White while she's still alive, letting her recite boring crazy-old-lady dialogue at a bunch of slightly younger old bags from classic sitcoms on a show on TV Land. This show isn't totally bad, I should say, but it'd be better if Valerie Bertinelli wasn't the most prominent character more often than not, she's easily the worst at comedy in the cast.

q) "Melissa & Joey"
Similar to "Hot In Cleveland," this is a niche cable channel (in this case ABC Family) playing on sitcom nostalgia by taking a couple familiar faces from '90s shows and putting them in front of a live studio audience. It's pretty corny, but I actually kinda enjoy this show, and only partly because Melissa Joan Hart has aged pretty well.

r) "Life"
"Planet Earth" was stone classic and I'm happy to watch anything from those folks, but really I'd enjoy this so much more if it was Attenborough narrating, or even if they got Sigourney Weaver again. Nothing against Oprah, really, but she's just not a good voiceover person, when her narration isn't kind of distractingly "hey it's Oprah" she just isn't really hitting the right notes, intonation-wise, or adding anything to the footage.

s) "Nick Swardson's Pretend Time"
It's sad that of all the good comics without TV shows out there, Comedy Central had to give this 3rd-tier Happy Madison flunkie a sketch show, but I gave this a chance to see if maybe his so-so standup translated well to this format. It's pretty aggressively dumb, though, and there's just something irksome about Swardson.

t) "Scream Queens"
I really enjoy this show because even though in a way it's totally a "Top Model"-style low stakes beauty contest, I like the fact that the people making the show and picking the winner really take horror seriously as a genre and really put these girls through some interesting challenges just to get a bit part in another goddamn Saw movie. Plus the girls are mostly pretty hot, and this season there was the hilariously dumb and talentless Sierra, who I can imagine only lasted more than a couple episodes because the producers knew she was entertainingly bad.

u) "The Whole Truth"
Maura Tierney's recent bout with cancer bummed me out a number of levels; mainly that I felt bad for her but also that I would've rather her stayed in "Parenthood" instead of Lauren Graham, and that she doesn't look great in the short haircut in this new show that I guess is due to cancer treatments. But this show isn't bad, fun premise and Rob Morrow is a good foil, but it's also kind of forgettable and if it got cancelled I wouldn't give it a second thought.

v) "A DIfferent Spin with Mark Hoppus"
About 7 years ago I co-starred in a student film with an actress who went to the same college as me, Amy Schumer, and ever since then she's had a pretty successful career as a comedian and even though I didn't really know her or stay in touch with her, I'm kinda proud of her and tend to note whenever she shows up in a TV show here. And her latest gig is co-hosting this show on Fuse with the guy from Blink 182, and even though Hoppus is kind of a goofball and is way too old for his haircut, it's a pretty affable, entertaining show and they really throw a lot of different good ideas into an hourlong show, kind of an ideal music-centered talk show format.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I started working with Urbanite Magazine a little earlier this year, and this week I guest edited the Tuesday arts/culture edition of the daily zine that Urbanite e-mails out now. Some of the stuff I put together for the zine that went out today includes:

- A feature on Mickey Free, the rapper whose new album Last of the Tight Wiggers I posted about on Gov’t Names a while back.

- A Q&A with Brett Yale and Jimmy MacMillan of Friends Records on how to put out music on vinyl and cassette.

- A review of the new solo album by Dustin Wong of Ponytail, Infinite Love.

- A review of Josh Sisk’s new book, Under The Strobe Light - Club Photos: 2005-2009, which features a lot of great pictures of Baltimore artists like Rod Lee, K-Swift, Say Wut, the Get Em Mamis, Blaqstarr, Scottie B., Mullyman, Rye Rye and others.

- And a bunch of links to Baltimore music websites (AllBmoreHipHop, BeatBots, the Ms. Tris Music blog) and listings for cool events happening this week, including Cullen Stalin and Scottie B. at Metro Gallery, Hip Hop In Pink w/ Keys, the Get Em Mamis, Si-Notes and Golden Seal, and Greg Dulli and Craig Wedren at the Ottobar. You can sign up at the Urbanite site to get any of the weekly zines e-mailed to you in the future.

(photo by Lisa Scott)

Monthly Report: September Albums

Monday, October 18, 2010

1. Floored By Four - Floored By Four
Over the last few years I keep hearing about all these new groups and new projects Mike Watt’s got going on, and at one point earlier this year I realized that he reportedly had 4 different albums by 3 different groups in the can and still unreleased. So I was overjoyed that he finally let one loose, and it’s a doozy: Floored By Four is a group featuring Watt, Nels Cline, Yuka Honda and Dougie Brown, and their self-titled debut is 40 minutes divided up into four mostly instrumental jams, each named after a member of the group and ragin’ full on (surprisingly, the track Watt spiels on is not the one named for him but “Miss Yuka”).

2. Superchunk - Majesty Shredding
It’s frustrating in kind of a good, funny way, to watch everyone who hasn’t paid attention to Superchunk in the last 10 years or more hear this album and be impressed, because I’ve been kind of obsessed with later Superchunk and Portastatic over the last few years and just hoping for a new ‘Chunk album. And there’s a little disappointment in the fact that my 2 favorite songs on Majesty Shredding, “Learned To Surf” and “Crossed Wires,” were ones I snapped up on singles the band released last year. But it’s still a very enjoyable album, I like the older, slightly raspier Mac.

3. The Posies - Blood/Candy
My relationship with the Posies is similar to with Superchunk in that it’s only been gradually in the last decade that they’ve become one of my favorite bands of the ‘90s and I’ve kept up with the things Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow have done together and seperately since then, and some of it has been really great. But the first new album from the band in 5 years has been a little hard for me to sink my teeth into, partly because a lot of it sounds less like a Posies album than bits and pieces of their solo albums; “Licenses To Hide” sounds like something off Ken’s Soft Commands and “The Glitter Prize” sounds like something off Jon’s Songs From The Year Of Our Demise. It’s also the least rocking Posies album since Dear 23 a full 20 years ago, and part of what I’ve always loved about the band is how much power they put into their power pop. But the album is slowly growing on me, and I’m enjoying “Cleopatra Street” and “Take Care of Yourself” especially. “Holiday Hours” and “Accidental Architecture” definitely feel like Jon Auer’s love of later Elvis Costello creeping in, very ornate, wordy songs. The “beautiful ride” refrain on “Notion 99” keeps making me think of Dewey Cox and cracking me up, though. This album sounds way better to me on shuffle, for some reason I don’t like the sequencing.

4. Lil Boosie - Incarcerated
When Boosie went to jail right after releasing Super Bad last year, he was already talking about how he had another album in the can, ready to come out while he was away or right when he came home. Then, his sentence got doubled, and it increasingly looks like he might be convicted of murder, and probably will never be a free man again. That may bring up some uncomfortable questions about still listening to and enjoying the guy’s music, but in the meantime I have to say I’m pretty happy that his label still bothered to release that album. This is mostly in line with his darker mixtape stuff but “Cartoon” is pretty fun.

5. Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns
Chris Weingarten was trying to sell me on this album by talking about how epic and artsy it is, but the thing is, I liked the old Linkin Park aggro rap rock jams like “Faint” and “Bleed It Out” just fine, so I wasn’t really enticed by that. Then the 2nd single “Waiting For The End” hooked me in a big way and I decided to check it out, and while, again, this stuff is for the most part not my favorite mode for Linkin Park, there’s definitely some nice production and strong songs here. I wish there was more lumbering brooding stuff like “When They Come For Me,” less wishy washy Chester balladry.

Monthly Report: September Singles

Friday, October 15, 2010

1. My Chemical Romance - “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”
I recently gave this song my first 10 on Singles Jukebox in, like, forever (well, I’ve never given one before on the current site, and am not really sure if I ever did in the old Stylus days), so obviously I love the shit out of this. In fact I was almost kind of mad the other day to find out that the 2nd single from this album is already out and am kind of afraid of this one getting pushed to the side, but really this is just great, what I was always hoping they’d come back with after loving Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and not being so hot on Welcome To The Black Parade.

2. Enrique Iglesias f/ Pitbull - “I Like It”
As I wrote recently in my Southern rap list, early in his career I thought Pitbull had potential for serious stardom, as kind of a fun but respected rapper along the lines of Busta Rhymes or Ludacris, and it’s kinda bummed me out that he’s become more of a pop radio rapper like Flo Rida that makes a bunch of big hits no rap fans really check for. But this song has kind of hooked me in -- at first I thought I only liked the Lionel Richie sample and nothing else about it, but now I love the chorus and that little “don’t stop baby” falsetto riff right after Pit’s verse too.

3. Maroon 5 - “Give A Little More”
I really thought they were on some shit and had their sound down to a science with their last album, so I was disappointed by how crappy “Misery” was -- the verses were good but the chorus was just garbage. This is more like it, though.

4. Drake f/ T.I. and Swizz Beatz - “Fancy”
The number of Drake songs I grudgingly enjoy is getting uncomfortably large as I add “Fancy” and “Miss Me” to the list that already included “Successful” and “Money To Blow.” I can just kind of tune in for the middle minute of it and pretend it’s a dope Tip/Swizzy song, though. I like the idea of rap songs with outros that are distinct from the rest of the song but the weird quiet outros on this and “Miss Me” are so lame, especially the poetry slam flow at the end of “Fancy.” Still, can’t deny I bumped this all summer.

5. Justin Bieber f/ Usher - “Somebody To Love (Remix)”
There’s only one Canadian scourge upon popular music that I’m more embarrassed to admit liking a song by than Drake, and for a while that wasn’t an issue since “One Time” and “Baby” and his other earlier singles were total braindead garbage. But I’ve slowly come to realize that this song has a pretty massive, irresistible chorus, it’s kind of a shame it’s one of his lesser hits. I wish Ursher had kept this song for himself and that it was his big pop hit instead of those lame and Max Martin songs.

Netflix Diary

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
a) Date Night
Maybe the expectations were too high for a movie pairing up the prom king and queen of NBC's Thursday night lineup, but I'm not sure why everyone was so down on this movie or what they were expecting. I thought it was pretty funny and there were a lot of entertaining little cameo roles and odd plot twists. It kinda drove me nuts how in one scene they have playing himself, and then Common comes in playing a character in the story.

b) Hot Tub Time Machine
This was definitely not as funny as it could have been, but I appreciated how unabashedly silly the whole thing was. I especially enjoyed the running gag about Crispin Glover's arm.

c) Repo Men
I liked the way the ads for this laid out the premise but didn't really give away any of the story, most trailers spoil way too much these days. However, that allowed me to use my imagination and assume this was what I hoped it would be, a dark satire. Instead, the movie's not really very funny at all and very quickly takes a turn into a really corny predictable plot where the white guy develops a conscience and has a redemption arc while the black guy becomes the villain.

d) Mystery Team
Rented this since I'm a big fan of Donald Glover's work on "Community" and had heard that the movie by his comedy troupe Derrick Comedy was pretty good. It took me a while to fall into the movie's rhythm though, since as with even the best movies made by sketch comedy groups (Super Troopers, Hot Rod, the Python flicks, etc.), the pacing's brisk to the point of being kind of choppy as they settle into a long form narrative, but after a while it started to get really funny. This movie seems to have at least one person from every single comedy show on NBC right now, although Glover's obviously the star and the center of attention most of the time.

e) "Sons Of Anarchy," Season 2
Since someone had the obnoxious idea to release season 2 on DVD like a week before season 3 began, I pretty much watched this whole season all in a row so that I'd be caught up enough to watch the new episodes. And man, this is a really intense show to watch like that, so much stuff happens in every episode and some of it is just gut-wrenching. Really enjoyed this season, though, the whole plot with Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins as the bad guys was great.

f) "Breaking Bad," season 1
I've always liked Bryan Cranston and was happy to see him get a big award-winning vehicle like this, so it was nice to finally start catching up on this show. I can't say I love it, some of the mixtures of drama and dark comedy don't quite work for me and sometimes the plot kind of grinds along in ways that don't ring true, but I definitely enjoy it and there have been some pretty amazing moments. Kinda felt like the season slowly petered out with a shrug when I expected more crazy plot developments like in the first few episodes.

g) "Dead Like Me," Season 2
I think I'm too wrapped up in auteur worship of Bryan Fuller to totally love this show after he walked off of it the way I love his other shows, "Pushing Daisies" and "Wonderfalls" -- I keep thinking of how much better it could've been if it'd stuck with his vision and his writing. But still, not a bad show, was enjoyable to the end, just felt a bit lightweight and had some squandered potential.

h) "The Tick," Season 1
This show used to blow my mind on Saturday mornings, and some of the guys who worked on it now make the amazing "Venture Bros." so it seemed like a good time to revisit it. And I have to admit, it hasn't aged terribly well, some of the stuff that used to really crack me up seems kind of overly wacky now, but it's still pretty funny and entertaining.

i) "Twin Peaks," Season 2
I have kind of an unfortunate relationship with this show, where I feel like I've been told too many times that it doesn't make a lot of sense if you try really hard to understand it, and so I try to just watch it and enjoy the ride but my brain just shuts down and starts thinking about other things because I know there's no point in paying close attention to the plot or the characters, until I end up kind of ignoring it and not even enjoying it. Now and again I catch parts that are really bizarre and awesome and classic Lynch, like maybe I could enjoy it in the right mood at some point, though.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The last time the Gaslight Anthem played Baltimore, they headlined the Recher Theatre in support of their breakthrough 2008 album The ‘59 Sound, and enthusiasm was high for the fast rising New Jersey quartet. And when they returned on September 28th, it was with a new album, American Slang, at a bigger venue, Rams Head Live, and if anything the crowd was even more wound up. In fact, they may have been almost too excited; the audience frequently tried to clap along with the beat, only to get way ahead of the pace set by drummer Benny Horowitz, and sang along with every word of even newer songs like “The Diamond Street Church Choir” or obscure ones like the non-album cut “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts.”

Fortunately, the Gaslight Anthem are a band that knows how to feed off that kind of energy and let it spur them forward, true to the ‘punk Springsteen’ angle of their sound and image. They leaned into the big singalong moments, stretched out the quiet breakdowns, and let the audience hold their breath before leaping back into the choruses. They played their best known singles, the title tracks from The ‘59 Sound and American Slang, back to back halfway through their set, but it didn’t feel like they’d given them up too early, since so many of their songs got just as big a reaction later on.

Frontman Brian Fallon seems to be coming into his own and finding a certain rockstar swagger, even letting a guitar tech take over on guitar for a couple songs so that he could focus on just singing, although he couldn’t resist awkwardly playing a little air guitar at one point. Fallon’s lyrics are stuffed full of allusions to 20th century Americana and quotes from his musical heroes, and at one point he even sang a few bars of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as an intro to a Gaslight song.

Although they frequently spotlighted songs from American Slang and their 2007 debut Sink Or Swim, the band clearly knew that The ‘59 Sound was the album that gained them most of their fans, and played nearly every song off it over the course of the evening. And when they returned for an encore, they ended it with the same 1-2 punch as that album, “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” and “The Backseat.” The Gaslight Anthem are kind of a one-dimensional band; all their songs mine the same kind of nostalgic imagery, and the closing pair of songs demonstrated their two dominant musical modes: midtempo and wistful, or driving and anthemic. That schtick might get old at some point and the shows might get less thrilling than the one that night, but it seems like the fanbase they’re building right now will be ready to go sing and clap along with them for years and years.

Singles of the '00s, Part 3: Southern Rap

Monday, October 04, 2010
I started off this series with rap/R&B crossover, and after a detour into rock, I'm back to chopping the big overwhelming expanse that is 10 years of urban radio hits down into a few halfway manageable subcategories. I decided that since it's fair to say that roughly half of the most popular hip hop of the last decade, in a vague ballpark estimation way, came out of the south, I'd divide it down the line: top 50 out of the south, top 50 non-southern rap singles to follow later on. And like a lot of people, I started the decade pretty staunchly believing nearly all hip hop worth hearing came out of the five boroughs, and slowly came around to enjoy the big national melting pop that rap's become. It almost feels quaint to cordon the south off to its own thing here, since it so clearly runs rap and has for some time now, but it's also a way to give the region its due respect, hopefully. As with the other lists in this series, I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Ludacris - "Southern Hospitality" (2000)
#23 Hot 100, #6 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

In some ways this feels like a weirdly anachronistic way to kick off the list -- everyone involved is still hugely successful 10 years later, but it’s kind of a vestige of a different time, when Southern hip hop wasn’t as readily identified as radio-friendly across all formats and anytime a rough-around-the-edges dirty south MC -- or a clean cut radio careerist who was born in Illinois and then became famous in Atlanta as a radio personality -- got signed by one of the big labels, they got thrown in the studio with one-size-fits-all pan-regional superproducers Timbaland and/or the Neptunes (and one of my potentially controversial calls here is, at least as far as Southern hip hop goes, Virginia is not part of the south). Luda’s the perfect example of that, since his first national look was on a Timbo album, and the 2nd big hit off his debut was with Pharrell and Chad, but fuck it, it’s called “Southern Hospitality” and it knocks.

49. Bone Crusher f/ Killer Mike and T.I. - “Never Scared” (2003)
#26 Hot 100

Southern hip hop was already a major commercial force by the end of the ‘90s, between Outkast’s rising superstardom and the ridiculous numbers No Limit and Cash Money were posting, but if I had to isolate the tipping point where New York ceased to be the center of hip hop’s universe and never would be again, it would be about halfway through 2003, a few months after Get Rich Or Die Trying. “Never Scared,” Lil Jon’s “Get Low” and David Banner’s “Like A Pimp” were the trio of hits that ruled the summer, and suddenly southern hip hop was no longer a regional niche that occasionally popped off (although NYC tried its best to keep up -- note that Busta Rhymes was on the official remixes for all three of them). From that point on, the center started shifting to Atlanta, and even though it was only the least known guy with the last verse on “Never Scared” that kept having hits, that summer really seemed to set the tone for the future. On a fact-checking note, I couldn’t find chart peaks for this song for Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs or Hot Rap Tracks charts -- it had to be on both, right? It was huge.

48. 8Ball & MJG f/ DJ Quik - "Buck Bounce" (2000)
They found more mainstream exposure later in the decade, and are more revered for their ‘90s trailblazing, and even “Pimp Hard” was the first and most successful single from Space Age 4 Eva, but this joint with the crazy video featuring Ball and G and Quik as crazy cyborgs always got a ton of play on BET Rap City and is just a fuckin’ jam, even if it apparently never charted anywhere. Also a great example of how back when New York was still #1, all the different pockets of regional rap tend to pool their resources and cool south/west coast collaborations like this were a little more common.

47. Gucci Mane f/ Young Jeezy and Boo - "Icy" (2005)
#46 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #23 Hot Rap Tracks

It’s bittersweet and depressing to think that this fun little song by two rising stars was the root of a beef that caused a murder and has had persistent aftershocks over the past 5 years, even as both guys have gone onto much greater successes than this one minor hit that at one point seemed so important to both of them that they had to fight over whose album it would be on. At the time this beat blew my mind and I wanted the producer to get more work, and now finally Zaytoven is a big brand name beatmaker who does stuff with Usher.

46. Big Tymers - "Get Your Roll On" (2000)
#24 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The initial Cash Money hit parade kind of straddled the turn of the century, which means it's hard to really accurately reflect how many great hits they had in that period on a decade list like this, for the '90s when a lot of their signature songs dropped, or in the '00s when a lot of other great stuff came out but they were already on that kinda downward slide before Lil Wayne's ascent to becoming huge. And during that lull, it was oddly the two older guys running the label, one an owner and the other the industrious in-house producer, that kept Cash Money on the charts, and this and "#1 Stunna" and "Still Fly" have aged pretty well. I always thought it was a big waste that no roll-on deodorant manufacturer used this song in an ad campaign.

45. Paul Wall f/ Big Pokey - “Sittin’ Sidewayz” (2005)
#93 Hot 100, #34 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #24 Hot Rap Tracks

This list doesn’t really depart from conventional wisdom as much as some of the other lists in this series, but here’s one matter where I’ll go ahead and just say, I never really liked “Still Tippin’” that much, always thought it was kind of a boring song when it was on BET Uncut all the time, didn’t think it felt like a breakout hit when it became one. And as lame and embarrassing as Paul Wall is (he’s now released 3 major label albums since The People’s Champ -- can you name a song off any of them?), he ended up with my favorite song out of that whole brief little ‘05 Swishahouse hit parade, just a great great beat.

44. Three 6 Mafia f/ UGK and Project Pat - "Sippin' On Some Syrup" (2000)
# Hot 100, #30 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

It must have been awkward for all those Swishahouse guys when they were storming the mainstream and trying to make the definitive sizzurp anthem when a group from Memphis beat them two it 5 years earlier.

43. Soulja Boy Tell 'Em - "Donk" (2008)
#37 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #22 Hot Rap Tracks

OK here’s another departure from popular opinion -- obviously “Crank Dat” is the reason Soulja Boy exists as a pop culture phenomenon and “Turn My Swag On” is arguably his defining hit now. But the underrated 4th single from, which at this point is probably better known for the Nicki Minaj mixtape track that jacked the beat, has always been far and away my favorite, just a great weird rhythm and a really fun barrage of goofy hooks.

42. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz f/ Bo Hagon - "Get Crunk" (2004)
#59 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

By the time Lil Jon released Crunk Juice, he'd been a completely ubiquitous figure in southern hip hop and pop culture in general for a couple years, and even though the album was a huge hit it kinda felt like a big missed opportunity and none of the big singles were world-conquering club bangers on the level of "Get Low" or "Yeah!" or anything. One of the street singles that didn't get a video was kind of a minor classic, though, with a completely insane beat co-produced by Lil Jay from Crime Mob (although honestly I never liked "Knuck If You Buck" that much so it's not on the list, go figure) and an extremely memorable verse from that Bo Hagon dude who never really did anything else of particular note.

41. Bubba Sparxxx - "Ugly" (2001)
#15 Hot 100, #6 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #6 Hot Rap Tracks

Before there was Paul Wall, Bubba Sparxxx was southern rap's token answer to Eminem, and even though so much of Bubba's image revolved around him being white and/or a redneck, the guy really could rap and managed to get in enough memorable lines on here that he wasn't totally overshadowed by one of Timbaland's best beats.

40. Nappy Roots f/ Jazze Pha - "Awnaw" (2002)
#51 Hot 100, #18 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #15 Hot Rap Tracks

Nappy Roots hit in that kind of awkward period where southern rappers still played up the rural angle to somewhat embarrassing degrees, and for a while it seemed like they, Field Mob and Bubba Sparxxx all had videos out that were full of straw hats and pigs and barns. These guys are from Kentucky and maybe they really are that country, though, so hey. Jazze Pha is one of those producers that comes off so obnoxious and corny that nobody wants to give him props, but he has made some pretty killer jams, and this is probably his best.

39. Trick Daddy - "I'm A Thug" (2001)
#17 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #16 Hot Rap Tracks

Trick Daddy really doesn't get enough credit, for how great and consistent he's been both with albums and hit singles over the years, although his career has definitely kinda petered out in recent years, perhaps understandably given his health problems. And this was always one of his breeziest, most fun hits but still totally a perfect representation of his whole vibe and persona, kind of the signature song for a guy who's released 7 albums with the word "thug" in the title.

38. Young Dro f/ T.I. - "Shoulder Lean" (2006)
#10 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

The line has since blurred, but around 2006 it was starting to feel like there was a vague divide between southern rappers who were known for singles, not albums, and did goofy dance craze songs and guys like T.I. who were kind of grown up and lyrical by comparison and had singles that were big ominous bangers, not dance songs but actually sold a lot of albums. So at the time, it almost felt like T.I. was having his cake and eating it too, letting this song be a hit for one of his other artists since it didn't seem quite dignified enough to be a single from King. But in retrospect, it was a great introduction to Dro, who's proven himself as a pretty great MC in his own right on the subsequent album and many mixtapes, and the chorus still sounds like the most fun Tip has ever had on a record.

37. Dem Franchize Boyz f/ Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat and Bow Wow - "I Think They Like Me (So So Def Remix)" (2005)
#15 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

"Snap music" gets looked out now as this brief little fad that bubbled for a year, but if you look at the continuum of ATL rap over the course of the decade, it was really just this transitional period, after Lil Jon had popularized spare, aggressive "cheap" synth-driven beats, and a bunch of other producers ran with that style to the point that it didn't really matter who was producing it, it was more about the chorus and whether you could come up with a fly dance move to go with it. And this really always felt to me like the best hit to come out of that moment, even though it should be totally lame to have a bunch of So So Def people jumping on the single version and co-opting that new movement, it totally worked and everyone's verse was fun and memorable, even Bow Wow's.

36. DJ Khaled f/ Paul Wall, Lil Wayne, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Pitbull - "Holla At Me Baby" (2006)
#59 Hot 100, #24 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #15 Hot Rap Tracks

Even though unity-minded region-wide posse cuts have been a staple of southern rap forever and northern DJs like Kay Slay had been making official compilation albums for years beforehand, there was something kind of novel and ballsy at first about the then relatively unknown DJ Khaled's ability to round up a killer lineup of rappers from New Orleans, Miami, Houston and New York and make an anthemic hit single. Then he kept rubber-stamping the formula to diminishing returns (except for "We Takin' Over," which was on the rap/R&B crossover list for its Akon hook) over and over and over, and a lot of other DJs followed suit, but for a second this summer jam was a really unexpected breath of fresh air.

35. Purple Ribbon All-Stars f/ Big Boi, Killer Mike, C-Bone and Rock D - "Kryptonite (I'm On It)" (2006)
#35 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

Big Boi finally released his first real solo album, almost exactly a decade after Stankonia ended up being the last moment where Andre 3000 gave any kind of damn about being a part of Outkast the rap duo of rapping rappers. And this song and this whole short-lived Purple Ribbon movement was the one point where it seemed like he'd find a way to move on and keep making hit songs and staying relevant to radio-listening audiences, really a shame that things didn't quite follow through like that.

34. Young Jeezy f/ Kanye West - "Put On" (2008)
#12 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Jeezy’s probably the biggest mainstream star and radio mainstay of Southern rap whose presence on this list -- three appearances, this one being the only solo single -- seems smaller than his profile should suggest. But as consistent an artist as he is, and as great an album as The Recession is, I don’t feel like he’s much of a singles artist, and other than “Soul Survivor” (which was on the rap/R&B crossover list a few weeks ago) I don’t think any of the hits from his first two albums are really classics. This one is pretty killer, though, perhaps Drumma Boy’s best beat, and as much as I hated the Kanye AutoTune deluge that followed, I still don’t dislike his part on this.

33. Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz f/ Mystikal and Krayzie Bone - "I Don't Give A Fuck" (2002)
#50 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

This sometimes gets forgotten as one of the last minor Lil Jon hits before he really started making smashes, given that this is the lead single off of the album that "Get Low" was the 3rd single from, but man I always loved this song, I wish all of Lil Jon's songs had 2 guest MCs this perfect.

32. Gucci Mane f/ Plies - "Wasted" (2009)
#36 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #3 Hot Rap Tracks

The most recent song on the list, the only one from 2009, and appropriately it's by probably the latest southern rapper to emerge as a major force as the decade came to a close. It's a pretty goofy song and he kind of gets upstaged by the much, much worse Plies, but it's just a classic party song.

31. Three 6 Mafia - "Who Run It" (2000)
#116 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I’m a sucker for beats with big, bassy brass loops, and this is one of my favorite of all time, one of DJ Paul and Juicy J’s best radio single tracks that retains everything that’s dark and nasty and foreboding about their production style while having a little more of a hook to it to make it more accessible.

30. UTP f/ Wacko, Skip and Juvenile - "Nolia Clap (Remix)" (2004)
#31 Hot 100, #9 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

Back when Juvenile was one of the many Cash Money artists jumping ship from the label, he briefly signed back on for one more album to get his flagging career back on track, and it worked pretty well given that "Slow Motion" was a #1 smash. But it's kinda funny that at the same time he had another major hit with his group UTP signed to Rap-A-Lot, giving that much less radio-friendly label possibly its biggest single ever (or at least the biggest since Scarface's "Smile" 7 years earlier).

29. Lil Wayne f/ Birdman, Mickey and Mack 10 - "Shine" (2001)
#96 Hot 100, #39 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

A TV montage of Lil Wayne’s solo career would probably start with “The Block Is Hot” and then flash right forward to Tha Carter era, if not even later, but he was a pretty consistent mid-sized star in those 5 years in between, and even if he dropped some shitty songs along the way (looking at you, “Way Of Life”) and wasn’t the lyricist he’d become yet, he had some real jams and his verse here is packed full of memorable lines.

28. Ying Yang Twins f/ Pitbull - "Shake" (2005)
#41 Hot 100, #37 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #12 Hot Rap Tracks

His 2004 debut M.I.A.M.I.: Money Is A Major Issue and its 3 singles were all minor classics to me, and I thought at the time that Pitbull was on the cusp of serious stardom, of kinda becoming the Latino answer to Busta Rhymes, especially when he had a great run of collaborations with Mr. Collipark on “Shake,” Twista’s “Hit The Floor” and “Ay Chico.” But his recent career resurgence has kind of made him into the Latino answer to Flo Rida, rapping on all sorts of corny pop hits. In fact, “Shake” and “Holla At Me,” his two appearances on this list, are still Pitbull’s biggest R&B radio hits, since rap stations aren’t really playing “Calle Ocho” or that song with Enrique Iglesias.

27. Mystikal - "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)" (2002)
#37 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

The last few years, we’ve learned a lot about how little a year or two in prison can slow down a superstar rapper’s career momentum if they set themselves up right to work it all into their promotional schedule and integrate it into their public image. So it’s kinda easy to forget just how huge a star Mystikal was before his recently completed 6-year prison sentence, toward the end of his No Limit tenure and during the period when he was scoring huge pop jams with the Neptunes and going on a killer run of guest spots like Joe’s “Stutter,” Lil Jon’s “I Don’t Give A Fuck,” and another song that’ll be showing up on this list tomorrow. When he did follow up Let’s Get Ready and “Shake Ya Ass” with another Neptunes single, though, it was kind of a weird funky left turn that was still pretty much classic Mystikal and a decent-sized hit. It’s funny how much people whined about a relative lack of post-Katrina rap songs in 2005 when a few years earlier a New Orleans rapper recorded a post-9/11 song that really easily can be applied to the Katrina situation too.

26. Boyz N Da Hood - "Dem Boyz" (2005)
#56 Hot 100, #15 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #13 Hot Rap Tracks

The idea of a southern gangsta rap boy band was always pretty funny, and befitting the tradition of just about any rap crew that didn’t grow up together quickly splitting, the group’s biggest star got out of there by the 2nd album and they didn’t make it to a 3rd. But I always liked this more than any of the songs that made Jeezy a solo star that year, and it’s always seemed like a shame that Jody Breeze never got his own career off the ground, that kid has a great ear for hooks. The album’s pretty good, too.

25. Cee-Lo f/ Timbaland - “I’ll Be Around” (2004)
#52 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

“I’ll Be Around” marks perhaps the last time that Cee-Lo was known primarily as a southern rapper, before he started on that road toward nothing but R&B hooks, Gnarls Barkley bullshit and that Smashmouth-sounding novelty hit he has out now. This is also one of the last times Timbo sounded like he was having fun on a record, before he came this musclebound monotone Nate Dogg wannabe on later pop hits. Tim’s “I’m also from the south” verse kinda contradicts my whole working policy of not thinking of Virginia as part of southern rap for the purposes of this list, but whatever.

24. T.I. - "U Don't Know Me" (2005)
#23 Hot 100, #6 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

2004’s Urban Legend was T.I.’s first album after becoming a real established artist, and it gave a lot of indications that he was eager to go pop and not play up the darker, gritter feel of Trap Muzik, between the Swizz Beatz-assisted lead single “Bring Em Out” and all the corny Scott Storch/Jazze Pha/Neptunes/Nelly/Lil Kim stuff on the album. But then he released “U Don’t Know Me,” with an incredible beat by in-house producer DJ Toomp, as the 2nd single, and the equally hard-nosed “ASAP” and “Motivation” as follow-ups, and the world totally embraced Tip being Tip, which set the stage for King. “U Don’t Know Me” is still probably the hardest rap song to go platinum in the iTunes era.

23. The YoungBloodZ featuring Lil Jon - “Damn!” (2003)
#4 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

It almost feels like these guys got lucky in that they happened to be the group that already had a single-ready Lil Jon track on their album right when “Get Low” hit, but this is still one of my favorite songs out of that whole Lil Jon hit parade that followed for the next couple years.

22. Trina featuring Ludacris - “B R Right” (2003)
#83 Hot 100, #50 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #24 Hot Rap Tracks

She’s been facing diminishing returns as each of her albums has sold less than the one before, but the fact that Trina even has 5 albums is proof positive that she’s been the most successful female rapper in the south for the past decade. And even though her best single has an assist from a male superstar, and Luda’s verse is great, “B R Right” is still all Trina’s, from the hook where she turns the name of her label, Slip N Slide, into a reference to vaginal moisture, to the outro ad libs where she talks about “fuckin’ n****s in the face.” Bonus points for being a great Kanye beat from back when he could make dope southern rap jams as a producer and wasn’t trying way too hard to piggyback on Jeezy or Wayne’s popularity to help his solo career.

21. Foxx f/ Lil Boosie and Webbie - "Wipe Me Down (Remix)" (2007)
#38 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

For years, Boosie seemed to be poised as southern rap’s next major star, and had the mixtape fanbase to prove it, but his solo singles never seemed to pop off and he ended up getting a lot of his recognition from upstaging labelmates on their singles. And now that Boosie’s behind bars and might be getting convicted for murder, “Wipe Me Down” might stand as his big, defining hit for good.

20. Birdman and Lil Wayne - "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" (2006)
#21 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

After Mannie Fresh left the label and the Big Tymers were over and Lil Wayne was left as Cach Money’s sole breadwinner for a few years, Bryan “Birdman/Baby/the #1 Stunna/NBC Nightly News With” Williams kept up the auspices of being a marketable rap star in his own right by simply doing as many songs with his ‘son’ Wayne. So nearly every Birdman solo single for his past 3 albums has featured Wayne, and in 2006, they did a collab album at the height of the Baby/Wayne gay panic, and this song was a huge hit right at the same time those pictures of them ‘kissing’ circulated all over the internet. Thing is, Like Father, Like Son is a way better album than Tha Carter III, and this is better than any of Wayne’s solo singles the past 5 years. I always hoped T-Mix, the Suave House producer who did the beat for this and a lot of the best tracks on Like Father and Carter II, would become Wayne’s go-to producer after Mannie, but then Wayne decided he didn’t like paying producers and focused on mixtapes and the producers behind some of his biggest hits had to sue to get paid for their work.

19. Ying Yang Twins - "Wait (The Whisper Song)" (2005)
#15 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

One of my watershed early rap blogging moments was when Government Names was pretty much the first blog anywhere to have an mp3 of this song, and my mind was just blown by how filthy the lyrics were and how stark the production was. So I was somewhat surprised how big a pop hit it became in the following months, and less surprised by how offended a lot of people were by it, although the song is still more funny than gross to me. Mr. Collipark’s proto-snap tracks like this and David Banner’s “Play” are still better than 99% of the snap music that followed in its wake.

18. Juvenile f/ Soulja Slim - "Slow Motion" (2004)
#1 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Soulja Slim never really had a hit single in all his years on No Limit, but a few months after he passed away, an appearance on a Cash Money album ended up taking off and becoming a huge posthymous #1 hit (something similar happened a few years later when longtime Timbaland collaborator Static Major ended up getting his first #1 as a performer shortly after his death, appearing on “Lollipop” by another Cash Money artist, Lil Wayne).

17. Ludacris f/ Mystikal and I-20 - "Move Bitch" (2002)
#10 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #3 Hot Rap Tracks

Luda’s not exactly a rapper with a very ‘hard’ image, and even his crunk fight music-type songs tend toward the cartoonish -- but this one had the perfect guests, the perfect beat, the perfect hook, and ended up being the biggest hit off his biggest-selling album, which had much more upbeat, accessible singles. Sure, this song is the reason Luda spent a few years making clunky shouty singles like “Act A Fool” and “Get Back” before he cut his hair and totally sanded off what little edge he had, but “Move Bitch” still fucking slays.

16. David Banner f/ Lil Flip - “Like A Pimp” (2003)
#48 Hot 100, #15 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

As part of the aforementioned trio that ruled the summer of ‘03 (along with “Never Scared” and “Get Low”), this song was so omnipresent that it kinda took me a while to really appreciate it for what it is. Lil Flip was always a pretty corny dude, back when he was starting to get some national buzz with the goofy “The Way We Ball” and then a couple years later when he started dropping absolute garbage and killing his career beefing with T.I., but this was the one moment when he seemed like a real star and just ruled a huge hit song effortlessly.

15. Chamillionaire f/ Krayzie Bone - "Ridin'" (2006)
#1 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

When Chamillionaire dropped The Sound Of Revenge with a thud in late 2005, his former Swishahouse labelmates had been ruling the whole year with a Houston takeover of the mainstream that he’d seemed to more or less miss the boat on. And then, something funny happened: he dropped a dark, not particularly Houston-sounding single about racial profiling and crooked cops, and ended up with a huge across-the-board mainstream hit that sold millions of ringtones and damn near eclipsed the success of all the other hometown heroes that had made so much buzz the year before. And them Chamillionaire went right back to being his corny can’t-make-a-hit self.

14. Scarface f/ Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel - "Guess Who's Back" (2002)
#79 Hot 100, #28 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #18 Hot Rap Tracks

This is one of those awkward moments where my decision to include or exclude songs based on where the main artist is from, regardless of the sound of the track or what guests are on it, can make this whole thing kind of confusing or ambiguous. So while, say, “Big Pimpin’,” a Jay-Z track with a memorable guest appearance by UGK, isn’t eligible for this list, “Guess Who’s Back,” for all intents and purposes one of many Roc-A-Fella posse cuts including Scarface that happened to be on Face’s album, is eligible. But whatever, this song is amazing, still one of my favorite Kanye beats of all time.

13. Birdman f/ The Clipse - “What Happened To That Boy?” (2002)
#45 Hot 100, #14 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

Here’s another kind of cross-regional situation, since again I don’t consider Virginia a part of the south as a hip hop region, so you won’t be seeing “Grindin’” on this list, but since this is technically a Birdman song, here we are. But really, obviously the Neptunes and the Clipse own this song, although Baby’s verse is one of his better ones. It’s kind of ridiculous how Birdman is on this list 4 times, but whether he was riding the coattails of Mannie in the Big Tymers, or Wayne, or just whoever like on this song, he’s always put himself in good company and been a part of more classic songs than a lot of actual talented rappers.

12. UGK featuring Outkast - "Int'l Players Anthem" (2007)
#70 Hot 100, #12 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

UGK and Outkast on a beat produced by Three 6 is an event in and of itself -- arguably the 3 greatest southern rap groups of all time on one track -- but as the kickoff single from UGK’s first album after Pimp C got out of jail (and sadly their last before his death a few months later) and their biggest mainstream hit, it all just took off into another stratosphere. I love how each verse gets its own variation on the beat: Andre’s stray syllables stretching over the unaccompanied sample, Pimp spitting quotables when the drums kick in, some claps coming in for Bub B’s verse, and then Big Boi just rocking with the bassline after the sample drops out.

11. T.I. - "What You Know" (2006)
#3 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

I feel like I’m almost low-balling this simply by putting it outside the top 10 and (spoiler alert) not making it T.I.’s highest ranked song. And it is great, and at the time it felt totally ballsy for Tip to drop a song this ominous and uncompromising at the height of his popularity and for it to become at the time his biggest hit (although some of the cheesy pop hits that he’s since had kind of negate that now). The last 4 years of Toomp and other producers trying over and over again to copy this beat’s formula might’ve dulled the impact a little, though.

10. Rich Boy f/ Polow Da Don - "Throw Some D's" (2006)
#6 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

In 2003, the Zone 4 remix of Bubba Sparxxx’s “Back In Da Mud” totally knocked me out and was one of my favorite tracks for a while, largely because of the killer beat by then-unknown producer Polow Da Don and a standout verse by then-unknown rapper Rich Boy. Three years later, as Polow was on the rise, he collaborated on a new beat with another about to be great producer Drumma Boy, Rich Boy recycled his verse from the “Back In Da Mud” remix, and they made a classic single.

9. C-Murder f/ Snoop Dogg and Magic - "Down For My N’s" (2000)
#29 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

No Limit’s reign was already winding down by the end of the ‘90s, and whether it’s just because they ended up not seeming as cool to most people in retrospect as Cash Money or some of the hits have dated badly or whatever, you don’t really hear a lot of their old hits on the radio anymore, at least where I live. But this is one later No Limit hit that’s aged really well and still gets played all the time, maybe because it’s one of the more dark, nasty tracks that really kind of predicted some future production trends, maybe because it’s just catchy as fuck.

8. Lil Wayne f/ Mannie Fresh - "Go D.J." (2004)
#14 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #3 Hot Rap Tracks

Most of the songs on this list I liked right away, or didn’t feel too strongly about at first but eventually they grew on me. This one, though, I hated for the first year or two it was out. I think the little spacey hissing background sounds just got on my nerves and seemed like a rare bad production decision for Mannie. But in retrospect, this is pretty much Wayne’s best solo hit, even if his career has ultimately been more defined by mixtapes and guest verses than his own singles. It’s not quite the turning point of his career, where he started to become the Lil Wayne we know now -- that would be the huge gap of quality between “Get Something,” the first single from the shelved original version of Tha Carter, and “Bring It Back,” the lead single from the album as it was ultimately released -- but “Go DJ” was the major hit that pretty much cemented that he was turning into a different kind of rapper than the kid from the early Cash Money singles.

7. Trick Daddy f/ Trina, Co and Duece Poppito - "Shut Up" (2000)
#83 Hot 100, #25 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #20 Hot Rap Tracks

As I mentioned back a couple days ago when talking about Three 6 Mafia’s “Who Run It,” I’m pretty much a sucker for any beat with a big bleating brass riff, and this might be my favorite of all time. And even though half the guys on this song are random Slip N Slide also-rans that never got a solo career going, they still rock better verses than the boring-ass rappers that are the label’s biggest stars now (looking at you, Rick Ross and Plies).

6. Outkast - "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)" (2000)
#69 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Outkast’s career, particularly the world-conquering critical darling period that pretty much kicked off with this song, often feels a little bit removed from the rest of southern hip hop, and it’s sometimes hard to square that with where “B.O.B.” falls in a list like this. Like, even though I love it almost as much now as I did when it first dropped and pushed everyone’s wigs back, do I think it’s better than everything else here, like that SPIN list that called it the best song of the past 20 years or whatever. No, not really. But it’s still really good.

5. T.I. - "Rubber Band Man" (2004)
#30 Hot 100, #15 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

T.I. had respect in 2003, sure, he had a couple singles and guest spots that did good, Trap Muzik was selling. But the king of the south thing really didn’t seem like more than a nice, ambitious line until 2004, that period when he got out of jail, murdered Lil Flip’s career, and dropped “Rubber Band Man” and suddenly all these huge stars were showing up in the video or co-signing him. For a lot of people “What You Know” is really his big defining hit, but something about this song just seems more right to me, and David Banner’s beat is just a masterpiece of simplicity, that drum pattern switching between busy hi-hats and laid back ride cymbals just gives this song a great ebb and flow.

4. Petey Pablo - "Raise Up" (2001)
#25 Hot 100, #9 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Here’s another moment where my “Virginia is not part of southern rap” policy on this list gets harder and harder to justify -- Timbaland’s greatest southern rap production of all time was for a guy from North Carolina, who’s from probably maybe an hour or two at most south of Virginia Beach, where Tim’s from. But seriously, this song is amazing, bums me out that Petey almost immediately switchd up to a calmer flow and Lil Jon beats, because I could’ve lived with about 20 more singles just like this.

3. Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz f/ The Ying Yang Twins - “Get Low” (2003)
#2 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

I’ve already made a couple references to summer 2003 being the tipping point for southern rap to really become the default sound for R&B radio, and this was the biggest song that made that happen. It made Lil Jon a household name and the most in demand producer in pop, it briefly, improbably made the Ying Yang Twins into mainstream stars, but as Dave Chappelle noted, probably its greatest victory was getting the phrase “skeet skeet” all over radio and television airwaves before white people knew what it meant enough to have it censored.

2. Ludacris f/ Shawnna - "What's Your Fantasy?" (2000)
#21 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

With a lot of these blurbs, I end up arguing mainly for the importance of a song or its role in the history of southern rap, but even though this was the first hit by a future multi-platinum superstar, I can’t make any argument like that for “What’s Your Fantasy,” it’s just a really fun song that I never get sick of. Also Shondrae “Bangladesh” Crawford is an incredible producer, and it bums me out that the boring “A Milli” beat has become kind of his career signature instead of one of the amazing beats he did on the first couple Luda albums.

1. Three 6 Mafia f/ Young Buck and 8Ball & MJG - "Stay Fly" (2005)
#13 Hot 100, #9 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #3 Hot Rap Tracks

All the time, major figures of a city’s scene, or major figures in hip hop in general, do big event collaborations, whether to bury a hatchet or just align themselves together for the first time, and more often than not, those songs aren’t really any good as songs, but get a ton of attention just for the combination of names (call it Black Republican Syndrome). And now and then, there’s a historic collaboration that actually lives up to the billing, like when Memphis’s two biggest rap groups, who’d been running parallel to each other but never really intersecting for over a decade, finally got together and made one of the biggest hits either’s ever had. I kinda wish boring-ass Young Buck didn’t get to be part of this classic track and that the 2 legendary groups could’ve just done it without him, but the middle verse with him and Crunchy Black’s goofy little 4-bar bit are kind of a nice intermission between the perfect first and third verses.