Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I wrote the local music reviews in this week's Baltimore City Paper: new albums and mixtapes by Sean Toure', Sinista, and B. Rich.

The 2012 Remix Report Card, Vol. 1

Sunday, February 26, 2012
"Birthday Cake (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Chris Brown
The whole context surrounding this track is so fucked and difficult to disentangle from the music itself, but I'll nonetheless try to just talk about the track: I thought the song was dope (if kind of undeniably stupid with some of The-Dream's most incoherent innuendo to date) when it was getting radio spins as just an 80-second snippet, and when I heard about the remix I thought for sure it would just ruin the song forever for me. Instead, I ended up listening to it every time it came on the radio anyway because fuck it, I like the beat. Chris doesn't improve it at all but he's done worse things to better songs before so I'm not gonna get all bent out of shape about it on principle.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"I Do (Remix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Drake, Jay-Z and Andre 3000
Last summer when Jeezy started talking up this song, the Drake verse was already recorded and was supposed to be on the album. So when the single finally dropped, I was happy to see he'd been left off the song and joked that Jeezy deserved a Grammy just for having a Drake verse and not using it. But now that it's finally leaked, I'm really kind of amazed how bad the verse is even by Drake standards, he really would've ruined hearing this song on the radio constantly.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Marilyn Monroe (Remix)" by Brianna Perry featuring Wale
This was the beloved sleeper rap single of '11 that I put on my Pazz & Jop ballot, and it's been exciting to watch it continue to gradually gain more recognition in the new year, even if the big star on the remix is someone pretty lame and useless. I'm just glad they didn't use the Wale version for the video or the national single rollout, which is what I feared when I first saw this on Brianna's mixtape.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"The Motto (Remix)" by Drake featuring Tyga and Lil Wayne
Young Money has kind of a weird habit of throwing labelmates into video versions of songs without putting them on the single or even pushing the track as a remix outside the video, like that stupid verse Mack Maine did in the "Got Money" video. This seems like kind of a quickie afterthought after they realized that "Rack City" was blowing up and that they could capitalize on that and put the label's one California native on this vaguely Cali-themed song. Tyga's verse is worthless but it's not like it's possible to be worse than Wayne's verse.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Rack City (Remix)" by Tyga featuring Wale, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, Meek Mill and T.I.
The closest thing "Ima Boss" has had in the last few months for biggest posse cut remix, but for a song I hate instead of one I love. I have no idea what Wale thinks he's doing on the intro but he's even more annoying than usual (although points for his almost funny Rap City skits reference), Meek Mill totally sounds lost on this kind of beat, and T.I. drops the first remix verse that isn't great since he came home, so just by flipping Tyga's flow in a cool way and dropping a couple hot lines Fab wins it easy.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: C+

"Strange Clouds (Remix)" by B.o.B featuring T.I. and Young Jeezy
It's weird to think that B.o.B has come so far full circle as a worthless sellout that the hardest song he's done in forever was produced by Dr. Luke. It's a good beat, though, and Jeezy sounds dope over it.
Best Verse: Young Jeezy
Overall Grade: B-

"Thank You (Remix)" by Estelle featuring Busta Rhymes and French Montana
I could never fuckin' stand Estelle as a singer and wonder if the fact that she started out as a rapper is a clue there, but this is the closest thing she's ever made to a tolerable single and the closest thing she's ever made to a U.S. urban radio hit, kind of get a Sade vibe off this song. As much as I'm weary of Busta's recent tear of pointless doubletime verses, his earnest midtempo R&B verses are still way worse, and on this one he pronounces copacetic as "copastetic." French Montana still sounds like a sleepy toddler mumbling his way through every track but he at least fits the mood of this song better.
Best Verse: French Montana
Overall Grade: D

"Turn Up The Music (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Rihanna
As pretty much the only person who thought "Yeah 3X" was Chris Brown's best post-comeback single I would like to confirm that this carbon copy of it is completely worthless, although the one thing I can give this remix is that it sounds slightly more natural as a Rihanna song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Why Stop Now (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Lil Wayne, Missy Elliott and Chris Brown
The original was a really sad, stilted attempt to capitalize on "Look At Me Now" so it bummed me out to even see Missy show up on here on her really patchy comeback trail of random collabs. It is fun to hear her rap on an aggro beat like this though, since it's kind of the opposite of her best recent guest spot on J. Cole's new R&B single.
Best Verse: Missy Elliott
Overall Grade: C+

Friday, February 24, 2012

This week on my Village Voice charts column, Radio Hits One, I look at "We Are Young" by fun. (or, as I like to call them, Fun With A Period) leaping up to No. 3 on the Hot 100.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two weeks ago, I appeared on Strictly Hip Hop on Morgan State's WEAA 88.9 FM as part of a panel discussion to come up with a list of the 20 greatest MCs of all time. I tend to be a little apprehensive about these supposedly objective rankings of musicians, but the conversation turned out to be really fun and edifying, and the ten MCs we decided on for the #11 through #20 spots came out as a really solid list. So I'm looking forward to this Friday, when we reconvene for the second half of the list and hammer out a top ten. If you're in the Baltimore area, tune in between midnight and 5am, or listen online.

TV Diary

Saturday, February 18, 2012
a) "Luck"
I don't have a "Boardwalk Empire" level of disinterest in this, but the way the "Luck" pilot left me with a bare minimum of interest in spending more time with these characters, much less an hour a week with them, speaks to how the HBO system of bringing some of the film world's best talent to the small screen often ends up neglecting the art of serialized television. It's really great looking and impressive, but it doesn't feel like TV in some of the bad ways as well as the good, in that it lacks that forward momentum of the best weekly addictions. For now, at least, I could be really premature here, I'll try to stick with it (although increasingly, I'm abandoning these slow burning cable shows pretty quickly).

b) "The Firm"
I watched the first episode of this and that felt like enough for a lifetime. I've said this over and over and over, after "The Cape" and "Terra Nova" and countless others, but seriously: networks, stop doing 2 hour pilots. It worked for "Lost," but it won't work for almost any other show. Focus on making a good 1 hour pilot.

c) "Alcatraz"
This show is probably the best of the many shows the past couple years to combine "Lost" talent with a "Lost"-scale ambition, but that's not really saying much. I still don't think I even understand what's going on but it's pleasant enough to watch, not quite as obvious or derivative as "Fringe" or whatever.

d) "Touch"
This whole supernaturally gifted autistic kid thing, does not sit well with me.

e) "Are You There, Chelsea?"
It's kind of fun to just try to count all the things that are off about this show, from the borderline nonsensical bowlderization of the title of Chelsea Handler's book it's based on to the fact that Handler somehow failed upward into the world of network television to her playing her own sister. I guess the closest thing to a defensible factor this show has is Natasha Leggero, doing two doomed NBC shows in the space of a year like David Walton did a while back.

f) "Inside Comedy"
I enjoy seeing comedians discuss their craft, but it feels like there are almost getting to be too many venues for that now. And it doesn't help that Showtime keeps airing this before reruns of the much more entertaining "The Green Room."

g) "Key & Peele"
Comedy Central has a pretty spotty record, outside of "Chappelle's Show," of shows headlined by minorities or of racial humor that isn't "Mind of Mencia"-level stomach churning. This show is decent, though, kind of a budget "Chappelle's Show" hosted by two biracial "Mad TV" alums who both have a lot of material about having anxiety about 'talking white' or whatever, but occasionally do something genuinely over-the-top and funny.

h) "Russell Simmons Presents: The Ruckus"
Another rare example of Comedy Central devoting a show to black comics, and it's featured some good ones, but it also feels a bit awkward in that they need to constantly pan to the titular producer sitting in the audience laughing, even though he's not the host or really does anything. They never did that on "Def Comedy Jam," did they?

i) "The Exes"
These TV Land shows that are just a mashup of familiar stars and tropes from sitcom history are kind of depressing, but even more depressing is the fact that when I am bored enough to watch them I kind of enjoy them. Donald Faison deserves better. Probably. I think this is where Wayne Knight was always headed, though.

j) "Angry Boys"
I watched an episode of this once, didn't really grok what was going on or remember much about it.

k) "New Girl"
This has been the easiest new show to hate or root against all season, but I have to grudgingly admit that it's been getting better and better. The male members of the cast were funny enough right off the bat that I kept watching, and now Zooey Deschanel's character has gradually become less annoying and less central to the show. And a couple weeks ago, there was a kind of mindblowingly smart and self=aware episode in the Lizzy Caplan arc that totally analyzed and nailed the difference between the Deschanel archetype and the Caplan archetype in a way that was funny, moved the show forward and wasn't too obnoxiously meta. And then the towel scene at the end of the episode was just hysterical.

l) "Face Off"
My wife still really digs this SyFy reality show about crazy sci-fi movie makeup, I don't really get into it like she does but it is fun to see what kind of crazy junk they come up with.

m) "The Voice"
I didn't miss this show that much over the break, and got kind of cynical about it after first season winner Javier Colon's pretty good album totally sank while his coach Adam Levine used the show to stage a major comeback. But I am glad it's back, and it's still way way way better than "Idol" has been in years, I've become kind of evangelical about it lately telling any lapsed "Idol" fans I know to check it out.

n) "Justified"
One of the downsides of cable dramas having these kind of self-contained seasons that are shot all at once with long breaks in between is that it gets easier and easier to think of them almost like albums, and to have a hard time get into the new seasonal arc like the last one isntead of just taking it week by week. Which is my way of saying that "Justified" really has not hooked me this year like it did last year, but it's still pretty good.

o) "Parenthood"
In retrospect, this is the show I most neglected by leaving it out of my top 50 shows of 2011, it's really if not spectacular or addictive still just a consistent and engaging show from week to week, and the kind of show that's very rarely done well anymore.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I wrote a post on the City Paper Noise blog about how Baltimore rapper Los just signed with Bad Boy Records (for the second time).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Village Voice's Sound of the City blog has been running a whole lot of Grammy coverage for the last few days in anticipation of Sunday's ceremony, including an 'Oddsmaking' series in which I and several other writers break down different categories by which nominees stand the best chance of winning. I wrote about Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tonight I'm going to be a guest on Strictly Hip Hop for the first installment of a 2-part panel discussion about the greatest MCs of all time. If you're in the Baltimore area, tune in to 88.9 FM between midnight and 5am, or listen online.

Monthly Report: January 2012 Singles

Thursday, February 09, 2012

1. Beyoncé - "Love On Top"
I've written several times now about the up-and-down critical and commercial fortunes of the singles from 4, especially my personal favorite, the Pazz & Jop-celebrated "Countdown." But "Love On Top" has long been a 2nd-favorite, and it says a lot about its slow sleeper hit status that Beyoncé announced her pregnancy with that incredible VMA performance of the song over 5 months ago, and the track is just now peaking on the R&B charts well after the birth of Blue Ivy Carter. Every time I hear the song on the radio or on the album, though, I wish it didn't fade out, the full stop of the live performances and the video version works much better.

2. Sleeper Agent - "Get It Daddy"
For what's felt like maybe almost 6 months now, I've let this song grow on me as it's made a persistent little-engine-that-could climb up rock radio playlists, where it first annoyed me, then intrigued me, mostly because I had no idea who it was by -- as it turns out some band from Kentucky that's friends with the depressingly successful Cage The Elephant. At one point "Get It Daddy" seemed to be gaining steam and getting picked up on more stations, but then it seemed to stall and disappear (it peaked at No. 24 on the Alternative chart a while back). Good song, though, I like all the spastic tempo changes.

3. Miguel - "Girls Like You"
All I Want Is You has already yielded three of the biggest (and best) R&B radio hits of the past year and a half, so it feels almost greedy to want a fourth, but goddamn I love this song and get excited every time I hear it on the radio.

4. Montgomery Gentry - "Where I Come From"
I've always had a soft spot for these guys, and hadn't really checked for them in a few years, so I'm pleased that their latest hit is practically a retread of my favorite earlier single, "My Town."

5. Switchfoot - "Dark Horses"
The kind of mainstream rock radio fodder nobody really cares about or even knows of enough to hate on like Nickelback, but I've slowly come around to appreciate this band as a consistent singles act, they're a weirdly rare halfway point between alt-rock and total caveman neo-grunge.

6. Big Sean f/ Nicki Minaj - "Dance (A$$)"
Oh yeah, I decided to start doing 10 singles a month instead of 5, although I'm not sure if I'll stick with it permanently or whether I'll do 10 albums too, time will tell. I resisted putting this song here for months because I wanted to be anti-Big Sean with no exceptions and I already had more Minaj in my year-end singles list that I was really comfortable with, but OK, I do listen to this every time it comes on the radio. Kind of like "Super Hoe," too, seems like ever since doing that song over Soulja Boy's "Donk" Nicki has made these stomping clap-snare beats her unofficial signature sound.

7. J. Cole - "Work Out"
Cole is only slightly more tolerable than Big Sean as a newly minted major label rap star and is getting less tolerable every day, but this song is alright. It really puts the post-Kanye mainstream rap wave in a nutshell that when these guys want to do a funky vocoder jam they sample "The New Workout Plan" instead of Zapp & Roger or something.

8. 2 Chainz - "Spend It"
Another (kinda) new rapper who I like without any real reservations, but I've never been a huge fan of his big breakout hit. But it's appropriate that it's slowly grown on me since it's just now peaking almost a full year after it was originally release (literally -- Codeine Cowboy dropped on February 22nd of last year). It's still kind of annoying and both 2 Chainz and Drumma Boy can do better, but I like the weird structure of it, the way it starts with him whispering the hook, then doing a little singsong 4 bar verse, then ramping up the intensity to the first proper chorus and verse at full volume.

9. Blink 182 - "After Midnight"
What I've always loved about Blink 182's self-titled 2003 pre-breakup album is the tension of this supposed garden variety pop punk band trying to shoehorn all these other influences in, from drum'n'bass to The Cure. Their reunion album isn't nearly as good, but it occasionally has flashes of that kind of awkward but inspired fusion, like on this song when Mark and Tom are trying to do a wistful John Hughes soundtrack thing and Travis is dilligently trying to play Lex Luger-style hi-hat patterns on a live drumset.

10. 50 Cent f/ Tony Yayo - "I Just Wanna"
After all the promises of 50 Cent's next single being a Jeremih collab that will probably sound exactly like "Down On Me," it was refreshing to hear this big goofy Kool & The Gang sample and a verse from everyone's favorite least favorite weed carrier. The way Yayo says "I certainly do" always cracks me up and makes me think of the time Poochie looked like he had something to say. Some smart people have sworn up and down that 50's released a lot of great music under the radar the last couple years, and I really just don't care about him enough to investigate it, but I'll take this.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My latest Radio Hits One column on Sound of the City is about Flo Rida's Etta James-sampling "Good Feeling" peaking on the charts the week of James's death, as well as other unintentionally posthumous hits and Flo Rida's oddly faceless ubiquity in pop music today.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Anthony Hamilton's 2008 album, The Point of It All, left me kind of cold, despite there being nothing at all really wrong with it (and "Charlene" is still a straight up classic, after all). But I feel like in the last couple years I've loved a lot of albums by male R&B singers who kind of mix a traditionalist bent with a creative, modern approach (Robin Thicke, Raphael Saadiq, etc.), so it seemed like I was primed to give Hamilton another chance with his new Back To Love. I'm thinking maybe I just don't like this guy that much beyond his undeniably singular and appealing voice, though.

My favorite song on Back To Love is, unsurprisingly, the very atypical "Never Let Go," a duet with Keri Hilson featuring the sproingy synth drums of Ciara's "Promise." Babyface's three songwriting contributions on the abum, though, are very good, especially "Pray For Me," and make me kind of forgive 'Face for subjecting us to "Best Thing I Never Had" last year. But Back To Love is the kind of pleasant album that would seem a lot better than it is if it managed to avoid having any duds, and unfortunately the garish uptempo retro of "Sucka For You" just gives me a huge negative reaction right in the middle of the album that kind of torpedoes the whole thing in my esteem. The very schmaltzy adult contemporary "Who's Loving You," which I oddly kind of love, helps save the album's batting average a little bit and spice things up, but it's just not enough.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

I wrote a post on the City Paper Noise blog about two new tapes by Repelican and Sword Swallow, which are a couple of the many bands of Jon Ehrens (White Life, The Art Department) that I wrote about extensively last year. The release party for the tapes is tonight!

Monthly Report: December Albums

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

1. Robin Thicke - Love After War
I already put this pretty high in my year-end list but obviously I'm still digging into it, even if Something Else will probably always be my favorite Thicke album in part because it's so concise, he actually does really well with overlong and stylistically all over the place records, too, probably because it's too supremely smooth and laid back to get overbearing or exhausting. There's so many lyrics on here that are kind of cartoonishly silly but in kind of a knowing way that I really enjoy, and "Never Give Up" is a fun return to the goofy classical-sampling well of "When I Get You Alone," very few R&B traditionalists feel as playful and exhilarated about what they're doing as this guy does.

2. Common - The Dreamer, The Believer
I've really come to regard Com's two No I.D.-produced '90s albums, Resurrection and One Day It'll All Make Sense, as classics over the past decade that his rapping and his records in general have mostly been aesthetically muddled garbage. But I didn't think getting back with No I.D. actually would signal as huge a return to form as this is. He actually sounds, like, on point and engaged, not just this brain-damaged positivity zombie that I'd been so sick of the last few years that I couldn't even watch more than one episode of "Hell On Wheels."

3. Young Jeezy - Thug Motivation 103: Hustlerz Ambition
In some ways Jeezy is the only southern rap star left at his level who hasn't lost some fundamental sense of what his lane is or how his music should sound or fallen off in the last couple years, and it's seemed like his career has actually suffered for it, so I really still ride for Jeezy out of respect for that. But I will admit this album is really far from his best work, and he probably could've put something far stronger together with some of the best songs from his last few mixtapes. But still, Jeezy is Jeezy and this has some jams, especially "Way Too Gone."

4. Brianna - Face Off
Since I've been such a cheerleader for Brianna's single "Marilyn Monroe" (and its only Pazz & Jop voter) I felt obligated to check out the mixtape she dropped on Christmas day. And while it's neither especially great or bad in any way, it is interesting just for giving a broader picture of her persona and voice, which isn't as much of the drawling smart aleck as on "Marilyn Monroe" (which is presented here as a remix that depressingly trumpets Wale as its big first verse guest). Bri comes off a little precious and earnest at times on here, not the coldly funny MC that I was really hoping to hear more of, but she's got a decent ear for hooks, and she's still a lot more promising to me than almost any other female rapper of the post-Minaj glut, so hopefully she's gonna have a good year.

5. Chevelle - Hats Off To The Bull
Although I've always liked "Send The Pain Below," it's really been in the past couple years of my wife loving this band that I've come around to realizing they're not just one of the more passable bands on hard rock radio but maybe the best of the last few years, or at the very least "Jars" is a classic. This album doesn't have any songs that hook me quite like their best singles, but it really hits right on the target of what's good about them, in terms of production and guitar tones and vocals.