Thursday, May 31, 2012

My latest Radio Hits One column on the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog is about hit songs that namecheck other musicians, like the recent top 40 tributes to classic rockers "Springsteen" and "Moves Like Jagger."

The 2012 Remix Report Card, Vol. 4

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
"Boyfriend (Remix)" by Justin Bieber featuring 2 Chainz, Mac Miller and Asher Roth
The lineup on this, 2 Chainz aside, is like some kind of contest for worst white dude in popular music (especially when you factor in Mike Posner, who wrote "Boyfriend"). Between this and the Kreayshawn song 2 Chainz is really getting with every terrible cracker in the world right now. My favorite ("favorite") moment is when Mac Miller just says "if I was your boyfriend I'd treat you like a princess" and out-Biebers Bieber. Asher Roth actually sounds even more like an Eminem biter than he used to.
Best Verse: 2 Chainz
Overall Grade: D

"Cashin' Out (Remix)" by Ca$h Out featuring Akon, Young Jeezy, Fabolous and Yo Gotti
I usually only do these posts every month or two, but I had to come with this one after less than 3 weeks because so many big remixes just dropped that I wanted to cover. There'd been a bit of run-up to this and with the song getting bigger and bigger I wondered who'd be on the remix, but then the actual lineup is kind of laughably boring. Shame to hear that Akon's making music again, I thought maybe he'd just holed up with his 10 wives and blood diamond money to work on being more of a James Bond villain. Jeezy sounds good on this beat but it's also funny to hear him on this song since he used to ride with a ho named Keyshia.
Best Verse: Young Jeezy
Overall Grade: D+

"In My Trunk (Remix)" by Dev featuring 2 Chainz
Oh look, another goofy-ass white person for 2 Chainz to do a song with. I kind of love Cataracts productions, though, and 2 Chainz actually sounds hungry on this instead of just half-assed like he has on a lot of his guest verses lately.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"Same Damn Time (Remix)" by Future featuring Diddy and Ludacris
The only thing more anticlimactic than the "Cashin' Out" remix lineup is the "Same Damn Time" remix. I guess after every street rapper in the industry already got on this beat, the only people left to do a verse for the official remix were a couple of rich old showbiz pros who were finally getting around to it. That said, this kinda works, especially Diddy's whole swag, but it's just kinda sad that Luda is still throwing darts at Big Sean. Future shoulda gone in for a new verse too, I hate hearing the same damn old verse in the middle of a couple new guest appearances (by the way, the other day I heard this remix on the radio with a "same same time" clean edit that's just hilarious, didn't know anyone needed the word damn taken out in this day and age).
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: B-

"We In This Bitch 1.5 (Remix)" by DJ Drama featuring Drake
This is kind of the opposite of the usual remix dynamic, instead of a solo track turned into a posse cut this replaces the three verses from ATL legends on the original with that fuckin' David Schwimmer lookalike from Toronto. But the original only had Future on the hook and his actual verse is dope, he just sounds great on this beat, coulda been on Pluto.
Best Verse: Future
Overall Grade: C-

Reading Diary

Sunday, May 27, 2012
a) Time Served: My Days And Nights On Death Row Records, by Simone Green with Tara Coyt
I got sent this book a while back by someone trying to get some media coverage for it, and though I breezed through it in a day and found it a mildly entertaining read, I couldn't bring myself to try and give it any press. Mainly it's just so poorly written, and chock full of typos (references to meeting "DJ Quick" etc.) that I was actually appalled to realize just now when looking up this book that Green actually had a co-author who presumably was hired to help clean up and focus her story. Instead, seemingly half the book takes place before she even worked for Death Row, and she only came onboard after The Chronic blew up. A few juicy anecdotes, and a fairly vivid behind-the-scenes view of a pretty fascinating chapter in rap history, but not really enough to carry a whole book.

b) The Anthology Of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois
I didn't know this book existed before I received it as a birthday gift, and it's pretty neat! A collection of rap lyrics, even a lot of greatest ones every written, isn't the kind of thing you can read cover to cover, and it's not broken up with prose as much as Jay-Z's Decoded, but it's got some good essays and a pretty great selection of different artists/songs, and it can be eye-opening to look at some of those classics on paper after only listening to them for years and years.

c) The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay, by Michael Chabon
I haven't finished this yet, but I'm glad I finally got around to it after hearing about it so much and enjoying one of Chabon's non-fiction collections. I always kind of assume that these fat, dense, award-winning modern novels don't live up to the hype, but this one is pretty engrossing, I appreciate how fully it inhabits its world, in this case a world of comic book history that I've never been especially interested in, and creates its own little fictional but warmly rendered new corner of it.

1996, Reconsidered

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Top 100 Albums of 1996:

1. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt
2. UGK - Ridin' Dirty
3. Sloan - One Chord To Another
4. Brendan Benson - One Mississippi
5. The Posies - Amazing Disgrace
6. Makaveli – Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
7. Two Dollar Guitar - Burned And Buried
8. Soul Coughing - Irresistible Bliss
9. Squarepusher - Feed Me Weird Things
10. R.E.M. - New Adventures In Hi-Fi
11. Lil Kim - Hardcore
12. Butter 08 - Butter
13. Beck - Odelay!
14. Mobb Deep - Hell On Earth
15. Cat Power - What Would The Community Think?
16. Pearl Jam - No Code
17. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me
18. Counting Crows - Recovering The Satellites
19. Heltah Skeltah - Nocturnal
20. Outkast - ATLiens
21. Redman - Muddy Waters
22. Nas - It Was Written
23. The Roots - Illadelph Halflife
24. Maxwell - Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
25. Tony! Toni! Toné! - House of Music
26. Buffalo Daughter - New Vapour Athletes
27. Ginuwine - Ginuwine... The Bachelor
28. DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
29. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Now I Got Worry
30. Ruth Ruth - The Little Death EP
31. Nearly God - Nearly God
32. They Might Be Giants - Factory Showroom
33. E-40 - Hall of Game
34. Soundgarden - Down On The Upside
35. New Radiant Storm King - Hurricane Necklace
36. Elvis Costello and The Attractions - All This Useless Beauty
37. Firewater - Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire
38. A Tribe Called Quest - Beats, Rhymes And Life
39. De La Soul - Stakes Is High
40. Heatmiser - Mic City Sons
41. Plug - Drum'n'Bass For Papa
42. Stone Temple Pilots - Tiny Music... Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop
43. Brainiac - Hissing Prigs In Static Couture
44. Semisonic - The Great Divide
45. Cibo Matto - Viva! La Woman
46. Smashing Pumpkins - The Aeroplane Flies High
47. Prince - Emancipation
48. Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonycologist
49. Lungfish - Indivisible
50. Tricky - Pre-Millenium Tension

When I first started putting together these lists of my favorite albums of the '90s, it quickly became apparently that 1996 was, if not my favorite year of the decade, then at least the year with the greatest concentration of albums I like, possibly of any decade. I was 14 and started high school that year, and my range of musical interests was still rapidly changing and expanding. But the odd thing was how much there is that I like, but not necessarily love. There's just a really large spread of things I dig the hell out of and feel nostalgic for but by no means consider a masterpiece, outside of Reasonable Doubt and maybe a couple other albums. I don't have nearly as positive an overall feeling about the albums of 1997, but the highs were definitely higher. Albums I liked that didn't make the cut for the top 50 include Fred Schneider, Beth Orton, Mike Johnson, Dos, Spymob, Screaming Trees, Chavez, Girls Against Boys, Lotion, Tori Amos, and on and on and on.

1996 seems like a really fertile year to me because of the unique little sweet spot it hit, kind of by accident. The Biggie/Jay/Nas/Kim/Foxy axis of New York rap was riding high but it was before the big dividing line of history that '97 became with Big's death and Puffy's command of the spotlight. Alt-rock was still technically in its boom years but you could kind of see the bottom falling out that year -- I recently assembled a list of a couple alt-rock albums from that year that sold less than half what their predecessors sold, including some of my favorite albums of the year (Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Counting Crows, They Might Be Giants, etc.). Christgau had a pretty good essay for that year's Pazz & Jop that touches on that a bit. Meanwhile, major labels were still flush with cash and throwing money at a bunch of unprofitable curios. And really, looking at the Sloan and Brendan Benson and Posies albums here, '96 was kind of the birth of my enthusiasm for power pop.

As I mentioned in the 1998 entry, that was the first year that I did any kind of year-end top 10 list of favorite albums, but 1996 was the first year that I put much thought into whether I had an 'album of the year,' and have distinct memories of listening to Odelay! that December and thinking yeah, this is it. Obviously, I don't really feel that way anymore, partly because, as I've said, I didn't really start checking for rap albums regularly until '97, so I was a little too into that funky white boy Beck/DJ Shadow bullshit (although I still love that Soul Coughing album, I don't know why I didn't think it was better than Odelay! back then).All in all I only heard about half of this top 50 in 1996 or early '97, though, so I'm starting to get into the years where I've heard more since then than I did at the time, and I'll have more differences with my younger self to reflect on. It probably says a lot about my age and taste at the time that the infamous Metallica-headlined Lollapalooza '96 was the first and only iteration of the festival I saw.

Top 100 Singles of 1996:

1. Spacehog - "In The Meantime"
2. Ghost Town DJ's - "My Boo"
3. Cake - "The Distance"
4. Marilyn Manson - "The Beautiful People"
5. Soul Coughing - "Super Bon Bon"
6. Smashing Pumpkins - "Tonight, Tonight"
7. Mariah Carey - "Always Be My Baby"
8. Toni Braxton - "You're Makin' Me High"
9. Lost Boyz - "Renee"
10. Mista - "Blackberry Molasses"
11. Ginuwine - "Pony"
12. Blackstreet f/ Queen Penn and Dr. Dre - "No Diggity"
13. Beck - "Where It's At"
14. Soundgarden - "Burden In My Hand"
15. Oasis - "Don't Look Back In Anger"
16. Rocket From The Crypt - "On A Rope"
17. Jay-Z f/ Foxy Brown - "Ain't No"
18. The Fugees - "Fu-Gee-La"
19. Akinyele - "Put It In Your Mouth"
20. Outkast - "ATLiens"
21. Counting Crows - "Angels Of The Silences"
22. Stone Temple Pilots - "Big Bang Baby"
23. Dave Matthews Band - "So Much To Say"
24. Metallica - "Hero Of The Day"
25. Luther Vandross - "Your Secret Love"
26. R. Kelly f/ Ronald Isley - "Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)"
27. Busta Rhymes - "Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check"
28. Social Distortion - "I Was Wrong"
29. Bjork - "Hyperballad"
30. D'Angelo - "Lady"
31. Dishwalla - "Counting Blue Cars"
32. Pearl Jam - "Who You Are"
33. Geggy Tah - "Whoever You Are"
34. Jay-Z f/ Mary J. Blige - "Can't Knock The Hustle"
35. Smashing Pumpkins - "Muzzle"
36. The Chemical Brothers - "Setting Sun"
37. Kula Shaker - "Tattva"
38. No Doubt - "Sunday Morning"
39. The Squirrel Nut Zippers - "Hell"
40. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Aeroplane"
41. Matchbox 20 - "Long Day"
42. Tori Amos - "Caught A Lite Sneeze"
43. 2Pac f/ Nate Dogg - "All Bout U"
44. Jewel - "Who Will Save Your Soul"
45. The Fugees - "Ready Or Not"
46. Tracy Bonham - "Mother Mother" 
47. Goldfinger - "Here In Your Bedroom"
48. Semisonic - "F.N.T."
49. Ghostface Killah - "Daytona 500"
50. Alanis Morissette - "Head Over Feet"
51. The Cranberries - "Salvation"
52. Stabbing Westward - "Shame"
53. Weezer - "El Scorcho"
54. Rage Against The Machine - "Down Rodeo" 
55. The Verve Pipe - "Photograph"
56. MxPx - "Chick Magnet"
57. R.E.M. - "Bittersweet Me"
58. Soul Coughing - "Soundtrack To Mary"
59. Semisonic - "If I Run"
60. Lil Kim f/ Jay-Z and Lil Cease - "Big Momma Thang"
61. No Doubt - "Spiderwebs"
62. Akinyele - "Fuck Me For Free"
63. Sponge - "Wax Ecstatic (To Sell Angelina)"
64. Tony! Toni! Toné! f/ DJ Quik - "Let's Get Down"
65. 2Pac f/ Dr. Dre - "California Love"
66. Chavez - "Unreal Is Here"
67. Smashing Pumpkins - "1979"
68. Lil Kim f/ Lil Cease and Notorious B.I.G. - "Crush On You"
69. Pearl Jam - "Leaving Here"
70. La Bouche - "Be My Lover"
71. Kula Shaker - "Hey Dude" 
72. Toni Braxton - "Un-Break My Heart"
73. Quad City DJ's - "C'Mon And Ride It (The Train)"
74. Westside Connection - "Bow Down"
75. Eric Clapton and Babyface - "Change The World"
76. Orbital - "The Box"
77. Michael Jackson - "They Don't Care About Us"
78. Primitive Radio Gods - "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth"
79. Jay-Z - "Dead Presidents"
80. Everclear - "Heartspark Dollarsign"
81. The Wallflowers - "6th Avenue Heartache"
82. Lush - "Ladykillers"
83. Sebadoh - "Willing To Wait"
84. Hootie & The Blowfish - "Old Man & Me (When I Get To Heaven)"
85. Van Halen - "Me Wise Magic"
86. Aaliyah - "If Your Girl Only Knew"
87. Dru Hill - "Tell Me"
88. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - "The Crossroads"
89. Rage Against The Machine - "Bulls On Parade" 
90. Lil Kim - "Queen Bitch"
91. Blues Traveler - "But Anyway"
92. The Refreshments - "Banditos"
93. Superdrag - "Destination Ursa Major"
94. Ghostface Killah f/ Mary J. Blige - "All That I Got Is You" 
95. Toni Braxton - "Un-Break My Heart"
96. Tony! Toni! Toné! - "Thinking Of You"
97. Gina Thompson f/ Missy Elliott - "The Things That You Do"
98. Local H - "Bound For The Floor"
99. Sublime - "What I Got" 
100. Smashing Pumpkins - "Zero"

Like the albums list, the singles list if flush with stuff I really like and remember fondly, but is a little thin on the top as far as undeniably great stuff. I was also surprised by my inability to rank much rap really far up there, whereas the top 10 for '97 and probably for the preceding couple years are extremely rap-heavy. Some really good R&B, though, and a whole shitload of those failed rock singles that precipitated the aforementioned bloodbath of disappointing album sales.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I wrote a review of ellen cherry's new EP, Please Don't Sell The Piano, on

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In my latest Radio Hits One column for the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog, I take a look at the finances and music of Birdman, the Dick Cheney of rap.

Monthly Report: April 2012 Albums

Thursday, May 17, 2012

1. Future - Pluto
I can't help but see a lot of echoes of Waka Flocka Flame's career arc in Future's: ATL rapper who seems at first destined for some kind of moderate regional success scores one national hit after another until his debut album arrives with three pretty huge singles already on it, and kind of beats the odds to become a fairly cohesive major label rap album in an era when people who can theoretically make any album they want end up with Roman Reloaded-level messes. It says a lot that even when R. Kelly hijacks the first couple minutes of the first full song this still feels like a Future record through and through, and that I can actually say that like it's a good thing less than a year after despising "Tony Montana" (which at least sounds a little better in this context).

2. Miguel - Art Dealer Chic Vol. 3
With All I Want Is You emerging as one of my favorite R&B albums of the young decade and the parent album of easily my favorite string of R&B singles, I'm a little wary of his blog-friendly free download series being rated higher than it, but these songs are by and large pretty dope. I don't know if Vol. 3 is my favorite, but after Vol. 1 in February and Vol. 2 in March seemed too short and insubstantial in and of themselves for these album roundups, now I've got a nice fat half hour of good or great songs to listen to all together.

3. Say Wut - Club Innovator EP
Say Wut's been one of my favorite Baltimore club producers ever since he came on the scene in the mid-2000s, but sometimes it's easy to forget how dope he is because he has a particular kind of energy he does really well and rarely ventures outside of. This EP doesn't live up to the title with anything especially unique or out of the box, but it shows how much he's able to mix up the drum sounds and keep things fresh, and the use of space on tracks like "MerryGoRound" is really something else.

4. SWV - I Missed Us
I think that the disappearance of harmony groups, male or female, from the mainstream R&B landscape has been a really sad fact of the last 5-10 years, and even a couple years when it looked like there might be a revival with Electrik Red and RichGirl, that never really popped off. So it's cool to see one of the best groups of the '90s, one that never quite reached that En Vogue/Destiny's Child level of crossover success, come back and do their thing with an independent album that's as good as most of the major label product young singers are coming out with right now. "Everything I Love" is one of my favorite R&B tunes of the year so far, and it's fun to hear "Do Ya" with a guest verse from Brianna Perry of "Marilyn Monroe" fame, who I believe would've been 4 years old when SWV released their last album in '97.

5. Monica - New Life
Monica is also kind of a '90s R&B holdover, although her commercial decline has been more gradual over time and she still has a moderately good radio profile. Aside from the anticlimactic reunion duet with Brandy that utterly fails to live up to "The Boy Is Mine" in any way (and I say that as not even a huge fan of that song), this album is pretty strong, if not especially memorable. I've always loved the hell out of Monica's sweet fluttering voice, and this album reveals that I enjoy hearing her on downtempo and/or retro-flavored material like "Time To Move On" more than just about any of her female contemporaries.

6. ellen cherry - Please Don't Sell The Piano EP
I like ellen cherry's older guitar-oriented material and was curious to hear her first piano-driven record; I think this stuff doesn't quite retain as much of her personality or sensibility, but it's still pretty cool to hear her stretch out and really commit to the instrument, and it's just beautifully recorded and sung.

7. Shark Tank - Fun Youngs
This weird little super group of Baltimore/not-Baltimore indie rappers is fun just for hearing these guys bounce off each other and find common ground, especially Height and Lord Grunge, but I definitely miss Mickey Free's presence (he was all over the first Shark Tank album but referred to as the group's Jarobi in a skit on this one).

8. various artists - Treme: Music From The HBO Original Series - Season 2
I was a huge fan of David Simon's "The Wire" and what music supervisor Blake Leyh did with the score on that show, and I was honored to interview Leyh and get a liner note mention in "The Wire"'s soundtrack album after helping get a handle on Baltimore music. So even though I'm not as much of a fan of "Treme," it's obviously a show that is even more concerned with a city's musical identity and it's fun to hear Leyh put together another great soundtrack collection -- hearing Juvenile rap over a brass band is especially fun. I did find it disappointing, though, that this CD doesn't feature my favorite piece of music from the show's second season, "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" by Glen David Andrews and Lil' Rascals Brass Band.

9. Brendan Benson - What Kind Of World 
Brendan Benson's career has been on such a steady decline for all 5 of his albums now that each one has been less memorable and less engaging than the last (although that pretty good second Raconteurs album slows a slight wrench in that narrative). Not necessarily worse, because there is a certain consistently in both the level of his melodic craft and in the casual, tossed off attitude of both his recordings and his lyric writing, but it's just really hard to care about each of these beyond an especially song or two once you've heard One Mississippi and Lapalco.

10. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Like Brendan Benson, Spiritualized has seemed to have been on a steady decline since their mid-'90s peak, although I say 'seemed' because I really haven't listened to the last few albums other than hearing bits here and there. And when I decided to check back in for this one, all I could think was "wow, Spiritualized songs about contented family life sound exactly like Spiritualized songs about being a heartbroken heroin addict."

Movie Diary

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
a) The Avengers
I enjoyed this, really well done. I've always been pretty cynical towards Joss Whedon because of the kind of overly adorable quippy Mary Sues he tends to create, but putting him in charge of a cast of established (and mostly male) characters just lets him exercise his gift for zippy dialogue without getting to cutesy about it. It helps that the Tony Stark character and sense of humor is already well established and he does a good job of being faithful to that, and bringing the rest of the cast into the banter so that Downey isn't just running the show like he totally could. I mean shit, this kinda made me want to go back and watch the Thor and Captain America movies.

b) The Muppets
This was pretty cool, it wasn't quite the ideal modern Muppet movie but it was close enough, and Jason Segal and Amy Adams are kind of the perfect human leads, easily better than anyone in the old movies, where the non-Muppets were total dead weight.

c) Hanna
I suppose we won't and probably shouldn't ever tire of badass action movie heroines, especially young ones who are deceptively vulnerable-seeming. But as far as those things go, this movie just kinda went through the beats and I never really felt compelled by it, like the trailer had already told me everything to expect.

d) Super
I'm clearly not sick of superhero franchise movies, but I am pretty sick of satirical/meta superhero movies, almost as sick as I am of Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. So I guess I was trolling myself by even watching this. There are so many of these movies now that I literally got an hour into this before remembering that this and Kick-Ass are two different movies. It really is amazing how insufferable Ellen Page is, you can tell she's trying to be funny in this and it's just painful.

e) Ten Inch Hero
Sometimes I see these shitty straight-to-DVD comedies on cable and I just find myself astounded that people really worked hard to make this and put it on a screen somewhere. And then I keep watching anyway because they went to the trouble of putting pretty girls in it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I posted about OOH from Brown F.I.S.H.'s new song under the alias YoSlick on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.

The 2012 Remix Report Card, Vol. 3

Friday, May 11, 2012
"Another Round (Remix)" by Fat Joe featuring Chris Brown, Mary J Blige, Fabolous and Kirko Bangz
The original is an endless horrible Chris Brown slow jam occasionally interrupted by Fat Joe saying things like "fuck you with the mask on, Halloween pussy," and just like Ace Hood's shitty Chris Brown slow jam last year this apparently needs a posse cut remix. It kinda works, though, mainly because Mary J. sings over most of Brown's parts and Fab rhymes Huxtables with Lunchables. 
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: B

"Drank In My Cup (Remix)" by Kirko Bangz featuring 2 Chainz and Juelz Santana
In the last installment of this column I already wrote about the version with 2 Chainz and J. Cole, but apparently for some reason Juelz is on the official remix, and he doesn't even do some kind of flip on his idiotic classic line "like Kurt Cobain was here YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH." Actually Juelz sounds so sleepy on this that it reminds me that his presence here is appropriate since probably no rapper's career has been more sidelined by sizzurp addiction the last few years.
Best Verse: 2 Chainz
Overall Grade: B-

"Everythings A Go (Remix)" by French Montana featuring Birdman, Wale, Fabolous and Jadakiss
Remember when Memphis Bleek had a song called "Everything's A Go" and it was actually kinda dope? This isn't that, although French is about as pathetic a hope for NY rap as Bleek ever was. It's funny how the original has a crack about "Baby's bald head" and then Birdman shows up on the remix popping in at that exact moment, as if he's Jay-Z on the "Diamonds" remix or something. Fab does a weird low voice on this, doesn't really work. 
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: C

"House Party (Remix)" by Meek Mill featuring Fabolous, Wale and Mac Miller
In this space a while back I expressed my despair over learning that one of my favorite singles of 2011, Brianna Perry's "Marilyn Monroe," had Wale on the official remix. So you can imagine how I'd feel to learn that one of my other favorites of last year has Wale AND Mac Miller on the remix. But at least Meek goes in on his verse, yelling the first line from the original even louder and then going into a crazy new flow, and Fab works better on this beat that I would've expected. Even Wale's verse sounds aight, partly because they throw some cool new snare fills into the beat when he's on. And then Mac Miller compares himself to a character from "Entourage" and says "cray," which is pretty lame but actually doesn't hurt what's otherwise a really strong remix too much. 
Best Verse: Meek Mill
Overall Grade: B-

"I Don't Like (Remix)" by Chief Keef featuring Kanye West, Pusha T, Jadakiss and Big Sean
I feel kinda bad for these new artists who start to get some buzz and then a huge star wants to jump on a remix of their single and that song kind of gets sucked into the orbit of said star. That said, the original "I Don't Like" is pretty much garbage so I don't mind seeing it trampled over by the likes of Big Sean. I do feel bad for the producer of the original, though, he's right that the shit they did to his beat is pretty terrible. 
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: D
"Refill (Remix)" by Elle Varner featuring Wale, Kirko Bangz and T-Pain
Oh look, another fucking Wale verse. T-Pain approaches his 2007 classic remix style here and singlehandedly saves the track, though. 
Best Verse: T-Pain
Overall Grade: B+

"Riot (Remix)" by 2 Chainz featuring 50 Cent
Fif's collabs with Gucci Mane or whatever southern rapper of the moment he's occasionally deigned to work with have always felt kind of random and not even interesting enough to seem like a calculated maneuver. But this is a really good fit, in terms of the beat and the way he kinda jumps into the first verse, nothing special but it works. At least until 50's flow gets really sloppy later on.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"Shot Caller (NYC Remix)" by French Montana featuring Jadakiss, Styles P, Red Cafe, Fat Joe and Uncle Murda
It's pretty goofy to have a dedicated 'NYC remix' of this song after there was already one with Diddy that was full of "Benjamins" homages, but since this is the latest anthem for an anthem-starved NY rap scene I guess they got a keep milkin' it. But again, the way they chop in beats from classics throughout this would be a lot cooler if they didn't already do it for the first remix. Always good to hear some Jada and Styles back'n'forth, can't believe Uncle Murda still exists.
Best Verse: Jadakiss and Styles P. 
Overall Grade: B-

"Slight Work (Remix)" by Wale featuring French Montana, Diddy and Ma$e
I like the original more than I want to admit enjoying a song involving Big Sean and Diplo, but christ this remix, what the fuck, I can't believe we're doing this Ma$e thing again. It was cute back on the "Lean Back" remix but that was 8 fucking years ago, even longer ago than it had been then since his original 'retirement.' At least Ma$e is appropriately on a track with his 21st century slackjawed Bad Boy toddler equivalent, French Montana. 
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: C
"Up! (Remix)" by LoveRance featuring E-40, B.o.B and Fat Joe
Another redundant remix, this time for a song that is basically only a hit in its remixed incarnation, and I'm so sick of this fucking song anyway, but at least the lineup is decent, even Bobby Ray acquits himself well on the rare occasion he's not spitting directly to the Disney Channel.
Best Verse: E-40
Overall Grade: B+

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I wrote a story in this week's Baltimore City Paper about Tyree Colion.

(photo by Christopher Myers)

TV Diary

Sunday, May 06, 2012
a) "Veep"
Had been looking forward to this since Julia Louis-Dreyfus can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes and they shot a lot of this in Baltimore (I almost got to be on the set one day in December that fell through). Haven't seen the supposedly similar British show the creator did earlier, "The Thick of It," but I can kind of see how there's a bit of a Brit sensibility, and to be honest this kind of pottymouthed workplace farce is not really my favorite kind of comedy by a long shot. They pull it off well, though, good cast, and man Anna Chlumsky is a beautiful woman now.

b) "NYC 22"
It makes me genuinely sad that people are still tossing decent writing and likable actors down the bottomless well of interchangeable New York-based cop dramas, especially since Adam Goldberg just did a better one a couple seasons earlier called "The Unusuals," and the creator, Richard Price, worked on fucking "The Wire." But hey, this is a decent show, if you can get past major characters going by nicknames like 'Lazarus' and 'White House.'

c) "The Aquabats! Super Show!"
It's so weird that that weird Devo-wannabe ska band that Travis Barker used to play drums for in the '90s now has a kids' show on one of the channels my son watches all the time. It's pretty stupid, I'm glad he hasn't expressed any interest in watching it, it's bad enough that the other day he seemed pretty into "The Wiggles."

d) "Betty White's Off Their Rockers"
I think we can finally back off of the whole Betty White comeback thing and let her take a break, this show is terrible.

e) "MTV's Hip-Hop POV"
It's kind of nice to see MTV keep trying to have these shows about rap music that approximate the experience of heads sitting around shooting the shit and talking about music and current events, but man shows like this are just awkward and boring.

f) "Kathy"
I hate to admit it but I think Kathy Griffin is pretty funny. Having a live talk show is not really the best format for her, but a decent amount of this show is just her doing the same thing as she does in her standup, so it's still watchable, but whatever, who cares, it probably won't last long.

g) "The Pitch"
It's weird that AMC is taking their run of success with scripted programming and going into a generic reality show. I tried to watch this but it was mad boring.

h) "Smash"
I've fallen a few episodes behind on this show but still watching it. Occasionally the musical setpieces, like singing that stupid Rihanna song in Times Square, grate on me, but mostly it's pretty good at mixing the music and drama. There were a couple rough episodes where the plots were all really stupid and boilerplate, but I'm starting to appreciate that the nature of the show tracking the making of a stage musical means that things are constantly moving forward and there's not a real formula to how the episodes are structured or what the characters are going through, which is kind of refreshing and too rare in TV.

i) "New Girl"
God, this is show is hilarious, I feel guilty for liking it so much. That Russian roommate was ridiculous, I hope she becomes a recurring character. And Schmidt is maybe the funniest character on TV right now.

j) "The Killing"
I wasn't quite as pissed about the first season finale of this show as everyone else, so I'm trying to get back into the second season, but finding it hard to get reinvested. Show still has a good cast and a great atmosphere, I just wish the story was more compelling.

k) "Eagleheart"
Loved this show last year, the first episode back kind of veered a little further into the obstinately gross and bizarre side of Adult Swim shows, but I still love the whole not giving a fuck vibe of this show, Chris Elliott is just a comedy hero to me.

l) "Breakout Kings"
Man this show is so good, bums me out that nobody knows it exists because it's on A&E. Love how they've fleshed out the Jimmi Simpson character from where he easily just could've been this motormouth jerk he kind of started out as.

m) "Community"
The "Law & Order" episode was great but some of the episodes since this came back have really shaken my faith in the show, all that dreamatorium/"Inspector Spacetime" fan service shit is kind of tedious and turning Abed into a spazz that does a weird high pitched scream when he's unhappy is some bullshit that never happened in the first two seasons.

n) "Saturday Night Live"
Wiig and Samberg have definitely kind of been tapped of everything they possibly could bring to the show at this point, but Sudekis is such a solid utility player, I'm kind of bummed that he's gonna be off the show soon. Kate McKinnon has been a really strong recent addition, though, "Helga Lately" was great. Also, "Almost Pizza" was maybe the funniest fake commercial in years.

Monthly Report: April 2012 Singles

Thursday, May 03, 2012

1. Coldplay f/ Rihanna - "Princess of China"
Between this and the "Birthday Cake" remix, Rihanna has a knack lately for duets that I enjoy that seem to annoy a lot of people more for the presence of a guy named Chris than the actual sound of the song. I'm kind of a fan of embarrassingly ambitious post-Eno Coldplay anyway, but I was surprised how much I like this, especially after that drab Grammys performance, but man this is awesome, especially that big distorted synth line and the turn Rihanna's verse takes in the second half.

2. Zac Brown Band - "Keep Me In Mind" 
I have vague memories of seeing these guys on award shows and being tasteful and boring, but damn, does this song sound great every time I hear it on the radio. I guess it topped the country chart already a few months ago, but I just pretty recently realized how much I like it and who it's by.

3. Elle Varner - "Refill"
Varner's first moderately successful single, last year's "Only Wanna Give It To You," was one of the most obnoxiously sung R&B songs in recent memory in addition to being a bland puddle of retro sample rehashing with a J. Cole guest verse. So it's a pleasant surprise that her more downtempo follow-up is just gorgeously produced, with Varner's scenery-chewing vocal style working with the song rather than against it. That fiddle loop somehow manages to be both attention-grabbing and kind of sneakily understated as all these other layers get dappled over it.

4. Grouplove - "Tongue Tied"
Sunny synthy crossover indie pop is really not my scene, and I broke out in hives every time I saw the iPod commercial this song blew up off of, but fuck it, it's growing on me now that it's all over the radio.

5. Trey Songz - "Heart Attack"
After "Sex Ain't Better Than Love" proved that urban radio loves Trey so much that he can score a pretty big hit even with a fairly low key song off a stopgap EP, I heard this song and assumed it was another EP track and not the single from his next full-length. It's definitely better, one of the first midtempo tracks of his I've liked in a while, since they're usually oversung into oblivion, but it's a lot more straightforward and unassuming than I would've expected from a Benny Blanco-produced album-launching single.

6. Ca$h Out - "Cashin' Out"
Atlanta probably ebbed the lowest it's ever been in the last decade or so in terms of hip hop radio presence a while back around 2010, when "No Hands" was seemingly the only really big breakout song and a lot of the biggest stars were locked up or on hiatus. Now it feels like ATL is hitting hard with the ascendance of 2 Chainz and Future and Travis Porter and the return of Tip and Jeezy, and in that context "Cashin' Out" feels even more generic and unnecessary than it probably would otherwise, but it's still pretty damn catchy.

7. Halestorm - "Love Bites (So Do I)"
You guys should have been at Gasworks on Friday. There was this band Crucial Taunt, they had this megababe for a lead singer. Unreal!

8. Demi Lovato - "Give Your Heart A Break"
Unbroken was a pretty disappointing, underwhelming album after Demi's first two, but it wasn't terrible, just kind of misguided and scattershot. I'm glad that months and months after "Skyscraper" peaked they finally released a second single, though, and that it's one of the better tracks that maintains the appeal of her earlier stuff without being as guitar-driven.

9. Flo Rida f/ Sia - "Wild Ones"
I only know Sia from her incredibly awful album covers that make her look like some sort of twee mental patient, so I'm surprised both to hear her on a Flo Rida single and to hear that her voice is pretty sexy. She seems suitably embarrassed about singing a bunch of sketchy "saddle me up" metaphors on a Flo Rida song and didn't appear in the video, though. Apparently there's a charting dance mix of the track that just uses the Sia vocals, none of the Flo Rida stuff, haven't heard it but I'm sure it's an improvement.

10. 2 Chainz - "Riot"
I never thought of this song as a standout on T.R.U. REALigion and it seemed like an odd single choice to me when it started getting play, but it's grown on me over the last few months, especially now that 2 Chainz has a 'real' lead single out and it's some Drake bullshit. The rise of 2 Chainz has been kind of strange since nobody seems to enthusiastic about him and acts like his stardom is this grim inevitability, but I still think he's got more personality than almost any of the other 'new' rappers coming up right now and a bit of so far underexposed versatility that he'll hopefully be able to show on his album without trying too hard to be everything to everyone. Mostly I think I just identify with this dorky-looking, tall 30-something dude with a penchant for cheesy dad jokes that has somehow become one of the most ubiquitous rappers of 2012.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I wrote a post on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about Ian Hesford of the band Telesma, who recently suffered a heart attack while performing onstage at Rams Head Live, and is currently accepting donations to help with his medical bills.