Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I didn't like any music this year

Not afraid to get mavericky.

So it was only recently that I really realized that I wasn't a fan of much hip hop that came out this year. In terms of albums at least. I didn't mind all that much though because the stuff I did like was good enough to hold me over, and I kinda tuned out of new rap late in the year because I wanted to follow the election (pay attention to both at once? Crazy talk.)

With all that said, I figured instead of a regular list I'd take a look at the albums I did and didn't like this year, plus a few random songs here and there from other albums I haven't talked about. In no particular order.

Lil Wayne -- Tha Carter III. The moment where Wayne officially lived up to the hype. I've been a big fan of his but I agreed with the argument that he needed to drop a great album, and then when he did a bunch of people were quick to damn it with faint praise. Which is too bad considering the guy murders everything he touches here save the stuff designed for Top 40 radio. "A Milli" and especially "Let the Beat Build" in particular are insane from a stylistic standpoint. Wayne's mixtapes last year were entertaining, but Da Drought 3 was pretty aimless, whereas here his rapping sounds much more focused without losing its unhinged appeal. Besides the flow, it's always fun to follow how he spontaneously connects the dots between lines that initially seem random, which is why I think people completely trying to evaluate him based on some wack:dope punchline ratio completely miss the point -- "Dr. Carter" doesn't suffer from him saying "sweet like cake" when he's doing a million other things on the same track, for instance. And yeah, sonically it's all over the place, but who said that was a bad thing?
Choice cuts: "Dr. Carter," "Let the Beat Build," "You Ain't Got Nuthin" (feat. Juelz Santana and Fabolous)

Kanye West -- 808s & Heartbreak. Not as good as his last two albums, and predictably it didn't win over anyone already busy whining about how 'Ye's a non-rapping drama queen, but way better than you might think a Kanye as T-Pain album'd turn out. "Heartless" is one of 'Ye's weakest singles ever and the album runs out of steam after "Street Lights," but otherwise this does a great job of pushing his sound into bleaker territory and manipulating autotune for emotional effect in a way that no one else really has been since T-Pain popularized it. I'll admit it could be a nice change of pace if his next one ended up being lighter than this and Graduation though.
Choice cuts: "Welcome to Heartbreak" (feat. Kid Cudi,) "Amazing" (feat. Young Jeezy,) "Paranoid" (feat. Mr. Hudson)

Big Boi feat. Andre 3000 and Raekwon -- "Royal Flush." AKA my token attempt to prove that this blog isn't against everything that sounds old school. Really though, it's dope even though neither Big Boi or Rae bring anything to the table. That's alright when you've got a smooth-rolling beat like this though, and 'Dre kills his spot, which sounds longer than Big and Rae's verses combined.

Lloyd feat. Lil Wayne -- "Girls Around the World." I somehow doubt I'll ever buy one of Lloyd's albums, but up to now he's had better chemistry with Weezy F. Baby than his other requisite R&B collaborator T-Pain. A great laid-back, bass-heavy jam that's perfect for late-night driving, and Wayne drops one of his best post-Carter III verses...even though yeah I realize he starts by riffing on a Rakim verse. The beat samples "Paid in Full" though, so he probably felt obligated or something.

Jay-Z -- "Ain't I" and "Jockin' Jay-Z." I have caveats here -- I think Jay's flow sucks on "Ain't I" and I don't like "Jockin' Jay-Z" that much. Still, I thought the negative reaction to "Jockin'" was overblown, mostly because it's one of the only (the only?) songs in the last year where Jay's flow sounds relatively revitalized, even though he still drops some clunky lines (especially that "my flow's pretty...sick!" bit.) "Ain't I" meanwhile is the type of vintage warped Timbaland beat the guy just doesn't make anymore. Especially dig how he constantly switches up the beat and throws new layers of stretched-out synths and guitars on top of it as the song goes on. If it got remixed with better Jay verses or another rapper then I'd be happy.

Shawty Lo feat. Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Plies and Lil Wayne -- "Dey Know (Remix.)" I still think the horn sample sounds stilted (the intro makes it seem like it's gonna be hotter than it is,) but it helps that the remix includes way more talented Southern rappers (and Plies) who all come through with hot verses. And killing Lo with his own flow, in Jeezy and Luda's case.

John Legend feat. Kanye West -- "It's Over." Would've been a better single than the Andre 3000-featuring "Green Light" if it was released as one, even though Yeezy-Pain adds nothing to the track. I would say that this is the one beat Pharrell Williams did for another artist that was good this year, but he's only listed as the writer for whatever reason. In any case, blippy "futuristic" R&B done right.

Erykah Badu -- "Honey." I'm not familiar enough with 9th Wonder's catalogue to definitively say which side I come down on in the good producer/boring motherfucker debate (I'd guess the latter based on what I've heard,) but he did his thing on this track, another good example of synth-washed futuresex/whateverR&B this year, with more of a throwback edge.

Busta Rhymes feat. Reek da Villain, Spliff Star, Lil Wayne, Nas, The Game and Big Daddy Kane -- "Don't Touch Me (Throw da Water on 'Em) (Remix.)" Works as the anti-"Speedin'" remix, since the emcees involved actually seem to give a shit about bringing their A-game. And a killer frenetic beat doesn't hurt.

DJ Khaled -- "Go Hard (Instrumental.)" I would've said the regular T-Pain and auto-Yeezy version if only for Kanye dropping one of the rap quotes of the year with "I'ma tell you like George Bush told me -- fuck y'all niggas I'm outta here," but I think the autotune madness somewhat obscures the tidal wave of a beat on this. Proof that The Runners can sound good even when they're not trying to remake "Hustlin'."

N.E.R.D. -- Seeing Sounds. What 808s & Heartbreak might be like if it wasn't such a downer and every song sounded completely different. I wasn't sure if Pharrell had it in him after some of the shit he'd put out in the last year or two, but he really put it down here, and explored a lot of different styles without overreaching. And even though they use synthesizers, The Neptunes's beats sound great with live instrumentation in a way, say, Swizz Beatz or Lil' Jon's production probably wouldn't, thanks to their emphasis on melody and bridges. Shame Neptunes production for outside artists continues to suck, but if they release an album this good every now and then I can't complain that much.
Choice cuts: "Yeah You," "Love Bomb," "You Know What" (and "Time for Some Action" for the Clipse heads)

Snoop Dogg -- Ego Trippin. Granted, the words "overlooked" and "Snoop Dogg" don't seem to gel, but if I recall right this got its ass kicked commercially by a Rick Ross album of all things. And I'll admit, I haven't really listened to it since it came out, but there're some jams on here besides "Sensual Seduction," especially in the first half. If nothing else, it's way better than the other West Coast rap album that got everyone's attention this year.
Choice cuts: "Press Play," "Sexual Eruption," "Life of da Party" (feat. Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B.)

Southern rap albums not by Dwayne Carter, whose album doesn't happen to sound that Southern. More on specific examples later. No, this isn't a product of Wayne stannery, it just seemed as though the oncoming recession (no Jeezy) affected Southern rappers' ability to get quality beats. When Rick Ross releases the album with the best good:wack song ratio of the bunch (4:11 to be exact,) mostly thanks to a few soul-sampling tracks that sound decidedly un-Southern, you've got a problem.

"Hipster rap." Actually just The Knux, since they were the only guys I heard who sounded like they had potential and therefore the only ones whose album I decided to check out. Unfortunately their debut Remind Me in 3 Days... comes off as rap/rock fusion done in the most boring way possible. I'm not a big fan of "Cappuccino" but it's aeons ahead of the rest of the songs there. I might be interested in hearing this Rah Al Millio dude on a track with Big Boi though, just for kicks.

T.I. -- Paper Trail. I might be the only person on Earth who actually liked T.I. vs T.I.P. better than King and thought T.I. was improving as a rapper, so I was hoping he'd step in to give Wayne some kind of competition for King of the South/Best Rapper Alive '08 Edition. Instead, not only did he pick some of the most drab, empty synth-laden beats of his career, but he forgot to rap like he gives a shit. If this is what he sounds like after writing his rhymes down, he might want to consider going back to the Jay-Z method.
Redeeming cuts: "No Matter What," "What Up, What's Haapnin'," "Swagga Like Us" (Jay-Z and T.I. feat. Kanye West and Lil' Wayne)

Young Jeezy -- The Recession. I've felt somewhat uncomfortable about Jeezy's music because of how overt his whole trapper not a rapper image is, as pointless as it may get to talk about which rappers in that mold are a "worse" influence, but from a purely musical and stylistic standpoint his last album The Inspiration was pretty dope through and through. And I was hoping against my better judgment that with the new album he'd expand on the drug-dealing shtick and mix his usual lyrics with some form of interesting political commentary. Unfortunately, The Recession plays like a generic Southern (t)rap album with cut-rate, plastic synth production, only with the added "insight" that we're in a recession. Apparently that was enough to trick some people into liking it.
Redeeming cuts: "Circulate," "Put On" (feat. Kanye West)

Nas -- Untitled. I make no secret of my general distaste for Nas's albums and my preference for his once-rival Jay-Z, but 2006's Hip Hop Is Dead was an exception to that rule and I thought it was pretty solid, in large part because for once Nas was rapping over beats that weren't audio NyQuil. And actually, like I mentioned in my post on this album, I was kinda surprised that Nas seemed to have some pretty clear-cut ideas here, as opposed to the pseudo-intellectual rants he usually goes on when dealing with anything political. He doesn't really provide any obvious answers to the problems he brings up, but I don't think that's the point. As a piece of music, though, the album fails due to Nas's usual problems -- sleep-inducing production and the fact that as accomplished as he is, I can never really shake the feeling that he isn't the most stylistically flexible emcee around. One of his more interesting failures though, at the least.
Redeeming cuts: "America," "N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master,)" "Fried Chicken" (feat. Busta Rhymes)

The Roots -- Rising Down. I was debating putting this under this category, because I can't say I was anticipating it all that much. Still, on paper the idea of a more dystopian take on Graduation's synth-happy production/a more accessible version of the claustrophobic material El-P does sounded like it might be interesting, and I couldn't get into the album. Thought the production could've been better layered if they wanted to capture the vibe they were going for, even the beats that initially sound intriguing like the title track and "Criminal" get tired really quickly.
Redeeming cut: "The Show" (feat. Common and Dice Raw)

Wale -- The Mixtape About Nothing. I tried to like it, really. And if the response had been "this guy'll release a dope album in the future" I might not have put it in this category. But when it started being talked about as one of the best albums of the year after it dropped I just didn't get it. The beats are monochromatic and the guy raps like he's constantly short on breath -- his voice sounds strained for lack of a better word. And I'm not expecting state-of-the-art production on a mixtape, but this isn't something I'd be able to get much replay value out of no matter how good the rapping is. Also, I was gonna mention this with The Knux too, but these "thinking man's" rappers tend to be pretty underwhelming when they try to do party shit, the songs never sound like they pop off the way they should. Not saying you gotta go "Lollipop" but I'd like to think Wale can make something more exciting than "Back in the Go-Go." 

ABN -- It Is What It Is and Killer Mike -- I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II. Two of the Internet's favorite Southern rap albums of the year so far as I can tell, both sunk by cheap keyboard production. And in Z-Ro and Trae's case, emcees that I don't know sound stylistically varied enough to hold down a whole album. I'm ignorant of their solo catalogues though, so I might revise my opinion there in the future. Mike on the other hand is a rapper I might enjoy more over an entire album if he just got better production, much as I don't fuck with a lot of really angry rap. I can't handle the truth.
Redeeming cut: "Still Throwed" (It Is What It Is)

That real hip-hop shit. Sticking with the name of the blog and everything. Black Milk's Tronic was at least slightly interesting in its attempt to mesh some synth elements with its boom-bap template, even though nothing really made an impression on me. This Elzhi dude, though, I dunno. I'd describe my issue with him as my issue with Nas's style, only exaggerated to the nth degree. As in, the rhymes may look intricately layered on paper, but the person rapping them doesn't flow in an engaging way so it doesn't mean much. That and their beat selection tends to match their lack of charisma.

G-Unit -- T.O.S. (Terminate on Sight.) An easy target, but I gotta mention it anyway. Other rappers may release albums with shitty production, but 50 Cent is the only one who seems as though he actively tries to get the cheapest, most generically menacing beats possible. Who needs quality music after you've gone 6x platinum off your debut anyway? He's a business, maan.

Common -- Universal Mind Control. I was hoping against the odds that The Neptunes would deliver some kind of space-age masterpiece for Common, considering it was inevitably going to get more attention in hip-hop circles than the N.E.R.D. album, but no such luck. Based on this and a couple of the beats they wrote together on the N.E.R.D., I'm not sure how much collaborative chemistry Pharrell and Chad Hugo have anymore, though honestly this sounds almost indistinguishable from the shitty keyboard noodling and tinny drum programming Pharrell's been doing a lot of by himself over the last 1-2 years, only with Hugo showing up to throw a few mildly spacey effects on top. And I guess Common feels like he has to break out of being stereotyped as a boring conscious rapper, but stuff like "Sex 4 Suga" is just embarrassing. It's not like he's gonna shake that image when he includes some of the most vapid "uplifting" songs of his career in the second half anyway.

Fun fact: The "Punch Drunk Love" remix, which isn't on the album, is better than every other song here. Not to say it's that good, though.

Fat Joe -- The Elephant in the Room. Fat Joe is the anti-Jay-Z, mindlessly trend-hopping where up through The Blueprint Jay linked up with talented up-and-coming producers who complemented his style. It doesn't help that he's possibly the most generic and unconvincing hustler rapper alive. Probably the biggest failure of the whole "let's throw a bunch of in-demand producers together and the album'll be hot!" formula this year.

...Well Fat Joe's a pretty anticlimactic note to end on, but that about wraps up my love/hate (mostly hate) take on '08 hip hop. Might have some stray thoughts on the year for another post, but I figured I should get around to doing some kind of half-assed list first. Anyway, here's to '09 being a better year for the genre. Though this whole Ron Browz "Pop Champagne"/"Arab Money" business? Not a good first omen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Song of the summer: A scientific analysis

Is it an unspoken rule that every blog post has to have a picture on top? I mean not to seem like I have a creative block with that or anything...

Anyway, I figure I'll have a more in-depth post about my thoughts on current music, politics, life and all that happy shit one of these days so this blog's more than straight album reviews and talking about how The Neptunes and Timbaland are better than your favorite producers, but what can I say, I've been busy, school's starting, and since summer's ending (even though it's gonna be retarded hot in LA for a month or so more...I miss Bay Area weather,) I thought I'd take some time to look at what could be considering this season's signature song. Enjoy.

The candidates...drumroll please.

Katy Perry -- "I Kissed a Girl" for being this year's obnoxious "My Humps" except worse;

Usher feat. Young Jeezy -- "Love in This Club" for being the summer's ubiquitous kinda club kinda slow jam, complete with another Timbaland for Dummies Polow da Don beat and a terrible Jeezy verse;

Estelle feat. Kanye West -- "American Boy" for its overall smooth summer vibe and Kanye having the most fun he has since "Drunk and Hot Girls;"

Lil Wayne feat. Static Major -- "Lollipop" for being the lewd club jam of the summer that every girl likes and guys act like they're too cool for;

Chris Brown -- "Forever" for playing every time I turn on the radio despite being corny as shit (can you tell I'm not a big Polow fan yet?;)

Rihanna -- "Take a Bow" for being this summer's "Irreplaceable" except more eye-rolling (no disrespect ladies of course;)

Rick Ross feat. T-Pain -- "The Boss," David Banner feat. Yung Joc and Chris Brown -- "Get Like Me" and Plies feat. Ne-Yo -- "Bust It Baby, Pt. 2" for being the shitty Southern rap singles du jour;

Lil Wayne -- "A Milli" for being completely ridiculous;

Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West -- "Put On" for being the latest requisite too-big-for-your-speakers Jeezy banger;

Mack 10 feat. Birdman and G. Malone -- "Big Baller (Remix)" for being the slightly generic gangsta jam of the summer that they probably only play in LA or something;

The Game feat. Keyshia Cole -- "Game's Pain" for Game trying to get you all nostalgic;

N.E.R.D. -- "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)" as Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo's bizarre choice of a lead single off Seeing Sounds;

and of course, Kidz in the Hall -- "Drivin' Down the Block" for making driving around while bumping your favorite music sound like the most boring thing ever. Was this released way earlier than summer? Ah, whatever.

Well damn. This isn't really hard considering there's only a few songs on this list that I really even like, but let's take a look anyway.

First off, we gotta get rid of "Love in This Club" and "Forever." "Love" isn't awful or anything, but the beat's too stiff for its own good, made worse by the fact that Polow apparently made it from two Apple GarageBand presets. And Jeezy really shouldn't try chick rap. "Forever" meanwhile is just plain fruity. And I've been known to enjoy my share of debatably fruity songs on occasion. See: "SexyBack," "Umbrella," songs involving the castrated singing of Pharrell Williams, etc. etc. But if I liked "Forever" I'd really have to start questioning my manliness. The fact that Polow's beat is basically an overly glossy, streamlined/Euro-ized version of "SexyBack," complete with the same drums, doesn't help matters.

Jeezy's "Put On," Wayne's "A Milli" and Mack 10's "Big Baller" remix I'm more sympathetic to. I mean they're all prime driving around in your car material while feeling badass material. However, "A Milli" blowing up aside, they don't really have that broad summer appeal. And I mean summer's supposed to be about good times, not amped the fuck up/angry shit. Though rapping along with "A Milli?" Good (potentially embarrassing) times.

"Game's Pain" and "Drivin' Down the Block" pretty much fall under the same category for me. Songs with middling beats and emcees of questionable talent that are liked based on reasons that don't seem to have a lot to do with the actual music. The former for The Game trying to give us another nostalgia trip, and the latter as Naledge's intentionally dorky (not in a good way) spin on rapping about your car. Kanye should freestyle over that beat sometime to show dude how to do goofiness right. And I wonder if Game thinks he's slick or something for grabbing Jay-Z's "Can't Knock the Hustle" producers for his album's lead single when he's been constantly dissing the guy for no reason. Damn, he showed him...

I'm not gonna say anything about the Rick Ross, Plies and David Banner singles, except that their shittiness should be self-evident. You know rap's in trouble when those are some of its biggest hits this year.

"Take a Bow" and "I Kissed a Girl." Now don't get me wrong, I can definitely tolerate Rihanna's song better, but put it like this -- when she performed it at Kanye's Glow in the Dark tour and followed up with the even more contrived "Unfaithful," it was cue for me to get more drinks. Clearly I'm some kind of chauvinist who doesn't understand women's pain. "I Kissed a Girl" meanwhile shouldn't need an explanation. Well OK -- there's guilty pleasures, and then there's songs that manage to cross that "different strokes dude" line into objectively awful territory. So I guess you can at least say "I Kissed a Girl's" helpful for better understanding the difference.

While I appreciate Pharrell's cutting analysis of cocaine-snorting girls on "Everyone Nose" and the song's grown on me, again it's not something I really associate with the whole summer vibe. I'm still not really sure why it was picked as the lead single, other than the fact that it's one of only three tracks on the album that has both Pharrell and Chad Hugo's input, or Pharrell wanting to maintain N.E.R.D.'s eccentric image. Seriously, they need to drop one of those chick tracks as a single already, those are the jams.

So that leaves us with "American Boy" and "Lollipop." Both songs that I happen to be a big fan of, and no not just because they both involve two of my favorite rappers, although yeah that helps. Now before anyone starts to roll their eyes at my inevitable choice here, let me just say that "American Boy" definitely has more of a summer and beach vibe. "Lollipop" meanwhile makes me think more of people drunk at a party looking stupid mimicking Weezy's autotuned singing. That said, the song was ubiquitous this summer, and I think anyone who even parties just occasionally was eventually won over at least somewhat by just how bizarre the whole thing is. Am I right? I mean c'mon, us bloggers are all around the 20-something range right, let's not act too cool for this stuff just yet.

Which means our winner is...N.E.R.D.'s "Windows." OK, so "Lollipop." Predictable yes, but hey sometimes the masses are right. "Windows" really should've been a single though, that song automatically gives me images of hot SoCal girls on the beach. Alright, I'll stop talking about that album.

I realize I included some songs here that probably shouldn't've qualified in the first place, and maybe left out a couple as well. But what can I say, Rihanna's "Disturbia" is no "Umbrella" or even "Don't Stop the Music," Ne-Yo's "Closer" is no "Because of You," and "Whatever You Like" = worst T.I. single ever? Then again I guess he did do that one single with Jazze Pha a few years back... As for Madonna's "4 Minutes," it's not bad but a) it's Madonna and b) Timbaland needs to come with something fresh on the pop front before Polow tricks people into thinking he's better than him. Not sure if being slightly involved with the new Pussycat Dolls album's gonna cut it.

As for songs of the fall and winter? Hopefully nothing involving T-Pain or Chris Brown. Or both.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Attention West Coastans: Snoop Dogg put out a better album this year

Feel the realness

For a while now, I've found The Game's ascent to official "popular rapper it's OK to like" status irritating on a lot of levels. Normally I try to be a live and let live guy as much as I can, but it's a little annoying when by far the most mediocre, humorless rapper in the mainstream seems to get let off the hook for completely specious reasons (awww, he's obsessed with Dre, how cute!) Especially when actually innovative, exciting rappers like Kanye West and Lil Wayne, who are basically singlehandedly keeping creativity in popular hip hop alive right now, still can't seem to escape the same tired half-assed criticisms. Actually, as far as stale by-the-numbers gangsta rap goes you can look at 50 Cent and Game as Dr. Dre's twin shit late-career proteges. 50 being the heartless, artistically devoid villain 'course, and Game being what would happen if you had a wannabe suburban thug, hip hop-obsessed little brother who decided to rap. And as far as big-budget rap formula goes, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' is better than The Documentary.

Of course, the easy excuse for Game is hot beats, duude. And don't get me wrong, I'm sympathetic. I've been known to enjoy my share of albums from non-rappin'-ass producers that have great production. Thing is, The Game's beats just aren't that good people. Documentary is a slightly better version of your typical "sounds good the first time you hear it" major-label rap album with shit tons of money dumped into it -- while there's a few highlights, "Hate It or Love It" and "Put You on the Game" are the only songs I really come back to that much. Doctor's Advocate meanwhile just had too many Scott Storch/"J.R." Rotem Dre-lite piano knockoffs and lame over-the-top bombast to qualify as anywhere near great. Really, the dude just seems to benefit from a general hip-hop mentality that favors "hard" beats over poppier material regardless of their actual quality. Or in the case of his smoother material, enough nostalgia for the West Coast style that I guess makes people go easy on "J.R." Rotem's latest Casio synth masterpiece.

At least the guy's last two albums had a handful of good tracks between 'em though. Game's latest effort LAX, meanwhile, isn't far removed from your usual bargain-bin G-Unit album. You gotta think that the guy's just getting a pass for being The Game and popular hip hop sucking at this point, much like Bun B's lazy II Trill album earlier this year. First off, let me just say that so-called "bangers" and musicality aren't mutually exclusive. Kanye hooks Game up with the album's only real standout beat on "Angel" that proves as much. Too many beats on LAX try to be bangers but end up sounding pointlessly aggressive and generic. The Raekwon collaboration "Bulletproof Diaries" is a good example despite being the best track in that mold here. There's a bunch of synthesized strings and screaming guitars that're supposed to sound menacing, but the ultimate effect is hollow and the beat just lurches around. Of course, the whiny synth G-funk knockoffs are still in effect on the album's first two tracks, and Scott Storch shows up for some of his usual synth noodling on "Let Us Live." And let's not even talk about the chick tracks. Put it this way -- they sound possibly even more pandering, forced and clueless than anything 50 Cent's done recently. No small task. Admittedly, I might like "Touchdown" more for the Curtis Mayfield sample and Raheem DeVaughn's smooth hook if the beat hadn't been buried under a pile of synth shyte. But if these songs are any indication Game just can't do chick tracks. Though maybe if he spent more time comparing girls to his favorite rappers...

Other than the beats generally sucking and Game having the dullest voice and style of any rapper right now -- he still rambles his lines without ever really switching up his flow for different beats, sounding like Nas with half the technique -- the worst part of LAX is still his grating personality. The best rappers talk about how dope they are and then show you that they aren't just talking shit. Game's mentality can be best summed up by his whining on "Ya Heard" that he's getting marginalized by people's praise for Kanye and Wayne. The guy's easily one of the most obnoxiously self-absorbed figures in rap, yet some people seem to find his constant comparisons of himself to other rappers as somehow endearing. Why? Probably because he's the only prominent rapper besides Kanye who overtly references the old school, but the dude still comes off as a nagging little kid desperate for respect. If anyone can explain how exactly this makes him an interesting rapper, let me know. Different ain't always better.

In the end, LAX is only really notable because even more than his last two albums, it vindicates every criticism that's been made about Game since the beginning. He's got a boring monoflow that people mistake for consistency, boring beats that people mistake for bangers, and a boring personality that people mistake for being...so boring it's somehow intriguing? I dunno. In any case it'd be nice if this album flops and we're officially done with everyone involved with the G-Unit era. Clean slate. Maybe Dr. Dre'll make up for it by putting out Detox in the next year (or five) even. And hopefully I won't have to do another one of these once Young Buck puts out a shitty album of his own that people go crazy over thanks to his "brave" split with G-Unit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slept-on album of the summer: N.E.R.D.'s "Seeing Sounds"

 Shit, they're coming to turn hip hop gay! Someone call DJ Premier before it's too late

For a second there, I was starting to agree with the Pharrell haters.

Don't get me wrong -- the idea that The Neptunes are wack producers because they're Top 40 hacks or something is ridiculous. There seems to be this phobia in the hip-hop community of anything The Neptunes have produced that isn't a) the Clipse, b) minimalist like their beats for the Clipse, or c) Jay-Z's still great "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me.)" I guess the negative attitude toward their most successful work could be attributed to their flashy style, girls liking most of their best known songs, and the fact that Phalsetto Pharrell likes to sing over their beats. Ewww I know. But I've found the idea that they're flash-in-the-pan pop producers absurd on its face for a while now. If you can pull your ears away from "Grindin'" and Hell Hath No Fury for a second, The Neptunes have plenty of awesome work on their resume, chief among 'em their overlooked N.E.R.D. pop/rock project.

But first, back to why I was starting to agree with the Pharrell phell the phuck off (my bad that was really lame, I'll stop) haters. You see, ever since Pharrell started producing by himself under the Neptunes name two or so years ago (you can tell because he's the only one who gets songwriting credits,) he's been ridiculously lazy for anyone not named Pharrell Williams, the Clipse, Jay-Z, or Lupe Fiasco...'s only truly great song "I Gotcha" (yep get mad.) Previously his phoned in third-rate keyboard wankery was confined to select cuts on Snoop Dogg and Twista albums as well as shitty singles for Ludacris and Gwen Stefani, but things looked particularly bad recently when Skateboard P went one for seven on Madonna's new album and managed to get completely murdered by a bunch of Timbaland/Justin Timberlake/Danjahandz beats that, while good, generally aren't anything the dynamic trio hasn't done better before. Not that I consider myself a Madonna fan or would be interested in an album of hers except in the case where my favorite hip-hop producers are involved, but that was really Pharrell's best opportunity to re-launch himself into the mainstream consciousness, and he didn't seem to give a shit. Then again, maybe he, well, genuinely doesn't give a shit about being a mainstream presence at this point?

The thing about Pharrell and his fellow pop-nerd-in-crime Chad Hugo is that some of their best work has flown under the radar. While I know the type of rap fans who see guys like DJ Premier, Pete Rock and RZA as the sole definition of "real hip hop" (not dissing any of 'em by the way, just that some people seem to have a tendency to write off talented producers who don't fall under their true-school template) seem to consider The Neptunes's work with the Clipse their best, probably cuz especially on Hell Hath their beats are more spare and boom bap-oriented, I personally think N.E.R.D. represents The Neptunes at their most creative. It's a project that naturally automatically alienates hardcore both hip-hop heads and "damn, they think they're better than hip hop!" anti-"elitist" types, but the fact of the matter is that using live instrumentation allows The Neptunes are able to expand on their sound in a way they can't with outside rappers. You combine an insanely intricately layered take on the Neptunes's various sounds with Pharrell's weird-ass sense of humor and you've got a winning formula. N.E.R.D. does a lot of songs that're shallow/sex-obsessed on the surface but take on the subjects in an entertaining, self-aware way that elevates them beyond, say, a disgusting "love rap" from Rick Rawls.

Which brings me to Seeing Sounds, N.E.R.D.'s latest flop/masterpiece. Based on the lead single and longest song title ever "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom,)" which took a bit to grow on me and still isn't one of the album's best songs, I was skeptical that the album'd be any good. I mean, I'd take an experimental mess over the lame shit Pharrell's done for outside artists in the last two years, but it'd still be a mess. Thankfully though, Seeing Sounds is a good kind of mess -- it manages to be N.E.R.D.'s most stylistically varied album yet without letting its ambitions exceed its quality. It jumps from the percussion clusterfuck of "Everyone Nose" to straight-up pop on "Windows," Neptunes sheen-meets-unhinged Timbaland drums on "Spaz," jazz...ishness on "Yeah You," psychadelia on "Love Bomb..." and it's all good. Well, with a few exceptions, but I'm willing to let a few half-baked ideas slide when the rest of the album's as great as it is.

I'd imagine the principal criticism against N.E.R.D. is that Pharrell can't sing, which I gotta call bullshit on. Sure he's not exactly original, but he's got an expressive, smooth voice that works with the music here, and to me any "omigod my ears are bleeding!" response is a sign of antiAndresque purist overreaction. (Although Pharrell is definitely a better singer than a rapper, unlike Andre 3000.) Even when the guy strains his voice a little too much for his own good, as on his "youuuuu!" bit at the end of "Yeah You's" hook, you get the sense that he's aware of his limits and just kinda fucking around. The half-serious, self-aware messing around vibe makes even more sense when you consider that despite being the smoothest, most textured Pharrell beat in recent memory, the lyrics on the song are really about some crazy stalker chick. Don't worry though, I'm pretty sure any ladies will be too into the groove to tell or care.

This type of half-serious, half-fucking around atmosphere is there throughout the album, whether we're talking non-rappin'-ass rapping N.E.R.D. sidekick Shay Haley sounding hilarious delivering some of the dumbest "pickup" lines of the year on "Time for Some Action" (sample: "You know only I can smash you right. Well alright!,") Pharrell psychoanalyzing cocaine-snorting girls on "Everyone Nose," or the fact that "Love Bomb" is a let's-fuck-to-save-the-world song. Still, N.E.R.D. wouldn't be nearly as compelling if their music didn't sound as great as it does, and along with Chad Hugo's great work on new wave/alt-rock singer Kenna's Make Sure They See My Face from last year this album suggests that Pharrell and Hugo may actually be better off separate than together right now. Only three songs here are written by both Neptunes, including "Anti Matter," a grating buzzed-out synth mess that's the worst beat of theirs I've heard in a while. While they more than make up for it with "Love Bomb," the trippiest song on the album, the Pharrell-written highlights here prove that the reason he's put out a bunch of trash beats lately isn't becuase he isn't insanely talented, but because he's been a lazy motherfucker. The ridiculously frenetic "Spaz" is what should have been the album's lead single, and "You Know What" rolls along effortlessly with a sound that brings to mind a Neptune'd version of Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder" (don't front.) I'm not exaggerating or being contrarian when I say that his best beats here give Timbaland and Kanye's recent work a run for its money, even though Graduation is a better album through and through. Hearing the differences between Pharrell's work here and Hugo's work on the Kenna album also clarifies The Neptunes's creative specialties for production nerds like me -- Pharrell's beats are more pop/funk-based, while Hugo's the weird space-age synth nerd. Well, you also get more minimalist percussion-heavy Pharrell stuff sometimes as with his work for the Clipse, but I prefer when there's a little more going on with his beats.

While it's not surprising considering "Everyone Nose" has no crossover appeal, it's kinda disappointing that this album bombed when I dunno if I see Pharrell hitting another creative peak like this before the year's over. My prediction: Common's gonna eventually put out Invincible Summer/Autumn/Winter, it's gonna have a bunch of wack-ass Pharrell-in-his-sleep beats, people're gonna rightfully shit on it (though some may try to spare infallible saint Common from criticism...I mean it's not like he chooses his beats or anything,) and the poor multimillionaire'll remain a misunderstood genius. But maybe he wants it to be that way. Who knows though, maybe something cool'll come out of that CRS Kanye/Pharrell/Lupista collaborative group. In the meantime, while I know a lot of bloggers are caught up in the Great Hipster (?) Rap Rise of '08, Lil Wayne and Pharrell are the dudes holding it down for weirdcoolness right now. Believe it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nas: Most Frustrating Rapper Alive

To the people who think Lil Wayne, now officially the biggest superstar in hip hop, is the anti-lyrical devil incarnate, Nas's Untitled is one of the only pure hip-hop albums with the potential to "save" the genre this year outside of The Roots's already released and extremely underwhelming Rising Down. There's been so much talk about the "controversy" (hate the overuse of that word, news always uses it to equivocate) surrounding the album's original title Nigger that it's put added pressure on Nas to deliver, and obviously since he made such a big deal about naming his album it'd just make any half-assed effort look even worse.

So Al Sharpton got mad (shocker I know,) at least one politician threatened to push to divest state money from Universal Music Group, and Nas has gone on record as saying that him, David Banner and Young Jeezy among other rappers are the new voice of urban black youth and it's time for Jesse Jackson to shut the hell up. Really Nas, Jeezy? I mean I get how he could think he talks about the "struggle" but still. It's also kinda interesting after their whole spat in 2006 over the hip hop is dead thing and Nas dissing "hustler not a rapper"s on more than one occasion, but anyway. Nas's possible delusions of grandeur aside, Untitled actually does deliver in that Nas has a clear, smart and to-the-point message here. Namely that there's still all sorts of problems the black community's dealing with, both from their own current vices and the legacy of racism in the past. While there's not institutionalized racism now like there was back before Lyndon Johnson, only clueless Republicans (particularly of the Bush variety) would take the easy way out and say that everything's peachy and we all have equal opportunity nowadays. And I'm a registered Republican, so this isn't any crazed left-wing deal. It's just that racial differences right now manifest themselves in the continuing socioeconomic divide between whites and blacks/Latinos, and the cultural differences that've prevented us from seeing eye to eye on a bunch of issues.

For me, as someone who thinks a lot of Nas's political "statements" in the past have been misguided, not as smart as he thinks bullshit (namely his low-point with Street's Disciple's "American Way" and "These Are Our Heroes," the latter in particular with its bass-ackwards fake black/real black logic,) this is all a good thing. This album proves that when he wants to be, Nas really is one of the smartest, sharpest dudes in the genre, and I found myself hard-pressed to disagree with the various points he brings up here. Well OK, so I can't say I'm a fan of Louis Farrakhan from what I know about the guy, but Nas's rapping on the song he's mentioned on is more about revolutionary ideas in general, not explicit glorification. Farrakhan's name only actually comes up in the looped sampled recording that snakes in and out of the track.

However, given that this is Nas's big statement album, naturally certain issues he talks about are gonna be more interesting than others, especially when he still seems to have no ear for good beats. "America" and "N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)" are two of the most poignant songs Nas has done in recent memory both because they contain some of Nas's most potent commentary in a while (the former erases the piece of shit known as "My Country" from my memory with a real interesting, nuanced examination of black American history and contemporary problems, and the latter is a great look at both white perception of blacks and black self-doubt) and two of the best beats on the album. "Fried Chicken," meanwhile, proves that Nas needs to lighten up and make weird concept songs like this more often, much like "Dr. Knockboot" (yes I'm serious) and "Who Killed It?" have shown in the past. While the bad habit analogy between the black stereotype of loving fried chicken and an obsession with loose, my bad I mean sexually liberated women may seem "what the fuck?" on paper, Nas and Busta Rhymes really make it into a song that's both entertaining and smart.

But the sleep-inducing or just wack beats that plague the rest of the album (Nas is on Def Jam, I know he may not get the biggest budget in the world but you'd think he'd be savvy enough to get better producers) essentially make Untitled like a political speech you really agree with: sure the person who gave it made a lot of good points, but that doesn't mean you're gonna YouTube it a million times. And while I know Nastans like to blame Nas's album's failings entirely on his beats as if the guy's some infallible saint not responsible for his albums sucking, that's not the only problem here, as his flow is still a little too straightforward and not flexible enough for my liking. He's got some compelling passion in his delivery here, but his flow just can't carry songs that don't have interesting enough beats, especially when like I said the topics he takes on other than the three songs I mentioned just aren't as hard-hitting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting Nas to get his Lil Wayne on and stylistically experiment all over the place, especially on an album like this where it could take away from his message. But there's something to be said for switching up your flow and cadence for emphasis and effect. The only time Nas really steps outside the box here stylistically is when he rocks an intentionally lazy, slow flow on "Testify," where it's kinda amusing to hear him diss his casual suburban fans using a goofy vocal inflection but that's about it. And the NyQuil beat from Dr. Dre piano man Mark Batson doesn't help. Told ya in my last post they weren't as good without him...well actually come to think of it, some of Dre and Batson's beats together have kinda sucked too.

It's not like I wanted Nas to fail here. If I was some deranged hater I'd call his commentary here convoluted and stupid when it isn't at all, and him releasing a good or great album would really help when you consider that the title of his last album has been progressively proven more and more true. I mean shit, Lil Wayne and Kanye West are just about the only viable and truly talented rap stars left. However, as much I agree with Nas here (although, can I just say that he completely ignored a lot of legit points he could've ripped into FOX News for on "Sly Fox." A lot. And c'mon man did he really have to rehash the tired-ass "don't focus on me, focus on violent movies!" argument instead of defending his music against douchebag supreme O'Reilly?,) I can't help but think this would work better as some kind of keynote speech rather than an album. Someone take creative control over Nas's beats next time around, seriously.

Oh, and can I just say that the love for Polow da Don needs to stop, "Hero's" not that good people. Ciara's Sexiest Robo-R&B Song Ever "Promise" and his two beats on will.i.am's album (don't laugh) = still his only truly great songs. Yet more proof of my groundbreaking thesis that hip-hop heads have bad taste in which guys are the "good" pop producers, listen to more Timbaland and Danjahandz and get back to me. I know Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Madonna are icky, but you'll get over it promise. Oh, and pick up N.E.R.D.'s Seeing Sounds while you're at it, I know Pharrell's been tricking everyone with all the shitty beats he's given Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Twista and Common in the last two years or so, but he can still slaughter your favorite producer when he feels like it.

Speaking of which: Kanye West, N.E.R.D. and Wyclef Jean all performing at the Democratic National Convention? Fuck it I'm switching parties, not like I'm a Bush Republican anyway. But then the question is how I'd get in even after that...but don't worry, I'll make sure to become a very important political figure in the next week and a half.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wait a minute...your favorite producer's a phony! A great big phony!

Dude all this guy does is sample trip hop, Middle Eastern songs and videogames. Oh and baby sounds, seriously what kind of sick fuck does that.

Word to that one Family Guy episode. My bad if I messed the quote up.

Recently I made a very intriguing find that sparked this idea for a blog post. Originally I had a detailed defense of Dwayne Carter lined up, and while it's finished and my logic on it's pretty much bulletproof, let's face it it's only been a little over a month and people've done enough talk about Tha Carter III to last a year. So I figured I'd spare you guys...for now.

But what prompted this somewhat random topic you ask? Well you see, I was listening to Jay-Z's The Blueprint the other day and came across something interesting. In my iTunes notes for "Never Change," I have the writing credits listed as S. Carter and B. Miller. And for the record right now I only occasionally include writing credits for rap songs where someone other than the rapper/producer/sampled artist is involved, or it's a "produced by The Neptunes"-style thing where only either Pharrell Williams or Chad Hugo wrote it...but yes I am a music nerd with too much time on his hands. Anyway, I had noticed this before, but it only just now hit me -- you might know Brian "Allday" Miller as the guy listed as the second producer on Kanye's decidedly non-highlight song (it's cool though don't get me wrong) "Champion" off last year's Graduation. In some random SOHH article a while back (no I don't make a habit of reading that rag) 'Ye also admitted that Miller did Cam'ron's "Down and Out," where production and co-writing are solely credited to 'Ye. I suppose the B. Miller on "Never Change" could be a different Miller who wrote the David Ruffin sample the song uses but I kinda doubt it, though feel free to correct me if I totally missed something obvious.

The point of all this? Don't get me wrong, I'm not ignorant about the instrumental/co-writing/co-production/occasionally even (gasp!) ghost production work hip-hop producers get done for them, but this one did kinda fuck me up, if only because unlike the other two songs there's clear evidence in the liners themselves that imply that 'Ye contributed nothing to one of my favorite BP tracks. That's not the point either though. The burning question this late Sunday night is: To what extent is your favorite producer responsible for their own output? I'm not an industry insider or anything (though just you wait...) but I do read, errrr, stuff, so going by what I know let's have a look shall we.

Timbaland. After The Neptunes overtook him in popularity/eventually quality for a time (both through their improvement and his temporary slight creative rut) and Tim Mosley fell off the radar sometime around 2003 or 2004, he made his Nelly Furtado/Justin Timberlake 2006 comeback with the help of new production partner Nate "Danja" Hills (who I call by his production company name Danjahandz cuz that sounds cooler than just Danja,) who added a more overt synth-pop layer to his new work. Naturally this got Internet nerds in a frenzy about "OMG, Timbo's not doing his own work!" despite the fact that none of Danjahandz's solo beats except T.I.'s "Tell 'Em I Said That" (and even that sounds distinct, albeit with Timbaland influences) sound as great as his best work with Tim/Tim's best work before mentoring him.

The truth as far as I can tell? Well, Timbaland's more of a rhythmic/sound genius than a melodic genius. A lot of his most melodic and slightly more traditional productions (Missy Elliott's "Take Away," Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around," his Middle Eastern-sampling tracks, others I'm sure) are either done with co-writers/co-producers or use samples. Tim's not a trained musician so it makes sense that he'd have keyboardists and other instrumentalists working with him who occasionally are credited as having co-writing/co-production input on certain tracks. At the same time, none of this implies that he's not coming up with the shit himself. What's telling is that out of Tim's collaborators past and present -- Danjahandz, Scott Storch on the first JT album, random dudes you haven't heard of like Hannon Lane, Nisan Stewart, Big Tank, Craig Brockman and Brian Kidd (last seen producing two shitty Rich Boy Timbo-knockoff tracks) -- only Danja has blown up (well OK, Storch used to be hot but let's just forget about that) and if you listen to his solo beats compared to those other guys he's the only one with the potential to eventually improve to Tim's level. You can always tell when Timbaland's involved -- the melody, keys and sound effects might be completely different depending on the track, but there's always an unmistakable, unique and infectious off-kilter sense of rhythm. Often of the stuttering or beatboxed variety. So the ghost production BS to me is just that, bullshit.

Dr. Dre. It seems to me like Timbaland's overtaken Dre in ghost production whining shenanigans lately, both because Dre has kinda sucked since going one for four on Jay-Z's Kingdom Come and because Timbaland's become the hottest pop producer on the planet (though Polow da Don might be coming for the number one spot this year...not that he deserves it, "Love in This Club" is OK, Nas's "Hero" is listenable but let's not pretend it's all that far ahead of that bullshit "Forever" Chris Brown single that's all over the radio.) But Dre's been dogged by ghost production allegations for a while now -- anyone from Daz Dillinger to Mel-Man, Scott Storch, Mike Elizondo, Ron Feemster, Mark Batson and Dawaun Parker (I trust you all check your liner notes and are familiar with each and every one of these guys) depending on what era you're talking about. So is it true? Is the supposed perfectionist really just a lazy motherfucker caking off other honest people's hard work?

Well, I think the complaints about Dre are more justified than those about Timbaland, mostly because the different phases of Dre's work are pretty distinct (Timbo's changed/evolved while retaining his trademark weirdo rhythmic sense as mentioned.) West Coast G-funk, futuristic spaced-out shit on 2001, loopy minimalist Eminem shit, more straightforward hard piano for 50 Cent/G-Unit. Like Timbo Dre's not a trained musician, and while he comes up with the drum beats for songs he's talked about his process before and it's basically jam sessions where he isolates individual session players/collaborators and refines/improves their sound. There's also the fact that on a lot of Dre's best mid/late-period songs guys like Storch, Elizondo and Mark Batson tend to have at least co-writing credits, if not co-production.

Once again though, through our infallible "are these guys as good without their evil exploiting producer?" logic we observe that none of these guys have blown up on their own except Scott Storch...and really now, what songs does Storch have that're that good? OK, I like "You Ain't Know" and "Make It Rain" even though they still can't fuck with the truly elite producers' best beats, but let's not forget the cornball bullshit he put out when he was hot ("Lean Back," "Naughty Girl," the double pandering 50 Cent threat "Candy Shop"/"Just a Lil' Bit.") Oh, and a couple lame Dre-lite knockoff tracks for The Game. As for Daz Dillinger, if you can't hear the difference between his beats on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me and Dre's work on The Chronic and Doggystyle I just feel sorry for your ears. Well OK "Skandalouz" is the smoothness, but still.

DJ Premier/Pete Rock/9th Wonder. I'm not equating/comparing any of these guys so don't get mad 9th haters. However these guys all share a true-school (or in 9th's case throwback) aesthetic -- namely, soul/jazz samples and boom-bap drum patterns. As far as I know they don't get any help (though I'm less familiar with Pete Rock outside of his best known stuff -- I know, blasphemy and I'll correct it soon,) but remember that they use samples. Don't get me wrong, I like Premo and Kanye West and Just Blaze are two of my favorite rap producers so this isn't a rockist "psssh...rap takes no talent dude!" deal, but you do have a melodic advantage when you're working with previously recorded material. So think of the ghosts of soul, jazz, hell probably blues music too's past as their co-writers. Hey, they're credited as 'em in the liner notes! Unless of course on the occasion these guys don't wanna pay for sampling...those crazy hip-hop kids...

Just Blaze. Same thing as far as I can tell, I just didn't group him with those guys cuz he's basically a more hard-hitting, amped the fuck up next-gen version of DJ Premier, but not entirely true school (being vague I know)/not traditional boom bap.

Kanye West. I was also gonna include Kanye with those guys except for the fact that he actually does have collaborators like I mentioned. We all know about Jon Brion's love-or-hate orchestral contributions to Late Registration, Toomp's work on "Good Life," "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Big Brother," as well as a bunch of other instrumentalists and producers under him especially on Graduation. However, I'll let Kanye's verse on "Barry Bonds" tell it: "I don't need writeers, I might bounce ideas/But only I could come up with some shit like this." I can't lie, it'd be cooler if 'Ye did his work by himself especially when you consider that he already uses samples as the base of his beats, but "Good Life" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing" have distinct elements compared to Toomp's solo work, and again there's the fact that none of his other collaborators have blown up on their own. Well I know Brion's supposed to be a real talented dude and obviously LR wouldn't have been possible musically without him, but I can't say I'm familiar with his pop work. I know, so ignorant.

Swizz Beatz. Seriously? You've heard "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," if you can't do that shit on your own you just plain suck. I'm being hard on Swizzy though, he's really stepped his game up in the last few years. He's not elite in my mind but he's nice with the singles, as "Bring Em Out"/"I'm a Hustla"/"Diamonds on My Neck"/"It's Me Bitches" can attest to. You can't really act like "Dr. Carter's" a stroke of Swizzgenius though when he just jacked a jazz sample for it. One of my favorite Carter III tracks (shit I broke the no Wayne rule here!,) just pointing that out.

The Neptunes. And finally, we get to the purest hip-hop producers of them all (not meant to be ironic, we're talking purity from the production ghosts my friend.) Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have never been dogged by ghost production accusations, at least not to my knowledge, and almost all their work consists of original compositions. If they were Scott Storch or Lil' Jon-style Top 40 hacks I wouldn't give a shit, but they're two of the most ingenious hip-hop producers ever, so I gotta give 'em props. I've tended toward Tim since his big comeback but now I'm still not always sure who I like better. What can I say, both two, I mean three really talented dudes. Anyway Pharrell has kinda diminished the Neptunes brand in the last couple years by producing a bunch of pale second-rate beats while still credited as "The Neptunes," even though in my mind he's more than redeemed himself with the great new N.E.R.D. album, his solo debut and to a lesser extent the Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury, but there's no fronting on these guys in their prime. Actually it makes sense that a production duo wouldn't need outside help, no? From their respective solo work (seriously, check Chad Hugo's work on Kenna's Make Sure They See My Face from last year, cinematic shit) it's clear that Pharrell is the synth-pop/funk/percussion half, and Chad Hugo's the nerdier, zapping outer-space synths sci-fi guy. At their peak I'm sure they fed off each other's good ideas.

Although, while his lazy recent work for anyone not named the Clipse, himself, or N.E.R.D. (which basically is just Pharrell now come to think of it...) might have you thinking otherwise, it might be a good thing that Pharrell and Hugo are working separately now. Out of the three songs on N.E.R.D.'s Seeing Sounds that involve both Neptunes only "Love Bomb" is great. "Anti Matter" might actually be the worst Neptunes beat in the last 1-2 years, which is saying something considering the massive shit Pharrell recently took on half of Madonna's album and Common's two new songs.

Anyway, I know this kind of turned into stanning for The Neptunes at the end (and just for the record Timbaland is still the man, this isn't fair-weather/"who's hot" shenanigans,) but if you managed to make it this far hopefully we all got some edumucation on what does and doesn't go on behind the dark, shady hip-hop scenes. Don't worry, your favorite producers really do their own work. They might just get a little help sometimes.

Oh, and props to Jeff Weiss over at Passion of the Weiss. I had a nice email chat with him about the "Never Change" Jay-Z deal and originally wasn't gonna make the topic a blog, but what can I say it was a thought-provoking exchange. Plus I needed something to write about. Besides the infallibility of Weezy F. Baby that is.

UPDATE: I'm an idiot, the song 'Ye sampled for "Never Change" is in fact written by a different B. Miller, Bobby Miller actually. And it took me about five seconds on Google to just find that out. Ah well, I did get a post out of it and it's good to know the beat was his own work.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I had to do it

Hello fellow rap nerds, it's Trey Stone. You may know me...well you might not know me, but if you do at all it's probably from the assorted way too long comments I've made variously at Status Ain't Hood, Brandon Soderberg's No Trivia, DocZeus's Not a Blogger, Straight Bangin', Passion of the Weiss and maybe even the occasional post over at OhWord. I debated it for a while and figured that while due to more pressing real-life matters my updating here might be sporadic sometimes, I might as well have an outlet for my ranting and raving on hip hop, music in general, maybe some politics and anything else that pops into my mind rather than dumping comments all over the place. So consider this an experiment. At the worst, it'll just be a dead site, and at best I'll eventually get hired for some random second-rate online review site no one reads. Who knows?

As far as the blog's title, it's partially tongue-in-cheek. I do tend toward select mainstream rap (the good: Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I., producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes; the bad: Rick Ross, Plies, Flo Rida, 50 Cent, The Game, etc. etc...you know the deal) but I'm not opposed to music that's labeled real hip hop on principle. I just think a bunch of it's kinda boring and dry, you know? But then we'll see how my tastes further evolve through the bloggerating.

As for the other title...I originally had this called "Chronicles of a Late '80s Baby" but then I realized that Sickamore over at XXLmag.com back in the day (AKA 1-2 years ago) had an almost identical title for his blog over there. Call it subconscious memory of good ideas. Still, I think it's an apt title, so I just changed it to "ramblings," which I think is more appropriate for my writing style.

So again, welcome, and while my tastes may differ with several of the blog sites I mentioned they've all got some talented writers so check 'em out, which I'm sure if you're reading this you already have. And if you're one of 'em put me on your blogroll prettyplease. Or OK, you can wait to see if I post anything you think is worth a shit first. I'm cool with that.

Oh and the format might change soon. I'm still figuring this blog deal out.