6Feb/11Off

Blog Watch Edition 2: Head Or Gut

This is a weekly feature in which I spotlight weak arguments, overdetermined conclusions, fallacious assumptions, and questionable leaps of logic from all around the rap blogosphere. Please email any relevant links to thun.nation@gmail.com

No, this is not a review of Illegal’s classic Chi-Ali dis. Today’s edition focuses on a pair of reviews from different sites, focused on different releases (in this case recent offerings from Lil’B and Curren$y), utilizing different approaches, that are united by a shared love of overdetermined claims and a strange tendency to engage in armchair psychology. More details after the jump.

Lil B – Angels Exodus: Amanda Bassa’s review is a cascade of generalizing assumptions about Lil B’s music and the mental capacity of everyone not named Amanda Bassa. She starts out with the presumptuous “the masses flock to the kid, most likely thanks to sheer entertainment value,” a claim burdened by the curious pair of implicit assumptions that “sheer entertainment value” and other characteristics like originality or talent cannot reside in the same artist and that the masses cannot be attracted to both. These assumptions predictably inform the rest of the review even in instances where a greater familiarity with Lil B’s admittedly vast body of work would render them useless. In order to reluctantly praise the album Bassa feels compelled to claim that it is a complete aesthetic and moral departure from Lil B’s previous work, incorrectly  reducing the entirety of his pre-Angels discography to ” ‘Woo! Woo! Swag!’ adlibs,” “references to cooking,” “name dropping of celebrities” and “pursuing sexual romps with his male listeners’ female companions.”

When limiting her focus to the album in question, Bassa’s false binaries continue to fester. She lauds “Motivation” and “Exhibit 6” as examples of “cohesive content” ((I’m guessing she meant “coherent?” Actually, I have no idea what she meant, come to think of it.)) for the sole purpose of contrasting them to songs like “Vampires” and “All My Life” remix, whose faults are attributed to being “Based.” The idea seems to be that Lil’ B’s music suffers whenever he records a song that resembles the music he made prior to the Angels Exodus epiphany that Bassa invented to justify her mildly positive appraisal of the album’s most conventional songs. Interestingly enough, Bassa does not believe that Lil B’s supposed “artistic and mental growth” ((Do other rappers get indirectly accused of being mentally deficient or otherwise stunted prior to recording songs that appeal more widely to reviewers?)) is complete or sustainable, as she warns that the poor guy is simply prone to relapse.

Bassa’s conclusion is quite damning for both artist and listeners: fans expecting misogyny and profanity will be instantly turned off by their absence ((Because they must be inherently dumb and stubborn, right?)) while their social betters will shy from “off-kilter methods of blending rapping with simply speaking and his “skewed perspective on life.” ((Take THAT Eazy E, Bushwick Bill, Masta Killa, Rass Kass, Kool Keith, and Divine Styler!!!)) After reading this review, I have learned precious little about Lil’ B’s latest work but I am now intensely curious as to why Sassa is unable or unwilling to imagine an audience of listeners with a greater grasp of nuance than she displays in her review. Any guesses, readers?

My Gut Reaction: Curren$y – Pilot Talk II: From what I can tell, Max’s “gut reactions” are unedited, real-time reviews of albums. I am not sure what he considers to be the exact merits of this approach. The internet is already littered with short form assessments that eschew thoughtful economic prose in favor of uninformed, glib pronouncements. Any validity that might be salvaged from a long form response lies in its usefulness as a chronicle of the act of listening, responding, and interpreting. If the reviewer’s preconceived notions about the album’s quality or meaning are challenged or even refuted during the course of a single listen, then the readers might benefit from a play-by-play description of that process. The problem, however, is that such a transformational experience is a tall order for just one listening session.

Listeners do not need reviewers to tell them how to instantly respond to a piece of music. They are enmeshed in networks of  friends that serve this purpose. Max’s gut reaction is less an insightful narrative about the distinctive experience of listening to Pilot Talk II for the first time and more a rant about how his cursory examination confirmed the misgivings he developed prior to listening. His responses to individual tracks reflect his stubborn adherence to his initial sense that Pilot Talk II was released too soon after Pilot Talk, that the album is somehow rushed, both in an artistic and business sense. Instead of analyzing Curren$y’s techniques in terms of how they succeed within the contexts of individual songs, Max continually reminds us about how the repetition of words or phrases tests his short patience, as if to suggest that Curren$y has outstayed his welcome simply by releasing two albums in a single calendar year.

Elsewhere, Max engages in wild speculation about the choices that inform Curren$y’s music; every element of the album he finds faulty is attributed to one of three fictive concepts: a rush to finish the album to meet a release date, Curren$y’s weed habit, and a vague master artistic plan concocted and overseen by producer Ski. To some, such flimsy guesswork and easily countered reasoning might be amusing to read, but as I’ve already suggested, the same level of amusement can be conjured up in an AIM chat or message board discussion about the album. What does this kind of review purposefully add to what we know about Curren$y’s music or how to listen to it, especially when the “last word” is presented as axiomatic truth and not an invitation for further analysis? — Thun

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