Posts Tagged ‘analysis’

Arrest The President 3: Loaded Lux vs Calicoe

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

In his August 2012 URL/Smack battle with veteran Loaded Lux,  the upstart Calicoe rationalizes his tacit refusal to engage in a competition of poetic guile by contrasting the “real rap” of “gun bars” against the supposed effeminacy and whimsy of “metaphors.” Calicoe further implies that his authenticity and superiority is cemented by his incarcerated father’s known association with the Black Mafia Family criminal organization. The confrontation between the youthful challenger and the elder statesman is a battle rap archetype. Calicoe’s atavistic nihilism, however, is a new and different form of rhetoric that militates against any aesthetic judgement as it desperately mines glorified outlaw cliches.

In the mid-’80s the new jacks theorized their ambitions as progressive artistic missions.1  KRS-One’s annoyance that MC Shan’s airwave dominance was engineered by reigning deejay Mr. Magic ignited the Boogie Down Productions/Juice crew inter-boro rivalry, encapsulated in the scathing “The Bridge Is Over.”2  On “Ego Trippin'”3  Ultramagnetic MCs, taking their cue from KRS-One’s lyrical dismissal of laurel-sitting “kings,” mocked RUN DMC’s catchy cadences as lowest common denominator pandering.4 Even rivalries that appeared to center on personality clashes were understood to be contests of skilled performance.

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  1. I am not suggesting that these artists did not also view their attempts to unseat those before them as competitive business moves. On the contrary, we can read these beefs as being informed by a desire to compete in a very limited market; if such a desire truly conflicts with a notion of communal uplift, these artists did not seem to mind the contradiction. []
  2. In retrospect, “The Bridge Is Over” is a somewhat juvenile and intentionally misleading attack on MC Shan. Shan wasn’t just some hack rapper, even if his popularity was due in part to his associations. However, KRS-One’s displeasure with Shan’s undisputed reign is derived in part from a spirit of verbal competition, hence his use of a Jamaican patois-inspired “toasting” style on much of “The Bridge Is Over.” []
  3. One reason “Ego Trippin'” sounds so powerful and forward thinking is that it showcases pioneering production styles made possible by Ced Gee’s collaboration with the late Paul C, in addition to introducing the world to Kool Keith’s unorthodox, innovative rhyme style. []
  4. Interestingly, Calicoe’s attempt to paint Loaded Lux as an out of touch egghead includes a claim that Loaded Lux’s “wordplay” sounds like “nursery rhymes,” implying that they are too fanciful to be “real,” while Kool Keith’s attack on Run-DMC’s actual incorporation of nursery rhymes was a dismissal of poetic simplicity. []

Arrest The President 2: Open Mike Eagle’s American Nightmares

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Note: Arrest The President is a weekly TROY Blog column that looks at rap, past and present, from a socio-political perspective.

Open Mike Eagle’s “Nightmares” opens with its hook, which states that “… every word that comes through me/ It was born in a nightmare.” These lines appear to echo the Romantic notion that nightmares inspire sublime poetic expression by provoking  terror and pleasure all at once. It is not clear whether this part of the hook can be attributed to Open Mike Eagle’s narrator or to the anthropomorphic alarm clock1 that lulls him to sleep. The song’s hypnotic pace evokes a nocturnal world where reality is warped, where imaginative flights may turn bizarre or even macabre.OME doesn’t let his listeners stray too far into blissful contentedness. The music and vocals are sparse and soothing but leave sufficient literal and figurative space for a stoked imagination to run amok.  Uncanny melancholy lurks between suggestive lines like “I met some old friends recently / They on a whole new frequency.” Who are these friends? Have they been brainwashed by some invincible institutional force? Addicted to some widely distributed chemical or multimedia distraction? Are they alive or ghostly? Still friendly or conniving and hostile?  (more…)

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  1. Fellow LA rapper Aceyalone pioneered this trope on “Grandfather Clock.” []

Arrest The President 1: Junot Diaz And The Purple Tape

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Note: Arrest The President is a new weekly TROY Blog column that will look at rap, past and present, from a socio-political perspective. Enjoy.

I grew up on the northern edge of a mid-sized New Jersey industrial/port city, in an apartment complex that slouched at an intersection with seven other buildings whose occupants kept shifting. Cross-Town’s kaleidoscopic nature was a local secret unless you scrunched your clammy earlobes to the concrete. Then you’d find that this vaguely pretty ‘hood —-nestled smugly between Westminster’s micro-mansions, a series of cemetaries, and the state’s biggest airport —- demanded that its residents code-shift with verve.

My early training (‘85-’90) in merging local dialects —- boricua/quisequeya spanglish, Jamaican and Haitian patois, street talk —- taught me to flow with the shockwaves of change. Elders served up tawdry, unverifiable just-so stories about the inherent flaws of other ethnic groups or social classes. This pressure did not stop us from mingling but paranoia, fueled by the crack wars, colored our curiosity. Even in elementary school we pursued friendships cautiously. On television and radio, journalists, academics, and politicians performed a non-stop smear campaign against urban youth, painting us all as nascent criminal predators. We believed it, lived it, loved it a little too.

Middle School meant getting bussed across town. Court-ordered integration overlapped with turf rivalries; crews that used to blend nicely forgot how to  act. The incompatibly layered housing stock loops that flickered across my scratchy school bus window for the whole length of Broad Street seemed to ache with upheaval. Architectural styles signaled toxic, superlocal, alien ways of life that seemed liable to leak out and fuck with you. Your personal enemy list was rearranged as quickly as the grapes, sevens, and bars on A.C. slots.

Any herb walking the streets thinking he could start shit with the Polo-clad Trinis from the semi-detached houses near Jefferson Park was asking for trouble. Doubly so if he tried to post high like the Northside garden apartment goose-down boosting boricuas or sleep soundly while the Guess-obsessed midtown morenos from the co-ops plotted his demise. By high school the rowdiest crews, now fully committed to the drug trade, recruited crimeys from all backgrounds. Those of us who were not thugged out beyond self-defense had to move warily.

Without unaplogetically thoughtful music and literature, the ghetto nerd universe might have imploded from stress. Mercifully, ‘95 saw two bundles of high explosives in the form of rapper Raekwon’s solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Dominican-American author Junot Diaz’s first published book Drown. Fucked our heads up, to say the least. Both works commanded us to imagine our environs as a locus classicus, not just of street dreams gone sour, but also of poignant, flavorful works of art.

Fans of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx are struck by the breadth and depth of the “Shaolin” world depicted within; I was doubly struck when I learned of the actual physical smallness of these north shore Staten Island neighborhoods. Raekwon’s Shaolin is not the same emblematic “everyghetto” inflated to austere celestial proportions in classic old school rap like Eric B. and Rakim’s “In The Ghetto.” The place is drawn instead to encompass the spectrum of social ills commonly associated with NYC’s poorest neighborhoods but it is imbued by Raekwon and his collaborators with its own particular cosmopolitan “exoticness,” aurally and verbally sketched.

In the imagination of Raekwon and his fellow rappers, Shaolin’s placement just a stone’s throw away from more affluent locales and the famous ferry transforms it from a blighted outpost on the wrong end of de facto segregation and the illegal drug trade to a way station that spirals out into worlds of intrigue, vice, and opulence. In Drown, Diaz’s rendering of the London Terrace apartments on the very end of Jersey facing Staten Island is approached differently: the slums and the lives of its inhabitants, many wind-swept from Latin America, are drawn plainly and perhaps pathetically, but with respect to their magical idiosyncrasies.

Both works put me and my crew on the map. Our somewheres, defeated by de-industrialization, mattered. The proof was in and about us, in the surreal twisted words and phrases, garish gear and home furnishings, convoluted visions of uplift, duels between solidarity and selfishness, and even in our misguided, resourceful pursuit of food, drink, weed, and women. All of this could be put through the filter of the mind and shot out to a waiting world of hidden slums and backwaters. I read and lent out that little paperback until the adhesive dried and pages flaked off, and bumped that purple cassette until the shit popped. — Thun

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Percee P: Reminisces And Drops Knowledge

Friday, June 1st, 2012

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The Digital Revolution: A Critical Analysis of RZA As Bobby Digital In Stereo

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

“Bobby Digital is about what molded me: comic books, video games, the arcade scene, breakdancing, hip-hop clothes, MCing, DJing, human beatboxing, graffiti plus Mathematics and the gods. That’s hip-hop to me.”

-RZA on Page 91 of The Wu-Tang Manual (more…)

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Native Nutts – The Nutts Are Restless

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Long before he crafted smash hits for the likes of T.I. and Young Jeezy, DJ Toomp produced an entire album for a duo known as the Native Nuttz. Released in 1994, The Nativez Are Restless is a smoothed out album filled with funky beats, chanted hooks and back and forth rhymes from the two MCs. Sounding a little like a combination of west coast production and east coast styles, the album is filled with gems that would be welcomed in any golden age catalogue.  (more…)

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Hoodratz – Sneeke Muthafukaz

Friday, June 17th, 2011

 

A few months after the debut of Onyx and Lords of the Underground, another group with hype energy, shouted raps, and crew-chanted hooks, the Hoodratz, dropped Sneeke Muthafukaz. Though with every fresh idea in hip hop comes a slew of imitators, the Hoodratz successfully captured the essence of that movement and the result was a fairly good and quite listenable album. (more…)

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Common – “Resurrection” + remixes

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Common Sense “Resurrection” (LP Version)

Common Sense “Resurrection ’95”

Common Sense “Resurrection” (Extra P remix)

Common Sense “Resurrection” (Large Pro remix)

For the LP version of “Resurrection,” the title track of Common’s sophomore album, producer No I.D. samples the piano from Ahmad Jamal Trio’s “Dolphin Dance” and places the loop on top of a forceful break. Neither the melody nor the rapping are trampled by the drums; each element sounds equally assertive and vibrant. I can imagine a drunk and raucous Common barging into the studio and quickly sobering once he hears the instrumental track, shifting his focus to reeling in the rhymes and puns cascading through his mind. The high-pitched nonsensical antics of his debut effort no longer suffice, as he is newly inspired to treat his vocation as both craft and art.

This is the mythology that Common offers to the listeners, that his “speech and thoughts” are quicker and more nimble now that he’s grown up a bit and halted his daily consumption of malt liquor. He is just coming down from his high, so he must “stagger,” possessed by the forward movement of the beat. Rhyme patterns begin to assemble themselves into patter, as if they were interdependent organisms moving in knowing response to the rhythm. By gradually lifting himself out of his alcoholic fog, Common reconnects with the wondrous physicality of words, both the sounds they make when spoken and the images and moods they evoke. (more…)

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Aceyalone “Mr. Outsider”

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Aceyalone “Mr. Outsider”

On “Five O’ Clock Follies”1 Myka-9 reminds his listeners that the cycle of poverty, crime, and death that they witness on a daily basis is directly connected to the global project of neo-colonialism. In doing so, he advocates the idea that the localized human miseries that result from systemic injustice — your homie rotting away in prison for years over minor drug offenses, for example —  should inform the content of intelligent, impassioned artistic expressions.

Rappers, conversely should not view their chosen discipline as merely a kind of loud navel-gazing catharsis. One of the most important tasks of the artist whose creative momentum is not trammeled by cynicism or self-doubt is to “translate troubles into issues” for those who are “gripped by personal troubles” but are “not aware of their true meaning and source,” i.e. historical, systemic inequalities.2

Myka’s Freestyle Fellowship compatriots have all embraced this duty in their own ways. On “Mr. Outsider” Aceyalone exorcises the demons of America’s racist past in order to make sense of the modern predicament experienced by members of the permanent underclass. In his view, the poor urban black man of the late 20th century lives a limited, brutish existence and is trapped in a serious of binds that he is often ill-equipped to comprehend, let alone undo. (more…)

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  1. Very recently I wrote about this song’s still timely critique of US military adventurism. []
  2. Quotes are from C. Wright Mills’s In The Power Elite, as cited by Chris Hedges in Death Of The Liberal Class. []

Ras Kass – “The Evil That Men Do”

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Ras Kass “The Evil That Men Do”

The “demo” version of Soul On Ice LP is celebrated among die-hard fans for its dark lo-fi sound, devil-may-care sampling strategy, and the presence of fellow Western Hemisfear crew members. It makes for quite the sonic artifact but the proper studio album is a far greater representation of Ras Kass’s talent. Soul On Ice has been famously maligned as an album whose production is underwhelming in comparison to its lyrics, but over the years I have grown to enjoy the beats provided by producers Bird, Voodou, and Flip. Ras Kass’s lyrics contain elaborate wordplay and turns of phrase, and his cadences are unorthodox, so he is served well by beats that are dark and moody and do not distract from his vocals. (more…)

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