Monthly Archives: March 2012


Andrew Noz just recently took back what he said about Nicki Minaj a few years ago, but I still feel like that line that I lifted from him for the title of this post is still a pretty apt description of her.  I don’t mean it in a negative way either, I just think it perfectly expresses how thick the layers of abstraction and artifice are around her whole style, how you can’t just listen to her music and get it right away, there’s a lot you have to be clued into in order to grasp what’s going on.  Not to say that she’s has some kind of elitist or esoteric slant, it’s all low-brow pop culture idioms that you have to have experience with and appreciation for in order to be on board with her style.  Say what you want about it, it is undeniably original and attention-grabbing.

Amber just recently sent me an article that a Huffington Post blogger named DJ Louie XIV wrote about Nicki and the phenomenon of the female rapper, and he brought up some interesting points, but I felt his assessment of the situation was fundamentally flawed in a few ways.  In the article, he points out that so far, no female rapper has been able to achieve the longevity that many male rappers have achieved, and wonders about how Nicki Minaj will fare in that regard.  He points out that her style and approach differ greatly from the prominent female MCs of the past in that she doesn’t focus on rapping alone to get her message out, even though her skills in that area are hard to question, and she is taking many cues from the largely-white pop scene to gain greater popularity.  From the subtext of his writing, it seems pretty clear that DJ Louie XIV is a big fan of hip-hop, and he feels disappointed that Nicki doesn’t stick to the stuff that he enjoys listening to, the rapping, which I can understand.  But it’s strange that he points out that all previous prominent female rappers didn’t do what Nicki Minaj is doing now, and is sad about their lack of longevity in the industry, but also criticizes Nicki for not blindly following in their footsteps and suffering their same fate.

I think the male/female thing is a little bit of a red herring here.  What’s really going on is a separation between pop and underground, and in those terms, the rules are the same for males and females alike.  If you’re going to be widely popular for a long period of time, you have to adjust your style to be appealing to a wide, diverse audience.  Popularity is a numbers game to the core, if you don’t have masses of people buying your albums, merchandise, and concert tickets, then you’re not going to have mainstream success, that’s what those terms mean by definition.  It’s interesting that he picks Jay-Z as his poster boy for a male rapper that’s enjoyed success for a very extended period of time because Jay-Z was criticized heavily for “going pop” after his first album, Reasonable Doubt.  If you listen to Reasonable Doubt and then listen to any other album he’s done since (except maybe The Black Album which he envisioned being his final album and wasn’t as concerned with continuing his career and being widely popular into the future), there is no doubt that he adapted his style and abilities to be more appealing to a wide audience.  That’s what mainstream success is.  Nicki is doing exactly the same thing.  If you listen to “Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop“, you can’t deny that she wasn’t putting as much energy into being appealing to a broad audience as she is now.  And now she is widely popular, after adapting her style.  If Jay-Z had kept to his pre-pop style, he probably would have skated by with a cult following in the rap community and could have had moderate success for a while, or maybe even a long time, but he couldn’t have had anywhere near the fame and attention he gets now if he hadn’t switched it up.  Just like how Nicki would be now if she’d kept to her “Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop” style.  They would both be where all the female MCs Louie XIV talks about are, obscure and only moderately appreciated.  You have longevity as a mainstream artist if you can consistently make things that a wide number of people will pay money for, period.

Where the male/female dynamic does come in is the pressure that is almost assuredly put on female rappers by an industry run predominantly by males and with predominantly male fans.  I can’t see how there couldn’t be a lot more skepticism for any female artist trying to make it as a rapper by the rap power structure, so the lengths she must got to just to get noticed and promoted are far greater than what an equally-skilled male rapper would have to go through to gain that same recognition.  It’s like any industry controlled by men: the women have to work harder and usually get less pay and recognition than their male counterparts, and I imagine that this extra strain put on the female MC is just too taxing to keep up for a Jay-Z-length career.  The industry and the fanbase is just too harsh and unforgiving for the female rapper, and I feel that it’s that factor that is responsible for the ill-fated career of all the once-famous lady MCs out there.  Just read the comments in that article, there are countless male rap fans that make blanket generalizations and dismissals of female rappers, it’s no wonder it’ hard for them to make it, especially for extended periods of time.

And maybe the record labels are right, maybe a woman does have to warp and alter herself to the extreme in order to be marketable, and it’s not just the label’s fault, it’s a failure in our society to recognize and value the true greatness of women for their natural born qualities.

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I never thought I’d say this, but I kinda wish Snoop wasn’t in this video at all and it was just these little kids rappin’ the whole time.

Snoop Dogg – I Wanna Rock (G-Mix) (feat. Jay-Z)

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I remember the first time I saw the video for Goapele‘s “Play“, it felt like when they put that lead vest on you at the dentist before they do X-Rays, the weight of the imagery as well as the music in that video is instant and undeniable for me, my attention is totally rapt.  So I was extremely excited to hear that Goapele and John Mazyck, the director of the “Play” video, had come together again to make a new video.  I feel like this one hits just as hard; she is the definition of captivating here.

Goapele – Tears On My Pillow

Watching this as well as re-watching that “Play” video and a few of her others made me realize that her style reminds me a lot of this other lady who doesn’t come out with music quite as often as I wish she would, but always touches me deeply when she does.  Many of you will remember her voice from “Eye” on the Madvillainy album.  Here’s one of my favorites.

Stacy Epps – Addicted


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Ooh, remember when I was talkin’ about odd team-ups in rap?  How bout this one?

A-Trak – Piss Test (feat. Juicy J & Danny Brown)

This one’s a three-way mind warp with a Montreal-born turntablist/producer of much prestige as well as Kanye’s ex-personal tour DJ, a Memphis born Three 6 Mafia member and general old school dirty south crunk master, and a new school crazy ass from Detroit with possibly the most far out voice in rap.  What unites all of these talents?  Is it only a dislike for being inconvenienced by drug tests?  Surely not.  I feel like it’s really A-Trak’s production that makes this strange-on-paper combination work.  He’s known for fusing rap and dance music elements in his production, which often means juggling a combination of loose, syncopated rhythms and simpler, on-the-beat rhythms in the same song, and if you listen to Juicy and Danny rhyme over this track, you’ve got that trademark ultra-simple on-beat style of Juicy J that sits well on top of that on-beat synth line, while Danny Brown’s less predictable style is more reminiscent of of the various snare and auxiliary percussion elements in the beat – you’d be hard pressed to clap in rhythm to it, but you can’t deny that it fits in there in between all of those accented strong beats.  This is a match that I never would have come up with in my mind, but I think it works pretty impressively.

I also just couldn’t resist posting this song when I heard Juicy J drop the line: “You say no to drugs/that mean mo’ fa me” because of my undying love for this track.

Devin the Dude – Mo’ Fa Me

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Can anyone show me a cuter rap video than this?

Count Bass D & DJ Pocket – New Day

I like it when rap videos take place in the forest, remember the Kool Keith video from this post?  Wait that one only takes place in the forest part of the time, this one is the full wilderness status Kool Keith.

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I think the music video is one of my favorite art forms.  It’s short enough to where you don’t necessarily need a story, but it’s still possible to tell one if you really want to, it can portray the sounds of the song in a way your imagination wasn’t able to and make you like songs that you never would just listening to them, and a lot of times it can help serve as an analogous experience to the phenomenon I talk about in this post where your enjoyment of a musical performance is enhanced by watching it being performed.

I keep up with music videos of artists I like as best I can, but every now and then one slips under my radar and I don’t learn about it until much later.  That happened this morning, and I’m so glad this video finally made it to me.

Flying Lotus – Zodiac Shit

I guess that video’s been around for like a year and a half and I just never noticed, somehow.  And I especially like Flying Lotus’s videos, they’re some of the most original ones being made right now, in my opinion.

Flying Lotus – MmmHmm

Flying Lotus – Tea Leaf Dancers

Flying Lotus – Kill Your Co-Workers

Lately, he’s even been dabbling in directing some other peoples’ videos as well, very successfully in my opinion.

Erykah Badu – Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long

Bilal – Levels

I feel like if there’s one common thread to all these videos, it’s that they all have equal parts of the past, present, and future all mixed together but blended beautifully, and that’s one of the things I like about his music as well, it’s somehow futuristic and familiar at the same time.  And just in case you need one more layer of abstraction and time warp added to his music, don’t forget about Cosmogramma (chopped & screwed) on the MIXAPES page, this might be a great time to revisit that one, or check it out for the first time if you haven’t had a chance!  It don’t cost nothin’!

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Damn, Mike just took that last Rap Journey one step further.  To quote the man himself: “this isn’t the only time Dilla and the Detroit Emeralds have crossed paths.”  Indeed.

The Detroit Emeralds – Whatcha GonnaWear Tomorrow?

J Dilla – The New

Thanks for schoolin’ me again, Mike.

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Those of you that are on the REDLiteDJ email list (just send an email to to join!) already heard that I joined Twitter a couple days ago.  I have to say that so far, it’s been a very positive experience.  I’m reconnecting with some people I haven’t talked to in a while, and I’m connecting on a new level to people I see regularly as well.  Awesome.

The other cool thing that’s happening is that I’m getting nice little updates from artists I’m interested in, especially those that don’t get much press buzz around them every time they do anything.  For instance, I started following DâM-FunK, and I quickly learned that he has a Tumblr page that he runs called Galactic Funk Federation, and on that page I found this crazy little 4 song mix that some dude named Damon Swindell made where he took some DâM-FunK instrumentals and put some Gucci Mane acapellas over the top.  It’s called Gucci Funk, and it’s free, so I snatched it up and listened to it immediately.

The only real complaints that I have are that he uses censored acapellas (probably that’s all that was available, but it’s still kind of a bummer to listen to Gucci Mane without cursing) and the way the vocals sound doesn’t particularly blend with how the beats sound (only in a mixing capacity, and most likely that’s just how the acapellas he was using sounded to begin with, I’m not talkin’ shit on the man’s work).  But the rhythm of Gucci’s flow works pretty well over some real synthy, west-coast style funk, so it was still a very nice listen.  My favorite is probably this one, where he mixes Gucci Mane & Shawnna‘s “Pillz” with DâM-FunK’s “10 West“.

I wish more really dissimilar artists would collaborate on stuff like this.  I know Gucci and DâM didn’t actually get together to do this, it was mixed by a third party, but I think this proves that there’s some definite potential for the meeting of these two dudes’ styles.  I feel like artists get pigeonholed by their labels, fans, and probably themselves at times into this subgenre or that, but I feel like there are constant reminders that dudes and ladies from different zones can really get together to do some cool shit if they put their minds to it.  I remember first hearing about the Freddie Gibbs/Madlib team-up that’s happening right now and thinking “Whoa, I have no idea what this is going to sound like, but I know it’s gonna be awesome”, and so far it is.  Another good example is the cLOUDLIFE EP that came out recently with members of cLOUDDEAD and Main Attrakionz.  That shit came out of nowhere, to me at least.

I feel like it might even be pretty marketable too, I could see some Gucci Mane fans really warming up to DâM-FunK’s style if they got introduced to it through a collaboration between the two, and vice versa.  What do I know though?  Maybe it’s easier to sell records if people stay in their own lanes, I don’t pretend to be an expert on how to make money with music.  But I do know a thing or two about what sounds badass, and in that spirit, I’m gonna continue to be on the lookout for cool, unexpected collaborations in the future.  Let me know in the comments if you know of any that I didn’t mention.

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I just wanna say right off the bat that Amber hooked me up with every step of this journey, I did some very sparse research to hook it all together, but the real work was all done for me.  So  hats off to her for this, it’s a good one.

It started with her gettin’ curious about this Monica jam from back in ’95, when she was only 14 years old!

Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)

She did some lookin’ around and found out that it used some elements from a couple songs, one a little more recent than the other.

LL Cool J – Back Seat

The Detroit Emeralds – You’re Getting A Little Too Smart

Now if you listen close to the drum beat in that Detroit Emeralds song, you might just recognize it from more than a couple other tunes from around that same time as the Monica song.

Raekwon – Incarcerated Scarfaces

Common – The Light

The Light” isn’t the only place Dilla used that drum beat in his production, it’s in this Slum Village track as well.

Slum Village – Climax

Just like that Minnie Ripperton eye-opener from a little while back, this is another good example of a bunch of songs that I’ve listened to bunches of times but somehow I never put together that they shared some common ancestry until I heard the song that they were all pulled from.  It’s especially surprising that I never noticed this because “The Light” has probably one of my favorite drum loops of all time, it just totally takes me over the second it starts.  But I needed somebody to walk me through realizing that all these other songs that I listen to all the time use those same drums.  Thanks for the illumination, as always, Amber.

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I remember the first time I saw the cover art to Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s first big mixtape, Lost In Translation.  I immediately knew that this was a dude that’s making his own rules, and probably breaking those ones too sometimes.  He refuses to have his name listed without the expletive (“Don’t forget the ‘Muthafuckin’ / Without that, it’s nothin“), he shoots music videos in his real house with his real friends doing what they really do, and he writes whole songs where he’s the main character in some kind of weird postmodern comic book/sci-fi/cartoon world.  Basically, I knew I had to listen up, and give this dude some room to do what he does.

I’ve been very happy with what I’ve heard so far, and just the other day I was biking around listening to his latest mixtape (which came out on Christmas; hilarious) and noticed some stuff about one particular song that slipped by my usually razor-sharp attention the first couple listens.

Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Two 22’s b/w Twenty Two 2’s

I definitely caught the main reference of the song, which is to Jay-Z’s “22 Two’s” from his first solo album, but it wasn’t until I listened more closely to what eX was actually saying (duh) that I thought of this possible reference, or maybe just coincidental similarity.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Shimmy Shimmy Ya

Did you catch it?  I’ll give you a hint: I totally gave it away already in the title of this post.

See, after that weird break in the middle of “Two 22’s“, he comes back in and raps the whole first verse backwards while the beat plays backwards underneath, and when ODB comes back for his second verse, it’s actually just the reverse of his first verse also (with the beat playing normal).  The difference is that with eXquire, he actually raps the words normally but in reverse order, while ODB’s approach is to play the whole first verse backwards, so the words themselves are backwards too.  So yeah, it’s not the exact same thing, but I feel like there’s no way Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire isn’t influenced by Ol’ Dirty Bastard pretty heavily.  And even if it is just a coincidence that these two pretty similar rappers did the same thing on their songs, it’s pretty cool to notice how experimental and far out these dudes are getting in their music; that’s some conceptual shit that I feel like doesn’t really happen much in other popular music.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

As a side note, I was checkin’ out E-40’s Tumblr page the other day and I saw a link to a “west coast remix” of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” that featured E-40 and MC Eiht.  I thought it was some weird fan-made remix thing at first until I actually saw E-40 and MC Eiht come out in the video and start rapping.  That shit was actually official.  Wild.

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