Monthly Archives: June 2012

GUEST POST: INFINITE SKILLS CREATE MIRACLES

this guest post written by Matt Hall (@mattisonherenow)

Those of you that know me probably know that I’m about to turn thirty. Thinking about that upcoming milestone has led me down more than a couple of retrospective paths, which more often than not end up focusing on the music that’s been important during different stages of my life. To be honest, I don’t remember the first time I drove a car, and no offense to the girl in question, but my first kiss is a total blur, but I can vividly remember the first punk rock show I saw, the first time I heard Illmatic, and the first time I landed a kickflip like it was yesterday.

Skateboarding hasn’t always been as super prevalent with both established and imminent young rappers as it has been in the past few years, but rap has certainly been integrated into skate culture for over 2 decades. I don’t know if you hung out with skateboard dudes at all when you were younger, but I was pretty into that whole scene, and it’s really the reason that I ever got into rap music. I got into punk rock pretty young, but it was really skate videos and magazines that made me more interested stuff like Gang Starr (who I wrote about in my previous post),

Gang Starr – Above the Clouds (feat. Inspectah Deck) [from Steve Olson in Fulfill the Dream]

early Wu-Tang solo cuts,

Method Man/Ghostface Freestyle [from Harold Hunter in Zoo York’s Mixtape no. 1]

and eventually even earlier videos with dudes like Fu-Schnickens.

Fu-Schnickens – La Schmoove [from Sean Sheffey in Plan B Questionable]

Anyway, my favorite skate video of all time is from a company called Girl. The video is Mouse. If you’re interested, you can watch it in its entirety here. I promise it’s worth it. [editor’s note: he’s right]

Mouse was directed by Spike Jonze back before anybody really knew who he was, and the soundtrack is amazing. As far as I know, it’s the only skate video ever that has a (mostly) soul/R&B soundtrack instead of punk rock and/or hip hop. I can remember going to the record store at the mall (that used to exist!) to order a Cymande CD when I was 14 because of this video.

Among skateboarders, it’s mostly remembered because it helped to usher in a new era of style-heavy technical skating, but I really like it because it made me interested in music that was totally unfamiliar to me at the time. Even if you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, at least check out the soundtrack, it’s a pretty solid collection top to bottom, and every track on it still makes me more than a little nostalgic.

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IN OTHER CHICAGO RAP NEWS…

Directed by Flying Lotus.

Jeremiah Jae – Money

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TRYNA HIT THE NEXT PLATEAU

Somehow Chicago went from the city that has the fastest rappers with the fewest pauses possible to being the city with the slowest rappers with the most pauses possible.

1991 – 1998:

Tung Twista – Hokus Pokus

Crucial Conflict – Showdown

Do or Die – Just Ballin’

2012:

Yale Lucciani – Hit Da Block

Chief Keef – 3Hunna

Lil’ Reese – Us

Let’s see, this DRIVE SLOW blog started in 2011… coincidence….?  I see you, Chicago.

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POP. COLLARS. DROP. DOLLARS.

I’ve had the idea for this post bouncing around in my head for a couple weeks now, and I last night I had a real good conversation with my good friend Arsenios about our mutual awe of Jaylib, so I figured now would be a good time to get this one out there since it features one of my favorite songs of theirs.

The idea first came to me when I first heard this MJG (of 8Ball & MJG fame) solo track that features one of the most lyrical bass drum parts I’ve ever heard, and the best part is that MJG raps right in time with it every time it gets to that signature pattern in the third bar of the phrase.

MJG – Good Damn Man

When I listen to that song, it completely captures my full attention because every time a new phrase starts, I’m just giddy with anticipation for when it gets to that third bar to see what words he’s going to fit into that rhythmic pattern this time!  First it’s

Sent. three. tricks-up; to backwoods river.

then

Kick. the. shit-out; yo’ ass quite nicely.

And he just goes on and on, perfectly sculpting every turn of phrase to fit into that beautifully unusual but captivating kick drum.  The only song I can think of that possibly surpasses that level of rhythmic matching is in this track during J Dilla’s verses.

Jaylib – McNasty Filth (feat. Frank-N-Dank)

In this song, Dilla is rapping in rhythmic unison with a much longer and more complex pattern: the extremely syncopated high hat part that Madlib no doubt tapped out by hand on the pads of his sampler when he composed this beat.  Frank and Dank both rap in that in-your-face Detroit style they always do, which is no complaint, but Dilla really takes it to the next level when it’s his turn, making it probably the most technically impressive feat of rapping of his entire career.  I find myself waiting with the same anticipation I had for every third bar of “Good Damn Man” for the next time Dilla’s verse comes around.

Frank Dank Dilla, chasin’ paper, blazin up in this bitch to raise up the stakes a little

bit and shut.  shit.  down.

And so forth.  It’s a shame that the musicality of these examples is probably completely ignored by most of the people that would appreciate it just because of the content of the lyrics.  I won’t go into another tirade about policing “explicit” language in our music or the stereotypes put on black musicians in our culture, but I do feel like there are a lot of people who would sit in awe of a guitar solo or orchestra performance that wouldn’t give a moment’s time to hearing these MJG or Jaylib songs with any kind of respect or appreciation.

This song brings up another point with respect to J Dilla and how he is perceived today that I’d like to touch on for just a moment.  A lot of what I love about this song is what I love about J Dilla in general, and I think it’s something about him that gets glossed over a lot.  Dilla’s legacy, like so many hip hop artists of his time, rarely exists outside the shadow cast by his untimely death.  In our culture, when people die, especially when people die young, there’s this feeling that is pumped through us that persuades us to imagine this lost person in a kind of slow motion montage with clouds floating by and rays of light shining around them with wind sounds and distant harps strumming in the background.  It’s an understandable feeling, we feel the loss of a valuable person, the fear of our own mortality, and possibly the feeling that maybe we didn’t value these people enough when they were around, and as a result this reverence culture forms around their legacy and those bright, sunshiny moments of their life and career become amplified while the less innocent traits they have are downplayed.  I’m not trying to say anyone is dumb for feeling this way and doing this, and in many ways I do the same thing with people like Dilla, and he has a lot of sweet, heartfelt, honest music that really tugs on your heart, especially when you know he made it in his hospital bed while dying of Lupus.

But to only remember these moments of his career would be doing him a disservice because one of the greatest things about him was his ability to balance the light and the dark sides of the world in his music.  He wasn’t a new age artist, he was a rap artist, and in the midst of all the “J Dilla Changed My Life” (and he did) prostrating we forget that he rapped about jewelry, money, drugs, cars, promiscuity, violence, and everything else that the textbook J Dilla fan would say is “wrong with hip-hop today”.  I’m glad people appreciate Dilla’s legacy and are making his music more well known, but I wish we had a more balanced view of it.  We shouldn’t forget those times when he shot videos in strip clubs, or spit lines like “It’s plain to see you can’t change me cuz I’mma be this nigga wit ice”.  He wasn’t an angel, and just because he’s dead now doesn’t mean we have to see him as one now.  He wasn’t amazing because he abstained from talking about anything negative or taboo, he was amazing because he could talk about those things with the kind of honesty and virtuosity that makes any speaker of words compelling.

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NEVER TAKIN’ NO FOR AN ANSWER (PART 2)

I knew as soon as I wrote that first part that I’d very soon think of some other song that I should have included in that post.  Sure enough.

Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire – The Maltese Falcon (pt. 1 & pt. 2)

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YOU GON’ TAKE THIS TRIP TO KANSAS

I can’t help but post this in honor of leaving Kansas today.  This one goes out to Mandie, Brian, Susan, Rusty, Danielle, Candace, Jordan, Floyd, Kristen, Maddy, and every other cool person in Kansas whose name I didn’t properly commit to memory.  I don’t think any of those people I just thanked will actually like this song I’m posting, but it’s the only rap song I can think of that even mentions Kansas, much less has it as its title.  Love y’all.

Gucci Mane – Kansas (feat. Jim Jones)

Chicago, get ready.

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NEVER TAKIN’ NO FOR AN ANSWER

Rap producers constantly amaze me with how much they can do with so little.  I remember in music school, professors always professed that “economy of materials” was one of the most admirable traits of a good composition.  In western classical music, it’s important to constantly develop and vary these basic materials, but the core of the idea is starting with something very minute and creating a constantly interesting piece of music from those ultra-simple materials.  Hip-hop producers aren’t generally interested in development in the classical sense, but they definitely share a respect for starting out with an extremely limited set of materials and creating a constantly engaging, interesting composition with it.  Those professors mentioned above would probably look down on music that didn’t vary and develop those ideas in the course of the composition, but to me, finding a tiny piece of musical material that you can just loop over and over again and it still is interesting four minutes in — that’s just as impressive in my mind.

Here’s what got me thinkin’ about this idea, I heard this song today and it reminded me of a couple other songs that I love that use the same kind of single-guitar-note-repeated-constantly technique to great effect.

The Alchemist – Flight Confirmation (feat. Danny Brown & Schoolboy Q)

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Thuggin’

Jaylib – The Red

There’s such an unshakable determination in beats like these, that single unrelenting note just drills into your very being, getting deeper and deeper in your brain the more you listen.  There’s a trance-like quality to tunes like these, and I’m constantly amazed that these dudes can make such an absurdly simple musical figure so captivating for a full song.  Let me know of any other songs with the same shit goin’ on, I love these kinda beats.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

Gil Scott-Heron- Your Daddy Loves You

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GOTSTA GET PAID

Y’all know this song, right?  If not, you probably should.

DJ DMD – 25 Lighters (feat. Lil’ Keke & Fat Pat)

This song has been referenced by everybody from Z-Ro to Trae the Truth to 2 Chainz, it’s a song that anybody who’s listened to Houston rap for a while is probably at least peripherally aware of.

I had no idea its reach would even get this far though.

ZZ Top – I Gotsta Get Paid

Can somebody let me know if this is cool or not?  I’m really really not sure.

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THE HANDLING OF A HEART’S A VERY DELICATE ART

Damn, this is old news now, my ability to stay on top of rap current events is being severely curbed by my extremely intermittent internet access.  I still feel like addressing this though, in case anybody still cares.  I happened across this article recently, and for some reason I didn’t just immediately ignore it and move on (rap gossip is about as interesting as any other kind of gossip to me, which is to say it isn’t), and as I began reading the write-up, there were actually quite a few things that surprised me about this article.  The story itself, even for somebody that’s not into gossip, is pretty juicy (wealthy British lady from conspiracy-theory-drenched family leaves her rich white husband to be with a rapper from New Orleans), but I wouldn’t be writing about this if that was the only thing that made my eyebrows go up while reading this article.

What really surprised me was the treatment and amount of research of the situation that the writer puts in.  I know it’s gossip news and they’re going to make the gossip sound as extreme and shocking as possible, but I think it is pretty telling about how the mainstream media still treats rap and rappers.  The rapper in question is Jay Electronica, who now lives in the U.K. and works with this lady who he’s now involved with, and while yes, he is a rapper, as a rapper he does not exactly fit the stereotypes that this article would like to place on him.  The first thing that scrunched my brow reading the article (besides the writer obviously not knowing that the tweet they quoted early in the article is a lyric from a song of his) was this:

He has been rapping since 2004 and is known for controversial and explicitly sexual lyrics.

I wonder if there’s a built-in helper thing in Microsoft Word where if it senses you’re talking about a rapper, a little paperclip dude pops up and gives you this little form to fill out where you can just enter the year of a rapper’s beginnings and it’ll insert that sentence into your document.  “…known for controversial and explicitly sexual lyrics?”  Last time I checked, Jay Electronica was known as the dude that rapped over the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack.

Jay Electronica – The Pledge

I understand that this rich lady committed adultery and it’s big deal or something, and demonizing the dude who the married lady has been sleeping with is a pretty easy angle to take in the story, but it’s interesting to see how all this is treated by this writer.  Maybe the writer would have been equally careless about researching any of the people she wrote about, but to me it definitely smacks of somebody trying to subtly play up the “black man stealing away white woman” angle on this story that is such a huge part of the racist history of the West.  In the spectrum of rappers, Jay Electronica is not a good example of the “bad boy rapper” as this writer would have you believe.  He’s actually a surprisingly emotionally vulnerable rapper if you actually take time to listen to like any of his songs.  He is one dude who goes out of his way to be as unstereotypical as possible when it comes to his approach to rap music, but he is still treated as nothing more than an example of the broad category he fits into by the media.  I wonder if a non-rapper would get this same sloppy treatment, even in an article like this.  Hard to say.

Maybe I’m just getting too worked up about a dumb gossip article, but I really feel like the attitudes that underpin this lady’s writing are very telling about how a lot of people in and out of the media feel about black musicians, and have felt about black musicians of all types for decades.

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