Just in case y’all missed this.
REINCARNATED (official trailer)
Snoop Lion – La La La
Just in case y’all missed this.
REINCARNATED (official trailer)
Snoop Lion – La La La
Here’s a fun compare and contrast game.
Big K.R.I.T. – What You Mean (feat. Ludacris)
Rick Ross – Hold Me Back
The similarities are pretty obvious and, to be honest, inconsequential: they both came out on the same day, are shot in black and white, and feature guys rapping. But the differences are actually very interesting if you take a moment to sift through them.
I’d venture to guess that these dudes are trying to use these newest videos to project where they’d like to be more than where they actually are right now. Big K.R.I.T. has only had an official album out for about two months, and while he’s got quite a few dedicated followers, it’s still a bit of a stretch to call him an “established” artist at this point. That’s the battle he’s fighting: to be seen as a legitimate contender in the Coliseum that is hip-hop. So in his video, he has to really project stability, success, and longevity to push people’s perceptions of him in the direction of seeing him as a dude they should get used to seeing as relevant. The imagery and cinematography portray this perfectly: the camera spends much more time standing still in his video than in Rick Ross’s, and when it does move, it moves with sureness and intention. You also see a lot more images of lavishness in K.R.I.T.’s video than in Ross’s, most likely because it’ll take a little convincing for someone to believe Big K.R.I.T. is ballin’ anywhere near the level that Rick Ross is. The video’s emphasis on visual symmetry adds an additional stabilizing factor; the images in K.R.I.T.’s video feel very timeless and abstract, impervious to decay.
Rick Ross, on the other hand, can safely be called an established rapper at this point. I’ve probably heard more Rick Ross blaring out of SUVs in in the past week than any other artist, and I’m in Brooklyn, nowhere near Ross’s hometown of Miami, Florida. He’s got numerous top 10 albums and singles, he’s collaborated with a huge number of very diverse artists, he’s had a few beefs and controversies, he’s founded a very prominent record label with several successful artists, he’s deep. But if you were to go in cold and just watch the “Hold Me Back” video with no context, you’d think he was 17 years old and trying to prove his hardness to the older cats on the block. The imagery is harsh and gritty, he actually has several shots where he’s not wearing sunglasses (a Rick Ross rarity), the camera work, while definitely ultra crisp quality, is obviously handheld and very unstable, and you see almost no evidence that Rick Ross has anywhere near as much money as he seems to in his other videos. Sure he’s got a couple chains on, but so does everybody else around him. Even the cell phone that chick hands to him at 2:17 isn’t a fancy bejeweled iPhone, it looks more like the phone you get for free when you first sign up with Cricket. And the people in the video are totally average, normal people; a stark contrast with the toned and touched up models in “What U Mean“. He is trying to portray almost the complete opposite image K.R.I.T. is in his video; Ross wants you to see him as wild, uncontrollable, unpredictable. The images in Rick Ross’s video look way more like Juvenile’s iconic “Ha” video than, say, Jay-Z’s most recent crisp black and white video.
I love this juxtaposition for so many reasons, the least of which is just how it demonstrates the endless diversity in rap. It’s cool to see Big K.R.I.T. dressing for success in his video, trying to really talk you into taking him seriously, while Rick Ross works from the other direction trying to ward off any criticisms that becoming an established mainstream rapper has softened his character or resolve.
Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.
Something told me I wasn’t going to be able to keep from talking about the South very long on here. It’s funny, earlier tonight me and Simon were sitting on his front stoop eating some jalapeño pizza talking about our favorite producers right now, and when I mentioned Ray West (remember him from the previous post?), it reminded me of Supa Villain because while they don’t resemble each other much sonically, I find myself often feeling the same way listening to their productions. My favorite tracks by both of them tend to have this empty, forlorn feeling about them that creates a refreshingly somber counterpoint for, often times, some pretty hard shit. Even when both of these dudes make more dance-oriented tracks, they still have this spooky, dark, almost gloomy backdrop that I find really captivating.
Just minutes after discussing this with Simon, I stumbled across this track from Rich Boy and Supa Villain’s upcoming mixtape, “High Class & Country”, which unfortunately isn’t the best example of the mood I’m talking about, but a joint mixtape with these two is very exciting since it’s Supa Villain’s work with Rich Boy that got me interested in Supa Villain in the first place, so I’ve got some high hopes for this mixtape.
Here’s a better example of the mood that’s impressed me in the past and gives me hope for the release of “High Class & Country” despite the sorta unremarkable single.
Rich Boy – Hater Curse (feat. Supa Villain & Playboi Lo)
I haven’t done a very good job talkin’ about New York music since I’ve been here, probably because I don’t pay as much attention to New York music as I used to, but one dude that I definitely make sure not to ignore is Kool Keith. You might remember his video from this post a while back (that actually can be found on one of my favorite albums of this year so far), or maybe you know him from the “hip hop band” he was in in the 80s and 90s – The Ultramagnetic MCs, or from his string of pseudonymns and side projects throughout the 90s and later. However you know him, you probably know him as one of the most naturally unique and weird rappers ever, and besides the aforementioned group that gave him his start, usually works on his own.
I was surprised, given this trend, to find that he is featured heavily on this new LUV NY project, a collective of established-but-slightly-under-the-radar rappers from New York (such as A.G., Roc Marciano, etc.) that decided to make an album together. Keith’s involvement in this alone piqued my interest, but then when I found out that Ray West is responsible for the production on the album, I knew I had to get ahold of this one. I first heard Ray West’s work on this really interesting A.G. album from 2010 called “Everything’s Berri“, and I became strangely infatuated with it. His style is really unique, there’s a sparseness and almost melancholy that pervades most of the stuff I’ve heard him do that really appeals to me in rap music. He’s not going to hit you in the face with the bassiest bass or the snappiest snares or even the funkiest basslines, but his drum sounds are genuinely interesting, and I find his loops to be very captivating and organic. So when I found out that Keith and West were gonna be on this project together, I’d heard all I needed to hear. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find “Remember U“, which is the track I’d really like to post from this album, but this one still definitely conveys the interestingness of this combination of talents.
LUV NY – Pressure Up
Remember when I found that Nas/Tyler the Creator interview and I was all crazy about famous people interviewing each other instead of being interviewed by journalist-types? Well this is that idea but implemented in the most poorly thought out direction possible. It is still VERY much worth watching though, I feel like it’s a pretty great microcosmic representation of just how diverse rap music is. If you don’t know who these dudes are, you might wanna listen to a song from each of them before getting into the interview, because it really highlights the absurdity of putting these two dudes together in a forced conversation.
Childish Gambino – Heartbeat
Chief Keef – I Don’t Like
Ok, you ready for this?
Chief Keef x Childish Gambino – Back & Forth
OK one more post inspired from my time in DC hanging out with my friend Stuart, then I’ll try n get into the much more daunting task of tackling the New York rap scene now that I’ve arrived there. Me and Stuart went record shopping a couple days ago at this real cool spot in Maryland and I found some real sweet stuff (including the Bill Withers LP that has the song that this Rap Journey is centered around), and after we spent some time listening to a Quincy Jones album I picked up, he pulled out this other album of his that I almost bought too, but passed up for some reason. Now I’m kicking myself.
Quincy Jones – One Hundred Ways (feat. James Ingram)
If you don’t think I’m an idiot yet for putting this album back on the shelf, you will after you hear this.
MF Doom – Rhymes Like Dimes (feat. DJ Cucumber Slice)
Some of you might remember my grossly oversimplified crash course in Chicago rap back when I was hangin’ out there a couple weeks ago, and I was in Ohio for the week that followed that, and I meant to do some kind of similar thing about Ohio music, or at least mention that both Bootsy Collins (bassist for Parliament-Funkadelic and frontman of the amazing Rubber Band) and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (one of the very few artists that got to work with both Biggie and 2Pac while they were still alive) are natives to that great state, but I couldn’t get on the internet very reliably there and it never quite came about. That time has passed, and I find myself, as of last night, right in the heart of our nation’s capital (I can literally see the Capitol building from the roof of this apartment building I crashed at last night) staying with some good friends, one of whom has a really amazing record collection. We spent all of last eating these ridiculously awesome peanut butter cookies from his Cookie of the Month Club and going through his shelves upon shelves of beautiful music, and he showed me so much stuff I’d never heard before, including a couple tunes that weren’t written by D.C. natives, but use the city as its subject matter with some pretty diverse perspectives on it. I have a feeling this blog might turn into a boogie/funk/disco blog for a couple days while I’m here, I hope that’s cool with you guys.
Gil Scott-Heron – Washington, D.C.
Roy Ayers – D.C. City
As a bonus, some of you might recognize that Roy Ayers tune in this track which coincidentally mentions the Ohio Players, another band I should have written about last week. Ah well.
Quasimoto – Seasons Change
I’m real thankful to @noz for bringing up this interesting story, and to @supermerk2 for providing the conclusion. It concerns one of the most interesting Lil’ Wayne songs in existence, and one of my personal favorites.
Lil’ Wayne – I Feel Like Dying
It’s really interesting that Wayne chose to record and release this song considering it was during a time when he was catching a lot of flack for his substance abuse problems and stayed mostly uncooperative when posed questions directly about it. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to not have developed a substance abuse problem, so I can’t know for sure, but I have a suspicion that this song is probably a really good depiction of what it’s like. The sparseness of the production (there’s basically just a very simple drum machine loop and a single sample to back Wayne’s vocals) gives a very lonely, isolated, and empty mood to the whole song while Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics seem to wander back and forth between positive and negative feelings he has toward the drugs he describes, which I think is a perspective only a person in the midst of an addiction could compellingly provide. Somebody who’d kicked the habit would probably have some kind of dramatic arc to the song; starting fun and lighthearted, descending into darkness, and then emerging triumphantly from the struggle. This song is not that. This song goes into great detail describing the supernatural powers provided to him by the chemicals he ingests, while in the same breath honestly stating the extent of the captivity they keep him in. This aimless meandering between these feelings without much demarcation between them is very interesting, it gives the impression of feeling good things but not feeling very good about it, and feeling bad things while not feeling very bad about it. Punctuated by his whispered ad libs and inappropriate laughter, this song really creates a singular mood that I’ve never heard even Wayne produce on any other song of his, much less anyone else — including the lady that sang the song that provided the inspiration for Wayne’s version.
Karma Ann Swanepoel – Once
There were some legal issues surrounding this borrowing a few years back that may or may not be of interest to you (click on that link up top if it does), but I think the interesting thing about this story is how these two artists treated this same material. In a lot of ways, Lil’ Wayne’s version is a much more complex and artistically advanced depiction of this topic. Karma Ann’s song and performance are undeniably moving and beautiful, but her mood and lyrics are all very straightforward and uniformly negative. She’s taken the experience of addiction, laid all the parts out in front of her, and averaged out the feelings and rounded the result to the one that dominates most of the time: sadness. But in this completely mournful depiction of this topic, we lose so much of the complexity of it. To my ears, Wayne’s breathtakingly honest portrayal of substance abuse with all of the beautiful and awful parts of it all inseparably smashed together feels a lot more like how real problems feel in the real world. I’ve never gone through something tragic and not at some point surprised myself, and sometimes even felt guilty, for discovering some result of the tragedy that benefits me in some way. The same can be said about times when I’ve been truly fortunate.
People ask me a lot why it is that I like rap music, and I think this is a great example of one of the things that really appeals to me about it. There’s not a need to be 100% consistent and only portray the dominant side of any givens story. From song to song, and in this case even within the course of a single song, rap artists often will put forth very contradictory attitudes towards various subjects, and I think that’s a good thing, that feels more like how things really go in reality. I feel like most other genres of music feel the need to make up their mind and take a side when they approach writing a song, but rappers seem much more comfortable taking on both sides simultaneously and letting them counterbalance each other and, possibly most importantly, letting the listener decide what to think about it. There’s pretty much one interpretation of “Once“, but “I Feel Like Dying” has a much more complex message with a whole spectrum of interpretations that could be drawn from it. I by no means intend to disparage Karma Ann’s creation, I think her song is amazing and it obviously made one of my favorite Lil’ Wayne songs possible, so I applaud her. My intention is only to express my personal preference for the way certain styles of artists tend to approach creating, and in this case (and let’s be real, most others), rap wins.
I’m hangin’ out with mine right now, shout out to Z-Ro’s.
Z-Ro – Auntie and Grandmama