Perhaps more than any other mainstream rapper (and this is really saying something) Twista really holds it down for the gentleman’s clubs. Although “Make a Movie” isn’t explicitly about throwing dollars at Spearmint Rhino, I have no doubt that—like “Wetter” before it—it’s currently providing the soundtrack for lapdances all across the country. While it’s unlikely to overtake Waka Flocka’s “No Hands” on radio or in clubs of any kind (Flocka, inexplicably, has major label backing), musically it’s a much sexier single, propelled by sensuous strings and producer Traxster’s genius, sparing use of conga and bongó. If I were a female stripping for money, I think I’d feel much classier dancing to “Make a Movie” than to the aggressive, vaguely threatening “No Hands.” This seems to be something Twista understands well; like DJ Quik before him he tempers his misogyny with undeniably sexy music, making strip club anthems that feel less like a lyrical gangbang and more like some slow, babymaking love (even when the topic at hand is something as trivial as a sex tape request.) Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
In what has been, for news outlets, a typically slow holiday week, one cultural phenomenon has dominated headlines around the country. With Bristol Palin’s long overdue elimination on Tuesday, discussion of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars hit a fever pitch, as even America’s most reputable news outlets pondered the significance of her improbable run to the finals. Not even Tom Delay’s conviction on money laundering charges, announced yesterday, could knock Dancing out of the national conversation, as the Hammer himself had once been a contestant on the popular show (bow your head in shame, America.)
Of course, Dancing With the Stars was courting controversy well before 2010. Far before Sarah Palin’s fans were skewing the competition, devotees of Percy Miller had viewers up in arms, as the rap mogul managed to survive an impressive four weeks in 2006 despite being literally the laziest dancer I have ever seen. The following clip, from the week of P’s elimination, really says it all. After receiving an 8 out of 30 from the judges, not to mention some of the harshest criticism ever doled out on a reality competition, P claims the judges are “taking it personal” (he had previously ignored their demands that he wear ballroom shoes in place of his trusty P. Millers) and uses the opportunity to promote his new album (the interviewer promptly cuts him off.) Sure, his partner looks like she’s about to cry from frustration, but you gotta love P’s “just don’t give a fuck” attitude. It is, after all, so very hip-hop.
If there’s anything E-40 can never be accused of, it’s not loving his family enough. Despite being arguably the only talented member of the Stevens Clan, Earl has selflessly promoted a roster full of his kin—from siblings D-Shot and Suga T to cousins B-Legit, Kaveo and Mugzi—throughout his twenty-year career. Anyone checking the credits of 40’s last few albums will have noticed the trend continuing with a new generation, as each new release has included greater participation from his son, producer Droop-E. However, with Earl Jr. not only producing the majority of 40’s current double album, but also serving as co-executive producer on both discs, the trend has officially gone too far: 40 is now guilty of showing his family too much love.
It’s not that Droop-E is a totally hopeless producer. He made a strong showing on Turf Talk’s West Coast Vaccine, and he turns in a couple decent tracks here. On the whole though, his work on Revenue Retrievin’ is totally uninspired; he appears to have very little musical knowledge (chords are almost unheard of in a Droop-E beat), and even at his best never rises above the level of a cheap Rick Rock imitation. The majority of his compositions on 40’s latest (an insanely bloated double release of 19 tracks per disc) consist of 808 claps, heavy bass, and assorted sound effects; though each could be said to “slap,” most could be said to “suck” as well (it’s a credit to E-40 that Revenue Retrievin‘ still manages to be highly entertaining.) But what to say about “Spend the Night?”
Call me crazy, but I can’t imagine the Ballatician accepting a collage of Bjork vocal samples from any producer not also named Stevens. Whether this track works or not is a tough call; the beginning is just as unlistenable as the latter half is strangely hypnotic. What is clear, however, is the fundamental creepiness of a “for the ladies” jam crafted by a father-and-son duo. I mean there are many things I enjoy doing with my father, but bragging about my sexual prowess (or hearing about his) does not make the cut. Of course, Fonzarelli and son clearly overcame any such awkwardness long ago, so that now the proud papa can lace his son’s tracks with verses about killing people, selling drugs, and, on “Undastandz Me,” “stretch[ing] the kiznoochy out like elastic.”
E-40 — “Undastandz Me” (Prod. Droop-E)
No one expects Droop-E to stop producing for his father (that would certainly be a career-killing decision), but I have to wonder how he feels hearing these sorts of things from his old man (who is still married to Droop’s mother, by the way.) Perhaps—even between father and son—game can’t help but recognize game.
You undastandz me?
Last night I went to the movies and, as is now par for the course, was bombarded by commercials for twenty-five minutes prior to the screening. By the time the previews started, I would’ve gladly watched almost anything that didn’t scream at me to shop at Wal-Mart or switch my “3G network”—whatever that is—and I largely held back judgment on the films being advertised. But then I saw this.
A lot of folks on the internets are mad at Chris Rock for remaking what they consider a “great British comedy,” but with all due respect, those people are idiots. 2007’s Death At a Funeral was less a true British comedy than a labored American facsimile, directed by Frank Oz with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head. Largely ignored in the States and trashed in the UK, the film faded away soon after its release, and with good reason. Alas, someone must’ve decided the original was too sophisticated for American audiences (particularly African Americans) and has remade the film a mere three years after its release. With a star-studded black cast, yes, but also with what appears to be an otherwise identical script and story, down to the title and the casting of Peter Dinklage as a blackmailing gay midget (what, was Tony Cox not available?)
My question is, why? The first Death At a Funeral may not have done well with black audiences, but then it didn’t do too well with the rest of us either, and besides, anyone who didn’t see it the first time is undoubtedly better off. Why punish black audiences for being wise enough to steer clear of a shitty film in the first place? And why remake a movie, black or otherwise, that recieved poor reviews, did poor box office numbers, and is still relatively fresh in the minds of moviegoers?
I wish I’d asked Danny Glover these questions when I ran into him at Fort Funston last year. Not wanting to disturb the veteran thespian, I merely nodded and let him pass. After Death At A Funeral hits theatres, he may want to stay inside for a while.
In the world of professional intellectuals, Cornel West is in a class all his own. Whenever you get a chance to hear him speak, you owe it to yourself to pay attention, as the Princeton professor always drops knowledge, humor, and compassion in equal parts. That, and he has one of the baddest haircuts in academia. Anyway, I was lucky enough to catch Dr. West on the radio today, when he called in to the Tavis Smiley show to chat about the spirit of Christmas and his favorite holiday music. During the discussion, West again illustrated what makes him an American treasure when he cited Charlie Wilson’s “There Goes My Baby” as his favorite song of the year. Pretty bold choice for a nearing-sixty public intellectual, I’d say, and pretty in-line with West’s usual M.O. The man can talk jazz, philosophy, and Chekhov (or “Brother Anton,” as West calls him) as well as any brain, but he’s no more immune than the rest of us to a perfect pop ballad (His favorite song in 2003: “Step in the Name of Love!”) Anyway, Smiley went on to reveal that “There Goes My Baby” is also Stevie Wonder’s favorite song of ’09, so of course the first thing I did when I got home was look the song up, having never once heard it on the radio or otherwise. It must have blown up on adult contemporary R&B stations (which I often forget to listen to), rather than the urban hip-hop/R&B joints intent on assaulting my ears with multiple, unlistenable Trey Songz singles. I suppose since Wilson is in his fifties and unkown to many young listeners, stations like the Bay’s KMEL have no use for him, since their target audience apparently consists of children thirteen-and-under. Sure, Wilson has guested on some relatively recent hip-hop hits, but in today’s amnesiac climate Snoop’s Rhythm and Gangsta might as well be LL’s Radio. I tell you, being a music fan just gets harder by the day.
Charlie Wilson’s Uncle Charlie is in stores now. If this track is at all representative of the album as a whole, I might just have to pick that up. Thanks, Dr. West.
O.C. & A.G. — “Put It In The Box”
O.C. & A.G. — “Reality Is”
O.C. & A.C. — “God’s Gift”
This past Tuesday, to little fanfare and with minimal promotion, two hip-hop veterans dropped what may be the best album of 2009. Spanning seventeen skit- and guest-free tracks (produced by Show, Lord Finesse, and French affiliate E-Blaze) O.C. & A.G.’s Oasis is an excercise in songcraft and lyricism, boasting not only innumerable quotables but also a depth and maturity commensurate with the duo’s status as torchbearers of true-school, New York rap. The product of two years’ hard labor, Oasis benefits from the natural chemistry of O and A, who’ve shared both the stage and booth repeatedly throughout their long careers. Unforced, unrushed, and completely organic, it’s the kind of album that gets better with each listen; I found myself, after playing it through once, wanting to start all over at the beginning. While a few may not grab you on first listen, the beats are solid across the board, providing ample backing for some of the best performances of both emcees’ careers.
Given the competitive nature of rap, heads will argue about whether O.C. outraps A.G. or vice versa; I’d say that while that’s really a moot point, my vote goes to A.G. Omar more than holds his own, both alongside the Giant and on his two solo tracks, but Andre sounds so focused he had my jaw dropping repeatedly. Whether kicking bragaddocio with O or dropping serious knowledge on solos like “Reality Is” and “God’s Gift,” A.G. proves that great emcees can indeed age gracefully; after spinning Oasis these past few days I’ve got him in my top five, and I can’t think of many rappers who could match either his delivery or his lyrics. Case in point: this freestyle, so godamn hot O.C. declines to spit after hearing it.
As critics release their best-of lists for 2009, I can only hope that Oasis rates a few mentions. If not, expect O and A to keep grinding, like the rest of the Crates crew, putting out quality music for the few of us still checking for that real hip-hop.
Celly Cel — “What U Niggaz Thought”
A few nights ago, I read through the latest spat between veteran blogger Noz and his (perceived) critical nemesis Jeff Weiss with a great deal of interest, though not at all for the music in question. You see, I’m sure Pill and Freddie Gibbs are talented rappers, but the truth is I feel no desire whatsoever to explore their “catalog” by downloading one of the gazillion mixtapes they’ve released for free. That’s just not how I’ve grown up listening to music. In fact, every time I hear someone complain about how mixtapes aren’t afforded the same critical respect as albums, or suggest that rap critics spend eight hours a day keeping up with the constant flood of free internet music (seriously Noz, is that your life?), I want to smash my computer with a bat and curse the internet for irreversibly ruining rap music. You see, before purchasing music became the sole domain of collectors and altruists, the same “gritty” and “uncompromising” qualities so prized in Pill and Gibbs could be found on any number of major label releases, many of which sold incredibly well without making any mainstream concessions. It wasn’t necessary to flood the worldwide web to create a buzz; on the contrary, one could scan a lot of fucking records without looking much further than his own coast or region. Nowadays, however, that approach is extinct, and artists like Pill and Gibbs have no choice but to court national attention through the internet. Which upsets “street-minded” bloggers, who don’t want to share their artists with anyone as white as themselves (certainly not readers of The New Yorker and The Times), evokes ambivalence in the few of us who still prefer our music in concrete form, and only wins fans among people who, should an album ever be released, will surely download it for free anyway (a la most of The Passion‘s commenters.) All the while, we know that if a major label does take notice (which has to be these rappers’ end goal) it’ll erase any of the individuality that made them appealing in the first place, since the old stick-with-the-formula approach (think Too $hort and E-40 on Jive) is just no longer commercially viable.
So what’s an artist to do? Fuck if I know. The game is fucked up, in a real way. But let’s remember a time when it wasn’t. A time when an unapolagetically regional rapper—from Vallejo of all places—was able to move well over 400K copies of his sophomore album, all while remaining virtually unknown outside the Bay Area (and, apparently, Seattle.) No, I’m not talking about E-40, or even Mac Dre. In those fruitful days, even a tiny city like Vallejo could boast multiple major-label emcees, of which Celly Cel, signed to 40’s Sick Wid It/Jive imprint, was merely one.
Celly Cel — “Remember Where You Came From”
Stylistically indebted to his mentor, Celly Cel nonetheless lacked much of E-40’s humor and personality, but on Killa Kali he benefits from some of the best straight-up mobb production of any Bay Area release I’ve heard. While Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic (of “Sprinkle Me” fame) are conspicuously absent, and Studio Ton contributes only one track, producer Ken Franklin follows their blueprint to great effect on the majority of the album’s tracks, with Tone Capone (The Luniz’ “I Got Five On It”) and Kevin Gardner and Redwine (40’s “Smoke ‘N Drank'”) taking care of the rest. The result is an aural snapshot of Bay Area rap circa 1996, blessed with a major label budget but free from the creative pressures that cripple artists on majors today. With the exceptions of fellow Bay Area rappers E-40 and B-Legit on “4 Tha Scrilla” and Spice 1 on “Redrum,” Killa Kali contains no features, while its single, the creeping “It’s Goin’ Down” would’ve been lucky to garner a single spin on New York radio. And yet Killa Kali, in all its mobbed-out, Bay Area glory, damn near went gold, a feat increasingly rare for any artist in this era of Nahright and Rapidshare links. So while I’m grateful to the internet for allowing me to share my opinions with the world, I also recognize the damage it’s done to the genre I love so much. Which is perhaps why I’d rather dig out a fully-realized, uncompromising album from 1996 than listen to whichever online mixtape is hot at the moment, or, even worse, the latest watered down mush to come out on a major label. The game done changed, I know, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna change with it.