Monday, December 21, 2009

Over Rated 2009

R&B Singers That Are Beyond Reproach

Being in the public eye is difficult and today’s climate of gossip magazines/websites, bloggers and paparazzi ensure that even the most beloved celebrities will eventually falter (Christian Bale and Tiger Woods immediately come to mind). However in this extremely hostile environment, several celebrities, and in particular female R&B singers, have managed to evade the media’s magnifying glass and win in the court of public opinion. Exactly why these “Chosen Ones” can do no wrong is not clear, but it is truly remarkable the amount of leeway they get in the media intensive climate of 2009.

Over the course of the last 12 months Alicia Keys has remained at the top of female empowerment/musical talent/physical beauty lists and continues to win all kinds of “Presidential Awards” for good citizenship despite releasing several singles that failed to connect with fans (usually the sign of an album flop), obvious weight gain, needing Jay-Z to maintain relevance and clearly breaking up the marriage of Swizz Beats and aspiring singer Mashonda. Alicia Keys has been one of the most prominent artists of this decade, but it’s hard to imagine many other celebrities getting a pass like this from the media and fans.

Similarly, Beyonce can do no wrong in the eyes of America despite spending 90% of the year barely clothed and gyrating on stages around the country, releasing heavy-handed sex metaphors (“Big Ego”) and odes to sexual fetishes (“Video Phone”), changing her message to young fans from “Independent Woman” to “Put a Ring On It” (because, really, isn’t the whole point of female empowerment to marry a rich & powerful man?) and maintaining a “marriage” where it is unclear if husband and wife ever actually speak to each other.

The biggest beneficiary of the public’s love for certain female R&B singers is Whitney Houston. Houston has been out of the public eye for nearly a decade and after the poor sales of her 2009 “comeback album” (with production from Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats...who were conspicuously not blamed for the flop), went on Oprah and admitted that she spent the last 10 years in a drug induced haze, neglected her children and cost herself, family and business associates millions of dollars. I doubt many celebrities would be welcomed back with open arms after such a confession.

However, this virtual lovefest with the media and fans does not extend to all R&B singers. In most circles, Kelis is now known as a “the B**th that was married to Nas” despite a fairly successful career. And Mariah Carey (who has reached levels of success beyond any other female entertainer in history by releasing a seemingly endless string of hits and staying current after two decades in the business) is constantly ridiculed as a “Fat, Wanna-Be-Hip-Hop, Has Been” despite consistently selling records, being in better shape than most 40 year old women and releasing a bigger hit in 2009 (“Obsessed”) than any of the singers the media and fans chose to deify.

I’m not saying it’s not fair...I’m just saying.

The Kardashian’s Work Ethic

2009 saw Chloe marry Lamar Odom, Kim break up with Reggie Bush and Courtney become impregnated by erstwhile slacker Scott. On recent episodes, the Kardashian family/media conglomerate constantly bash Scott’s work ethic and claims he is “going nowhere in life.” This is an absurd claim from a group of people that have fallen ass backwards into numerous income streams because Kim fell ass backwards into Ray-J.

Summer Blockbusters

Trying to follow 2008 (“Iron Man,” “The Dark Knight,” etc.) was no easy task, and 2009 failed miserably. The summer blockbuster season was marred by movies filled with mindless action, poor plot/character development and offensive characters (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”). At it’s best the Summer of 2009 provided a few hours of air conditioning that didn’t make you immediately regret your decision to spend $10 (G.I. Joe).

NOTE: This does NOT apply to “The Hangover” which is arguably the funniest movie of the decade.

“There’s No Good Hip-Hop Out There”

To put it simply, if you are not enjoying the current state of Hip-Hop, you are not looking hard enough. 2009 had great releases from legends like Jay-Z, Raekwon and Eminem, exciting new artists like Drake, Kid Cudi and Wale and underground/experimental releases from Cage, La Coka Nostra and Felt that all significantly raised the bar for the culture. The 2000’s closed on an extremely high note and fans should be excited about what the next decade will have in store.

Rihanna being a Strong/Courageous Women

Rihanna apparently got beat up pretty bad by Chris Brown, this is bad, violence against women is intolerable and should be punished. However, the media/general public’s initial declaration of Rihanna as the strongest female alive and the best role model for young girls since Eleanor Roosevelt and subsequently accepting her as a “Bad A** Rock-n-Roll Chick” seem misguided.

Last winter Rihanna got beat up and then went to the cops, two of the least bad a** activities an individual can do. A few months go by and now she shows up on BET talking about drinking and having sex like she’s Jenna Jameson, decked out in leather dominatrix gear with gun tattoos and sporting a haircut from Mad Max. Even if you ignore that she jacked this whole persona from Kelis, it’s hard to take this new “Bad Girl” image seriously.

Under Rated 2009

Licensed Video Games

In the past, Licensed Video Games were usually poor quality, short, frustrating games that were rushed to the market to coincide with the release of a movie in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the characters/story/media blitz of the franchise. In 2009, games like Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, among others changed that for the better. These games all featured familiar characters in innovative and polished games that were comparable to the best non-licensed games on the market. Hopefully, this trend continues in the next decade as game developers continue to devote more time and resources to providing quality content to fans of existing franchises and not simply use them to pad their bottom line.

“Other” Sneaker Releases

2009 was a relatively quiet year for two of the biggest sneaker lines of all time: Air Jordan and Air Force 1’s. Brand Jordan released a string of tepidly received retros (most of these are still available in your local Foot Locker) and some hybrids that have been constantly ridiculed online. It was also one of the quietest years for Air Force 1’s in recent memory, with the exception of a few super-limited quickstrike releases and several colorways popping up for the holiday season, there have been almost no significant AF1 releases in all of 2009. Also, the monthly releases of AJ/AF1 Hybrids have all been ridiculed online and are all still available at your favorite suburban mall.

In the absence of these two major players, other releases really got a chance to shine in 2009. Reebok’s 20th anniversary of The Pump, Fila’s Grant Hill collection, Nike’s Air Trainer Line (Bo Jacksons!), LeBron 7’s, Foamposites, Blazers and Air Max’s all kept Sneaker Heads happy and spending dough throughout the year.

The Rise of New Media

“King” and “Vibe” went out of business (albeit briefly), the biggest new Hip-Hop artist didn’t have a record deal, more people played Facebook games like “Farmville” and “Mafia Wars” than console games, record sales plummeted as major chain retailers continued to go out of business and celebrities “scooped” the gossip magazines via Twitter. Like Bob Dylan said: the times, they are a-changin’.

The “Reality” of MTV’s “Jersey Shore”

I have always been a proponent that everything on “reality TV” is carefully scripted and edited to have nothing in common with actual “reality,” however, with the release of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” I stand corrected. This show is the realist thing on TV!

I grew up at the Jersey Shore, not going there for the summers, a few fun weekends or after my senior prom, I lived there 24-7-365. This show perfectly depicts the drinking, fighting and general debauchery that vacationers from NY/Northern NJ engage in when they go “down the shore.”

Several groups have deemed the show derogatory for the Jersey Shore Community and Italian Americans. To those groups I say this: The show depicts “Jersey Shore People” (i.e. policemen, bouncers, barbers, the T-Shirt guy) as rational, hardworking and intelligent citizens, in contrast, the visitors or “Benny’s” are shown to be buffoonish revelers that drink to the point of hospitalization and punch women...I, for one, do not have a problem with this kind of realistic depiction. Secondly, older Italian Americans should worry more about their kids acting like idiots than MTV videotaping their kids acting like idiots.

We can only hope that the exploits of J-Wow, Snookie and The Situation continue to delight us in the new year.

Great Live Shows

The lack of revenue from record sales (see “Rise of New Media”) has forced acts to tour and become increasingly proficient live performers, because like B-Real from Cypress Hill said “You can’t bootleg a great live experience.” This new model for generating income has benefitted most music fans, but Hip-Hop fans in particular. In 2009, package tours like “Rock The Bells/Paid Dues” and “The Sneaker Pimps” and individual artists from superstars like Jay-Z to underground legends like Murs and upstarts like Kid Cudi, put on entertaining, professional and punctual (a rarity in Hip-Hop) shows that gave fans their money’s worth and a reason to spend money on music when artist’s entire catalogs are available online free of charge.

Tiger Woods as Athlete of the Decade

Many are offended that Tiger Woods can even be considered for this honor after his recently exposed “transgressions.” I disagree and challenge anyone that is appalled by this to come up with a better representative of what sports has to offer than Tiger Woods. Numerous extramarital affairs, exposing the mother of his children to any number of STD’s, embarrassing his children, alleged performance enhancing drug use, a contentious relationship with the media that made him rich and famous, constant use of foul language in public, contempt for his fans and a “win-at-all-costs” mentality...sorry to inform the outraged moralists, but THIS IS SPORTS.

If you are a sports fan and are completely flabbergasted by this shocking revelation I suggest you get involved in any number of past times with higher moral standards: adult films, the drug trade and politics are all good places to start.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Themes in Hip-Hop 2009

Any fool can list his Top 5 albums or singles from a given year (obviously it’s not that hard because I did it two posts ago). However, taking a step back and looking at Hip-Hop in 2009 a few clear themes emerge that are far too prevalent to be isolated occurrences or mere coincidence. Without further ado...the Top 5 Themes in Hip-Hop 2009!

FIVE: Grown A** Men Rapping

In 2009, Jay-Z, Eminem, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Everlast, KRS-ONE, Buckshot, Cage Tame-One, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Kurious and other veterans, all released stellar albums that were good beyond the typical “Well, I’ve bought all his other stuff so I might as well pick up the new one by ____________” (you can fill in the blank with whatever old school rapper that refuses to retire you like). All of these guys are in their late 30’s/early 40’s (whether they admit it or not) and have been producing music since the early 90’s. With solid albums, singles getting radio play and sold out tours by artists reaching middle-age Hip-Hop has finally grown up and ushered in it’s first group of adult-contemporary MC’s. Much like other “Adult” genres these artists come to the mic with a level of life experience and musical skill that even the most talented 20 year-old could only imagine.

While 2009 saw a talented freshmen class (Kid Cudi, Drake, Wale, Asher Roth, etc.) make respectable debuts, there is something to be said for the group of vets that dominated the year.

FOUR: Collaborative Projects Actually Being Released

Rumored full-length collaborations are the topic of about 80% (complete guess) of all postings on Hip-Hop websites and message boards, and while in the past nearly none of these projects ever saw the light of day (I have been waiting for Dr. Dre/Ice Cube and The Four Horsemen for well over a decade), 2009 actually saw the release of several collaborative albums.

This may be due to the fact that selling albums in today’s music industry is nearly impossible and record labels are willing to take more chances, but albums by “Super Groups” like Slaughterhouse, La Coka Nostra, KRS-ONE & Buckshot, Del & Tame One, AG & Ed OG and Street Sweeper Social Club kept real heads running to their local record store, if it didn’t already go out of business.

THREE: White People

2009 was an absurdly good year to be a White Rapper (see “Christmas Spectacular” movie if you disagree). Albums from artists as diverse as Eminem, Asher Roth, R.A. The Rugged Man, La Coka Nostra, Apathy, Cage and Felt were all received well by critics and fans.

While artists should clearly be measured on the merit of their material and not the color of their skin, this as simply too big of trend to ignore. The exact reason for this explosion of white MC’s is hard to pinpoint, but they all added something new to the game and released solid music all year long. Now, if we can just get Bubba Sparxxx to make a come back in 2010. (Don’t sleep, “Deliverance” is a sick album!).

TWO: Album Creativity

It has been said that when a man has nothing, he is truly free, well with album sales at an all time low and illegal downloads and purchasing individual songs clearly winning the race for consumers’ attention, record companies seem to have loosened the reigns on artist’s creativity and let them release some truly original and unique material in 2009.

Albums like Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon: The End of Day” or Ghostface Killah’s “R&B Project” are wildly innovative and stray far from the typical commercially released Hip-Hop album (see “5 Mic Formula” post). Even blockbuster albums by Eminem (the addiction/recovery themed “Relapse”) and Jay-Z (the extremely unformulaic “Blueprint 3”) were not the usual “let’s get as many hot producers as we can afford to make a collection of singles and some filler” affairs.

This renewed emphasis on creativity and producing cohesive works of art is one of the best aspects of Hip-Hop in 2009 and as a fan one can only hope it continues and further develops in 2009.

ONE: The “New Music Industry” in Full Effect

When 50 Cent got a deal from his mixtapes it started, when Lil’ Wayne became an international celebrity without an album it was continued and in 2009 when Drake became one of the “Hottest MC’s in the Game” (Shout out to MTV)without a record deal while multiple record stores went out of business it became undeniably clear that the old record industry was over. The new pop culture consumer in the coveted 18-24 year old bracket has never paid for a CD, does not remember when they couldn’t be “friends” with their favorite artists on social networking sites and has never had to wait for MTV, VH1 or BET to play their favorite video.

The internet and it’s far reaching effects, from person-to-person file sharing of songs to being able to order your favorite underground MC’s merchandise anywhere in the world, has had such a profound effect on the music industry that it’s hard to tell if the major labels have fully grasped the new parameters of the business.

In 2009, Drake had a string of hits...from a mixtape that was not made commercially available until after he had the song of the summer, internet beefs (50 Cent/Rick Ross, Cam’Ron/Dipset, etc.) garnered more attention than several major label releases and grass roots artists like Tech-Nine, Slaughterhouse and Murs continued to gain exposure and new fans through aggressive internet campaigns and relentless touring. While it is still unclear what direction the music industry will take in the next several years, it is abundantly clear that the old model of: Street Single > Pop Single > Album Release > A Few Promo Shows > Sit Back and Count The Money As it Rolls In, is a thing of the past.

As fans, this new paradigm is much better than the old system. There is virtually endless amounts of free music available from our favorite artists for no cost, merchandise is readily available to anyone with a credit card and an internet connection and there is an abundance of live Hip-Hop shows just about anywhere in the US (the shows and merchandise allow artists to make up the expenses of providing free music).

The first decade of the 21st century has been incredibly exciting in regards to how we consume media and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of slowing down in the near future. Hip-Hop has always been full of early-adopters of technology and how this culture is disseminated in the next decade will be watched and decided by Hip-Hop Heads worldwide.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best Movies of 2009

Movies 2009

2009 was undoubtedly the worst year for movies in recent memory. The majority of major studio releases were overwhelmingly lackluster and few indie movies garnered much fanfare outside of the art-house circuit. While it was a terrible year to spend hard-earned money at the theatre, there were a few movies that were actually acceptable way to kill a few hours.

Best Movies of 2009

Watchmen: The supposedly “impossible-to-film” genre-defining graphic novel from the 80’s was finally brought to the screen in 2009, and the results were awesome. Watchmen flew in the face of accepted norms for Comic Book Movies: it was too long, introduced too many new characters, dealt with concepts that were too big and morally ambiguous and mad absolutely no effort to update the story (based around the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War) to appeal to a younger audience. Even with all of those strikes against it, Watchmen provided three of the coolest hours of 2009.

The Hangover:Arguably the funniest movie of the decade and easily the most fun anybody had in a theatre this year, The Hangover is so funny and every joke/scene works so well that it’s hard to imagine this DVD not being in heavy rotation in just about every household this holiday season.

Good Hair: A serious look into the hair-care habits of African Americans interspersed with a documentary about a “hair show” so outrageous it could only be true. One of the most entertaining and eye-opening movies released in a while.

Food, Inc.: This documentary of the food industry starts with the line “What we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 5 million years...” and goes on to detail how the current agricultural-industrial complex uses pesticides, antibiotics, gene engineering and questionable slaughter/storage practices to produce high profit margins but nutrient deficient food that may be reeking havoc on the American people. If you are not at least mildly interested in this topic, you are dumb.

Away We Go: Jim Halpert and that chick from SNL have a baby, it’s pretty funny and the the love story/dramatic parts work pretty well too.

Sugar: This documentary-style drama exposes the underside of professional baseball and what happens when supposed superstars from South America don’t make it in America’s Past Time, entertaining and informative for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.
G.I. Joe: It wasn’t high-art but it was the best of the summer blockbusters and the relentless action and thrill of seeing some of my favorite toys come to life more than made up for the lack of an interesting plot and lifeless acting.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

Top 5 Albums of 2009

FIVE: Kid Cudi-Man on the Moon: The End of Day

The debut album by Scott Mescudi can best be described as “Anti-Swagger.” The young rapper debuted at the end of 2008 with the bangin’ “Day-N-Night” and after taking almost 10 months to produce an official debut he emerged with an album so different, so innovative,so plain good, that it pushed “Emo Hip-Hop” out of the underground and to the forefront of the industry. The album is trip into the young MC’s mind and deals with such issues as alienation, trouble with women, family struggle and even hints at a chemical imbalance...this takes “keeping it real” to the next level.

Four: Slaughterhouse-Self Titled

4 of the “best to never do it” got together and released a full-length LP full of hard beats and relentless lyrics that made even the most disgruntled, “Hip Hop Is Dead” backpackers admit there was still some life left in the genre. Every verse on this record is an event, as Royce, Joey, Joell and Crook rhyme like their very life depends on every syllable they spit, and in an industry where second chances are rare, they just may have saved their careers and lyrical Hip-Hop at the same time.

Three: Raekwon-Only Built For Cuban Linx...Pt. 2

Released a full 14 years after the original, the sequel to The Chef’s seminal debut was worth every second of the loooooooong wait. Vivid imagery, detailed story telling, guest appearances by nearly every Wu-Tang affiliate and beats by a wide array of producers culminated in another cinematic masterpiece for the Shoalin Masters. NOTE: Ghostface Killah’s “Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City” was released less than a month after OB4CL2, if these two albums were released simultaneously (e.g. OUTKAST’s “Speakerbox/The Love Below”) this would have undoubtedly been the best album of the year and the best Wu album in well over a decade.

Two: Eminem-Relapse

Marshall Mathers took a full five years between albums and while the majority of Soulja Boy Tell’em fans and the “106 & Park” crowd didn’t seem to appreciate this release, real heads knew...Slim Shady was Back! “Relapse” did have a few misfires, but highlights like “My Mom,” “Deja Vu,” “Beautiful,” and “Underground” were so far beyond the capabilities of the average rapper that this album in easily in the top few releases of the year.

One: Jay-Z-Blueprint 3

At this point in his career, arguing that anybody else is on Shawn Carter’s level is flat out silly. This album was a entertainment industry event and by all measures it lived up to the hype. Jay’s typically dazzling lyrics combined with inventive beats and just the right amount of pop sensibility to form THE album of 2009. Between dominating radio and video outlets from September to December, nearly every song getting radio play, completely obliterating the “Autotune/Ringtone” aesthetic dominating Hip-Hop for the last several years and releasing this generation’s New York anthem, there was simply nobody in Jay-Z’s category in 2009.

Best Independant/Underground Albums of 2009

La Coka Nostra: A Brand You Can Trust

All three original members of House of Pain, Non-Phixion/Solo MC Ill Bill and newcomer Slaine released arguably the best album of the year. This filled the void of white-trash hooligan music that has been pretty vacant since HOP’s last album in ’96 and is by far the best workout CD of the last several years as the aggressive beats and relentless lyrics from three of the most slept-on MC’s of all-time combine to form, what Danny Boy calls “that old 90’s swinging from the chandelier music.”

R.A. The Rugged Man: Legendary Classics Vol. 1

“Legendary Classics Vol. 1” chronicles the unreleased and hard-to-find classics from one of the best rappers to never blow up. The collection spans 15 years and contains mid-90’s cult classics like “Every Record Label Sucks D**k” and the Biggie assisted “C*nt. Renaissance” all the way up to more recent classics like the awe-inspiring “Uncommon Valor (A Vietnam Story)” and “Renaissance” This collection should be mandatory listening for longtime Rugged Man fans and newcomers alike.

Cage: Depart From Me

In 2009 Chris Palko walked out of “Against All Odds” and into “Hot Topic” as “Depart From Me” was awash in fuzzy guitars, sung chorus’ and screamed/mumbled lyrics. The album was a definite departure (get it?) from Cage’s normal shock-value lyrics and NYC inspired beats, but taken as a complete statement it unquestionably paints a vivid picture of an artist and man at a crossroads in his life and music, where Cage’s career goes in the next few years should interesting to say the least.

Mic Savvy: Freshman Year Flashbacks

“Freshmen Year Flashbacks” is the best album to come of North Carolina since Little Brother’s 2005 opus “The Minstrel Show.” Soulful production, thoughtful lyrics and a laid back delivery combine to form an organic sound that perfectly bridges the gap between the dirty south, backpackers and radio accessibility.
Del The Funkee Homosapien & Tame One: Parallel UNI-Verses

Oakland’s Del and Newark NJ’s Tame-UNO produced a solid album of underground heat in 2009. The MC’s divergent but similar vocal styles and producer Parallel Thought’s spaced out soundscapes produced one of the most unique and pleasurable listening experiences of the year.

Rick Mujerus’s Instant O-Fense 2009

Shakira: She Wolf-This should have been the song of the summer, it was not and we are all worse because of it.

Lady Gaga: Entire Catalog- Despite her bizarre fashion sense, Lady Gaga brought the New York club scene to the masses, and whether you want to admit it or not, you liked it.

Black Eyed Peas: I Got a Feeling & Meet Me Half Way-Considering how bad most BEP music is, these two masterpieces are actually fun party records and not just 3 min. of unbridled buffoonery.

Tre Songs feat. Fabolous: Say Ahh-Not much to say about the best ode to oral sex this year.

The Dream feat. Kanye West: Walking on the Moon-The best “Michael Jackson Song” not made by the King of Pop.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October Reviews: The Underground Edition

Refer to previous post for rating system, or refer to any system of 1-5 you want, they are all pretty much the same.

Apathy: “Wanna Snuggle?”


Apathy is not only my favorite emotion; he’s also one hell of an MC. Ap has been bouncing around the underground scene for about a decade, been cosigned by everybody from indie-rap darlings Styles of Beyond to superstars Linkin Park, and has been affiliated with the Connecticut-based Demigodz since their rise to national prominence in the early 2000’s. Despite these powerful connections and obvious talent as a lyricist, song writer and producer, AP’s career has yet to take off beyond the typical “struggling white rapper” and “Wanna Snuggle?” (a reference to a boa constrictor eating a rat) is only his second full-length release in a career that already spans over a decade.

Apathy has been relatively quiet since his 2006 release “Eastern Philosophy” and he clearly has used the time off to perfect his beat making ability as ¾ of the tracks are self-produced. He also had ample time to create concepts and write lyrics that tell intricate stories that deal with issues as diverse as materialism, slavery, the music industry, male/female relationships, 9-5 jobs, his place in Hip-Hop and regular people being pushed to insane acts of violence (the near-brilliant album closer “Victim”). Apathy doesn’t waste listener’s time by rigidly adhering to the typical rap song format (three 16-Bar verses and a hook) by adding endless filler verses and adlibs, instead he gets his point across and ends most songs leaving the listener wanting more, as many of the 21 tracks clock in at well under 2 ½ minutes. This is a blessing and curse, while some of the songs end perfectly, some feel rushed or unfinished and could have greatly benefitted from a third verse or guest appearance. (NOTE: I am not sure if this is Apathy’s fault or I am so conditioned to how Hip-Hop “should sound” from damn near two decades as a rabid fan that any deviation from the norm sends my head spinning).

“Wanna Snuggle?” has several really high points, including the B-Real and Celph-Titled assisted “Shoot First,” the throwback (way back) feel of “Thinkin’” and the previously mentioned “Victim,” however these standouts are separated by too much filler for “Wanna Snuggle?” to be considered an underground classic or even on par with AP’s previous work.

Del the Funkee Homosapien & Tame One: “Parallel UNI-Verses”


“Parallel UNI-Verses” is the perfect name for a collaborative LP from two MC’s that have travelled two strikingly similar career paths at opposite sides of the continental United States. Both Del and Tame-One debuted in the early 90’s to critical acclaim and minimal commercial success, both came from areas just outside of Hip-Hop’s prime breading grounds (Oakland and NJ respectively), both have cultivated a dedicated fanbase by affiliating themselves with talented crews (Del’s Hieroglyphics camp and Tame with NYC’s Weathermen), releasing quality albums on respected indie labels (Hiero Imperium, Eastern Conference and Def Jux), collaborating with the biggest stars in underground Hip-Hop (Deltron 3030, The Gorillas, Leak Brothers, Slow Suicide Stimulus, etc) and constant touring both domestically and abroad. Artistically, the two have similar vocal styles that include off-the-wall lyrics delivered in a laid back tone over experimental beats, this similarity is the main factor in making “Parallel UNI-Verses” an enjoyable trip through the underground from beginning to end.

The entire project is produced by Parallel Thought and the up-and-coming producer provides sonic backdrops that are street enough for hardrocks, trippy enough for backpackers and the perfect accompaniment to Del and Tame’s left-field poetry. The standout track and first single “Flashback” has both MC’s reminiscing about the good ol’ days over a sick beat that will have fans ready to breakdance, write graffiti on the train and look for their Das EFX tapes. Other bangers include “Specifics,” “Life Sucks” and “We Taking Over.”

While the overriding “Back In The Day” vibe may wear some fans out after repeated listening, Del and Tame have produced a dope album and one of the finest LP’s in either MC’s distinguished career.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reviews October 2009

Grading System: Hispanic Causing Panic Edition
5: Big Pun
4: Cypress Hill
3: Angie Martinez
2: Fat Joe
1: Rico Suave

Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Kid Cudi’s debut album does for the depressed what “Illmatic” did for project-dwellers and “The Slim Shady LP” did for white trash, it is the quintessential verbal and sonic embodiment of a mind state that is rarely addressed in Hip-Hop. While casual fans are familiar with Cudi from his anthem-like single “Day n Night” and his newer radio friendly “Poke Her Face” listeners should be prepared for more of the melancholy loneliness of the former and very little of the playful sexuality displayed on the latter. The album is organized to mirror a night in the life of Scott Mescudi and from dusk (the lullaby like “In My Dreams”) to dawn (the triumphant “Up, Up and Away”) the talented MC uses haunting soundscapes, singing/moaning/spoken word and quality guest appearances to convey his message of personal struggle and an impending sense of doom about the world outside of his own head.

“Man on the Moon” starts off with the bangin’ “Soundtrack to My Life” which traces Cudi’s evolution from a depressed youth playing with toys alone in his room, to a depressed adolescent with women troubles and finally to a depressed rap star that has to carry around hand sanitizer from getting so many handshakes. This song sets the tone for the album and lets fans know that Kid Cudi is not new to depression, but has actually been depressed at every level of the game. This commitment to a singular theme is rare in commercial Hip-Hop and allows Cudi to produce one of the year’s best albums because of the sonic and lyrical cohesion throughout the entire project (with the exception of the previously mentioned “Poke Her Face” which does not fit into the overall vibe and was clearly included as a stab at radio play and an opportunity to include verses from superstars Kanye West and Common). Following the introduction to the mind of Kid Cudi, the talented musician proceeds to address the down side of the constantly glorified “Rap Life” including, drug use (“Day n Night”), females (“My World” and “Enter Galactic”), alienation from peers (“Solo Dolo”) and the American Dream (“Pursuit of Happiness”).

Overall, “Man on the Moon” does an incredible job of setting a tone and presenting one unified message over the course of 60+ minutes of music. Most of the material on this album will not make it to radio and the overwhelming majority of it is not suitable for the club, however it is absolutely perfect for driving home from the club alone after a night of rejection and discouragement. This kind of “Sky Might Fall” realism may struggle to find a widespread audience in today’s climate of endless optimism sold to us by the government, churches, the school system, the news, self-help gurus and pharmaceutical companies, but it’s hard to argue it’s not a welcome change of pace.

KRS-ONE & Buckshot: Survival Skills

Finally! Every Hip-Hop head’s dream collaboration…in 1995! Boot Camp Clik and Boogie Down Productions have been intimately linked since Black Moon’s second single sampled KRS-ONE’s “How many MC’s must get dissed?” line in the summer of ’93. In the ensuing decade and half, both Buckshot and KRS have remained active in the industry, releasing albums every few years, constantly touring and otherwise thriving in the new internet-heavy/record-label-lite underground Hip-Hop marketplace. While this album might be a little late for most fans and it’s by no means a grand slam, it’s a solid double that scores some runs when the team (read: Hip-Hop) absolutely needs it.

The lead single “Robot” chastises the current crop of autotune-MC’s, and was actually released a few weeks prior to Jay-Z’s “D.O.A.” and the current single “How We Live” features Mary J. Blige in a reunion of early 90’s heavyweights for a song that is lyrically strong but still accessible for today’s Hot 97 listeners. The remainder of the album is solid, if not spectacular. The elder statesmen present numerous lessons to today’s Hip-Hop listeners and fans, ranging from being a good father to constantly pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop and personal creativity. These songs are better than most of the material on recent releases by either Buck or KRS because of the contrast between the two MC’s vocal styles, KRS’s overpowering bombast is met with Buckshot’s laid back lyricism to create a sonic “Good Cop/Bad Cop” that is especially appreciated during extended listening. Musically, the majority of the beats are provided by up-and-coming producers that find a good middle-ground between early 90’s boom-bap and 2009 radio play that provides the two veterans with a perfect platform to school the 106 & Park crowd.

To be completely honest, this album has very little to offer fans of Soulja Boy or T-Pain, but for fans of golden-era Hip-Hop or adults that are not salivating over the next Kanye outburst, this is a solid listen with the right mix of nostalgia and that proverbial “next sh*t.”

Ghostface Killah: Ghostdini and the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City

Like most Ghostface releases, this defies classification based on title (one of the longest ever?) and concept (a GFK R&B album, really?) alone. However, once you get passed the Wizard of Oz theme and idea of Ghost over all R&B tracks (something he has experimented with since 1996’s “Ironman”) it’s actually another quality project from one of the most consistent MC’s in the game.

The album features guest appearances by Shareefa, “Radio” Raheem DeVaughn (a nod to Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”), Lloyd and most surprisingly Adrian Bailon, of Cheetah Girls and Kardashians fame, who absolutely murders “I’ll Be That.” Ghost maintains his normally off-kilter flow and off-the-wall references to address all aspects of male/female relationships from sex (“Stapleton Sex”) to having a child (“Baby”) to begging for forgiveness (“Do Over”) to cheating (“Guest House”) for a great concept album and one of the most engaging albums of the year.
The timing of this album is a bit questionable, coming mere weeks after Raekwon’s critical and commercial hit “OB4CL…Pt 2” but with two quality releases in less than a month the Wu-dynasty may be ready to shine again…protect ya neck.

VH1 Hip-Hop Honors

This year’s edition was pretty entertaining, here are some random musings:

HIGHLIGHTS: Eminem and Black Thought covering LL, Onxy still being angry after all these years, the amusing anecdotes from Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons and other Def Jam staffers, Tracy Morgan actually being funny.

LOW-LIGHTS: Trey Songz being the worst Nate Dogg ever, the rushed and poorly planned finale, The Roots organic live sound not fitting some Def Jam classics.


If Murder, Inc. had to be included, why did they ignore “Holla, Holla” “Put It On Me,” and “Me and You” in favor of “Down A** B**ch” ?

Where the hell were Slick Rick, 3rd Bass, and anybody affiliated with Roc-a-fella?

How sick was Ja Rule’s shearling peacoat?

Where can I get some DMX sweatpants?

By including Rick Ross and not Slick Rick, didn’t they pick the wrong Rick?

Why did DMX do the worst song of his career?

Wouldn’t more cover versions and less original artists have been cool? I can see Meth and Red do “The Roc Wilder” anytime I want on youtube, but to see Drake and Kid Cudi cover it would have been amazing and traditionally that’s what this show is about.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reviews September 2009

The following are technically “Reviews,” but because they are all so hot, I’m not going to bother assigning any kind of grading system. However, with the exception of Kanye and Lil’ Mama’s foolishness, it was a great week to be a Hip-Hop head!

Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3

“The Blueprint 3” is Grown-A**-Man-Rap at it’s best. Where Hova faltered by going over his audience’s head on most of “Kingdom Come,” he gets it right for the overwhelming majority of BP3. The beats provided by Kanye West, Timbaland and Pharrell are some of the most complex and multi-layered in the history of commercial Hip-Hop, but somehow all retain enough classic boom-bap to appeal to everyone from backpackers to hard rocks. Lyrically, Jay-Z holds it down as fans would expect, but definitely updates his style for 2009 and shows that he’s an older, wiser and more polished artist than he was when the original “Blueprint” was released in 2001. He still addresses beef with other rappers, but instead of calling them out by name or threatening to “see them outside” in his adlibs, he weaves an intricate metaphor of how most of his foes have taken themselves out of the game before he had to (“Thank You”) and then attacks the state of the entire music industry in the lead-off single “D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune)” with a track so powerful and convincing you could pretty much put autotune/ringtone rap in the same category as throwbacks, X5’s and Jaz-O, of things Jay completely deaded the first time you heard it.

The two commercial joints, “We Run This Town” and “Empire State of Mind” are poppy enough to be played on Top-40 radio, but the verses contain enough dope lyrics to keep Hip-Hop heads hitting the rewind button, no small feat indeed. The album continues with several nods to Hip-Hop’s next generation with collabos with Drake, Kid Cudi and J. Cole that all hold their own and illustrate just how relevant Jay-Z is in today’s music scene.

Like most Jay-Z albums, it’s difficult to pick standout tracks because they are all so good and the varied production, subject matter and overall vibe make it difficult to compare tracks, however they all fit together into one incredibly cohesive album that is one of the best of 2009 and one of the best of Jay-Z’s illustrious career.

Raekwon: Only Built for Cuban Linx...Pt. 2

In the summer of 1995 Rae’s OB4CL was such a vivid and visceral depiction of New York’s drug trade that herbs thought they knew how to import, package and distribute narcotics after one listen to “The Purple Tape.” The album cemented Wu-Tang as THE crew of the mid-90’s and paved the way for superstars like Jay-Z, T.I., Rick Ross and The Clipse to turn tales of drug dealing into massive record sales.

However, that was a decade a half ago and a lot has changed since OB4CL hit the streets. Here is an abridged list of things that have happened since that dude got his “Meat Lumped” : the internet, social networking sites, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Boston Red Sox broke the curse...twice, Jay-Z’s entire career, cassettes of any color have become totally obsolete and CD’s are on their death bed, Sony released Playstation 1, 2 and 3, Joe Budden got punched in the eye and ODB passed away. Despite all these changes, Rae manages to not only stay relevant but make one of the best albums of the year.

Where the original was the unified vision of Rae and The Rza (with Ghostface and other Wu-Tang members in supporting roles), the sequel is an eclectic mix of the best of Hip-Hop in 2009. Producers as diverse as J. Dilla (R.I.P.), Necro, Pete Rock and Dr. Dre provides sonic backdrops that don’t only compliment the vivid storytelling of the lyrics but actually make “RZA Beats” as good (if not better than) The Rza. And where the only non-Wu appearance on OB4CL was by a young Nas, Part 2 contains vocals from Slick Rick, Beanie Sigel, Busta Rhymes and Jadakiss & Styles P (judging by the quality of multiple Wu/Lox collaborations one has to wonder what would have happened if The Lox aligned themselves with Wu-Tang instead of Bad Boy in the mid 90’s).

Despite all the guest appearances and sick beats, the stars of the show are still Rae and Ghost. Raekwon’s intricate storytelling is offset by Ghostface Killah’s unique flow and wordplay for a combination that is unrivaled in Hip-Hop.

OB4CL is another Wu-Banger (I probably haven’t used that term in 10 years). Get your Wu-Wear out of the closet and support real Hip-Hop...Suuuuuuu!

Murs: Highline Ballroom 9/10/2009

Murs is arguably the best underground/independent artist of the 2000’s, he releases near classic albums on a yearly basis, is arguably the best lyricist in west coast history and his collaborations with 9th Wonder have attracted fans from all over the world. The fact that an artist of this caliber, with dozens of unbelievably good songs and an incredible stage show has to perform a half-empty ballroom is proof that there is no justice in the world.

Murs’ stage show is as bananas as any of his albums. He performed for over an hour with no hypeman, no special effects and nobody else’s material (a rarity today). His set was very “Murs 3:16” and “Murs For President” heavy, but also included lesser known cuts, older songs and his scathing diss of Rick Ross for stealing the “Biggest Boss” beat.

This show was live Hip-Hop at it’s best: great venue, show started on time and the performer shredded for over an hour of nothing but fire. Add the fact that Murs is so humble that he hangs out at his merchandise booth before the show (I shook his hand!) and takes pics with fans as soon as he gets off stage and you have one of the best underground rap experiences of 2009.

Friday, September 4, 2009

20 Questions: Summer 2009

How bad was the weather this summer? It rained everyday in June, there were violent thunderstorms throughout July and by August 15th I was wearing a jacket (I know my man Don Comerica will call me a “little B*tch” for that, but it got cold mad early this year.)

Why did millions of people support the Slaughterhouse MOVEMENT, but only 18,000 support the Slaughterhouse ALBUM?

With hot albums by Eminem, Cage and La Coka Nostra when did middle-aged white guys take over Hip-Hop?

Did the best beef of the summer really involve Mariah Carey?

Does the continued success of the Black Eyed Peas across all age, race and demographic lines make you think less of society?

Wasn’t The Rock The Bells/Paid Dues festival the best package tour in a long time? (for everybody but Joe Budden).

Does Joe Budden take more “L’s” than Prodigy?

How effin’ bad was Transformers 2?

Didn’t you miss GOOD summer blockbusters based on comic books?

Kobe won a championship without Shaq, but did anybody really care?

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, but did anybody even notice?

If the Jets trade for Brandon Marshall, will the AFC East have the Slaughterhouse of troubled offensive threats? (Randy Moss (NE), Ricky Williams (MIA), Terrell Owens (BUF) and now Brandon Marshall (NYJ)?)

How sick is the iPhone 3Gs?

Isn’t “The Hangover” the funniest movie since “Old School”?

Who is Flo-Rida extorting to get those beats?

Isn’t that Jay-Z/Rhapsody commercial absolutely bananas? I’m not eve sure what Rhapsody is, but I know I want one, now!

How did “Man vs. Food” get renewed for a second season? Despite the asinine premise of the show, the guy fails most of the time.

Busta Rhymes got back on his BS, but did anybody notice?

Did “The Other Two” Kardashians really get their own show?

Didn’t Summer 2009 go by way too fast?

Monday, August 31, 2009

What Are These Kids So Happy About?

“I don’t understand this sudden popularity of Pop Music. It’s like listening to show tunes. Why are the youth not rebelling?”
-Howard Stern,1999

“Whatever happened to wildin’ out and being violent? Whatever happened to catchin’ a good old fashioned passionate a** whooppin’ and getting your shoes, coat and hat tooken”
-Eminem “Marshall Mathers,” 2000

“Eminem’s ‘Relapse’ didn’t sell that well because these kids aren’t mad like we were”

-Author, July 2009

What the hell is everybody so happy about? Despite the fact that today’s reality includes a world economy that is in shambles, US engagement in a war with no end in sight, a public education system that pushes students through regardless of knowledge acquisition so they can attend expensive universities that will put them into extreme debt and NOT prepare them to enter the workforce, a division of wealth that might as well place the very rich and the very poor on different planets, a healthcare system that is horribly broken, alcohol/tabacco/prescription drug use (the legal vices) keeping huge segments of our population in a narcotics-induced haze and the continual dumbing down of our population through reality TV, sports and internet, and the kids just want to rock expensive gear, acquire hundreds of facebook friends and copy dances they see on youtube. (Note: This abridged list of issues only addresses some of the problems of middle America and is in no way conclusive as it does not even attempt to address the issues of inner cities, the working poor, rural areas, young parents or many other sub-groups of teenagers and young adults).

It is hard to say exactly how or when this happened but the turn of the century is a good place to start. In the 2000’s menacing rappers have been replaced with family friendly versions like Nelly and Ludacris, intellectually challenging movies are relegated to small “art house” theaters while juvenile “the good guy always wins” action movies and romantic comedies with happy endings dominate the box office, on television provocative dramas and smart comedies are continually replaced with reality dating shows or endless sports talk and Harry Potter and esteem building self-help books dominate the best seller list. While there have been several works documenting this generation’s declining academic aptitude, narcissism and sense of entitlement there have been relatively few examinations of why in the world they are so damn happy. To the casual observer the most obvious reason is that there is simply nothing left to rebel against.

Most affluent 15-25 year olds grew up in households where parents were more concerned with being “cool” or “a best friend” than raising competent adults, further many of these households not only allow but encourage underage drinking, look at drug use and minor mischief as integral to the maturing process and place the children on such a high pedestal that when they are reprimanded by an authority figure it is often treated as the fault of the offending adult and not that of the child. Further, they live in a world were the President is one of the coolest men in the country (regardless of political views it’s hard to debate Obama’s cool factor) and has support from 90% of the entertainment industry, it is difficult to convince teens and young adults to beware government intervention in their personal lives when their favorite rappers, actors and reality stars all whole-heartedly embrace the administration. Over the past several decades public and private education as turned away from rote memorization of useful facts and reading classic (and in most cases challenging) literature, in favor of “student-centered” curriculum that aims to keep them engaged and “social promotion” ensures that everyone will graduate regardless of material mastery. Their television viewing, which takes up an alarming portion of their day, is dominated by “reality shows” that depict the rich and famous as demigods to be praised for their good looks and fabulous lifestyles and if they dare to turn on the news there are so many channels that networks can cater to nearly any set of views, so they are given only the news they want in the manner they want to digest. The internet further personalizes the media viewing experience by completely eliminating information the viewer does not want to see, if a 25 year old grown man is more concerned with the winner of “Dancing with the Stars” than the current economic crisis, a school shooting or natural disaster, he can have that information delivered to his desktop and be blissfully ignorant of any news he finds unpalatable.

This bizarre aversion to anything even the slightest bit unpleasant is in stark contrast to the youth of the previous decade. 90’s kids were pi**ed! In the 1990’s rappers killed each other, rock stars killed themselves, movies were ultra-violent, comedians were bitingly sarcastic and shows like “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” consistently showed Americans the seedy underbelly of our culture. The music of the 90’s was legitimately scary to older generations, rappers like Ice Cube, 2Pac and the Wu-Tang Clan took every opportunity to shine a light on the plight of the inner city, while other MC’s like B.I.G., Scarface and Jay-Z turned the light inward and detailed how life in post-Reagan America affected the psyches of young black males. The rise of grunge rock illustrated the growing discontent felt by suburban youth that were the product of broken homes, a failing school system and the rigid high school caste system. Movies were violent and thought provoking, Academy Award winners like “Natural Born Killers,” “Pulp Fiction” or even “Forest Gump” (a pretty sharp commentary on the last 50 years of American history and the idea that someone with an IQ of 75 would make the ultimate soldier is about as biting a critique of the military as you will find) would even see wide release in today’s “blockbuster or bust” climate. The pop culture of the 1990’s ended with a virtual orgy of anger, with 1999 being arguably the angriest year in American history: musicians like Eminem, DMX, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rage Against The Machine and Kid Rock all either debuted or achieved widespread popularity and the multiplex was dominated by movies expressing extreme and thoughtful discontent at the state of American society, “Fight Club,” “The Matrix” and “American Beauty” were all huge hits, also,the year’s biggest concert, Woodstock ’99, was so packed with aggressive bands that the concert actually ended in a full scale riot (whether the music or the heat and extremely high concessions prices combined with high levels of drug and alcohol abuse actually caused the event to erupt in violence remains unclear, however it is rare to hear of a large, corporate-controlled event of this magnitude ending like this in today’s climate).

Compare that with the anything-for-a-dollar buffoonery of today’s commercial Hip-Hop, the whiny “Emo” that passes as rock and the movies made to cater to the lowest common denominator of intelligence that dominate the box office and the distinction is easy to observe. It is fair to say that the youth of the 2000’s are so radically different than their 1990’s counterparts that some of the biggest musical acts of the decade would either not exist or be niche/underground artist selling their music online and touring small bars and clubs. Today’s typical music consumer is so far removed from the overwhelming rage, frustration and anger displayed during the 90’s that multi-platinum artists like Wu-Tang Can, 2Pac, Nine Inch Nails, RATM, Korn, Eminem, DMX, Onyx, Ice Cube, the Geto Boys, M.O.P., Metallica, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana would fail to find an audience with today’s youth listeners. And while it may seem somewhat obvious that youth preferences change, up until the turn of this century, the underlying sentiments have been largely similar, even if the means of expression have been radically different. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Pressley, The Beatles, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Run-DMC and Guns-n-Roses all stood in stark contrast to the accepted status quo of the era and represented a legitimate threat to parents and the older generation as a potential influence on the youth. In contrast, today’s superstars like 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne, Nickelback and Taylor Swift offer nothing more than a reinforcement of the materialistic ideals perpetuated by parents and teachers and an open celebration of living “The American Dream.” While several of today’s most popular artists are talented and entertaining, they are not revolutionary in terms of style, content or ideology.

The youth’s current obsession with happy, feel good music is not only illustrated by what they do buy (Brittany Spears, Flo Rida, Fall Out Boy, Soulja Boy and the bland pop singers turned out by American Idol), but by what they don’t buy. In 2009, records by Eminem, La Coka Nostra, Cage, Street Sweeper Social Club, and Slaughterhouse were all viewed as commercial disappointments (either by industry projections or the artist’s track record). These did not fail commercially because they were bad, in fact they were all very good, they failed because they were simply too aggressive for today’s youth consumer. It is not hard to see why they were overlooked by the legions of teens dressed in vans/tight denim/pastel hoodies and raised on artists like T-Pain, that music fan has no interest in hearing Joell Oritiz vividly detail life in the projects or Eminem graphically recount his near fatal drug addiction, that fan is too busy matching a scarf with his Supras and downloading the new Kid Cudi or Drake (a virtual one-man Bell Biv DeVoe) song to care about the problems of anyone else or even examine their own individual issues and challenges.

An easily identifiable example of the change in the amount of aggression seen in the youth of today as compared to the youth of the 1990’s can be seen by comparing popular white rappers of each era. House of Pain were “dirty white boy” hooligans and the kind of guys you hoped wouldn’t show up to the bar because they would get belligerently drunk, tear the place up and maybe take your girl. On the other hand, 2009’s favorite white rapper, Asher Roth, is the kind of affable young man you hope does come to the bar because he’s probably buying everybody drinks with his dad’s credit card. Or to put it another way, House of Pain said “This is the House of Pain/To come inside is insane” and Roth says “Hey, come on over and let’s hang out, it’s all good, there’s no tough guys or egos around here.” While artists like Roth and similar non-confrontational rappers like Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne and Charles Hamilton make Hip-Hop more accessible for the uninitiated, it does remove some of the intimidating mystique associated with the genre in the 80’s and 90’s and the complete lack of awareness about the state of the world around them could eventually prove problematic for the culture as a whole.

Another glaring example of the differences between pop culture today and that of the previous decade is the designer drug of choice (a clear indicator of the desires of any demographic). In the 1990’s ecstasy rose to prominence, largely through the rave and underground dance music scene. Looking back it is clear that the youth of the era were so angry and disconnected that they needed chemical enhancement just to feel emotions, dance and connect to others the same age. In the 2000’s the drug of choice is Crystal Meth, which basically has no euphoric or hallucinogenic properties, but keeps the user awake for days at a time. This basically shows that these kids are so happy and self-satisfied that they don’t want to sleep and miss a second of their charmed existence. While this example is somewhat comical, the explosion of ecstasy in the 1990’s is probably a legitimate indicator of the anger, and the subsequent need to subdue it with drugs, commonplace in that generation.

Today’s teenagers and young adults are so brainwashed by the version of American society force fed to them by their parents, schools, government, churches, radio stations, television channels, websites, entertainers, athletes, reality TV shows, news outlets, gossip magazines and social networking sites that they completely lack any sense that rebellion is necessary or even a viable option. They are the first generation since the advent of Rock &Roll over a half century ago to not only accept but embrace the fact that, for them, resistance is futile.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Pun's Family

From glow-in-the-dark velvet paintings of Elvis to the yearly holiday release of “new” 2pac albums, families of dead entertainers have long been disrespecting the legacy of their artists in efforts to continue eating off of said artist’s plate well after they have passed away. One needs to look no further than this year’s box office records and see the phenomenal success of “Notorious” for a recent example of how far family and business associates will go to cash in on the ones they supposedly loved (I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet Bad Boy made more money by portraying Biggie as a womanizing, violent, drug dealing, dead beat dad than they did from all 4 seasons of “Making The Band”). This intense passion to avoid working by any means necessary by the family/estate/”loved ones” of deceased celebrities has reached truly absurd proportions this summer in the form of one Liza Rios, the now homeless widow of the late Big Pun.

Big Pun died in February of 2000, just under a decade ago, in this nine year period Mrs. Rios has contributed to two documentaries that portrayed Pun as a abusive husband and father (one released in 2002 and one due for a September 2009 release), managed to get his oldest daughter to say she was happy her father died (E! documentary about rapper’s wives), will gladly contribute to any urban news story about domestic violence, detailed his medical issues with anyone that would listen, publicly criticized his business acumen, squandered a small fortune and to my knowledge has made absolutely no effort at attaining employment to support herself or her three children (the oldest of which can actually be working too...but I’m sure that’s out of the question). And while it is always difficult to hear that a family has to utilize public assistance and live in a shelter, the internet has gone insane with people calling for Fat Joe’s head for not supporting this woman and her children. It seems as if the claims of Liza Rios and her message board supporters are somewhat misinformed about what has really happened. The incorrect assumptions that many make are as follows:

(Note: I am similarly misinformed, so what follows is strictly opinion with absolutely no basis in fact).

1. Big Pun made millions, upon millions of dollars and his wife and kids should be set for life

While it’s true that Pun’s 1998 “Capital Punishment” album was the first platinum album by a solo Latino rapper and “Still Not a Player” was a huge crossover single, I believe the amount of money earned on this project is greatly overestimated. “Capital Punishment” is an undeniable classic, however, part of what makes it a classic are beats by RZA, Havoc, The Beatnuts, Rockwilder, Domingo, Trackmasters, Dead Prez and Showbiz and guest vocals by Wyclef, Black Thought, Noreaga and Busta Rhymes. Not to mention a re-worked Dr. Dre classic and an interpretation of an R&B hit by Joe. And what do all these contributions have in common? They don’t come for free! Every single producer and guest MC on “Capital Punishment” had to be paid for their services and with an album featuring the biggest names of the era it is not unrealistic to think it had to go platinum just to break even.

Ok, so now they have this sick album with some of the biggest artists of the late 90’s backing up the new artist and they have to move major units just to start to see a profit from the investment. Loud records handled this by launching a huge media campaign involving massive street teams, promotional trucks, magazine ads and several expensive-looking videos. Guess what? All that costs money too! After Loud recouped their initial investment it’s hard to believe there was enough left over for Pun to buy a chain, let alone feed his family for the rest of their lives.

Further diminishing the income Pun could have seen from “Capital Punishment” was the fact that his crippling obesity did not allow him to tour (a major source of income for all artists), he did not endorse products and he rarely appeared on projects by other artists. While selling a million records is a huge accomplishment (albeit much less in 1998, right before widespread downloading, than today), artists like NORE, Cam’ron and Juvenile also went platinum in 1998, and even with extensive touring and guest verses, they are still working today to afford the “Rap Life.”

The idea that there are millions of dollars in either Loud Record’s bank account or Fat Joe’s extra large pockets from the sale of an album this replete with guest artists and popular producers and one of the most extensive promotional campaigns of the year it was released seems false even to someone like myself, with admittedly limited knowledge of the recording industry.

2. Big Pun made Fat Joe a star and he is forever indebted to Pun’s family.

Pun didn’t make Joe. Fat Joe came out in 1993, a full five years (an eternity in Hip-Hop time) before the release of “Capitol Punishment.” Before discovering Pun, Joe was a member or D.I.T.C., had an anthem-like single with “Flow Joe,” released two critically acclaimed and commercially respectable albums and was a hero to Hispanic and Bronx Hip-Hop heads. Sure, introducing Big Pun to the world helped establish Joe as a heavy hitter in the game, but realistically he was already famous and in all likelihood would have continued to be a relevant artist if he never brought Pun to the studio.

Further, Pun and Joe were BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, they were not friends before the music, they did not grow up together and they were not related by blood. I’m sure they were “Best Friends” the same way Puffy & Biggie were “Best Friends,”(questionable at best) but to claim he is responsible to feed the wife and kids of what amounts to “some dude he worked with” seems a little off. I will also fully acknowledge that there may have been some behind the scenes “street sh*t” that I am unaware of that would make their bond more significant than typical business partners, but the fact that Joe had Pun sign numerous contracts and everything was looked over by a lawyer to be legal and binding, I think it’s safe to say that signing Pun was a business deal and had nothing to do with “family.”

3. Fat Joe took advantage of Big Pun with shady paperwork.

Even casual fans of A Tribe Called Quest know about rule #4080. Pun had the right to lawyers, agents and managers and if he got taken advantage of (by Joe, Loud or anybody else) it’s his fault. He was clearly not stupid, anybody responsible for the head-spinning verses on “Dream Shatterer” possessed a high level of intelligence, but if he signed his life away and Fat Joe or Loud Records are still reaping the rewards of those contracts (that Pun signed) it’s hard to be mad at them for taking money that they are legally entitled to.

4. Liza Rios and her children have been completely abandoned by Fat Joe and the Terror Squad.

Liza Rios admits to getting $160,000 when her husband died, $120,000 when the posthumously released “Endangered Species” LP came out, $40,000 from a Pun writing credit on Joe’s smash single “What’s Love” (clearly an effort to take care of the family because the hit was released in 2002 and Pun could not possibly have actually written the song) and an additional $20,000 at some point between 2002 and 2007, also from Fat Joe. That’s $340,000! Most uneducated single mothers of three do not receive that much money over the course of a lifetime and somehow they are able to get by without public assistance and shelters. Clearly, a family can run through $340,000 rather quickly with mortgages, car payments and the like, but if she was to use the money as a foundation and then seek employment or investment opportunities to build on that foundation it is hard to believe her family would be in this predicament. Also, this is the money she admits to receiving, it’s probably a safe bet there is more she is unwilling to discuss.

5. Liza Rios is reputable spokesperson for domestic violence.

She openly discusses Pun’s physical abuse to any media outlet that will listen and encourages her now-teenaged children to do the same, regardless of how rehashing personal stories of abuse to organizations like “Smack! TV,” “Flowlicious” and “E!” is further damaging their psyches. Further, she was repeatedly beaten by a man that spent most of their marriage almost completely immobile. How do you allow yourself and your children to get beat up by a guy that can’t chase you? I’m not saying this to mock domestic abuse, but if you know a 500 lb. guy that can’t get up is going to beat you’re a**, why would you go near him? It seems like she could have avoided most of the beating by staying in the other room. Seriously, a parent that let’s someone abuse their children should not be allowed to raise kids. Also, in many interviews it appears as if she knew his deteriorating health would lead to an early death and she was willing to subject herself and her children to repeated bodily harm in hopes of a payday when he finally passed away, I challenge anybody to point to a more grotesque manifestation of the “Gold Digger” mentality prevalent in Hip-Hop than this.

6. Liza Rios, Fat Joe, Loud Records or anybody else cared about Christopher Rios.

Big Pun was a sick rapper and a sicker man. His inner circle of “friends,” family and business partners could not have been that interested in the health and well being of Christopher Rios, sure they all cared about Big Pun the rapper (aka the cash cow), but it is hard to imagine this “family” allowing someone clearly suffering from admitted depression and most likely numerous other psychological issues to balloon up to nearly 700 lbs. and stand idly by as long as he could keep everyone in new clothes, cars and houses. This pattern is fairly common in the music industry with artists engaging in absurd amounts to drugs (Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Lil’ Wayne?) or questionable lifestyle/sexual choices (R. Kelly, INXS’ Michael Huchence) with everybody in the inner circle just watching as they degenerate into shells of their former selves and then everybody acts surprised when they die or are publically humiliated.

Clearly, if any of the players in this seemingly never ending saga actually cared about Christopher Rios the man more than Big Pun the rapper he would have been forced to seek help and possibly lived to see his thirtieth birthday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reviews August 2009

5: iPhone
4: Nintendo DS
3: Old School Game Boy
4: Pocket Simon
5: An Abacus

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


I had extremely low expectations for this summer blockbuster based on toys from the 80’s, especially after the epic disaster that was Transformers 2 however, I was pleasantly surprised by the best action movie of the summer. The story is pretty straight forward (the bad guys have warheads, the good guys want warheads and they are going to fight about it), the characters are all presented well and there’s a few surprises in the last 20 min. that will entertain adult viewers that may have been dragged to the theatre by a child.

While fans of the cartoon can argue for days about what characters should have been included (personally, I would have liked Shipwreck, Roadblock and Bazooka), the main ones you remember are all there and while the movie script may have taken some liberties with the original mythology from the cartoon, the story is so compelling, the action so relentless and the pacing so break-neck that only super hardcore G.I. Joe fans and obsessed action figure collectors could really complain.

In a pretty weak summer for movies, G.I. Joe provides a riveting and fun theatre-going experience for kids, adults, lifetime Joe fans, casual observers and anyone looking for that summer movie experience.

Slaughterhouse: Self Titled Album


If you regularly read you are fully aware that I often mock collaborative albums as pipe dreams that will never actually be released, so to my surprise Slaughterhouse released its debut album in stores and on itunes on August 11th, 2009. Internet heads have been aware of this epic “Super Group” since the early spring when Joe Budden enlisted fellow slept-on MC’s Joell Ortiz, Royce the 5’ 9” and Crooked I for the original “Onslaught.” The collective kept fans salivating throughout the spring and early summer with a string of blazing collaborative cuts, solo EP’s, appearances on the Rock The Bells/Paid Dues tour, an epic freestyle over Jay-Z’s “D.O.A” beat, and an on-again/off-again beef with the legendary Wu-Tang Clan that culminated in Budden getting punched in his eye on the internet (Personally, I am a huge fan of everybody involved in Slaughterhouse, but this beef seems ill-advised because most potential SH fans are/were fans of the Wu and asking them to take sides seems unfair. Realistically they are dividing a fanbase that should really be united and rallying against artists like Soulja Boy and Rick Ross. Further, even while I was giddy like a school girl at the prospect of a full-fledged Slaughterhouse LP, I could never bring myself to hate on Wu-Tang. I’ve been a Wu fan for 15 years, almost as long as I’ve liked the Jets and Yankees, I have too much history, too many CD’s and too much Wu-Wear in my closet to turn my back on them now).

The resulting LP lives up to most expectations and provides some of the best verses committed to wax in 2009. And while this collection of lyricists could have easily pulled from their expansive rhyme-books and simply tried to out punch-line each other for 15 tracks, they actually craft engaging songs with coherent concepts and experiment with innovative flows that will pleasantly surprise even their most avid fans. Stand out tracks include “Roll Call” where Royce compares the group to Voltron (yeah, Wu did it first, but it also works here) and each member starts his verse calmly but ends in a dizzying crescendo of wordplay that is truly something to behold, “Pray” and “Rain Drops” address serious life issues and the potential club banger “Not Tonight.”

The most interesting track on the LP is “Turn You Lose,” where each MC recounts his love of Hip-Hop and his disillusionment with the music industry. This song illustrates what is so amazing about Slaughterhouse as a collective: although supremely talented none of the members was able to establish himself as a star, however by joining forces they attain that elusive “second chance” in the music industry and have started a movement that is actually much bigger than the sum of its’ parts.

House of Pain: Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again


I found this on the used rack for $3.99 and since I’ve been listening to La Coka Nostra nonstop for the last month I couldn’t resist. This album was largely ignored when it was released in 1996 because most fans thought HOP was over, the East-West feud overshadowed almost everything else in Hip-Hop, Bad Boy’s rampant commercialism was starting to replace the hardcore/reality rap of the early 90’s and it struggled to find an audience in the same summer “Reasonable Doubt,” “It Was Written,” “Stakes is High,” “ATLiens” and “Legal Drug Money” were released. Hip-Hop heads that slept on this in the summer of ’96 dropped the ball. If House of Pain’s second album was called “Same As It Ever Was” this one should have been called “Better Than You Remember It Was!”

“Rise Again” was an overall improvement on the House of Pain formula established on the first two albums: DJ Lethal came into his own as a producer with a distinct style away from his early DJ Muggs- influenced beats, Everlast begins his transformation into the gravelly voiced singer that would have a massive hit with “What It’s Like” two years later (this can be seen in several reggae influenced cuts and the more emotional, boarder line growling, rhyme style heard on some cuts) and the inclusion of Divine Styler and Cockeny O’Dyer on several tracks adds to the expansion of the perceived HOP boundaries. Add in stellar guest appearances by Sadat X on the introspective “Heart Full of Sorrow” and an in-his-prime Guru on the remix “Fed Up” and you have one of the better LP’s of 90’s that has largely been lost in the shuffle.

Biz Markie: The Ultimate Diabolical


This greatest hits package contains 11 Biz classics and 5 of his best videos for one low price. The overall package is awesome and shows the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop at his hilarious best. The CD contains songs from his debut, comedic classics like “Just a Friend” and “Spring Again” and forgotten later cuts like “I’m The Biz Markie” and “Let Me Turn You On.” Put simply, if you don’t like these songs there is something wrong with you. I put Biz in the same category as Huey Lewis & The News and Gym Class Heroes as some of the “Funnest” entertainers ever and if you cannot get onboard for some unbridled silliness every once in a while, it’s YOUR fault.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Attend Things

5: Fifth Round Weekend
4: 4th of July Weekend
3: A pretty good weekend down the shore
2: Having to work on the weekend
1: Getting dysentery over the weekend

July 2009 was a good month for attending various weddings, baseball games, concerts and birthday celebrations (hence the lack of postings). The events ranged from tolerable to outstanding, so without further ado...a full review of July ’09.

July 3rd: Wedding with Amber DeLeggas


This wedding ended up being a lot more fun than expected and despite several speeches comparing the groom’s love for his wife with his love for the NY Jets, it was actually a pretty good time. A personal favorite quote heard at a lot of weddings is “I can’t believe I’m not wasted, I drank so much.” Here’s the deal, you can drink as much as you want, if you take a break in the middle to eat a three course meal including lobster bisque, a salmon entree and cake, you’re not going to get that drunk, it’s simple biology. Overall, my table was pretty cool, the food was good and the open bar and DJ combined for a good time. Not a bad start to the month.

4th of July Weekend


Not bad, not great. You can’t win the all.

July 8th: Mets vs. Dodgers at Citi Field


I had a personal goal to see both the Mets and Yankees new stadiums this year and thanks to some free tickets from Mike PaulWallSki, I was able to make this dream a reality. Citi Field is a nice new stadium with the requisite souvenir shops, foods from around the world and good sight lines necessary to compete in today’s baseball market. As an added bonus it was one of Manny Ramirez’s first games back from a steroid suspension and the crowd was pumped to unload myriad insults on Man Ram (this is the kind of stuff I really enjoy, baseball is cool, but there’s nothing like hurling insults at a hulking hispanic guy with a drug problem when you know there is absolutely 0% chance he will do anything about it). The stadium is cool and except for an unnecessary women’s apparel store that only caries memorabilia designed by Alyssa Milano (I guess she's the boss when it comes to “designing” pink baseball caps), the place is great. Also, the Met’s won the game and there was an absolutely sick play that was all over ESPN the next day, this was basically the last bright spot in the Met’s 2009 campaign before everybody got hurt, that guy took his shirt off and got fired and Omar Minaya started getting death threats.

July 18th: Aqua-Palooza


People anchor their boats in the middle of the Barnagat Bay, listen to shi*tty music, eat sh*tty food and get sh*tty drunk, sit there for 8564703 hours and then try to drive home wasted...effin awesome. All kidding aside, it wasn't that bad.

July 19th: Rock The Bells/Paid Dues at Jones Beach NY


Insane concert, see previous entries for a full recap.

July 21st: Yankee Game at the new Yankee Stadium


I got tickets on Stub Hub for 30 bucks that were in the last row of the building (theoretically the worst seats in the house), there was a rain delay, our subway train broke down on the way there, we got there too late for monument park... and it was still awesome. This is without a doubt the best sports venue in the country, the views of the game are incredible from anywhere in the building (they let you roam around freely), there are about 25 restaurant choices, the shops are basically like mini-shrines to Yankee history, the museum could be a free-standing attraction, the food prices are high, but not astronomical, and the well trained staff was friendly and well informed. Combine all of this with a great game against the Orioles with several home runs flying out of the park and the ease of transportation thanks to being located right next to a subway stop and you have one of the best sports experiences ever.

July 24th: Wedding with Amber DeLeggas


The second wedding of the month was another winner. This reception actually featured a DJ booth with two large screens projecting pictures of the wedding party, smoke machines and an introduction of the new couple set to the Chicago Bulls intro music. This was clearly for the younger crowd and was more like a night at a club than a typical family wedding.

The end of the night brought about the most emasculating conversation I have ever been a part of, and I was so uncomfortable for this poor guy, I wanted to leave because I knew I could never look him in the eye again. As things were winding down we ran into a recently married couple that Amber went to college with, let’s call them “The Wife” and “The Oaf,” the following conversation took place, please keep in mind that I’ve only met these people one other time and neither was noticeably intoxicated during this exchange.

Wife: Being married is going great, I make him say stupid stuff all the time in front of his friends (this topic was not initiated by myself or Amber). Isn’t that right Oaf?

Oaf: Yeah (reluctantly)

Wife: Who’s the cutest bunny rabbit is all the world?

Oaf: I am

Wife: What?

Oaf: I am!

Wife: And why are you the cutest bunny rabbit in all the world?

Oaf: Because I have big floppy ears

Wife: And why else?

Oaf: Because I have a cute pink nose.

Wife: It’s so adorable! I can go on forever like that, the other night we did it for an entire episode of Golden Girls.

Oaf: I don’t watch Golden Girls

Wife: You F**kin’ love the Golden Girls!

After that final exchange I felt so bad for the kid that I actually pretended I was getting a call on my iPhone so I could walk away. I’ve been surrounded by all manners of buffoonery for my entire, but this took the cake.

July 25th My Father’s Birthday


We went to an Italian restaurant (big surprise) and with the exception of the bread basket catching on fire and nearly enveloping the entire table in flames, the evening was pretty uneventful.

July 27th: My Birthday


Amber De Leggas took me out to an awesome dinner at The Chart House in Weehawkin, NJ, gave me a ton of great gifts and despite being as sick as I’ve ever been in my adult life, I had a great time.

July 30th to August 3rd: Trip to Florida with my Dad and Amber


Again, being violently ill and forced to travel by plane and endure 100+ degree heat made the first few days of this trip pretty rough. However, by the last two days I was feeling much better and actually left the house. The beach was awesome (90 degree water) and getting a chance to relax in different surroundings is always nice.

Movie Review: Funny People


This movie is nowhere near as good as most critics claim even though it features Adam Sandler in one of his “serious” roles as a terminally ill comedian. The first hour is pretty cool, and shows the inner-workings of stand-up comedy from how comics write jokes to getting material stolen right before going onstage. This first half climaxes with a star-studded party that features a speech by Eminem about the trappings of fame and the uselessness of celebrating not dying if you have nothing to live for. Following this funny and poignant conversation, the movie devolves into an absurd drama about Adam Sandler trying to break up the marriage and family of a women he dated years ago but cheated on and lost. This movie had an interesting premise and executed it pretty well for about an hour, unfortunately the movie is two and a half hours long.

That’s it for July, hopefully August will be even better and provide some more fun and excitement before the summer ends.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some Stuff Reviewed July 2009

5: Citrus Cooler Gatorade
4: Ecto Cooler Hi-C
3: Hawaiian Punch
2: Sunny Delight
1: Tap Water from Mexico


Negative 100 (the numeric equivalent of being kicked in the nuts while drinking Mexican Tap Water)

This movie aims to expand on the formula popularized in 2006’s “Borat” in which Sasha Baron Cohen dresses up like a quirky character from another country and then visits the United States in an effort to get Americans to give ignorant sound bites so that the audience is forced to uncomfortably laugh at the mirror held up in front of them. This type of comedy has been gaining popularity since the early 90’s with acts like The Jerky Boys, Crank Yankers and Jay Leno’s’ “Jay Walking,” mining the responses of everyday people for comic gold, “Borat” perfected this method and brought the approach to the masses by producing a coherent, blockbuster movie based on the concept.

While “Borat” succeeded at connecting with audiences, introducing several catchphrases into the American lexicon and actually causing people to examine our attitudes toward foreigners, “Bruno” fails miserably at all of these tasks. “Borat” succeeded because it took an entertaining character (an eastern European journalist unfamiliar with American customs) and surrounded him with “everyday people” like college students, hotel employees, security guards and church goers and showed their often hilarious, if insensitive, reactions to his antics. “Bruno” replaces the fish-out-of-water eastern European with a buffoonishly gay, sexually deviant, fashion-obsessed 19-year old from Austria and replaces the “everyday people” with people on the edges of American society like fortune tellers, politician, swingers, prostitutes, television producers and Hollywood agents. Bruno’s words and actions are so over-the-top that it’s hard to believe anyone could take him seriously (probably why so many scenes seem scripted) and when he does pull off a genuinely outrageous stunt (like simulating oral sex with the deceased half of Milli Vanilli) the reaction from the psychic in the room is pretty mundane because he’s presumably seen so much bizarre stuff in his career as a “psychic to the stars” that he’s barely phased.

The most disappointing aspect of “Bruno” is that it squanders so much potential: Sasha Baton Cohen is undoubtedly talented and topics like the fashion industry, people’s attitudes toward homosexuality, America’s celebrity culture and the entertainment business are so ripe for parody it’s hard to believe the man responsible for making millions of Americans say “Very Nice” could drop the ball so badly. “Bruno” is not funny, not thought provoking and not entertaining, a few gags are amusing in a “I can’t believe they got away with that” kind of way, but beyond shock value there is simply nothing there.

Kurious: II


Kurious debuted in the summer of ’94 with the positively received single “I’m Kurious” and the critically acclaimed “A Constipated Monkey” LP, but had trouble differentiating himself from a pack of rookies that included Nas, B.I.G., Outkast, Craig Mack, Jeru the Damaja, Keith Murray and Wu Tang Clan. Aside from releasing the worst titled near-classic album in history, Kurious’ commercial failure was much more a function of poor timing than lack of talent and his brand of slightly-to-the-left NYC Hip-Hop was a natural extension of early 90’s groups like 3rd Bass, KMD and Downtown Science and bridged the gap between that era and the white label/indie renessaince of the late 90’s. Kurious dealt with this setback by taking an extended hiatus and has only surfaced recently on guest appearances with underground villain MF Doom, but demand for the album, fueled largely by increased interest in 90’s nostalgia, resulted in a re-issue of his nearly impossible-to-find debut album and a healthy buzz for more music from one of the 90’s most overlooked MC’s.

While Kurious has been out of the spotlight for a hot minute (more like 15 years worth of hot minutes), the time away has not really diminished his creativity or wordplay and while the majority of tracks on “II” are pretty straight forward, he’s still the same distinctive and unique MC from the early 90’s. The album has a few standouts, mainly the much too short “Take What Is Given,” the MC Serch and MF Doom assisted “Benneton” and the official single “Sittin’ In My Car” (an updated version of Slick Rick’s largely forgotten 1995 single that was released during his incarceration), but suffers from the typical pitfalls of internet-only releases like the inclusion of way too much filler material and generic/bland production.

Overall, the album is not a classic but the 4 or 5 legit bangers should make it worth a listen for anybody that’s been asking “What’s up with that ‘Uptown Sh*t’ guy?”

La Coka Nostra: A Brand You Can Trust


La Coka Nostra combines the best elements of House of Pain (hard hitting lyrics and bada** white boy steez), Everlast (gravely, world weary vocals mixed with intense rhymes), DJ Lethal
(heavy metal infused hip-hop beats), Ill Bill (slick lyricism and conspiracy theories) and Slaine (classic underground wordplay) to form a new entity that is possibly even bigger than the sum of its’ parts.

“A Brand You Can Trust” is largely a success because all 4 MC’s bring a distinct voice, cadence and subject matter to each track and even on conceptual songs like “Nuclear Medicine Men” or “F**K Tony Montana” every guy contributes to the team effort without losing his individual flavor. And for critics quick to write this off as just more “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” from House of Pain, it’s actually more like HOP 2.0 because it showcases Everlast (sung choruses, more emotive delivery) and DJ Lethal (rock infused beats from a decade with Limp Bizkit) as more complete and compelling artists than they were during early 90’s House of Pain era. When you add Ill Bill and Slaine’s impressive verses, some sick guest appearances from B-Real, Snoop, Bun B, Immortal Technique and PsychoRealm, and a general vibe that will get you amped enough to beat up a nun, you have one of the tightest albums of 2009 and yet another reminder that all rap/rock projects do not have to suck.

The biggest shortcoming of the album is the constant theme of cocaine, while it’s done somewhat creatively and does not glorify the drug-dealing lifestyle like much of commercial Hip-Hop, it feels somewhat contrived and unnatural for guys this talented to focus on such a limited subject for an entire LP. However, despite this one drawback and a few filler tracks this is a sick record and should be the soundtrack to the summer for Hoods & Hooligans everywhere.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues 2009

On July 19th 2009 The Rock The Bells/Paid Dues tour came to New York’s Jones Beach and completely delivered on the promise of an all day affair of unmitigated Hip-Hop abuse. The Nikon Amphitheatre at Jones Beach is a sight to behold, the state-of-the-art stage is situated right in front of a bay with beachgoers on one side and recreational boats on the other and from the upper tiers concert goers have a clear view of the stage, the bay and the ocean. The Paid Dues stage (where underground acts perform) was set up in the parking lot and had ample room for backpackers to hang out as well as a tremendous sound system. Considering the amazing line-up, sick surprise guests, great venue, beautiful whether, a set-list that was more or less on time (by Hip Hop standards anyway) and free parking and it was definitely a highlight of summer 2009 for any Hip-Hop head.

Here are some of the highlights:

House of Pain/La Coka Nostra
All three members of House of Pain hit the stage with underground heroes Ill Bill and Slaine as the new supergroup La Coka Nostra (think Slaughterhouse for angry white people). The high energy performance included cuts from the new “A Brand You Can Trust” album (review coming soon), House of Pain classics like “Jump Around,” “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” and “Who’s The Man,” a few Non-Phixon/Ill Bill songs and appearances by Just Ice and Sick Jacken from PsychoRealm. LCN have a sick stage presence, which is probably the result of all members being vets and rocking stages of various sizes for close to 20 years, but the overall impact of the performance was somewhat hindered because they performed at 3:00 in the afternoon, in full day light, to a venue that was about 90% empty, but the thousand or so fans in the arena were more than appreciative of the effort and La Coka Nostra got the crowd amped for the rest of the show.

Common hit the stage about an hour after HOP/LCN (this was the only scheduling mishap on the main stage and probably worked in Common’s favor as the venue had begun to fill-up and the crowd could ready itself for Common’s brand of introspective/positive Hip-Hop after LCN’s hooligan antics). Common’s set was solid from beginning to end, and despite being dressed as if (and at times acting like) he was actively participating in an early 90’s jazzercise class he touched on all of his classics, performed a few newer selections and did a sick medley of Hip-Hop classics by other artists interspersed with verses from “I Used To Love H.E.R.” and “Love of My Life.” As icing on the cake, Common brought out Talib Kweli for a few collaborations and presented Hip-Hop pioneer Busy Bee to the crowd as a history lesson on the origins of some of the phrases modern fans may take for granted. Common’s set proved he has the stage charisma and catalog of hits to hang with some of the best to ever do it.

“Special Guest” ….Wu Tang Clan!
This portion of the show started with just Raekwon on stage and progressed like a snowball rolling downhill and getting progressively larger, as by the en d of the performance about ¾ of the clan was on stage, Havoc and ODB’s son made appearances and Method Man stage dove and squashed the beef with Joe Budden (kind of). Rae performed a few new cuts from OB4CL 2 and then Havoc from Mobb Deep came out for “Shook Ones Pt. 2” and “Eye For an Eye,” while this was cool, it was obvious Prodigy was missing as he was probably too busy working in the prison cafeteria or getting gang raped to get work-release for the afternoon. Following the re-union of the mid-90’s Loud Records roster, the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan joined Rae on stage for a set consisting of mainly “36 Chambers” cuts as the crowd went insane for classics like “CREAM,” “Wu-Tang Ain’t Nothin ‘ Eff With” and “Method Man.”

The only shortcomings of this otherwise BANANAS set was the absence of Ghost Face Killah and Cappadona (I’ve been trying to hear him dumb-out on “Winter Warz” live for close to 15 years) and Meth closing the show with a profanity laced tirade about how Wu doesn’t have beef with anybody (read: Joe Budden and Slaughterhouse) but nobody can ‘eff with their legacy. This speech was way better suited for The Tunnel at 2am than an all-ages show, at a state park with families enjoying a day at the beach 50 yards away from the speakers. Other than that, this was an awesome surprise and any 90’s Hip-Hop fan should have been more than satisfied.

Even after 15 years in the game and tons of underground bangers these guys were relegated to the Paid Dues stage, but completely annihilated the thousand or so fans that packed the standing room only area of the venue. M.O.P.’s string of hits rocked the crowd of diehard fans that seemed to know every word to classics like “Cold As Ice,” “How About Some Hardcore” and “4 Alarm Blaze.” The show reached a fever pitch when they introduced DJ Premier and Just Ice and then launched into their biggest single “Ante Up” only to stop the track, bring Freddie Foxxx onstage to recite his “How To Rob” verse a capella and then start “Ante Up” again to a crowd that was completely losing its’ collective mind. While cramming this many people into a confined area and then blaring an anthem of armed robbery (out of the loudest Public Address system I have ever been exposed to) may seem like a questionable idea, I was completely at ease with the crowd as everyone from hippie-looking-chicks to guys rocking boat shoes and braided leather belts joined in on chants of “Gun Butt That Fool!” and “Kidnap That Fool!” While I have been a fan of M.O.P. since the early 90’s I had no idea their fan base was so diverse and such a wide array of people gravitated toward this kind of hardcore Hip-Hop.

As M.O.P. left the stage the crowd was noticeably amped for more NYC Hardcore and began chanting “Slaughterhouse, Slaughterhouse” only to be disappointed to hear Sage Francis was coming to the stage next as hundreds of fans left the Paid Dues area to use the bathroom or get food (myself included). Following the Mash Out Posse with a backpacker like Francis may have been poor planning or an attempt to not let the crowd work itself into too much of a frenzy, either way, it significantly slowed down the momentum of the afternoon, but provided an opportunity for fan’s to get their minds right for even more Hip-Hop abuse.

Hip-Hop’s most hyped up Supergroup hit the Paid Dues stage to probably the biggest crowd the “minor league” area saw all day. The four MC’s performed several of their well-known mixtape/internet collaborations, repped their respective cities by performing classics from their region, Joe Budden and Royce 5’9” performed hits from their pre-Slaughterhouse careers, each MC “freestyled” an accapella verse and the set concluded with the new single “The One.” One of the most anticipated performances of the day was somewhat short (due to “time issues” according to Joe Budden) but definitely let fans know that these guys can bring it to the stage as well as the studio and stoked anticipation for their upcoming debut album due next month.

Following “The One,” legendary “gangsta rapper” and esteemed actor Ice-T took the stage to admonish the current state of Hip-Hop, new rappers and the internet, and while this could have easily turned into him sounding angry because the game passed him by, he absolutely murdered the verse and made many people rushing back to the main stage stop in their tracks to listen.

After Ice-T left the stage, Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg took the mic to introduce Slum Village as the crowd performed a mass exodus back to the main stage. I am unsure if the northeast crowd was unaware of Slum Village, uninterested because J. Dilla (R.I.P.) would not be performing or big Charles Hamilton supporters, but 90% of Slaughterhouse’s fans wanted nothing to do with this.

Nas & Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley
The headliners for the night were introduced by the legendary KRS-ONE, who delivered and inspirational speech about the power of Hip-Hop, work ethic and spirituality before the “Distant Relatives” graced the stage. Nas came out alone and performed a medley of hits ranging from “Illmatic” to “Hip Hop Is Dead” before being joined onstage by Marley for a few collaborative efforts. Nas left the stage to “roll some weed” while Damien Marley performed several of his songs and few classics from his father’s legendary catalog. Following Marley’s solo portion Nas hit the stage again with AZ for a few classics and after working the crowd into a frenzy with the beat from “Made You Look” brought Jadakiss onstage to perform his memorable verse from the remix. By the end of the song, Nas had left the stage and Styles P and Sheek had joined Jada for a 30 min. Lox/D-Block concert that completely rocked the surprised crowd. The show was closed by Nas and Marley performing “Road to Zion” and a few songs from “Distant Relatives” before sending the crowd home happy.

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues 2009 was an insane day for Hip-Hop fans that got way more than their money’s worth and saw the architects of the game in the birthplace of the music. There were so many good acts between the two stages that I didn’t even get to see The Roots, Big Boi, Tech Nine, Necro, Buckshot or K’Naan and it was still a sick show. This event was so good, I am actually unable to make fun of it (except for Prodigy, I’ll always find a way to laugh at that guy).

Good: Line Up, Special Guests, Venue, Weather, free parking.
Bad: Sequence of Acts, insufficient merchandise (most cool T-Shirts were sold out early), traffic