Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Slim Shady LP: Ten Years Later

Feb. 23rd 1999: The Slim Shady LP is released
Feb. 24th 1999: @#$%! Hits the Fan

Eminem hit the pop music landscape like three natural disasters at once: a hurricane (Eminem), tidal wave (Slim Shady) and earthquake (Marshall Mathers). To put it simply, this was the Extinction Level Event (E.L.E.) that Busta Rhymes was screaming about at the end of the last century. The release of The Slim Shady LP launched the career of one Hip-Hop’s most gifted poets, intelligently sarcastic humorists and greatest overall entertainers in one CD (this was the late 90’s, just before the internet and digital downloads would make selling the kind of units this album sold nearly impossible). While the album and the artist “crossed over” in every sense imaginable it does not lessen the effects that this “dirty rotten rhymer” from the Mid-west had on real Hip-Hop heads nationwide.

While Eminem’s rise through the underground (independently released albums, countless collaborations with artists destined to remain local favorites in Detroit, The Rap Olympics, The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” column and his ascension to legendary battle rapper depicted in “8 Mile”) is well documented, I was largely unaware of him until I heard his first major label single, “My Name is...” in early 1999. While still a huge Hip-Hop fan a decade ago, living in Delaware, working a lot and trying to finish school and start a career were not exactly conducive to keeping my ear to the street. While I was made aware that Dr. Dre made the questionable decision to sign a white boy from The Source and a new magazine called XXL, I was unaware of just about everything else about Slim Shady (image, voice, subject matter, flow). This relative ignorance about Eminem caused The Slim Shady LP to hit me like a punch in the face, or as Xzibit would say on a later collaboration with Eminem “An overhand right from Riddick [Bowe].” I distinctly remember buying the tape (that’s not a misprint, that’s how I got down until about 2000) at a mom & pop record store and trying to figure out what was going on in the cover photo (“alright, there’s a body in the trunk, but does he have a little kid with him?”) in between classes and then going to my apartment to check it out while I ate lunch before going to work for the afternoon, luckily all of my roommates were out and I blasted the tape in my empty apartment while I prepared and ate a tuna sandwich, bag of pretzels and a lemon-lime Gatorade (yeah, I was a grown-a** man still eating lunch like a 6th grader), and needless to say, my head was blown. I liked the sarcastic tone of the Intro and the unedited version of “My Name Is...” definitely made me pause and realize this was going to be “some next @#$!,” but nothing prepared me for “Guilty Conscience.” While the concept of the record is cool and both Em and Dre are impressive on the first two verses, on the third verse (the one with Grady, the construction worker) when Shady attacks his mentor and breaks character to admonish Dr. Dre’s “Angel” for putting out violent music with NWA and having an almost forgotten altercation with a female VJ named Dee Barnes, the game was irreversibly changed. I was so shocked that somebody would say that to Hip-Hop royalty like Dr. Dre, I nearly sliced my hand open on the can of tuna. I was stunned, who did this guy think he was? Nobody talked to or about Dre like that, he had attained the kind of status afforded to legends like Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim and after starting two movements (NWA and Death Row) it was hard to argue he didn’t deserve it. This white dude that looked like he belonged at the X-Games or performing with a rap/rock outfit had the balls to say unbelievably challenging and contrary things and the skills to back it up...I was immediately a fan.

The rest of the album is solid to say the least and largely maintains the momentum started by the first two songs. Between tales from a troubled childhood (“Brain Damage”), glimpses into his chaotic family life (“97 Bonnie & Clyde”), tales of drug use and abuse (“My Fault” and “I’m Shady”), loser anthems that would make Beck jealous (“Rock Bottom” and “If I Had”), manifestos of the Slim Shady persona (“Role Model” and “Just Don’t Give A F**k”) and insane displays of lyrical skill (“Bad Meets Evil” and “Cum On Everybody”) he raised the bar by which all Hip-Hop albums would be judged with a little under an hour of material. Eminem’s version of a “Rap Star” was so different, so ground breaking, so refreshing, that the influence of the man, album and movement quickly expanded beyond Hip-Hop to affect the much larger sphere of pop culture. In a genre where the phrase “Keep It Real” is used as often as words like “and” and “the”, this was the realest thing I’d ever heard. I am a lifetime Hip-Hop fanatic, but I have never moved weight down south, gotten chased through the projects or peeled anyone’s cap back. However, I had been bullied, had jobs/bosses/teachers I hated, been stared down for wearing Public Enemy T-shirts, been mocked as a “Wigger”, and had drama with females and disagreements with my family (these last two in relative short supply compared to Eminem), Slim Shady’s struggle was strikingly similar to my own. Most Hip-Hop heads wanted to be Jay-Z “Big Pimpin’” on the yacht with cases of Crystal and Melissa Ford, but they were Eminem: broke with personal problems, self-esteem issues and a dead end job. He was like a more articulate Kurt Cobain in that he was able to articulate the pain, anger, frustration and confusion of being a young adult at end of the 90’s the way Nirvana did almost a decade earlier.

Amidst all the controversy surrounding his debut album and subsequent releases stemming from criticism for lyrics deemed homophobic, misogynistic and promoting drug use, the aspect of Eminem’s lyrics that are most often overlooked are his ruminations about being a white Hip-Hop artist/fan at a time when this was largely unacceptable. While the burgeoning underground rap scene was picking up steam due to fans growing tired of the “Pop Rap” dominating the airwaves in the late 90’s and artists like Company Flow, Aesop Rock, Cage, Atmosphere and R.A. The Rugged Man (already a vet with a resume going back to at least ’92) gaining acceptance on college radio and putting out music through labels like Rawkus and Fondle’ Em, there had been no real presence of white artists in mainstream Hip-Hop for close to a decade. While the Beastie Boys were widely respected and artists like House of Pain and Third Bass were largely accepted as credible artists, the debacle of Vanilla Ice and his “perfect storm” of stolen beats, wack lyrics, a completely fabricated past and an unbelievably grating personality pretty much made the idea of “White Rappers” about as appealing to record labels as booking Michael Jackson to perform at a “Feed The Children” concert. Eminem passingly addressed these issues on The Slim Shady LP on cuts like “My Name Is..” and “ Brain Damage” but would really explore the issue on future albums and the movie “8 Mile”), however it is clearly significant that his general demeanor of self-doubt and low self-esteem, celebrations of self-destructive behavior and “me against the world” attitude can probably be attributed to spending decades trying to gain acceptance in a subculture that openly wanted nothing to do with him (addressed in much greater detail on later releases like “White America” and “Yellow Brick Road”). However, I am reasonably sure this aversion to white rappers in the 90’s is not really a racial issue because most white Hip-Hop fans (myself included) looked at the possibility of Dr. Dre producing a white boy like “Really, that’s how he’s gonna come back after The Firm, with a white dude? Man, all that Chronic must have got to him.” In much the same way, today’s fan’s look skeptically at female MC’s when there is no reason why a female cannot make a classic album and have a massive impact on the industry, it’s just been so long since it’s happened that it seems very unlikely. Luckily we were all proved wrong, and it should have come as no surprise because it was this same kind of revolutionary thinking that allowed Dre to turn a group with the most offensive word in the English language in their name into mainstream celebrities, make a lanky Long Beach gangster that looked strangely like a canine with a sing-songy flow into one if the biggest pop stars of the decade and release “Grown & Sexy Rap” like “Been There Done That” a full decade before Jay-Z was “Thirty Something.”

The publicity campaign following the release of The Slim Shady LP was a whirlwind of innovative and hilarious music videos, sold out shows in front crowds as varied as traditional Hip-Hop heads to the more rock-centric Van’s Warped Tour, television/radio appearances that were widely discussed (throwing subliminals at Marky Mark on TRL and his conversation with Howard Stern instantly come to mind), winning multiple awards and selling over 3 million records to become one of the biggest stars in America in less than a year on the national scene. Personally, I became one of the biggest “Stans” around, and found myself constantly making statements like “Dude, you gotta hear this guy, he’s just like us!” or “Man, you’ll love this record it’s like George Carlin and Ice Cube rolled into one rapper” some of my friends liked it and some thought I needed psychiatric counseling, but I literally could not stop talking about how much I was feeling “The Slim Shady LP.”

While Eminem became a huge celebrity following the release of his debut album, he did not rest and enjoy the spoils of fame, but continued grinding and released a string of memorable guest verses that immediately turned whatever song he was on into “an Eminem record,” completely stole the show from vets like Snoop, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Kurupt and MC Ren with two classic verses on Dr. Dre’s undisputed classic “2001” and began work on his magnum opus “The Marshall Mather’s LP.”

Released just over a year after his groundbreaking debut, “The Marshall Mathers LP” took everything on “The Slim Shady LP” one step further: the beats were harder, the lyrics were alternately comically hilarious and deeply personal, the collaborations were bigger and the singles and videos were pop culture “events” that caused Eminem to be mentioned alongside pop-stars like Brittany Spears, N’Sync and Ricky Martin based on units sold and recognition by the general public alone. While most consider this albums’ “Stan” (a chilling series of letters from an obsessed fan told in astonishing detail) to be the rapper’s creative apex, it is an often overlooked lyric from the cartoonish first single, “The Real Slim Shady” that is truly the scariest thing the MC has ever said.

In the third verse, he begins to try and explain his popularity by stating: “In every single person/there’s a Slim Shady lurking.” With this one line he instantly summed up why tens of millions of fans identified with this demented sense of humor, warped morals and propensity for sex, drugs and Hip-Hop. The reason for Eminem’s insane popularity and status of cultural icon is not that he’s some outlandish character that people marvel at like a court jester (Flava Flav, Tommy Lee, Andy Dick) but rather because most people, and especially those that won’t admit it, have the capacity to empathize with an individual’s transformation from an everyday person (Marshall Mathers) into a monster (Slim Shady) from the daily grind of life in contemporary American society. And while the overwhelming majority of people do not act on these impulses (thankfully) they were immensely satisfied to see someone act on their most base instincts and say things they were too scared to say themselves. Most fans, myself included, found it cathartic to listen to this man’s dizzying rhymes about how bad pop music had become, the idiocy of the film and music industry and the rampant hypocrisy in politics/religion/education/gun control/drug laws and sexual politics. While I didn’t agree with everything Shady had to say, I absolutely enjoyed hearing his opinions as opposed to some other rapper talk about his chain or the rims on his car.

“The Marshall Mathers LP” made Eminem an even bigger star and sold 10 Million copies worldwide (an impressive feat even by late 90’s/early 00’s standards) and turned the man into an icon. The release of the critically acclaimed blockbuster “The Eminem Show” in 2002 showcased a slightly more mature MC, and dealt with the trappings of fame and the effects of his career responsibilities on his family, however, these new topics did not detract from the entertainment value of “Slim Shady”, but added to it in a way that has not been seen since Biggie got his grown man on with “Life After Death.” Following the release of his third consecutive multi-platinum and universally respected LP he released the semi-autobiographical “8 Mile” about the battling scene in Detroit in the mid-90’s which was not only a huge hit, but introduce legions of fans to “Battle Rap” and became the “Rocky” for generation-X.

While Eminem’s post-“8 Mile” output has been hit-or-miss at best due the mostly inferior material on his fourth album “Encore,” an extended hiatus, questionable signings to his Shady Records imprint (D12 and Cashis), failure to release material from exciting new talent associated with the label (Obie Trice, Stat Quo, Bobby Creekwater), efforts to fit into today’s musical landscape (collaborations with TI and “Crack A Bottle”), and replacing lyrics filled with satire and social commentary with fart jokes and bathroom humor, it is damn near impossible to argue his impact on the game or the brilliance of his early material.

While the internet goes nuts about “Top 5 Dead or Alive” lists it is hard to argue Slim Shady was not the best MC in the game from the release of “My Name Is…” in early 1999 through the end of 2002 when he introduced the world to Hip-Hop’s next megastar 50 Cent. During this period Biggie and 2pac had both passed away, even though ‘Pac somehow released an endless stream of “new” material and the majority of Jay-Z’s classic material (minus “The Blue Print,” which itself had a verse from Eminem that was just effin’ bananas) came out before (“Reasonable Doubt” and “Vol. II…Hard Knock Life”) or after (“The Black Album” and “American Gangster”) this period. It is hard to keep a straight face and say any of the other commercially viable artists flourishing during this period like Nelly, Ludacris or Ja Rule could even be mentioned in the same sentence as Mr. Mathers. While you can possibly make a credible argument that he’s not “Top 5” it’s difficult to contest his complete domination of the years immediately preceding and following the millennium.

A decade after its’ release “The Slim Shady LP” still bangs like it came out yesterday and in today’s climate of ringtone ready one-hit wonders, tight jeans and autotune, real Hip-Hop heads long for the days when “that white kid Dre signed” dominated the music industry with sick rhymes and innovative song structure that elevated the entire game to the next level.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Over and Under Rated 2 (2009)

Over Rated

Destroying Musical Instruments

When Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire it was revolutionary, when the Sex Pistols destroyed everything on the stage it was cool, when hair bands stomped out drum kits with platform boots and spandex suits it was getting old, by the 90’s, grunge bands leaving the stage in shambles became a cliche (shout out to the guy from Nirvana taking that guitar to the face at the MTV Awards...that was cool), and any band that does it now is just stupid.  There is no reason to destroy thousands of dollars worth of equipment so a few of your fans will think you are cool, if they came to your show they were probably “fans” to begin with and cracking a $10,000 guitar over an amplifier is not going to make them like you any more.  It is dumb, it’s not only old and overdone, it’s ancient, it’s been around since at least the 60’s, so trying to shock your audience by trashing your equipment is about as effective as trying to shock them by showing them a Model-T or telling them about a new invention called a VCR...it’s not shocking, it’s not cool, it’s dumb and so are the bands that do it.

Also, musicians that mistreat their equipment in this manner should be immediately kicked out of “Save The Music.”  I don’t need some jacka** urging me to donate money so an underprivileged kid can have a xylophone one minute and then bashing a bass guitar to pieces the next.  Here’s an idea, donate those instruments to needy kids instead of breaking them up for no reason, poor kids will have access to instruments and you will not look like such a douche...win-win.  

“Fat” Jessica Simpson

I had no desire to address this “issue” until I was looking for the newest issue of XXL at Target and saw this on the cover of 5 magazines (no exaggeration).  First of all, I don’t like Jessica Simpson, never did.  I always thought she was an “also ran” in the Brittany/Christina era of the late 90’s, her raging stupidity on “Newlyweds” made me long for the intellectual complexities of “Viva La Bam” and her complete lack of commitment to any musical genre (pop, dance, ballads, country, what’s next? I’m pretty sure she would yodel if her father thought it would sell) angers me in ways I can’t fully articulate.  

However, the fact that this has print media and the internet going nuts is baffling.  When did a struggling country artist that is currently on a nationwide tour of amusement parks and radio station festivals (and it looks like she’s the opening act because it’s still light out in all the pictures) gaining weight become a national emergency?  Secondly, the magazines running comparison shots of publicity photos from “The Dukes of Hazard” and comparing them to pics of her performing live as “Then & Now” are completely out of line because there is no way to compare professionally photographed, retouched and air brushed publicity shots to what some aspiring paparazzi took at Six Flags Over Texas.  It is like comparing a regular person’s appearance in a family portrait from “The Sears Photo Studio” to their facebook.com pics from a party...yeah the subject is the same, but all the other variables make a legitimate comparison almost impossible. 

There is also a magazine available now with the quote “I’m Not Fat!”, which is usually placed right next to a competing tabloid with the headline “Jessica Vows to Lose 20 Lbs. by Summer”  Well, which one is it?  Either you need to lose 20 lbs. or you are not fat, it can’t be both.  This whole thing reeks of a diet/supplement/workout video campaign and if this broad is not on a Jenny Craig or LA Fitness commercial by 4th of July I’ll be more shocked than Kid Cudi at All-Star weekend.  

Rolling Stone magazine taking itself way too seriously

I currently have a subscription to Rolling Stone because of a Beastie Boys T-shirt I purchased in the summer that included a free one year subscription.  I used to enjoy reading Rolling Stone for the in-depth artist interviews and unbiased album/single/movie reviews, however in the past year they have abandoned their roots as a Rock-n-Roll magazine in favor of constantly bashing the Bush administration, unwavering support of Obama and overly-serious articles about prescription drugs, various wars and the economy.  I’m not saying I agree or disagree with their politics or that these issues should not be addressed, but this is not why I buy Rolling Stone.  I read Rolling Stone to find out if I should buy the new Gym Class Heroes album or see The Wrestler, not to be told how to vote in the next presidential election. 

Also, the covers have taken an air of self-importance that is unparalleled in the entertainment industry.  I applaud their efforts to differentiate themselves from tabloids like “Us Weekly” or “In Touch” and to distance themselves from questionable cover subjects in recent memory (the cast of The Hills...really?), but the last three covers have featured serious photos of stern looking older men (Brad Pitt, Bruce Springsteen and Sean Penn) and contained incredibly grandiose interviews that would make Will Ferrell’s impersonation of James Lipton seem subtle and understated.  I like Brad Pit, Seven and Fight Club are two of my favorite movies, but reading about how “important” and “revolutionary” The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, was a little too much to take.  

Finally, how about some music? While most issues are more about “issues” than music, at least they didn’t completely abandon popular music to focus on Reality TV like MTV and VH1. 

Under Rated


No, not Brian Austin Green (The Notorious B.A.G.), but calling someone any kind of “bag” is a great insult that seems to be falling out of favor.  But literally, all the possible variations work: Old Bag, Ho Bag, Bag of Bones, Hot Air Bag...the options are limitless.  Next time you are being ridiculed throw a “Ho Bag” or “Old Bag” out there (depending on the situation) and I guarantee you will win the argument hands down. 

Putting Albums Out When The Lead Single is Still Hot

Labels are losing so much on album releases that they are putting products on the shelf until there is either a deafening buzz surrounding the project or the artist is several singles deep based on the idea that potential consumers are more likely to buy a CD containing 5 songs they like rather than one or two.  Sometimes this works, last year Cash Money/Universal released Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” in March and held the album until mid-June, leading to selling a million copies in a week an eventually having the best selling album of 2008. However, more often albums are held and any buzz the artist had going has completely dissipated by the time the album hits stores or the net.  It appears the next victim of this approach to marketing will be Kid Cudi, his single “Day-n-Night” has been in heavy rotation since late November and there is no album on the horizon a full four months later.  It is widely discussed that attention spans are getting shorter, and this approach to album marketing is clearly not working.  I almost miss the days when if if a rapper had a hot single the label would slap together a collection of mix-tape songs, guest appearances and remixes and call that the album..almost.

The Human Body’s Immune System

There is no reason for healthy men and women to apply hand sanitizer every time they touch their own wallet, be mortally terrified of public restrooms and avoid shaking hands like professional baseball players avoid telling the truth in court. I am the biggest advocate of “clean living” out there, but this is absurd.  I don’t know anybody that has contracted a flesh eating disease from normal human contact and I’m pretty sure in areas where this is  a real possibility (a rain forest, swamp or jungle, NOT suburban New Jersey), a pocket-size bottle of Purrell or handi-wipes are not going to save you.  

For an example of the resiliency of the human body look to the homeless, these people live outside, sleep on sidewalks and exhaust grates, eat food that has been slobbered on by other people, use copious amounts of drugs with shared paraphernalia and rarely, if ever wash and they usually die from getting hit by taxi’s or lit on fire by punk high school kids, they are rarely done in by a condition resulting from excessive exposure to germs. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

New York Comic Convention 2009

I had been looking forward to attending the New York Comic Book Convention (ComicCon) for the last four years, it’s an annual event, but work obligations have prevented me from attending the east coast’s biggest convention of comics, movies, video games, books and pop culture...until now!  Finally, my schedule worked out where I could attend (for one day at least) and I was blown away, this is one of the few things I have looked forward to for a significant amount of time that not only lived up to, but surpassed any and all expectations I had about it.  This was quite simply one of the most fun days of my life and I will be pleasantly surprised if any other 24-hour period in 2009 comes close to providing so much entertainment and enjoyment. 

ComicCon is a 3 day event held in New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and is second in size and scope only to the San Diego Comic Convention that has been immortalized on the HBO series “Entourage.”  Because I was so pumped about the convention (the day before when Lyle Mead called and asked “Dude, how pumped are you for ComicCon?” I responded “If I was any more pumped I would have to be taking hits from an oxygen mask and sitting in a “cool zone” to calm my a** down.”)  I set my alarm for 7 am and went to bed early on Saturday night so I could get there early and beat the crowds to all the cool exhibits and giveaways before settling in for an afternoon of panel discussions and screenings (for some reason this doesn’t sound nearly as cool when I am writing it).  Myself and Amber De Leggas arrived at the Javits Center just before 10am and there was already a huge line to get credentials for the day, I proceeded to cut in line in front of about 1,500 people and nobody said anything!  I would never try this at a Hip-Hop show or sports event, but these people seemed pretty docile and most of them were so happy to be there they were not trying to step to some guy dressed “normally” for wandering into the front of the line.  Looking back on this decision it was clearly riskier than I imagined because this was the first event I had ever purchased tickets for online that followed an email with the confirmation number with multiple emails forbidding attendees from bringing swords, nunchucks, guns or other weapons to the event, luckily for everyone, neither Amber or myself were impaled with a mace for cutting the line and everything went smoothly.    

After we got our credentials (which we displayed around our necks proudly) we were instructed to go downstairs and wait in a giant “Z-Line” to get onto the exhibition hall floor.  While we waited for about 15 minutes to get to the exhibits we basically “people watched” and made fun of/hated on people for showing up dressed as their favorite fantasy characters, however after I looked around some more I had this thought: How much different is this line than the spirals at Giant’s Stadium where people are decked out in Eli Manning jerseys and thousands of fans come to the stadium to watch their favorite team play?  Then I looked around some more and realized that none of these people were belligerently intoxicated, nobody was yelling for women to “Show us your t*ts,” no one was profanely harassing somebody for liking Marvel instead of DC, there were no fights of any kind and I’m reasonably sure none of these people bet their next mortgage payment on whether the upcoming Watchmen movie will be better than the graphic novel.  I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying.  

We arrived on the main exhibition floor at about 10:30 and I was basically overwhelmed.    To grasp the concept of this space one must envision an air plane hangar and then pack it full of some of the coolest stuff in the world.  The array of action figures, comics, graphic novels, collector’s items and promo material for soon-to-be released movies and video games was simply mind blowing (I am not easily impressed, but this actually moved me).  I was so overcome with shock and awe during the first 15 minutes I actually felt as if I could vomit at any moment, I had not felt this way since I saw “The Dark Knight” in IMAX last July and reportedly lost consciousness in my friend Lyle’s truck for a few moments while he was so stoked he got lost driving home from a theatre no more than 5 miles from his house.  Luckily, I held it together and was able to enjoy a few hours of exhibitions, the highlights were Mattel’s action figure area where Amber’s passing mention of “She-Ra: Princess of Power” lead to a lengthy conversation with another attendee, the Ghostbusters video game area where actors had real proton packs (still cool 20 years later) and the DC area where we got enough free buttons to decorate the lapels of every jean jacket I ever owned.  

At about 12:00 we had to leave the exhibition hall and start making our way to a panel discussion about Hip-Hop and comic books, if you know anything at all about me, you know there was no way I could miss this.  The discussion was moderated by a comic book author and the panel included DMC, Chuck D and DJ Johnny Juice (PE) and some comic professionals.  This was awesome, I sat about 15 feet away from two of my all-time favorite musicians while they discussed how comics influenced Hip-Hop and vice versa.  The discussion was informative, although somewhat dominated by DJ Johnny Juice, it was clear he is a real comic book fan but at times it seemed as if he was getting back at Chuck for not letting him get on the mic at PE shows.  Also, it was painfully obvious who the performers where and who the writers/illustrators were, DMC and Chuck D definitely held the room’s attention better and were more compelling public speakers than their comic counterparts.  A discussion like this needs a strong moderator that can take control of the group and this was like having Milton Waddams from “Office Space” try to control a panel of Wendy Williams, Howard Stern, Samuel L. Jackson, Morton Downey and DMX.  Regardless of the minor shortcomings the roundtable was awesome and, not surprisingly did not contain one mention of the farces “Run’s House” or “Flava of Love.”  

Following the panel discussion all members were available for autographs and a brief meet and greet.  Amber and myself got in line and we were quickly given the coolest Public Enemy poster ever (considering I have about 5, I consider myself an authority)and a few of their newer CD’s to  have signed. DMC and Chuck D were amiable with everybody in line and posed for several pictures and would sign whatever was brought to them.  When we got to the front of the line the two legend posed for two sick pictures with Amber and I and then signed our copies of Issue #1 of the Public Enemy comic.  We made some small talk, I thanked them for so much great music and then the rest of the panel signed our comics.  I don’t normally get star struck, but this hit me pretty hard and Amber loves seeing/meeting celebrities of any kind so to say we were pretty fired up would be a huge understatement.  After I acknowledged that my heart rate was dangerously high and Amber stated “There’s no possible way I could sit down now” we wisely decided to skip the two-hour presentation on themes of “The Twilight Zone” and went back to the exhibition hall to calm down.  

Immediately following meeting two of the best to ever do it we spent some time in the artist alley/small media section of the convention.  This is where aspiring artists and books with limited circulation can cultivate new fans and make potential fans aware of their products.  Right before the Hip-Hop discussion we walked through this area and Amber spotted a cool-looking graphic novel about sororities but no one was at the booth to sell it to her, we briefly discussed just walking away with it, but both agreed stealing from people providing this kind of experience was just too wrong.  We spent the next hour looking for the book and unfortunately never found it, but this is where those “Comic Book Weirdos” can be found.  In our search for this book I saw booths ranging from “adult themed” and “Mature” to just plain weird.  There were also booths with Adult Film “Stars” (“Stars” is a subjective term, just because you made a movie does not make you a “star”), goth people, vampires, women in various stages of undress and an Asian woman claiming to be “The East Coast’s #1 Import Model” (I tried to argue that the #1 import model is the Nissan Altima, but no one really seemed interested).  

Also during this part of the afternoon I was approached by a publisher and given a postcard about a hero named “Electrolyte: The Cure for Hangover” and called over to a booth by a guy promoting a book titled “How to Roll a Blunt for Dummies.”  I do not use drugs or drink excessively, but apparently I look like “one of those guys.”    Also, the guy with the “Blunt” book may be the world’s greatest salesmen because somehow he sold us one of the books even though neither one of us has any use for this information.  

After our trip thought the “comic underground” we went back to the main area and picked up some cool S.W.A.G. (Stuff We All Get) from Marvel, DC, Vertigo, and EA Games including a triangular poster box emblazoned with titles of video games like “Warhammer” and “Spore” (basically what is used to mail posters or blue prints plus a shoulder strap).  I carried this box over my shoulder for the rest of the convention and the rest of the day in  NYC and Hoboken.  I was later informed by Amber that the “Comic Book Convention Poster Box Over The Shoulder” -look was less and less acceptable the further away we got from the show.  It was awesome in the Javits Center, across the street it was pretty cool, in Times Square it was alright, in Hoboken it was kind of goofy and by the time we got to my town it was completely asinine.  However, I got like 10 free posters home without one single crease, so who’s laughing now?  The fact that none of these will ever actually be displayed is completely beside the point.  

Following ComicCon (we did not stay until the end, just until we could not take it anymore), we spent the rest of the day in NYC and had dinner at Black Bear in Hoboken.  I have only been to Black Bear under the following circumstances: NFL Sundays with about 20 of my boys from High School and paying $35 for all-you-can-drink open bar parties.  Having a quiet dinner during the Pro-Bowl (probably the worst thing in sports) is still fun, albeit a different kind of fun.  

Overall New York Comic Con 2009 was a sick experience.  I saw the best of comics, video games and upcoming movies AND got to meet two guys that shaped Hip-Hop. The only two “negatives” on the day were not tracking down that graphic novel and arriving at the Mattel display after they gave away all the inflatable He-Man swords, however considering I got enough free stuff that it was difficult to carry the “Swag Bag” back to Jersey, I can’t really be too disappointed.  Anybody with any common sense will be there in October of 2010 for next year’s edition, I know I will be.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fear & Loathing at the Jersey Shore

I’ve had numerous adventures down the shore that have reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson’s classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” However, in my versions the hallucinogenic drugs are replaced by Red Bull & Vodkas and the Hell’s Angel’s are replaced by Guidos. The events of last Sunday, February 1st 2009 stand out as one of the most memorable trips down the shore in a long time because they included the following: a funeral, the Super Bowl, two vomiting 20-something females, 3 hours in a car and one of the most ASSinine (if that spelling piques your curiosity, just keep reading) conversations I’ve ever had.   

I got a call from my mother on Thursday morning informing me that my Great Grandmother had passed away, while any kind of death hits a family hard, the fact that she made it to 94 and had been pretty sick the last couple of years definitely softened the blow.  My mom also let me know that the wake was going to be on Sunday afternoon and my parents would be flying back from Florida that morning and make it to the viewing as soon as possible.  Upon hearing this news my cousin Lisa Nicodemus and my friend Amber De Leggas decided they wanted to make the trip with me for support and to show respect to my family.  I let it be known right away that they did not have to do this and even though I appreciated the gesture, the fact that they were going to a Cheech & Chong show the night before made me think they should just spend Sunday quietly recuperating and getting ready for the big game, however they would hear nothing of the sort and demanded I take them with me...while this turned out to be a comical story, I actually really appreciate the way they both went out of their way to support my family.  

Saturday afternoon Lisa and Amber left NJ to see Cheech & Chong at NYC’s famous Radio City Music Hall, I did not go to the show for the following reasons:

1. I was not invited.

2. I don’t really like stoner humor, with the exception of “How High” and a few parts of “Grandma’s Boy.”

3. I was not sure exactly what a Cheech & Chong “Concert” would entail and I didn’t want to pay for a ticket and give up a rare Saturday afternoon away from work to watch two sixty year old guys read lines from “Up In Smoke.”  I am still not sure what their act is like and even though Lisa and Amber attended the show, neither are they.  

I have known Amber for about 5 years and Lisa her entire life and I know they like to have a good time, so I told them I was leaving for Toms River at noon with or without them and they had to be ready to go on time.  I made this statement knowing full well it was an idle threat and neither of them would be ready at 12 o’clock, but I figured if I said “noon” they would be ready to go by about 1 and we would still have plenty of time to get to the viewing.

I got to Lisa’s house at exactly 12:00 p.m. to find Lisa in pajamas and Amber nowhere to be found, I thought this to be par for the course and was not flustered...yet.  At about 12:30 Lisa was starting to look like she was ready to leave and Amber had finally shown up and things were looking good.  After they cleaned up Lisa’s parent’s house from the night before we were all in my car and heading out of Belleville at about 12:45.  Because I refused to speak to either one of them while at my aunt’s house out of fear of losing precious seconds in the battle to get them ready to leave, we had a lot to catch up on once the road trip started.  I am not sure exactly what they did the night before, but the conversation sounded a lot like this:

 “uuuuuggggghhhhh....so sick...at the 3rd bar...puke....car service....uuugggghhh....oh sh*t!...that bouncer was a d*ck.....sick....gonna throw up....bought so many drinks...nutso....what goes on?.....aaaaaaggggghhhhh.” 

Throughout all these half explanations and guttural sounds there was no mention of Cheech or Chong, so I am still unaware of what they do in concert.  About a half hour into the hour-long ride, they both started asking if I could pull over so they could vomit on the side of the Parkway, which put me in bit of a Catch-22, I did not want to waste time and risk injury to one of them or damage to my car by pulling over to the shoulder of the Garden State Parkway, but I also didn’t want to have anybody ralph in my new car.  Eventually, I decided I would deliver a fire & brimstone speech about how we are tough people that don’t throw up in cars and no matter how stupid we get the night before we always soldier on and handle our business. Surprisingly, this speech actually worked and nobody brought up stopping the car until we got off at Exit 82 about forty-five minutes later.  

When we got off the Parkway at Route 37 East everybody agreed we had to find some food before we went to the funeral home and hunkered down for a good 2 hours of grieving and making small talk with rarely seen relatives.  Our first option was Capone's in down town Toms River, however when we got there I was reminded that non only is Capone’s closed on Sunday, all of Historic Down Town Toms River shuts down on the weekends...I have lived there most of my life and this peculiar fact about “The River City” still befuddles me.  Anyway, we turned around and drove back to Palumbo's for some pizza before the wake, when we got there we all ordered slices and drinks and then sat down.  Exactly what happened next is a little bit of a blur, but it definitely involved Amber throwing up in the women’s room, Lisa throwing up in the men’s room and my cousin Angelina walking in and saying “I feel sick from last night” and immediately bum-rushing the bathrooms, only to find out they were both occupied by other people puking.  This was incredible, I had more friends and family that needed to void themselves at one time than this tiny mom & pop pizzeria could accommodate and instead of trying to help anybody I just sat at the table with 5 slices and 5 Snapples, looking like the biggest slob in the world and enjoying my chicken parm slice.  Within 15 minutes the entire episode was over we were on the road again en route to the wake.  

We arrived at the funeral home at just about 2:30 and after paying respects to my Great Grandmother I had to start the arduous task of making small talk with aunts, uncles and cousins. Most of the people I talked to were doing pretty good and had stories about buying houses, their kids going to high school and Super Bowl predictions, and then inevitably we made plans to hang out in the summer that may or may not actually come to fruition.  Everybody was cool, except my cousin Phil.  I have seen Phil three times in the last 12 years and we have discussed his hemorrhoids every single time!  I have no idea how he can seamlessly integrate anal fissures into any conversation, but it is truly a thing to behold, the highlights of the last three times we spoke are as follows:

July 1997 (My Cousin Carl’s Wedding)

Phil: Hey, man! What’s up cuz? You still lifting?

Me: As much as possible, it’s tough being away at school and everything.

Phil: I can’t squat anymore because I have terrible hemorrhoids.

Me: That’s tough man, good luck with that.

June 2004 (Random Siting on Seaside Heights Boardwalk)

Me: What’s up man, what is that a sausage sandwich?

Phil: Nah man, I gotta eat bland I got the worst effin hemorrhoids,you can’t imagine.

Me: That’s tough man, good luck with that.

February 2009 (Great Grandmother's Wake)

Me: Phil, how are you doing?

Phil: Aw man, it sucks to get old.  I just turned 41 and I had hemorrhoid surgery last month.

Me: That’s tough man, good luck with that. 

Anyway, it was cool to see everybody again and I think Grandma would have been happy with the services, so overall it was a pretty good afternoon, given the unfortunate circumstances.  And I have to give Amber and Lisa a lot of credit, if I hadn’t known they spent the better part of an hour vomiting uncontrollably, I never would have been able to tell they were all banged up from the night before. 

As soon as the wake was over we were back in my car and headed up the Parkway to attend a Super Bowl party at the bar/restaurant where lisa works.  We stopped at her house for a second and changed into casual clothes (Doc Marten’s, Cut & Sew Denim and a Joe Namath throwback...in case you were wondering) and hit the party. Upon arrival we quickly established ourselves as the worst bar customers ever: I made about 3 trips to the free buffet, nobody ordered anything but water, we brought a child (somehow Lisa’s brother Young Blowout showed up), eventually we made trips to Lil’ Burgers and Applegate’s Ice Cream and brought our own food and desserts into the bar and I found out later that some of our friends actually ordered several Mind Erasers and left without paying for them...yep another banner night for me and my peoples.  While discussing the prospect of actually bringing outside food into the restaurant (I am not an expert restauranteur, but I am reasonably sure this is frowned upon), Amber asked me if I liked “Lil’ Burgers” to which I replied “I buy food in extreme bulk and I don’t eat meat, if it was called ‘Enormous Fish Sandwiches’ I might be interested, but come on, I thought you knew me better than that!” At the end of the night we were all eating delicious ice cream in the bar and I was reminded of my surprise birthday party the previous summer when I was given a picto-cake with a photo of me dancing sans shirt.  I am not sure if there is a direct correlation, but I can honestly say I have never had a bad time eating dessert in a bar.  

I called it a night at the end of the 3rd quarter so I could make it home for The Office, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see previous post), and at the conclusion of the game I was pleasantly surprised by the Lombardi Trophy being presented by none other than “Broadway” Joe Namath. I’m not sure whether Joe was drunk or not (although he did look like he was feeling pretty good about himself) but I think the NFL  made a wise decision by not allowing him to speak, however the decision to have a 70 year-old man walk through the exuberantly celebrating Pittsburgh Steelers carrying a fifty-pound trophy was questionable at best.  

It’s hard to imagine any other sporting event will provide me with this much fun and excitement this year, but check back after March Madness and hopefully I’ll have even more outlandish hi-jinx to write about.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Over and Under Rated 1 (2009)


Retro Releases from companies that are not NIKE

Since companies started doing “retro releases” and finding classic kicks no longer required scouring mom & pop sporting goods stores or paying insane prices on ebay the sneaker game has inarguably changed.  Whereas before anybody rocking real heat had to have the commitment and instincts to hunt down the hottest shoes or serious connects, now anybody with a Visa and access to a Footlocker can get sick sneakers.  I am a purist in just about everything I’m into (Hip-Hop, Fashion, Comic Books, etc.), however I’m cool with this.  I’ve spent way too much time looking for Air Max 95’s online and in drop lines for Jordan 5’s to argue that it’s not waaaaay better to be able to drive to the mall and pick up what I want with no lines, shipping & handling fees or waiting outside at midnight to elbow my way past hipsters that look like Spencer Pratt to get my size 8’s.  

However, since the “Retro Release” craze started (early 2000’s) every company except Nike has dropped the ball.  I’ve spend a lot of time telling my boys “If Fila does the Grant Hill’s, I’m definitely buying them” or “You remember the Converse Larry Johnson’s? Yeah, the Grand MaMa’s...they gotta put those back out!” Only to be devastatingly disappointed when I finally see them in the stores.  Maybe it’s the anticipation of waiting for years for these releases that make them impossible to live up to the hype or maybe all these kicks were only hot to my pre-pubescent eyes and not as attractive since I got my grown man on (and got contact lenses), but now I seem to be saying things to myself like “Were all the Reebok Pumps always so high?” and “Were the Adidas Equipment joints always so cartoonish and childish?” I’m not saying other brands are not cool, Adidas Shell Toes, Puma Clydes, Converse All-Stars and New Balance 995’s are all undeniable classics, but for some reason the lesser known designs from these companies are not nearly as cool as I remember them.  It’s kind of like watching a cartoon you used to love (for me it’s “He-Man” or “Transformers”) or playing an old school video game and thinking you must have been  a dumb ass when you were younger for liking such nonsense.  

Don’t feel too bad for sneakerheads though, as long as Nike continues to put out 300 colorways of Air Force 1’s and continues to re-package Jordans every couple of months I’m sure we’ll all be OK.  

Rappers that “Don’t Write”

If your government name is not Christopher Wallace, Shawn Carter or Dwayne Carter (sometimes), you should go get a pen & pad.  

“American Idol” bridging the musical generation gap

I understand that “Idol” (as some segments of our population call it) is watched by entire families together and is the kind of “Event Television” that encourages parents to cancel poker nights and kids to take a night off from smoking at the mall in favor of gathering around the plasma and intently watching and discussing each week’s wannabe pop-stars.  While this type of family bonding is probably a positive thing, the idea of multiple generations finding a common ground over the worst, most mindless, cookie-cutter pop music and entertainment industry pariahs that aspire to sing idiotic songs written by teams of corporate “songwriters” that were favorably tested in key demographic focus groups is absurd.  

Family bonding over music is cool, but not this music and not this show! If you want to show your kids how cool you are find some truly timeless, significant music and listen to it together and discuss why it was cool then and why it’s still relevant now.  There is a long list of musicians that fall into this category, but here are a few to start things off: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Parliment/Funkadelic, James Brown, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Metalica, Run DMC, Boogie Down Productions or Nirvana (yeah, grunge was that long ago).  And if you are a “child” trying to find musical common ground with your parents, play them some of today’s hottest artists and try to make them understand why you like them.  I’m pretty sure most 40-50 year olds would be at least mildly impressed with guys like Jay-Z, Nas and Lil’ Wayne and bands like TV on the Radio and The Killers, if they actually listened to their music instead of Fox New’s reports on how they are ruining society and corrupting our youth.  As a side note, I’m reasonably sure living in a country where the school system is in shambles, pharmaceutical companies work in concert with the government to keep people in a prescription drug-induced haze, sports and gossip magazines have taken the place of any kind of substance or intelligence and Drug & Alcohol abuse is celebrated has done more to corrupt my mind state than “Ready To Die,” “Reasonable Doubt” and “The Marshall Mathers LP” combined, but that’s just my opinion. 

Websites with unpronounceable names 

It’s hard to believe there was a time when “google” was not a verb, “blogging” didn’t exist and people didn’t know what the ‘eff a “facebook” was, but when new websites come out it is awkward and almost embarrassing to tell people about them when they can’t understand the URL because it is composed of invented words that are unintelligible for the unfamiliar.  

I am sick of the following conversation:

Other Person: Where do you watch The Office?

Me: Hulu.com

OP: What?

Me: Hulu (slowly)

OP: Hula.com, like hawaiian?

Me: Hu-LU!

OP: What the hell is a Hulu? 

Me: I don’t know, but it’s H-U-L-U .com and it has all old TV Shows...blah, blah, blah

Give me one reason why it couldn’t be called “OldTVShows.com” or “ReRuns.com” so it would be that much easier to promote the site to friends.  

The “Locker Room Code”

How many “Tell All” books, candid interviews, emotional press conferences, blog posts demanding trades and sideline meltdowns do we have to endure before we collectively admit that whatever code once existed that stated “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room” is about as obsolete as making “emergency breakthrough” phone calls?  The current fervor over Joe Torre’s book about his time with the Yankees (where it appears he makes such earth shattering declarations as “A-Rod cares about stats and public opinion” and “Carl Pavano and David Wells are pricks”) has the entire sports media discussing this “Locker Room Code” when it seems like the “Code” is violated weekly by the esteemed athletes and coaches we view a pillars of our society.  From any number of wide receivers publicly questioning their coach/coordinator’s decision not to throw to him in triple coverage to Mike Singletary publicly berating Vernon What’s-his-face and the subsequent pants-dropping episode in the locker room that made it to the Phoenix papers (this is fairly interesting considering the game was played in San Francisco and did non involve the Cardinals in any way) these “Code Violations” are everywhere.  With the frequency that this “Code” is violated it is not a “Code” as much as a suggestion...kind of like the sports world’s “ban” on drug use, domestic abuse, traffic violations, child support payments, public intoxication and other crimes.


New Material from 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes

Like most Hip-Hop heads I wrote these guys off a few year’s ago, but the new stuff I am hearing from them is pure fire.  Despite 50’s clownish and seemingly staged “Beef” (aka WWF wrestling match) with Rick Ross, the early songs from “Before I Self Destruct” sound legit. Not “50 Cent is the Future” or “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” legit, but way better than “Curtis” or “T.O.S.” Hopefully the DJ Premier produced “Shut Your Blood Clot Mouth” will actually make the album because any time a Primo beat and the words “Blood Clot” are involved, it can’t help but be ridiculous.  Add in collaborations from Dr. Dre and Eminem and probably some jabs at Young Buck and DJ Khaled’s whole crew and it could be one of the best albums of 2009.

I am still embarrassed to be a Hip-Hop fan every time I hear Busta’s “Arab Money” (regardless of what part or remix is being played), but the other cuts from B.O.M.B. have made me excited for this release as well.  “Hustler’s Anthem” includes a less-buffoonish-than-usual appearance by T-Pain, “Respect My Conglomerate” demands respect and the “Please Listen To My Demo” inspired “Please Give Me More Ammo” are all bangers, if the album includes last spring’s criminally slept on “Don’t Touch Me (Throw The Water On ‘Em)” this album should be the soundtrack to the spring, even if you have to skip “Arab Money” and it’s various remixes every time you listen to it.  

Dane Cook’s Stand-Up Act

I’l admit Dane Cook’s movies range from mediocre to unwatchable, but as a stand-up comic it’s hard to argue there are many on his level.  He’s been grinding on the national scene since the mid-90’s, handles crowds in massive venues like basketball arenas and outdoor amphitheaters like they are 100 seat comedy clubs and if you doubt how funny he is check out any old Comedy Central Special, the “Harmful If Swallowed” CD/DVD or any of his calls on “Crank Yankers” (where the term “Fifth Round” originated) and I promise you will begrudgingly laugh until your eyes water and your sides hurt.  

It is currently in vogue to hate on this guy to the point where his name has become a four-letter word in the entertainment world, but this was started and perpetuated by comics that are angry he is selling out The Garden and they are still doing “bringer” shows and open mics. It’s the equivalent of me spending all my time trashing Ronin Ro and Cheo Hadari Coker because they are writing best sellers about Hip-Hop and I am writing this blog for a handful of followers, being a “hater” is not going to put those comics in MSG or give me a book deal, so what’s the point? On top of that, the quote “The fact that Richard Pryor and George Carlin are dead, but Dane Cook is alive shows there is no justice in the world” is stupid and overplayed and should not be anybody’s quote on “myspace” or “facebook” anymore.  Yes, Pryor and Carlin were amazing, groundbreaking, awesome comics, but they lived long and productive lives and the fact that they passed away in their 70’s and new guys like Dane Cook are getting some shine does not mean there is no justice in the world, it means people have their time and then they pass and it’s somebody else’s turn, like Flava Flav said “That’s the way the ball bounces, G!”  

Also, for my money, the bit he did in the late 90’s about different ethnic groups fighting that ends with him walking off the stage in nothing but boxer-briefs and dress shoes (no homo) is quite possibly the funniest thing I have ever seen.  

The Post-Super Bowl episode of The Office

I stated earlier that I was looking forward to better episodes of my favorite TV show in 2009 and so far they have delivered.  Every one since the holidays has been good, but this one-hour opus took the cake.  It involved a hysterical fire drill and a roast that was as funny/awkward/painful to watch as anything in the series’ history.  Hopefully they can do more episodes like this to keep Thursday nights interesting through the spring.