Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Over and Under Rated 4 (2009)

Under Rated

Murs and 9th Wonder

This duo is the musical equivalent of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup...two great tastes that taste great together.  Murs’ work with Living Legends and Def Jux was cool and 9th’s collaborations with Jay-Z, numerous R&B groups and his Hall of Justus crew (Little Brother, Joe Scudda, Skyzoo, etc.) was ground breaking, but all of this pales in comparison to what happens when these two talented artists work together.  Murs’ heartfelt, introspective rhymes and everyman persona mesh so perfectly with 9th’s soul drenched beats that it’s hard to believe they are from opposite sides of the continental United States. However, it is this dichotomy and the combination of Murs’ laid back west coast cadence and 9th Wonder’s dirty south meets backpacker beats that make the duo’s version of “Cali-Lina” Hip-Hop work so well.  

Murs and 9th Wonder first collaborated extensively on “Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition” in 2004, which was released on Def Jux records and quickly became an underground classic.  The duo followed up their success with the solid “Murray’s Revenge” (not on Def Jux this time around) in 2006 and 2008’s free download “Sweet Lord” (the fact that these guys are talented enough to record ten album quality cuts and give them away to fans is a true testament to how sick they really are, most artists do not put out this many great songs on their major label albums, let alone free downloads).  9th Wonder also contributed heavily to 2008’s “Murs For President,” and according to many fans (myself included) actually provided the 4 or 5 best beats on the project. 

Murs and 9th Wonder display the kind of chemistry sorely lacking in today’s “Get The Hottest Producer The Label Can Afford” music industry and should be grouped with great rapper/producer duos as Peter Rock & CL Smooth, Chuck D & The Bomb Squad and Jay-Z & Just About Anybody.  

People That Hide Their Age Incredibly Well

There is something intriguing about a person when you can not tell how old they are.   These people are typically male, in good shape, not overly handsome or homely and dress in the kind of generic Kohl’s/JC Penny/Sears fashions that make it nearly impossible to tell if they are a cool 40 year old or a lame 23 year old.  This person will also further confuse you by injecting constant anachronisms into their recollections of the past like “When I was in 8th Grade I drove a Mini Cooper to the mall and bought myself an Atari 2600” or “I was texting this girl at a Nirvana concert” and you KNOW these are BS statements, but today’s youth obsessed culture does not allow you to come out and ask this joker how old he is!  

The next best option is to use your grammar school learned Language Arts and listen for context clues as to when they graduated high school and them figure out his/her age based on your own, but this is usually pointless because they will undoubtedly be ambiguous with statements like “I remember when I graduated and the Yankees won the World Series” (this statements narrows their year of graduation down to a possible 26 options and 4 within the last 12...no help at all).  When dealing with a person like this there are only two options, the first is to become their BFF and hang out constantly until you feel comfortable asking their age (probably around the twelfth time you get together) and the second is to immediately sever all ties and never see or speak to this person again, I recommend the second.

Getting Your Money’s Worth

These are tough economic times and people have got to get their hustle on! Take full advantage of open bars, buffets, free samples in Costco, sneaking into company Christmas parties for places you don’t work, stopping for continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn that’s right next to your house, taking entire “Stadium Sized” condiment bottles from concessions stands for home use and helping yourself to industrial size rolls of toilet paper from school or work that will NEVER fit on your home toilet paper dispenser, but will do the job just the same.  

Over Rated

The World Baseball Classic

Major League Baseball is enjoying it’s most widespread popularity in years.  The players are all on drugs, tickets are insanely expensive and games take an eternity to play...and nobody cares.  We eat this game up like there is no tomorrow, regardless of how much of our tax money goes towards new stadiums while our school systems continue to fail.  While America’s obsession with it’s “past time” (the only way baseball is   “America’s Past Time” is if you exclude the NFL, Reality TV, Drinking, Violent Action Movies, Prescription Pills and Starbucks) is questionable at best, it is inarguable that MLB had devised a schedule to optimize fan enjoyment and revenue (4 weeks of spring training games, 162 regular season games, 3 rounds of playoffs, inter-league weekends and an All-Star extravaganza to break things up in the middle).  About 5 years ago, somebody got the bright idea to disrupt this near-perfect scenario by interrupting spring training, and the various bachelor parties and retirement community bus trips that attend the games, and insert two weeks of meaningless games that pit countries against each other for no apparent reason.   

This disruption of Spring Training falls into the category of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and adds nothing to the MLB season.  Some opponents of the WBC also site the potential injury of players to the list of things wrong with this debacle, I do not endorse such claims.  If a guy is getting a quarter of a billion dollars to swing a bat, he should be prepared to do so at all times and under any circumstances.  

Kim as the “Voice of Reason” on Keeping Up With The Kardashians

I have seen this show about 5 combined times (over the last few years) and every episode has the family going through some kind of crisis and Kim having all the answers.  I am not a Kim Kardashian hater, in fact I find something strangely admirable about attaining that level of fame and fortune when her only discernible talents are having a big a** and getting pounded out by Brandy’s little brother.  However, this “reality show” is clearly scripted, because if it was not the conversations would all go like this:

Chloe: I have to go to jail.

Kim: Make a sex tape

Rob: My girlfriends a slob (keep in mind, this was in reference to her housekeeping and NOT leaving a laptop full of naked pictures in the airport by “mistake”)

Kim: Make a sex tape

Chloe: I think I’m adopted

Kim: Make a sex tape 

Athletes Body-ing Themselves on E!

Last Sunday night I saw Reggie Bush get all emotional over Ray-J’s sloppy seconds and then I watched in horror as the San Diego Charger’s Antonio Cromartie publicly acknowledged dating one of the “video vixens” from Candy Girls.  Why are two of the biggest, toughest guys around acting, as Ice Cube would say, like “Sucker for Love A** Tricks”? Doesn’t the NFL put rookies through extensive training to avoid getting taken by women like these? I understand it might be cool to tell your boys you hooked up with the girl from the Fabolous video after the club, but for the love of god, don’t be flying across country to bring her gifts!  Have some self respect. I’m sure Cromartie and “Delicious” or “Devious” or whatever her video name is will have a long, happy life together and there is no way she’s just using him for his money and status and trying to get knocked up to get him for 10 G’s month in child support for the rest of his life...absolutely not.  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Music videos have never been a bastion of creativity, but every once in a while they actually achieve the status of “art” and significantly add to the impact of the song beyond acting as a commercial for the album (think Michael Jackson in the ’80’s, pretty much anything directed by Spike Jones or David La Chappelle or Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”). However, sometimes artists make videos that are so bad and such an assault on the intelligence of their fans, they have to be called out.  The following are the three worst videos out right now.

Beyonce: “Halo”

The song is about being so in love with somebody that they appear to be angelic and in fact have a “Halo,” while a little dramatic, it’s not really that bad of a concept.  The video features Beyonce and her man doing “Couple” things like watching TV, getting a puppy and performing some kind of ballet while wearing high heels (don’t all people in long-term committed relationships do that in their houses?). But then the camera reveals who she is doing all of this with, (aka who is wearing the “Halo”) and it’s...Michael Ealy.  WTF! By the second verse of the song it feels like Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel are going to burst into the dance studio and, in the immortal words of M.O.P. “Gun Butt That Fool!” 

Beyonce has attained the rare level of fame where seeing her as anything but the chart-topping, Grammy-winning R&B diva she is in real life seems silly.  While her acting is often hated on it seems her fame is more to blame for audiences not believing her as a gospel singing single mother (The Fighting Temptations), a drug addicted Etta James (Cadillac Records) or a house wife done wrong (Obsession), more than any deficiency as an actress.  Similarly, her “Power Couple” status with Jay-Z makes seeing her canoodling with that black guy with blue eyes that women lose their minds over just weird. 

The Dream Featuring Mariah Carey: “My Love”

The Dream is a beast, he writes massive hits from a female perspective (“Umbrella” and “Single Ladies”) and his sexuality is never questioned, his solo songs are huge radio hits and his recently released “Love vs. Money” album is one of the best reviewed records of 2009 and a commercial hit. Mariah Carey is the biggest R&B/Pop star of her generation, sold more records than just about anyone else and has an unprecedented number of hit singles and she has accomplished all of this while being ape-sh*t crazy and universally hated on by about 85% of the general public.  While the the two stars collaborated on last year’s lackluster “Touch My Body” (a solid candidate for worst video of 2008) they really hit the ball out of the park with the overwhelming lameness of “My Love.”  The song is not terrible however, any fan of The Dream knows “My Love” is surely an edited title and the album version is probably called “My D*ck,” “My C*nt” or “My Suitcase Full of Dangerous and Barely Legal Sex Toys.” 

The treatment for the video entails The Dream and Carey starting off as hood-sweethearts and the The Dream rockets to fame and fortune (presumably by writing songs as a woman and singing stuff like “Shorty Is The Sh*t”) and leaves Mariah in the old neighborhood to take part in such “hood cliches” as braiding a young man’s hair, cooking bologna and eggs on a broken down stove and receiving a pitbull puppy (that will presumably grow up to do battle in Michael Vick’s backyard).  These images are ridiculous for the same reason as Beyonce looking longingly into that other joker’s eyes is ridiculous, it’s just so unbelievably removed from reality that anyone with any common sense feels like a fool for being subjected to this buffoonery.  Mariah Carey may have been a “hood chick” (more likely she was typical Long Island white trash, but that’s irrelevant to this argument), but she has been famous for 20 years.  The last time she made herself a sandwich, travelled without security or did somebody’s hair “Saved By The Bell” was filming new episodes, Sega Genesis had just come out and 2pac was dancing with Digital Underground.  

While a lot of music videos demand a total suspension of disbelief, ones like this ask the viewer to take a huge leap of faith by believing that international celebrities still hang out in the hood.  Another example of this stupidity is rappers that continue to claim to sell drugs in their rhymes after they have established themselves as entertainers and sold millions of records, sold out tours and launched successful side ventures like clothing lines and restaurant chains.  I find it hard to believe that after the success of his own career and the G-Unit brand (clothes, video games, movies, etc.) that 50 Cent still needs to be on the block pumping crack.  How much money can you possibly need? I know guys that got jobs at UPS for like $25 grand and stopped selling weed because they were straight, so to believe Fat Joe is still moving “Coka Baby” after 15 years in the industry is a little bit of a stretch.

Eminem: “We Made You”

I am a huge Eminem fan (see any number of previous postings), but this video is such a disappointment that it has to be addressed in list form as not to result in a 5 page diatribe about how bad it is.  

1. The showtunes-esque chorus is lame and annoying.

2. Rapping in a accent didn’t work on “A** Like That” and fails even more miserably here.

3. This is the FIFTH time he has made the same video!  Dressing up in costumes and mocking celebrities was awesome...10 years ago.

4. The people he choses to address are jokes to begin with and do not require any further commentary by Slim Shady or anyone else.  Brett Michaels, Kim Kardashian, Sarah Palin, Jessica Simpson and Amy Winehouse are already parodies of America’s tabloid culture and the dumbing-down or our society without being needlessly lampooned  

5. The timing of many of the references is terrible.  From a business perspective Interscope needed to introduce Eminem to the new demographic of Hip-Hop consumers (the 10-15 year olds that buy millions of Soulja Boy ringtones) and they do this by including references to “Rain Man” and “Alf” (both were popular before Hurricane Chris was born) and upcoming summer blockbusters “Transformers” and “Star Trek” that are not ingrained in our collective consciousness yet because the ad campaigns are just starting.  A white guy in his mid-30’s is not the typical Hip-Hop star, but this video does nothing to introduce him to younger fans and get the video on 106 & Park.

That being said, I’ll see you at Best Buy the day “Relapse” drops.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Under/Over Rated 4 (2009)

Over Rated

Gossip Magazines

I’m not passing judgement on people that read these tabloids.  If somebody really cares about whether Brad is sleeping on the couch or if Lindsay is going to rehab it is their business.  I spend a significant portion of everyday scouring the internet for Hip-Hop rumors (let me clear up a few things for all internet Hip-Hop heads: your two favorite artists are not really going to release a collaborative album, Detox is never coming out and 95% of entertainers that get arrested will never actually serve jail time), so I’m not going to say reading about Lisa Rhinna’s lip augmentation is a huge waste of time. 

Magazines like “Us Weekly,” “Life & Style” and “OK!” simply do not have enough content   (regardless of the stupidity of that content) to warrant the cover price.  These “magazines” are more like pamphlets about hollywood gossip that can be read in the amount of time it takes your stuff to travel on the conveyor belt to the scanner at Target even if there is only one guy in front of you and he’s obeying the “10 Items or Less” sign. On my last trip to the supermarket I determined “Who Wore It Best” and read an entire expose about Scarlet Johansen’s exercise regiment before I was asked if I would be paying by credit or debit. This lack of content combined with the facts that all of this information is available for free on the internet and that all of these magazines will be discarded as rubbish as soon as the next issue is released means spending money on these gossip pamphlets makes absolutely no sense at all.  

The Amount of Fun Celebrities Can Have with a Nintendo DS

Nintendo has been attempting to make it’s updated Gameboy “cool” for the last several years with commercials showing A-List celebrities having the time of their lives playing games on the handheld system.  I do not doubt these celebrities own Nintendo DS’s, I’m pretty sure they have been given them in gift baskets at the Grammy’s or SWAG Bag’s at the Daytime Emmys, and I don’t even doubt that they occasionally play them when they are on tour busses or planes for long trips and the typical celebrity vices of copious drug use and wild sex get old (or when somebody runs out of pills), but I seriously question whether some of the biggest stars in the world (Beyonce, Taylor Swift or the chick from “Ugly Betty”) actually sit in their homes wildly tapping on the DS’s touch screen with looks of euphoric joy on their faces, laughing hysterically and celebrating like they won an Oscar every time Mario shoots a fireball. 

Admittedly, I have very limited experience with the DS (I played my cousins for a few minutes and it was pretty fun) and I do not know these celebrities personally, but the idea of people with more money than their grandkids can spend, access to the best material objects our world has to offer, and millions of adoring fans having this much fun playing The Legend of Zelda is just absurd.   

Jennifer Hudson

J-Hud is NOT the most beautiful, talented, best acting, best singing, best dressed, best hair having, most stylish person alive, regardless of what the entertainment media will have you believe.  She is a pretty good singer (“Spotlight” was actually hot the first 5,000 times I heard it), a fair actress (I didn’t see “Sex and The City” because I have some modicum of self-respect as a man, but Dream Girls would have still been cool with some other girl playing “Effy”), and pretty cute for a fat girl...that’s it. I don’t understand why the entire industry has lost their collective mind over a fattractive singer/actress that the public didn’t even like enough to vote for on American Idol.  

I do feel bad for her family, as no one deserves that kind of tragedy in their lives, but I feel bad for OJ’s family too and I’m not running out to buy their records or pulling for them to win Grammy’s.  Also, the fact that President Obama got involved in this case while he was campaigning for office is further proof of our celebrity obsessed culture and how he used the “Us Weekly” vote to get elected.  There are millions of murders committed everyday in the United States that destroy families, create orphans and take friends, and strangely enough, presidential candidates don’t normally intervene.  

However, it is good to see her back on the grind as an entertainer after that kind of ordeal, but I’m not about to say she’s the best thing out there when there are literally hundreds of more talented R&B singers and actresses out there.


MTV and VH1 Playing Videos in the Morning

Finally! The music video channels, most of them (BET is still doing infomercials and church services), are playing videos in the morning. I really enjoy getting ready for work listening to songs I will hear all day on the radio.  While more programming diversity would be nice, it’s definitely a step in the right direction that they take a break from “True Life: I’m Morbidly Obese” and “Rock of Love: Tour Bus” for a few hours every day.

White T’s

The weather is finally getting warm and the only answer to that is a few packages of White-T’s or going to Champs and getting 5 for $20.  These are the most economical fashion statement available (with the notable exception of going shirtless, which is not always appropriate).  Plus, if you’re like me sometimes your sneakers and denim are so crazy they need to be balanced out with the simplicity of a White T because if you were to wear an ornately designed shirt, it would just be too much for people to handle. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April 2009 Reviews

The following are some reviews for the albums, movies, books and plays I’ve experienced this month.  Judging by the fact that April 2009 is only halfway over and I’ve already heard/seen/read this much stuff it’s obviously been a busy month, hence the lack of blog updates.  

Jadakiss: The Last Kiss - While The Lox are pretty much universally respected (except for that first album on Bad Boy that most fans would like to forget) Jada’s been a bit enigmatic as a solo artist.  His guest verses are sick, his mixtapes are top notch, he routinely steals the spotlight from Sheek and Styles on group efforts and he has all the makings of a star, however his solo albums always seem to fall short of expectations.  2001’s “Kiss The Game Goodbye” was solid, but hampered by scattered production, an over-emphasis on radio-friendly tracks, inclusion of too much filler that should have been used on mixtapes and an overall lack of focus that prevented it from attaining classic status.  Similarly, 2004’s “Kiss of Death” was not bad, but did not reflect the quality of work Jada was attaining on mixtapes like “The Champ Is Here” or on collaborations like Ja Rule’s “New York.”  

Jadakiss’s 2009 effort, “The Last Kiss” (notice the pattern forming?) is his first on Def Jam and Kiss uses his new label’s industry muscle to attain a myriad of guest appearances from artists as diverse as Young Jeezy and Lil’ Wayne to Mary J. Blige in an effort to appeal to the widest demographic possible.  The biggest problem with this “Jadakiss Record” is an overall lack of “Jadakiss,” there are only two songs listed as true solo tracks, with the rest overpowered by high profile guest appearances and big name producers.  When discussing this album with my friend Don we kept referring to songs as “the one with Ne-Yo” or “the Swizz Beats track” as a testament to just how little impact Jada has on his own album.  Further, there is a such a focus on the “106 & Park” crowd (aka commercial radio and teeny boppers) that there is nearly no inclusion of the “street joints” that made The Lox into stars and prompted fans to wear “Free The Lox” T-Shirts at the turn of the century.  

While nothing on “The Last Kiss” is bad, most of it is not memorable.  The album opens with “Pain and Torture” (obviously one of my favorites) and gets off to a good start, but quickly degenerates into countless guest appearances, club songs and numerous mentions of “one for the ladies.”  His attempt to recreate the magic of his 2004 hit “Why?” is called “What If?” and features Nas this time around, and it’s OK...that’s it, not groundbreaking, but not bad, the kind of song that if it came on your iPod shuffle you wouldn’t skip it, but you also wouldn’t cycle through all your Jada songs to get to.  Similarly, his take on his trials and tribulations within the music industry “Things I’ve Been Through” uses a Luther Vandross sample to help tell his rise to stardom, but it doesn’t shed any new light on a saga that is well known to even casual rap fans.  

The album contains the obligatory Lox “reunion” tracks and this time they pretty much fall flat.  “One More Step” features Styles an Kiss trading bars ala Run-DMC (with references to Adidas and rocking shows replaced with drugs, violence and prison).  Every time I hear Jada and P do this and exclude Sheek I wonder if the conversation went something like this:

Jada: P, you ready?

Styles: I got my verse, let’s go!

Sheek: I’m ready, too

Jada: Yeah, about that...

Sheek: Oh, come on! You guys always leave me out!  I had a smash last year (“Good Love”) and I wasn’t the one that dragged my D-Block chain down my block on youtube...you’re trippin’

Jada: Look, I got another track you can be on at the end of the album, it’s like number 18 or 19, but it might actually be a bonus track or the B-Side to a single

Sheek: An ‘effin B-Side, man MFer’s ain’t bought singles with B-Sides since we was wearing shiny suits! And track 18? You mean that sh*tty remix with Jeezy’s cousins is going before me? You must be up out your mind!

Overall, “The Last Kiss” is pretty solid.  It’s not great, but in a year with a very few Hip-Hop releases to get excited about (I’m actually psyched for Kid Cudi, Charles Hamilton and Asher Roth because there’s so little out there), this album provides a good listen for the early spring and will keep you entertained until Eminem drops next month.  

Observe & Report: This movie is a little disturbing, mean spirited and absolutely hilarious.  Seth Rogen plays a clinically depressed mall security guard with an alcoholic mother, no idea how to deal with women and a love/hate relationship with the police.  The movie centers on Rogen trying to catch a flasher at the mall while courting a department store cosmetics girl, played to alcoholic/slutty perfection by Anna Faris.  This movie contains full frontal male nudity, copious drug use, the most unsettling date/sex scene I’ve ever seen in a comedy and absurd amounts of violence with security flashlights.  This movie is different from just about anything else out there and while it will not appeal to everybody, to those that “get it” it will be a classic in the same vein as “The Big Labowski,” “Quick Change” and “Bottle Rocket.” 

My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:  This book came to my highly recommended and while it didn’t live up to the high praise, it was not bad.  The book tells the story of author Pat Conroy’s (“The Prince Of Tides” “Beach Music”) final basketball season at the Citadel in the mid-60’s.  There are a few things that are abundantly clear in first 25 pages: Conroy hates his abusive father, hates the military, hates his basketball coach, hates the Citadel, has a terrible relationship with women, and is in a constant battle with depression, but loves basketball and “the writing life.”  While the author’s life is interesting, he largely comes off as a whiner that blames his family, his school and his coaches for ruining him emotionally and then reunites with these people in the last chapter only to forgive them all and espouse, at length, about how much he always loved them, with almost no explanation as to what spurred this drastic change of heart.  

The most distinctive part of the book are the extremely detailed depictions of every basketball game of his senior year.  While there is probably too much detail about too many games the author does an impressive job making the reader fully understand the vibe of every game beyond the box score.  When telling about his team’s exploits Conroy constantly uses phrases like “gliding through the air,” “lightening quick” and “cutting through the defense.”  All of these games are described like they were as exciting as the Bulls vs. Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals, first of all it’s hard to imagine a game between the Citadel and Davidson in November is that exciting, it must be recognized that these games took place in the 1960’s, when college basketball was dominated by skinny, pasty white guys in short-shorts and Chuck Taylor’s that shot free throws underhanded.  When watching games from this era on TV it appears as if the players are moving in slow motion, so to say Conroy’s recollections are slightly embellished would be an understatement. 

“My Losing Season” is not bad and a good break from the typical formulaic sports book where a lovable group of losers band together to beat a much tougher opponent, like just about all other sports books and movies.  

Jersey Boys: I have only attended two Broadway plays in my life, about five years ago I saw “A Raisin In the Sun” (mainly because Puff Daddy was in it and heard it was about people struggling and I am such a hater that I was instantly drawn to it) and Jersey Boys a few days ago.  The play tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise from Belleville, NJ to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  The story is pretty interesting, the characters are mostly portrayed as fully realized individuals (something I’m assuming is rare in musicals) and the musical numbers are awesome.  My family has been raving about this play for years and I always assumed they were enamored with it because they were Italian and from Belleville, but I am not from Belleville and Amber De Leggas is not Italian and we both had a great time.  I am not sure if I will continue to see Broadway plays, but this was a good start and I definitely would not mind seeing more like this.