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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Over & Under Rated 7 (2009)


Rapper Moms
After watching “Notorious” and listening to Valetta Wallace wax poetic about the greatness of her son and waiting for inevitable holiday season release of yet another posthumous 2pac album masterminded by his mother Afeni Shakur, am forced to wonder if these women deserve to be celebrated. Biggie’s mom stood by idly while her only child sold crack, got locked up, dropped out of school, rose to prominence with songs about drugs, sex and violence and by the age of 24 had an incredibly tangled web of relationships with females and two children he chose to ignore in favor of chasing fame and fortune. While Biggie’s music is amazing it hard to believe our society exalts the woman that allowed his life to be bad enough that he wrote “Suicidal Thoughts” or “Somebody’s Gotta Die” to the status of cultural icon. Possibly worse than Mrs. Wallace is Afeni Shakur, by her and her late son’s admission she was incarcerated or addicted to drugs for most of 2pac’s youth and has only cleaned up since his death in time to cash in on his estate by releasing countless albums of exponentially decreasing quality of her son’s recorded vocals over sub-par production and “collaborations” with artists of questionable talent and integrity.
While it is widely understood that you are “Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You” (you can’t diss a dead guy and somehow everybody that passes away is some kind of hero), I don’t believe we should continue celebrating the type of parenting that leads to selling drugs, obscene levels of materialism, misogyny, violence and early death.

Water Sports

“She asked me if I wanted to lay out or go on the jet skis. And I decided I didn’t want to answer any more questions about water sports or see any of these people ever again”
-Anthony (Luke Wilson) in “Bottle Rocket”

Water Sports are inherently stupid. They involve an incredible investment of both time and money and in most cases are not really that much fun. I really doubt anyone can have $100,000 worth of fun on a boat or enough fun on a Wave Runner to warrant an entire day of their lives. When you factor in cleaning, maintenance, fuel (good thing President Obama got right on top of that), licensing and the fact that in many areas you can only use the watercraft a few months of the year, the whole thing is incredibly silly.
Further, personally I do not like social situations that I cannot leave the second I become bored, tired or sickened by the people I am with. Most boat trips consist of endless hours of bobbing around listening to drunken baby boomers talk about restaurants and “American Idol” and being completely helpless to leave the situation…awesome.
Finally, boating and drinking go hand-in-hand like red wine, xanax and housewives but how is it possible nobody can stay sober to drive the boat back? It is incredible there are not more serious boating accidents when most people’s mantra is: “I just drank a fifth of vodka…dare me to sail?”

Celebrating High School Graduation
The United States has always had inflated high school graduation rates, but since the “No Child Left Behind” policy was instituted a few years ago, anybody with even the slightest interest in graduating high school can “earn” a diploma. The only kids that are “left behind” in 2009 are those that repeatedly assault their teachers, hardcore criminals that can’t attend classes due to incarceration, and kids that blatantly refuse to go to school (and a lot of these “students” end up with degrees through GED Programs, Home Schooling and Alternate Route Tutoring).
Needless to say, celebrating an “accomplishment” that was attained simultaneously with hundreds of people from your school, thousands of people in your town, tens of thousands of people in your state and millions of people nationwide is not that big of a deal. Stop bothering people with these idiotic cookouts and begging for gifts and save the party for when your kid graduates from a highly esteemed college with the literacy level of an 11-year old, no writing skills, no concept of basic mathematics and completely intimidated by the process of banking/credit/finance, and then you can complain that the state of the economy and what the Republicans/Democrats did is the reason your son or daughter can’t find a job.


Subway Restaurants
Subway restaurants are the epitome of cleanliness, efficiency and quality. Subway is the only “fast food” outlet that supplies good tasting and fairly nutritious fare for such a low price and they are everywhere, you can find one of these in the most remote gas station in Tarborro NC and the Italian BMT will taste just like it does in Times Square…fresh and delicious. Also, the price is awesome, a $5 footlong combined with a large drink (about 10 in. high) and two cookies (about 4 in. each in diameter) provides nearly 30 inches of food for under $8.

Professional Cameramen
Why do professional athletes and entertainers feel the need for them (or a member of their entourage) to carry a home video recorder to film All-Star Games, Award Shows or other public gatherings? These events are already being taped by professionals, with professional grade equipment and the footage will be readily available on television and the internet. This practice falls in the same category as flying planes, lighting fireworks and taking racy photos…leave it to the professionals.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More Wedding Tips

Because of the overwhelmingly positive response I received for my first list of wedding tips, I have decided to pen a sequel.  So, without further ado, more ways to have a great wedding: 

Spending an Absurd Amount of Money 

The decision to spend $50,000 on a wedding is basically saying “I would rather have one really fun afternoon than drive a Benz for the next decade.”  With the pressure to have a respectable ceremony & reception and with the insane costs associated with wedding-related items it seems like a few folding chairs in a firehouse and catering by Subway will cost ten-grand, this can be a daunting task.  But spending your life savings, your parents’ life savings or going in to debt so your drunken friends and family can stumble out of a banquet hall and slur “Now, that was a good wedding” and then quickly forget about it before they either drive home wasted or pass out in a hotel room while forcing themselves on their spouse, seems a little “off.”

Wedding Attire

Bride: Unless you are Jennifer Lopez at the Grammy’s and it is going to make you an international celebrity, spending a few thousand dollars on a dress that can be worn exactly once is arguably the worst financial decision a young couple could make.  Further, the idea of dressing an adult/educated/working woman up like some kind of princess in this day and age is stupid and outdated.  And the whole idea of wearing white to represent virginity has become a parody of itself.  I’m going to conservatively estimate that 1 in every 1,000 brides in 2009 are virgins (mainly religious zealots, the morbidly obese and women with mail-order-husbands). Now, while the idea of saving oneself for marriage may be antiquated, when a third of the people at the ceremony saw the bride have a train run on her during Spring Break ’03, she should not be wearing white.  And if she is wearing a white dress, it should not resemble Glenda The Good Witch and it should not cost $7,000.

Groom:  The groom has it relatively easy, he rents a tux for under $200, picks out the cumber bun, makes sure his best man can return it when he leaves for the honeymoon, and he’s good to go.  Personally, if I get married, I will use this as an opportunity to prove my theory that with the right accessories the actual outfit can become a second thought.  I will get married in a pair of deadstock, OG White/Patten/Concord Jordan XI’s with a purple cumber bun to match the concord accents on the sneaker.  To further accentuate how fly these shoes make the whole outfit I am going to rent the cheapest, most outdated tuxedo available at Men’s Warehouse and I might even get an ill-fitting model to further emphasize that with those kicks, the cloths are an afterthought.  NOTE: The ONLY “wedding planning” I will actively participate in is procuring these sneakers and keeping them in pristine condition until the big day.  At the end of the night I’m going to have my bride sign one shoe (the part above the patten leather) and the bridal party sign the other as a memento of the day.  Hopefully, I will not get so loaded during the reception that I punch my best man in the face for defiling a $1,000 pair of sneakers.


It has become increasingly popular at the weddings I attend to dedicate a moment of silence or special prayer to the family/friends that are deceased and can not attend the festivities.  I am unsure if this is becoming more prevalent because people are getting married later in life and grandparents are not living long enough to see 35 year-old grandchildren tie the knot or because I am from Toms River NJ, where drunk driving and drug overdoses are an everyday occurrence. Either way, I’m into the shout out to those that didn’t make it, I’m also not opposed to “pouring out a little liquor” but the banquet hall will probably charge for damaging the carpet and you don’t want a slippery dance floor later in the night (like I said, I’m from TR and people are going to be so wasted by the time we cut the cake that falls are going to happen anyway, lets not make the area more dangerous than necessary).  

The specifications for this dedication are fairly strict and the typical method of having the priest read a list of names will not due.  First, don’t do it at the church, people are expecting that and the key to a good wedding is the element of surprise, do it during the reception and have your DJ (preferably somebody with extensive experience on Hot 97) play a song “for the homies that ain’t here.”  Second, even if you are the most candy-assed suburbanite in the world and everybody you know dies of old age when they are 90, you have to play the thuggest “Dead Homies” record you can find.  Master P’s “I Miss My Homies,” DRS’s “Gangsta Lean,” 2Pac’s “How Long Will They Mourn Me,” Thug Life’s “Pour Out A Little Liquor” and Ice Cube’s “Dead Homies” are all appropriate, and judging by the rate these songs are released (see “5 Mic Formula” posting) you should have no problem finding one suitable for your personal situation.    

The Honeymoon

This should be the fun part, the planning is over, the ceremony is behind you and now you are ready for a week or two of rest and relaxation before you start your new life as a married couple and it gives you time to enjoy each other’s company and engage in sexual intercourse for the first time (yeah right).  This can be a pretty good time, but follow these rules:

1. Do NOT go to Disneyland.  Disneyland is nothing but a massive orgy of corporate America, lowest common denominator entertainment, long lines, expensive food and screaming children.  In all likelihood you will be forced to bring your children here so they can be conditioned as gluttonous consumers of corporate culture before they are ten years old, so save this trip for later down the line when you have given up all hope. 

2. Do NOT twitter the honeymoon.  After the wedding your friends and family have had enough of you and are ready for a break! Also, nobody cares how good the breakfast buffet was, how much sunscreen cost in the gift shop or how many times you “got your freak on.” 

3. Do NOT go somewhere where it’s going to be hard to stay married.  Vegas, Amsterdam, Hedonism, Seaside Heights....they’re all out!  Don’t celebrate starting a family with a festival of drinking, drugs and promiscuous sex.  If you didn’t get it out of your system yet, you are pretty much effed.

Social Networking Sites

Getting married and planning a wedding is an exciting process, but leave Facebook, Myspace and Twitter out of it.  Marriage should be a benchmark that the couple is moving into adulthood, so nobody’s status should say ___________ is: enraged to be engaged!!!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rappers I would NOT want to be

99.9% of the time I would chose to change places with a rapper. There is something about the lifestyle of luxury cars, duffle bags of money, Crystal filled hot tubs and making like ten grand to hang out in the VIP section of a night club for 15 min. that appeals to me. However, there is that 0.01% of the time that I would turn down that offer, and here are 10 reasons why:

TEN: Ja Rule
At the turn of the century Ja Rule owned the radio & charts and collaborated with some of the biggest stars in the industry (J Lo, Mary J. Blige, etc.), by 2003 he was a laughingstock, crushed by 50 Cent and unable to leave his home without being mocked for “sounding like Cookie Monster.” Despite near constant rumors of a comeback he appears to be semi-retired and appears as a minor character in one of the least watched reality shows on VH1 (“Gotti’s Way”). How the mighty have fallen.

NINE: R.A. The Rugged Man
By his own admission, R.A. The Rugged Man is “mad famous for being unknown,” which is mainly because he originated the “white trash/crazy-white-guy” persona popularized by Eminem almost a decade before the release of “The Slim Shady LP.” And while real Hip-Hop fanatics know he collaborated with Biggie (“C*nt Renaissance”), made several classic “White Label” releases in the late 90’s indie scene, was instrumental in the start of Rawkus records, released 2004’s criminally slept on “Die Rugged Man Die” and routinely murders the competition on guest appearances he remains largely unknown and has received none of the recognition he deserves.

EIGHT: Charles Hamilton
For the last couple of years this kid was supposed to be one of the hottest young rappers coming up. In the last six months he has had his album release pushed back (big surprise), lost several battles, angered industry veterans, failed to make a single that aroused fan interest, got punched by a girl on the internet and stated a deceased producer that he never met executive-produced his still-unreleased debut album that has caused him to receive death threats and warnings to stay out of the entire Mid-Western area of the United States. I want to believe Charles Hamilton can still deliver and become a star, but with all this stacked against him it looks like he’s about to be more Canibus than DMX.

A decade ago Dark Man X was the center of the rap universe, his energetic flow, insane stage presence and ability to balance street records with club/pop songs was unparalleled and he was a serious contender for Jay-Z’s King of NY title. It is unbelievable what 10 years, dozens of arrests, two weak albums, an extended hiatus and probably millions of dollars worth of narcotics can change. DMX has a record so long he has actually had to miss court dates in one state because he was attending court in another state, he has been in and out of drug rehab and has recently been incarcerated in a facility that forced him to wear a pink jumpsuit (people become less violent when wearing pink, it’s a known fact, ask Charles Hamilton). Of everybody on this list, DMX is the only rapper that didn’t think he would be on top forever. He stated “I’m not greedy, all I want is a five year run” and that’s exactly what he got, in 1998 he was on top of the world and by 2003 it was basically over for the dog.

SIX: Jaz-O
I am a Jay-Z fan and I don’t have any idea what happened between these guys, but it’s hard not to feel a little bad for Jaz-O. Twenty years ago Jaz got a record deal, released the novelty single “Hawaiian Sophie” and put his little homey Jay-Z on the track (check youtube for the video if you haven’t seen it), since then his protégé has gone on to become the biggest star in Hip-Hop, the richest rapper ever (according to Forbes new list) and an international icon while Jaz-O continues to make mixtape records and internet-only videos. To further rub salt in his wounds, Hov continues to take jabs at his former mentor, including the rumored intro to the upcoming “Blue Print 3.” (NOTE: I find it hard to believe that the trust fund/hipster crowd at the Palms in Las Vegas have any idea who Jaz-O is therefore could not really appreciate the freestyle Hov delivered there the other night).

FIVE: Cage
If Shia Lebeouf gets his wish and produces and acts in a Cage biopic the story is so incredibly unfortunate that Hollywood producers will likely doctor-up the facts in order to get a wide release. Born in Germany to a physically and mentally abusive, heroin addicted father that was kicked out of the military for selling dope to other soldiers, Chris Palko moved back to NY, had several abusive step fathers, was institutionalized for various mental disorders, was part of the initial group of American test patients for Prozac, became addicted to harder drugs, released several classic singles in the NYC underground of the late 90’s, watched his one time rival Eminem become the biggest celebrity in the world, supposedly got scammed by Eastern Conference records, experienced several drug relapses, the death of his best friend (Camu Tao) and continually gets hated on for maturing as an artist. While these experiences have lead to some amazing music for Cage the artist, it’s hard to argue it’s been worth it for Chris Palko the man.

FOUR: Joe Budden
Joe Budden is the poster-boy for today’s Mad Rapper. In 2003 he had a hot single and was about to be Def Jam’s new MVP, unfortunately Jay-Z jacked the “Pump It Up” beat and delivered a blistering verse about obscure NBA players (JR Rider, Harold Miner, etc.) that completely stole the show from Joey Jumpoff. Following the flop of his self-titled debut (NOTE: Fans that actually bought the album and critics really liked it) he spent several years in label limbo battling drug use and depression. In 2007, he returned to the game sans Def Jam and released the “Mood Muzik” mixtapes, which depending on your penchant for soul-searching musings on depression from a bi-polar drug addict (I like it) were either classics or trash. In 2009, things started to look up for Joe with a buzz surrounding and the formation of lyrical supergroup Slaughterhouse, however, Joe has responded to this second chance at fortune and fame by upsetting Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Redman and currently is the subject of diss record by Wu- Tang’s Inspectah Deck. This fall from grace is truly remarkable; he went from being dissed by one of the top 5 mc’s of all time to being verbally abused by the 7th or 8th best guy in Wu-Tang.

THREE: Trick Daddy
The upside of Trick Daddy’s career is that he has turned virtually no talent into a string of hit singles, respectable album sales, a decade of stardom and probably getting to bang Trina. The downside is that he has been diagnosed with lupus (which automatically makes him a candidate for “Sickest Rapper Alive”), is rumored to have AIDS, recently had the beard beaten off of his face at a strip club (Google this mug shot if you haven’t seen it), and watch the rest of Miami (DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, Pitbull) blow up and leave him in the dust.

TWO: Young Berg
Young Berg has crammed enough failure into two years to last most artists whole careers. In the 24 months since “Sexy Lady” debuted on the radio this kid has been robbed multiple times, released an EP (an EP? Really? Why didn’t somebody tell him it’s not 1987? He should have went all the way retro an put out a cassette-only Maxi-Single), angered nearly every African American women alive with his now infamous “No Dark Butts” comment and has had his ridiculous Transformers chain go on tour without him all over the world like some kind of Hip-Hop Stanley Cup. Honestly, with the exception of his work on Ray-J’s bangin’ “Sexy Can I” (which, let’s keep it real, would have been hot without him) Young Berg’s career has been one massive lesson in how not to become a player in the industry.

ONE: Prodigy from Mobb Deep
After releasing three classic albums in the late 90’s Prodigy life has been full of more L’s than Meth & Red’s tour bus. He suffers from sickle cell anemia, was called out by 2pac (who died before P could respond), has been dissed by Jay-Z, released a few wack solo albums, a few more disappointing group efforts, got robbed and stripped naked by Tru Life, signed to G-Unit and was promptly the first flop the label ever released, is currently serving prison time for carrying weapons, is rumored to have a drug habit and in a “Loser’s Bracket” match-up was recently lyrically battered by Joe Budden. It is almost inconceivable that this guy finds the will to live.

They say to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it, and I think it’s safe to say these guys should have stayed regular dudes, but who knows?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Depart From Me - Album Review

Before I formally review “Depart From Me” I want to make two facts about myself abundantly clear:

1. I am a Cage fan. I have been listening to Chris Palko for about a decade and have steadily defended him in multiple heated arguments with my boys over the years. I have seen him perform live four times and regularly listen to his whole catalog from “Agent Orange” to “Hell’s Winter.”

2. I am not the typical anti-experimentation Hip-Hop head. I find the artistic growth from artists like Eminem, Outkast and Nas refreshing and I am the only member or my social circle willing to admit I was kinda feelin’ “808’s & Heartbreak.”

With that being said, “Depart From Me” is by no means horrible, but it may turn off some long time Cage fans because it’s way more “Hot Topic” than “Against All Odds.” The overwhelming majority of the sonic backdrops and song structures on this record dive head first into the indie-rock/metal/emo/industrial sounds hinted at on 2005’s “Hell’s Winter.” The bulk of this production in provided by Hatebreed’s F. Sean Martin, with only a few contributions from Def Jux faithfuls El-P and Aesop Rock, this makes the boom bap of earlier Cage classics like “Radio Head” and “Too Much” conspicuously absent from DFM. Added to the decidedly rock-influenced soundscapes are the song structures that are not the typical “16 bar verse-hook-16 bar verse-hook-16 bar verse-ad libs” typical of most Hip-Hop records. Every song contains lyrics that are either sung, screamed, mumbled or moaned and not actually “rapped”, and while this works well on some songs (“Nothing Left To Say” and “Fat Kids Need An Anthem” particularly), it is harder to digest on others (lead single “I Never Knew You”). When Cage choses to actually rap, he can still spit with the best underground MC’s in the game, the only problem is there is not nearly enough of it to satisfy fans that have been eagerly awaiting his return to the game since 2005.

As far as subject matter, Cage continues to mine his youth of drug use, mental hospitals, domestic abuse, crime and sexual escapades to good effect and while fans might suspect he has already run all of these topics into the ground they will most likely be pleasantly surprised with the new twists on them. Two events addressed for the first time on this album are the death of his best friend (and insanely gifted) Camu Tao on the blistering “Nothing Left To Say” and his own dramatic weight loss on “Fat Kids Need An Anthem.” The latter contains maybe the most telling lyric on the album: "I was happier when I was fat and on drugs.” While I am in not position to judge this statement as I have never been fat or on drugs, it perfectly illustrates the Cage of 2009. He is possibly the most compelling figure in Hip-Hop and is firmly torn between the angel dusted lunatic of “Movies For The Blind” and the sober, responsible adult on “Hell’s Winter.”

“Depart From Me” is not for everyone, but for fans interested in genuinely genre-expanding music it is a must listen and along with last month’s Street Sweeper Social Club’s self-titled debut is further proof that there is still hope for successfully bridging the gap between rap and rock.


If you like "that next sh*t" : 4 (go get it!)

If you are a typical RAP (not Hip-Hop) fan that has bee brainwashed by the radio: 1 (go buy Rick Ross' s album instead)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wedding Tips

The weather is nice, love is in the air and people are getting married at an alarmingly frequent rate. Every year when the weather warms up people start getting engaged/married like it’s going out of style and while very few weddings are complete train wrecks (I wish the same could be said for the marriages), very few actually live up to the hype created by a party over a year in the making. I am not arrogant enough to think I have cracked the code of having the perfect wedding, but the following tips will help make your special day worth the time, effort and expense required of even the most basic arrangements.

Engagement Party:
Piss on it! When I hear one of my friends got engaged my first thought is: “No kidding? Good for them.” I rarely think “Awesome, an opportunity to stand around one of his uncle’s yards with a bunch of lame late 20’s/early 30’s losers dressed like Charlie Sheen in “Two and a Half Men” and make buffoonish small talk while trying not to sweat in my Lacoste polo.” The engagement party falls in the same category as the bridal shower, bachelor/bachelorette party and the rehearsal dinner, getting married is a big deal…for YOU! It should not monopolize more than one afternoon of MY life.

Bridal Shower
Let’s get this out of the way, your friends, even your closest friends and family, don’t really care you are getting married, don’t have any desire to spend their money on your housewares and are not even a little excited about your new blender. The idea of otherwise intelligent young women feigning enthusiasm as the bride opens pots, pans and food processors that she knew damn well she would be getting because of the bridal registry in unbearable. This is an antiquated tradition that should already be as obsolete as sacrificing virgins in volcanoes or drowning people accused of practicing witchcraft. Most of the women that have these showers are educated, employed and live on their own, which makes asking their friends to buy them basic household supplies and small appliances completely unacceptable. Like Big Pun said “Get your own, ‘ya heard!”

Bridal Showers are a lot like Baby Showers and Painting “Parties” in that they shift the responsibility for a questionable decision to the wrong people. If you cannot afford a crock pot, maybe it’s not the time to get married and I refuse to celebrate your inability to use a condom or afford professional painters by giving up my time and/or money to help you out. If I wanted to spend my weekends painting houses I would learn the trade and start a business, I would absolutely not do 8 hours of labor in exchange for a couple of beers and two slices of Papa John’s Pizza.

Bachelorette Party
I’m not really sure what women get out of these celebrations of giggling, absurd amounts of hard liquor and phallus-shaped drinking straws, so I will not even attempt to address the female psyche. However, for guys that see a bachelorette party in a bar: Leave them alone! They are not interested, it’s not that kind of night, keep it moving. Every time a bachelorette party comes rumbling into a bar some jackass thinks he just found the motherlode of “drunk & hot girls.” While they may be wasted, there is no chance a girl wearing a hand painted undershirt with the words “Former Coke Slut” emblazoned on the chest and Mardi Gras beads with penises around her neck, is going home with you. Her friends won’t allow it and no matter how slick you think you are, the next day they will all call you “that weird guy in that one bar.” If you happen to run into a bachelorette party while at a bar or club, quietly try to ignore them until they leave and get on with your night.

Bachelor Party:
The Bachelor Party can be a fun, “last hurrah” for the groom and his boys before he becomes a husband/father. That’s really all I have on this because I don’t want to write anything that will come back to haunt me if I ever have one of my own.

Rehearsal Dinner:
Unless the wedding is being conducted by a pagan warlord and the ceremony involves the ritualistic sacrifice of animals, body mutilation and elaborate pyrotechnics the rehearsal dinner is completely unnecessary. I have yet to see a ceremony that could possibly have required more than 15 minutes of preparation and instruction.

If the wedding is not in a church, nobody is even a little bit interested. If you are going to get married in your house or somebody else’s house by a judge, justice of the peace or one of your boys with an online certification, you might as well do it in private and not inconvenience your friends and family. Religious people view this as a waste of time and a hoax, non-religious people think it’s a scam to take advantage of tax breaks and neither group cares that much either way.
If the wedding is held in a church, people are only looking for one thing: a quick ceremony and the opportunity to “punch the clock” for the week and not have to go back for regular mass on Sunday. Give them what they want, have the priest do a quick prayer, ask the couple if they are cool with the arrangement, file the paperwork and send everybody on their way.


Coctail Hour:
Start the night off right by getting rid of this annoying formality. Nobody has a good time standing up, holding a drink and a plate of pigs-in-a-blanket, trying not to spill the spicy mustard on their good clothes and make conversation with people they will never see again.
Forgo the expensive sit-down dinner in favor of a buffet. Have the buffet set up as soon as your guests arrive (instead of the cocktail hour) so they can eat immediately and the real party can start as soon as the staff clears away the sneeze-guards.
Venetian Hour:
The ONLY way this can be handled is a “Make-Your-Own-Sundae” Ice Cream Social that takes place immediately following the buffet-style dinner (both Buffet and Ice Cream Bar happen within the first hour of the reception). The reason for this esoteric desert selection is that it presents an ice-breaker for both families before the dancing/drinking hits full speed. The following conversations are only possible at an Ice Cream Social:

Bill: Hey, I’m Anthony’s cousin Bill. I’m having rum raisin ice cream with caramel and wet walnuts.
Mary: Hi, Bill. I’m Jane’s friend from college Mary and I’m having butter pecan ice cream with hot fudge and pineapple chunks.
Bill: Cool, we should hang out later, do you know if that’s the caramel that turns into a hard shell when it hits the ice cream?
Mary: Nah, it’s just the regular, they are cheap as sh*t!

Entertainment: A band is a complete waste of money, they will charge you about ten times as much as a DJ to play bad versions of the same songs the DJ will play. While significantly cheaper, a good DJ is an absolute must, but not just any DJ, discerning couples should hire a well known Mixtape DJ to host their reception. This will provide unbridled enthusiasm for any announcements and an endless stream of “exclusives” that are all somehow available on the internet. Some of the possible exchanges here include:

“And now for the first time anywhere, Mr. and Mrs….CLUE-MINATI!!!!!!!!!!”
“Please remind your server if you ordered the chicken or fish entrée. WE THE BREAST!”
(Chicken, get it?)
Not to mention Funk Flex dropping bombs during the best man’s speech.

It is also becoming more common for the groom to make a speech about his wife and how much he loves her. I would replace this foolishness with a speech about the wedding party with the sole intent being to make everybody in the room hate, and possibly physically assault the groomsmen. Telling the crowd one of the ushers in a known kleptomaniac and has probably already ransacked every purse in the room or the best man has already made love to the limo driver on the ride to the reception hall are all good starts, but any charges of racism, sexual misconduct, bizarre grooming habits or general indecency will work just fine.

Follow the speech with 6 or 7 hours of open bar mayhem and then go back to the hotel on shuttle busses for another 3 hours of carousing. After that your friends and family should have had more than enough fun to justify their wedding gifts and you should be ready to start your new life as husband and wife.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Music/Movie Reviews

5: Beyonce
4: Kelly Rowland
3: LaToya Luckett
2: Michelle Williams
1: The two chicks they kicked out before they got really famous


Mos Def: The Ecstatic 4

Mos Def’s first album in 3 years and first good album in a decade is not a masterpiece but is absolutely a breath of fresh air in today’s music climate. The tracks are all short (some barely 2 min.) and the entire album is about 45 min. long, however what the project lacks in length it compensates for with intensity. The musical backdrops all have an organic feel and Mos sounds rejuvenated and as hungry as he did pre-“Black On Both Sides.” Standout tracks include the triumphant “Super Magic,” the intense “Life in Marvelous Times,” the Talib Kweli assisted “History” and the exuberant album closer “You Can’t Stop My Go.” While this pales in comparison to his earlier work on Rawkus (late 90’s) it is definitely good to know that Mos hasn’t hung up the mic for good in favor of acting.

Street Sweeper Social Club: Self Titled 3

On paper this looks like an unbeatable combination: Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, acclaimed solo albums, and a cameo in the movie “Made”) working with Boots Riley from Bay Area political Hip-Hop group The Coup. However, in reality the pairing is far from perfect and falls prey to many of the typical shortcomings of rap-rock collaborations. The songs all feature Morello proving he is the best guitarist of the last 20 years (sorry, Slash was hot in the 80’s and Metallica fell off after The Black Album) and Riley is a capable MC, however the songs often devolve into muddled chants and choruses with only a hint of the socio-political subtext displayed in Riley’s work with The Coup. This may be more of a function of following a typical rock song structure with much shorter verses than Hip-Hop songs, but it still feels like these two titans could have done more. That being said, this is by far the best “Workout CD” released in 2009 and should be played in gyms, weight rooms and iPods everywhere for the next several months.

Note: I have always been a fan of political music. Even if I don’t whole-heartedly agree with the opinions/ideas being presented, I am in awe of the songwriting talent necessary to speak about world affairs in the structure of as song (hell, I have a hard time articulating them on these blog posts). And while I have been a longtime fan of RATM I always thought it was a bit odd that they railed against corporate America while being signed to one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. I first realized the irony in this during the summer of 1997 when I saw them perform with Wu-Tang Clan at CONTINENTAL AIRLINES AREANA and purchased my tickets through TICKETMASTER on a VISA credit card. I went into the show a little salty about their position, however when I walked out a full five hours later I was so spend from the Hip-Hop and Rock abuse that I really didn’t care. Seriously, I if you missed Rage live, go see SSSC this summer on tour with NIN and Jane’s Addiction, it’s probably not the same, but it can’t be that bad.

Wale: Back To The Feature (Mixtape) 4

2009 freshmen class standout Wale releases his 3rd mixtape of the last 12 months featuring a ton of guest MC’s and production exclusively from the underrated 9th Wonder. This is by far one of the best mixtapes of the year, the beats are soulful, the guest appearances all add to the package and Wale is in full beast-mode on the mic. Definitely be on the lookout for his major label debut late this summer and for him to be jumping into the crowd and assaulting fans at a show near you (just playing, that kid had it coming and I don’t want to get swung on at his next show!).


Food Inc. 4

If you have read Eric Shlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, not much in the documentary will surprise you, however if you are unaware of how the food/agriculture business works in the United States you will walk out of the theatre appalled at your supermarket, your government and your diet. The film presents a lot of good information and serves as a good introduction into what is wrong with our food industry. However, because of the limitations of a theatrically released movie (about 90 min) and a desire to cover as many topics as possible (food poisoning outbreaks, fast food prices, immigrant workers, slaughterhouse conditions, organic food companies, etc) the film would have probably worked better as a mini-series in order to further explore each topic mentioned.

The filmmakers succeed in making a compelling documentary that will get people thinking and talking about issues in food today and close the movie with information on how to learn more and actually affect change in our agriculture system. Food Inc. may not provided the escapism of the typical summer blockbuster, but it may be the most important movie of the year.

Away We Go 3.5

Away We Go is an indie dramedy (that’s right, dramedy) about a young couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolf) about to have a baby and searching the US and Canada for a place to settle down. The movie features the same off-beat, awkward comedy of TV’s The Office, but gets decidedly more mixed results. The bits with stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan as a downtrodden dog-track patron in Phoenix and John Krisinsky trying to act angry are hilarious, the scenes with Maggie Gyllenhall as a hippie college professor and a Canadian mother of 4 dancing in a go-go bar are just uncomfortable to watch.

Also, for my money John Krasinski (aka Jim Halpert) may be the best actor of this generation. I have secretly held this belief since the “Casino Night” episode of The Office that ended season two. In Away We Go he asks his longtime girlfriend to marry him and she turns him down, which leads to the best display of disappointment I have seen since Pam told Jim she liked him as a friend. John Krasinski is to disappointment what Busta Rhymes is to excitement. If there is one thing I know it’s disappointment and this guy nails it.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen 2

It is widely acknowledged that the 1980’s cartoon series “Transformers” was nothing more than an extended commercial to sell toys to kids; if that’s the case then the live action movies are a showcase for new cars, racial stereotypes and childish humor. This is quite possibly the worst summer blockbuster since Water World (1995), the movie is so long and the plot is so basic that I took several naps in the theatre and still completely understood what was happening when I woke up. While the action sequences are compelling (the only reason for the 2 rating), the storyline, script and inability to portray characters without racial insensitivity is so glaringly bad, that the idea of watching this again turns my stomach.

The major problem with Transformers (and presumably “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” due later this summer) when compared to other comic book/cartoon movies is that it is not nearly as good as you remember it when you were a child. I really liked Transformers when I was 8, over 20 years later a truck turning into a robot and fighting other robots is not that cool. Transformers is largely a product of the 80’s, which means it was developed as vehicle to sell TOYS and stories/character development were an afterthought if they were ever even addressed. This stands in stark contrast to golden and silver age comic book characters that were developed to sell BOOKS, where story and characterization where much more important and toys did not become available until after they established a fan base through the books. The Super Heroes that have stood the test of time have become woven into the fabric of American culture and function as the mythology of the 20th century; franchises like Transformers are basically really long infomercials to entice kids to harass their parents to buy them a truck that turns into a robot. The fact that older characters like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Iron Man, The X-Men and the Fantastic Four have decades of rich storytelling tradition to pull from makes their movies infinitely better than the summer blockbusters based on properties from the 80’s or later. This is why 20 years from now we will still be lining up to see movies based on Marvel and DC characters and not the Smurfs, Pokémon, Dragon Ball-Z or Bionicle.