Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jay Electronica: Game Changer?

DISCLAIMER: Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is a bananas! For proof of how much I respect the artist and song check out it’s inclusion in my episode of “Cribs”:


“Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica hit the Hip-Hop game like an unexpected uppercut that stunned even the most astute fans of the genre. The beat was simultaneously hard and soulful, the lyrics were personal and technically proficient and there was not a hook or chorus anywhere within earshot....this was real Hip-Hop! What was even more surprising was that this five and a half minute Exhibit was not posted on a website or available only via download, but was receiving fairly regular airplay on the nation’s top commercial radio stations. The song stood in such stark contrast to what is typically played on the radio that listeners from coast to coast were immediately compelled to find out more about this somewhat enigmatic artist from New Orleans, leading to massive numbers of searches on youtube, google and itunes. While “Exhibit C” is undoubtedly an amazing song, it remains to be seen if it’s initial impact will last and it is somewhat arguable if it even deserves the accolades it has already received.

Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is already being celebrated as one of the rare occasions when MC and Producer, Beats and Rhymes, Flow and Concept, Tone and Timing all merge to produce the elusive “Hip-Hop Classic.” However, while this type of relentless wordplay mixed with soul-baring biography is a far cry form the last Black Eyed Peas or Gucci Mane single, it is not completely without precedent in Hip-Hop.” Canibus’ “Poet Laureate II,” Joel Ortiz’s “125 (pts. 1-4),” The Game’s 100, 200 or 300 Bars, Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat,” and numerous others have utilized the same concept to similar artistic effect. Jay Electronica does differ from his predecessors in that most of these lengthy displays of skill were relegated to unreleased/mixtape status or buried so deep with album cuts that only true fans would ever get to hear them, they were not the singles that introduced them to the world. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue or if the novelty of listening to hundreds of bars of raw, uncut lyricism will be as quickly forgotten by the “106 & Park” crowd as the latest youtube dance sensation.

Also, most underground/backpack Hip-Hop fans were not nearly as impressed or shocked by Electronica’s display of skill as the rest of the world because they buy and listen to music where the emotion and lyricism contained on “Exhibit C” are commonplace. Unfortunately, most of these releases are available only online and the artists languish in obscurity while mindless MC’s that brag about being hustlers instead of rappers make millions upon millions of dollars. One can only hope that the sudden crossover appeal of a song like “Exhibit C” will help some of these artists and the independent Hip-Hop scene in general continue to expand it’s fanbase.

The beat by Just Blaze is impressive, but hardly groundbreaking. “Exhibit C” represents a bit of a return to the spotlight for the former “Roc-a-fella” producer, but the beat is not “Classic Just Blaze” by any stretch of the imagination. The warm soul sample, mixed with a hard baseline sounds more like early Kanye West or vintage 9th Wonder than any previous work by Just Blaze. Upon repeated listening it is hard to tell if this new sound represents the evolution of the producer to the next phase of his career or simply copying somebody else’s style to regain relevance in the extremely competitive Hip-Hop arena.

The final piece of criticism for the “Exhibit C” Movement is not an indictment of the MC or Producer, but rather of the fans that have embraced this song and already placed Jay Electronica in the Jay-Z, Nas, BIG, Tupac and Eminem category. One of the most commonly heard praises for Electronica is some variation of “that dude can rhyme for a southerner, I can’t believe he’s from New Orleans.” Hasn’t the South produced enough talented MC’s for us to move beyond lowering our standards for rappers born below the Mason Dixon line? Sure, Soulja Boy and OJ Da Juiceman leave something to be desired, but can a region that has produced Andre 3000, Lil’ Wayne (the mixtape Weezy, not the one supposedly making a rock album), Scarface, Little Brother, Ludacris and Goodie Mob really be considered at a disadvantage lyrically compared to the rest of the country? Jay Electronica is a good MC....period.

Further, what does it say about the state of our current media outlets that an intelligent, thoughtful, personal song that was skillfully crafted elicits the kind of shock and awe usually reserved for beef between A-List celebrities or the release of a sex tape? How bad is the the normal state of the radio we accept on a daily basis that a “good” song getting airplay becomes news for Hip-Hop outlets nationwide?

For all of the support “Exhibit C” has already received, if fans do not support (aka “BUY”) Jay Electronica’s album or future releases, the state of radio and video outlets will remain unchanged and as soon as the song runs it’s course your regularly scheduled programming of the New Boys, Lil’ Mama and Rick Ross will continue.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Over and Under Rated January 2010


Master P’s Business Acumen

In the late 90’s No Limit sold an absurd amount of records (in the tens of millions), produced several stars and was instrumental in establishing the “Dirty South” as a hotbed for commercial Hip-Hop. However, all of these achievements pale in comparison to the business sense of Master P.

Master P was able to somehow create one of the most powerful brands in Hip-Hop with some of the worst music ever created in an genre. In retrospect it is hard to believe songs like “Make ‘em Say Ughh,” “It Ain’t My Fault” and “Down For My...” had any kind of cultural impact whatsoever, mainly because they are so bad they are actually hard to tolerate a decade later. While other Hip-Hop moguls like Puffy, Dame Dash, Russell Simmons and Suge Knight may have had more success or lasted longer, they all had the comparatively easy task of selling high-quality music to a fan base that was already accustomed to their version of Hip-Hop.

Also, only ten years after the end of No Limit’s prominence there are virtually zero No Limit classics that still illicit any kind of response from former fans. To test this theory request any song from Mr. Serve-On, Mia X or Kane & Abel next time you are in the club and if the DJ still has it in his collection you will see people rush off the dance floor like roaches with the light on the second the confused party-goers recognize the song.

Aesop Rock

2010 marks the ten year anniversary of “Float,” the Mush Records release that placed Aesop Rock in underground Hip-Hop’s collective consciousness. In the last decade Aes has signed to indie powerhouse Def Jux, released four classic albums and several well received EP’s and side projects, become an in-demand producer, toured extensively and has become one of the central figures in underground/independent Hip-Hop.

Clearly, Aesop Rock’s dense, metaphor-filled and somewhat cryptic wordplay combined with his ambitious beat selection and an affinity for addressing themes far removed from the typical Hip-Hop record, places him miles away from current fan favorites like the New Boys or Gucci Mane, but his insistence on artistic integrity and an ability to spit rhymes that have fans debating hidden meanings a decade after release should place Aesop Rock at the forefront of discussions about the best MC’s of the last decade.

“Good” Sampling and Remakes

Most people bemoan rappers for “stealing” old school records when they sample them to make new hits. These protests often become even louder when the sampled song is not an obscure jazz riff from the 40’s, but an obvious re-appropriation of a big hit from the not-so-distant past that people still remember. However, while using obvious samples from easily recognizable songs is somewhat of a short cut to recognition (if people liked the original, why wouldn’t they like the remake?) sometimes, it works exceedingly well. Snoop Dogg’s “I Wanna Rock,” Jaheim’s “I Ain’t Leaving Without You,” and Styles recent collaboration with Green Lantern are all examples of taking the original and adding some new flavor to make something bigger than the sum of it’s parts...now that’s Hip-Hop.

NBA All-Star Kicks

From Scottie Pippen’s red Flights in ’94 to the Kobe and LeBron variants coming out next month, NBA players and shoe companies bring their “A Game” to All Star Weekend. The unveiling and ensuing rush to get these limited editions is one of the best parts of a weekend filled with boring skill competitions, family-friendly musical performances, athletes behaving badly around strippers and a mediocre pick-up game.


The Knowledge of NBA Fans

The idea of fans controlling the All Star game is a great idea...in theory.

How many times do players that have been injured for the entire season (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming) or just not that good anymore (Allen Iverson) have to be selected by the fans before the league steps in and takes control? The NBA doesn’t have the kind of rabid, stat-obsessed fans of MLB or the NFL and the overwhelming majority of “NBA fans” would be classified as casual at best (they watch the Lakers vs. Cavs, know the Knicks are horrible and will only go to a game if they get free tickets). This creates a situation where voters pick the only guys they have heard of whether they are averaging 30 points a night or riding the bench with a torn meniscus.

Man vs. Food (Travel Channel)

Some dude travels the country taking food challenges at local eateries. Examples of his exploits include consuming a 14-pound pizza, massive burgers and absurd quantities of chicken wings. Not only does this kind of foolishness promote and canonize the kind of gluttony that has made obesity and it’s related complications the biggest health issue in the United States, the guy usually fails at the challenges.

The host stuffs himself to the point of exhaustion, usually resulting in what he calls “The Meat Sweats” and does not coming close to consuming the amount that would result in a free T-Shirt or a polaroid picture on the bulletin board. Haters that like watching unmitigated failure (like myself) should skip this exercise in futility and watch the New Jersey Nets instead.

Rapers with Hard-to-Pronounce or Buffoonish Names

Rappers that are trying to blow-up should have names that are easy to pronounce and are not embarrassing to say in public. Wacka Flacka Flame, Ab Liva, Pharaoh Monch, Plies, Rza, Gza and Titty Boy do NOT fit into this category.

Motion Controllers

In late 2009 both Sony and Microsoft announced plans to release Motion Controllers for their respective home consoles. These peripherals will come out a full four years behind the release of Nintendo’s Wii and will most likely be met with compete apathy from consumers. Anybody with a burning desire to play video games standing up swinging a remote control wildly like a broad sword in their living room has been playing the Wii since 2006 and has no need to buy another silly controller for other video game systems.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Things to Look Forward to in 2010

Alice in Wonderland in IMAX

IMAX movies in 2009 were a decidedly mixed bag that included the GOOD (“Watchmen”), the BAD (“A Christmas Carol”) and the WILD (“Where The Wild Things Are”). The most anticipated IMAX release of 2020 is undoubtedly Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The combination of Lewis Carol’s dark fairy tale, Burton’s visionary direction and a stellar cast including Johnny Depp, this seems sure to be the first commercial and critical blockbuster for the new decade.

Air Jordan Spiz’ike Black/Cement Colorway

Most hybrids from Jordan Brand are weak interpretations of classic kicks that usually lose what made the originals cool. These are the rare exception as they retain the best design elements of the AJ 3-7 and come in arguably the best colorway in Jordan history.

Eminem: Relapse 2

“Relapse” was incredible. “Refill” was pretty much a waste of money. “Relapse 2” has the potential to be the best album of 2010. With production by Dr. Dre, The Alchemist and Just Blaze, darker subject matter and by all accounts Eminem leaving the silly accents and bathroom humor behind in favor of the sick lyrics that made him an underground hero a decade ago, “Relapse 2” has fans from 8 Mile Road to Rodeo Drive salivating for another dose of Slim Shady.

House of Pain: St. Patrick’s Day Tour

House of Pain is following a stellar 2009 (sick Adidas collabo sneaker, La Coka Nostra album, Rock the Bells tour) with a 5-Date tour of the Northeast the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Get ready to Jump Around because this will be sick night of early-90’s, dirty whiteboy, hooligan hip-hop if they come to your town.

Iron Man 2

Comic book fans were psyched for this movie before the trailer emerged in late 2009, after seeing the initial salvo from Marvel/Disney’s marketing campaign fans could not effin’ wait for May, 7th 2010. Replacing Terrance Howard with Don Cheadle seems like a sizable upgrade and including Scarlet Johansen and Mickey Rourke seem to only add more fuel to the Iron Man fire. Hopefully “Iron Man 2” will be the kickoff for a summer of blockbusters that will help us put the dismal 2009 summer movie season behind us.

Rock The Bells/Paid Dues Festival 2010

2009’s best Hip-Hop tour will be back for another summer in 2010. Performers have yet to be announced but with a stellar track record for providing both commercial and underground Hip-Hop heads with more than their money’s worth...look for this to be THE ticket to get for summer 2010.

Super Bowl XLIV

The last few NFL post seasons have been kind of lackluster for the casual fan, but with parity appearing to be a thing of the past and the emergence of several “Super Teams” (Saints, Colts, Chargers) and a few surprising underdogs (Bengals, Cowboys, Ravens) this season, Super Bowl XLIV and associated playoffs should really be spectacular entertainment for casual and hardcore fans.

Wu-Tang Saga Continues

2009 marked one of the biggest comebacks in Hip-Hop history as the once mighty Wu-Tang Clan reclaimed dominance in the rap game by releasing stellar albums, buzz worthy mixtapes and near constant touring. 2010 should continue this run with the release of “Wu Massacre” by Rae, Ghost and Meth and several other projects planned for the new year. We can only hope Wu-Wear will re-launch soon.

Even More & Better Content from www.fifthroundmovement.com

In the new year, look for better movies, a twitter account and a constant stream of blogs/vlogs to continue the movement into the new decade!