Went to see Wye Oak’s outdoor show on Saturday evening, with Wume and Matmos. Matmos were incredible, Wye Oak were Wye Oak, and the people there were mostly terrible. Also, some thoughts on guitar music, forever on the verge of extinction. Matmos’ whole set is on YouTube by the way. Part three where they did the packing tape trick is right here if you wanna check it out.
I reviewed club producer and DJ James Nasty’s Calvert Street EP for the Baltimore City Paper. There’s a song called “Do It” on here that’s sort of like a supercut of post-2000s club awesomness and a weird mumbly track that samples Elephant Man. Also, a cocaine anecdote! Also cocaine is for dickheads.
Got a chance to review Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard for the Baltimore City Paper (it plays at the Charles Theater as part of their revival series this week). I talked about the dead monkey, how dreamy William Holden is, and how Norma Desmond’s the only sympathetic character, really. My job is pretty cool because I get to write about old ass movies like this sometimes.
In this week’s Baltimore City Paper, a profile I wrote on the very funny, very smart, and very complicated punk-roots band Bobby E. Lee & the Sympathizers who sounds like Dock Boggs covering the Minutemen. And check out this Jackass-esque video of them burning a Confederate flag.
do you think Kanye will leave rap altogether and be a Contemporary Classical/avant garde now?
G-d, I hope not. Kanye is doing “avant garde” the way that like Mos Def and Andre 3K have tried to do rock n’ roll and it’s rough to hear: all cheap signifiers and shortcuts. Kanye’s a maximalist. He is not an innovator but rather a good fusionist and curator and handler of lots of moving parts it’s a shame everyone was hoodwinked by the half-assedness of Yeezus (by the way, the number of places I’ve been, cars I’ve been in, parties I’ve attended where Yeezus is put in enthusiastically and then turned off about halfway through sits around 10) and so, it seems like he’s going to continue in that direction….
The last thing I wrote for SPIN as a contributing writer. A quick guide to weirdo rap and not-quite rap and other strange underground hip-hop stuff, mostly focused on ISSUE, Lee Bannon, and the Devil, and as usual, some praise for the mainstream and a reminder that late ’90s underground hip-hop had a high frequency of cleverly branded bullshit.
ugh also: you have in the past brought up how you like to confront certain moral deficiencies in rap. one is its misogyny & homophobia and the other is the glorification of the drug trade. you say many white rap critics are too spineless to confront these topics. w/r/t rap's flawed gender dynamic, isn't this the product of cultural factors (all of which involve oppression) that you have no business judging? same for rap's relationship with the drug trade. with all due respect. plz don't be mean.
Look, I don’t “like” to “confront certain moral deficiencies in rap,” I think it’s my duty, especially because I’m a white rap critic who at this point, makes a (very modest) living off of this stuff and is ostensibly looking at it from the outside in (notice that my perspective on these issues as my audience has widened has shifted).
And because of this position I have as a white rap critic, I feel like I have more of a responsibility to be honest about my perspective (which I’d say is pretty firmly on the side of sane human beings trying their hardest to be halfway decent to one another and nothing more, an attitude that totally isn’t owned by let alone exemplified by nerdy white dudes) and not fucking tap dance around this shit and play this phony condescending white liberal thing that’s just rides the “who am I to judge” angle to side step looking at the music as anything more than cool or not cool sounds interacting for three minutes. This is what a lot of my white boy rap critic peers prefer to do and then they hide behind words like “art” to ignore all of the social and political elements of this “art,” which to me seems like kinda giving hip-hop as a genre the shaft and reducing it to only aesthetics when all art, but especially post-positivist stuff like hip-hop cannot be reduced to aesthetics only.
If you think the issue with rap criticism is that there are too many white kids like me occasionally injecting some moralizing into their writing, you need to stop reading the same circle of blogs or whatever, because there are way more white writers who don’t ever consider any of this stuff and choose to creepily, cluelessly fetishize criminal behavior in rap music.
Additionally, I’m not one of these guys running around yelling about how rap is all evil or bad or all hateful nonsense and so, you’re really mischaracterizing what I’m doing. Mostly, I’m touching those moments when the wrongheaded values that are a part of hip-hop pop up and seem to big to ignore. And, I acknowledge the reasons why these values (sexism, homophobia, capitalism) exist and persist and certainly trace their origins in the United States. So again, I’m not just some guy saying “rappers stop talking about dealing drugs!” I’d also say you’d have more of a point here if I was someone who wasn’t bringing up these issues when I review others genres of music or other types of art. On top of that, I operate on a case-by-case basis that generally tries to consider what this rap junk is trying to do or say and where it succeeds and how.
So, Rick Ross stinks when he does his street rap madlibs game because it’s strewn together struggle rap nonsense that panders but he’s great at touching cornball stuff like “Here I Am” because it feels lived in and honest and it finds him bending all of his goofy moronic bombast towards big emotions worth celebrating. Freddie Gibbs seems like a pretty hateful and angry dude, but his work explores that and wrestles with it and what makes his work (especially Pinata) so amazing is how he creates this construct in which honesty (the “my balls and my word” tradition) is exemplified by his refusal to feel guilty for things. He is a markedly consistent shithead. Gucci Mane was great at just stacking words on top of one another in really expressive ways and the added bonus to it was the way you’d get these glimmers of insight or honesty through all the lyrical games-playing. It was a kind of minimalism which made every joke or aside or confession all the more powerful. He stinks now because his skills have dry-rotted and thinks anybody ever cared about his “street cred.”
You’re right to bristle at my perspective a little bit but that’s because I’m just kind of conservative (with a lowercase c!) when it comes to these issues. Some of my writing heroes are guys like Stanley Crouch and Ralph Ellison and other guys who really stress personal accountability and I follow their lead. I don’t fault anybody who deals drugs, because it makes a lot of sense. But I also don’t think that because I know why people do it or have to do it, that it makes their actions beyond comment or critique.
i can't help but notice how unwilling you are to embrace street demeanor or aesthetics in your rap music. you tend to specifically celebrate rappers whose work is decidedly left-of-center or, to use a word you seem to really love, "weirdo." and when you do commend a street rapper it is usually for the ways in which they distanced themselves from street rap tropes. don't have an opinion on this one way or another, but i am curious as to what motivates your reasoning for doing this.
This is such a boring critique. Mostly because you’re just grafting something that gets thrown at other crappier rap writers’ writing onto mine even though there’s so much of my writing that would and has labelled me as some kind of street rap fetishist and blah blah blah. I celebrate rappers who distance themselves from TROPES of any kind. Not just street rap tropes. If you’re especially sensitive to the times where I say whatever about some boring street dude you’re listening to this week, that’s not on me.
As it pertains to street rap though, yeah, the tropes of street rap are just that and they’re long overdue to be called out and challenged. There was a time when reportage and that sort of thing was remarkable simply by existing but we’re at least 15 years away from the end of that at this point and we shouldn’t be afraid to roll our eyes at this stuff when it is sub par or taking shortcuts, whether it’s the real talk madlib writing of Rick Ross or some dude in some shitty city who has some “buzz.”
I’m interested in rappers who express themselves sincerely which often puts them out there as oddities or weirdos (I also like this in other kinds of music and art too). And I’m interested in rappers who gently tweak or adjust a formula which I guess you are reading as me praising rappers “distancing themselves” when I would just see that as rappers going that extra step to put a stamp of specificity and their reality onto the work. Nearly all art worth praising is notable for the way that it distances itself from the tropes of its genre, style, medium or whatever. You realize that, right? Doing something well and nothing more is admirable and can be really great, but it’s most certainly not the only kind of art worth praising.
Read more of my work too because you obviously haven’t read enough to justify your sweeping fucking generalizations about my critical perspective. Stop taking your notes from David Drake ILM rants from three years ago or Hipinion douchebags from last year or Lupe stans from two years ago.
isn't Blow more an example of the male-penned, food-as-vagina trend rather than a mockery? especially seeing as all the credited writers are male, including JT himself?
Dude’s referring to a few lines in my essay on Beyonce and Jay Z for the Baltimore City Paper. Yeah, except “Blow” isn’t a male-penned song because Beyonce also gets a songwriting credit on it. So, not “all the credited writers are male” there junior. I thought about this when I wrote it and because you know, these days, one of my day jobs is as a fact checker so I’m very concerned with accuracy! I really give a shit about this shit!!
I didn’t wanna say “male-crooned” because there are male backing vocals on “Blow” and I don’t think the issue with these types of goofy-ass and clueless food-as-vagina songs is that a male is singing them so much as it is that a male is constructing them from the ground-up. That’s to say, it’s a matter of who is typically allowed to have power in the music industry. And the difference between “Strawberry Bubble Gum” (written by Timberlake, Timbaland, J-Roc Harmon, and James Fauntleroy) and “Blow” (written by those four plus Pharrell and Beyonce) really comes down to the involvement of Beyonce.
She’s clearly the auteur on her self-titled record and also on this song and I feel comfortable saying she is the reason why “Blow” is a much smarter, wittier, and sexier song than “Strawberry.” It’s what happens when you put a considerate voice in the room: they make better, more sensitive work. For one, “Blow” just renders the food-as-vagina crap into nonsense because she does away with the coy double entendre or whatever once it gets to the “tear that cherry out” part. And Beyonce has a history of this kind of anti-clever cleverness.
Think of something like “Ego” (written by Beyonce and two men) which is a song in which she talks about how big her ego is by talking about it as if it were her dick in a super obvious “this is really a song about a dick” winking way. Of course, as far as I know, Beyonce doesn’t have a dick (but oh man, the only way she could possibly be anymore of a like sexual dynamo is if she also had a dick, right? Anyways), so it’s a super obvious song on one level (big ego=big dick song) and incredibly subversive and hard to parse in a gender fucky way (my ego is big and that really means my dick is big but I don’t have a dick so I’m talking about my dick as some kind of empowering metonym) and that’s cool!
"Blow" similarly goes there in terms of explicitness and pushing a dopey double entendre past its breaking point while ultimately being a female-friendly fuck song. I guess I’m just more interested in the woman who wrote the song along with the dudes than I am the dudes who wrote the song along with the woman.
I gave it a 10,000 out of 10. This is one of the last things I wrote for SPIN (my last day was Monday) which is so fucking funny to me. Things mentioned in my review: Roy Blount Jr., Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, N.W.A., Rick Ross, Peter Rosenberg, Chuck D, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne, White Mike from the Wayan Bros., George Jones, Sun Ra, Modest Mouse, and Goo Goo Clusters. I dunno.
The “On the Run” tour comes to Baltimore early next week. Here’s a piece about how Beyoncé has pretty much rendered Jay Z useless.
Alsoooooo: Yesterday was my last day as a Contributing Writer for SPIN. I’m now the Special Issues Editor, Fact Checking Coordinator, and all-around Music dude for the Baltimore City Paper. Still interested in freelance stuff though. Editors hit me up!
Is there a good/very good album in all of The Blueprint 2 (aka, I'd really love to see your redux take on it)?
There’s a Jay Z album inside of Blueprint 2 but that’s about it. I’d have to revisit it for a redux, but one of my makes-no-sense-to-me-only rules for record sequencing redux games is that double albums are off limits. There’s not a double album on the planet that wouldn’t be “better” as a single disc record (or single LP instead of a double LP even) but it seems like trying to do that is missing the point. Like, the whole point of these things is a like, the whole enchilada kind of deal. Would Forever be a better Wu Tang record with say, “Black Shampoo” or Raekwon blabbing on and on and then getting on a helicopter to end the thing? Of course. But I don’t want those moments lopped off. So yeah, while I disagree with the whole idea of um, Jay Z doing a double album, I also find the whole thing even less compelling if it’s cut down to a “proper” length.
So, this was fun. Wrote about the incredibly uncool right now early 2000s spoken word-ish, “emo rap” guys on the occasion of Sage Francis putting out a new record. This stuff was never my thing but Personal Journals was a thing there for a moment and dude really turfed out and pandered to his base after that and blew it. I talk about why and how.
We all know that your taste in older movies lean obscure but what are some more recent movies being slept upon?
So this is roughly the past twenty years (starts in 1997, when Tarantino fallout was finally slipping away) and who knows what even categorizes as “obscure” these days, but here’s 20 movies I’d say don’t get enough attention:
Reviewed Drew Daniels’ house-ish covers of black metal songs record for SPIN. It’s the best. Additional words on the icky cleaning up of black metal’s values via arty “smart” junk like Until the Light Takes Us.
For the Baltimore City Paper’s “Queer Issue,” I interviewed Drew Daniel of the Soft Pink Truth about his new album, Why Do The Heathen Rage?, which consists of queer-friendly, house-tinged but still very noisy black metal covers. It’s one of the best records of the year and my favorite high-concept LP since Matthew Herbert’s One Pig.
I watched Lassie Come Home on TCM with my dog a few months ago and it was pretty sick. Not joking. Because dogs are one of those animals that can like recognize their species or whatever (right?), he was transfixed the whole time. Also, the weird ambient sounds of Post-Tenebras Lux were def giving my dog posivibes, I remember.
Also, one time I was watching Herzog’s Nosferatu and you know the part where Kinski does the Kinski thing and like curls up in front of the camera and looks into the lens? Well, my dog freaked the fuck out when that happened, like starting barking and stuff. So, DO NOT WATCH NOSFERATU WITH YOUR DOG.
Friday night, there was an incredible free outdoor dance party in Baltimore featuring Big Freedia, MikeQ, DJ Class, DJ Angelbaby, and TT the Artist. Words on why it was great, typical grousing about white people being dumb dicks, and a note about what “scene” even means in a city like Baltimore where everything seems to end long before it should end.
So, writer’s block isn’t a real thing. You know that, right? It usually just means you’re being a lazy turd or maybe a distracted turd. So, my advice would be to get real with yourself and power through and write words. Pretty simple, really.
I wrote a profile of J.R. Fritsch who runs ARACA Recs., an experimental hip-hop/dance label that releases only 45s and gives all their stuff away for free digital download to anybody who wants to check it out. J.R. previously ran Public Guilt Records, which was an awesome noise label in the mid-2000s. So far, ARACA has put out 45s from Indonesian female MC Antzilla, Harlem dance producers MRC Riddims, and dubby Baltimore dance improvisors Little Flowers. Their next release is a 45 from Abdu Ali, with production from B L A C K I E and Schwarz.
So, Maryland Deathfest was this weekend. Also, this weekend, some weird kinda mockbuster-esque rip off fest called Deathscape that was understandably an affront to MDF attendees. I also discuss metal snobbery, a little bit.
Reviewed the new G-Side for SPIN. It’s very good and suggests that these guys haven’t burned themselves out. Additional words on how there can’t be a proper “underground” these days because major labels replace interesting rappers with boring rappers that can recreate their shtick. Shit’s bleak guys!
Okay, not answering anymore of these. My movie knowledge drops off once the ’80s come around anyways so they’re going to be way less interesting (in some years I bet I couldn’t think of 10 movies I’d seriously ride for), so yeah 1979:
Do you think ab-soul is still capable of making interesting music or have his intellectualisms run their course?
I think the problem is that he’s abandoned his third-eye brah rap ramblings or “intellectualisms” as you said to just be kind of a gross, boring rapper and I’m not sure why. He’s either doing these dumb sex raps (“Let me put my mouth where you potty, boo” or whatever”) or he’s doing this like nearly autistic stilted flow like he does on Gibbs’ “Lakers.” He doesn’t seem to be trying much right now. He just needs to get back to being the guy who could rap Lil Wayne-like about DMT, sell you by way of sheer rappin’ passion on 9/11 conspiracies, and then drop a make-you-cry track like “Book of Soul.” Whuh happened, Ab???
Hey, here’s more comics writing from me this week. A review of some weird-as-hell Popeye strips.
In 1971, Bobby London and his fellow underground comix jokers the Airmen released a couple of bootleg Disney comics featuring the characters in um, adult situations. Disney sued. By 1986, he was somehow in charge of the daily Popeye strip in newspapers everywhere. And so, he filled Popeye with gentrification riffs, cocaine jokes, and anti-corporation sentiments (and would ultimately be fired in 1992 when he did a series of strips about Olive Oyl getting an abortion). This book collects the first three years of his run on Popeye and it’s a fascinating look into the artist as smuggler, in my opinion.