The second installment of Lee Gardner and I’s streaming and home video column is up. He reviewed Vengeance Is Mine, which is out in a new transfer to DVD/Blu-Ray and I reviewed Homefront, starring Jason Statham which is currently streaming on Netflix.
This week’s No Trivia column is about TT The Artist being sampled on Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty” and what that means and how the industry strips the underground for parts these days; with some additional words on Chrissy Vasquez’s “Tim and Eric”-like flyers and Ryan Bair and 15 year old kid from the county who made a Yngie-meets-Mick-Barr metal album.
This week’s column talks about the songs I heard the most coming out of car stereos, apartment windows, etc. in Baltimore and pairs it with a few anomalies that caught my ears. Includes, The Delfonics, Lor Scoota, Shy Glizzy, I Love Makonnen, Geeshie Wiley, Young Moose x 2, and Priests!
Who? Because it isn’t my job to cover rap all day anymore, I’ve really been just giving a shit about what I want to give a shit about or what interests me, so a lot of these guys are going under my radar. Right now it feels good but my guess is it’ll start to bug me to be a little lost. Do I need to listen to the Mick Jenkins mixtape? Tell me why, please.
My column this week is about my local radio station 92Q’s Labor Day weekend DJ mixes, particularly hearing Ma$e’s “Breath, Stretch, Shake,” and how it provided a glimmer of hope that things are not so bad and not totally corporate-controlled. Also, my picks for the best songs and albums for August.
So, Lee Gardner and I are doing a streaming and home video column for the Baltimore City Paper's Film section. First edition features Lee on Locke and me on The Battered Bastards of Baseball. Both are worth watching.
best albums of the decade "so far" lol b / w view of pitchfork's list
Mostly, I’m not sure why they didn’t wait until the end of 2015 to do it and then have it span 2010-2014? Like it doesn’t even encompass all of the first half of the decade because the cut off is middle of 2014 when this thing was published. My guess is that maybe Beats Music came to them with like some ad money and were like “come up with a list and we’ll give you this dough” which is how lots of things work these days and it’s fine that they work this way, but that is how they work these days sometimes so it is worth considering. I wish they had just paid every writer to write a say, 800 word essay on their favorites with a personal essay bend to it and that’ve been the focus with a numbers-crunch of 100 songs/albums, with maybe blurbs for the top 10 songs and albums and that’s it. I feel like this list being so formal and properly rolled out was odd. Something more personal and writer-centric would’ve made a lot of sense.
My bigger issue with this list though is that it seems like Pitchfork already trying to craft the 2010s canon or whatever, which is scary and silly and boorishly misreads the temporal, impermanent fun of “…so far” lists and feels like a desperate move from a website that’s losing its firm hold on tastemaking because the writing kind of stinks in a not-compelling way these days and the site is clearly ungoverned and lacks a vision. But hey, that’s just one loudmouth who wrote for them for awhile and then was kinda annoyed and grossed out by how they ran things and rolled out when I got better gigs, so hey, take my opinion with a very grainy grain of salt.
As for decade so far for me…I don’t know man, here’s 15 that come to mind. Fairly boring and predictable, really. What happens to one’s brain when you’re asked to weigh in and go all big picture? It’s like you can’t help but play it safe…
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
B L A C K I E, GEN
Screaming Females, Ugly
Matthew Herbert, One Pig
Clams Casino, Instrumentals
Jim O’Rourke, All Kinds of People/ Love Burt Bacharach
Sort of a sequel to last week’s "Thoughts on Ferguson" column: on watching the streams from Ferguson, watching the Boiler Room “Bmore Club” special and reading too much into Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away” and TT The Artist’s “weak as bitch” chant, and Schwarz’s brilliant protest song, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”
I wrote a review for Baltimore City Paper of Michael Kimball’s book on the arcade game Galaga/abuse memoir/low-key thesis on the slant rhymes of Gucci Mane, Drake, and more. This book is so great and very moving and I tried to be even like 10% as brave in my review as Kimball is in his book so I talked about some fuck shit from my own life. Check out Kimball’s Big Ray and Dear Everybody as well.
A review of Jess Row’s ambitious novel Your Face In Mine, a kitchen sink speculative fiction novel about racial reassignment surgery. I really liked the first 100 pages or so and I admire Row’s balls, but it starts to really lose the map in the most frustrating way: by getting distracted by the same solipsistic crap that mars most contemporary American fiction. There’s a brilliant pulpy book somewhere in these 400 pages, though.
Writing for the Internet Without Losing Your Soul #1: Hand in very clean copy.
This will be the first in a series of posted-whenever-I-feel-like-it thoughts on writing for the Internet. If you have something you’d like to ask me about writing for the Internet, send me a Tumblr ‘Ask’ and make it clear you’re asking as part of this “Writing for the Internet Without Losing Your Soul” thing. Or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll try and address your question/comment here. Let’s share ideas and complaints and advice.
These days, I am the Music/Film/Special Issues Editor at the Baltimore City Paper. After freelancing for seven years, I am on the opposite side of things, assigning articles, helping good articles become great, trying my best to teach young writers how things work so we have more good writers out there, and all of that. I am learning a lot. It’s wonderful. As you might imagine, I also end up with a lot of thoughts and opinions on writing and editing and I end up talking these things out with my coworkers and our amazing interns and writers both young and old and I think some of this stuff is worth sharing.
So, let’s get started: EDIT YER SHIT DUMMY.
The most frustrating thing I see online is copy just being dumped onto the Internet untouched. The writer files to the editor, and because the editor is busy with a million things or because they are not actually an editor so much as an assigner and perhaps, curator, they throw the article online and that’s that. This has to end but of course, it isn’t going to end and it’s only going to get worse. In "Everyone Their Own Editor" by John E. McIntyre, the Baltimore Sun writer discusses the way in which corporate shitlords that own all newspapers and magazines and websites are actually doing away with copy editors. The point is editing is up to you, the writer. You have to be your own editor before you file it to the editor. That’s fucked, but that’s how it goes.
The way I learned to write better was through editing. Editors sending copy back with notes and demanding changes or just pointing out things that I shouldn’t do or places in a piece where I cheated or insincere ways I presented my argument was very helpful. I also learned by filing a piece and then seeing what was changed between my copy and the copy that ended up online or in-print. I took note of those changes. I didn’t get mad at them or view it as my words being bastardized or some bullshit because I knew I was a fairly smart but still very green writer. Related: A post I wrote a while ago titled "On Being Edited (And How to Not Be a Big Fucking Baby About It)."
After the break, you can read one of the worst things I’ve ever filed. There are lot of reasons why: In June, I was working full-time at both City Paper and SPIN, so my time was crunched and my brain was fried, and I just didn’t have the time to focus on things like I usually did and maybe should’ve said no to the assignment. Not to mention, the evening I was editing this one last time (it was already about 9 hours late), these like 19 year-old art kids came over to my apartment to give my partner a tattoo? So I was super distracted. And if I’m being honest, I also on some level knew that Grayson Currin my editor, the best editor I’ve ever worked with, would probably clean my piece up a whole lot and if not, he’d at least give me some real talk about how badly I fucked it up and tell me how to fix it, and either way, the piece would be improved. I was being lazy. I’m sorry, dude.
But I think it’s instructive to see how a pretty weak piece was turned into a pretty strong piece thanks to good, attentive editing. And if this is going to be a thing where I inevitably call people out for being bad at writing or editing from time to time, I should start with my own shittiness. So yeah, here’s the version that ran in the Independent Weekly, in print and online: "Sage Francis helped launch a self-serious revolution, but he let it beat him, too"
Below the cut, the weak-azz version I filed. Make note of how Grayson fixed it. Then realize most editors don’t do that anymore.
Because of Mike Brown’s murder and the subsequent events in Ferguson, I couldn’t bring myself to write a proper music column this week, it just seemed pointless and gross (it was going to be something about music biopics and my dream biopics, see?). Instead, I wrote about Ferguson and still ended up writing about music a little (Lil Boosie, Young Moose, Kneel Knaris).
Lil Boosie plays the Baltimore Arena this weekend, which is pretty nuts. I wrote an essay about how much Baltimore loves Boosie, his legal troubles, the silly Eddie Conway vs. Lil Boosie Facebook meme, and two Boosie-indebted Baltimore rappers, Lor Scoota and Young Moose who are also opening for him at the show.
This week’s No Trivia column (now over at the Baltimore City Paper) discusses big deal local musicians leaving the scene: Why they do that, why they sort of have to do it, etc. Specifically, it’s through the lens of one of my favorite rappers and good friend Abdu Ali’s exist.
Now that I’m over at City Paper, I’ve moved the um, No Trivia “brand” or whatever over for a weekly column. This week’s is very Baltimore-centric (this won’t always be the case), with thoughts on “scene”: Bmore bros, club music, Young Moose, and more. Also, my favorite album and singles of July. Please read this!
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.