The good folks at Potholes In My Blog occasionally run retrospective pieces on the milestone anniversaries of landmark albums. They asked me to do such a piece for Jay-Z’s sophomore LP, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, which turns 15 today. Click here to read my thoughts.
For seven nights now, Jay-Z has paid his respects to the borough that birthed him: Brooklyn. I was in the crowd on Monday night when he got all wistful an’ shit. Read my thoughts on the matter, here.
There actually is something going on here. It’s a remarkable alchemy between the rugged flow of area MC Spekulation and legendary folk-ster Bob Dylan. Here, Spek interpolates Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” into rapped commentary on today’s multimedia-consumed culture. I think Robert himself would be please with the results.
Spekulation showed us his knack for crafty mash-ups (actually, call them “virtual collaborations”) on the previously released Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em (get it here), a reworking of Jay-Z vocal tracks with new, original backing by The Jason Parker Quartet.
Watch for Spek’s self-titled EP dropping on 1.10.12.
The danger in scribbling down a hasty review of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne, especially for a writer who is quick to react to the bellow of so-called “significant” pop music projects like this album (tentative raised hand), is that said writer might immediately be taken by the triumphal calls of a track like “Lift Off” which, upon first listen, glistens with an orchestral rap radiance befitting such a pair of pop icons, when, in reality, the track is just a jumble of overwrought synth bloat, a wasted Beyonce cameo and lame half-sung half-rapped auto-tuned nonsense. On the other hand, the danger in waiting for the gold and platinum dust to settle before writing about the album is that one could be swayed by the reviews that came before, especially the negative ones accusing Jay and West of recklessly indulging themselves in their fame and excess, thereby further diluting hip-hop’s greater meaning within the mainstream context. So what’s a writer to do? I suppose some comfort can be taken in the old proverb about history ultimately determining the legacy of its people, places and things. It’s impossible to tell now if Pop Music will canonize Watch The Throne, but if there’s one thing this critic has gleaned from listening to the record at least a dozen times in succession, it’s that it’s much more fun to deliberate over the question than it is to actually listen to the music. And that alone should tell you something about this project…
Life + Times is a new lifestyle blog, curated supposedly by one Mr. Shawn Carter. Launched yesterday afternoon, it looks like the emcee might finally be taking a cue from 206UP.COM and expanding his presence into the World Wide Web. Go on young ‘un, someday all that hustle might just pay off.
#LatePass. I overlooked this drop admittedly because it appeared to be yet another Jay-Z mash-up. But after some light email prodding by Spekulation (the homie responsible) and after reading a couple other local writers’ opinions (which I hold in high esteem), I finally listened last night.
Can’t say much that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just relay the same: Spek’s production value and attention to detail are on point, right down to the album’s intro that samples Hov joking with the crowd on his Unplugged album. And now the local jazz musicians responsible for the sonic backdrop, The Jason Parker Quartet, have a nice hip-hop feather in their cap.
If you’re on the fence about downloading this, I’ll make the decision easy for you: do it.
Reason #1,265 why living in New York City is so f-cking dope: nights like the one last at The New York City Public Library when the incomparable Shawn Carter shared a stage for nearly two hours with the inimitable Dr. Cornel West. They discussed artistic process, the cultural significance of hip-hop, and just humanity in general. Jay’s long-awaited memoir/lyrical compendium, Decoded, provided the catalyst for their meditations which went far beyond a cheap marketing opportunity which it was never in danger of becoming with the Good Doctor West in the house.
These gentlemen are probably my two favorite living celebrities today and I was dying to attend this event. Alas, it was sold out, but the whole thing was streamed live and still available to watch in its entirety. Click the photo below for the link.
Posted here ‘cuz it’s hot. (If not a tad nightmarish.)
Full disclosure: I live in New York City.
Some of you had probably already gleaned that from previous blog posts (like the one with a fuzzy camera phone photo of Jay-Z, taken near a subway stop that I frequently use), and some of you know from our interactions on Twitter or email. The fact that I live approximately 2,600 miles away from the 206 puts me at a major disadvantage when it comes to getting a proper and accurate feel for all of this recent Town movement. I miss all of the shows. I never get to interact with any of the artists in person. I have a hard time copping the latest releases — sometimes I practically have to beg rappers to send me their new sh*t. (Which reminds me: I owe a huge THANK YOU to all of those folks who’ve provided me with music. You will never know how much I appreciate it. And by the way, keep it coming please!)
On the other hand, living in NY does give me an interesting perspective when it comes to how Seattle’s hip-hop community compares to other cities. For example, not surprisingly the hip-hop scene in New York is incredibly vast and wide. You can’t even begin to absorb all of it, especially if your desire is to actually feel it. (Okay, I’m speaking for myself. I’m a true fan of the music, but I’m like most normal folks, my nine-to-five is not associated with hip-hop and the time I spend listening to music is in constant competition with the time I want to spend reading a book, or going to the movies, or a museum, or doing one of the millions of things there are to do in this city.) A hip-hop head in New York really has to pick and choose what specific artists and styles to pay attention to. It’s intimidating and, to be honest, I’ve mostly ignored it. I’m too busy with Seattle sh*t. There’s enough going on in our humble little town to satisfy the most carnivorous of listeners. Plus it keeps me connected to the city where my heart truly lies.
The irony of all this is that when I’m out visiting family and friends in the Northwest — as I was last week — those are the moments when I’m paying the least amount of attention to hip-hop. Time is so scarce during those short visits. Aside from having it on constant rotation on my iPod (as is the case no matter where my feet touch the ground), I didn’t have time to catch any shows and, as you probably noticed, didn’t write even a single post during the seven days I was in town. It’s kinda messed up, really. And so, I think the universe was trying to tell me something when it just so happened that, on Tuesday, I ended up on the same airporter shuttle bus from the Anacortes ferry terminal to Seatac, with none other than the homie Vitamin D who, like me, was also heading back to The Six after a weekend in the San Juan Islands. (Vita: I shoulda hollered at you, dude! Next time, I promise!) Now this may sound particularly corny, but it meant a lot to me for two reasons: (1) Vita is one of the true OGs of Seattle hip-hop. He’s been a trendsetter, a waymaker, and any other appropriately hyperbolic adjective one can find to describe his influence on rap and r&b in the 206. He deserves the props and anyone who knows anything about Town music would agree. Which is why (2) I found it particularly dope that he had been spending time in the San Juans, the place where I grew up, came of age, and, through interesting twists of musical fate, came to love hip-hop music. (See, I told you I was gonna get corny! Whatever, I could give a f*ck what you think, ha!)
Running into Vita in a seemingly totally random place like that brought me back around to what I think is the greatest thing about the current movement in Seattle. It’s so small. Tight-knit. Intimate, even. A real community. I’ve said before that Seattle is a great place to be a rapper these days because it’s one of the least-marginalized hip-hop communities in the country. From the constant collaborations, diversity of acts at the shows, to the online Twitter chatter (it’s like a virtual fraternity house). I’m sure that beef exists (Geo: “In a town not big enough for egos to breathe…Twisted, crab-in-a-barrel existence…”), but for the most part, it seems to be all L.O.V.E.
New York is the birthplace and eternal capital city of hip-hop. Have you ever paid attention to the little monologue Spaceman gives on the joint with J. Pinder (“SXSW/CMJ”) where he talks about how overwhelming it was to be an up-and-coming rapper from the 206, standing in the famous club, SOB’s, during CMJ? That’s how culturally ingrained hip-hop is in New York. It’s one of the city’s many touchstones. An institution. A feeling, even. There’s no other city where you can go see The Roots perform every f*cking Tuesday night! Or go to a random free screening of an independently-produced hip-hop documentary at Columbia University and end up standing at a urinal next to Talib Kweli (that sh*t happened to me!). I saw motherf*cking Jay-Z shooting a clip for “Empire State of Mind,” guerrilla-style, on my way to the subway! Through pure chance, I even ended up working at a non-profit organization that helped landmark 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx as “The Birthplace of Hip-Hop” (see here and here). Hip-hop is the musical heartbeat of daily life in NY, and from a cultural standpoint, it will never be matched. But Seattle, man. DAMN. Our movement is young. Fresh. As optimistic as a box of baby rabbits. We still don’t know how high these artists will fly. Keep doin’ your thing. I’m looking forward to the day I come back and get to participate on an even deeper level.
First off, I know there are haters, but I love this song. It can make the smallest fishes in this huge pond feel like the most colossal of champions, especially when it’s late night on the headphones, walking down any street in Manhattan. (You really won’t understand the feeling until you do it for yourself.) It’s pure ear candy that should be appreciated for what it is: a great piece of unadulterated pop music porn.
But damn, the video could have been so much more. I’m really disappointed — I think it’s boring. It looks like something a grad student could have made for a film editing course (though I guess the fly-overs probably would’ve been challenging). Jay and Alicia consistently bring the class. I feel like the director Hype phoned it in.
I do have a cool story about this video, though. Click here to read it. I was standing about 20 feet away from Jay when he says “I used to cop in Harlem…etc”. Here’s basically what I saw (P.S. I did NOT take this video):
(The emcee Savant is from Chicago and is part of a self-described “hip-hop alliance” called RAREBREED [the other member of the collective is his younger brother, Joey Downtown]. While 206up.com is a space primarily dedicated to Seattle hip-hop, I reserve the right to go rogue once in a while, as I’m doing with this Review. Though it’s not a total tangential exercise: Savant is connected to Seattle through a group called The Emprise so prepare to see him come through the Six and do his thing once in a while. Trust 206up.com will keep you up on Savant’s future movements through The Town. But for now, on with the Review of The Delayed Entry EP…)
On Late Registration‘s best track, “Gone”, Kanye says he wants to quit the rap game altogether and open a hip-hop school for aspiring emcees, a desire presumably stemming from his perceived lack of rappers properly representing. It’s typical Kanye: a romantic but somewhat misguided proposition considering it comes from a guy who isn’t exactly known for his ability to stay on task. I’d be okay enrolling my child at The Kanye West School of Hip-Hop, but only if Yeezy’s primary role was that of financier. The actual Emcee Professoring should be left to the rhyme virtuosos, those cats who find love and life in the art of rhyming (not in designing Louis Vuitton handbags). Chi-Town rapper, Savant, might be a worthy candidate for such a position. His first solo effort, The Delayed Entry EP (available for free download here), shines a musical spotlight on a budding rapper who seems hungry and focused on building his resume.
If Savant isn’t quite suited yet for the position of Emcee Professor, then he at least deserves a graduate assistant position or, better yet, maybe that of resident Rhyme Doctor. For nine tracks, Savant holds a clinic of sorts, displaying an ease and confidence on the mic that’s matched with an above-average ability to manipulate rhyme and word. From a technical standpoint, Savant bends tracks to his lyrical will. He displays uncommon dexterity on “Concrete Techniques” (featuring Three60) and on the RJD2-assisted “The Lyricist ThreeMix”. He’s often so focused on performing precise metric surgery on the beats that it comes as a pleasant (and welcome) surprise when he eases back and lets more personality show on the relaxed, “Illest You’ve Never Heard (Could We Go)” and summer-riding, “Bottom To the Top”. And, not surprisingly, Savant stands further out from the emcee crowd when he allows the subject matter to get heavier (see: “Marry a Memory”); it’s evident that dude is talented, but good lyrical content matters just the same.
Musically, Delayed Entry suffers a little from what many underground independent records suffer from: lack of innovation. Not that albums of this form and function should always be groundbreaking; hip-hop like this is generally meant to pay tribute to traditional aspects of the music and limited effort toward genre-bending sonic advancements is expected. In other words: that’s not the point here. But it would be nice to find more unpredictability. Not surprisingly, the best track is produced by the legendary RJD2 (the aforementioned, “The Lyricist ThreeMix”). Another standout is “Illest You’ve Never Heard” which employs a delicate but chopped-up Amel Larrieux sample. Savant’s rhyming generally overcomes any lackluster beats, which is both a testament to his lyrical prowess and cause for optimism for future releases that might feature more interesting production.
As Kanye, Jay, and Weezy continue to fly hip-hop’s flag high in mainstream America, it’s important to remember that the culture is forever tethered to artists like Savant. Folks like him fly mostly under the radar, yet are ultimately responsible for steering the Good Ship Hip-Hop through its rough (read: vapid and uninteresting) times. The underground set (an often fickle and skeptical bunch not affected by politics, popularity, or hype) will probably find The Delayed Entry EP a worthy, if not solid, first effort. It’s a type of recognition that is usually devoid of glitz — to say nothing of abundant financial reward. But acceptance by the underground masses is a sure sign that you’ve arrived. The impressions left in the discerning ears of those critics genuinely matter, as they’re the ones ensuring hip-hop stays healthy. And if the foundational elements of hip-hop are healthy, then the culture as a whole thrives. Savant’s The Delayed Entry EP proves that the emcee element is alive and breathing.
I used to cop in Harlem,
all of my Dominicanos
right there up on Broadway,
brought me back to that McDonalds
- Jay-Z, “Empire State of Mind”
I live in Harlem and occassionally I’ll pop into the McDonald’s at 145th and Broadway either for an Egg McMuffin or large coffee in the morning. I wondered if Jay was talking about that particular Mickey D’s in “Empire State of Mind”. Apparently I was right:
On my way to the subway this morning he was perched on a railing just outside the entrance to the Downtown 1 train, shooting that verse for the “Empire State of Mind” video.
You never know who’ll you run into in NY.
Got a chance to finally listen to The Blueprint 3 on the train ride to work this morning.
Eh. It’s coo, but it’s not what I’m used to (which is superior dopeness from hip-hop’s Man In Black, Ess Dot Carter).
This review here sums up my feelings pretty well. Especially this:
On the shiny new CD from Jay-Z, a rapper almost universally heralded as the greatest MC of all-time, a lack of urgency keeps the product a significant distance from greatness.
Some tracks made me smile and think, “Jay-Z is killin’ it here,” but most had me yawning and fiddling with the scroll wheel on my iPod like, “Where’s my copy of The Unplanned Mixtape? I swear it’s on here somewhere…”
The first Blueprint is a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. #1; Blueprint 3 is the ’89 Fleer #548 — you weren’t sad to pull it out of the pack, but it didn’t make you lose your sh*t like the UD1.
…but I’m just sayin’, the commercial might be hotter than BP3 itself…
We all know Jay-Z’s a lyrical genius, but damn, bet you didn’t know he goes this complex on his sh*t! (After you read this, come back and tell me what you thought of it…)
Which got me to thinking: Have you ever tried to actually listen to a Common Market track the whole way through and understand what RA Scion is really talking about? It’s damn near impossible. I’ve tried numerous times and I usually end up losing track of what he’s saying. I just start zoning out to a point where the beat and the sound of RA’s voice blend together into one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be helpful if all of CM’s albums came with Cliff’s Notes so us fans could understand exactly what the f*ck it is he’s saying.
The fact that RA’s rhymes are so dense is only evidence of just how much of a genius he is, but he also makes it impossible for fans to rhyme along at shows. (If it weren’t for the call-and-response of “Every Last One of Us,” we’d be stuck with just the head-nodding.) I think RA gets this, because for a minute he was posting notes along with lyrics on his blog, Six Minutes to Sunrise, generously letting us in to the backstage of his brain. Here’s his “lyrics to go” for “Trouble Is.” Helpful, yes, but still mostly confounding.
It’s all love, though, RA. If it weren’t for you (and other artists like you), I wouldn’t have anything to show those folks who say hip-hop music isn’t intelligent.
Do work, CM!