20060330

You Pronounced Him

DJ Green Lantern: Alive on Arrival Intro
Alive on Arrival

Pardon me, and something about laughing at crack, but I'll play idealistic fool here:
Sampling a thematically stiff Scorsese flick (John Goodman and BX native Nestor Serrano in, ahem, wait for it...Bringing Out the Dead) as intro to "Intro" leads ponderous punks like me to think Green's titular ER "arrival" is none other than the deadest metaphor in the game, the quote-unquote Death of Hiphop. (And to mention: the title, and movie sample, implicitly cite Cube's identically named '92 joint which ends -- badly for its g.s.wounded victim-- in an emergency ward. And, okay, Inspectah Deck, who's been lyrically dead for years, now currently heard jacking his own late 90's swagger, a good look it's not.) Right, right, Oprah killed rap music and books, har-dee-har. But fuck a cynic for a bit; let's fuck with big ideas. I'm Curious.

Not buying rigormortis yet, but neither does Green ("You told me he was dead, flatlined." "Got better."), and not without a sense of humor ("Wake up Dr. Starks, tell him we're gonna need him, STAT"). But Green's Intro -- and the tape at large -- scans as vicious backhander to DJs who poison mixhuts worldwide with ephemeral radio somethings slapped together & "sponsored" by yr latest "Kill Dat Nigga!" Xbox jumpoff. No shit Green Lantern's one of the good guys, but headphone sessions with AOA reward re-listens, and remind you just how much most "DJs" skew Tanner rather than Premo.

"Speaks with his hands": "(B.I.G.) Niggas say I died dead in the streets/ Nigga, I'm getting high, getting head on the beach/ (Jay) Rumor has it/ (B.I.G.) Niggas say I died dead on the streets/ (Jay) Pardon me I had to..." (you know the rest). Something that peeps used to say about Premier, but fitting here since Green wields this artform as expertly as any DJ worth his decks should. It's bigger than that too (here's where I'm to be put on blast if I overstep): Lest we forget the equilibrium between MC & DJ wasn't always as orality-fixated as 'tis today. Hiphop-writ-large was once enjoyed as a strictly live performance medium, DJ-reverent and at first merely tolerant of the call&response that eventually ate the pie whole. Sure, DJ's won't ever return to being rap's end-all-be-all-central-entertainment (and to be honest, would we ever want that when Tip's got more charisma in his upper lip than Drama's got intrusive, self-promoting mixtape tics?), but Lant's skills reveal as pure an aesthetic appreciation for chaotic word salad as, say, any other Clientele you could namecheck, and they (re)assert a bit of control/artistry/whatever as an engaging entertainer.

New role, but kinda same as the old: surgical archivist, fiending for lyrics & beats, severing them from stanzas, reattaching and revivifying them in new schemes as exciting as the past ones. Its collaged orality that reveals the keen connective tissue in the selector's head, while learning y'all a li'l history lesson. Then again, later on the tape, Jay: "Green, fuck it, just become a producer already."

Only place I got to check ya, bruh, is on the 'This is an Album' tip: Nope, This is the kind of MIXTAPE that had cats quoting the DJ's scratches back in those Clue-some, Stretch-y days (Try listening to Ghost's "Survivor" freestyle here without catching yrself aping Juelz's "Call me a survivor/ C-Call me a grinder"). Mixtapes have their own ethic, their own scruffy-but-attractive aesthetic. Fuck it man, you made an "honest-to-goodness mixtape" as my mans Louie B was wont to say, and dope shit at that. Be proud of it; they're few and far between.

20060329

It Is What It Is

Cam'ron & Freeky Zekey: Talkin' About Cam Going to Jail
Cam'ron: Wet Wipes
The Inc Files 7

Been beating this trunk for a while and here's the coming out: Skits are the new songs. Hypothesis reared and ready, New Jersey's erstwhile huckster is the dummy. Scene: Hot 97 interview. Players: Your boy and one of the best hollers in the game, Dipset's own Tony Yay. Motivation: Cam's apparent jailtime and Zeke's been-had-that jailtime.

Like it wasn't already a made-for-TV thriller, "Testify" hisses underneath. Cam practiced his lines in the mirror so, even though this is supposed to be a hard-hitting Larry King style impromptu chat, he soon takes grip. "Pardon me," he says with the politeness of Trump pissing all over the seat, "I'm in interview mode now."

Sometimes this talk-turned-skit turns into a sitcom: "I get shot and go to jail while people who shoot me are still on the streets!" is accompanied by canned booing and "I'm a charity giving citizen-- donated thousands to Katrina" gets some fake applause from the unheard effects genius (Banco?). Zeke turns up out of nowhere getting all wacky neighbor, making sure we still know he's a "Nextel dude, not a pre-paid Cingular dude." So is he chirping from the bing (bing)? Can he shank Travis Barker? Anyway, he's set to drop out of the pen "late '06" (early '08 in Dipland) and his welcome home requests are modest, just "a four-door Maserati with his face in the rims." Done and done.

Oh right, the song. Cam stutters a lot? Kinda funny a little. He references "Duncan Heinz," which Jay did 10 years ago. But it's not a subliminal (I think). That's the thing, not many inside-the-brain crevices here, more like cleaning exteriors. "Go get your wet wipes!" There's a Beautiful Mind oral sex bit but I'm over that. I'm saying, when is Brain Candy going to get its due with the head 'n' helmet massive?

All this and more is why Killa Season the movie will be better than Killa Season the album. Because Cam is bigger than his rhymes. Because he's clowned Bill O'Riley and Tim Westwood. Because, with his vision held back by three and a half minutes, his mind trips over itself trying to fit it all and stumbles. Because if you're the World's Fattest Cat, it's hard to move.

Barney Rubble With the Top Popped

T.I.: King Back
T.I.: What You Know
T.I.: Get It
King

Any asshole with a keyboard and two dicks to type with can walk you through "What You Know" and the regal horns big sound "alas, T.I. is the king," etc. Which is frustrating to an extent. "Know" does what every pro white rap consumer loathes: Turns regular white non-consumers into huge rap fans because it's that good, and everybody knows it, and no matter how little or much backreading, slumming in the ATL blogs or taking pictures of rappers at car conferences, "What You Know" just is better than anything either party's heard for a while. Yeah, my money's on Stack Bundles too.

Let's go beyond the OMGs though: great production, but it's Tip's flow that makes "Know" work. He's steady, long, and wide--never "spits" the words, never has to, as he's merely the mouthpiece for something greater coursing him. What do you know about that? Getting romantic, sorry. But it's like what Jameson Marvin said about good choral singing back in my glee club days: Keep the breath going, the mouth merely shapes the air. You get the visual in the "Know" video, T.I.'s mouth stuck in that half figure-eight snarl, minimal lip/jaw movements. It's not just a look--it's a look with actual repercussions (i.e. not just a look).

Not to ruin a good thing, but there are decisions T.I.'s making w/r/t word choice that keeps his flow so uninterrupted. Unwitting or not--who cares--and this ain't too scientific an inquiry, just some things I've noticed, and please take issue if things get wack. T.I. avoids a lot of sounds that stop the air: Bs, Ds, Ms, Ps, Ts, Zs (which are TSs). When he does have to use them, he gets them out of the way quick, hangs on the vowels, which separates him from the H-Town clowns who power through consonants, gravel in the mouth, etc. That he rhymes "king back" with "lean back," holding that short "i" as long as lean's diphthong, speaks to the liberty he takes with vowels, though he's not obnoxious about it--compare the way Kanye drops the ends of words so sloppy, as if he's cheating or something when rapping "years" with "his" on "Golddigger."

First lines:

The first line of "King Back" is, as Standard Written English, not particularly pleasant-sounding, esp. with that run of six short vowels in the middle: "Who knew you could fit on your wrist a whole pound of diamonds." Not the best example, but watch how T.I. works it, smoothes it out, elongates: "Who knew you coo fee on ya wris-ta whole poun-da di-mons."

"Know" does subtler, beyond the typical fast/slow, shout/quiet, DMX/not-DMX choices emcees make for deliveries. "See me in ya city sittin pretty kno I'm shining dawg/ Ridin wid a couple Latin broads and a china doll," goes the first line; though T.I. changes up the rhythm on the next line to something faster, he picks that "aw" off "dawg" and "broad" and "doll"-- maybe the most natural, unconscious sound humans can muster (we make it we sigh and yawn)--and that sound gives the line its float: "And you kno how we ball (Ay)/ Ridin in shiny cars (Ay)/ Walk in designer malls (Ay)/ Buy everything we saw."

"Get It" is also worth paying attention to. It's Jack Swagger's big number, so I'll let him wax on the specifics whenever he gets to it (soon, Jack?). This being the party track, Tip's more willing to annunciate his percussives, really bang them out, spit them uh-huh. "GET" "IT" is defiantly two different words the way they're pronounced here, contrasted with the song's much looser fast-raps ("got that guacamole holy moly you don't know me"). Notice too Swizz Beats throws the mids up really high, there's no bass or treble on his voice, which softens the grate, demands replay in the way, say, Mu's "Chair Girl" cannot.

As this is a half-assed linguistic inquiry into three of the year's best songs, do any of you know of similar, for similar? I'm wondering why we (or just I?) separate flow and timbre and word choice so much, except when it's really obvious there's a connection. The whole process scares me either way--potentially dehumanizing, demystifying, overly reductive--but seems like another trick to keep up our sleeves.

20060328

Two Bottles of Hypno

Cory Mo [ft. Bun B, Slim Thug & Pimp C]: If It Ain't Me
Southern Smoke 25

I went to Houston once, a few years ago. People only wear cowboy hats in the airport, and the Rushmore school from Rushmore is right across the street from the public school from Rushmore, but other than that it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect. The heat is so oppressive that laziness becomes sort of an environmental necessity; everyone who can afford to have a pool in his backyard has one, they turn pissy-warm around mid-June, and it's almost impossible to do anything other than just sit there in a floaty chair and drift in and out of sleep. There's a lot of oil money, a lot of rich people, and you can see the sense of entitlement rising off their SUVs like steam after they leave the car wash. It definitely had something to do with where I was staying, but I didn't see anyone swanging their candy-paint cars; all I saw was big monsters cruising slow on the way to the supermarket because everything is way too far away from anything else for you to walk, and plus it's too hot. Have you ever heard people talk about real estate in New York? People mention triple-digit figures when they're talking about square-footage; it's pathetic. Rappers in Houston talk a lot about real estate, and they sound like they know what they're talking about.

"If It Ain't Me" is the first time I've heard that Houston in Houston rap, all bullhorns mounted on front bumpers and orange-tinted mirrored wrap-around sunglasses and golf-course swagger. Cory Mo sounds just like Cowboy Troy except he cusses, too-white plosives and over-enunciated ooh-sounds, like he's a white person making fun of rap music, saying absolutely nothing but very proud of himself for it. Slim Thug is amused, laughing at himself for being as fly as he is: "I'm six-six with six chicks under my wing." Pimp C gets on the hook because everyone likes the way he says "bitch." Bun actually mentions tinted Ray-Bans. It's all that kind of moneyed indolence, dudes making a rap song in between bitching about gas prices and comparing lawn furniture. The beat is straight-up goober-disco, sounds like someone turned an Allmann Brothers riff into a bassline and put some drums and organ squiggles on it. If any of these four guys have ever had a bad day in their lives (and they most certainly have), you can't hear it. It's sports music, like Huey Lewis.

20060327

Gas Brake Dip Dip

The Game [ft. E-40]: Tell Me When To Go (Remix)
Southern Smoke 25
The Game [ft. E-40]: Tell Me When To Go (Remix)
The Inc Files 7

Wack Wall Street obsessives took note, this freestyle found a spot on both The Inc Files 7 and Southern Smoke 25, not to forget several other prank mixtapes WWS-obsessive Jack Swagger prepared for my amusement. DJ Smallz is no Nu Jerzey Devil when it comes to Game dickriding, and Amadou told me Tapemasters only bring the hot shit, always, so I wondered: Is Thizz Face the new Game Face?

It is just his regular face. Like last year round now, and six months ago, and however long this guy can keep up the shapeshifting and trendfucking and 50 baiting, Game forges new friendships in the hottest new cities--drinking the purple stuff, coloring the candy paint, trapping things, whipping Ghostrider, etc. And this time out, seems that Game forgot how much he hates/needs G-Unit; depending on how you liked Game's track of Tony Yayo yelling "HERE WE GO YO!!!!" over Reel 2 Real's "I Like to Move It Move It," you could be disappointed here.

Anybody else taken by how much Game loves ghosts? "Cops pulled the Benz over," he explains. "Ain't nobody in it." But there is. Later: "Ghostride the whip/ Ghostwrite your shit/ And when I get writer's block I ghostride your bitch." I'm pretty sure that's an allusion to Hollow Man.

Elsewhere Game takes cues from Jeezy's trapper-not-rapper status, selling his rap career as a side project to his true vocation, basketball: "Got half the niggas in the NBA tryna fight me." He's like Ron Artest, he tells us. That puts Game in "pretty good rapping for an athlete" territory, next to your Tony Parkers and Terrell Owenses and (dare me) Phil Mickelsons.

More. The freestyle is also a curious though not at all subtle move toward career branding, and hints at a greater 'Game' lifestyle that includes many many things we can buy: G-Unot shirts, Hurricane sneaks, tickets to the 'Game' flick, a movie-inspired video game, and with any luck, a sport developed around a new kind of Game-branded deepwater scuba sunglasses sure to hit stores in time for Christmas.

But well you know okay okay see, Game's not hyphy. I'm not either; not faking it though. Granted as above, Game knows that whips are for ghostriding and Mac Dre is for overly sentimental touchstoning (though it's unclear whether Game thinks "Mac" is Bay for "Doctor"). The hyphy outsider has no reason to believe Game is fucking things up.

When he gets to the part when E-40 asks to "direct traffic"--a simple enough call/response that E makes all the more simple by adding "when I say something, you say it right back at me"--the masquerade is over. (Pun averted --Ed.) Game makes it through "ghostride the whip" ("GHOSTRIDE THE WHIP"), and even through the first "scrape!" ("SCRAPE"). The next 'scrape' though, Game's response accidentally falls on E-40's call. It's really small but still--dude's maxed out the chameleon thing.

Post Scrapegate: Game recognizes the error immediately, remembers to say "SCRAPE" his turn too, puts his stunna shades on, barks his way through the rest of the track like nothing ever happened. There's a reason the Tapemasters cut is nearly a minute shorter, the passage in question nowhere to be heard. Same reason I bet Smallz lets his run long. Same reason this line--"Jesus had dreads so fuck it i'ma grow some/ then i'ma shake my shit/ after that have a bitch braid my shit/ chop it off and fade my shit"--reads so damn tragic.

Ruined Men

J.R. Writer [ft. Juelz Santana]: What You Know About Crack
Writer's Block 3

Word on the block is that Jay Argggghhhh never sold. He spit fire round the camp fire and dude brought dude to dude (Cameron Giles) and dude signed dude. Sorta, even though he's on Koch (ack) and not W.B./Asylum. Now that King is finna win, people and players will horde that windswept collection of stompers for all they can muster. The game starts at Writer, who takes "What You Know," which is pro forma Dipset thievery material from git-go, and goes. J.R. chirpin: "You couldn't take this cold off my neck with Thera-Flu!" Really really doe? Yes. "I know all about crack." Dubious but we ride dirty. Santana does "dirty work" like Norm MacDonald when duke had jokes. "I'll be there in a jiffy with a bag full of Jiffy; I ain't talkin' bout peanut butter either brother." I'm sayin' these were days meant to last and we are but a victim of the Gleaming Cubes that jingle-jingle-jangle. Santana makes but a brief appearance on this thang and MURDERDEATHKILLS the shit. Actually what were we saying about Writer getting writtens for Koch? Yeah, makes sense in retrospect.