Author Archives: tyconightglow

Politic, ditto: First-Quarter Rap Music in ’08

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Ghostface’s skullcap gets really sweaty

Here is some guidance through these troubled rap times…….

LISTEN to The Big Doe Rehab. It’s still good. Ghostface’s umpteenth critically lauded solo record isn’t a novel thing to write or read about, I know, and just typing the words “Ghostface” into a WordPress blog feels vaguely wrong in some way at this point — I’m joining a chorus that’s already kinda deafening — but this record still sounds fresh and immediate. NO ONE who was making rap music in 93 can say the same about their current output.(Wait, is that true?? Nerds/fruitflies, if you’re out there, come correct me!!) The only rapper who comes frustratingly close is Nas — Nas rapping will always, always sound good, despite being his being a ponderous blowhard and all. (At least Ghostface reserves his old-guy bellyaching to interviews.)

Seriously, though. This is a stupid point — I’m going to make it anyway, but it’s a stupid point — but I’m always just astonished at how many WORDS there are on a Ghostface album. THe man has rapped the great social realist/postmodernist novel of the 20th century — and he’s not even done yet. Like any great storyteller, he repeats himself without repeating himself. “Yolanda’s House” on Rehab is a great example of a song he’s done a million times — the break-in, the panicked chase through the projects, the quick and unceremonious seduction — and yet Ghost comes to it all fresh, as if he’s never, ever rapped about this stuff before.

Plus, every word that escapes his mouth feels torn from a man who just arrived on foot from a murder scene. That helps.

MP3: “Walk Around,” people.

LISTEN to Clipse We Got It For Cheap, Vol. 3 as well, but don’t pay too close attention — you might risk realizing that the Clipse are masters of a cheap art, the punchline hocus-pocus. Still, their needle-sharp voices — Tal Rosenberg provided the most eloquent description when he noted they were “high but weighed down” — are still a pleasure, and you still get “Ill with the composition I’m Mo-ZART/You don’t want the fifth to start spittin’ so don’t start” and a thousand others. Pour it in a punchline-heavy blender with Lil Wayne’s exhausting/awesome Da Drought 3 for a particularly grueling treadmill run.

Oh, and keep listening to Liquid Swords. The answer’s in there somewhere…..

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Filed under blogosphere echo chamber, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, Stream

I’m Bad. (I’m Back.) I’m Mad. (I’m Strapped.)

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Yup.

This will be the second time this blog has incorporated or mentioned fat sayer-of-words Rick Ross. Which is a little weird since tonight represents the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to the man. (Yes, this is what I am doing at 11:05PM on a Monday night. At age 26. I’m listening to Rick Ross.) I just got a tentative deal to review the man’s sophomore effort and am sitting down to listen to his blindingly overproduced first album, Port of Miami.

The general consensus on this man is that he is a big fat lucky moron who bought one of 2006’s best novelty tracks and proceeded to rhyme “Atlantic” with “Atlantic” over it. Even Tom Breihan, widely considered the Gene Shalit of rap critics, called him a terrible rapper. I certainly don’t disagree — I’ve heard enough of his alarmingly heavy-breathing “freestyles” on the terrible mixtapes I used to buy five at a time from the corner bodega to have no illusions about the man’s rhyming abilities.
And yet when I sit down with this album, I’m surprised right away. No, it isn’t “good” — though the first third is decent — and Rick Ross is not someone I could call a “good rapper” and look at myself in the morning. But he’s at least competent. On “Push It” and “Blow,” he tosses vowel sounds around in a nimble-for-a-fat-guy way, like seeing your dad hustle to scoop a ground ball at the company softball game . I mean, “I handle coke like a vandal off the banana boat/Bananas in the rifle, no ciphers, I’m just a man of note” certainly isn’t worthy of Rakim, but its better than the line “Mo’ trucks (mo’ trucks, mo’ bucks, mo’ freaks, mo’ butts” would suggest he’s capable of. By my count, at least, there’s more wordplay in the first four songs of Port of Miami than on 50 Cent’s last two studio albums. And that’s a really damning statement…..about me, mostly because it implies that I’ve listened to enough Rick Ross and 50 Cent to make the comparison.

To be sure, Rick Ross has nothing resembling “flow;” he just kind of mumbles all his words before the beat hits and hopes all the pieces fall into place. He also never varies the tone of his voice. And yet there’s something oddly hypnotic about his wounded-rhinocerous cadence, especially the way he punches in the lat two syllables of EVERY LINE. This is borne, of course, of his inability to string together two lines of the English language back-to-back, but the odd emphases created by this technique are ear-catching. Say what you want about this guy, and plenty of rap critics have lobbed some pretty toxic spitballs, but he has taken the rudimentary tools available to him and created a language all his own, like rap’s Nell.

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Taaay iiinna WEEEEEEND.

Or for another comparison, take this verse of “Hustlin,” where he rhymes “twenty-two” with “twenty-two” SEVEN TIMES IN A ROW, punching the words in at the end like a watermark every time.

Don’t tote no … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO’S!!”

Magnum cost me ... (punch-in):”TWENTY-TWO!!”

Tatted on the … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!”

Birds go for … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!!”

Lil mama super thick, she say she … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!!”

She seen them … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO’S!!!”

We in room … (punch-in): “TWO TWENTY-TWO!!!”

Rawwss understands repetition’s ability to create slack-jawed, glassy-eyed obedience at least as well as this guy (LOL TOPICAL).

Sigh. There. I can now say with relief that while I am regrettably not done thinking about Rick Ross, I am at least done thinking about him FOR FREE.

Kisses.

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Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, Re-assess, Scraping the Crust off of the underside of the bottom o

News Flash: Some rap dork likes the new Ghostface record!

I’m not even sure what I need to say about the new Ghostface that five hundred other white bloggers will not helpfully offer over the next two weeks. I mean, it’s incredible in all the ways that every Ghostface record has been — hungry, vivid, with beats that are both slightly outre and viscerally satisfying — much like Ghost’s rapping itself. A lot of people are rightfully expressing disbelief at the statistical improbability of a rapper entering his forties dropping his seventh solid-to-classic album in a row; it seems like everyone is waiting for frailty to set in. Ghostface is just not having it. Despite his evident discomfort in the commercial sphere, (see his recent, disheartening rambling about “ringtone rap” and the lack of lyricism in Southern hip hop) he has stayed lean and hungry. If anything, he sounds hungrier now; his voice has grown even more strident and unhinged over the years.

But like I said, what on earth can I offer that will make this little late-night rant about Ghostface worth your click? You’ve got a lot of other places to be, and I’m sure right now Tom Breihan is busy chaining together adjectives in a clumsy effort to re-re-describe Ghost’s voice.

I mean, these days, liking Ghostface is to rap as liking Miles Davis was to jazz in the sixties, or liking Ray Charles was to rhythm and blues was in the fifties; everyone knows to do it. Any aspiring hipster who is hoping his CD collection just might help him get laid knows to proudly declaim his love of Ghost. The man’s reputation, at this point, needs no further burnishing.

But here I be, listening to Big Doe Rehab, and marveling at the storytelling abilities, the images, both gruesome (after shooting a man point blank in the head: “Oxy Clean for a week around the chest area, right hand side/I’m plucking off little pieces of meat”) and hilarious (see the fishsticks n’ foreplay saga of “Yolanda’s House”), but always uncannily vivid. Not to contribute to the ongoing fetishism of this incredibly hard-working artist, but he is starting to assume the qualities of a force of nature. We Can’t Be Stopped, and all that.

So go buy it when it comes out. But of course, if you’re even here, you’ve already downloaded the leak. The enemy is us.

NEXT UP ON THE MOST CUTTING-EDGE RAP BLOG EVAR: LIL WAYNE’S LYRICS ARE OFTEN QUITE SURREAL, NO? ALSO, YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD, BUT THERE’S THIS GROUP CLIPSE THAT RAPS ABOUT DRUGS!

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Filed under blogosphere echo chamber, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC

Devil got my head in a vise…

“Was terrified of death but I don’t fear it now/Was blind, dumb, and deaf but I hear it now.”

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No one. I mean NO ONE. Does world-weary paranoia like Beanie Sigel. No one rages more bitterly against life’s indignities. And no one sounds more like Scarface in his raging, shivering, powerless prime when he’s on.

All the proof you’ll ever need of any of this should be here.

But Beanie has given you more. “Judgment Day” samples “War Pigs,” and is as good as — nah, better than — I imagined it to be. Beans attacks the track with an astonishing ferocity and fills the verses with vividly bleak imagery. Some immediate quotables (I can barely type fast enough to catch them as they strafe by):

“Satan’s whispers got me back on my dark liquor/That firewater killin’ my liver/ The snake hisses in my ear, he’s a natural born killer.”

“I wake up with my sheets soaked, half-asleep/Hearing Tupac’s voice screaming blasphemy.”

The delivery is vintage Beans — every single line spat through gritted teeth, the sound of barely contained murderous impulses. He raps like his soul’s at stake.

Here. I’m sure I have more to say, but fuck that all for right now. Just listen. I’ll be back for more later…

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Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, rock/roll

Yikes, Trae’s music is really fucking depressing.

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Also, every single album cover looks exactly like this.

For those of you who don’t know (read: anyone/everyone but me, Doorknobz, Tom Breihan, Noz, and prolly Jon Kalmuss-Katz) Trae is a Texan rapper who sounds like he has the world’s worst head cold. Seriously, when he mutters “yeah,” it sounds like “byeahd.” He can hardly talk. He’s like the guy one of those ads for nasal spray where the whole head turns into a giant nose. His plugged-up mumble a fascinating instrument, and like a lot of circa-2007 rap dudes (Jeezy, obviously, but also East Coast weirdos like goblin-gangsta Peedi Crakk or yelling donkey-bray gangsta Freeway) he knows exactly how to use it to maximum effect.

Trae raps on every song exactly the same way: double-time, with his already overwhelmingly thick voice doubled so that it cuts through EVERYTHING, kinda the same way Sabbath piled/compressed their guitars in layers and layers until the sound was so thick it was like a lumbering beast. Trae has no range: his singular mode of expression is the sullen mumble. However, he’s elevated sullen mumbling into about as high an art form as it could ever be.

About two weeks ago, he released Life Goes On, the followup to last year’s unrelentingly dark and magnificently sad Restless, to almost zero fanfare. None of the places that repped for Restless last year have uttered a peep about this record, so I guess it falls to come-latelys like me to rep for the album while they rep for, um, Mitchy Slick or Wiz Khalifa or something.

First off, it ain’t as good. Like, the middle section is straight boring, and the song he does with 2Pac’s dessicated, rotting corpse is terrible. Production-wise, whereas Restless made a virtue of monolithic uniformity, this one just sounds flat in places. The sound of Restless boiled all of Houston rap’s sonic signifiers — slow, creeping basslines, chopped and screwed vocals, towering synths, piano plinks — down to an essentialist sludge, so that the album practically exuded Rap-A-Lot records in general and Screwed-Up Click in particular. In its rigorous formalism, it reminds me, oddly, of how DJ Premier honed and perfected mid-90’s East Coast rap’s signature sound to the point that he now partially embodies the era. Life Goes On gets a lot of the same Houston-rap notes right but somehow misses the music; many of the productions just sound rote.

Still, there are enough flashes of brilliance that the album shouldn’t be immediately consigned to the one-hot-album-followed-by-ummm-WHATEVER bin. Case in point: “The Truth,” a song that pretty much defines what Trae does best — again, sullen mumbling — and takes it to its logical extreme. There are no choruses or hooks on “The Truth” — just one long, pained rant, made even more affecting by its impotently under-the-breath delivery. He’s not confronting anyone with his endless list of grievances — he’s muttering them to himself in the corner. Trae, if his lyrics are any indication, has led a horrifically difficult life, haunted by death, and it shows here: “I know my brother Dickey sittin stressed/First his gal got killed, then his baby mama next/He been gone since ’92 for somethin he didn’t do” he says at one point, and then later: “I got a call about ten, I can’t go through this again/Terrell’s momma just died to be an angel in the wind.” The song doesn’t end; it just fades out, with Trae in mid-verse: “Damn, it’s like I’m out of breath/Praying through the night I can bring my niggas back up out of death.” God knows how long he went after the fader was brought down.

The goods: The Truth

BONUS TRACK: Smile ft. Jadakiss and Styles P

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Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC

Picture yourself in a living room: The Spoon Post

So I’ve been thinking about writing this post for days (UPDATE: weeks) now, and fear (UPDATE: know) that the initial inspiration may have drained out of me. But I’m cracking my knuckles and giving it a shot anyway, dammit, cuz this blog needs a post! Our readers need constant, updated entertainment! (ALL of them!) Keep shovelin’ motherfucker! Must feed the gaping maw of the Internet!

So here’s what I’ve been thinking, for days now, about Spoon.

…. giving you a second to cue your favorite Spoon record ….

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Ok …..GO:

Spoon are one of the many indie-rock bands overlooked by Sasha Frere-Jones in his bizarrely generalized critique of indie rock a few weeks ago in the New Yorker, in that they generally understand the combust

ive power of rhythm, of restraint and abandon, of booming bass frequencies and sharp percussion, and other qualities generally ascribed to “black” music. The best Spoon songs introduce a simple, rhythmic figure, often on piano, and then punctuate it with small, striking elements – well-placed handclaps, for instance, (the chorus on “The Way We Get By”) or a melancholy two-note doodle of a melody surrounded by space (see: Everything Hits At Once, at the 1:03 mark). This oft-remarked-on use of space is what distinguishes them from pretty much everyone else in indie rock (Interpol understood it for a minute or two there as well), and it’s why their music shares some (SOME!) DNA with Timbaland, whose music is often so spacious as to feel cavernous. Every band member contributes to this sensibility, but it’s Jim Eno’s drumming — arguably the greatest drummer in indie rock — that pretty much embodies Spoon’s musical philosophy.

But that’s not even what interests me most about Spoon: that’s just what attracted me to them initially, and what most critics gravitate towards when writing about them. (Either Mike Powell of Stylus said it best, with his review of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” — “Spoon has made a career out of being terse” — or it was Sasha Frere-Jones, in a much more characteristic — read “excellent” — piece).

No, what makes me return again and again to Spoon is the lurking spectre of Britt Daniels’s concealed hurt, which broods beneath the music’s swagger. It’s the subsumed hurt of a 50’s-generation male, the kind Tommy Lee Jones portrays so beautifully in No Country for Old Men. (He achieves this largely by standing around being baggy. Method acting at its finest.) Emotions never coalesce into words; they just swim around until they find an outlet, whether appropriate or no. Cue “The Fitted Shirt,” a song from Girls Can Tell that expresses both Daniel’s veneration of his father’s generation and his uneasy sense that he will never measure up in their eyes: “When I was growing up, and Dad head off to work/He put coat and tie on/over fitted shirt/Nothing else would fit right, or seem so directly applied/the fitted shirt hung on me.”

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De Niro as Jake LaMotta as self-flagellating Modern American Male. (Remember, this post is about SPOON.)

Fitted shirts aren’t the only by-products of malehood of that Daniels fetishizes. In “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” he sighs the words, over and over: “It’s just my/Japanese Cigarette Case/Bring the mirror to my face/Let all my memories be gone,” and I picture him clutching the little case tightly as if it were a talisman that could ward off weakness or self-doubt. Then there’s “The Underdog,” in which the bright, cheery horn section is undercut with Daniels wistfully singing: “Picture yourself in a living room/Your pipe and slippers laid out for you.” Your PIPE AND SLIPPERS? Now we’ve bypassed James Dean and headed straight for Ward Cleaver. Even with this uninentionally comical image (where’s the dog bringing a newspaper in its mouth?) the longing is clear, and affecting. Daniels imbues these inanimate objects –the fitted shirt, the pipe and slippers, the cigarette case — with a profound sense of moral authority, of the stoic wisdom of his father’s generation.

Then there’s the messier, more stereotypically “feminine” side of his persona, which finds its way out in moments of arrogant, wishful denial (“I turn my feelings off/made my untouchable for life” he insists in “I Turn My Camera On“) or in startling moments of open-hearted confession. The clearest example of this is in “I Summon You,” perhaps the most emotionally raw moment in Spoon’s catalogue. Over a simple acoustic-guitar shuffle, Daniels mournfully surveys a wrecked relationship, which climaxes in the devastatingly succinct line “How’d we get here? It’s too late to break it off.” If the terse, indirect nature of his other music is to be believed, Daniels and his other probably “got here” through mutual misunderstanding — “the signals have crossed” — that Daniels tries to cut through with a simple, pleading directive: “I summon you here, my love.” Then, silence, as he waits and the guitar ticks off the seconds.

There’s a lot more out there, but not sure I’m ready to tackle it all. Consider this an installment. (Ah, the privileges of blogging. Imagine doing this with a paper?) Till next time, dearies…..

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Filed under post-millenial manhood, Posted by Tyco, rock/roll

Regret is beatific.

And “Someone Great” is great. This might be my record of the year, which is an annoying, critic-y way of saying that I hold it lovingly to my chest and will probably treasure it for years. The song has a gorgeous, sighing rhythm, stemming from the gossamer layer of white noise that pulses quietly in the foreground. Gently insistent, it lulls you with its drowsy rhythm and frustrates your efforts to clearly hear the song all at once — the proceedings, as a result, seem both distorted and somewhat remote. “The Dream of Evan and Chan” played a similar, bewitching trick on your senses, as it seems to emerge from nothingness and dematerialize into the ether. Murphy sketches the acute pain and dazed bemusement immediately following an incomprehensible loss in fine, vivid strokes:

I wake up and the phone is ringing

Surprised, as its early

And that should be a perfect morning

Then, something’s a problem

To tell the truth, I saw it coming

The way you were breathing

But nothing can prepare you for it;

The voice on the other end …

Then he trails off pensively, and you’re left with a burbling keyboard riff while you ponder everything else the narrator might be thinking. The song doesn’t raise goosebumps because it doesn’t contain any epiphanies, just a wistful, clear-eyed sigh of regret.

Rawws

Rick Ross has nothing to do with this post.

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Filed under Beatific sadness, Posted by Tyco, Stream