• Industry #4080

    Rating the Grammys’ Album of the Year Awards

    (Reposting this in honor of Bruno Mars’ undeserved win this year.)

    1959-1966: Skipping ahead. The Grammys did not acknowledge the rock ‘n’ soul era during these years. The Beatles were nominated for Help! in 1966.
    1967: Frank Sinatra, A Man and His Music <<<<< The Beatles, Revolver
    1968: The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
    1969: Glen Campbell, By the Time I Get to Phoenix (shrugs)
    1970: Blood Sweat & Tears, Blood Sweat and Tears <<<<< The Beatles, Abbey Road
    1971: Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
    1972: Carole King, Tapestry = Isaac Hayes, Shaft
    1973: The Concert for Bangladesh <<<<< Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson
    1974: Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
    1975: Stevie Wonder, Fulfillingess’ First Finale = Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark
    1976: Paul Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years (shrugs)
    1977: Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life
    1978: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours = Steely Dan, Aja; The Eagles, Hotel California
    1979: Saturday Night Fever
    1980: Billy Joel, 52nd Street (shrugs)
    1981: Christopher Cross, Christopher Cross (shrugs)
    1982: John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy (shrugs — but fuck, this was two years after John Lennon was assassinated, so it gets a pass)
    1983: Toto, Toto IV (shrugs)
    1984: Michael Jackson, Thriller
    1985: Lionel Richie, Can’t Slow Down <<<<< Prince, Purple Rain; Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.
    1986: Phil Collins, No Jacket Required (shrugs)
    1987: Paul Simon, Graceland <<<<< Janet Jackson, Control; Peter Gabriel, So
    1988: U2, The Joshua Tree = Prince, Sign O’ The Times
    1989: George Michael, Faith
    1990: Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time (shrugs)
    1991: Quincy Jones, Back on the Block (shrugs)
    1992: Natalie Cole, Unforgettable…With Love <<<<< R.E.M., Out of Time
    1993: Eric Clapton, Unplugged <<<<< U2, Achtung Baby
    1994: The Bodyguard soundtrack (shrugs)
    1995: Tony Bennett, MTV Unplugged (shrugs)
    1996: Alanis Morrissette, Jagged Little Pill
    1997: Celine Dion, Falling Into You <<<<< Beck, Odelay; Fugees, The Score
    1998: Bob Dylan, Time out of Mind <<<<< Radiohead, OK Computer (but hey, it’s Bob Dylan)
    1999: Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
    2000: Santana, Supernatural (shrugs)
    2001: Steely Dan, Two Against Nature <<<<< Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP; Radiohead, Kid A
    2002: O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack = OutKast, Stankonia (being generous here)
    2003: Norah Jones, Come Away With Me = Eminem, The Eminem Show
    2004: OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below = The White Stripes, Elephant; Missy Elliott, Under Construction
    2005: Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company <<<<< Green Day, American Idiot; Usher, Confessions
    2006: U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb <<<<< Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi; Kanye West, Late Registration
    2007: Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way <<<<< Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds
    2008: Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters <<<<< Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
    2009: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand <<<<< Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
    2010: Taylor Swift, Fearless = Lady Gaga, The Fame; Beyoncé, I Am…Sasha Fierce
    2011: Arcade Fire, The Suburbs 
    2012: Adele, 21
    2013: Mumford & Suns, Babel <<<<< Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE
    2014: Daft Punk, Random Access Memories = Kendrick Lamar, good kid, MAAD city
    2015: Beck, Morning Phase <<<<< Beyoncé, Beyoncé
    2016: Taylor Swift, 1989 <<<<< Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
    2017: Adele, 25 <<<<< Beyoncé, Lemonade
    2018: Bruno Mars, 24K Magic <<<<< Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

    (shrugs): Underwhelming slate of candidates. Next year, do better.
    =: Other candidates were as equally deserving as the winner.
    <<<<<: Shouldn’t have won.

    (Originally posted on February 12, 2017)

  • Industry #4080

    Where is the new turntablism?

    Last weekend, I went to Skratch Bastid’s BBQ afternoon party at the Phoenix Hotel. It was fun, if not as decadent and raunchy (or “messy,” as my friend put it) as past bacchanals at a San Francisco hotel that encourages guests to “rock out.” Cosmo Baker spun a pleasing array of 90s and 00s chestnuts along with some vintage P-Funk. Skratch Bastid peppered his set with rhythmic scratching of the kind rarely heard since Serato and other digital setups conquered the professional DJ world. And Just Blaze’s set elicited a rousing, drunken (at least among many in the audience) singalong of the best of 00s radio rap.

    In short, it was a joyful anachronism. Most of the music played were tried-and-true classics. The only contemporary rap voices I heard was a little bit of Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest’s “We the People,” Vince Staples’ “Big Fish,” and YG’s de rigueur “FDT.” There was nothing that would surprise, upset or challenge a “real hip-hop” fan.

    Skratch Bastid is part of a younger generation of hip-hop DJs keeping the spirit of turntablism alive. (I haven’t listened to his mixtapes yet.) But as entertaining as his set that afternoon was, it also illustrated why the form hasn’t evolved since the late 90s, when the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Triple Threat and the Beat Junkies mounted a valiant stand against the lamestream’s formulaic DAT tape antics.  These days, DJs with cutting-and-scratching skills seem reluctant to engage with new rap beyond obvious “conscious” folks like Kendrick. Instead, they drift into other, less culturally-fraught styles, whether it’s Jake One blending 80s boogie-funk curios, A-Trak pumping up radio hits by Lil Uzi Vert and Kanye West with EDM, or the LA beat scene blurring together grime, house and footwork. Some of it could be classified as hip-hop DJ’ing, but it’s often too diffuse to qualify as such.

    I know that many of those beat scene folks fuck with rap in the 10s, too. When I saw Flying Lotus perform three years ago, he gleefully used Waka Flocka Flame “Hard in Da Paint” to pound the audience into a frenzy. But he’s a laptop wizard, and doesn’t use the kind of cutting techniques that pioneers like Q-Bert employ. Where are the jocks beat juggling the sepulchral opening tones of Future’s “Mask Off,” or chopping up Playboi Carti’s “milly rock” hook on “Magnolia”? Where are the DJs mounting a movement as aesthetically relevant as turntablism once was? If it’s out there, I haven’t heard it yet. I’m waiting, and I’m all ears.

  • Industry #4080

    “Take off that Onyx T-shirt”

    This is a screen cap of Eminem during his interview in the forthcoming HBO documentary The Defiant Ones. When I saw it, I thought about two things:

    *In 1994, I witnessed KRS-One give an incredible performance in San Francisco. This was when he was at the height of his powers, and often mentioned as one of the best rappers alive, if not ever. But what I remember most is how he’d frequently stop mid-song and dive right into off-the-dome freestyles, riffing extemporaneously and lodging random disses. One of his unexpected targets was Onyx; he turned to one of his hypemen and said, “You should take off that Onyx T-shirt.”

    I don’t know whether he had “beef” with Onyx, or if he just didn’t like their music at the time. Much like the subliminals at rival rappers that Kool Keith lodged during his Ultramagnetic years, Kris’ remark may have been the kind of unfiltered opinion you can rarely get away with nowadays, not with Complex and other trendspotting sites ready to pump up any lyrical remark into a controversial “stray shot,” and not with audiences filming every performance with their phones for social media dispersal.

    Having said that, when I saw Chance the Rapper perform at the Greek Theatre last year, he said something to the effect of, “Are you ready for the blessings? Not the fake blessings you hear about…but the real blessings.” It was clearly aimed at Big Sean’s “Blessed,” and how the Detroit rapper equated material success with being in God’s grace. However, Chance’s critique went unmentioned on the Internets.

    *Did you notice that Eminem is developing a bit of a widow’s peak in the photo? It looks like he’s starting to lose his hair.

  • Industry #4080

    Love/Hate: J Cole

  • Industry #4080,  Notes

    The Black Box

    How to reduce the errata of summer 2015 into a signal moment? There was Drake vs. Meek Mill, which was quickly subsumed by Dr. Dre’s Compton, Straight Outta Compton and, according to a deliciously provocative Byron Crawford e-book, Beatings By Dre. There was Vince Staples, Boogie, and the new wave of West Coast street rap. There was the rising tide of novelty rap, which initially felt refreshing and charming (hi, Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen”), but now feels increasingly noxious and cynical (thanks, 300 Entertainment).

    There was the #FutureHive, which proved to be substantially smaller than the #BeyHive, but at least helped Future snag a number-one chart position for his DS2. There was the industrious Mello Music Group, and the indefatigable Adrian Younge. There were plenty of “surprise” albums, some widely discussed (Lil Wayne’s FWA), others barely noted (B.o.B.’s Psycadelik Thoughtz). And there was the usual slow bleed of fuckery: Action Bronson “dissed” Ghostface Killah, Nicki Minaj “tone policed” Miley Cyrus, Lil Wayne vs. Birdman & Young Thug, Kanye for Prez, Troy Ave’s album sales, blah blah blah.

    Sadly, a few of our voices didn’t make it through the season. RIP to Pumpkinhead, Hussein Fatal of the Outlawz, Capo from Chief Keef’s Glo Gang crew, Sean Price, DJ Swiftrock, Joey Robinson Jr., and Japanese producer DJ Deckstream.

    The wonderful world of rap felt relevant, in a way it hasn’t in some time. Some fans have giddily claimed that this is the best year the genre has ever had, but given its forty-year history that’s entirely implausible. (Please refer to the years 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998…) Still, it’s clear that it is bouncing back from a creatively fallow 2014 that neither Run the Jewels nor YG could rescue, and a four-year drought of black stars in the top tier of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart that, intentionally or not, often appeared like a whitewash.

    Yet as rap increases its presence, we continue to invest in assumptions about how the industry works, how the music is produced, and how it eventually reaches our ears. When Meek Mill revealed that Drake used a ghostwriter for his guest verse on Meek’s “R.I.C.O.,” some websites were quick to follow-up with listicles, as if the practice has been completely aired out. But more remarkable was when Funkmaster Flex played a few reference vocals made by Quentin Miller for Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late. He turned corporeal rumors into undeniable facts…or were they? Drake has yet to directly address the accusations, and his longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib as well as Miller categorically denied them.

    A similar quandary faces Dr. Dre’s “legendary” career. He’s never commented on evidence, compiled over decades of sundry interviews and rumors, that Warren G, Daz Dillinger and Colin Wolfe produced large chunks of The Chronic. Yes, much of his talent lies in weaving strands of music, from beats made by others to interpolations of samples (some of which he claimed was original music, only to be sued later on), into a patented Dre sound through console mixing and other engineering tricks. And since Timbaland, Kanye West, and other mainstream brands are known to outsource their actual music making, perhaps we don’t need the hoary hip-hop myth that the producer makes the beat, and the rapper writes the rhymes. The first part of that is easy to let go of, but what about the second?

    With little hard evidence, inconsistent liner notes, and sometimes nonexistent ASCAP and BMI credits, any number of self-promoting types that claim to scribble lyrics for the rich and shameless can attempt to sway us with unverified tales. Remarkably, and in spite of our inexhaustible appetite for any morsel of celebrity news, we’re collectively resigned to the fact that the question of authorship in mainstream rap may never be settled. We continue to imagine that rap music hails from a singular (and usually male) voice rising from the urban wilderness, speaking truth to power, even though the reality is that the genre is a black box, powering a complex and rancorous multi-billion-dollar industry, yet itself sealed from outside view. All we can do is enjoy the finished product.