• Reviews

    Source Material: MF Doom, Operation: Doomsday

    (Note: This was originally written as part of Rhapsody’s “Source Material” series, which explored the influences behind a classic album. The influences listed are titles that are available in the service.)

    The dust has yet to settle on the indie-rap renaissance of the late 90s, with critics and fans fiercely divided on which albums constitute classics. One title they agree on is MF Doom’s 1999 masterwork Operation: Doomsday.

    Daniel Dumile has not been photographed in public without his metal mask for over a decade. He launched his career as Zev Love X, one-third of the Long Island rap trio KMD, a group he shared with his brother, DJ and producer Subroc. In 1991 KMD issued its memorable debut, Mr. Hood, and were quickly lumped with the quirky post-D.A.I.S.Y. Age of groups like Leaders of the New School and Black Sheep. However, KMD’s second album, Black Bastards, was much harder-edged, reflecting the hip-hop world’s rising interest in gangster-ism. The album’s sardonic tone, and particularly its controversial art depicting a Sambo-like cartoon being hung from a noose, led to Elektra dropping KMD from its roster. Just before Black Bastards was shelved in 1993 1994, Subroc was killed in a hit-and-run accident. (Black Bastards finally got an official release in 2001.)

    Dumile retreated from the spotlight for a few years before issuing several 12-inches on Fondle ‘Em Records as Metal Face Doom, starting with 1997’s “Dead Bent,” and then Doomsday in the fall of 1999. While most of the era’s major acts like Company Flow and Jurassic 5 approximated grimy boom bap, MF Doom culled from adult contemporary chestnuts such as Atlantic Starr’s “Always” and James Ingram’s “One Hundred Ways.” These quiet storm ballads, bits of which he looped then sped and slowed-down, contrasted with the fervent mic-trading of Doom and his crew (whom were later known as the Monsta Island Czars). Cumulatively, they create a tone of sadness and loss.

  • Scenes Lists & Things

    Sisters With Voices: R&B Girl Groups in the 90s

    Sisters With Voices. Total. Destiny’s Child. You didn’t need a lyric sheet to understand the legion of R&B girl groups who dominated urban pop music in the 1990s. It was plain to hear, from the coquettishly sexual lyrics to their sassy, irreverent tones and lovely multi-part harmonies. Sadly, music critics often gave them cursory attention while devoting their time to untangling rap music that often required a degree in regional slang to understand. And between the breakup of Destiny’s Child and the emergence (and quick dissolution) of Danity Kane, the R&B girl group phenomenon seems like it’s over. Perhaps there can only be one diva in today’s gladiatorial fame Matrix, leaving little room for sisterhood.

  • Notes

    Notes on Young Money

    In Weezy-ology, there is good Lil Wayne and bad Lil Wayne. Good Lil Wayne is the dastardly New Orleans weed head, the sizzurp-drinking gangster that sires children with beautiful actresses, gets locked up on gun and drug charges and records hours and hours of songs; a fountain of countless punchlines so funny he personifies comedy, and the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive.” Bad Lil Wayne is the Auto-Tuned fool, the guy who straps on a guitar at shows even though he can barely play it, the “son” who used to kiss his “daddy” Birdman on the lips, the would-be artiste who sang too much on Tha Carter III, maker of the pillow-humping ode “Lollipop,” and the lovable ragamuffin whom teenage girls and middle-aged ladies from The View treat like a dreadlocked kewpie doll. We tend to treat these sides of Dwayne Carter as binary objects, deifying the former and cracking jokes about the latter. Still, they are one and the same man, and the Young Money clique is the summation of Lil Wayne’s true ambition.

  • 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)

  • ghost in the machine

    The House List ep. 68: A guide

    Last December, Peter Agoston invited me to participate in his podcast The House List. I’ve known Agoston for over two decades, dating back to when we both contributed to URB magazine. He currently manages Dam-Funk, occasionally issues music on his Female Fun Records imprint, and is working on a new project with Kendra Morris.

    During our hour-long talk, we touched on a lot of topics. If you weren’t immediately familiar with them – or if you had trouble understanding me due to my halting, sandpapery voice – then you might have not understood what we were talking about. So I decided to compile a cheat sheet that compiles most of the primary subjects we discussed.

    As for my self-published 2015 book, Notes on Post-Millennial Rap? Unfortunately, it is out of print. You had to be there, I guess.