• 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.

  • Interviews

    Charles Bradley and his Changes

    Last year, I interviewed Charles Bradley about his final album, Changes, for Napster’s short-lived blog. I also had the pleasure of seeing him at the 50th anniversary Monterey Pop Festival in August, a month before he died on September 23.

    Charles Bradley calls himself the “Screaming Eagle of Soul.” The 67-year-old New York singer earned his nickname when he used to perform as a James Brown imitator at local house parties and clubs around the city, and someone in the audience awarded him the superlative. It’s an apt description for Bradley’s voice, which can switch from a gentle yet raspy croon to a piercing, heart-stopping wail. When you hear him cry out on “The World (Is Going Up In Flames),” the bracing first track from his classic 2011 debut, No Time for Dreaming, he’ll make the hairs on your arm stand up.

  • Scenes Lists & Things

    Remembering Hip-Hop’s Response to 9/11

    It may be unfair to single out rap artists for their response to the tragic events of 9/11. Artists in every discipline, from music to movies to literature and visual art, have struggled to comprehend this defining moment. But in a genre that prizes topicality and ghetto realism, whether it’s a carefully edited documentary or an exaggerated form of musical verité, the halting way rappers chose to address the World Trade Center attacks is particularly glaring.

    In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there was mostly silence. The rapid-reaction MP3 infrastructure that swirls around any major event today didn’t truly exist yet, so most of the late-2001 release slate didn’t mention it, including Jay-Z’s The Blueprint (famously released on September 11) and Dilated Peoples’ Expansion Team. However, contemporaneous work took on new significance, including Cannibal Ox’s diary of New York squalor The Cold Vein, Trick Daddy’s condemnatory “Amerika,” and DMX’s street-revolutionary anthem “Who We Be.” Advance artwork for The Coup’s Party Music featured Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress blowing up the twin towers with a radio tuner, but it was quickly replaced after the attacks and before the album’s November 6 release.

    The lone exception to this disquiet was Sage Francis’ “Makeshift Patriot.” Recorded and released several weeks after the attacks as a free MP3, it has a reportorial perspective as he compares the terrorist-manned planes to Trojan horses and recounts how “the fallout was far beyond the toxic clouds where people were like debris.”

    By the end of the year, stray references to 9/11 began to appear. “Who the f*ck knocked our buildings down?/ Who behind the World Trade massacre? Step up now,” rapped a newly patriotic Ghostface Killah on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Rules.” On his anti-war song “Rule,” Nas took a more expansive view, rapping, “Lost lives in the towers and Pentagon, why then/ Must it go on/ We must stop the killing.”

    This approach prevailed during the next few years, as 9/11 became a throwaway metaphor for urban blight and American resilience. “This that 9/11 music right here, man,” bragged Jim Jones on “Ground Zero” from the Diplomats’ Diplomatic Immunity. (Ironically, the Diplomats also called themselves The Taliban.) On “A Ballad for the Fallen Soldier,” Jay-Z compared a street hustler’s life to someone serving in the armed forces. “They’re both at war,” he observed. “Off to boot camp, they’re both facing terror/ Bin Laden been happenin’ in Manhattan.”

    While music about 9/11 has mostly disappointed, the subsequent War on Terror – along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — inspired a wave of memorable critiques against President Bush. “Bin Laden didn’t blow up the projects/ It was you, n*gga/ Tell the truth, n*gga,” chants Mos Def on Immortal Technique’s “Bin Laden,” which along with Jadakiss’ “Why” and Mr. Lif’s “Home of the Brave” advanced the conspiracy theory that the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks as a Faustian global power grab.

    Meanwhile, 9/11 as an event unto itself has largely gone unanalyzed. Perhaps hip-hop artists are more comfortable with using the U.S. government as a stock villain for all the hardship that has befallen us since that day, from never-ending wars to economic catastrophe, than imagining the complex forces that irrevocably changed 21st-century American life.

    (Rhapsody – September 6, 2011)