Monday, April 28, 2008

Sales Decline, Creativity Increases

Some would have you believe that the sales decline in rap music means nothing but death for the art form. Comparisons to disco have sprung up almost overnight. I am not in this faction, obviously, but I can't imagine I'm the only person who hasn't noticed that many rappers are choosing a far more thoughtful path as they complete and begin new albums. Take Busta Rhymes, for instance. After making his bid for across-the-board stardom with his underrated Aftermath debut The Big Bang and seeing no increase in sales, but an increased in unwanted publicity, it seems apropos that he would return to his peaceful party vibe for the first two leaked tracks off his next release, I'm Blessed. "Lights, Camera, Action" is produced by Teddy Riley and sounds much like his work on Snoop Dogg's new album. Busta finds his groove on a slow, sensual beat and manages to pull the whole track together. I can't imagine him doing a song like this if The Big Bang had done Kanye numbers. Meanwhile, "Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em)", produced by Sean C & LV (Jay-Z, American Gangster) is one of the most enjoyable Busta Rhymes songs I've heard in a long time. It sounds like an advancement on his older work, in the vein of "Woo Hah" and "Dangerous". He even goes back to actually rapping quickly and impressively for the first time since Bun B's "Get Throwed (Remix)". While I haven't yet heard the entire Linkin Park collaboration first single, even if that sucks as badly as I think it's going to, I'm still more excited for this Busta Rhymes album than I ever was for The Big Bang.
Another album that I'm palpably excited for would have to be Nas' Nigger. I admit that his new gimmick of giving his album the most shocking title he can fathom has already grown weary. It pains me to think what he'll come up with again if he ever manages to get this one out. After having heard his recently leaked teaser song for the new album "Be A Nigger Too", it immediately made rap fans wonder if Nas really does have the politically charged classic album he claims to have created. While I remain skeptical (what will it take to get him or Jay-Z back into the studio with DJ Premier? even Eminem was smart enough to get him for his comeback album), it seems that the album will at least have a few tracks that will function as brain food. I just wonder if Nas has finally picked some beats that are worthy of his wordy, street poet style of rhyming. Hip Hop Is Dead was a definite progression, beat wise, from Street's Disciple & God's Son. Hiring Dr. Dre & Kanye West will always help in that department. Let's just keep our fingers crossed for no Eminem production or Kelis cameos.
While no one else has leaked material as provocative as these two, there are a number of upcoming albums that look to be quite good, for reasons similar to the ones listed for Busta & Nas. Jadakiss' forthcoming Kiss My Ass sounds to be a return to his old, punch line heavy New York boom bap. Alchemist is a confirmed contributor and the snippet they have leaked sounds like 'Kiss at his finest, before he started mouthing his own chopped-and-screwed hooks for Weezy videos (while rocking Famous Stars & Straps, natch) and spitting alongside Hurricane Chris, Lil' Boosie, Yung Joc, Rick Ross and anyone else with a check. Big Boi's Sir Luscious Leftfoot has every chance to be great. If that album produces even 5 songs that sound remotely like "Royal Flush", the unofficial "Skew It On The Bar-B" sequel that has been floating around the Internet, it will be a worthwhile endeavor. I'm similarly thrilled to hear what a DMX gospel album will sound like and to bend my ear to T.I. raps that have actually been written down on paper and not freestyled in the booth. And I'll be one of the first ones to listen to albums from The Cool Kids & Wale.
Snoop Dogg's Ego Trippin' seems to have set a good precedent in this regard. His willingness to experiment with country and older stylings of R&B was a breath of fresh air in an era full of rap albums full of collaborations that make no sense and a list of expensive producers, rather than one cohesive sound. Hopefully, instead of getting The Runners, Polow Da Don, Drumma Boy, and Timbaland, more and more albums will come out as one whole concept instead of a paint by numbers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What times we live in......

Between the news that DJ Khaled will A&R the next Ludacris album, Bow Wow's sudden transformation from kiddie pop rapper to ballin' gangsta, the inexplicable popularity of "Lollipop", and Remy Ma & T.I.'s respective prison sentences, there's plenty going on to interest even the most casual fans of rap music. I'd prefer to focus on the this whole Khaled/Ludacris deal. In a word, it's reprehensible. The simple fact that a proven star would hitch his wagon to a such a fly by night property is bothersome enough. Now, mind you, I'm not a Khaled hater. "S On My Chest" & "I'm So Hood (Remix)" have gotten plenty of burn over here. I enjoy what he does with his albums, as far as putting together tracks that feature a lot of people and manage to make them sound cohesive. DJ Drama would do well to take a lesson from him whenever he manages to connive T.I. to put up the bread for "Gangsta Grillz: The Album II". But, the last time I checked, one of an A&R's primary duties on album is to pick guests and beats. I'm not an expert, but considering Khaled's track record of constantly assembling ridiculous posse cuts backed by thunderous, heavily synthezised scores, I don't like what this seems to mean for Ludacris. We seem destined for the first single of his album to be something much like "Down In The Dirty", the single he dropped for the seemingly forgotten about third volume of the Disturbing Tha Peace album series. The song itself wasn't bad, with a passable bass heavy Clinton Sparks track and fairly good 16s from Rick Ross & Bun B. But, I can remember the days when Ludacris' singles were always popular, and not necessarily formulaic. From "Southern Hospitality", "Roll Out", "Saturdays", "Area Codes", and on down. Even "Move Bitch" was the type of song that anybody could listen to and enjoy a certain aspect of. While he has already began to head down the direction of formula rap with his last album and its three singles/collabos with Pharell, Young Jeezy, and Mary J. Blige/Polow Da Don (who I will talk more about in a future post, probably as soon as his Nelly/Fergie produced collabo explodes), an album filled with Runners beats, and cameos from T-Pain is not what I or persumably anyone else wants in a Ludacris album. Here's hoping that Ludacris is wise and limits the Khaled contributions to a minimum. Maybe we luck out and he limits Khaled to a single, or maybe just a couple of album cuts. And no T-Pain or the like.