Friday, October 31, 2008

Lil' Wayne goes kamikaze and other musings

Ever since his "coronation", it seems Weezy Wee's on a mission to destroy his stardom before it even settles in. Between the god-awful "Mrs. Officer" video, the lip piercing, and suspect award show apperances, it seems he's re-examining the great idea of baiting Jay-Z. Why you would come strapped to your performance with Hova is beyond me. And then when you're on the same bill the next night and Hova was giving you the silent treatment, you start rapping his lyrics. After his subliminal powerbomb on T.I.'s "Watch What You Say To Me", it seemed like Wayne had given up on attempting to lure Hova into a battle. Although I'd still love to know what Jay-Z's reaction was to Wayne's spitting, "You old ass rappers need to stay on tour, you're like 44, I got a 44, I'm only 24, I could murk you and come out when I'm 44".

So Fabolous is doing a Carlito's Way concept album? Really? I guess the not-good album streak can officially be run to five. He might have a decent album if you cherry picked all four he's done, but I'm not even sure about that.

When will Yo Gotti get his big chance? After hearing him tear down "Get Silly" and "Cash Flow", not to mention his past show stealing appearances on the Gangsta Grillz album and Lil' Scrappy's G-Unit/BME album, it seems like he could hang with just about any of the other young guns of the south. If Yung Joc can get two big-deal major-label looks, Gotti needs one.

I still don't know what to think of "Arab Money" or "Pop Champagne", but the latter has been in rotation since it first dropped, sans Dipset.

When is Max B going to explain this supposed paperwork that gives him some sort of convuluted above the law status? Of all the many middling second-level rappers that populate NYC these days (Jae Millz, Red Cafe, etc.), he seems like one of the most likely candidates to break through. It's very apparent he helped Jim Jones craft "We Fly High". I defy anyone to come up with another Jones hook that was that catchy that he actually wrote himself. I give Jimmy credit, though, for managing to release 3 albums despite the fact that he has alternating man-crushes on Hova and Dame Dash. They've even had eminently listenable portions. Diary Of A Summer might have even qualified for 3 mics. But, I'd be 10 times more excited for a Max B solo album than I ever could be for a Jim Jones.

Memo to Eminem & Dr. Dre: What are you two waiting for? The top 5 rap songs in the country are "Mrs. Officer", "Whatever You Like", "Live Your Life", "My Life", and "Swagga Like Us", which means all of the top songs right now either rap to females or involve Wayne and T.I. in some way. What better time for them to drop? I'm as much into T.I., Lil' Wayne, T-Pain, etc. as the next guy, but something needs to shake up this stagnant scene. Lest you think this is just a top-of-the charts trend, take a look at the next five on the charts. "I Know What Them Girls Like", "Got Money, "Please Excuse My Hands", "Ride", "Get Up"........with the exception of the new 50 song (coincidence?), the next 5 are all either songs for women or Wayne concoctions. A look even further down the charts finds Mike Jones/T-Pain, Bow Wow/Soulja Boy collabos ready to attack our ears, not to mention Unk and V.I.C. ready to pounce again. Just drop the albums already before people really turn on you.

If any of you haven't peeped Q-Tip's The Renaissance, Statik Selektah's Stick 2 The Script and the Coldplay/Jay-Z Viva La Hova mix, you're doing your ears a major disservice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Signs Of Life

Maybe I'm only speaking for myself, but 2008 has definitely been a bounceback year for rap as a whole. Following years of southern domination that culminated in a bizarre year-long mass media marathon of gargling Lil' Wayne's ball sweat and no less of a publication than Time Magazine declaring that he was, indeed, the best rapper alive. While I'm far from a hater of Wayne, the sheer idea that he was the best the game had to offer seems to have woken up many, which become one of the best things that could have ever happened to the game.

For my money, The Recession & Paper Trail were more solid pieces of work than Tha Carter III. Even the mostly dissapointing LAX was more kin of Tha Carter III. Paper Trail has the unmistakeable quality of a man's passionate desire to express his exasperation through music. It doesn't hurt when Toomp, Swizz, Drumma Boy, Kanye, Just Blaze, Danja, et al. are providing the backdrop, but it also doesn't hurt to hear an album of someone simply speaking honestly about their experiences. In a climate where people are pretty much dancing into the industry off their criminal backgrounds and gang associations, it's refreshing to hear someone speak about the downside of that lifestyle with such vigor and personal reference.

The Recession, on the other hand succeeded because Jeezy did something most rappers in his position are scared to do, admit he's paricularly good at creating one certain type of music and sticking to that formula for an entire album. A major reason why many major-label albums fail to make much of an impact these days is that they decide to simply assemble the hottest producers and guest artists, making a hodgepodge of high profile collabos that seem to decide when or if these things even come out or not. With a few exceptions, most classics are remembered because they stuck to one motif, lyrically and sonically.

That isn't to say creativity is thrown out the window, but to say that many classic albums are built on one producer, or a couple creating a soundbed that stays consistent throughout, with the same MC or crew of MCs laying the rhymes. Many modern rappers are constantly hemmed into this formula and I can't help but wonder what might have become of some of the casualties and also-rans had they been allowed to create music without worrying about catering to the materialistic female audience. Seriously, how many songs have been in the past 5 years about telling girls how much designer whatnot you're gonna buy them? Who actually listens to that shit, if not younger, mostly white chicks?

Cassidy surely would have benefitted from this more than just anyone. After an uneven but promising debut album buoyed by the radio success of "Hotel" & "Can't Get No Better", two mainstream but not entirely untolerable singles, he's seen his trajectory hit the point where I'd be shocked to see him release his 4th album anywhere besides Koch, and I'd be even more shocked to his Clipse-Neptunesesque relationship with Swizz Beatz continue. Which may be for the best, anyhow. Cass needs to drop the pretense that he's Hova or B.I.G., pull a Jeezy and just make an album of straight up brag rap. I'm not predicting a classic or even a good album, but it can't be much worse than B.A.R.S.

Fabolous is an even more obvious candidate for someone who just needs to make one decent, honest album. Real Talk and Ghetto Fabolous are the best albums from his catalog and even those aren't anything to write home about. Those are just the albums where he raps to chicks the least. I can't help but think someone needs to lock him in the studio with Buckwild, Premo and Kanye and see if they can't squeeze something out of him other than his account statements and tales of bedding women of all races. He has the potential to be remembered as one of the finer spitters of his generation, but one doesn't make such lists off DJ Clue freestyles and ocassionally searing guest verses (best verse on Tha Carter III, arguably one of the best verses on Lord Willin', Hi Hater (Remix), Paper Touchin' (Remix), etc.)

Rap nerd moment: So we're evidently not gonna ever discuss that one of the most talked-about tracks on the supposed biggest album of the year is nothing but a mixtape leftover with Fabolous left on, Cassidy taken off, and Wayne & Juelz tacked back on? Or that "Dr. Carter" was meant for Jay-Z? Or that "Comfortable" was out for almost a year before the album dropped? That "3 Peat" is nothing but a mediocre re-tread of "I'm Me"? I'm not denying that Tha Carter III obviously had superior moments, but as a whole, it just didn't feel right. Here we are, 3 months after it dropped, and I'm hard pressed to find more than a handful of tracks that I'm still playing.

As much as I enjoyed some of Tha Carter III, its impact on popular culture is very reminiscent of Hollywood. It smacks of people attempting to praise something lukewarm excessively as a means to make amends for not paying attention before, much how some receive an Oscar, almost as a make-up by the Academy for not recognizing them for a much better performance. Tha Carter III is Wayne's The Departed, while Tha Carter II, Dedication 2, and Da Drought 3 are more akin to Goodfellas and Casino. Now T.I. has his moment in the sun, moving 550K in his first week, which you stat geeks might note as being half of Weezy, but is also almost triple The Game, and nearly doubles Jeezy.

Soon, we gear up for a star-studded fourth quarter, with Dr. Dre's Detox, Jay-Z's Blueprint 3, Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, Ludacris' Theater Of The Mind, Jadakiss' Kiss My Ass, 50 Cent's Before I Self Destruct, Scarface's Emeritus, and what the hell? We'll throw Rick Ross' Deeper Than Rap & Plies' The Realest in there for good measure. Theater Of The Mind & Emeritus already sound like winners from their leaked tracks, but the others sound spotty. Hov seems to be ready to come with it, as "Jockin' Jay-Z" and a "Swagger Like Us (Remix)" featuring Jeezy, Nas, and Dre 3K have me sold. 808's seems like it might very well suck, but I guess that's why we listen to the albums. Maybe I'll actually want to hear Kanye express his inner anguish through the majesty of AutoTune. My hope is that 50 wasn't lying on the "50 For President" freestyle and him, Em, and Dre really are all together making music and that he's about to "push the re-start button". By January, the modern view of the rap game will be all cleared up, as following the year of Jeezy, Weezy, and Tip (quoting Sickamore, the modern day Jay-Z, Big, and Nas), with the dropping of Kanye (arguably tied with Weezy as the biggest artist of the modern generation), Jay-Z (arguable G.O.A.T.), 50 Cent (the last major superstar of the big record sales era) and Dr. Dre (it's all been said before). I, for one, will have my popcorn ready.