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.

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