The Quarter Pole: July 2008 Tuesday, July 1, 2008Posted by Andy Hutchins in Rockabye, Sleeping on Fire, The Quarter Pole.
At least by months, we’re officially halfway through 2008. And because I am a blogger and enjoy both creating arbitrary segments of time for my own writing purposes and the compilation of shamelessly subjective lists, I have (another) one of the latter for one of the former. This one’s about music.
The Five Hottest Wayne Lines on Tha Carter 3
I tell you, this album went up and down for me this year, from feeling a little worried about the list of producers to restored faith with Kanye’s presence, from not feeling “Lollipop” at all at first to actually taking Wayne over Corey Gunz on the original “A Milli” in the last Quarter Pole, writing, “It’s too bad Gunz’ slippery double-time flow couldn’t hold a candle to Weezy’s thoroughly entertaining lyrical gymnastics here,” then declaring Gunz the best on the beat.
But I’m convinced it’s one of the five best albums of the year and may be one of the twenty best of the decade when 2010 rolls around. So I’m doing a temperature check.
5. “They tried to tell me keep my eyes open/My whole city underwater, some people still floating/And they wonder why black people still voting/’Cause your president’s still choking,” “Tie My Hands”
The only hip-hopper to really go in on the President for Katrina gets a little mellower with Robin Thicke on the track, but, for my money, this is the most thoughtful line on the album.
4. “Dropping ashes in the Bible/I shake ’em out and they fall on the rifle,” “Don’tGetIt”
Uh, this just sounds awesome, and it’s bookended by a few weather references and a word-association bit that runs from “Hail Mary” to “I am my judge/No gown, no gavel” and works. It’s a shame this song, with its mournful sample and simple beat, won’t be viewed without the lit-up rant about Al Sharpton, prison sentencing, and all that, but the three minutes of rapping are great.
3. “We are not the same/I am an alien/Like Gonzales, young college student/Who done just Flipped the game like Houston,“ “Phone Home”
Referencing Elian Gonzales in a song re-establishing your cred as an alien is awesome enough, but the inner rhymes in Gonzales/college and student/who done and the Lil Flip/Houston bit make this a strong little bit.
2. “They don’t make ’em like me no more/Matter fact, they never made ’em like me before/I’m rare/Like Mr. Clean with hair/No brake lights on my career,” “Phone Home”
I didn’t have to look far to find my favorite line from my favorite song. Weezy starts with maybe his truest boast ever, throws in a non sequitur about a cleaning supplies logo, and pronounces career “car-air” for the sake of the rhyme. Quintessential Wayne.
1. “Get on my level?/You can’t get on my level/You gon’ need a space shuttle/Or a ladder that’s forever,” “3 Peat”
Maybe the most inventive twist on the you-can’t-touch-me logic on the album for a guy who’s spent two years developing that line of thinking, and an unquestionably brilliant image on the most mixtape-like song on C3, which, of course, is among its finest tracks.
The Five Best Signs Hip-Hop’s Having A Great Year
5. Wayne Sells A Millie
Look, I know that’s a tired headline, but for a guy whose career took off with hours upon hours of free music, who suffered one last leak of the album and a rather showy blow-up at the DJs who’d been promoting him for free, who’s certifiably weird in the Hendrix mold, for that guy to sell a million copies of an album that probably is no better than his best mixtapes, that shows hip-hop can triumph over the odds and logic.
Even with all that bad, the album’s hype was a perfect storm of sorts, with a great pop song (“Lollipop”) and the street banger to match (“A Milli,” natch) getting both 13-year-old girls and 30-year-old men to Best Buys across America to drop $15 on Dwayne Carter’s artistry, but for any person to sell like that in an economic climate like this is impressive.
4. New Sides to Old Faces
I never put a lot of stock in the ability of rap to shoehorn artists into one specific, “gutter” mold, especially when Kanye was telling us, “I woke up early this morning/With a new state of mind/A creative way to rhyme/Without using nines and guns/Keep your nose out the sky/Keep your heart to God/And keep your face to the rising sun,” which still gives me warm goosebumps today.
But I have to say, it’s really worthwhile to hear Kanye get a little gutter.
I’m throwing all the credit to Andrew at Fake Shore Drive for this, but he’s unearthed all sorts of old Kanye and Lupe, especially when they were different rappers, and you should really go check them out.
LL Cool J putting out a mixtape to promote his new album falls under this category, too; it’s cool to see that we’ve passed the point where you get attacked for “sacrificing your artistic integrity” so long as you come with something worthwhile when coming with something new.
3. Young Bloods Flowing
This time last year, if you had asked me about who was up and coming in hip-hop, I would’ve had the good (Wale) to pit against the bad (Soulja Boy) and the ugly (hey, Hurricane Chris, a bay screw you!).
But now, Wale’s been joined by a legion of young talents.
In any case, there’s more skill in the pipeline than there has been in a long while, and the trend towards Internet rappers, indie labels, and, if Wayne’s any indication, an acceptance of non-New York/LA/Chicago hip-hop will only further that.
2. Revival of the G.O.A.T. Debate
If you follow hip-hop on the Internet with any regularity, you know that one of the biggest issues is always determining who the best ever/best rapper alive/Greatest of All Time is, and that candidates usually include the deceased (‘Pac and Big) and the more or less retired (Rakim).
But the two biggest living names fully immersed in the game are sparking this debate again.
Jay-Z’s great American Gangster and soon-to-be-legendary Glastonbury set and Nas’ phenomenal The N—-r Tape, plus his rather breathlessly anticipated Untitled, which has all the promise in the world, have fueled justified hype and genuine enthusiasm about the titans of the game getting their swag back.
I’m usually not a fan of comparing the two (they’ve grown into very different artists, I think), but I am a fan of starting the speculation for a double album that would probably be either the best album ever or a monumental failure; I’m also just a fan of two great artists being at the height of their powers.
1. Saying Something
So often, hip-hop is pilloried by the powers that be for being naught more than an exercise in glorification of ladies’ derrieres, recitations of bank accounts, and inventory of shiny things.
Not this year.
This year, we’ve got our share of intriguing and thought-provoking stuff, from sometime Lupe collaborator GemStones urging people to “Get up off your grandmama’s sofa” with his “Good Morning” freestyle to Wale and Nas attacking the topics of race and politics with “The Kramer” and “Black President,” and the news that dead prez’ stic.man was a producer on Nas’ album.
All we need to make the cypher complete is a reunion tour with A Tribe Called Quest and Arrested Development. (Actually, rumor has it that Mos Def and Talib Kweli may be getting the Black Star project back on track, so that’s exciting.)
But, kidding aside, in an election year, in a troubled time, it’s heartening to see what could be the most progressive, positive voices in music actually being progressive, positive, and, more importantly, more than simple ear candy.
The Festival Power Rankings
Feel free to correct me, people who actually went, but my impression was that Coachella was nothing special, despite Prince ripping it as always; that the lasting thought about Bonnaroo will be Kanye going on really late and not quite equaling the awesome Glow in the Dark sets; and that Glastonbury got a lot of great pub with the Noel Gallagher-Jay feud and then got an accordingly bruising set from a peeved Hova.
All the ancillary stuff, then, cancels out (Winehouse being Winehouse, Jack Johnson being a featured player at Coachella, M.I.A. being brilliant in the shadows at Bonnaroo and less recognized at Coachella).
Chris Rock being at Bonnaroo gets them enough points for second.
Underrated Subplot in Hip-Hop #1
The return of Clifford Harris.
He’s on Sedgwick today, and he’s apparently a much changed individual after his brush with the law and the deaths of his daughter and an associate. Whether it’s for the better or not as an artist remains to be seen, but he’s urged young people to vote and appears to be backing off of the gun and hustle talk that defined him as grimy, and showing the more intelligent, creative side that gave us really great tracks like “What You Know” and “Tell ‘Em I Said That” where he sort of floats above the fray.
I hope we continue to get that.
Underrated Subplot in Hip-Hop #2
The battle for Beat of the Year.
It’s weird: I loved the epic horns on the “They Know” jam, and I loved the way it was turning into the beat of choice for freestyles, but then the sparse, repetitive appeal of the Bangladesh-produced “A Milli” took over the Internet.
Now, I’m into Polow Da Don’s “Hero” beat, which somehow simulataneously gleams and thumps and which Nas annihilated, but there seems to be traction on going in on this beat, because people hesitate to try their hand on something a legend made magic with; still, it could easily be the winner when the dust clears.
Or it could be something Kanye has cooked up for Common’s album, or something Timbaland crafts for the upcoming Clipse release, or it could be something from Danja, who’s been The Next Guy in hip-hop producing for a minute.
In any case, the lyrics being this good is at least in part due to music to match.
Overrated Subplot in Hip-Hop
G-Unit drama between 50 Cent and Young Buck.
I’ve been sick of G-Unit since about 2004, because it’s clearly Fif carrying some inferior rappers unless Lloyd Banks has a hot line or something. But this “beef” takes the cake, with Buck getting kicked out, whining on stage in Tampa (“Where Hip-Hop Goes To Die”), and then getting his dirty laundry aired by Mr. Vitamin Water as he broke down on the phone talking about back taxes or some other reason he owed 50 money.
So Bucky’s coming off as a whiner and a sobber, but 50’s losing too, for taping a conversation, which is, despite probably being a good idea for a guy who got shot nine times, perhaps illegal and certainly against his ethos.
Just bad all around. I wish it had never happened.
Sleeping on Fire
(Aside: I really liked this title as soon as I typed it; it may recur.)
The song I loved best from Graduation last year was the “Kid Charlemagne”-sampling “Champion,” a jazzy, funny, fast jam that Kanye went to town on; I hope it comes out as a single this summer, because it’s perfect for this time of year and I think he’s got about one more single from this album to go.
Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” an almost total departure from his smoother R&B side, is one of the better songs of the year and is going to get slept on/overshadowed most of the summer by Coldplay and Wayne.
Also, in a totally different vein, I’m going to have to lend my indie singer-songwriter ears to Justin Nozuka for the rest of the year. He’s a Canadian with serious writing chops and the kind of restrained lilt that Chris Martin wishes he had; “After Tonight” is a really good love song, and “Save Him” is chilling.
And I’ll make this a Friday feature: I’ve already got the first song in mind.
The Mini One on One: Best iPod Commercial
Better Cut: I like how both of them are cut up for this, but Coldplay gets the epic intro and the slow drain outro, and the pep of “Shut Up and Let Me Go” works better full-length, so advantage, Coldplay.
Art: The bursts of smoke and light are impressive, but I’ll take the Day-Glo dancers any day. Advantage, The Ting Tings.
The Do I Want To Buy an iPod Component: Okay, yeah, dancing around and stuff is nice and fun and so on, but the Coldplay just feels important, feels like something you need. In that respect, I’d call it part of better advertising. Game, set, and match, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Husband and Three Other Guys (With Brian Eno).
Remix of the Year So Far
“Everyone Nose” began life as a party jam that slammed the coke users among Hollywood’s hottest; the remix adds Kanye, Lupe, Pusha T, a dark, brooding beat, a slew of quotables (“She stopped drinking Diet Coke/She on that coke diet,” “Like I got a crown made of powder/Everybody knows who the king of the coke flow be”) and named names (“From that Paris, Lindsay, Britney/Mary-Kate and Whitney,” as Kanye outs them) to a great change, both stylistically and lyrically, from good song to fabulous remix.
Reflections on Past Efforts
I don’t think I’d put “Ain’t I” anywhere near the top five of the year now, especially with the idea of more, better Jigga on the horizon; the best song by a Cyrus this year has to be older brother Trace’s band Metro Station’s Willie Mays-catchy “Shake It“; I’ve got $10 that says no one remembers/cares about Yael Naim by October; “Love Song” gets a lot funnier if you substitute “give you a blow job” for “write you a love song”; oh, and I still like that MGMT song, even though I haven’t heard it in a little while.
Reflections on Right Now
I’m with the Rockette: She called Miley Cyrus’ “7 Things” stupid because the he in question “sounds like an ass”; I’m with Maura at Idolator in the sense that Katy Perry isn’t a good thing for pop music going forward, with her embrace of hypocrisy in going from Christian singer to “I Kissed A Girl” fame, but I think the song’s a decent pop trifle; I’m without an iPod/MP3 player (I’ve never owned one) and feel that pain for the first time as literally dozens of new good songs pour from the Internet.
Artists Whose 2008 Albums I Still Do Not Possess But Want To
The Raconteurs; My Morning Jacket; The Roots; Santogold; Estelle; Death Cab for Cutie.
If you have any of the above and would like to assist me, tell me in the comments.
Predictions Without Conviction
Nas’ Untitled goes down as one of the top twenty hip-hop albums ever; Coldplay’s tour is heavy on covers and draws some glowing reviews; by the end of the year, everyone’s talking about Kid Sister; Tyga’s “Coconut Juice” becomes a late summer smash for the hipster set; there is at least one major hip-hop show for Obama that Obama himself attends; Rock Band 2 eviscerates Guitar Hero IV, and not just because there’s backwards compatibility with the song lists.
I Leave You With A Line
“What do it take to be a hero?/I guess that makes me a hero…”