A Lapsed Wordsmith

With more free time on my hands than most times in my life, you’d think I’d be filling jump drives and external hard drives with all sorts of wonderful writing. This is hardly the case.

I’ve fallen into a bit of a slump when it comes to putting words to paper (not literally of course, because hey, who the hell WRITES anymore). I can’t even blame it on a lack of ideas. They’re floating around in my hand, vague as some of them may be. The issue stems from me not just sitting down and forcing myself to write.

So I’m going to start doing that more often. Both here and even in notebooks and my moleskine (yes, I’m now one of those jerks who carries around a moleskine so I can document all of my brilliant ideas).  I would say this post is less of a declaration of my intentions and more of a cheap way of ensuring that an entire month doesn’t pass without my putting something up here.

And now, some free-floating thoughts:

  • I’ve been doing jury duty for the last week and it’s not nearly as tedious as I expected. Given my lack of a job, the pittance we receive is actually a raise for me. And even if I was still working in newspapers, it wouldn’t be much of a pay cut. I’m only sort of joking. What’s been most appealing about this whole thing is the interactions and observations of my fellow jurors and those dozens of folks I keep company with in the jury assembly room. Most of them look like they walked right off of the People of WalMart site, but that’s sort of the appeal. They’re so absurd in both appearance and behavior that I can’t help but find entertainment in most of it.
  • I think I only have Facebook so I can interact with about a dozen people, post pithy status updates, creep on attractive girls, and complain about 90 percent of the people I’m “friends” with. Actually, scratch that. I think this describes most male Facebook users (and some saucy female ones).
  • We have a week of April left and I still can’t leave the apartment without a jacket of some sort. I’d be pretty upset if I had invested any of my nonexistent income in spring clothing, because at this rate, we’re going to jump from the frigid grasp of winter to the ball-drenching humidity of a Midwest summer.

Empty your pockets

Rummaging through the pockets of a coat, sweater or pair of jeans I’ve neglected for any lengthy span of time is one of those small pleasures I’ll never tire of. That’s mostly because there’s always the chance that I’ll come across a few bucks that my past self completely forgot about prior to relegated the garment to the corners of my closet or room. Usually, though, my finds are limited to old Taco Bell receipts and coin currency of such little value that I can hardly muster the effort to put it somewhere for safe keeping until I’m in dire need of 14 cents. Occasionally, though, I’ll pluck some items from that garment that actually trigger some lucid memories.

Earlier tonight, I conceded that no one on eBay has any interest in an old jacket of mine that I’ve been desperately trying to pawn off for the last several weeks. The jacket, a treasured find of mine from some end-of-season sale several years back, had seen its share of battles. Or perhaps, it would be more accurate of me to say that propensity for physically moving around at times exposed the shoddy third-world construction of the jacket (namely the shitty stitching on the lining of the jacket, which seemingly exploded on impact the second or third time I wore it).

The jacket not good enough for seemingly anyone on eBay.

While the inside of the jacket has seen many better times, the overall jacket looked fine enough that I didn’t feel guilty about reaching for a nearby box destined for the local Goodwill and tossing the jacket into it. Before I did, though, I had to pillage the approximate 30 pockets sprinkled throughout the coat’s eccentric design. My findings were:

  • A receipt for a money order for $20 purchased on Feb. 5, 2009
  • Two ticket stubs from a Jan. 30, 2009 screening of The Wrestler
  • An unused rubber from an ill-fated spring 2008 date. I should note that while unused, the wrapper was so badly worn that it looked more grotesque than any of the STD’s it’s designed to safeguard the Johnson from.
  • Half an index card with the names of several pro wrestlers scribbled on it. After some confused glares at the card, I remembered that it was from an excursion to WWE’s Royal Rumble in Detroit several years ago and that these wrestlers had been my randomly selected picks to win the 30-man Royal Rumble match (the winner of this pool took home a cool 30 bucks). Rey Mysterio was the “best” wrestler I got. Needless to say, I did not win $30 that night.
  • A receipt from dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearly two years ago to the day.

In essence, I found a lot of trash in those pockets. But the nostalgic bloke in me enjoyed literally pulling some fond memories from those pockets: The great story from the shitty date; the utter disappointment that was The Wrestler; that meal at the Chinese restaurant being one of the last times that collective of people broke bread (or rather, crab cheese) together, and of course, the voyage to Detroit in the midst of a Midwest winter all for the sake of me damning Rey Mysterio.

It’s a risky proposition to get too caught up in the memories. But it’s nice to know that as long as I’ve got clothes I’m ignoring, I’ve a potential opportunity waiting for me to reflect on moments that came in a flash and left as quickly.

Ice Station Beer Bellies

I’m not an outdoorsy type, which is probably why the appeal of ice fishing is lost on me. This is the time of year when I see photos of ice fishing expeditions bubbling up in online destinations such as Facebook. It’s also the time of year when I have my (perhaps incorrect) perception of ice fishing reinforced.

To the outsider, this is what the typical ice fishing trip appears to consist of:

  • A bunch of dudes; the bigger the beer bellies, the better.
  • Copious amounts of terrible beer usually unfit for placement anywhere but beer pong tables and the diviest of dive bars.
  • Dozens of moments where aforementioned guys pose in suggestive positions with one another, allegedly for the “lulz.” Note that these moments generally make up at least half of the inevitable Facebook photo album of the entire trip.
  • Lots of standing around a hole in the ice, sipping on the aforementioned shitty beer

The idea of male bonding and drinking alcohol of suspect origin isn’t lost on me. I just don’t ever get the urge to drive out to Hoth with a lot of fat dudes to make that happen. And if I did, I’d prefer that one of those fat dudes be Carl Winslow.

A Word of Advice

Having a younger brother comes with some societal expectations. He’s the kid who will be forced to wear most of your old clothes. He’s the kid that you’ll treat like a crash test dummy. He’s the kid who will probably want to emulate you in some ways. He’s the kid who may even tap into your extra years on this earth and seek advice and wisdom from you.

But then, having a younger brother also means having someone who will one day also be a grown man. And though he may not wait until he’s old enough to buy a pack of smokes or legally swill beer, there will come that day when he imparts his wisdom on you.

I have not always appreciated my younger brother. But it’s this shift from a one-sided relationship as children to a bond as grown men ripe with the exchange of ideas, advice, and wisdom that reminds me how fortunate I am.

As my brother has shown me recently, age is of diminishing importance in pursuit of insight. My brother will always be younger than me. But he’s no longer exclusively the student. And for that, I’m infinitely grateful.

4 Bricks of 2010

Now that I’ve cleared the air about the top sleepers of 2010, let’s get wrist deep in the beloved past time of shit talkin’. Here are four albums of last year that really missed the mark.

As with my list of sleepers, this assortment of albums requires a few notes:

  • I’m using the criteria that the albums in question had high expectations from more than a handful of people. It’d be too difficult to pare this list down if albums that no one thought would be good were eligible.
  • Much like the first list, this scroll of bricks is hip-hop-heavy, even though I can more easily say with confidence rock bands like Kings of Leon put out crappy albums.

T.I.No Mercy: Is there a more talented mainstream rapper with more disappointing albums than T.I.? 2006’s King was supposed to be the first in a series of albums that solidified T.I.’s status as not just one of the best southern emcees, but one of rap’s most prolific artists. But nearly five years later, that LP remains an outlier among several disappointing or half-baked albums.

No Mercy was set to be Tip’s triumphant return from a prison stint that took him out of the public eye for nearly a year. Last spring’s “I’m Back” whetted our appetite for what was sure to be an album that righted T.I.’s ship and sent him down that path to rap greatness we thought he was taking five years ago.

Instead, the law intervened and sent T.I. back to the clink. The arrest clearly impacted No Mercy, which is a mish-mash of bravado and “whoa is me.” The production is also tepid outside of a surprising effort from the stale Neptunes with “So Amazing.” The weak production seems fitting, though, given the listlessness of the album’s lyrical content. T.I. may still show us wrong yet, but he’s running out of apologies.

Nicki MinajPink Friday: You know how people loved that Geico caveman ad campaign and then were disappointed when those characters got placed in a 30-minute situation comedy? I mean, I never liked the ads, but the point is, even the people who liked them thought the show sucked. Why? Some things are best in spurts. Nicki Minaj may still prove a capable solo artist, but Pink Friday suggests she’s not quite ready to step away from the guest status on other people’s songs.

In that capacity, Nicki is a show-stealer, coupling an eccentric energy with goofball rhyme schemes. Either she can’t spread that same pairing out over an LP or she intentionally played in safe for the benefit of studio heads that fear bizarre behavior that isn’t meticulously calculated. Regardless, Pink Friday doesn’t help Minaj’s case against detractors who have tied her appeal to its gimmicky qualities.

Gucci ManeThe Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted: I had a similar reaction to Gucci Mane’s rise in popularity that I did with Lil Wayne’s meteoric rise six years ago: Are you guys serious? I guess I just couldn’t forgive him for “Icy” or a namesake that reminds me of handbags. Be that as it is, Gucci’s steady work ethic on the mixtape circuit when he wasn’t in jail got him a nice little buzz going. And with 2009’s “Wasted,” he finally had that mainstream-radio-approved song to piggyback his way to more recognition than we ever thought was capable of the Icy guy.

But man, what a letdown The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted was. It suffers from the same pratfalls as a lot of other rap duds: Too many songs, too many mediocre songs, and at least one visit from Swizz Beatz and The Neptunes. That last part may not be fair, since those cats are still hit-makers in the most technical sense. But how many beats from those guys in the last few years have you actually liked?

It’s a shame, because the first few cuts from the album give promise that we’re in store for an hour of bombastic beats and “oh, you’re so crazy, Gucci” lyrical goodness. Unfortunately, the aforementioned producers and mediocre songs appear midway through the album and it never really recovers. “Grown Man,” which polishes off the LP, is an exception and simultaneously one of Gucci’s most introspective and radio-accessible songs he’s done. But there’s just too much dead wood bogging down Most Wanted, especially from a guy who’s allegedly supposed to be one of the more prominent mainstream rappers (rap purists, shield your eyes!).

B.o.B.The Adventures of Bobby Ray: Oof. This is easily the most commercially successful album on this list and probably the one some people would take issue with being included here. After all, Bobby Ray gave the world two singles you couldn’t leave your house all spring without hearing (“Nothin’ on You” & “Airplanes”). So maybe this can just be considered a brick to those who fondly recall B.o.B when he had haters everywhere he went.

Bobby Ray has been messing with this dual-personality rapper/eccentric rocker thing for a minute now, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that his debut LP cultivated the most pop aspects of those personalities. Unfortunately, the whole thing is so unabashedly pop that I think even Jimmy Ray would take issue with Bobby Ray’s work here. Maybe he really buys into that whole comparison of him to OutKast’s Andre 3000’s left-of-center musical approach. Whatever it is, The Adventures of Bobby Ray lost me with the only loose acknowledgment to rapping (especially since B.o.B IS a talented rapper) and went heavy on the guest spots from people like that guy from Weezer and that girl from Paramore.

4 Music Sleepers of 2010

I didn’t get to catalog my thoughts on much music in 2010. That’s no great loss to anyone else, since I think there are maybe two people counting relatives that care what I have to say about anything, let alone music. But I still like to immortalize my opinions via the internet so I can later look back and realize how absurd many of them were (Oh hey, you really liked Lupe Fiasco…a lot, didn’t you?).

So with that, here are four albums from 2010 that I would tag the “sleeper” label onto. Some things I want to note:

  • This list is predominantly rap because it’s admittedly what I mostly listen to. When I do listen to music from rock-type bands, it’s hilariously outdated (i.e. Have you guys heard of this band called The Smiths? I think they’re going places).
  • I don’t listen to every mainstream release, let alone all the obscure mixtapes that get pumped into the internet every day. This list is mostly stuff I clumsily came into via glorious file sharing. Rick Ross may have had a surprisingly acclaimed album, but I won’t know if it’s valid because I’m not listening to an entire Rick Ross album unless I’m properly compensated.
  • This list is in no particular order because I can’t commit to anything.
  • If you disagree or feel there are omissions, let me know. Maybe I overlooked something good you can put me on to. Unless it’s Rick Ross.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot, The Son of Chico Dusty: The often delayed solo joint from the unsung hero of OutKast showed up on shelves with little fanfare. It’s not surprising, since OutKast hasn’t really been relevant to most people since 2004 when they were still enjoying the success of their 2003 double-LP. This damn thing, originally slated for a 2007 release, got delayed so many times that even a lot of people who don’t consult Top 40 lists rap recommendations stopped caring about it.

But the wait was worth it. Even while sounding dated at times because of the three-year collaboration process, Sir Lucious still brings what we’ve come to love about Big Boi: A slippery lyrical delivery that wraps itself around funky beats.

Andre 3000 usually gets the nod as being the introspective part of OutKast, while Big Boi is usually seen as the guy talking about perms and funky roosters and all that stuff. But with a proper solo album to roam free on (I’m one of those who doesn’t consider Speakerboxxx a legit solo disc), Big Boi shows he can pack thoughtful lyrics within that fluid delivery:

My recitals are vital and maybe needed for survival
Like the Bible or any other good book that you read
Why are 75% of our youth readin’ magazines?
’cause they used to fantasy, and that’s what they do to dream
Call it fiction addiction ’cause the truth is a heavy thing!
‘member when the levee scream, made the folks evacua-ezz
Yeah, I’m still speakin’ about it ’cause New Orleans ain’t clean
When we shout Dirty South, I don’t think that is what we mean

There are rumblings of another OutKast album, but until then, Sir Lucious did a fine job of tiding us over, even if all of the tracks featuring Dre 3000 hit the cutting room floor.






Waka Flocka Flame – Flockaveli: Even unapologetic ignit rappers manage to squeeze their ham-fisted attempts at deep thought or slow jams into their mixtapes or albums. Twenty-four-year-old Waka Flocka Flame isn’t one of those rappers. Oh, he’s “ignit” all right. But there is barely anything resembling a hook on his 17-track debut album Flockaveli, let alone anything for the ladies or right side of the brain.

What is on the album is an hour of ribcage-shaking beats over which Waka delivers shallow lyrics such as, “Hope you got yo killers witchya, hope you got yo niggas witchya / Hope your goons ridin’ witchya, they gon fuckin’ miss you.”

I don’t usually tack much merit to this, but there’s a palpable authenticity to Flockaveli. Not in the sense that Waka is out in the streets murdering dudes for simply existing, but rather, under the lens that the LP is so unapologetically raw. “No Hands” is the only thing that could be mistaken for a radio single (and not coincidentally, is the only track from the album getting any airplay). The absence of the slow jam featuring Jamie Foxx or the “Damn, what’s this life really all about” type of song shows that Waka isn’t terribly concerned with chart status or being a Drake-like figure in hip-hop.






Ghostface KillahApollo Kids: Even though the release of Tony Starks’ ninth LP was like a national holiday for me, it wasn’t exactly burning up Twitter feeds or other modes of news dispersion. And leave it to Pretty Toney to wait until all of the Best of 2010 lists had already gone to print/publish to drop what was among the most succinct and listenable rap albums of the year.

Ghost’s non-existent relationship with mainstream radio and charts makes most of his albums sleepers. That felt like the case more so with this drop, since our last full-length Ghost session was way back in 2007 with Big Doe Rehab. Sorry, kiddos, I don’t really consider the R&B album Ghost dropped in 2009 as a proper Ghostface album, much as I dig the big man tapping into his more sensual side.

Apollo Kids isn’t really a concept album, but there’s still a constant acknowledgment of Ghost’s adoration of hip-hop. The production is the most cohesive since the Supreme Clientele era with a heavy reliance on soul samples and stripped down beats. The only thing that holds Apollo Kids back is the long list of guests. The exhaustive list, however, doesn’t include Ghostface LP regular Raekwon. All in, though, the efficient 40-minute album is both an ode to classic hip-hop and a present-day affirmation that Ghost can still go hard on the mic.






Janelle MonaeThe ArchAndroid: This feels a bit like cheating, since the eccentric Monae’s debut studio album became the an internet darling upon its spring release. But how many people saw it coming?

The high praise isn’t unwarranted, though. The album, heavily inspired by the silent film classic Metropolis, show Monae’s flexibility as a creative mind. The ArchAndroid pulls its musical inspirations from a range of sources. Anything from musical scores to glamrock is fair game for Monae, who at just 25 years old, seems wise beyond her years.

Perhaps most striking about the album is that it doesn’t leave the sour taste of pretentiousness in the listener’s most, despite its grandiose ambitions. In a profession prone to the eccentric for the sake of being eccentric, Monae’s left-of-center personality is more a reflection of her deep-rooted love of music and fantasy.

Alex’s Last-Minute 2010 Year in Review

I intended to curate something a bit more comprehensive to put a cap on 2010, but the last week of the year sort of slipped through my fingers. So now I’m sitting here, about a half hour away from being without a computer until tomorrow, which means it’s time for a very special, very hastily-created 2010 year in review.

Most YiR (as I will refer to “year in review” from this point on, because I’m crunched for time damn it) writings that you read reflect on all the great experiences and lessons accrued over the last 12 months. For as cynical as I am, I had my share of those in 2010. But since no one really gives a shit about all the things someone else did or learned over 365 days, I’ll sum it up like this: I’m leaving this year a stronger, better person than I entered it as.

For easier digesting, here’s why I say that:

  • I returned to my journalistic roots by occupying two internships at newspapers in the area for all but a couple weeks of 2010. I bemoaned some of the assignments and lousy pay, but ultimately, the experience sharpened the news writing skills that I had let dull.
  • I (finally) graduated from college, ending our seven-year national nightmare. It took thousands of dollars, but I finally defeated math and was allowed to pass go and collect $200. That last part is not true. But I did get a degree that I’ve still yet to pick up from the admissions office.
  • Weight training became a part of my life once more. 2009 saw a near-total absence from the gym, which meant pictures of me by the end of the year featured a pot belly and moobs. A return to regular weight training and huge nutritional strides helped me knock four inches from my gut. More importantly, it left me feeling better physically than at any other point in my life.
  • I made the trek to NYC by myself not once, but twice. The first trip was emotionally draining, but necessary. The pair of journeys confirmed that I want to try my hand at making NYC my home some time in 2011.
  • I was able to reconnect with some old friends and really develop solid new friendships.
  • I said goodbye to some very close people (they didn’t buy the farm, they just moved far, far away) and realized I was lucky to have had these people be a part of the tapestry that is my life (isn’t that grating when people use the whole tapestry in a non-ironic way? Even though I didn’t really use it in an ironic way just now?).

2010 wasn’t without its valleys, but chugging forward, I think a lot of those have helped lay the foundation for the things I’ll do in the 12 months to come. For me, that will mean a relocation, a new apartment, a (real?) job, and a further strengthening of the relationships in my life I value most. I wish I had some hilarious YouTube video set to the Benny Hill theme music on hand to break up some of the sap that’s dripping from my fingers onto the keyboard, but alas, I can only extend an optimistic hope that the people who deserve it will accomplished the things they set out to do in 2011.

Unfinished Business

Several years ago, a collective of admitted white boys set out to curate a list of the top 100 hip-hop tracks out there. They got about 80 tracks in, but with nearly three years separating us from the last update of the still-unfinished list, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to peep those top 20 tracks. I came across the site when they were still doing updates, which made the daunting realization that this shit isn’t getting finished even tougher to accept.

It’s a shame, because this wasn’t just some soulless list with Pitchfork-esque write-ups. The accompanying paragraphs of copy to each track displays that, despite the collective’s white-boy status, there was some genuine knowledge of the expansive genre fueling this hefty project. And to boot, they were damn hilarious, too.

Here are some snippets:

Pharoahe Monch – Simon Says

“This song is all about that beat, which if you ever heard in an actual club, it vibrates your ribcage and makes you want to drink beer and try to touch titties before the night is out. I don’t even remember what the fuck Monch rhymes about – could’ve been about deciphering hieroglyphics or breaking down the human genome, but all that song does is get me hyped the fuck up. Punch your grandma in the face, steal her handicap-accessible minivan and drive it off a cliff, jumping out the door right before you hit the edge, all with a double-sized blunt in your mouth and two high gravity double deuces clanking around in your jacket pocket type hyped the fuck up.”
Dr. Dre – Deep Cover (Feat. Snoop Dogg)

” I didn’t really know what to expect from Dr. Dre at that point in time. Mainly because I was like 13 and didn’t really think deeply about stuff like if Dr. Dre would be better on his own or if he’d fade into obscurity. I mostly thought about comic books and how I was probably going to die a virgin because I was kind of fat and had acne.”

Master P – Bout It, Bout It II

“Oh, and I really wanted to become an honorary No Limit Soldier and buy one of those bootleg No Limit medallions that was going around all the county fairs and flea markets in the late ’90s because one time I went to the grocery store and my bag boy was wearing one, and I thought if a Bag Boy was a No Limit Soldier, then I had a real good chance of becoming one too! Before I go, FREE C-MURDER! That dude has now been in jail longer than Master P’s rap career.”

So if you:

  • Have a few hours to burn
  • Love hip-hop
  • Love entertaining analysis
  • Have a fondness for unfinished lists

…then check this shit out.

Audio Analysis: Lil Wayne – 6’7″

Gloss over some websites and you’ll catch on that popular opinion states Lil Wayne went on cruise control lyrically after The Carter III capped an exhaustive output of material throughout 2007 and early 2008. The quirky emcee had arguably never been more visible in the public eye at that point, but Wayne coincided that with giving himself a much-deserved break from, shall we say, putting much effort into the verses he laid out until his incarceration earlier this year.

Wayne is back after a stint in the clink, though, and if we try to gauge “6’7″” (and pretty much everyone with an internet connection and an opinion on rap has), it sounds like Mr. Carter is ready to return from his lyrical vacation.

Wayne’s about as polarizing of a figure as hip-hop can offer up right now, so there are two camps so far for the lead single of Tha Carter IV: The one that sees this as return of the old Wayne and the one that feels the return is a bit flaccid.

The track is getting some backlash over what some see as producer Bangladesh’s attempt to replicate the smothering beat he threw Wayne’s way for “A Milli” a couple years back. No doubt the “Day-O” sample, pounding bass and absence of a proper hook come together to make a brew that will trigger memories of “A Milli” from even casual listeners. You can make the argument that the sparse production approach puts Wayne’s contributions front and center. The repetitive sampled “Day-O” lyrics, however, create a natural division of attention between the production and Wayne.

But as Billy Joel might say if he knew who Lil Wayne was is that Wayne hasn’t sounded this lyrically aggressive “for the longest time.” Maybe it’s the tempo of the beat, but Wayne comes out of the gates at a torrid pace and doesn’t ease up on the gas until he passes things off to Cory Gunz (who feels sort of out of place on what’s supposed to be a rap superstar’s triumphant return).

Everyone’s already going bananas over the “lasagna” line, but there’s some other gems to be plucked from Wayne’s verses:

“No matter who’s buying, I’m a celebration / Black and white diamonds, fuck segregation”

“Stop playing, bitch, I got this game on deadbolt / Mind so sharp, I fucked around and cut my head off”

“You niggas are gelatin, peanuts to an elephant / I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate”

The track (which I keep referring to as “track” because the title is a bitch to put in quotation marks) still has that new-car smell to me, so I’m not being as hard on it as some others are. This isn’t going to replicate the viral success of “A Milli,” but it’s certainly whetting my appetite for Tha Carter IV, especially since it should help wash the sour taste that Rebirth left in everyone’s mouth.

Since I’m too cheap to upgrade to the package that lets me post MP3’s, check out the single here.

Say Cheese, Sheek

I haven’t been to many rap concerts, which means a lot of my exposure to the genre is limited to albums, music videos and the occasional live concert YouTube video when I’m monumentally bored at work. I never paid much mind to this deficiency in my hip-hop consumption until I hit up the Ghostface Killah show in Ann Arbor in October. I don’t need to dedicate much space to saying Ghostface knocked his set out of the park. The real surprise of the evening, at least in retrospect, was Sheek Louch.

I’ve never been much of a Sheek fan, and full disclosure, his set didn’t change that. If anything, it left me and my friends underwhelmed and wondering, “What the hell is Ghost coming on?” Sheek just doesn’t boast a terribly distinguished catalog and for some reason, the sparse instantly recognizable joints in his arsenal (“Kiss Your Ass Goodbye” & “Mighty-D Block”) were truncated during the set.

Despite the lackluster showing, something about the set stuck with me in the weeks that followed. For as forgettable as the actual music was, Sheek’s demeanor is tattooed on my brain. Rappers of Sheek’s cut aren’t the most cheery-looking musicians out there. Most photos of these guys a Google Image search turns up look similar: Mean-muggin’ guy with a chip on his shoulder. There was some of that during Sheek Louch’s 30 minutes on stage, but that expression was outweighed by smiles.

Yes, Sheek Louch, the guy who’s got five albums packed with raw, make-your-parents-cringe lyrics, spent much of his time on stage trying (and failing) to restrict a toothy, ear-to-ear smile. Details like that are reminders that there’s still that genuine passion for what they do that despite the calloused image a lot of these performers project. In retrospect, that genuine enthusiasm peeking through Sheek’s face that night reiterated that the material—the money, the cars, the women— are peripheral to the sheer passion of standing before an audience and spitting some bars.