Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

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.

Advertisements

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.