The problem for living legends is that they have to live with their legends. This is especially so when their legend was a product of their youth and its mindset, which they outgrow, becoming legendary, but which you still see in them, knowing their legend much more than you know them. Imagine Achilles enfeebled. Imagine his pain and confusion if, having grown out of his strength, he looked still like a breaker of men.
Like this is Nas, who became famous with his second album, in 1996, but who made his name with his first album, "Illmatic," twenty years ago, and likes to rap about how he still [...]
Would you like to watch Courtney Love playing an acoustic-guitar cover of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah this past weekend? She doesn't do my favorite part, the third verse, when Jay-Z outsmarts the cop who pulls him over. But this is better than you might have imagined it would be.
Critics would say that it might be unclear which side of the police barricades Jay-Z and Kanye would be on if the uprising depicted duo in their new video, filmed in Prague by director Romain Gavras, were in fact to take place. They call themselves "The Throne," after all. I'm just disappointed that the elephant doesn't get more screen time. People who slammed this album when it came out (silly people who listen to music with their sense of socio-economic justice instead of their ears) will be disappointed to learn that a sequel is in the works. It will be called Watch the Throne 2: Repeal The [...]
As is often the case with a hit rap song, lots of people have been putting remix verses over the beat Chauncey "Hit-Boy" Hollis made for Jay-Z and Kanye West's smash "Ni**as In Paris." Everyone from T.I. to Chris Brown to Young Jeezy to Busta Rhymes to Aziz Ansari to a now-famous guy on the subway have taken the tune and making something new. This, though, is the best by far. Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, flips the original's flaunting of wealth into a trenchant commentary on poverty.
To anyone paying attention, it wasn’t really a surprise when blacks didn’t come out in droves to support Occupy Wall Street. Despite the fact that blacks suffer from poverty and the ills accompanying it at wildly disproportionate rates, African-Americans have for a number of uncertain reasons been avoiding most of the liberal demonstrations of the moment. Blacks don't occupy Wall Street (or Denver or San Francisco) just as blacks don’t SlutWalk, or rally at the World Bank.
What was surprising was when the rappers started showing up.
That's Jay-Z, breaking in to admire the long, pitched-down passage from "Try A Little Tenderness" that opens "Otis," the second official leak from Jay and Yeezy's Watch The Throne. The track on "Otis" alternates between interpolation and staccato bursts, as if torn between literalism (reverence?) and avoiding a lawsuit (its own kind of nostalgia). Since it's 2011, and Otis Redding's estate is well advised of its rights and powers, Redding is credited as a featured artist on the track, a featured role that almost makes it seem like "Otis" is the King of Soul's posthumous tribute to himself, "Unforgettable" minus the filial right, [...]
Probably one of the four of five most prominent hip-hop producers of all time, Pharrell Williams turns 40 today. The new Myspace is celebrating with a nice collection of 41 of his greatest hits to listen to. (One to grow on, I guess.) But right here, please enjoy his latest, with the very-blue-eyed soul singer Robin Thicke (the one who's dad was on "Growing Pains") and T.I. It's a perfect little remake of the gorgeously slinky beat he made for Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me)" thirteen years ago. The video borrows style from 1980's RobertPalmervideos, and there's [...]
Here is a concise history of the Atlantic Yards and the development—or lack thereof!—of that side of downtown Brooklyn. Don't worry, you have plenty of time to read it, this garbage will be going on until 2037, at which time, one hopes, the seas will have risen enough that we'll have had to move on to making canals down on Wall Street.
"Lasting about two hours, the show was an almost seamless blend of songs from 'Watch the Throne,' solo material from each rapper and songs they have shared in the past, often used as transitions. If there is any fat on hit-thick solo Jay-Z or Kanye West concerts at this point, it was excised here. They have become gifted at resisting maximalist urges. This show demonstrated how much can be accomplished with a few small decisions: as on the album, Jay-Z and Mr. West worked smart, not big. The heaviest lifting was done by cameras that seemed to encircle the stage, resulting in astonishing close-ups that captured every sweat cascade [...]
I'm so eye-rolley about the conceit of "Watch the Throne"—the collaboration "album" by Jay-Z and Kanye West, that was thrown together in a few hotel rooms—that I can barely handle listening to it. (Also, did I need a tribute song to ladies in the year 2011 called "That's My Bitch"? Not really!) Despite his usually awesome politics and generally rather wonderful mouthiness, I just don't feel the need to get Kanye's opinions on the state of the world, when he might not have any idea any longer what that state really is. Somehow? On the album, Jay-Z ends up looking clued in, and he's the one banging the [...]
All right. This song is growing on me. It's just so expertly done in every facet. And the video helps. It's exactly what it should it be. (Justin Timberlake eats cereal while Jay-Z watches basketball. They're just like us!) Which is all totally what you'd expect. Immaculate execution, carefully engineered for maximum possible popular appeal. Which points to the problem, too, of course. "But he don't know the meaning of dope," said GZA, complaining about a honkey A&R executive on the Wu-Tang's "Protect Ya Neck." "When he's looking for a suit-and-tie rap that's cleaner than a bar of soap!"
“Rap culture is interesting and different and has purpose, but it has a nonromantic view of life and of social feelings. There may be a void in that.” —Hal David, who wrote "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and about a million other songs you know whether you want to or not with his partner Burt Bacharach, had a pretty clear-eyed take on hip-hop. (Though I would argue that rap's antiromance goes towards its interestingness and differentness. And that, as much as it may signal a void, it has done us a service in counterbalancing, even just a little bit, the vast preponderance of overly romantic, "breakup-and-makeup" love [...]
"Some TIME writers and I combed through the lyrics to Jay-Z’s 15 studio albums (both solo and collaborative) and this is what we’ve found: 109 out of 217 songs contain the word 'Bitch.' That’s 50.2% of Jay-Z’s entire lyrical output. Hova’s bitchiest album appears to be 1998’s Vol 2…Hard Knock Life, on which 71% of the songs feature the newly illicit B-word."
“I know there won’t be any repercussions behind what I did. I know for a fact music is about perception. You can’t do anything but perceive what you hear. I know that for a fact. So I can’t ever be upset about someone’s reaction.” —Lil Wayne says something about facts and perception when asked by Vibe about dissing Jay-Z on his new song, which samples the title track from The Alan Parsons Project's 1976 album, The Cask of Amantillado.
"Gucci Mane, recently released from prison for the umpteenth time, sounds no worse for wear here, managing impressive nimbleness with his mealy mouth. He has more gears than most rappers do, a versatile stylist with nothing so old-fashioned as a commitment to structure and the integrity of words. He prefers sounds." —Awl pal Jon Caramanica's review of the new Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame album in today's Times brings up a good point about rap. There are important elements to it other than the lyrics. Sometimes these other elements get overlooked. This is the case with Hua Hsu's review of the new Jay-Z and Kanye [...]