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, [...]
Remember the wonderfulness of the typography treatment of the lyrics in the original video for Cee-lo's "Fuck You" last summer? It started a trend—Hype Williams used a similar, though more photosensitive-epileptic-seizure-inducing, effect in his video for Kanye West's "All of the Lights" last month. Now, the new video for a remix of another song from Cee-lo's Lady Killeralbum, "Bright Lights Bigger City," puts a new spin on the idea. I think it's great. And, God, I love that Billie-Jeanie bassline. I'm not sure how much the addition of Wiz Khalifa adds, though, other than the cache that comes from his recent no. 1 single, "[...]
Since I had no economic imperative to do so and am talented at time-management, I decided against committing to the 3+ hour telecast of last night's Grammy Awards—going instead with breaking news absorption through Twitter, along with watching a few relevant performances (Janelle Monae and Arcade Fire) via our janky, insta-uploaded-to-YouTube commons.
But that doesn't mean I didn't walk through the New York City subway system these last few weeks. "MUSICisLIFEisMUSIC," went the Recording Academy's halfway inspiring but also inescapably vapid manner of posterboard tautology. That toothache you can't get looked at without dental insurance? Oh, well, that's life—which is to say, music! So be sure to enter your [...]
Did you look through the Pew study on Twitter use that came out last week? We finally did! The data uses interviews conducted by both landline and cellphone numbers—so respondents are limited to people who'll actually pick up the phone for a random number. (Who are those people?) What did we learn? An amplification of four things we already knew.
"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 [...]
So how do you feel if you're Kanye West (or at least "Kanye West," Twitter personality)? Well, you know you're amazing and no one feels worse about it than you. You're a superstar and no one could possibly be more alone. Acknowledging this, your heart swells like you're becoming a better person while all the time you remain convinced that you were already awesome anyway. Self-pity mixed with delusions of grandeur—the identifying marks of a very particular type of asshole who feels like he should be congratulated simply for meaning well.
And nowhere do you get such a good approximation of what it feels like to be Kanye than [...]
If you want to put your finger on why Americans have this nebulous but persistent sense that the way we live our lives is in some deep way wrong, I would point you toward the unresolved conflict between our ethos of individualism and the fact that worldly achievement is now almost impossible without being what's known in the dialect as a "team member." While we can still chant "USA #1" with perfect assurance, it all seems unreal without a life-size statue of a superstar. Which is why so many are fascinated with Kanye West. Kanye's career is the story of one man joining and then transcending the organization, becoming [...]
Part of a series on collaborations that we now take for granted but initially made little sense.
Hip hop’s lyrical narrative often gets unfairly abbreviated to being about nothing more than posturing and persona, a never-ending series of mostly meaningless boasts about how nice my rhymes sound, and so on. That’s been a component of the story for a long time—recall Sugar Hill Gang’s proud pronouncement, in 1979, that “I got a color TV, so I can see/the Knicks play basketball”—but hip hop verses are also a place for confessions, specifically for those of black men. There's a reason, for example, that Scarface once wrote a song [...]
"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 [...]
"I'm ready to give up my old thoughts/I'ma move past what a saw/I'ma do what a want and be happy/I'm not gonna rob or kill to survive/Everything I seen was a lie/I'm not ready to die/I love myself…" — Lil B, "I Hate Myself."
"Evolve already," said the button Dan Savage wore to a Gay Pride reception at the White House last night. Well? Oakland rapper Lil B, at least, seems to be listening. His new album, I'm Gay (I'm Happy) came out yesterday on iTunes. I've been listening to it this morning, and it sounds really good.
Well here's another great Christmas song. Kanye West, who as you know has been on something of a hot streak, has assembled a large group of hip-hop carolers for his lovely tribute to the holidays in Harlem. Big Sean, Cam'ron, Cyhi Da Prynce, Jim Jones, Musiq Soulchild, Pusha T, Vado. But young singer Teyana Taylor steals the whole thing (but in a good way, not like the Grinch), making the hook sound like the kind of yuletide classic we've been roasting chestnuts to for years.
Well! People are saying that last night's tiny Kanye West show was amazing, but when you listen to the clips of his ten-minute monologue, those are not really the sounds an audience makes when the preacher is on fire, or when something amazing is happening. (Although everyone does crack up when he thanks "the energy from the models." Because that is hilarious. And there's applause and enjoyment of it—just less and less as it goes on.) But mostly I think this is the sound an audience makes when someone has gone off the rails. (There's whole parts that don't make sense, after all! And anyone who spends ten [...]