Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers” is 20!

Something we missed over the weekend, the seminal album Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers was released on November 9th, 1993. This not only means that this album has been influencing artists and fans for more than half my life, but it also means that I am getting old, fast. I wasn’t listening to the Wu Tang Clan in 1993, but I should have been. My brother might have been ( but we all know he’s the cooler one).

Here’s a clip from Grantland.com where Method Man talks about it:

(Here’s a link where the Grantland staff talks about their favorite Wu Tang members. Who does one root for? RZA is a genius; Method Man is so very telegenic; Ghostface Killah is hysterical. Personally, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard always cracked me up.)

My brother and I both got wicked stirred up about Wu Tang earlier this year. He wrote a great review of the first album and its influence on his life and I tried to match him by talking about my late conversion to hip-hop and love of this album. Yeah, it may be a bit of a stereotype, but today I’ll be the one with two toddlers in the back of a blue Toyota Prius letting the bass rumble when I listen to this song:

Music on the Radio in the Movies: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

The good Professor Mortis, a sometime contributor to this blog, was kind enough to have me as a guest-blogger on his. As you can see from this entry and the next, I had Slater on the mind. A big thanks to the Professor for inspiring me to start a blog in the first place. IF you haven’t checked out his League of Dead Films, you’re depriving yourself of gems that somehow end up in songs like this:

The League of Dead Films

PUV German

Note: In honor of College Radio Day and a little old-fashioned cross-promotion, the good Professor let me interrupt the regularly scheduled program to help resurrect a movie that even he hasn’t seen.

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Written Elsewhere: An interview with Sigur Ros’ drummer ahead of the band’s first Miami show

Check out this interview with a drummer from one of the most unique bands in music today (Sigur Ros). I haven’t talked enough about how much I like this band, but maybe now I’ll get around to it. (And I owe the band a debt of gratitude, along with The Dirty Three they provided the soundtrack that made my dissertation possible…)

Independent Ethos

One of the concerts of this year we’re most looking forward to is Sigur Rós’ overdue visit to Miami. It’s scheduled to cap the Icelandic band’s current U.S. tour, which kicked off on Sept. 14 in Detroit. Last Friday, I suddenly learned I had the chance to chat for 10 minutes with the band’s longtime drummer/percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason, thanks to Live Nation and the “Miami New Times” pushing their agent for an interview.

The group was in Philadelphia and Dýrason was about to head in to rehearsal. I had many questions, but could only go superficial with such limited time— a bit sacrilegious for a band I have been following from the start, but it was a nice opportunity, so pardon if this post jumps from one topic to another. There is a link to a more cohesive piece at the bottom of this post, which gets into much…

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Junip – Walking Lightly

VeneerAnd now it is a super-saturday, new song, double re-blog bonus day. The lead singer of Junip is Jose Gonzalez, one of the most exciting and original guitarists playing in popular music today. Gonazalez’s Veneer is one of my 10 ten favorite albums. His compositions with Junip can be a little more strung-out and lose some of the narrative and musical verve of his solo work, but Nuance Culture is right about the chill tone and even feel of the music.

Despite the chill tone, though, the music is powerful and deep. It is like Sigur Ros met up with Paul Simon somewhere in the stratosphere. Dig it? I love the poly-instrumentation of the production and the moments when Gonzalez drops in to the lower ranges of his voice. I am going to buy this album yesterday.

Nuance Culture

Junip a Swedish Rock Band just released their video for Walking Lightly This song has to be my favorite it’s so chill and relaxing and the visual aid is freaking phenomenal. Check the video out above. Stream their  self titled sophomore album released through Mute Records. below. 

 

New Walking Lightly EP releases 9/16

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Requiem for Grantland’s Quarter-Finals: Ni**as in Paris

This is probably violating some type of copyright. But, hey, free advertising for Grantland.com.

This is probably violating some type of copyright. But, hey, free advertising for Grantland.com.

Note: I wrote this post before the competition closed and quite erroneously predicted Adele’s victory. OutKast is victorious! This may undermine my claims about ‘recency effect’ or racism (although nostalgia and ‘safe’ hip-hop could be offered as explanations). For the wider public, I actually think that “Hey Ya” is more attractive than the subject of this post…

This is my third and final post about Grantland’s competition for the Best Song of the Millennium. My predictions have failed and the final competition is between Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and OutKast’s “Hey Ya”. I feel fairly confident that Adele will win the competition for a few reasons. For one, pop culture seems to have its own type of ‘recency effect’ whereby contemporary or rather recent phenomena are judged as better than those more distant in memory. “Hey Ya” defeated some stiff competition along the way (“Hot in Herre” and “Ignition Remix”) but those songs were also outside the memory of the younger generation.

The bigger issue that I think helps to explain Adele’s success apart from the fact that her presence on the radio is concurrent with the competition (recency effect) and her overwhelming difference from other artists, is her relative ‘safe-ness’, by which I mean , her music is non-edgy but ‘soulful’ R&B derivative, she is not over-sexualized, and, she is white.

I don’t want to make too much of possible racial patterns in pop-culture voting, but from Elvis to Eminem and Macklemore, white artists who channel black music often enjoy more success than their counterparts. (And, I suspect that former American Idol contestants are correct that racism is operative in that competition as well, the difference is that they blame the contest and not the voters.)

This is not to detract from the beauty of “Rolling in the Deep” or the power of Adele as an artist but to attest, instead, that the voting is influenced unduly by prejudices basic to our culture and by the bizarre circumstances of the Best Song of the Millennium bracket to begin with. And, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that “Ni**as in Paris” is an abrasive and, for many people, alienating song. That said, it is better than Adele’s song and I thought this a long time back. So here’s a re-posting of why love this song.

As I have mentioned before, my wife brainwashed both of our children in utero with mainstream hip-hop and top 40’s formats. From the posts on this blog it would seem that I don’t care at all about hip-hop, which is not actually the case. The problem is more that the necessary ingredients to love hip-hop as an adolescent were absent from my youth (listening to R&B, funk; the right atmosphere and geography) and my gene pool (my parents were the whitest people on the planet and grew up in some of the whitest places on the planet; they never listened to jazz, blues or anything edgier than the Rolling Stones).

These, of course, are excuses. The real fault is my own. After an early love for bad mainstream rap (MC Hammer, I still feel you), I was a bit put off by the gangsta rap explosion (which came around the same time as grunge). The kids in my all white high school who were wearing cross colors, dropping their pants low, and talking about forties and the like just seemed like morons. So, I ignored the whole damn thing.

And missed out on some great artists. Sure, I heard enough Dre, Snoop, Tupac and the like to know one from the other, but I didn’t really get to appreciate hip-hop until I met my wife who listened to nothing but rap and hip-hop (with the exception of Bon Jovi, an addition I still do not understand) until she met me. Cross-pollination happened; and eventually so did children.

So, rather than wholly brainwash my children, or fight against their preferences (they really do seem to dislike some of the slower, guitar driven stuff I prefer), I play the local hip-hop station on occasion. And for about the past six  months or so I can’t get enough of one song: “Ni**as in Paris” by Kanye West and Jay-Z.

Here’s the first weird thing about this: I don’t really like either artist individually. Jay-z does too much that isn’t rapping (although, as a producer I find him to be a great deal less annoying than the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy); Kanye, whose talent cannot be denied, just seems too thin-skinned in his public proclamations and a bit of a nutjob.

But, because I am so unfamiliar with current hip-hop, no longer watch music videos, and habitually ignore what DJs say, I didn’t know who sang Ni**as_In_Paris. The music drives forward, the opening rapping is aggressive yet not violent. The alternation between rappers works really well. The contrast between the faster and more muscular phrasing of the first rapper (Jay-z) and the dirtier, drawn-out syllables of the second (Kanye) keeps the song from getting repetitive.

(I had to be told by my wife who the artists were, that Jay-z was saying “ball so hard” and not something like “Hasselhof”; I told her that the lines in the middle are from Will Ferrell and originally reference that “Milkshake” song.)

In fact, I think that it is Kanye whose vocals made me like the song the most. When he first takes over the mic, he raps “She said Ye can we get married at the mall? / I said look you need to crawl ‘fore you ball / Come and meet me in the bathroom stall /And show me why you deserve to have it all”. He stretches and builds the vowels at the end of each phrase, and the growl in his voice coupled with the slightly lazy articulation makes me think of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.)

Here’s what else sets this song apart from the noise on the radio: like the best rap songs it is clever. The driving metaphor of the song is ‘ballin’ of some sort: Jay-z starts with a great boast (“So I ball so hard muhfuckas wanna fine me/ first ni**as gotta find me”) and later turns through a great list of luminaries (“Psycho, I’m liable to go Michael / Take your pick, Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6”).

But I think there is a self-deprecating play going on here (or else I should hate the song for being another anthem to how rich and awesome the rappers are). Let’s start with the obvious contrast in the song’s title between the reclaimed yet still powerful racial epithet and the European city known for its sophistication. From the beginning, then, I would suggest that this song declares “we, who are from the outside, are now where you live; we have the best”.

But rappers have declared this before. Kanye seems to play with this concept by poking holes in the pretense during one of the best parts of the song:

What’s Gucci my ni**a?
What’s Louie my killa?
What’s drugs my deala?
What’s that jacket, Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest
Cause I’m suffering from realness
Got my ni**as in Paris
And they going gorillas, huh!

Note the inverted invocation of brand names (Kanye declaring he knows them by claiming not to know them) followed by a re-assertion of the artist’s realness as he reminds us again of the scene that might have been (and still is if we accept “ni**as” as denoting a particularly American identity) one of fish out of water, of outsiders dwelling (and now buying) where they shouldn’t. Implicit then in the last line of this verse is the cumulative force of racism and stereotyped expectation that both rappers buy into even as they undermine their own identities as hip-hop artists by indicating the shifting and problematic nature of their realness.

Moments like this are what I love the most about hop-hop—it provides a framework for some of the most complicated identity negotiation that occurs in modern music. I may spend most of my time listening to whiny indie music, and I have to admit that there is as much crap on the hip-hop frequency as on any other dial, but there is a reason that 100 years from now the rise of hip-hop will garner more notice than the zenith of alternative rock. It is more vibrant, worldly and often packed with the power of great poetry.

Oh, and my children love the beats.

I am also so on board with this:

(Yes. I drive a prius and listen to NPR. We are all stereotypes to some degree.)

Grantland’s Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium, the Elite 8

So, over the weekend while I was escaping my 35th birthday Grantland’s contest to find the best song of the century continued without me and without my very valuable commentary on the matter. For the time being, or all time let’s say, I’ll pass over the absurdity of the contest, the fact that it is just a bald attempt to garner some page hits, and the obscenity of the music that has been left out and just focus on celebrating the fact that Beyonce has been swept from the bracket.

There is no way this is a fair fight.

There is no way this is a fair fight.

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Radio XXIV, side B, track 8: “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” by New Kids On The Block

more-post

Ah, New Kids on the Block. How could any of us remember you without some mixture of love and loathing?

The blog Mixed Tape Masterpiece is doing a phenomenal job of recapping and discussing the hits of yesteryear. This one makes me stop because I cannot hear the basketball-beat opening without remembering those ridiculous pins and the pink walls of my sister’s room (broken by pictures of Donny and Joey) back in 1989.

 

 

I wrote about my guilty love of this band. My sister is completely unrepentant and recently saw them live for like the 100th time.

 

 

 

Thanks for this, Mix Tape Masterpiece. Now I have to go listen to this song.

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

New Kids On The Block - You Got It (The Right Stuff)Oh, New Kids On The Block, you had the right  stuff, no question.  I’ve already written about how most of us boys in junior high hated you, and I myself was conflicted.  Back then, we were all jealous of you because our female counterparts had it bad for you bunch even though there was no way you guys were going to show up in our neck of the woods, much less date one of our pretty classmates.  Not saying they wouldn’t have been worth dating, New Kids On The Block, but it was a numbers game.  It was the same reason that I wasn’t going to be holding hands with Debbie or Tiffany or Alyssa or my beloved Staci Keanan.  You just accepted it and moved on.  I mean, come ON, New Kids On The Block, me and my fellow males were right THERE.  We were prepared…

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Written Elsewhere: Grantland’s Battle For the Best Song of the Millenium

If you don’t know Grantland.com you can probably make it through your life on a day-to-day basis without feeling like you’re living in a state of abject deprivation. Indeed, you can probably live more fully than if you’ve never read The New Yorker, Atlantic, or Harper’s (can you see my prejudice for traditional left-leaning print media?). But you haven’t had the opportunity to sample some of the more thorough, engaging and clever writing on the internet.

What does Beyonce have in common with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Wait for it…

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Written Better Elsewhere: Mumford and Sons vs. Frightened Rabbit

So, my good friend, Another J, just let me know about a piece on the Stereogum.com Deconstructing blog discussing earnestness, indie rock, and the difference between Mumford & Sons and Frightened Rabbit. (“Deconstructing: Frightened Rabbit, Macklemore, and the Perils of Earnestness”).  I like the post, not the least because it taps into the debate my brother and I have been having about Mumford & Sons (he doesn’t like them; I do, a lot, and then less) but also because it compares the band to Frightened Rabbit, a great group I only recently learned about and have been struggling to figure out how to write about.

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