Things that are funny…

February 25, 2009

1.  Letters to Cam-More neo-Cam’ron brilliance.  So many great moments in this, but my favorite is “I’m starting to notice something about these questions–they’re all really heartfelt.”  I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about Cam.

2.  New R.N.C. Chairman Wants a ‘Hip-Hop’ Party-The newly rebranded Republican party, according to Chairman Michael Steele “will be avant garde, technically. It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone — off the hook.”  Sometimes words fail me.

 

Look what I bring to the table

Look what I bring to the table

Weekly Top Five: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

February 22, 2009

Actually two days.  Oh well.  This one covers the 13th to the 20th.

5.  Gilbert Hernandez: Last week it was Jaime, this week I reread “Blood of Palomar,” which is way better than I remembered it.  Below is one of a few cool splash pages included in the book.512502374_985474ea2b

4.  Green Street Cafe in Northampton: is delicious.  I got a great steak there, and it was the best meal I’ve had in a while.

3.  Angelic Wars: Noz performs an invaluable service by collecting Goodie Mob guest appearances and rarities and such onto this mixtape.

2.  Shit Popped Off- I’m not sure if this is technically a Dr. Dre song or a T.I. song, but it may as well be the latter.  T.I.’s not really doing anything special or particularly impressive here, but he doesn’t really need to.  The beat sounds a lot better than most recent Dre stuff, maybe because it’s actually got somebody good rapping on it (i.e. not Dre or Kingdom Come-vintage Jay-Z).  Aside from a few tracks on Paper Trail, T.I. can basically do no wrong these days, and it’s a shame he’s going to prison so soon.

1.  Jadakiss- Kiss My Ass Mixtape: I don’t actually have much to say about this, it’s pretty much exactly what one would expect from a Green Lantern mixtape with Jadakiss on it.  Green Lantern’s a great DJ, and Jada is a good to great rapper who is on point throughout the tape.  The title track is probably my favorite song, but the freestyle with Styles P over “The People” holds a special place in my heart because that beat sounds way better with some rappers who aren’t Common on it.  Maybe it’s just the context but hearing it now it does seem like the perfect beat for some hardass New York mixtape rappers.

Welcome Back

February 19, 2009

Young Jeezy keeps dropping great videos from The Recession.  Would have preferred more black hoodies and American flags in this one, but I figure that after Put On and Crazy World and My President nobody can begrudge Jeezy a happy (or happier, maybe?) video.  Is this a happy video?  There’s a fine line between awesome and depressing, and Jeezy bulldozes all over it, in the best way possible.

Weekly Top 5, Feb. 6-13

February 13, 2009

Welcome to the new weekly feature where I count down things I liked about the past week.

5.  Beowulf: I’m reading this for class right now; haven’t read it before and it’s awesome.  It’s very entertaining, with a cool prose style.  Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t read it.

4.  Jaime Hernandez: I’ve also been rereading some of the best comic ever, Love and Rockets.  Gilbert Hernandez is maybe my favorite working cartoonist and I think that, because of that, I may have been sleeping on Jaime a little bit.  This time around I’ve been pretty amazed by his stuff.

3.  The weather: For about a week now the weather has been unseasonably nice.  Like April weather.  I can’t even explain how much better this makes everything for me.

2.  The Wrestler: Well, I said pretty much everything I need to about this yesterday.  In short–great movie, go see it if you haven’t already.

1.  I Hate My Job: Yeah, I realize this came out the week before, but since this is the first installment, it gets grandfathered in.  I think Cam’s output from the last two years has been kind of slept on.  He hasn’t released a lot of material, and obviously he’s not really on the Purple Haze level anymore, but a lot of what he has dropped (many of the tracks on the Public Enemy # 1 mixtape, for instance) has been pretty spot-on.  Noz and maybe a few other people I’m forgetting have referred to this as “recessionsploitation rap,” and while that makes some sense, I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to Cam’ron.  This song seems more or less in line with stuff he was doing a few years ago before anybody but Paul Krugman was really talking about the economy like that.  Between this and songs like “Bad Day,” “Just Us,” and “Glitter” he’s developing a new style that’s pretty different from the things people tend to remember him for.  The past couple of years seem like they haven’t been great to Cam’ron, and it’s cool that, rather than trying to ignore it and keep making triumphant hustler music (which would have been way more sad), his newer music reflects his life.  I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but I am beginning to think Crime Pays could be pretty decent.

The Wrestler

February 13, 2009

So I went and saw The Wrestler last weekend, and thought it was great.  Nobody needs to read anymore about Mickey Rourke’s performance, or the script, or Marissa Tomei; but I would like to highlight a few things that I liked and I haven’t heard as much talking about.

I was very impressed with the visuals of the movie.  Aronofsky has a great sense of the way his characters inhabit their spaces.  Whether closed in behind the deli counter, sitting at a table in the near-empty signing in the VFW, Randy’s relationship to his environment defines nearly every scene in which he appears.  Perhaps the best example of this is the scene in which Randy and his daughter, Stephanie, walk under the pier and into some sort of abandoned hall.  I’ve seen a few people complain that the scenes between Randy and Stephanie were trite or poorly written; this may or may not be true, but it doesn’t really matter–the way their bodies are framed by the huge, empty space around them is more important and more memorable than any of the dialogue.

The only space in which Randy can really thrive is the ring which is simultaneously enclosed by the ropes and open to the entire stadium.  It is both intimate–with space for only Randy, his opponent, and the referee–and public.  The ring, then, is a strange space, and Aronofsky puts it to good use in the fight scenes, which are excellent.  The way the ring operates emphasizes the double nature of the fights.  Everybody knows that the fights are a performance, even the people in the stands, who are their to see a show.  But when the movie closes in on the fighters, it’s a little more ambiguous.  It’s hard to tell just exactly what is fake when you watch Randy getting shot with a staple gun.  The wrestling matches are not a part of the real world but for Randy they’re even more real.  I want to say too much but this has a lot to do with the ending, which is great, and I’d rather not spoil it.

At any rate, believe the hype, it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year.

Chain Snatching Throughout History

February 11, 2009

 

Stick-up kids is out to tax...

Stick-up kids is out to tax...

“…the most resplendent/ torque of gold I ever heard tell of/ anywhere on earth or under heaven./ There was no hoard like it since Hama snatched/ the Brosings’ neck-chain and bore it away/ with its gems and settings to his shining fort…”

-Beowulf, lines 1194-1199

Yung Berg as the 2008 version of the Brosings??

Great Moments in Album Sequencing: Juicy/Everyday Struggle

February 8, 2009

It’s no coincidence that these songs–likely my two favorite songs on Ready to Die and thus two of the greatest rap songs every made–come right after each other in the middle of the album.  The songs work as the axis around which the whole record revolves, moving back and forth between the two poles they establish.  The nature of Ready to Die in general, in which songs like “Juicy”or “Big Poppa” are surrounded by “Machine Gun Funk” or “Warning” or “Things Done Changed” is great because it totally undermines the Horatio Alger tendency rap albums have to construct a rags to riches narrative.  Compare Ready to Die to an album like American Gangster–ignoring for now the fact that American Gangster is in every way an inferior album–and the latter seems way too forced and predictable.  With Biggie you never know what you’re going to get next.  Because of this, the one-two punch of “Juicy” and “Everyday Struggles” is so great.  Biggie follows up “Juicy,” THE rap song about getting rich, with this huge deflation.  The best parts of “Everyday Struggles” hit a level of poignance and clarity rare even for Biggie.  I particularly like the part after the narrative in the second verse (“I heard Tec got murdered in a town I never heard of” remains one of the coolest lines ever) where Biggie just goes panoramic, rapping that he’s “seeing body after body and our mayor Giulianni ain’t tryin’ to see no black man turn to John Gotti.”  But all this is secondary to the shock of the transition between the two, which still gets me every time I listen to the album.  The moment at the beginning of “Everyday Struggles” where the drums kick in is exhilarating taken on its own, and it’s even better in the context of the album, and the opening lines (“I know how it feel to wake up fucked up/pocket’s broke as hell/another rock to sell”) totally pull the wind out of the album’s sails, making you think that maybe “Juicy” really was all a dream after all.

Borges

February 6, 2009

So writing about 2666 got me thinking about Borges by virtue of all the comparisons people have been making between Bolaño and Borges, even though I think that said comparisons are way off base.  Also, I’ve been reading Borges for class.  At any rate, the confluence of those factors has had me thinking about the following passage from Borges’s essay “The Wall and the Books”–which is available in English in Labyrinths and maybe some other collections as well.

“Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces belabored by time, certain twilights and certain places try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something; this imminence of a revelation which does not occur is, perhaps, the aesthetic phenomenon.”

 

Anyway, more actual content to come later in the week, assuming I’m not swamped with reading for classes.

2666

January 28, 2009

 

listen carefully to what I have to say, comrade.  Im going to explain what the third leg of the human table is.

"Then Boris Yeltsin looked at Amalfitano with curiosity, as if it were Amalfitano who had invaded his dream, not the other way around. And he said: listen carefully to what I have to say, comrade. I'm going to explain what the third leg of the human table is."

So I just finished 2666 a few days ago, and I liked it quite a bit, although I still can’t answer the question I was asked by everyone who saw me reading it–namely: “what’s it about?”  In this way, and a few others, it reminded me of V. by Thomas Pynchon, another book I finished knowing that I’d need to read again before drawing any conclusions from what I’d just read.  Both books have fragmented, globe-spanning narratives that seem to somehow cohere in the end without revealing too much.  I’m sure that there’s more to be discovered than I picked up on in my first reading, and would like to give both books a careful rereading, but I think they both offer a lot to the casual reader too.  With 2666 in particular I was impressed with the ending, which manages to be an actual ending and provide some closure without bringing too many threads together or feeling in any way forced.

Ten Things About Notorious

January 17, 2009

 

Not really worth the trouble

Not really worth the trouble

So I went with my younger brother to go see Notorious last night.  I thought it was pretty bad, and I’d lowered my expectations before going in.  Here are ten things I thought about it.

 

1.  The basic arc of the movie where Biggie reconciles all of his troubled relationships shortly before dying seemed totally false and unnatural.  I haven’t read Cheo Coker’s biography, so for all I know it could be true, but even if it is the movie didn’t sell it at all.

2.  Furthermore, the idea that Biggie decided to stop rapping about hustling on his second album is just factually wrong.  Life After Death is the album with “Somebody’s Got to Die,” “N****z Bleed,” and “Ten Crack Commandments” on it.  To soundtrack Biggie’s claim that he wasn’t going to talk about street life anymore with “Sky’s the Limit”–pretty much the only song like that on the album–is totally dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of any viewer who’s actually listened to Biggie’s music.

3.  If you watched this movie with no knowledge of rap music, you’d think that nobody was rapping in the 90s except for Biggie, Tupac, Junior Mafia, and maybe a few West Coast acts.  This is a shame because one of the great things about New York rap in that era is the way that Biggie, the Wu, Nas, etc. were all kind of competing and also like using each other’s ideas.  I didn’t expect the movie to go into real rap nerd territory or anything, but some recreation of the early 90s “scene” would have added some verisimilitude.

4.  A good general rule might be that you shouldn’t make a biopic about anyone whose mom is still around to co-produce it.  No disrespect to Voletta Wallace, I just think that having someone that close to the subject of the film involved that much will, in the end, not help.  Could you say, “actually Mrs. Wallace, I think we need to portray your son as more of a dick in this scene?”  I know I couldn’t.

5.  Gravy’s not too good.  The parts he shines in most are the parts where he’s actually performing music, which makes sense because he’s a rapper.  He does a pretty good Biggie voice.  Other than that, it’s a pretty weak performance, although it kind of works if you figure that Biggie probably would have given a similar performance if he were forced to act in a lame biopic about himself.

6.  The music scenes in general are just better than the rest of the movie.  The next best parts are the parts where the compelling parts of Biggie’s biography (most of them) aren’t obscured or made into cliches by how bad the movie is (rarely).

7.  I don’t know whether it would be worse watching this as a Biggie fan or not.  On the one hand, the disappointment is probably worse for me because I’m actually invested in Biggie and his legacy.  On the other hand, who wants to watch a bad movie about someone they don’t even care about?

8.  I think the movie greatly overstates Puff Daddy’s role in Biggie’s music, if not his life.  There’s no mention of anybody who made music for Biggie.  If you look at the credits on Ready to Die, Puff didn’t make that many of the beats and all the ones he did he co-produced.  He was the executive producer, sure, but not mentioning at least like Easy Mo Bee or Premier seems like a sin of omission.

9.  They should make a biopic about Pimp C.  I know this contradicts the rule I’m trying to establish in number 4, but Mama Wes is cool and seems to have a pretty well-rounded image of her son without too many illusions (check out the interview with her on the excellent Damage Control tribute radio show), so I’m willing to let it slide.  I have no idea of who would be capable of playing Pimp C, but if it were done right, it could be a great movie.

10.  So, yeah, bottom line, you’d probably be better off saving your money and spending a few hours watching Biggie videos.