Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

The World Is Yours

Last summer, my then-girlfriend asked me to put her on to some hip-hop.

Whenever I get a request like this from someone relatively uninitiated in the genre, I seldom know exactly where to start. After some consideration, I did what I thought made the most sense and started her off with the best: an 80-minute CD-R of Nas' finest tracks.

It's apropos. Fact: Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones is the best rapper ever. Bar none. Period. Accept no substitutes.

Next month marks fifteen years since the release of his seminal freshman album Illmatic. XXL Magazine - a periodical that long ago lost relevance - celebrated the event with an article on the album's making of; with interviews from all the beat makers, producers and the man himself on how each track and the album as a whole came together.

The pictures of a 20-year-old Nas and company capture the true grit of New York hip-hop culture during its renaissance period, and the stories behind the album's ten tracks shine a new and intriguing light on material that I can recite from front to back. ("N.Y. State of Mind" first verse in one take! Busta Rhymes could have taken the beat for "Halftime"!)

Illmatic is one of the top three best hip-hop albums of all time, one of very few perfect records and the best example of the genre's finest producers behind truly prolific wordplay that has withstood the test of time. No matter what Nas does for the rest of his career, no one can take this from him.

For your consideration (click on each scan to bring up the whole thing):

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pac and Primo: A long-awaited union

Okay, okay, aiight...this time I PROOOOMISE to keep up with this blog. As we get through the first quarter, hip-hop starts getting better and hence there's more to talk about.

The first thing that truly hit my radar this year is The Don Primo Edition, a mixtape of classic 2Pac verses over classic DJ Premier joints. Though I'd imagine that two of hip-hop's true talents blended together would be difficult to muck up, I'm sure it's possible. Fortunately for my treadmill run last night, it wasn't.

Twenty-eight tracks with a few interludes and some otherwise pointless guest artists fill out this bad boy. While I don't gush over 'Pac like so many of my contemporaries, I believe - nay, I KNOW - that Primo is literally the best thing that's ever happened to the musical aspect of hip-hop. My favorite cut from the mixtape is definitely "My Enemies Give Me Power:" It's "When We Ride on our Enemies" - that old Mobb Deep diss cut - over Nas' "I Gave You Power." The intro with Bishop yelling at Q in Juice gave me goosebumps.

I miss hip-hop. Download the link above and enjoy.

01. Intro - Primo Pac F Kanye Common
02. Holla If U Friend Or Foe
03. Gettin Money
04. Open Fire W A Full Clip
05. Understand My Style F Nas
06. Sleep On Me
07. Primo Speaks
08. Its All Real
09. Interlude - War
10. My Enemies Give Me Power
11. Here I Am Fk Yall
12. Paper On My Block
13. Hail Mary
14. Interlude - Hip Hops Influence
15. Old School Memories
16. Neva Call U Bth F Jeru Da Damaja
17. Against The World
18. So Ghetto Out On Bail
19. Thug Style
20. A Classic Combination F Kanye Biggie Big L
21. Interlude - From Ny 2 Cali
22. Better Dayz
23. Interlude - Origin Of Makaveli
24. Thugz Mansion
25. This Life I Lead
26. Throw Ya Gunz Up
27. Ready 4 Wuteva
28. Outro

Monday, February 9, 2009

Not gangsta...SO not gangsta!!!

The most anyone's seen Ray J since...ever.

Last Saturday afternoon, following a hellish journey home from Los Angeles, I was too catatonic to do damn near anything, let alone get up and find a remote control so as to change the channel on the television.

And so it stayed glued to VH1 as I played catch-up on my computer. I endured the drivel of reality shows with washed-up 90s stars and camera whores before I finally got up to switch on the PS3 so I could continue watching my "The Tudors" DVDs.

As I got up, "For The Love of Ray J" came on. The pilot episode. I had read about it briefly on the plane ride in that abortion of a hip-hop periodical known as The Source, so my curiosity was ever-so-slightly piqued. I stayed through the first commercial break. Then the second. And then, before I knew it, I'd reached the elimination portion of the show and lost a good hour of my life that I'll never get back.

First off, it's safe to say that VH1 has become the Krispy Kreme of basic cable: Everyone knows the shit is not good for you in way, shape or form, but folks can't stay away. I never, ever go looking for VH1 shows, but if I end up glued on the station for whatever reason - usually a result of being in front of someone else's TV who has it on - I find it difficult to turn the hell away.

But I digress. "For The Love of Ray J" is constructed with pretty much the same formula as all these other "find love" exercises in putting society's dregs out there for public consumption. But for some reason, this series is even less palatable than than the others. I think it has to do with the fact that there is absolutely, positively nothing compelling about Ray J.

Flavor Flav? Interesting motherfucker. Bret Michaels? Former rock god. Who can name more than one song from Willie Norwood? If you can, email me and I'll hit you in the face with pizza dough for being a tool. This cat wouldn't exist in anyone's mental Rolodex if big sister Brandy hadn't had her run. The only reason anyone has mentioned his name in the past three years is because he railed half-Armenian, half-horse socialite/social disease Kim Kardashian and put the shit on videotape for all to see.

Leaking an intimate sex tape to the public without the expressed permission of his partner is plenty enough for any respectable woman to not want anything to do with a guy. But we're definitely not dealing with respectable women. VH1 is single-handedly setting the feminist movement back years with every one of these reality shows, just as the negroid males on the same shows probably took a handful of votes away from Obama.

Jimmy Kimmel put it perfectly when he addressed some of the Flavor of Love stars at The Roast of Flavor Flav: "Now where was I before I was interrupted by these whores?" Each of them get on the show and talk in the private camera room about how they're "different" from the rest of the women in the audience because they're "actually here because I am looking for something special; something real." And yet, they all end up 7/8ths naked in front of the camera embarassing the dogshit out of their parents. Dumb broads.

I mean, where do they find these women?? When they're all getting to know each other and rattling off their respective professions, all I wanted to hear -for whatever reason - was "medical school, lawyer, retail buyer." Nope. "Hairdresser. Waitress. Slutpiece." And as fine as most of them are, several of them screw up their natural beauty with terrible makeup, tawdry behavior and clothes that'll never get them invited to any man's dinner to meet the family. I mean honestly...a tattoo of a fucking jungle cat on the side of your face?!?!?!? I hope ol' girl comes from money...

And then you got Ray J himself feigning genuine interest in the women while projecting a not-so-modest solipsism that has him looking like a utter stooge. I always thought Flav was playing something of a caricature of himself on his show, but Ray J doesn't seem to be acting; the D-level singer is probably as surface-level as he'd have you believe.

I'm definitely done after one episode of this show. Especially since he kept the dirty, buttcheek-clapping stripper. If any of you are convinced these shows have any tincture of reality or genuineness, joke's on you.

Monday, February 2, 2009

...And That Right Soon: The Best of 2008

So better later than never, right?

Please forgive my infrequent blogging as of late -- life has gotten in the way of the time/motivation to flex my creative headbone. But as I've done every year for the past half-decade or so, I want to present my compendium of best hip-hop songs of the year.

While 2007 was a boon year for the genre, 2008 left a bit more to be desired. At the end of '07, I had to sit down and make some serious choices regarding what would make it on an 80-minute CD-R. This time, I had to go back and really think hard about what actually made it out last year, and what was worthy of actually making a CD full of my favorite stuff.

It seemed that there was a bit of a dearth in the year's midsection in terms of quality music; the first quarter was uncharacteristically decent (The Roots, Elzhi) and the fourth also provided a few gemstars (Black Milk). But the summer of 2008 was a period in which I truly immersed myself in the world of alternative rock music for the first time in my life. Playing Radiohead all day, every day made up for the lack of good hip-hop to round out my mix CDs.

Royce Da 5'9" and Black Milk both continued their supremacy from 2007, and by extension made it on more than a few cuts on the best-0f mix. Somehow, Kweli made it on this bastard twice, which is interesting considering he's such a fallen star in my estimation, despite being one of my favorite emcees. Skyzoo probably made it on the mix for the last time, as he's getting exceedingly uninteresting and worthy of checking out only for beat choice.

Speaking of beat choice, just as is the case every year, a couple of these cuts are here for no other reason than stellar, infectious production (The Jake One, Nicolay and Kidz In The Hall joints). I'll never claim to be more righteous than the next listener for appreciating shit with empty lyrical content that either bangs in the whip or has fantastic musical quality. The difference is, I just don't make it a habit.

A few more thoughts:

- There are a lot of mixtape tracks on here with cats rhyming over other folks' beats. Every year someone else does far more justice to a beat than the original artist. See Royce and his decimation of every Lil' Wayne beat he goes over.

- Where the fuck is Saigon's album?!?!?!?!?

- This mix features what will probably be the best flipping of a song from a Corey Feldman movie (#10)

- The Foreign Exchange should have been on this mix. But Phonte wanted to make the sophomore album all about substandard crooning, so...

-Nas is still a fucking monster on the mic, but his beat selection has probably faltered forever.

- Termanology basically blew an album full of the best production lineup in like 13 years. But "The Chosen" has a Havoc beat that takes me back to the old Queensbridge days. And Term blacks out over it.

- Elzhi's solo album was a bit disappointing overall, but Detroit hip-hop still trumps everything else.

1. "The Leak" - Slaughterhouse (Royce Da 5'9", Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz)
2. "Done Talkin'" - Royce Da 5'9"
3. "Believe It" - Saigon
4. "Momma Can You Hear Me?" - Talib Kweli
5. "The Necessary Evils" - Skyzoo
6. "What We Live" - Nicolay and Kay
7. "A Billi" - Jay-Z
8. "Let Your Hair Down" - Kidz In The Hall (feat. Skyzoo & Lil' Eddie)
9. "Home" - Jake One (feat. Vitamin D, C-Note, Maine & Ish)
10. "Thou Shall Not Fall" - Joe Budden
11. "America" - Nas
12. "Long Story Short" - Black Milk
13. "Hot Thing" (Remix) - Talib Kweli (feat. Jean Grae)
14. "Royal Flush" - Outkast and Raekwon
15. "Motown 25" - Elzhi (feat. Royce Da 5'9")
16. "Heart Breakers" - Son of Ran and The Messengers
17. "Criminal" - The Roots (feat. Truck Turner and Saigon)
18. "The Chosen" - Termanology
19. "What If We Cry?" - Jay-Z and Coldplay

Friday, January 23, 2009

Waitin' for the porn to change

If there was anything that 15-year-old Dustin knew well, it was the many resplendent joys of pornography.

I couldn’t get a girlfriend to save my natural life, I wasn’t involved in sports and video games didn’t have that six-hours-a-day appeal that they did when I was an adolescent. So I spent my formative teen years chasing after and amassing a collection of hardcore, softcore and HBO-late-night-programming videotapes that ultimately filled a military footlocker so heavy that I needed another hand to help me carry it – often at the cost of loaning out some of the material inside.

In high school, I was all about collecting black porn: the massive-titted bleached-blonde white women most conventionally associated with porn, while nice, became far too quotidian to keep my interest. Thanks to a very open-minded dad and friends in high school who were actually old enough to procure the stuff for me, I got my ample share of chocolate booty on film.

I was an early (read: underage) loyalist of Video Team’s Afro-Centric material -- namely the “Sista” and “My Baby Got Back” series. Fellow connoisseurs will recall the days of black porn laureates like Janet Jacme, Ron Hightower and Dominique Simone, on whose breasts you could balance three dwarves holding meal trays.

I knew all these porn folks more intimately than I probably should have. I knew Midori was singer Jody Watley’s sister. I knew that Crystal Knight actually performed when she was pregnant for a while. I thought that Mr. Marcus was the luckiest motherfucker on two-and-a-half legs. Hell, I still do.

As the years have elapsed, however, I’ve found that my attitude toward black porn has been tangential with my attitude toward hip-hop: the halcyon days have long fallen away, and now we have to dig a bit deeper for quality where there once was an abundance.

Back in the day, black porn starlets looked like they actually took into consideration that the world would see every bit of their creation and thus stayed in the gym. They were beautiful, diminutive and relatively innocent-looking, which made it delightfully shocking when they took penises the size of baby arms in their back doors like it was just another day on the job.

The black women in contemporary porn have devolved significantly. Honestly, these dames look like they’re smooth out of a strip club on the east side of Detroit. Broken press-on nails, belly folds, foot-long stretch marks and faces so buttery you’d think the beautiful women actually developed a collective sense of self-worth and left the porn to their busted brethren.

I think black porn reached its apogee around 1998, when Dee – one of my favorite “black” porn stars who’s actually Puerto Rican – was in her prime. Back then, you could pick up a title like “United Colors of Ass” or “Booty Talk” and know you would get at least three scenes with slammin’ women you’d actually consider taking home to mom if it weren’t for the whole porn thing. Now, I just assume that the sisters are gonna be all grody-looking and I will examine a DVD box much more closely before checking it out.

I can’t even tell you who the hot black actresses are today. It may be a result of a generally decreased interest in porn, as I can’t really rattle off the names of new porn starlets of any race (actually having a sex life drastically alters one’s overall interest in licentious viewing material, I’ve learned), but I pay enough attention to know that the “My Baby Got Back” series fell the hell off after, like, volume 25, and that that’s a reflection of the overall black subgenre.

Since the porn industry is in no real danger of suffering from the recession anytime soon (two things Americans will always need: health care and orgasms), I’m thinking we can get some of these beautiful sisters graduating college to a depressed job market to consider jumping into adult and increase the tone of black porn while netting six figures in the process.

I’m sure Mr. Marcus would be pleased to go back to the days of old. I know I would.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Notorious" film review

It would be an understatement to say that my expectations of the Notorious movie were abysmally low: The trailer was cornball, the folks responsible for the movie include P. Diddy as a producer and the guy who wrote Biker Boys, and (speaking of Biker Boyz) Derek Luke hasn't been in anything watchable since Antwone Fisher.

And yet, the film wasn't exactly a terrible piece of tripe.

Maybe it's that I see so many movies of a myriad genre and range that my expectations are low, but as far as biopics go, I think this could have been executed much worse...a sentiment not exactly shared by all.

The acting overall was not as bad as it could have been; newcomer Jamal Woolard did a pretty good job filling the titular character's sausagey shoes. He appropriately captured the presumed swagger of Christopher Wallace, as well as the emotional depth of his more reflective moments with his mother and his children. One of the most resonant scenes was Biggie's response to finding out his mother had breast cancer, as I could envision many young men responding the exact same way he did.

This Woolard guy is actually a real-life rapper with the stage name "Gravy." Is it wrong that I just blindly assume that this dude can't rap? How negative I've gotten toward my beloved genre...

But I digress. The story lines involving Lil' Kim and Faith Evans were interesting, if for no other reason than that I was curious how two relatively attractive women gravitated toward the fattest, nastiest, blackest motherfucker I've ever seen get famous. Kim's character did spend about 72 percent of the movie with her knockers out and pissed off at Big, so I guess I can see why the real-life Lil' Kim might be ticked at that. Not that I don't believe for a second that shit actually did go down grimy between the two of them.

The film would have us believe that 2Pac, Suge Knight and other devious West Coast rap personalities waged a one-sided war on the East Coast during the infamous mid-90s coastal strife. Was 'Pac the asshole they made him out to be and Biggie completely devoid of any wrongdoing? Perhaps, but I take into account that Notorious is a film basically made by the folks that loved him the most, so I'm going to assume some level of creative bias.

Things I didn't like? The movie deferred to the saccharine quite often; especially near the end when Big supposedly made peace with everyone in his life right before he was killed, as if he knew for sure it would happen. I didn't like that Angela Bassett used a fraction of her ass to execute Violetta Wallace's Jamaican accent. In fact, I'm mad that she's typecast period as the maternal figure of trouble famous figures.

This movie is no Ray, and it sure as hell is no Walk the Line. It isn't even quite as enjoyable as 8 Mile (though I may be biased). But if you do what I do and buy the "child" movie tickets with your debit card from the Fandango machines, you shouldn't consider this a waste of your $7.50.

Also, any hip-hop nonfiction piece that's set in the early- to mid-1990s (a la 8 Mile) is likely to have a very dope soundtrack. Notorious is no exception.