Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

What happened to Kanye West?

My, oh my how the tides have changed in just a year and a half for Kanye West. It appears the quality of music for Mr. West has taken a dramatic turn for the worst.

In November of 2010, I’d be the first to tell you that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a genius production by West. That album had so much color and depth to the songs that sent listeners into the type of fantasy the title states. It was twisted and dark, but it was definitely beautiful. I think the movie Runaway added to that. It brought a distinct imagery to the lyrics that I think of each time I listen to the album. I think about that story of dark times, love, hate, betrayal, desire and conflict.

But now, after listening to West’s latest releases off his G.O.O.D. Music label, “Theraflu” and “Mercy,” and looking at what Watch the Throne had to offer, I think West maybe nuzzling up to the Billboard bigwigs atop the pop charts.

As I said, Fantasy was brilliant. For the most part, Watch the Throne was good. I think Jay-Z carried that album lyrically, but West’s beats were very well done. Outside of “New Day,” West didn’t have much to offer as far as lyrics are concerned, leaning more toward the Lil Wayne style of money, cash, hoes.

That said, these most recent tracks are woeful. Woeful.

As soon as I heard D.J. Khaled with his signature Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks-like screaming, I knew that “Theraflu” wouldn’t have much to offer. There is no depth to West’s lyrics and the beat sounds like the annoying drone of combined ancient cellphone ringtones.

“Mercy” is clearly trying to expand off the success of “Paris” off Watch the Throne by the sound of its beat. On top of the club-like beat it adds a Mike Jones “Back Then” voice combined with high-pitched senseless babble to the chorus making for an extraordinarily annoying refrain. Again, there is no depth to the lyrics of this song.

The featured artists on the track don’t add anything either. Big Sean hasn’t gotten any better after the minor train wreck that was Finally Famous. Pusha-T is not living up to his potential he displayed in “Runaway.” And 2 Chainz is, well…2 Chainz.

What has been lost in these songs are the stories. Stories make the song worth listening. A catchy beat only goes so far before it gets annoying. Lyrics stay with people because they relate to the emotion. Tell me who hasn’t posted (or thought of posting) song lyrics as a facebook status or in a tweet to illustrate their feelings.

What are the people supposed to take away from songs like “Theraflu” and “Mercy”? Tell me.

Maybe I’m just being stuck in my ways as a traditionalist hip-hop connoisseur, but I miss the old Kanye West. What happened to this?

And this?

I miss when Kanye was the up-and-coming star, putting out tracks with meaning, feeling and emotion. I hope we’re not looking back in a few years thinking: What happened to Kanye West?

Education in Hip Hop

If you ask me my favorite songs, artists, albums, etc. I’m going to throw Jack Johnson and Matt Costa back at you. “Nightswimming” by R.E.M. and “Have a Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt are easily in my top ten list of favorite songs of all time. My musical interests are rooted in the Nirvanas and Weezers of the world – those bands in which I released all that false preteen angst.

But I have a public love affair with hip hop, public as in my friends think it’s all I listen to. It isn’t my favorite type of music, but I can’t break away from it. There’s something about someone who can go in on a beat and, as Cities Aviv says, “keep their heads movin’ by the m************ thousands.”

I found it difficult today, however, listening to my middle-aged, caucasian folk music professor trying to discuss hip hop. I knew that it would be bad from the beginning because any class focusing primarily on the roots of American music wouldn’t have much good to say about hip hop.

Now we’re examining the modern musical derivatives of early American folk, blues, gospel and country. Hip hop certainly traces back to those traditions. Try listening to a Big K.R.I.T. vocal joined with Dave Brubeck’s saxophone, B.B. King’s guitar and a heavy drum kit and tell me you don’t have “Pimps (Remix).”

If you ask me, hip hop has some of the most rich folk traditions of any type of music.

  • It’s an oral tradition. I was watching Common on ABC’s The Chew and he talked about how he’s never written any of his lyrics down. It goes back to the art of the freestyle. The lyrics are what’s on the mind.
  • The songs are about life. Many hip hop songs are about the rise from rags to riches. If you listen to most of Jay-Z’s early stuff and even his more modern music, he’s rapping about his young life in Brooklyn.
  • Songs are about work. My professor said that labor was in no way tied to hip hop. Oh how wrong he was. No, hip hop artists weren’t going to the factories or the farm to do manual labor, but selling drugs was hard work. Guys like Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z put their lives on the line each and every day to make a few bucks.

My professor said he wouldn’t teach gangster rap because it was too difficult for him to listen to and talk about. People do this all the time because they are getting a false image of hip hop. Guys like Lil Wayne and Drake aren’t what hip hop is all about. They rap about nothing at all. The lyrics don’t have meaning.

I think to understand hip hop you have to first understand what hip hop really is. As Jay-Z describes in his book Decoded, hip hop is seen as evil music because it tells the stories that Americans don’t want to hear and don’t want to reflect the country.

Yes, some of the vulgarity is difficult to listen to at the surface, but to truly understand hip hop, you have to dig deeper. The earliest rappers told the story of the American gangster. People hear a curse word and automatically throw hip hop to the wayside. Look deeper and find the meaning.

If you listen to pop chart rap – Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, etc. – all you’ll get is vulgarity. But if you listen to real hip hop, you’ll find the stories.

I hope you enjoy this fourth post. Just know that I very much enjoy my folk music class, but hearing my professor try to teach hip hop was crushing. See you all tomorrow.

Peace be with you,

–BP

Last King 2: God’s Machine

Last King 2

Last King 2: God's Machine, by Big K.R.I.T. ((c) 2011)

Big K.R.I.T. had all eyes on him when he released his album Return Of 4eva for free in March of this year. Releasing an album for free is daring, but perhaps fans struck K.R.I.T.’s generous nerve and he gave us an instant classic at no cost.

The question was: What would the Mississippi rapper be able to do for a follow-up? We were blessed with that follow-up last week in Big K.R.I.T.’s new mixtape Last King 2: God’s Machine.

Naturally, many hip-hop fans had astronomical expectations after the success of R4. Last King 2 is far from R4, but it’s certainly nothing to toss aside.

Most artists would agree that they save their best stuff for their albums and the mixtapes are just for kicks. If that’s the case, this fits the mold perfectly.

Last King 2 is solid all the way through. K.R.I.T. gives listeners tastes of the R4 style and brings on big features including Wiz Khalifa, Bun B, and Yelawolf.

The diamond on this tape is a southern luxury track ‘Pimps (Remix)’ featuring 2 Chainz and Bun B. This beat is pure gold with a sultry saxophone paired with a soft electric guitar. This is one to close your eyes and just groove to.

Much like southern cuisine is dubbed ‘comfort food,’ southern rap can be labeled ‘comfort rap.’ Last King 2 is what can be expected from a Big K.R.I.T. release. This tape provides groovy beats, meaningful lyrics, and some southern drawl from your one and only Kuntry Kuzzin K.R.I.T.

Rating: 3.5/5

Watch The Throne

Watch The Throne

Watch The Throne, by Jay-Z & Kanye West ((c) 2011)

It’s here. The release of the summer is finally here. Jay-Z and Kanye West have finally released the much-anticipated collaboration album Watch The Throne.

An album that was originally rumored to come out in January of this year, Watch The Throne has caused for much unrest in the music world all year.

The first collaborative single ‘H*A*M’ was released on January 11 and left many scratching their heads. Produced by Lex Luger — known, for better or worse, for producing ‘Hard In Da Paint’ for Waka Flocka Flame — the single only garnered three stars (out of five) from nearly 6000 reviews on iTunes.

Fans perhaps expected more from the last living King of Hip Hop Jay-Z and the Prince Kanye West. After West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (December 2010) garnered a five-star review from Rolling Stone and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, fans expected genius from then on from West. And Jay-Z’s career speaks for itself. The first single was an unexpected flop.

Perhaps the failure of ‘H*A*M’ led the pair to rework how the album would sound and, from what I hear on the album, it was for the best.

The music lives up to its title as Kanye and Jay-Z trade verses for the album’s entirety discussing their journey to and life at the top — and they are undoubtedly at the top.

From many of Jay’s lines, we learn that life at the top hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be. Jay-Z spits as plain as day “I’m fucking depressed” in ‘Welcome To The Jungle.’ Need more? “My uncle died / My daddy did too / Paralyzed by the pain / I can barely move / My nephew gone / My heart is torn,” he says earlier in the same track.

We learn through Jay’s lyrics on this album that although he has had such a successful career it hasn’t been easy, in both business and in his emotions.

I was wondering why Jay-Z would take on a(nother) collaboration project when he’s been on top for so long (11 No. 1 albums in a row). He alludes to the death of NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt in ‘Lift Off’ (featuring Beyoncé): “When you Earnhardt as me eventually you hit a big wall / 5, 4, 3, 2 we need fuel.” This says that perhaps Jay-Z thought he needed something fresh to keep his career afloat.

Kanye West dips into the emotional tanks as well, spitting: “Just when I thought I had everything / I lost it all / So que sera / Get a case of Syrah / Let it chase the pain / before it goes too far” in ‘Welcome To The Jungle.’ Here West alludes to his dramatic fall from the top, from hip hop darling to critics’ most wanted. He says how losing it all caused him severe pain, so he would drink (“syrah” or “shiraz” are a type of grape used to make strong wine) before his emotions carried him over the edge (suicide?). Maybe. Just a thought.

Both the good and the bad of the “good life” are explored throughout this album in a way only Jay-Z and Kanye West can do.

The “good” reaches its peak in ‘Otis’ where Jay and Kanye trade conscious verses like a good boxing match, blow after blow.

And then the “bad” reaches its peak (or valley) in ‘New Day’ where both are speaking to their future sons, apologizing in advance for the lives the boys will live. Jay-Z spits: “Sins of a father make your life ten times harder.” This line speaks for both Jay and Kanye. Because of the lives those two have lived their future sons may never get to live a normal life.

Watch The Throne is an exploration of the lives of Jay-Z and Kanye West, both when they are together and when they are apart. The overall message (to me) is that through the good times and the bad, they are still the best. Critics can say what they want. There may not be a song on the album that gets millions of spins on the radio.

But the hip hop community gets it. Jay-Z and Kanye West have never been about pleasing the mainstream music business. (This isn’t a Lil Wayne and Drake collaboration.) This is two of the greatest hip hop artists of all time coming together for what will go down as an historic album. This is luxury rap at its finest coming from the King and the Prince.

Rating: 4/5

p.s. I found it interesting that in iTunes track listing, the artist was listed as “Jay-Z & Kanye West” for every song except ‘H*A*M’ (the flop). That song was listed as “Kanye West & Jay-Z” perhaps because West was responsible for bringing in Lex Luger which could have been a reason for the song’s semi-failure.

Sorry 4 The Wait

sorry 4 the wait

Sorry 4 The Wait by Lil Wayne ((c) 2011)

I refer to Dr. Dre‘s lyrics in the N.W.A. song ‘Express Yourself’ as a sort of rulebook when I’m listening to hip hop. Although rules are meant to be broken, I think the song lays out everything I like and dislike about hip hop. The lines that serve as a foundation for my listening taste go as so:

“Others say rhymes which fail to be original. Or they kill where the hip hop starts, forget about the ghetto and rap for the pop charts.”

To me, that set of lines tells the story of Lil Wayne and his rapid rise to hip hop stardom and recent fall into pop chart leech.

Weezy’s release from jail has “hip hop fans” waiting for the highly anticipated release of Tha Carter IV. Well, the prelude is here and it comes in the form of the mixtape Sorry 4 The Wait.

In all honesty, I didn’t mind that waiting feeling. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t waiting for anything.

After Tha Carter III I was on the Lil Wayne bandwagon. I thought, “Man, this must be hip hop.” Wayne was on top of the world after that release. When you’re on top, the only place to go is down. And down he went.

Once Wayne’s group (/squad/posse/circle/whatever) Young Money Cash Money (YMCM) became popular, it was the beginning of the end. Wayne’s releases post-Carter III were all unoriginal and filled with shameless plugs of YMCM’s artists including (but not limited to) Drake and Nicki Minaj.

After that dramatic fall I began to see the light. My thoughts went from “this is hip hop” to “this is garbage.” Wayne’s stale and annoying voice, pop chart dependency and lack of original lyrics leaves me with no choice but to dislike what he puts out.

After all the years we have been involved with Lil Wayne, I’ve learned the following things from his music.

1. He has a lot of money.

2. He has sex with many young females that he doesn’t like at all.

3. He kills people in some way whether it’s through his posse or himself (but he only shoots when necessary).

4. He smokes weed…on every track.

5. He often times mispronounces words, but corrects himself immediately (in rhyming fashion).

And that’s about it.

However, Lil Wayne has taught me something extremely important. He has taught me why I love the music I love. After all, what is good without the bad? So for that, I commend him.

As for Sorry 4 The Wait, I listened to it and, rather unsurprisingly, there isn’t much to review. Read the those five bullet points over and over again and throw it on any beat and you’ll get the idea of what the tape is about.

Rating: 0.1/5 

(Only because I can’t give it 0 stars.)

Women Who Rock (B+ Edition)

During my daily journey through the Internet in search of new music just a few days ago, I read a tweet from Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson (@patrick_wilson) that somehow caught my attention. It simply said “worth your time” followed by a link.

I tend to have good faith in humanity and I figured Wilson’s link really was worth my time. It directed me to a YouTube video done by Sirius XM of a live acoustic performance by Florence + The Machine of their song ‘Dog Days Are Over.’

After hearing Florence Welch belt out some of the most powerful notes I’ve ever heard to the melodic tunes of the harp and guitar followed by a solid hour of immersing myself in Florence + The Machine, I got to thinking: I really enjoy women who rock.

Inspired by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit entitled “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power,” I decided to add my own wing to the exhibit…or at least a small hallway with some art lights. In my opinion, these women are the best in the biz.

Florence Welch

florence welch

Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine

Did I hint at this too much? Florence Welch could easily go down in history as one of the best rockers ever (yes, EVER) if she keeps it up. Flo’s surprisingly powerful voice almost overwhelmed me on first listen. Her deep and dark lyrics and hypnotic melodies keep me hooked on every note. Although Florence + The Machine have only come out with one album so far, I have no doubt we’ll be hearing their songs for a long time to come.

‘Kiss With A Fist’ (Live on Seattle’s KEXP) – Florence + The Machine

Zee Avi

zee avi

Zee Avi

With a sound as unique as her name, Zee Avi made a big splash with her debut self-titled album released in 2009 as she cracked the Associated Press’s top ten albums of 2009. Zee is one of the rare successful YouTube sensations. Her videos under the username “KokoKaina” eventually got her noticed by Jack Johnson’s record label, Brushfire Records. With her next album Ghostbird set to come out August 23, Zee Avi will continue soothing souls and putting smiles on faces.

‘Bitter Heart’ – Zee Avi

Norah Jones

norah jones

Norah Jones

The soft rock goddess that is Norah Jones has long been in the foundation of my music taste. Wiz Khalifa says in his song ‘Mesmorized’: “This shit don’t just sound cool. This what we go to sleep to, wake up to.” I think this is a perfect (and rather profane) way of describing Norah Jones’ music. It’s music that can make any day or night relaxing. That’s something I often look for in music is “relaxability.” Can I relax and groove to this? When it comes to Norah Jones the answer is always yes.

‘Chasing Pirates’ – Norah Jones

Honorable Mention: Beyonce Knowles, Amy Lee (Evanescence), Adele, Delores O’Riordan (The Cranberries)

Finally Famous

finally famous

Finally Famous, by Big Sean ((c) 2011)

Perhaps one of the most anticipated releases of the summer for hip-hop fans, Big Sean‘s debut album, Finally Famous, dropped Tuesday.

The G.O.O.D. Music artist had high expectations, but appeared to fall short of the bar–or at least in my opinion he did.

Maybe it’s my problem that ever since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy I hold Kanye and his artists to that standard. This release from Big Sean doesn’t come close.

Comparable to Lupe Fiasco‘s latest release, Lasers, Finally Famous is an album for the radio: filled with dance tracks, a few mainstream featured artists and lazy delivery.

Sean starts with what is no more than another dance track in “I Do It” followed up by a song for radio rats, “My Last” featuring Chris Brown.

“Marvin & Chardonnay” featuring Kanye West sounds like something off the latest Soulja Boy album (yes, exactly) followed by the song “Dance (A$$)” which speaks for itself.

Despite this album’s bountiful quantity of dime-a-dozen dance tracks, Big Sean has some bright spots. The second half of the album saves it from being a complete bust.

Quality tracks like “Memories (Part II)” featuring John Legend and “So Much More” kept me from erasing this album from my hard drive. And although the song “High” almost too obviously features Wiz Khalifa, it’s a good track and worth a listen.

Although this album flopped worse than LeBron James, I’m not calling a foul. Most of this album will be buried in the depths of my iTunes library, but a few tracks are worth the save.

Kanye West will have to come up big with his collaboration with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, and also G.O.O.D. Music’s Pusha T’s upcoming album to stay on top of the game.

Rating: 2.5/5