Papoose's Response to Police Shooting: A Great Rap Moment

Do not cross

First things first: I don't much like Papoose. He raps in a clumsy, scattered bray, ignoring the beat half the time and throwing five-dollar words around to make up for it. His puns are just howlingly awful more often than not. There's no nuance or confidence or humor in his stone-faced shout. His cameo on Jeannie Ortega's "Crowded" is the worst rap verse on a teenpop song in recent memory, and that song didn't exactly need any help to suck. A 45-minute Papoose mixtape has the potential to give me a bigger headache than the Mary Higgins Clark books-on-tape that my sister insists on listening to whenever I'm on a long car trip with my family. Papoose might've just signed an obscenely lucrative major-label contract, but that says more about the drought of talent in New York's mixtape leagues than anything else. I just don't have a whole lot of nice things to say about him. And as a piece of music, "50 Shots," the new Papoose song about the NYPD's fatal shooting of the unarmed 23-year-old black man Sean Bell this past weekend in Queens, is pretty bad. It starts out with the gorgeous swirling pain of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," but then it locks into a clanging, trebly helium-soul beat, the sort of track that New York rappers should've stopped using years ago. The track is right now circulating in a satellite-radio rip with Kay Slay yelling bad advice over the intro: "Ninjas gotta get gun licenses! They run up on your car, give it to them!" Papoose raps the same way about this shooting as he does about New York being his hand or mixtape DVD guys needing to get their cameras away from him or whatever. Aesthetically, the song is a mess. It's also the most clear-minded and righteous example of political rage set to music that I've heard all year, and I'm extremely happy that it exists at all. (Idolator has the mp3.)

More »

Live: Cranky New York Rap Nostalgia Soldiers On

Have you seen this man?

Redman + Raekwon + Supernatural + Smif-N-Wessun
BB King Blues Club
November 28, 2006

With all the huffing and puffing about New York rap, it's pretty funny that the Rock the Bells tour, maybe the biggest straight-up New York rap tour of the year, is an outgrowth of an annual festival in California. The tour is built completely around mid-90s New York street-rap, or, as a whole lot of people prefer to call it, "real hip-hop." Redman, Raekwon, and Smif-N-Wessun all performed at last night's New York show. Of those guys, Redman probably peaked most recently, somewhere around 1998. Smif-N-Wessun put out an indie album last year, but that was their first album since 1998. Redman and Raekwon released their most recent albums in 2001 and 2003, respectively. They aren't in retirement; all these guys constantly have projects in various stages of development, but they keep getting release-dates pushed back. They're part of rap's angry, disenfranchised legacy, the last guys standing or the first guys left behind, depending on who you ask. And that makes the Rock the Bells tour a sort of unwilling nostalgia revue, a show where the fans and the audience all share the idea that something has gone very, very wrong in rap. They aren't the only ones on the tour, either. A couple of nights before last night's BB King's show, I read somewhere online that Ghostface and EPMD and Pharoahe Monch had all been added to the tour, and I got all excited. I should've kept reading; all those guys are on board for select dates only. And Keith Murray was supposed to be at last night's BB King's show, but he must've punched someone out again, since he's not on any of the bills anymore. That makes one big tour all full of axes to grind.

More »

Axl Rose: Still Crazy

I can't possibly express how much I hate this new logo

It's absolutely not big news that Axl Rose kicked Eagles of Death Metal out of their opening-band slot on the current Guns N Roses tour after one Cleveland show. I'm pretty sure I've never heard an Eagles of Death Metal song in my life, mostly because everything I know about them (ironic mustache, Queens of the Stone Age guy drumming, not actually death metal) convinced me long ago that I wouldn't be missing anything if I pretended that this band didn't exist. They're big enough to headline Irving Plaza or whatever, but they don't exactly exist in the same pop universe as Guns N Roses, even in their Axl-only fake-reunion no-new-album guise. And opening acts at recent Guns N Roses shows have pretty much been cannon fodder and nothing more; if memory serves, the openers on the aborted 2002 tour were CKY and Mix Master Mike. Nobody's going to these shows for the openers, and it's tough to tell what purpose those openers serve, other than maybe to fill some of the inevitable two-hour gap between the show's announced start time and Axl's eventual entrance. The other opener on this tour is Sebastian Bach, which makes a lot more sense; people are coming to these shows for pop-metal nostalgia, not for MTV2 Subterranean bands. But it is pretty interesting how Axl decided to let Eagles of Death Metal know that their services would no longer be required.

More »

Jay-Z: Rap's Joe Lieberman

Your entire ass is crazy

It's not official yet, but Allhiphop reported a couple of days ago that Kingdom Come, Jay-Z's big comeback album, is on track to sell 850,000 copies in its first week out. That means it has the biggest first-week sales of the year. The figure may not be completely accurate, but the album still sold a shitload. Jay did it. He successfully turned a thoroughly mediocre big-budget event-rap album into a cultural event, and he beat Rascal Flatts. Kingdom Come is almost certainly the worst Jay-Z album, even counting the two he made with R. Kelly. But as a piece of media manipulation and modern mythmaking, it's a masterpiece. Rap albums don't sell anymore, but this Jay-Z album is selling, so maybe that means Kingdom Come isn't a rap album.

More »

Mobb Deep: Not Dead Yet

Totally forgot the American Music Awards were on last night

The beat is eerily familiar. The gurgling bass and the itchily insistent bongos come from Edwin Starr's "Easin' In," and Starr's own disembodied voice floats over the end of the track, howling forgotten nothings. DMX already used that beat for "Crime Story," from It's Dark and Hell is Hot (thanks, XXL fruitflies!), and this track taps into the same deep-seated dread as the DMX one. The track is dark and skeletal, the spaces between the notes filling up worlds by themselves. And Prodigy uses that empty glide to hit the fearful rage that made him one of the greatest rappers in the world when he was nineteen years old. He's talking out of the side of his mouth, mumbling threats and confessions and half-remembered tangents, talking about being high on crack in interrogation rooms, sounding like someone who's already gone over the edge: "I'm paranoid, and it's not the weed / In my rearview mirror, these cars, they follow me," "I ain't even wiping my sweat, it's keeping me cool / I ain't even sweating you ninjas, I'ma find you." On the chorus, he mutters an interpolation of an old Scarface lyric, a holy text: "I sit alone in my dirty-ass room staring at candles / High on drugs." On "Nightmares," the depressive/paranoid closing track from Clipse's new Hell Hath No Fury, Pusha T quotes the same Geto Boys song, "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me," grabbing bits and pieces of Willie D's verse to hit the same notes of bad faith and fatalism. Beanie Sigel did something similar with Scarface's opening lines on "Feel It In the Air." And now Prodigy, someone who seemed to have forgotten the sneering nihilism that made his voice so powerful, uses those lines to access one of the darkest visions we've heard from any rapper in a good long while. It's heavy shit, and it gets even heavier once you see the video.

More »

Preview: Ghostface Killah's New Album More Fish

Someone needs to tell me where I can get this hat

I'm not done with my year-end lists yet, still haven't heard the new UGK or Jeezy or Nas yet. But I can say this with some certainty: Fishscale, Ghostface Killah's fourth-best album, is also the fourth-best album of the year. Every Ghostface album is nearly as good as every other Ghostface album; he's been more consistently inspired than any other figure in rap. Ghost's commercial prospects have faded since Wu-Tang's heyday, but that lack of mainstream fame may be an artistic boon. Ghost always talks about how his new album is going to be the one to turn him into a major star, but he doesn't seem remotely interested in making that actually happen. Instead, he keeps crawling further and further into his own deeply peculiar aesthetic, and that's what's kept him sharp. Compare that to Jay-Z's tiresome money-talk or Nas's pervasive pessimism or Too Short's uncomfortable obsolescence. Those guys all hit career heights way higher than anything Ghost achieved, and they don't know what to do with themselves these days. Ghost keeps plugging away, keeping his breathless yell hard and surreal, and he hasn't stopped churning out great records. More Fish, his new album, is coming out less than eight months after the last one, and it's got even less in the way of commercial concessions than any of his earlier albums: no R&B singers, no big-name guests, precious few hooks. It's Ghost's Roc La Familia, a showcase for his Theodore Unit crew. The weed-carrier album is a bad move historically, and no one in Ghost's crew has the potential to be anywhere near as great as Ghost. More Fish might as well be the DVD extras from Fishscale, but it's still a good album. This guy can do anything.

More »

Jim Jones Obliterates Jay-Z

Cock-a-doodle-doo, fuckers

Talking about their feud in recent interviews, Jay-Z and Jim Jones both sound like fans. On Hot 97, Jay-Z compared Jones' attacks to a bench player booing his team's star, said that rap needs a board of directors to keep people from pulling dumb shit like that. Or here's Jones, talking to "I listened to his album. I'd say there was about two songs on there that was decent ... I was really disappointed in the album, man. You know?" (They're both right, but nevermind.) Talking about each other, neither one shows the fire of, say, Baby telling XXL that he hates B.G. and Mannie Fresh and Juvenile with all his soul, that he despises everything those guys stand for. Jay-Z and Jim Jones both seem to be looking at this feud with a sort of cool remove, like they don't have all that much invested in it personally but they're interested to see how it plays out.

More »

The Daily Show Throws a Party

Most of these people were not actually there

The Daily Show: Ten FU@#ing Years (The Concert)
Superchunk + Mountain Goats + Clem Snide + Upper Crust
Irving Plaza
November 16, 2006

I'm not entirely sure why this thing existed in the first place. It's pretty remarkable that The Daily Show has been on TV for ten years, but in that time, it's switched formats, hosts, bits, correspondents, joke styles, and pretty much everything else. From what I could tell, the show pretty much started as an excuse for Craig Kilborn to interview Norm MacDonald. The real ten-year anniversary isn't going to come until 2009, since that'll be a decade from the point when Jon Stewart took over the show and turned it into the insanely consistent fake-news thing it's become. And it's a little weird that the show decided to celebrate its own anniversary with an indie-rock show, since I can't really think of any pop-culture juggernaut less synonymous with music. When political science types guest on the show, they usually make the lame joke that political scientists get treated like rock stars, but it's not like the show routinely has rock stars go anywhere near it. The Daily Show is half an hour long, and that doesn't leave a lot of time for musical performances. I guess the White Stripes performed on the show once, and occasionally Stewart will interview some music luminary like Wynton Marsalis or Ice Cube; Stewart asking Ice Cube to define crunk may have been the most uncomfortable moment in the show's ten years. I guess Bob Mould wrote the theme music and They Might Be Giants recorded it, but that's a stretch. There was also a really funny from the 2004 election season when (I think) Samantha Bee interviewed young voters waiting in line outside an Atmosphere at Irving Plaza and asked them what issues were important to them; some dude said something about "the purity of music." Still, I didn't really know what I'd be walking into last night; I half-thought that these bands would only be playing a song or two and then letting Jon Stewart tell jokes onstage the rest of the time.

More »

The BET Hip-Hop Awards: A Running Diary

You might think your holy Christ was near

This thing probably should've been a complete clusterfuck. For one thing, there's already an annual BET Awards show, so this thing really has no reason to exist. For another, all the awards themselves have ridiculous names and nebulous definitions, so I can't imagine anyone really cares who gets what. And for a good example of how a rap award show can descend into total chaos, see the entire sordid history of the Source Awards. But BET invested some actual production values in this thing, and they limited the numbers of hypemen most of the time, and they got Katt Williams, a guy who's totally at home in chaotic situations, to host, so this ended up being a pretty decent night of TV. Still, watching it a few hours after Hell Hath No Fury finally leaked means I keep picturing Malice and Pusha T standing outside the venue and cutting everyone's heads off while the leave.

More »

Long Blondes: Desperation Britpop

The motion picture?

A little more than a year ago, the Long Blondes' singles started trickling in from England, touring the mp3-blog circuit and catching raves. I didn't much notice; I probably looked at the band's name once and decided that they were an alt-country band. I stopped reading NME years ago, haven't picked up a copy since they burned me on that first Vines album. And so I almost missed out on the closest thing the world has had to another Elastica since the first Elastica released their first album. The band started catching waves of British hype a while ago, actually hitting the singles charts even though they're on Rough Trade since that's the sort of thing that happens in England. They had four big songs: the careening jitter-ecstasy of "Once and Never Again," the floating synthed-out serrated Europop of "Giddy Stratospheres," the icy lament "Weekend Without Makeup," and the flushed, blaring dancepunk of "Separated by Motorways." But I'm glad I never heard them until a couple of weeks ago, since that meant that the first Long Blondes song I heard was "You Could Have Both," the sort of song that other bands go entire lifetimes wishing they could write. Musically, it pulls off all the same tricks as the previous three songs, fully absorbing all their disparate stylistic tics into something that feels like a manifesto. Kate Jackson sings almost exactly like Elastica's Justine Frischmann, a menacing, sarcastic drawl that suddenly launches upward into a brattily charged-up yawp on the choruses. And the band plays with the same fluorescent pitched-up thwack, but they give up some of Elastica's cold, mechanistic detachment and sub in a muffled girl-group swoon; it's like that band all of a sudden figured out that there was pop music recorded before 1977. "You Could Have Both" is the best Britpop song I've heard in years, and I would've fallen all over it if it had emerged during that phase where I was actually going to Britpop dance-parties every month.

More »