American Idol Week Two: Sucking Slightly Less

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Unstoppable

First off, I'm kind of bummed about last night's ejection of Alexandrea Lushington, the vaguely spazzy 17-year-old hippie chick who turned intolerable soft-rock into tolerable R&B two weeks running. On Wednesday night's show, she managed to make me like a Chicago song OK, which is some sort of creative alchemy, and the fact that she's fallen while beyond-bland glee-club doof Luke Menard still stands is pretty much unconscionable. Actually, the persistence of Menard is just mystifying. Who's voting for this guy? Are all the acapella groups in America banding together via message board and turning themselves into a so-far indestructible voting bloc? Menard has demonstrated a total inability to understand or translate the songs he's chosen, and his stage-presence is just a vast dead space. At this point, I'd probably enjoy watching him fall down stairs. I know we're only two weeks into the voting part of the show and all, but I'm genuinely pissed that I'll have to spend another two minutes of my life watching him and his dead man's grin mangle some other song next week. Other than those complaints, though, I'm not mad about last night's eliminations. We've also lost one of the show's near-endless stable of interchangeable blonde chicks, and the utterly detestable self-important frosted-tip fratboy fuckface Jason Yaeger is gone as well, surprising nobody except apparently Jason Yaeger. I'm probably happiest about fake-bald desperate-to-rock boyband vet Robbie Carrico getting the boot. Fun as it was to hear the judges harping on his lack of authenticity, whatever the fuck that could possibly mean in this context, that guy had zero swagger; it was like watching Kevin Federline's chump cousin singing Foreigner.


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Status Ain't Hood Interviews Killer Mike

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Rip burn roar

I can't even tell you how happy I am with this interview. Killer Mike is a guy with a whole lot to say, and he's not shy about it. I guess i shouldn't be surprised at how well it turned out, given that it's almost as fun to hear Killer Mike yelling over a beat at the end of a song as it is to hear him rapping. I met up with him yesterday afternoon for lunch at Porcao, a Brazilian steakhouse in Manhattan, where we both got to eat for free because his publicist knows the restaurant's publicist. That food was good, too. If parts of this interview seem a bit disjointed, it's because waiters kept coming over to offer us more gigantic slabs of meat. One thing I want to make sure gets across, though, is how enthusiastic and passionate this guy is about what he does. To really get across the way he talks about his craft, I'd have to italicize just about every word. This is a long one, so settle in.


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Status Ain't Hood Podcast 27

We're apparently having some problems with these things not showing up in iTunes searches, and the Voice tech people are looking into it. Right now, though, you might have to right-click to download that thing, impossible as that sounds. Songs this week:

• M.I.A.: "Paper Planes (DFA Remix)"
• Foals: "Cassius"
• Gutter Twins: "Idle Hands"
• Spice 1: "Carried By Six"


Live: Baltimore Rap Vet Plays Show to Nobody

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I mean, if Spank Rock can pack people in like that...

Labtekwon
Knitting Factory Old Office
February 26, 2008

Bands love to talk about touring struggles, about the shows where only three people and a dog showed up but they played anyway. Until last night, though, I'd never actually been to any of those shows. There were five people at last night's Labtekwon show at the Knitting Factory Tap Bar. One of them was the soundman. One was the bartender, who was there back when I worked at the club eight years ago. And the other people at the show may or may not have worked at the club; I'm not sure. There's a distinct and depressing possibility that I'm the only person who paid to get in last night. Maybe this shouldn't be shocking. Labtekwon has been kicking around the national underground rap scene for about fifteen years, releasing more material than anyone could ever hope to process. If his Wikipedia page is right, he has seventeen solo albums out, most of them self-released, and that's not even counting the two group projects he put out last year. He occupies a fairly singular position in rap; he's unquestionably the only rapper to release an album on the art-damaged abstract-rap label Mush and to place a video in rotation on the sadly discontinued late-night jigglefest BET Uncut. I interviewed Lab in this space a while back, and he strikes me as a fascinatingly layered figure with a whole lot to say. Apparently, though, that's not enough to pack anyone into one of the Knit's two basement bars. Back when I worked at the venue, I can remember that happening all the time; bands playing the Old Office regularly sold tickets in the single digits. And when I talked to Lab after the show, he said that the show hadn't had any promotion, that he might've even forgotten to send out a MySpace bulletin. Still, it has to be about the most depressing experience in the world, looking out at a venue and seeing just about nobody.


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"Live": Janet Jackson's Rained-Out Pseudo-Event

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Foiled again

Janet Jackson is not a trooper. The big double-page ad for her album-release publicity-blitz festivities that ran in last week's Voice listed three events: a Good Morning America performance at the Nokia Theatre at 7 a.m., a signing at Best Buy at 6 p.m., and sandwiched in between the two an "'Outdoor' live performance" for TRL. I guess those quotation marks gave her some leeway. If you stood outside the MTV studios in the rain for an hour this afternoon, all you saw of Janet was a quick grin-and-wave at her huddled masses, in between the heavily choreographed indoor performances that you couldn't hear at all. Maybe if it hadn't rained today, Janet would've actually stepped outside as advertised. But foot-traffic is pretty thick on the ground outside those studios, and I can't imagine where the station would've set up a stage even if weather had permitted; Times Square, after all, only shuts down when it's New Years Eve or when Cameron Crowe has a megabudget mindfuck sci-fi movie to film. So maybe that was the plan all along: a quick screwjob wave to whatever fans actually showed up while Janet stayed safely insulated from her public. Of course, that screwjob would've been a lot more objectionable if at least half of Janet's public wasn't made up of Def Jam promotional interns.


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Flo Rida, Lil Boosie, and the New Mechanics of Rap Stardom

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Don't need no help

A few months ago, XXL put out its so-called "Leaders of the New School" issue, a fold-out cover that featured a bunch of guys like Crooked I and Papoose and Lupe Fiasco. The reaction to the article was interesting; I remember reading a few blogs claiming that the only person on the cover who stood a chance at achieving real stardom was Lil Boosie. I'm not entirely convinced that that's true; the jury is still out on someone like Lupe, who hasn't yet made the crossover leap but who conceivably could. But it's hard to argue against the idea that we're seeing a serious shortage of new rap stars. Most of today's biggest stars are people like Jay-Z and Kanye West and T.I., people who predate the download age and who can still boast of millions of records sold, which is probably a big part of the reason how they're still actually able to sell records. The most interesting case might be someone like Lil Wayne, who made the leap to real stardom in the past couple of years by putting an absolute deluge of new material online but who still sold a few million records back when he was a teenager who couldn't rap that well. I'm not entirely certain that it's still possible for a younger rapper to capture the imaginations of large audiences when those audiences are totally unwilling to buy music in significant numbers. It's easy to imagine rap radio a few years ago turning out like modern-rock radio these days, where boom-time veterans like the Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters share space with younger, smaller-name, more businesslike bands like Seether, bands that churn out familiar sounds without even attempting to find their own personalities. A music as self-referential as rap needs star figures. Among younger rappers, we're seeing a couple of different and sort of opposed models of star-making. On one had, there's someone like Flo Rida, a crossover rapper who hasn't shown much glimmer of actual personality. On the other, there's Lil Boosie, a cult figure in the South who may or may not be able to cross over.


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American Idol Week One: Sucking So Far

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Nightmare material

If this season of American Idol has an official theme, it's that the twenty-four men and women competing this year are the most talented set of contestants in the show's history. I'm not quite sure how they've measured that, but Ryan Seacrest tells us over and over again that that's what's up. If this week's shows, the first live broadcasts of the season, were any indication, Seacrest is leading us astray. American Idol is a fucking mess this year, and thus far I've only seen maybe three or four contestants who have any potential to do anything interesting once the season wraps up. And it didn't have to be this way. I'm still sort of reeling from the premature ejection of Josiah Leming, the uber-earnest emo kid who sang in a British accent, cried all the time, and lived in his car. Leming is one of the show's biggest stories this season. During the grisly and endless audition shows that led up to these live broadcasts, we got to see a ton of Leming, whose garbled heart-on-sleeve moan was messy and craggy and weirdly absorbing. I would've loved to see what this kid could've done with, like, a Bee Gees song once the theme-shows got rolling. The show's producers dedicated a ton of screen-time to the kid, somehow lending pathos to the backstory they probably mostly invented. And so it's just weird that he didn't make the final twelve dudes while a near-endless procession of grinning simps did. I'm not going to say that Leming would've been the best A.I. contestant ever or anything, but he would've added a layer of unpredictability that the show really needs right now.


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Status Ain't Hood Podcasts 25 & 26

We've been having some technical problems with the podcasts lately, but hopefully those are just about fixed. So here's the last two. First, last week. Songs:

• Skillz: "Get Off the Boo-Boo"
• High Places: "Jump In (for Gilkey Elementary School)"
• The Mae Shi: "Run to Your Grave"
• Samamidon: "Saro"

And now this week. Songs:

• Mary J. Blige: "Just Fine (Swizz Beatz Remix) [feat. Precise & Lil Wayne]"
• Usher: "Love in the Club [feat. Young Jeezy]"
• Princess: "Pretty Rave Girl"
• Young Dro: "You Know About Me"

Young Dro's Heroic Goofiness

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Gladiator Russell Dro

On Young Dro's new I Am Legend mixtape, we learn that Dro has cars the same color as the following things: whirlwind, sour apple, Jolly Rancher, Patron, Tropicana, Mars bar, tofu, your lipstick, high-tide ocean, Papa Smurf, Patron again, bell pepper, the nose on Rudolf, Tropicana again, cocaine, Superman, vanilla, and Ric Flair hair. That last one is, I'm pretty sure, the Dwight Howard Superman dunk of car-color similes. When, at one point, he simply describes a Rolls Royce as being purple, it's almost shocking: purple like what? Grimace? Alice Walker? The second Stone Temple Pilots album? It's the only time he can resist telling us. Dro mentions a few other car-colors on I Am Legend as well, but I'm not sure I heard all of them right. There's one track where I think he's talks about a car that's "chalk white like Opie," which is pretty funny if that's what he actually says, and there's another where I think I hear him comparing a car's color to "rub-a-dub," which I don't even know what that means. Part of the problem is that Dro's Georgia accent has somehow become even thicker and more impenetrable since Best Thang Smoking, his 2006 debut; when he revs his slurry-but-adaptable swallowed-consonant flow into a double-time end-run, I'm lucky to catch every third word. But then, that's not really a problem unless you're trying to make a list of of all the stuff he compares his cars to. I should also probably note that Dro devotes almost as much time to describing his jewelry's color in equally loving detail. Point is that Dro is really, really into talking about the stuff he owns. When I reviewed Best Thang Smoking for Blender, I only had a chance to listen to the album once, in an Atlantic publicist's office. And after one listen to the album, that near-absurd fixation on the material felt like a real character flaw. But Dro's descriptions are so fond and vivid and hilarious that I gradually came to really like them. These days, I can only think of a few other rappers blessed with the ability to talk about their cars with such transparent joy. And there's something almost inspirational about the way he works that basic style so hard on I Am Legend.


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Crystal Castles: Better Than Justice

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Since the face been revealed, game got real

Crystal Castles' "Knights" is basically screamy basement-show post-hardcore played on crappy synths. In the early part of the decade, bands like Rah Brahs and Men's Recovery Project were messing around with this sort of thing, adding cheap electronics to their jittery scraping noise. "Knights" works the same way. It starts out with a hammering, almost annoying hyper-compressed drum-machine twack, then Alice Glass starts screaming through what sounds like a vocoderized megaphone, her words rendered almost entirely incomprehensible. A minute or so in, a whole bunch of vintage video-game sound-effects come in, but the effect isn't wam or nostalgic; they're layered on top of each other to the point where they become disorienting static. But there's something else going on in this track, something that separates Crystal Castles entirely from their bleep-skree forbears: an absurdly catchy Eurocheese keyboard bit that could've come straight off a Vengaboys record. Keyboard bits like those have apparently been enough to move Crystal Castles from the basement-show ghetto to the blog-house universe. The Toronto duo has been getting a ton of hype-noise lately from the sort of websites that traffic in hype-noise. And maybe the time is right for a group that can convincingly weld confrontational herky-jerk Gravity Records hardcore to sugar-rush house. Justice, after all, have been mauling their Daft Punk filter-disco thump with jarring squalls of noise and huge, dumb brontosaurus riffs for a couple of years now, and they're big enough to play the small room at Madison Square Garden. But Justice isn't fundamentally different from Daft Punk; they're a French house group who toys around with visceral effects and ideas without letting them derail the central pulse of their music. Crystal Castles, meanwhile, is on some other shit.


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