Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Talib + Kweli = Liberation

This online EP was available for free download for the first week of 2007 and I'll admit that I slept on it. After hearing a few tracks ( Over The Counter, Funny Money) I realized I had almost missed out on one of the best MC/Producer pair-ups since Ghost and Doom (See Underwater/Charlie Brown). Eight out of nine tracks (Only one is a slow jam) have Talib returning to Blackstar style verses and reaching heights he's never reached before. I can only hope this collaborative teaser turns into a full length.

Let my mixtape's go.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Show me my opponent.

Monday, January 01, 2007

26 Singles of 06'

1. Amy Winehouse "Rehab"

Forget "Crazy", the poor man's "Hey Ya". This latecomer is the real un-overplayable track of the year. Like any lead off single this phenomenal, the downside is that you'll neglect the rest of the album because the rest of the songs aren't this instantly loveable. And really, equal credit should go to Mark Ronson, whose production really lifts the song into instant classic territory. I need to check more of his stuff out, since his track "Ooh Wee" with Ghostface and his cover of Radiohead's "Just" both get played nearly every day by moi. Speaking of Ghost, he steals her chorus from "You Know I'm No Good" on his new album, "More Fish". Great combo.

2. Despot "Crap Artists"

What are they trying to do to me? Seriously, this is one of the top debut rap songs ever and Def Jux is not promising a whole album until '08. With Blockhead, El-P and Ratatat slated to share production duties, it's going to be one of the top albums of whatever fucking year it comes out- if not Illmatic level instant classic. Synopsis: White boy from Queens takes shotgun to mediocrity with help from an uncharacteristically evil Blockhead track:

"Everyone clap for the crap artists/a pat on the back to whichever one sounds smartest. Capturing the magic of blabbering half-hearted and the last rambling man left standing laughs hardest....great job rapping, now the second hand knows your name and it's playing bloody knuckles with your 15 minutes of fame."

Ouch. Not to mention the most sarcastic appraisal of an MC's job I've ever heard for the chorus:

"I get paid to breathe, hurry for me, hurray for me."

3. Ghostface Killah "Whip You With a Strap"

Ok, so a mid-tempo rap song exhorting the virtues of corporal punishment probably isn't going to be setting club floors or radio dials on fire anytime in the near ever, I understand. But still - not since the dare-you-to-not-tear-up brilliance of "All That I Need is You" has Ghost talked about his childhood with such honesty and humor.

"Despite the alcohol, I had a great old Mama/
She famous for her slaps and to this day she's honored.
But when I was a lil dude her son was a lil rude/
I picked the peas off my plate and poured juice in a nigga's food
Get beat, then I'd run and tell grandma 'mama hit me for no reason'/She whipped me hard when I finished eating."

Later, laying into the spoiled brats of today:

"Nowadays kids don't get beat, they get big treats/
Fresh pair of sneaks, punishments like "have a seat'.
Back then when friends and neighbors would bust that ass/
and bring you back to your momma she got
the switch in the stash.
That's back to back beatings/Only went outside for free lunch with welts on my legs still leaking"

Oh, and Fishscale is easily the album of the year. No contest.

4. Killer Mike "That's Life"

It's appropriate that the driving instrument of this mixtape gem is an organ – this is one barn-burner of a sermon. Taking on bougie blacks, Oprah, Bill O'Reilly, Martha Stewart, Bill Cosby, Bush, and well, everyone who remotely could be called seditty, Killer Mike lives up to his name as his murders this track and kicks complacent middle and upper classers straight in their ball-less midsections. How does he get away with scorching the black elite and bragging about debates with Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson? Beats me, but he does. Speaking about Oprah (who won't let rappers on her show):

"Now what's your white audience gonna think about we?
The same audience that watch Bill O'Reilly.
I saw the smirk on they face when you came at Luda.
The same nice ladies that forgave Martha Stewart."

And of course, Katrina:

"George Bush don't like blacks? No shit, Sherlock
and his daddy's CIA flooded the hood with rock.
And his momma said the woman oughta feel at home
getting raped in the bathroom in the Superdome
The comment Kanye made was damn near right
but Bush hate poor people be it black or white."

5. Clipse "Mr. Me Too/Whamp Whamp"

Fuck it – I can't pick between these two. I've bumped them both nonstop since they came out. I've long thought of the Neptunes as the most overrated producers in rap, but their beats here are "repugnant", to use a favorite Clipse term of endearment. That's not to take anything away from the lyricists, though. Unlike Pharell, Pusha T and Malice don't use killer beats to sneak in subpar rhymes. They're definitely the wittiest of the so-called "coke rap" genre, and if it weren't for Fishscale, Hell Hath No Fury would be rap album of the year.

"Been two years, since I was paddy wagon cruisin
The streets was yours, ya dunce cappin and kazooing/
I was just assuming you'd keep the coke movin
But I got one question, Fuck y'all been doing?/
Pyrex stirs turned into Cavalli furs,
The full length cat, when I wave, your kitty purrs/
All my niggaz caked up, selling grey and beige dust
Have that money right or end up in the trunk taped up"

6. Cold War Kids "Pass the Hat"

I haven't listened to the rest of their EP enough to know if they live up to the mountain of hype, but if it's anything like this, I'm hooked. The mesmerizing bass line makes this defense of pilfering the offering plate all the more convincing.

7. Casey Dienel "Doctor Monroe"

It takes a lot to distinguish oneself in the piano songstress field, but Casey Dienel makes it look easy like Sunday morning. Here she spins a weird tale of a train ride with a drunken doctor who sometimes wears his wife's clothes - and makes it all sound so sweet.

8. "Bruce Springsteen "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep"

There were a lot of things working against Bruce Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions. First of all, can you remember the last truly great album of covers? And it's not like Bruce has had a lot of choice cuts in the last, oh, 15 or so years. While he hasn't gone the Sting/Elton John/Eric Clapton road of complete boomer embarrassment/Disney soundtrack, he hasn't done much more than punch the clock either. So, that this album lacks even the hint of filler is a huge, and pleasant, surprise. And this spirited take on a great standard is probably the highlight of the whole thing.

9. Nas feat. Jay-Z "Black Republicans"

If you tell me Jay-Z and Nas are on a track together, I've already got drool dripping down my chin. Then you tell me it's called "Black Republicans" and samples the theme from The Godfather, I throw my hands up. It's too good to be true. Fantasy team-ups never, ever work. It's destined to suck. Actually, no - it's kinda brilliant. The L.E.S.produced track is sick, sick, sick. Metallic factory presses complemented by ridiculously epic strings and a unthinkable pairing of former arch-enemies almost make it worth buying (another predictably lame) Nas album. Almost. (BTW, don't let the name fool ya. There's not an iota on political content on this song).

10. National "Abel"

Like most of the indie rock albums this year, the National's debut is not much more than "not too bad." But this track, with it's This Night's Not Over Yet anthemic vibe will have you searching the album in vain for anything even remotely that alive.

11. Beirut "Postcards From Italy"

Does the lead singer sound more like the guy from Arcade Fire or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? And aren't those horns kind of like the ones Neutral Milk Hotel used to use? Forget the comparisons – it's the best rock album of the year no matter who it kind of sorta sounds like. And this track is catchy as all hell.

12. Tapes N Tapes "Cowbell"

No, it's not an incredibly dated take on the SNL skit starring Christopher Walken, and no, the album doesn't rise above indie rock comfort food. But the songs that work (like this one) really work, and they're worth the price of admission on their own.

13. Hot Chip "Colors"

I'm not denying the appeal of "Warning" or "Boy From School", the usual picks from this album. But this hypnotic lullaby is the one that gets me every time. Sounds like a lost Phil Collins single remixed by Postal Service.

14. The Knife "We Share Our Mother's Health"

Ok, really I just found this one on another year end singles list. (Blatant, lazy plagiarism is one advantage of doing it ultra last minute). Apparently, they're overhyped. Well, this song is oddly catchy enough to squeeze it in last minute.

15. Oneida "Up With People"

The jangly riff is as instantly likeable as the title. I just wish they didn't ruin it by singing.

16. Man Man "Black Mission Goggles"

If a group of schizophrenic Russian carnies hijacked a marching band bus, it might sound like this.

Just bump it already.

18. The Islands "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby"

Is it sacrilege to like this Unicorn's spin-off band better than the original? Oh, well.

19. Richard McGraw "Natasha in High School"

"When I'm all alone and all the kids are cool, I dream of Natasha in high school."

An infectious romp of a song about old flames better left extinguished.

"We made out on Seymour's property –when you drank too much of my forty/then there was the kitchen, pantries, panties…"

20. The Rapture "Get Myself Into It"

I drink the DFA Kool-Aid as much the next dance punk fan, but I don't really think The Rapture were hurt too much by their producorial absence on their sophomore album. This track is Exhibit A of the group still having what it takes to make the indie kids stop crying and start dancing.

21. Jay-Z "Lost One"

Is that second verse about Beyonce? Is that really Jay whining about a girl putting work over him? Is this same Jay that said in "Big Pimping":

"You know I - thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em
Cause I don't fuckin need em
Take em out the hood, keep em lookin good
But I don't fuckin feed em
First time they fuss I'm breezin
Talkin bout, "What's the reason?"

Eh. Iit's probably for the better - there's nothing sadder than a wrinkled Casanova who can't settle down (see:Warren Beatty, Charlie Sheen, etc). But it's quite a change for Hova, who has touted the virtues of the loveless fuck as much as any rapper alive. Even with that shocking 180 degree turn, it's the last verse that's the stand out in my mind:

"My nephew died in the car I bought
So I'm under the belief it's partly my fault
Close my eyes and squeeze, try to block that thought
Place any burden on me, but please, not that lord."

Jay laid an egg of an album with Kingdom Come, but considering a yawner like it can still have three or four tracks of this quality shows why he is the Greatest Rapper Alive, no question. (Although Ghost is in your rearview, Hov).

Leave it to the dance kid to make the most banging rock track of the year. Sounds like his laptop got a head cold and tried to get rid of it by humping a broken sampler. There's a fine line between hypnotic and repetitive, and this song straddles it brilliantly.

23. The Streets "When You Wasn't Famous"

Only Mike Skinner can make you sympathize with a problem like this: Now that's he's famous, he has to go after celebrity women in order to make getting laid a challenge again. Poor guy.

24. Yo La Tengo "Mr. Tough"

Channeling Vince Guaraldi with this infectious piano backing, this is just one of many standout tunes on another great album by the New Jersey indie rock stalwarts. Like Belle and Sebastian, their records are predictable, but consistently quality, modern pop products.

25. Spank Rock "Backyard Betty"

Take the carnal obsessions of Luke Campbell of 2 Live Crew and add,say, talent and Spank Rock might be what you end up with. Not as catchy as their classy 2005 hit, "Put Your Pussy on Me", this song nonetheless squeezes a lot of charm and invention out of talking about some girl with a big ass.

26. Girl Talk "Hold Up"

If Greg Gillis' "Night Ripper" contained an ounce of original material, it would be my album of the year. Meta, postmodern, whatever you want to call it – this catchy collage is the future of music, and that can either frighten the shit of you or make you all tingly with girlish glee. Guess what camp I'm in? Just don't call it a mixtape or a mashup – it's so much better than any of that. Gillis has sucked any meaning or context from these tracks, leaving only their structural footprints intact in his quest for the ultimate game of Name that Tune. His show is also probably the most fun I'll ever have in concert. It's not really an album of singles, but here's a random bit of mischief for taste. James Taylor, Nas, the Pixies and about 20 others all collide in a clusterfuck of fun and randomness.