Monday, August 30, 2004

not to be confused with the RNC

...but buy my record first, ha, ha, ha...

I know “name-dropping” is frowned upon in journalism but the great thing about this blog shiznit is that it’s whatever the hell I want it to be…so here’s the boldface entry…

I hung out with my old boy, Dan Nakamura… that’s right… the dude behind “The Automator” curtain. We went to Lowell High School in San Francisco. I think he might have known Oscar Jackson since they were upper classmen but I was still the nerdy kid talking about comic-books with Dan’s younger brother, Rob … I mean, I wouldn’t even try to hang out with edgy kids that were there, like Margaret Cho… and I probably wasn’t as well read as Daniel Handler and his crew. I used to cross paths with Dan at the Nakamura household and occasionally we would buzz about the latest rap records. Although I was already up on PE in a big way (Dave and I did the first ‘rap performance’ using the “MPE” beat at Lowell’s annual ‘Kermesse Festival’!) Dan had the first copy of the “Rebel without a Pause” 12”. Dan and I were also big fans of the Ultramagnetic MCs… “Ego Trippin’”, “Travelling at the Speed of Thought”… so it was no surprise that his first BIG success as a producer would be in a partnership with Kool Keith. Yadda-yadda-yadda…Years later he teamed up with Prince Paul to put together the great ‘in-joke’ musical project called Handsome Boy Modeling School. Even after Paul crushed my hand in his car’s power windows I was kind enough to loan one of my 1200s to them for the first ‘session’ of HBMS. And of course I’ll never forgive Dan for the missing liner notes ‘shout-out’!!!!

Nowadays our musical tastes differ more than overlap but I figured I could still play ‘Name That Artist’ when Dan played me the new Handsome Boy Modeling School album. I recognized De La Soul immediately. I heard A.G. and the Rza on a track but couldn’t identify Linkin Park’s vocalists. It was nice to hear Pharrell with the lower singing pitch at least relative to Julee Cruise (sounded familiar but couldn’t place it). Tim Meadows as the Ladies Man was killing it on the Dating Game skits along with Rza and someone sounding a whole lot like Jay-Z. I knew Franz Ferdinand would be on there somewhere (Dan was swinging through NYC from a recording session with them) but I couldn’t spot them between Del and Barrington Levy. The epic history of hip-hop-rock, on the track ‘Four Seasons,’ should have tipped me off that it was Linkin Park again on vocals but I could only identify Lord Finesse. I figured the cuts were by Q-Bert or Koala or Shadow. It was Q. The others get shine on a different track. I heard Cat Power mumbling some ‘la-la-las’ or something behind Franz on one track but she gets real nice holding it down on another laid back beat. Two of my old favorites Casual and Dres (that’s right D-R-E-Sssssss!) catch solos (or was someone from Mars Volta hitting a chorus? Or was it Mike Patton?). The most soulful joint on the album has Jamie Cullum intertwining harmonies with the one and only John Oates. Father Guido Sarducci gets the skit to end all skits… an agonizing rambling 5 minute album closer. It’s a joke that only a few people will get and is impossible to explain (just like the album’s title, ‘White People’) but that’s definitely the point. Shortlisters will love it and hip-hop heads will find their gems and everyone can admire the aural equivalent of namedropping.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Why? Because we like you!
Jadakiss earned some crossover ducats and wasted no time in capitalizing on the “Why?” investors by dropping a ‘dead president’-draw...the “Why? Remix featuring Styles, Common and Nas”. Please up his charge account for having the foresight in letting Styles drop a dime on the 2000 election…
Why vote Republican if you black?
Why the country ain’t flip when they jerked the votes the last election?

Common put his two cents in change…
Why is Bush tryna act like he tryna get Osama?
Why don’t we impeach him and elect Obama?

Common also invests in the big stocks with his personal checking account…
Why you niggas say I changed for a girl?
Why you worry about my clothes when my flows gonna change the world?

Nas approving credit to the rhyme animal…
Why is Nas the best thing in rap since Chuck D?

But Mr. Jones is clearly not going for the school voucher…
Why do schools care about your son’s braids more than they care for his grades?

But who is most on the money? Jada X once again ups the ante and continues trading in “currency” when he writes ‘checks’ for Shyne’s phone bills, Governor Mcgreevy’s staff salaries and a questionable franchise...
Why Team USA keep getting’ blown out?

Jada, we love your sound investment! There's really no need to ask...
Why it took me to make ‘Why?’ for y’all to listen?

but there IS the D-Block question...
Why the Democratic Party ain’t getting wit me?

(get a listen from, Funkdigital)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

down to the gristle

ain't no reason to stop
'cause we can take it back to the beatbox

I wanna be a part of it… New Bjork, New Bjork! Her new ‘vocals only’ album, ‘Medulla’ (which means ‘marrow’ apparently) prompted yesterday’s screening of The Inner or Deep Part of an Animal or Plant Structure, the Making of Medúlla (breathe). Bjork peeps packed Pianos and unfortunately I didn’t have this on hand cause it would have been his name-o in an NY-minuto. Hipster-heads blocked the subtitles but I did catch this tidbit: Bjork didn’t know who Rahzel was before recording this album! And neither did a lot of her fans! Rahzel’s rhythms drew gasps of “Is he doing ALL the sounds?” Before I ‘dis’-continue I better admit that I never heard of this dude, Dokaka. “What’s his style?” you ask…Muppets Jamming!

The last beatbox featured in the film is Shlomo, a very talented dude you’ve seen on a commercial... but isn’t his style too close to Rahzel’s? As much as Rahzel learned from Doug E. Fresh, Rah has developed his own sounds and style… Shlomo has to do more than speed it up for a d&b sound (although I do like his imitation of ‘rave speaker effects’). I’ll let these cats argue over the finer points.
Although not featured in the film, Kelis and e.e. cummings are listed as contributors to “Medulla.” Only Bjork can put together those combos and have it not seem forced. The film documents how committed she is to pure musical ideas and how focused she is when conducting her many collaborators. In one moment of the film she mentions listening to Swans when she was in her ‘heavy’ mood and I didn’t hear anybody in the audience chuckle…as they shouldn’t.

Friday, August 20, 2004

peeping ‘round corners, my mind´s playing tricks on me

below the level cause I'm livin' low
I ran across an article in Architecture magazine about digital architectural structures related to ‘map and level building.’ But what caught my eye was that it was written by none other than Public Enemy’s Media Assassin (and stealth architecture enthusiast), Harry Allen! Back in the twentieth century Harry and I sat in the Noho Star and talked informally about a hip-hop archival ‘space’ with dreams of a library/museum. I can’t help but think his current research can tie into that dream… sidestepping the problem of New York real estate costs and setting up a foundation virtually… at least initially. Harry explains some of his interest when he writes,“Map and level building may be the world's first digital form of folk architecture.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

everybody talkin' bout the new nas 'song'

made you look
Apparantly Nas doesn’t see the irony in applauding W’s gangsta… but these cats do.
(charge it to Matthew)

Monday, August 16, 2004

one for the chicken-heads

if I had 24 hours to kick the bucket, fuck it
I'd probably eat some fried chicken, and drink a Nantucket

I’m a Popeye’s man but was once a Kennedy frequenter. This is definitely a piece with local interest but anyone who has ever lived near a Kennedy Fried Chicken (Not to be confused with some other KFC joint…or any of these) will dig this breakdown called “Chicken Little” by Steven Kurutz for the NYTimes.

Some highlights that any former Kennedy customer will recognize or not be surprised by…

For those unfamiliar with the institution, a brief primer. Kennedy Fried Chicken is a New York-born outfit that is owned and operated largely by Afghan immigrants, and its shops are typically found far from the well-traveled canyons of Manhattan - on Webster Avenue in the Bronx; in Flatbush; near the Queens Plaza subway station. Devotees say Kennedy serves a good bird, not too oily, not too dry. But its true notoriety comes from being a kind of second-rate imitation of the popular Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, right down to the same red and white colors and those familiar initials.

"The boss will be back on Friday, between 1 and 3," was a common response. Equally common was the boss's seemingly abrupt absence on those Fridays.

Unlike McDonald's, say, or Kentucky, which has about 215 branches in the city, Kennedy is not a chain,… no one owns the rights to the Kennedy name. Once someone decides to open a store, he is a Kennedy unto himself.
Which may be why, even though a judge ruled in favor of Kentucky in the 1990 suit, finding that Kennedy's signs infringed on KFC trademarks and ordering them changed, it has been hard to get individual branches to comply. Pursuing a suit against Kennedy is almost like shadowboxing.

Some branches call themselves Kennedy Chicken, others Kennedy Fried Chicken, while still others are Kennedy Pizza & Chicken.

The Kennedy menu has swelled to such diverse proportions (Jamaican beef patties, hamburgers, pizza) as to nearly undermine its reputation as a purveyor of fried chicken. At the St. Nicholas branch, the walls are papered with generic ads that could appear in any number of fast-food spots. One sign urges customers: "Try Our World Famous Philly Steak."”

Few outlets have customer bathrooms, and many have no seating. The branches are often in poorer neighborhoods, and the interiors are sparse and bunkerlike. Workers take orders through a small opening in a shield of bulletproof glass. (Perhaps not surprisingly, Kennedy has the distinction of appearing more often in the newspaper crime blotter - "Fast Food Stabbing,'' as one headline put it - than in the dining section.)”

...customers tend to treat the place like their own personal kitchen, running in and out all day and exasperating employees to no end. Not all do so, of course…. But more often, customers harass Kennedy workers almost as sport.

And this seems straight out of the Chris Rock scene…
Then came a teenager who wanted to negotiate his own menu prices.
"How many rolls can I get for a quarter?" he asked.
"One," the employee replied.
"How much is one roll?" the teenager asked, switching gears.
"Fifteen cents," the employee answered warily.
The teenager shot him a look of disdain. "You can't give me two rolls for a quarter?"
“workers at some branches were similarly circumspect about a special recipe, while others said no single formula existed.”

…the growth of Kennedy Fried Chicken was shaped less by its marketing practices than by the sweep of world events. Around the time the company was forming, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and several thousand Afghans immigrated to New York, settling mainly in Queens. Many new arrivals found work waiting for them at Kennedy, where they were set up in business and taught to navigate the complexities of the chicken trade. Owners hired other Afghans as carpenters and countermen, and an immigrant career path was forged.

Told that a reporter was working on an article about Kennedy Fried Chicken, he said, "Don't mention my name."
But it had never been offered.
There was a pause, and the supervisor looked up from his clipboard. "This has something to do with Kentucky Fried Chicken, doesn't it?"

Friday, August 13, 2004

irate when ya' can't debate?

power to the people say
Finally a hip-hop political movement that taps into the art correctly and clearly... and with some reasonably good graphics! And the production value on the W W Freestyle smackdown clip is proper! Please bring more skillz than his boy!
(charge it to Jay Smooth)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I got bad news, bad news

In 1993 my roommate at the time asked which was better “Buhloone Mind State” or “Midnight Marauders. And of course the answer was “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”
The second quarter of the ‘90s were the years when New York rap transitioned from optimistic intonations by the Native Tongues to the darker outlook of the new hardcore. Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas all debuted but for me it was the Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep* that really cast a shadow on their respective New Yorks.

The citizens of “The Infamous” and “Enter the 36 Chambers,” a decade later, soldier on in Mobb Deep’s “Americaz Nightmare” and Theodore Unit’s “718,” put together by Wu-Tang Clansman, Ghostface. The more things change...?

from a place where "Fish" was made

The Group – The overwhelming number of Wu-Tang MCs is alluded to by the Theodore Unit. The multimember debut is a throwback to the Cold Crush, Furious and Fantastic groups of yore. Is it coincidence that a man named Theodore backed one of those crews?

Image – We entered “The 36 Chambers” in shadow overhearing coded language and glimpsing masks. On the other hand, the TU comes out swinging right into the car headlights, showing off letterman jackets and evoking retro-regular dudes. The swirling rumors around the freshman Ghostface were abandoned long ago as he has clearly become the BMOC.

Production – Breaking the “36” mold, 12 of 16 “718” cuts are by different producers. but they all keep it nice and simple… loops, familiar drums and musical samples mixed with obscure vocal snippets. But nothing comes close to the RZA-risks produced on a purposely jumbled, ‘unearthed’ "36" sound... RZA's inclusion of false starts and noise STILL provides exotic flavor. Relatively speaking TU serves up hip-hop comfort food!

Styles – "Proteck Ya Neck" still stands as one of the most diverse sounding lineups ever captured so organically and unexpectedly on wax. TU’s “Pass the Mic” doesn’t present standout styles but it’s solid with a nice cipher vocal interaction. As brilliant as Ghost was on the Wu debut and Raekwon’s “Linx,” I don’t think anyone predicted he would be the Clansman waving the Iron Flag 10 years hence. It was hard to imagine his ready-to-boil-over thugness sustaining a solo release. But his bold wordplay AND raw emotions AND ‘realness’ allowed him to take huge leaps past his Wu brethren. He embodied confidence, desire, pain, and contradiction. The Theodore Unit obviously developed in Starks shadow. The phrasing and content of Shawn Wigs on “Daily Routine” are clearly indebted to Ghost’s detailed, staccato storytelling style. Solomon Childs on “Mama Can You Hear Me” dips into the Ironman tear-duct well and similarly takes advantage of simultaneous gruff and vulnerable vocals. Cappadonna maintains the surrealism and odd metaphors that his longtime partners, Rae and Ghost, have employed at his side. But it is no surprise that Ghost takes the cake when he brings the most hilarious juxing ever put on wax: “Shakin’ niggas upside down on some cartoon shit/ Change fallin’ out they pockets and shit!

Cameos – On their debut the Wu was the Wu. On “718” Meth and Bone Crusher appear in a cameo combo that would seem like a cynical market choice but makes sense in the context of Starks Industries. Method IS his man and Crusher’s voice works TOO well with the big band crescendos on “Who Are We?” Ghost's Shaolin training: Selective sword selection.

Changing the game – The Wu came out of nowhere as unknown MCs on a chorus-less 5-minute blast punctured with sound-effect shrapnel. On "36" MCs took various roles per song… a chorus here, a solo there... and, of course, they restructured how an MC could go solo AND maintain a group affiliation. I can’t imagine a group ever having the same impact on the art and business of hip-hop SIMULTANEOUSLY. 50 Cent’s redefinition of himself and the mixtape comes the closest and the Theodores live in his wake. TU is debuting on an 'Official Mixtape' (a vague idea that nonetheless capitalizes on the phenomenon) with a genuine hip-hop star (although HE debuted with anonymous cohorts).

Focus - Ghost fans will be familiar with a handful of songs from ‘unofficial’ mixtapes but TU has pulled off a feat that most artists can’t. The energy and hunger documented on most mixtapes survives on “718.” The Shaolin tales, pop culture references and street philosophy employed by Wu-Tang is missing. It makes me think that a few more details about the Theodore environment and outlook would have rounded out the Unit definition. And since it’s a ‘mixtape’ TU jacks a Kane track for “’88 Freestyle.”

those who sling, play the shadows by the building
Infamous to Nightmare

Dun language – Everyone grabs Mobb Deep’s slang but unfortunately “Nightmare” offers little language for the taking. As poetic as ‘cloud killers’ is it can’t compare to ‘lifting’ people and leaving them ‘leaking’, ‘kicko!’

It’s a cold world – The Deep depend on dark, depressing depictions of dunny details... and this album has the chiller of the year. P interrupts the club friendly “Got It Twisted” with the line “A little blood get on my daughter, that’s nothing, she'll live.”

Monotone – H and P maintain their trademark steady phrasing but stretch a bit more on “Nightmare” particularly with the repetition of last words (“Buck-Buck”, “Shorty Wop-Wop”, “Flood the Block-Block”) and leaving gaps in the chorus (“We about to ____”, “When you hear the ___”); simple tricks that work within the Mobbster rhythms. But the real breakout? Havoc simply KILLS it on “On the Run.”

Skits – Most critics say “Enough already with skits!” but if I had to make one exception it would be for Mobb Deep. Their interludes are always as cold and blunt as their songs and, unlike most post-“3 Feet High…” skits, they actually contribute to the mood of the album. Can I actually be disappointed that they came in with a solid 15?

Production - One producer per group used to be the way to my heart. In the cases of Gangstarr, De La, Tribe and Wu-Tang it was absolutely true and with “The Infamous” it was mostly true. Although Havoc got some help it was clearly his sound that defined the new incarnation of Mobb Deep**. Although I’m impressed with Kanye’s manipulation of the electric guitar crunch that dances around on “Throw Your Hands,” and I appreciate Lil’ Jon’s signature whistles, neither producer gives me the Mobb Deep feel. The sing-song outro (“Never leave without your gat”) of “Real Ni***az” (not to be confused with “Real Gangstaz”) along with the catchiest beat of the album gives Red Spyda the Donnie-Brasco-prize for successful Mobb-infiltration.

Beef – You can’t really say P expresses anger or rage in his verses but you can always tell he’s a little peeved. The precise and icy ammo he unloads on a nemesis (“just for livin’”) are missing from the last few Mobb releases. Fans hoping for a “Man Down” retaliation to “Takeover” were left with a void that, unfortunately, continues into “Nightmare.”

Both Ghost and the Mobb are known for providing for the street but their product comes in contrasting packaging. Ghost’s stomped-on blend of tough-talk and emotion contrasts sharply with the uncut ice-grill of H and P. It’s no surprise hearing Starks ‘push’ with Missy but we definitely mistrust 112 hanging out on the 41st side of things. The conservative QB mantra “It ain’t where you at, kid/ It’s where you're from” might allow the Mobb to venture into club land with “Shook Ones” but you know they’re on the other side of the tracks when Lil’ Jon and Kanye are showing up. The thing is, I actually like the club-friendly joints. Maybe P explains it on “When You Hear The” when he claims that the Mobb “sounds brand new, like we just started.” Let’s hope this isn’t a total rebuilding of the Bridge though. Ghost sums up the decade for himself and Mobb Deep more successfully when he croons the headline on "Paychecks":“Everybody thinkin’ it’s not gonna last/ I got bad news/ Bad news!”

* Although “Juvenile Hell” came first, “The Infamous” was the birth of the Mobb Deep sound
**Of the classic albums of this time “Illmatic” is the strongest case for using any and all of the hottest producers of the moment… a trend still alive that I hope will die off soon.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Only the good DeYoung?

Perforations and indentations 'camouflage' and break up bulk of main building
I got to take a hard-hat tour of the under-construction New DeYoung Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park by the great architects Herzog & de Meuron. The landscaping presentation by HOOD Design basically rescued the project from the local haters by presenting renderings of the building integrated with Golden Gate Park. All love to the HOOD because it is unfathomable to me that the project would be rejected for being ‘alien’ or insensitive to its surroundings. H&dM often works with the ‘dumb box’ shape used by bad architecture (big box malls, convention centers) but they articulate the form and bring the exterior into their buildings through astounding manipulation and redefinition of wall, roof, and window to create ‘Smart Box’ architecture. The cuts through the massive copper clad main building allow vegetation and natural light to penetrate the interior. No matter where you are on the meandering paths of the interior there is a constant awareness of the park outside whether it’s from skylights, windows or looking through the perforated copper cladding.

Perforated copper roof mimics light through trees
This cladding is made up of copper panels textured with indentations and/or punched through like Swiss cheese. Each panel is a unique piece.

Copper panels 'camouflaged' with various indentations
The variety of texture and solidity breaks up the mass of the main building and creates a ‘camouflage’ pattern from certain angles that provides an organic look to the otherwise ‘fabricated’ profile of the building.

Copper panels with indentations and perforations for air intake, exhaust or light
The tower structure is in place but the copper cladding is not.

View of twisted tower structure from three foot wide 'earthquake gap'
Many protesters cried foul at the tower’s height but I challenge any of them to stay away from the observation floor when it is complete. The towers view of the park and surrounding hoods will inevitably inspire global pilgrimage. On the day of the tour the typical Richmond District fog was blocking distant vistas but watching the fog roll over eucalyptus tops was arguably more beautiful.

Main building clad in copper panels with twisted tower structure
The ‘architecture porn’ detail is definitely the natural-light-box skylights that seem to float over the ‘zero-thickness’ dropped ceiling.

View of skylight from interior
This was achieved by having another skylight above it on the roof. This allows natural light to animate the interior and still hides the mechanical necessities hidden in the ceiling space.

UPDATED: One year later...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Fat and Lean

you may not understand what this mean to me,
but for your own good.. just lean on me

Fat Joe maintains his metamorphosis momentum from ‘also-ran’ to president of pop-hop… but the clincher is that he’s done it with the lean and mean ‘Lean Back’, na’ mean? And Remy and Joe keep the spins going with the remix guest-spot coup of the moment… Eminem and the former MM, Murder Mase. Although I’ve learned to love some of Mase’s old joints for their humor and personality he’s not going to gain any new fans with these ‘Lean’-ings. How dare he crit other MCs “hot 16s” and then follow it up with the awkwardly phrased “very great song.” Marshall on the other hand tosses his whining articulation and comes with the sizzuurrp sounding slur that he’s experimented with on many a cut but seems to perfect here. It’s a splash of his ‘dumb dude’ diction mixed with some lean and a dash of Special Ed (the Crank Yanker not The Youngest in Charge) and then thrown in a pitch-controlled blender manned by a twelve-year-old DJ. Just as his producing skills earned my props this year I thought he might have been slacking on pushing his vocals… but instead he has stepped it up again. But what makes his style switch-up more enjoyable for me is that he’s not saying anything very interesting in his verse… the words themselves could be any phoned-in cameo safely giving props to everyone in the US and then signing off with a vintage-Beastie-like ‘pistol in my pants’ line. I love it when a great MC can transform generic phrases into an interesting sonic experience. Style over content wins in this one.