Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That's a Rap.

Recently—especially post-Odd Future entrancement & Avril nostalgia—I've been renewing/reviewing my sometimes fraught relationship with Rap. Or, rather: I've re-reminded myself that considering a microcosm of Less Than Awesome as representative of a genre is the equivalent of judging all Rock solely on the merits of Blue Öyster Cult—or Wispy Indie Ladymusic by the dulcet tones of Scarlett Johannson's 2008 album. (Did you forget that happened, too? Because I just remembered, & it made me giggle.)

My point is, words spoken artfully, rhythmically, to music can be impossibly excellent—which is why, I would imagine, almost every 90s pop song paused for a clunky interlude of them—&, moreover, a quick scan of my music library turned up a veritable slew of tracks, most of which are less than typical, all of which certainly deserve some mention. (Especially the one afforded prime placement. Honestly, you should probably just skip to the end first...)

Holy Smokes—Aesop Rock.

Dynamic, scathing, political, catchy—Aesop Rock is, in my opinion, rather brilliant. His backing tracks are unwaveringly interesting, & his ability to put excellent-sounding words together is really a marvel (e.g., I swallow spores born by the lores of a morbid gluttony; She always said hello to passers-by; they asked her why she passed her time attaching lye to concrete, but she would only smile; on & on).

Wat Pomp? (feat. Jack Parow)—Die Antwoord.

About a year ago, my beloved James St. James posted a video called "Enter the Ninja" by this arthouse South African rap start-up, Die Antwoord—&, though it was odd, even mockable, I found myself listening to it almost constantly. There is no denying that, despite the ridiculousness of a man aggressively re-asserting his status as a "motherfuckin' ninja," the rhythm & syntax he uses for those assertions is, frankly, really good.

So, of course, when $O$ came out late last year, I snatched it up immediately—& what I found remains nothing short of fantastic: part parody, wholly bizarre, a seat-edge hodge-podge spat, unapologetically, in the most intriguing of accents—&, even better, in tongue-tripping Afrikaans.

Also, let's be honest: the beat on this song is insane.

Alexander Hamilton—Lin-Manuel Miranda.

This song was supposedly written my Mr. Miranda (whom you may remember as the annoying guy on that subpar series of House episodes) as part of a forthcoming Alexander Hamilton concept album, which he then performed a piece of at the White House tribute to Spoken Word. More importantly, though, it is, quite literally, one of the greatest raps I've ever heard. I kid you not: at least listen to the first line—low down, piano-backed & snapping: How does a bastard orphan son of a whore & a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by Providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero & a scholar? The collision of syllables is nothing short of glorious—& it only gets better from there.

Also, can we just talk about what a fun party game this would be: pick an obscure historical figure, pick a musical genre, & combine them into a concept album. I mean, Christopher Lee's already playing—Charlemagne, heavy metal. I think I'd go for Joan of Arc & Riot Grrrl. Or Napoleon meets glam.

Massive Attack—Nicki Minaj.
[ Here's the music video; I just happen to think the song sounds insanely stupid censored. ]

The first time I heard Nicki Minaj was, I think, the first time a lot of people did: when she positively slaughtered her two verses on Kanye West's "Monster"—the highlight of which, I think, is the life-encapsulating line, You can be the king, but watch the queen conquer.

&, quite frankly, she has: as her "Monster" verse describes, Nicki became a hot commodity long before she produced anything solo, constantly sought after for guest-spots—verses that are, in most cases, a song's only redeeming feature. Her long-awaited album, Pink Friday, was admittedly a bit hit-or-miss—but she's absolutely beyond vindicated by gems like "Roman's Revenge", featuring a spectacularly-on-his-game Eminem. Aside from being objectively well done, the track is all the more fun for being attributed to one of her many alter-egos, Roman Zolanski, whom Minaj describes as "a gay boy. He's flamboyant, very into himself." (Also note the presence of Martha, Roman's mother / Nicki's fairy godmother, who is British.)

Were all of this not enough, the moment she won me, hook-line-&-sinker, was when I saw this quote in Interview magazine:

I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You’ve got to have something else to go with that.
P-R-E-A-C-H, ladyfriend! It's not that respectability comes from performing in a mumu; rather, it's crucial to be dynamic, talented beyond your ability to bodaciously fill out a leotard—which, let's get real, the author of this line undeniably is:

So call me Simba, little mama, 'cause Mufasa couldn't stop a bitch /
I fly in on a chopper just to buy Balenciaga /
It's just me, Mr. Miyagi, & the Phantom of the Opera /
goin' blocka mothafucka, got that big rocket-laun
I mean, the girl can rhyme "As-Salaam Alaikum," for chrissakes. She is, quite simply, ideal.

The Whole World—Outkast.

A classic, pure & simple—never less than eminently wonderful.

Too Heavy for Cherubs—Cage.

WARNING: This song is insanely disturbing—but also insanely well done.

Forest Whitaker—Brother Ali.

My hand to God, this song will brighten any day, lift any spirit—the ultimate anthem for anyone who's ever shaken their head at a mirror. Even sulking down blustery sidewalks—weaving through pedestrians, kicking air towards nowhere in particular—it's impossible not to smile & jive when that final chorus kicks in: I'm'a be all right, indeed, indeed.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Knock Out (feat. Diplo)—T.O.P. & G-Dragon.

Where to begin? This video is, quite simply, fabulous. On every conceivable level. I mean, really: each shot is better than the next—from the well-chopped dancing, to the rhythmic popping of bubble wrap, to the inexplicable interpolation of an adorable dog—not to mention the fact that every single one of these outfits is beyond fascinating & glam-level extravagant. There are Segway capes, for fuck's sake. Segway. Capes.

Also, not to be outdone, the song is virus-catchy—& seems, from what I can tell, to be skillfully written. The patter of their words is dynamic, limb-rocking, & even those without the power of Korean might hear references to "Napoleon," "sweet Medusa," &, my utter favorite—with translation help from a quick lyric Google—a diss about how T.O.P.'s eyelashes are preferable to his competition's "smoky" make-up.

I rest my case.

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