Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It's a new day, and a better day is coming...

I was sick last week so I took a bit of a blogging hiatus... mostly because I don't blog unless I'm at work. Anyway, I'm back. Yay for me.

- David Foster Wallace Commencement Address: DFW gettin’ gully in this commencement address. I wish someone cool would’ve spoken at my matriculation. Please read this speech. It’s great.

- Poetry Funds Terrorism: Catchdub’s recently worked with Saul Williams to make a mixtape that strives to do for Saul Williams what Diplo’s “Piracy Funds Terrorism” did for MIA. It’s worth a download. Technically speaking, it’s a solid mixtape and I feel bad about saying anything remotely negative about a project worked on by such a wonderful human (Young Catch is really the dude), but now I'm gonna put my conscience on the side for a second because I’ve got a few critical things to say about this mixtape: First of all, Saul Williams’ melodramatic, didactic proselytizing on (a) beats he almost certainly either hasn’t heard before or (b) on beats from songs he flat out doesn’t like (because the rappers are rapping about ice and money, etc) strikes me as terribly contrived. It’s clear quickly that Saul Williams is a talented writer with provocative ideas. Likewise, Catchdubs does a fine job of constructing a fun, interesting, and eclectic backdrop for Williams. But, i can't say the mixtape is a success because of the simple fact that something rubbed me the wrong way about the tape and I’ve just now put my finger on it: I can’t help but feel like the thing is some silly marketing tool where Saul Williams is just trying to reach an audience that he previously hasn’t reached. Additionally, I’m left with the sense that Saul Williams is insulting the shit out of the people who don’t listen to his music with this shit, basically saying something along the lines of "The only reason the people that listen to gangsta rap don’t like me is because I’m not rapping on the beats they like" or something silly like that. It just feels so manufactured and insincere--like a bad marketing campaign that is using all these signifiers that are supposed to communicate to a specific audience, but the usage is so out-of-place and insincere that if falls flat on its face. It's worth stating that I don't think the mixtape's failure has anything to do with Catchdubs's construction of the tape. Again, it's a solid mix with some fun blends, but I expect more from someone as smart as Saul Williams. This is just some lazy, insulting BS as far as I'm concerend. These so-called "conscious rappers" need to stop alienating themselves if they truly want a larger audience, and you can’t just suddenly spit some lyrics on some beats that were on the GAME album and expect to be accepted.

- Good News for Paul-C Fans: Via grandgood rekkids, there’s a new/old Paul C project set for release.

- Missing White People: O-Dub with a brief but on-point analysis of missing white people and the black suspects that are suspected of doing something illegal—even if they’re no longer suspects because of lack of evidence.

- "I fucked Dax from Punk’d": I can’t decide if the Andy Milonakis show is funny or not. I’m leaning more towards not, but I guess he was some internet superstar before he had a TV show and this “internet hero” freestyle is pretty funny.

-e

5 Comments:

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

You probably know more about the inception of Saul William's mixtape than I do; maybe that knowledge is the grounding of your criticism. But based on what I heard in the music I really don't get your issue of contention.

Mixtapes by their very nature are "marketing tools", except for maybe the djs that create them, I don't think anyone considers them to be a "true" expression of an artist's work in the way that an official album is. Maybe the distinction between a real album and mixtape is only a matter of audience perception, but I think that I'm accurate in my analysis of that perception. The recent emergence of the artist or crew driven mixtape (as opposed to the old fangled "New Hot Shit" from DJ Muckitty Muck model) serves two purposes in my mind, either it gives the audience the opportunity to hear a rapper that they know and like on a beat that they know and like, or it gives the audience the opportunity to hear a rapper that they're not to familiar with on a beat that they know and like. The benefits to an artist without a ton of exposure are obvious,"Hey people like this beat, they'll listen to it. If I rap on this beat maybe they'll be more inclined to listen to me too."

If Saul Williams is disingenuous for using this method then so is just about every other rapper in the world, because they're all doing the same thing for the same reason, to expand their audiences.

Being the imminent Rockist/Hip-Hopist (I guess Rapist is never going to catch on) scholar that you are I kind of question your clarity of thought in challenging his beat selection. Although Saul is obviously "anti-jiggy gun clapping" what does that have to do with the beats that rappers jiggy gun clap to. When all of the subterranean kids of our age group came above ground for some air a few years ago I don't think most of us started huggin' the block with llamas while wearing diamond encrusted dog collars. We just finally smartened up enough to see the big LIE of the underground. We realized that the music we listened to wasn't more pure or authentic and that some of the stuff that the "masses" embraced was better than the shit that we were infatuated with. Side note, I don't care what anybody says Last Emp is going to be a star some day. I'm irrational about this, it can not be discussed, it must be so.

You say that conscious rappers need to stop alienating themselves but when the conscious rapper in question tried to reach out to a more diverse or larger audience by using a common contemporary method (i.e. the mixtape of said rapper spittin’ over popular jams) you say that it's contrived because you don't think he actually likes the subject matter of the rappers upon whom's beats he's rapping on. Well doesn't seem like our boy Saul can win your book. You tell him to get out of the "conscious" box that he's in and when he tries to you lick shots at him for having the audacious mendacity to think he can get out of his box on your watch.

When you write about conscious rappers needing to stop alienating large audiences how would you like them to go about it? Should they change their content or focus? Should they appropriate popular flows? Have you heard Talib Kweli try to rap double time? That's scary stuff and in my opinion gravely more disingenuous than anything Saul did on his tape.

Just as a final note I didn't like the mixtape much because Saul refuses to compromise with the music. He seems so tied to his text that he'd sooner butt heads with the instrumental than compromise.

Who takes a week off of work because there sick? Some women don't even take that much time for maternity leave. Man up wussy.

 
At 1:29 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Damn, dude. You must be bored as shit if you’re stooping down to the level of responding to my blog.

Anyway, let me serve you real quick:

Yeah, obviously mixtapes are first and foremost “marketing tools.” No one would argue against that. But, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to point out that there’s something completely different about Juelz Santana rapping over a GAME beat on a mixtape and Saul Williams rapping over that same beat on his mixtape. What’s that difference? Well it’s effing obvious: Juelz and Saul present drastically different characters in their music and I would argue that a huge element of the character that Saul Williams’s presents in his music is one that is based on criticizing this very strain of rap/hip-hop music that he is now appropriating in this mixtape to “expand his audience.” Now, I don’t have an inherent problem with anyone appropriating this music in order to expand his audience—I don’t usually give a shit if people rap over popular beats strictly for the sake of marketing their record to a different audience. That shit’s obviously not automatically a good or a bad thing. But what I do have a problem with the manner that it’s done here.

Let’s continue to use the GAME beat as an example here. Over on the hollertronix board, Catchdubs mentions that Saul loves the GAME record. Well, first of all, I find that to be really weird (but also kinda cool), but what’s important here is that you certainly couldn’t tell that Saul loves that GAME record through the “Black Stacey” blend. Regardless of whether or not Saul loves the GAME record doesn't change the fact that I find the "Black Stacey" vocals to sound rather awkward on that Timbaland instrumental. Perhaps it's just because Catchdubs blended the acapella on top of the instrumental (did he? I dunno) or perhaps it's just Saul's atypical delivery on top of such a straight-forward Timbaland hip-hop beat, but something about it sounds—for lack of a better word—"awkward" to me. And, as we all know, it is common on mixtapes that when dudes rap on other people’s beats, they mimic the flow of the original artist or play-off of the lyrics of the original song, changing a word here or there—shit like that. This isn’t always the case nor is it necessarily a necessity, but it’s a pretty common mixtape technique. And, really, none of that shit is going on here. It’s just a Saul Williams acapella pasted blandly on top of a Timbaland beat. To me, it doesn’t “work” because there’s nothing about the blend that makes me believe Saul Williams has ever even heard the beat before. If Williams had done some of that flow mimicry or interpolated the hook or SOMETHING, then maybe I wouldn’t be jumping all over this mix the way I am. But, because it lacks these basic mixtape tropes, the blend sounds awkward and silly, and thus, “insincere.” Perhaps the jump from “awkward” to “insincere” is an unfair one to make, but given Saul’s vocal criticism of mainstream hip-hop, I don’t think it’s unfair for me to be critical of a song that just sounds like verses slapped atop a mainstream rap beat.

You say that conscious rappers need to stop alienating themselves but when the conscious rapper in question tried to reach out to a more diverse or larger audience by using a common contemporary method (i.e. the mixtape of said rapper spittin’ over popular jams) you say that it's contrived because you don't think he actually likes the subject matter of the rappers upon whom's beats he's rapping on. Well doesn't seem like our boy Saul can win your book. You tell him to get out of the "conscious" box that he's in and when he tries to you lick shots at him for having the audacious mendacity to think he can get out of his box on your watch.

Oh come on! It’s obviously not as simple as that. I was excited when I heard about this mix. The only reason I'm even bothering voicing criticism of this mix is not to be a hater, but because I think mixes like this have a lot of potential to break a lot of the ground between "conscious rap" and "gangsta rap" (or whatever the hell you want to call the shits). I can appreciate the effort here to “get out of the ‘conscious’ box,” but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize him for failing to do so. I think this is especially true with someone like Saul Williams who I think is full of potential and extremely intelligent, but probably hasn't made more then 3 or 4 songs that I like. As I said, I was hoping this mix would do more of a thorough job of showing the common ground between the camps of hip-hop (you don't know how excited I was when Saul Williams was rumored to be on that Jay-Z track on Kanye's album) but I don’t think it does that. If anything, I feel like it further alienates these two (or however many) camps of hip-hop by showing the glaring differences between the two.

When you write about conscious rappers needing to stop alienating large audiences how would you like them to go about it? Should they change their content or focus? Should they appropriate popular flows? Have you heard Talib Kweli try to rap double time? That's scary stuff and in my opinion gravely more disingenuous than anything Saul did on his tape.

Be reasonable, dog. Rapping “double time” is hardly automatically equal to “popular flow.” Who raps “double time” these days besides Twista and occasionally Luda? Kweli’s venture into double time rap was atrocious because he’s simply not capable of that type of rhythmic performance—not because it was “disingenuous.” It just sounded like shit.

As for the question: how should “conscious rappers stop alienating themselves”? Well, shit, I dunno. I’m not a conscious rapper and it’s not my job to worry about how the eff these mugs should stop alienating themselves (I will say that they could learn a lot from Kanye, though). By the way, just because I don’t think this particular attempt didn’t work doesn’t mean that I’m automatically being hypocritical or anything.

But I'll humor you and go ahead and suggest some ways of “preventing themselves from alienating large audiences.” The first thing you can do is not insult your audience’s intelligence. As I said in my post, simply rapping on top of famous beats doesn’t suddenly align you with an audience—especially when it comes across as pandering and lip-service: “Fine, you won’t listen to me on my weirdo shit? Here, how ‘bout I just rap on this Timbaland shit. Happy, you fucking idiots? Is this what you want?!” When rapping on the aforementioned GAME beat (or on “Crunk Musick” or “Go DJ”), it doesn’t sound like Saul Williams has even heard the songs he’s rapping on top of, let alone like them. Now he certainly doesn’t have to “like” the rappers or the songs in order to like the beats and, of course, he’s free to rap on the things however he damn well pleases. But, how is this anything more than simple appropriation for marketing’s sake? And how does it not insult the listener’s intelligence to make a mixtape like this after making these rather “experimental” rock-ish records that not only criticize mainstream hip-hop in content but also through their very form/sound (i.e. I am arguing that the production on Saul’s album is a very self-conscious reaction to and criticism of mainstream production)?

Just as a final note I didn't like the mixtape much because Saul refuses to compromise with the music. He seems so tied to his text that he'd sooner butt heads with the instrumental than compromise.

This is exactly what I’m saying except I’m taking the criticism one-step further and saying that this “head-butting” makes the mixtape feel “insincere” and insulting.

Being the imminent Rockist/Hip-Hopist (I guess Rapist is never going to catch on) scholar that you are I kind of question your clarity of thought in challenging his beat selection.

Sucka. Now you’re just going out of your way to hurt my feelings!

Side note, I don't care what anybody says Last Emp is going to be a star some day. I'm irrational about this, it can not be discussed, it must be so.

Don’t you actually have to record material to become a star? When’s the last time this guy put out a record?

Who takes a week off of work because there sick? Some women don't even take that much time for maternity leave. Man up wussy.

I took a week off blogging, not work.

-e

 
At 10:29 PM, Anonymous trigger said...

glad you 're writing again.

 
At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Futuristxen said...

Insulting or not, if Saul Williams thinks he has an important message, isn't he almost obligated to use whatever means he can to get it out to people?

What I'm talking about here really is, Jello Biafra backed up by Good Charlotte.

Sure it feels wrong, but isn't it so so very right?

I haven't listened to the mixtap in question by the by. Just wanted to illistrate that I am in the peanut gallery reading.
-
Ian

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous faux_rillz said...

"I don't think anyone considers them to be a 'true' expression of an artist's work in the way that an official album is."

Dag, RC, you really *are* a rockist.

I don't think I know anybody that follows the hip-hop mixtape game who considers albums to be a more "true expression" of a given artist's work. There's far too much money to be made off of commercially-released rap albums these days to take too many risks with "true expression". Mixtapes, conversely, offer much more limited remunerative promise and are a place where artists can appeal to their core fans without also having to consider the tastes of Caitlyn n'nem.

 

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