Posts Tagged ‘Raekwon’

The Best Music of 2009

January 19, 2010

I’m sorry for not posting anything since October. The blame lays on a brutal combination of working retail and being lazy and just reading Videogum when I got home. But it’s 2010, a new decade, a new beginning. So let’s do this right and begin the first Bad Guys Win post of 2010 talking about stuff from last year. Perfect.

When I told my friend Lauren that my best albums list had only ten albums on it she remarked that 2009 had been “a slow year”. She was being too kind. 2009 was disappointing for plenty of reasons, as most of the big records sucked and the bands that got buzz either were or sound like Animal Collective. A list of ten great albums is damn miraculous.

10. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures

Josh Homme is a goddamn rock god. This is just front to back badass riffs, backed by Dave Grohl and a very spry John Paul Jones. I can hear the Jones influence, but the Homme sound is undeniable. More than just a record to tide me over until the next Queens album.

9. Japandroids – Post-nothing

Canadian duo with a singing drummer. Where have I heard that one before? An obvious avenue for success, Japandroids make sweaty sounding music with tons and tons of passion. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” is one of those singles that makes you want to run out and buy the band’s album right away. When the guys talk about taking time to “french kiss some french girls”, you smile and realize they’re a band with their priorities straight.

8. Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx Pt. II

What are we calling this? The Godfather Pt. 2 of rap albums? Not to blaspheme, but I think it blows the original out of the water. Now if Rae could only make an album that’s any good that doesn’t reference his debut. Props to Ghostface, because he’s Ghostface and he kills it all over this record.

7. LMFAO – Party Rock

The beats on this record are sick. The raps are dumb, no, I take that back. The raps are amazingly dumb. That’s why they’re so great. When artists describe their album as a “party album” it is always a lie because the album will inevitably feature one of the following: a ballad, a hard street track, or worse, an ode to a fallen friend or loved one. Those can be great, but not for a P-A-R-T-Y! LMFAO go 14 tracks of party time music. This might not be your thing. I can respect that. But be aware that if you want to have a party, the word “party” is in the damn title. Truth in advertising, rarely done so well. “I’m In Miami, Bitch” is already classic status while “I Don’t Wanna Be” rides the sickest damn beat on the record. Well, that’s debate-able. Seriously, these beats.

6. Mastodon – Crack the Skye

A kid at work told me he’d heard Mastodon had sold out. The 13 minutes of “The Last Baron” say otherwise. Brendan O’Brien is no hack producer and any slickness on the production is overshadowed by the killer riffs and intricate playing that Mastodon is known for. If you don’t like Crack The Skye you’re just trying to be a dick. Quit it.

5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has three of the best Phoenix songs right up front. “Lisztomania”, “1901”, and “Fences” are Phoenix at their best. Man, those are great fucking songs. And the rest of the album is really good. Really good. But those first three songs are almost too good. Like, you listen to the rest of the album and think “Hey, these are good songs, don’t get me wrong. But ‘1901’? Getdufuckouttahere!” Am I making any sense?

4. DJ Quik and Kurupt – BlaQKout

Sick. Nasty. Fuckin’ ‘ell. Any and all of these words apply when talking about BlaQKout. DJ Quik and Kurupt rap about hoes, bitches, being awesome and all those other rap cliches from the 90’s, over the smoothest and sharpest throwback production I’ve ever heard. This is the kind of rap album you can play front to back, no bullshit just hilarious ignorant rhymes on top of the type of beats Jay-Z should have had on the Blueprint 3.

3. The Bloody Beetroots – Romborama

My friend Lauren described this as “horror movie dance music”. Apt. The last of the class of ’06 to drop an album, I figured after MSTRKRFT, Justice and Simian Mobile Disco, The Bloody Beetroots would sound past their sell date when Romborama finally saw the light of day. Instead, they delivered 20 straight bangers. And this shit is hard, son. Distorted screaming vocals, blown speaker beats; basically my dream album. Romborama could be categorized as a party record, but you’d have to leave early on account of the house burning down. Real talk.

2. MSTRKRFT – Fist of God

No lie, before Fist of God, MSTRKRFT seemed like a second rate Justice. They had the skills, but not the tunes. Fist of God is, to steal from Jimmy Cameron, a game changer. Al and Jesse go hard and fierce right from the start, sear your face off and then things get interesting. “Heartbreaker” feels less and less like a breather and more like a new direction every time I hear it, and that it’s followed by the title track is just great sequencing. No shit, sometimes “Fist Of God” literally takes my breath away. It’s perfect. That Lauren and I got to meet Jesse and Al and they turned out to be awesome people just made cosmic sense. An asshole could never make a song like “It Ain’t Love”.(Editor’s Note: Meeting Jesse and Al had no baring on the placement of this album)

1. Passion Pit – Manners

I don’t know why the cover art is so boring for this album because Manners sounds like the creation of an exuberant young man with boundless energy, access to a children’s choir and lots and lots of ideas. He might be a little sad sometimes (hey, who isn’t?); the music is how we can all feel better. Songs like “The Reeling” are melancholy in subject but joyous in execution. I’ve read that some people hate this album. To them I ask, what is it like to be cold inside? Kick any puppies today? Aww, hell. I can’t stay mad, this album is too fun. Is it possible to be too fun? Ask Passion Pit.


The Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z. Real Talk.

September 10, 2009


I hold the opinion that there should be no such thing as a “bad” Jay-Z album. He’s the greatest rapper alive, he has access where others do not, how can he not keep dropping classics? The answer, most likely, is that Jay-Z is only human, and humans have been known to make mistakes. The Blueprint 3 is one such mistake.

I’m not sure why Jay-Z insisted on having a Blueprint trilogy. Sure the first one is a classic, but he already did this three album cycle shit back in the 90’s. And it’s not like The Blueprint 2 was screaming for a finale. I like that album fine, but the criticisms of a bloated nature are not at all out-of-bounds. Also it isn’t nearly as good as The Blueprint. That said, The Blueprint 3 is closer in relation both thematically and song-wise with Kingdom Come, which most people agree is Jay-Z’s worst album. The Blueprint 3 is better than that record, but only just so.

Let’s start with the beats, the bedrock of any great rap record. Jay-Z has long been fabled for his beat choices. Just see him suss out the beat for “What More Can I Say?” in the concert film Fade To Black*. It appears that much like on Kingdom Come, Jay has become less discerning in his tastes. Maybe Hov is just reading the labels and not really listening, but these Timbaland and Neptunes beats aren’t that hot. Timbaland’s “Reminder” might be one of the shittiest tracks he’s ever done that hasn’t appeared on Shock Value. The Neptunes’ beat for “So Ambitious” outdoes it with a weak shamble and a basis around video game sound effects. It sounds like it was sampled from the soundtrack to a The Legend of Zelda. Timbaland does a slightly better job on “Off That“, but the beat is all forward motion, no innovation. Did the guy blow his wad on FutureSex/LoveSounds? But when we’re talking about a failure of beats, the prize goes to “Young Forever“, Jay-Z’s attempt to get a foot in the door of the ever important high school senior class market. If this is any indication of Jay-Z’s next move, expect a freestyle over Toto’s “Africa” before his next album drops.

I’ve read plenty of criticism over the last few years since Kingdom Come that Jay-Z hasn’t really been bringing it lyrically and that his rhyming skills and flow are deteriorating. I had never agreed with this statement until hearing The Blueprint 3. Across the board, track for track, I don’t think Jay-Z delivers anything generally crazy, quotable, or with any sense of greater style. And the man’s only true competition is himself. Take a track like “Thank You“, which plays like a retread of The Black Album‘s “Encore“. Jay starts out saying it’s a song for his fans, but then quickly flips it into another attack on his critics, equating them rather clumsily to September 11th, with a strained metaphor of crashing planes into buildings. The beat is nice, but we’re two tracks into the album and he’s evoking terrorist attacks against battle rappers he won’t even name. Not to mention that the first song is an attack on his critics as well. Listen, I’m well aware of the fact that most Jay-Z songs are about how he is awesome, his critics can kiss his ass, and so on. The problem is that Jay-Z used to make songs like this that made such statements self evident. “The Takeover” is a track that slams Nas, Mobb Deep and a slew of other rap competitors by actually being an amazing track built around stellar rhymes, rhyming, and an insane, heavy beat. Jay-Z was telling everyone they weren’t as great as him and proving it at the same time. With The Blueprint 3, Jay is just saying it, taking his top status for granted. He used to show us he was the greatest, now he can only tell us about it. When asked in an interview whether Kanye West out-rapped him on “Run This Town“, Jay-Z responded with a non-committal shrug and instructed the interviewer to compare his overall work to Kanye’s and ask him who was the best. Well sure, if we play it that way of course Jay-Z wins. His hits vastly outweigh his misses. But if he keeps whiffing like this he might just screw up his average.(“Run This Town” is still terrible, by the way. Mostly, it’s Rhianna’s yarl.)

Nice things to say? Sure. Swizz Beatz proves his worth on “On To The Next One” with a wicked beat that is proto typical Swizzy but still energetic. “D.O.A.” isn’t bad, like a second rate “Roc Boys“, which I guess isn’t much of a compliment. Oh well.

I’m a little confused on the theme of The Blueprint 3. The original Blueprint was Jay-Z throwing down the gauntlet and letting everyone know he was a force to be reckoned with. No guests except for Eminem, production from mostly Kanye and Just Blaze**; shit made sense. The Blueprint 2 was more of a victory lap, which is why it felt a bit lazy. Yet, there were some top flight beats and Jay had some sharp rhymes to go along with them. This third iteration seems to indicate, “I’m still here, I’m still great”? A good chunk of the running time is devoted to this plot point, when not denigrating haters and critics, with a occasional aside to reference women from his past (“Venus vs. Mars“) or pay respect to every commercially successful rap act to come up in the last twenty years (“A Star Is Born”). “A Star Is Born” is treacle bullshit, sharing a motif with “Empire State of Mind”, also on The Blueprint 3. On “Empire” Jay lists random New York City locations, while on “Star” he lists random rappers. “Empire” is a little better, and the tracks might even work in with better beats, but the verses are snared between a god awful choruses. The message of these two tracks is “I love New York, also various rappers. Group hug.”

The great irony is that this record clearly cost millions of dollars. Millions in marketing, millions for the beats and studio time, all in the service of what turns out to be a relatively mediocre product(“On To The Next One” notwithstanding). Yet, for significantly less money, Hov is outclassed, on the same release day mind you, by Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx…Pt. 2. Great beats, trenchant and evocative rhymes, plus passion. Jay would probably argue that if you stack up his career against Raekwon and a blah blah blah. Hey Jay, let’s stack up your pre-retirement career against your post. Real talk.

*Watching this clip still gives me goosebumps, followed by giddy elation. Do you see the guy make that face at the end of the clip, that “Holy shit, Hov is killing it” face? In the first verse of  “On To The Next One” Jay raps that if we don’t like his new albums, go listen to his old ones. Gladly.

**Just Blaze has been unjustly ignored by Hov of late. Just had to footnote that.