I’ve been to a few hip hop shows in the past. Not nearly as many as punk, indie rock, or electronic shows, but still, a few. Mos Def’s show last night at USC’s Springfest ’11 was like nothing else.
I’m about as knowledgeable about Mos Def as the average guy off of the street; that is, I know “Ms. Fat Booty,” “Sex, Love & Money,” and I’ve seen a movie or two he’s been in. I can’t comment on how many of the songs he played – or flowed through – last night are his, but whatever it he was playing couldn’t have sounded more like the high-brow rap innovator that he is in my mind.
For the first fifteen minutes, I was waiting for a song I recognized to come from the DJ (we’d just finished a set by MURS who covered Rage and The Bangles). But when songs blended together and lasted ten minutes with extended interludes of Mos improvising over muddied beats removed of any mid or treble tones, I just went with it.
An anecdote: During the dead pause between two songs, someone in the crowd was repeatedly yelling, “Ms. Fat Booty.” Mos turned to face the guy and said, “Hey, this ain’t a jukebox show.” That pretty much sums it up.
The word to describe the set: weird. It wasn’t fun, but I loved it. I’m not sure if this is the best comparison, but it was what Portishead would do if for some reason Beth wanted to rap. It was fantastic.
Is it wrong that I think of Odd Future as 2011’s Die Antwoord with way more staying power? Regardless, that’s how I approach these guys.
Quick facts: OFWGKTA stands for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, which is shortened to Odd Future. Odd Future is a collective of about ten 17-23 year-old rappers and producers seemingly headed by Tyler, the Creator.
I first listened to Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” after seeing Kanye West’s tweet declaring the video for the song “The video of 2011.” I have a thing for stark, simple, black-and-white videos (“Single Ladies“, “My Love“, “Drop It Like It’s Hot“, “On To The Next One“, I could go on…), and “Yonkers” keeps pace with the rest. It’s unique, and it keeps with Odd Future’s reputation as spouting shocking and ridiculous imagery through their lyrics.
The collective has been quite prolific since late 2008 (Pitchfork has a great review of their mixtapes), but hadn’t garnered a ton of attention until late last year. I’ve only just started going through the mixtapes and watching their performance at SXSW, but I’m hooked. I can’t pass up the allure of young energy breaking new ground without much regard for their elders. I’ll definitely be catching their set at Coachella this year.
Update: Pitchfork just posted an interview with Odd Future. It’s loaded with gems. My favorite is…
Pitchfork: Did you ever imagine you’d be playing at festivals like Coachella and SXSW a year ago?
Tyler, the Creator: I didn’t even know about Coachella a year ago. I knew about SXSW because N.E.R.D. played here. It was never my goal or intention to play one of those, and I never realized how important it was until recently. I’m a believer that if you keep saying shit’s gonna happen it will. Like, I always talked about how I wanted a trampoline, and now I have one.
I’m no expert on jj. I’ve listened to jj nº1, nº2, and nº3, but I still don’t have a firm grasp on what it is that they’re doing. Maybe that’s the point. On one hand you have Ecstacy and on the other you have Let Go. Is it beautiful indie pop or is it beautiful indie pop covers of hip hop songs?
With the release of the Kills mixtape, the question changes again. Is it beautiful indie pop covers mashing up a bunch of hip hop songs? I don’t know, but it’s incredible. Genres, who needs ’em?
“They tried to make me do the Oscars, I said ‘No, No, No’.” Of all the banter M.I.A. threw into her hour-long set on the Main Stage at this year’s Coachella, this was probably the most pointed. When Amy Winehouse dropped off the lineup because she couldn’t get a Visa to the United States (surprise, surprise), M.I.A. was quickly announced to be her replacement. In my mind, there could be no better choice. I’ve missed the chance to see M.I.A. twice now, and I made sure not to pass her up again.
I’ve been an M.I.A. fan since Arular came out, and likeeveryoneelse, Kala was one of my favorite albums of 2007. I know all the words to all her songs (well, at lease those that are audibly decipherable). You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that there aren’t as many people like me as I thought. Apparently, tons people are willing to stand around for an hour to hear one song. I really hope that the masses can get over “Paper Planes” and realize the true genius in all of M.I.A.’s songs.
Aside from that, the show was one of my favorite all weekend. Six neon glow-in-the-dark dancers started things off and led right into M.I.A.’s entrance at a podium rapping “World Town.” The party went on from there as she flew threw Rye Rye’s new song “Bang”, “$20”, “Boyz”, “Bingo”, “Sunshowers”, “Pull Up the People”, and “Galang”. A perfect set list.
Also included in her set was “Bird Flu”. Last year, M.I.A. only got through six songs in the Mojave tent because she wanted people to get up on stage, but the security guards thought otherwise. This year, she would get people up if it was the last thing she did. She called out, “I’ve already been banned from Coachella once, let do it. Hey hey, let ’em up! Let ’em up!” And something clicked in my brain.
In short, I jumped over the center barrier, ran as fast as I could towards the stage, got body checked into another barrier by a 300 lb. security guard, ran so as to not get thrown out, and jumped over another barrier back into the crowd. I didn’t make it onstage, but I did make it to the front row of the show. To those people who did make it onstage, good on ya; I hope you enjoyed yourself. I know I enjoyed my fleeting moment of excitement.
After “Bird Flu” came “Paper Planes.” And of course the crowd went wild for the one song they’d heard on TV and on the radio. While I’m still bitter that M.I.A. hasn’t received the mainstream success she deserves, I’m appreciative that anyone knows her music at all. It’s not everyday that a Sri Lankan girl with paternal ties to the Tamil Tigers makes it onto American radio waves.
I had a great time during M.I.A.’s third Coachella performance, and in the end, that’s what counts. That being said, if you ever go to one of her future shows, please listen to some songs that aren’t “Paper Planes” before heading out.
It seems that ragging on Kanye West for anything other than his oversized ego and inappropriate public outbursts was off limits. Rightfully so, in my opinion. He was a producer-to-the-stars before The College Dropout, and he has gone nowhere but up since that first album came out in 2004. Unfortunately, rap’s megastar has decidedly turned his back on the genre in some misguided attempt to save pop music.
808s & Heartbreak
In all honesty, I wanted this album to blow me away. I enjoyed Kanye’s previous albums, and while I found it odd that everyone of his songs relied so heavily on sampled material, he is without a doubt mastered the skill. Just as I hadn’t really listened to a TON of Radiohead before In Rainbows, I wanted 808s & Heartbreak to make me fall in love with Kanye, to look past the asshole persona and see some genius inside.
This album has 2 (maybe 3) songs that are single material and the rest are filler. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need 12 singles to think an album is good; I wouldn’t even say that one is necessary (ie. BT’s This Binary Universe). But an album of filler does not cut it for me.
The first single Love Lockdown, which Kanye premiered live at the MTV 2008 VMAs deserves some credit for delivering on what was promised. It’s a well-intentioned crack at a minimal pop song (but the hip hop still lurks somewhere in the background). As far as the Auto Tune goes, I think it’s used appropriately here as an instrument and not as a coverup for poor vocals.
The same applies for the album’s second single Heartless. I love the breathy flute/woodwind stabs featured throughout the song. On top of that, I constantly find myself singing the chorus to this song. And I don’t really try to ever get it out of my head, it’s just catchy. Solid song (but let’s not get into the music video).
And that’s as far as the complements go. From Paranoid (featuring someone with a very average voice) on, this album was torturous for me to listen to. The formula of using Auto Tune over every vocal paired with simplistic beats constructed on a Roland TR-808 makes a couple interesting experiments, not an album. Taken as a whole, it seems that Kanye wanted to break molds, so for some reason he picked the effect that has framed T-Pain as a one-trick-pony and the drum machine that everyone in electronic music has used at one time or another to make beats. Maybe it’s me, but this combo does not scream experimental or pop in any way/shape/form.
Picking out the biggest offender, I especially loath the song RoboCop. I cannot figure this song out for the life of me. The majority of the lyrics don’t make sense, and those that do are just ridiculous. Again, let me clarify that every song in my library isn’t a deep, introspective on human emotions. But when Spank Rock raps about Backyard Betty, it’s tongue-in-cheek. If Kanye is just having fun with his lyrics and don’t mean anything by the references to Misery, the joke was lost on me. Aside from the lyrics, I also can’t stand the music to the song. The strings and glittery bells belong in a Christmas compilation album, and at some point in the song, Kanye ditches the Auto Tune. He needed to keep it on (so I flip flop about the Auto Tune… maybe he just shouldn’t sing).
In conclusion, this album will sell tons. The first two singles were carefully picked, and they are doing their job. This doesn’t really bother me, because tons of crap gets passed as quality on top 40 radio stations everyday, but I did expect more from Kanye. If you have the biggest ego in the world, you better have some quality material to back it up.
fyi: I do not have a standard rating system. I know I’ve done ratings out of 10 in the past, but I figured it would be easier to list what I have rated each song in my iTunes library.
Say You Will 2/5
Welcome to Heartbreak 4/5
Love Lockdown 4/5
Street Lights 3/5
Bad News 3/5
See You in My Nightmares 2/5
Coldest Winter 4/5
Pinocchio Story ???
ps: Would it kill Lil’ Wayne to speak in a normal tone of voice for once?
Everyone loves tons of taxidermies surrounding them when they go to shows, right? No? Oh well. Last night at the LA County Natural History Museum, Kid Sister & A-Trak put on a great show surrounded by deers, seals, and buffalo.
Because it was one of the museum’s First Fridays events, the night started with a presentation on the topic of elephant communication. Apparently, elephants have huge brains and are considered extremely intelligent mammals. They communicate not only through vocalizations, but also through vibrations transfered from the ground through their feet similar to how some insects do.
It was sometime during this presentation that I realized that this is how the government should fix the declining education levels in the US: have cheap concerts with up-and-coming indie artists at museums, and require kids to come to the museum an hour early to attend a session like this to get tickets. I really think that most people have a genuine interest in learning, but that school is so boring that learning is associated with a unidirectional lecture (and resultant sleep). But back to the music…
A-Trak came out around 8 and spun some hip hop while flaunting his amazing mixing skills here and there. For those who don’t know, A-Trak is Kanye West’s DJ, he won the DMC World DJ Championship in 1997 at the age of 15 (youngest ever & first Canadian), and he owns Fool’s Gold Records. While his first set was great, it was coming out of some crap speakers, which put a damper on things at first. After standing in front of those speakers (in the front row), my ears were kinda shot, so it didn’t really matter.
At around 8:40, Kid Sister came out and put on a great set. She did every song of hers that I know and more. Her songs are so perfect to sing along with because of the simplicity of the hook. After about a half hour set that consisted of Control, Damn Girl, Pro Nail, Beeper, Telephone and others, she finished with Switch Board. It’s neither here nor there, but during Control, she came off the stage, and I happened to hold her hand for a few seconds… That’s how you get fans.
After Kid Sis finished up, A-Trak kept the energy up with some great electro that included stuff by Simian Mobile Disco, The Prodigy, Justice, SebastiAn, Spank Rock, and some of his own remixes of Digitalism and Kanye West. He progressed back down into more hip hop, and ended on a solid note. I think of the DJ sets I’ve been to, I’d most liken A-Trak to Flosstradamous. Both spin electro and hip hop superbly.
It was a great night. While I paid a whopping $6.50 for my tickets, it turned out that USC students get into the museums for free, so a friend here paid nothing (I ordered mine early). It was a bargain either way.
So now that you have all had access to get M.I.A.’s latest offering legally (although it seemed like the people at her concerts chose differently), here’s my take on it. After just one listen, anyone could recognize that it is very different from Arular. It’s not so much of an experimental electronic/hip-hop album as a more developed hip-hop album with electronic synths mixed with various beats. Where Arular was glitchy and pounding throughout, Kala is more calculated with its hits coming at more opportune times. The beats on Kala remain a mixture of drum machines and found objects being banged together, unique to say the least.
The songs that stand out the most to me are Bird Flu, Boyz, Jimmy, and Paper Planes. I understand that many people find Bird Flu to be annoying, but I firmly disagree. I don’t see how this song could stand out as annoying when compared to her other work. Boyz is just a great song with an infectious beat. Jimmy is a slower love song that doesn’t leave the M.I.A. style behind. And Paper Planes is both politically and stylistically powerful; definitely a step forward in my opinion. So that’s about it, I really do like Kala, just in a different way than I love Arular.
I am no fan of Kanye West. Let it be known before you dive headfirst into this intriguing column of mine. He is cocky and irreverent of any other musical artist on the scene. Remember when he ran onstage to ruin Justice and Simian’s award for “We Are Your Friends”? No? Well that was my last straw, and the video is after the jump.
So, this new video for Kanye West’s song “Stronger” has been talked about for a long time. It has a Daft Punk sample! It’s an expensive video! It’s off his new album! Directed by Hype Williams! Too bad the video amounts to some eye candy and a plot just as confusing as Justin Timerlake’s “SexyBack”… Putting Daft Punk in BOTH your song and video is quite a feat, but it won’t get you video of the year.
The video features some futuristic looking animation with Kanye being reborn by some kind of a Matrix-type machine. It looks cool, but it’s a bit literal of a translation of the song title. Like I said, Daft Punk is sweet anywhere they are placed. Kudos for that one. The sun(?)glasses are equally awsome; I wish I had some. Here is the part that frustrates me: the lack of continuity. There are some great scenes, but they don’t amount to anything. The video for “Jesus Walks” was amazing because it told a story (all three versions were powerful). I don’t feel that there is anything holding “Stronger” together.