Two Sides of the Commercial Hip Hop Coin

Both of these brand new rap albums are good in their own way.

When some people listen to new rap albums, they’re paying primarily to the music and the rhythms to hear if it’s good or worth listening to.  I don’t.

To me, a rapper needs to have something to say.  Seriously.  You’re just talking, motherfucker, and it’s 2010.  Do you have something to say, or are you just filling space?  Are you going to tell me something about your personal struggle… honestly, so I can compare my experience to yours and see if I can learn anything, even from your mistakes?  Or, are you just going to brag about the same animal shit that a dog rapper would rap about if he could talk?

So, here’s two rappers who, to some extent, have something to say about what they’re going through (and manage to place it well alongside some solid, striking music).

Drake, is a Lil’ Wayne protege, and talks like he’s a made man.  He bitches about why he’s only known the people who surround him for less than a year, and then at the same time wonders why his old friends are complaining he doesn’t have time for them.  He brags about how great his life is, but then at the same time, childishly bitches about the plastic feeling it creates.  The funny thing is his original raps were about fame before he was even famous.  He seems to able to create this weird mix of arrogance and yearning, and you can see how he created the beautiful and sterile world he created for himself.

I guess he must have been drawing on his previous fame experience as Jimmy in the Canadian Degrassi Jr. High sequel: The Next Generation.

Plus, he really knows how to craft a hook.

The Roots, on the other hand, have been making albums for 15 years.  They’ve gone through a few cycles of fame, even though none of them has really become a superstar.  They’re amazing musical craftsmen, and could rap circles around Drake.  Instead of including a mega-star who’s mentoring them, like Drake and Lil Wayne, they’re hyping indie bands and singers like Joanna Newsom, M. Ward and the Monsters of Folk, and the girl singers of The Dirty Projectors.  The Joanna Newsom cut, with a slowed-down sample of “Right On” is particularly good.

So what do The Roots have to say?  They have a little more grown-up feeling.  They’re not gonna talk about how famous they are.  They’re almost talking about being regular grown-ups with regular problems.  Except, they are 15 years into a great career and trying to make sure they’re the best they can be.  You hear regular frustration and humility, and… they actually play real drums.

The Roots I’ll probably still be listening to next year, but I’m having no problem bumping Drake this summer.

Recommended listens for The Roots, on their myspace page: Dear God 2.0, Radio Daze, Right On.

Recommended listens for Drake, (unfortunately not on his myspace page): The Resistance, Fancy.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Two Sides of the Commercial Hip Hop Coin
it's categorized as: Albums, Reviews
link to it, please: Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Liner Notes For Two Road Trip Mixes I Made For My Sister

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Liner Notes For Two Road Trip Mixes I Made For My Sister
it's categorized as: Self-Referential
link to it, please: Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Date Night at Sutra

So I’m unemployed and hustling contract web development work, but special nights with the girl are important, so we make things like this happen.

We have a friend who works the kitchen at the excellent vegan (and reasonable!) price fixe restaurant, Sutra.  We’d been wanting to go see his work for awhile, so we finally did.

This isn’t so much a review (short review: everything was impressive to a die hard meat eater and the staff was unbelievably warm and sweet) as a photo tour of our four courses.

The evening started off with the ring of a gong (behind my lovely date), and a speech about gratitude for the fresh local ingredients, some of them plucked from the earth that very morning:

Next, we watched our friend plate the first course, which was seriously a raw food lasagna.  Sounds perhaps gross and crunchy, but it was warm and amazing.  The zucchini and fennel was thinly sliced and the avocado made it luscious like vegan food rarely is!

I was glad we were sitting at the counter so we could see everything plated, and see it go from that to this, the finished product with grilled spring onions on top:

Next was a delicious salad with sea beans, which are weird salty seaweed but really kicked ass on this salad, which was not gross and ice cold as too much salad is:

Then the worth-waiting-for main dish… an Indian themed melange with some spinach saag (read: gravied paste), lentil soup, red quinoa, and an amazing cherry, parsley chutney.  On top was a mushroom saute with a creamy sauce made with cashews.  I could eat vegan a lot more often if this is what the food is like:

Love this array of desserts in progress… I guess I put it down to fast to take a proper picture but it was a little fig-sesame crust with strawberries and coconut ginger rhubarb ice cream:

Thanks for a wonderful dinner, Sutra.  We’ll be back.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Date Night at Sutra
it's categorized as: Restaurants, Reviews
link to it, please: Friday, June 18th, 2010

TWO June Nights, TWO Lovely Shows

Well, I actually went out and listened to some actual real live local music.  People like Seattle Show Gal do this all the time, but for me, I don’t take a chance on new local stuff as often as I could.  Maybe I should be a little sweeter and a little less snobby.

Tonight I went to see experimental guitarist Bill Horist.  I’ve seen experimental music that was much more experimental wanking than experimental music IMHSO.  I mean, believe me, I believe in whatever kind of performance people can get other people to show up for!  But a few random atonal noises every few seconds on the trumpet doesn’t make me personally show up twice.

What Bill did was both experimental and music, so kudos to him.  He played two long pieces: one with an acoustic guitar and some weird electronic box, and after saying he was going to come back from an intermission “as another person” he played an electric guitar number.

The acoustic number filled the space for sure… he combined strange whirring feedback from the box with cyclical, looping guitar phrases.  At times I just let my head slack in my hands and just moved my body in similar looping motions with my eyes closed.

When he came back, he set the guitar on his lap, and shoved a porcupine-style letter holder in the strings and proceeded to play it with a bow (see photo above).  In time he abused his strings with cymbals, long bent metal sticks, and a few hemostats clipped to them.  Sounds like just messing around, but he did manage to consistently make interesting and different sounds with each new instrument.   After the show, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of his tray of tools.  Holy crap, I wonder what it would have been like if he’d used the electric toothbrushes!

Last night I saw another cool show by local band Pillow Army, as a part of a benefit for Noise for the Needy.

I went because the drummer has been a true pal to me and has been cutting my hair better than anyone for the last two years.  So, I finally got to see his band and meet his lovely wife.  In the barber’s chair, he told me (a little ruefully) that his band was “kind of like a nerdy Arcade Fire”.

I didn’t really see that myself, other than that they had a small string section (violin and cello).  They didn’t have any of the crescendo addiction of Arcade Fire, and instead played an 11-song set of rollicking energetic, bluegrass-inspired numbers with intelligent lyrics.

The lead singer is a straightforward singer who sang energetically and with humility… although in the end I wished he’d ditched a little of the humility and turned on some of the star power and gave it his all.

Some songs really worked, like the cello-driven The Price, and the radio-ready drug/relationship number, Codeine.  (You can hear both.)  Some songs (I didn’t catch the titles) put a snooze on the crowd, without enough to distinguish themselves.  All in all though, I was glad to be there and loved the energy of a band playing a late Thursday night set and really showing some spirit.  The kazoo number kicked ass.

And last but not least, another shout out to Noise for the Needy, which throws summer shows every year to benefit a charity.  This year, Teen Feed, which feeds and provides outreach for the most vulnerable almost-adults out there on the streets having to act a little more grown-up than they really should have to.

Thanks to Pillow Army, Bill Horist, Holly, and my girlfriend for showing me a good time!

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: TWO June Nights, TWO Lovely Shows
it's categorized as: Concerts, Reviews, Seattle
link to it, please: Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Cool cuts

Well, first of all, there’s this Tallest Man on Earth cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland:

Then there’s this track off the upcoming Cee-Lo solo album, which sounds very much like a Gnarls Barkeley track for sure (note that Cee-Lo is the singer of GB).

Oh, and every goddamn song on Janelle Monae’s unbelievably good new album The ArchAndroid.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Cool cuts
it's categorized as: Albums, Reviews, Songs
link to it, please: Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

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