Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The only journey is the one within

I know it's been music-heavy of late, but... well, no one's complained yet, which doubtlessly means I've finally tapped into my core audience.  That is doubtlessly what it means.

Brother Ali-- "Forest Whitaker."2003.  I'm not much of a hip-hop fan (surprise!) but I liked this song a lot. It's uplifting, it's got a nice tune. Further, according to Ali's Wikipedia page, his biggest "controversy" was his confrontation with sponsors who disagreed with how critical his lyrics were of the United States. That's the kind of controversy worth supporting. This feels like a promising start.

Mos Def. "Mathematics."   1999. This, on the other hand, is more what I associate with hip-hop. That is, unless the music really grabs me right away, it fades into the background and I can't remember a word of it a few minutes later. I know Mos Def is (was?) a big deal in the hip-hop scene, but I couldn't tell you a thing about this. It's a shame too, because I really *like* mathematics. Fourier transformation forever.

Tupac. "Hail Mary." 1997.  It says a lot about me that for most of the time that Tupac was still alive as a cultural icon, I would have likely confused him with Tuvok. In my teenage years, I lived in a small town that got no AM, never had the cash to participate in the peer CD exchange network, didn't have the internet access to listen to music, and didn't get MTV. So my music knowledge was stunted. (Not that this song would have been easy to access anyway.) It's fine, although my other problem with hip hop besides the fading in the background problem is that I personally don't have a lot of time for lyrics that include "Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to getting pussy."

Easy-E. "Real Muthafuckin' G's." 1993. Also, to continue the lengthening list of what I don't like about hip-hop: profanity. Not for moral reasons, but because it's kind of lazy. If you can find a really innovative use of a f-bomb, all the power to you. But the odds are against you. ...That said, the chorus here is kind of catchy. And there's some really interesting arguments about authenticity of performance in the lyrics--although again, it's a subculture I know pretty much nothing about. And apparently, authenticity involves a lot of swearing. The slapstick nonsense is kind of hilarious.

N. W. A. "Straight out of Compton." 1988. Immediate thoughts: wasn't Compton the name of the city in The Office? No, that's Scranton. Still, there's a crossover idea, for free. Also, 1988? Really? My ignorance about the roots of this genre are showing. Easy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice-Cube in the same group. Fun fact:  Compton was the home of the "Gifts for Guns" program in 2005, which, over the course of the program's run, netted over 7000 guns. 

Enimen. "Rap God." 2013. All right, there are many, many issues in hip-hop/rap that I'm aware of, but unqualified to comment on, thanks to my status as sheltered white guy. There's complex networks of race, wealth, misognyny, masculinity, homophobia (with masculinity very much creating and building off the terms it's squeezed between), drug culture, gang culture, and probably a dozen other things I don't know about. It would be easy to conclude then, that Enimen is a safe topic, by contrast. Well, it shouldn't be about being safe, or easy. I *should* feel uncomfortable about relating to hip-hop, because it exposes a lot of cultural issues I like to pretend don't exist. Enimen is... complicated. I think some of Marshall's stuff aspires to some artistic stuff, and some of it panders to ridiculous immaturity. As he's aware of (note the references to Elvis scattered throughout his work), he's built a career out of what could be construed as appropriating another culture's signature form. That's complicated. As for the song... it's pretty good. It's laughably antiquated for a VR exploration, but I think that's part of his point. I don't know if the suit and glasses are a Matrix reference; there's definitely a Max Headroom thing going on, which gets more geek points anyway.  

Red Foo. "Let's Get Ridiculous." 2013. I... don't know.  I guess it's... comedy rap? Rap parody? I appreciate the video's dedication to its cause, that it nominally points to the way ridiculousness as an abstract concept challenges power, while at the same time providing Keystone Capers-type escapades, and a dance beat. I can see the dotted line from Eminem to this, although this is a rather sanitized version of "rage against the machine" as you're ever likely to get. Could you make the case that this too is the appropriation of a musical form? Maybe, but it's just so ludicrously its own thing that I'd like to give it the benefit of the doubt. 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. "White Walls." 2012. Okay, we're thoroughly in white rapper territory. I've got a friend who looks exactly like Macklemore; there was a brief period where he decided that this similarity was hilarious, and posted a bunch of Facebook profile pics in various overthetop rap poses. Watching this video, though, it seems that Macklemore is perfectly capable of doing the over the top thing himself. He does remind me a bit of Eminem, particularly his early stuff, in that one of themes, visually at least, seems to be lower economic class, ethnically white folk aspiring for more than the American economy has seen fit to grant them. But I just used economy twice in one sentence, so I'm venturing into grounds I have no right to talk about again. I do like the weird matador/cowboy/rapper thing going on in Macklemore's costume. 

Mike Will-Made-IT. "23." 2013. Well, that was... generic. It's got the same "defy authority" vibe in the hip-hop rappers taking over the school, although it's not like it's particularly interested in developing that. According to wikipedia, one of the criticisms about the song was a certain amount of doubt over Cyrus' ability to rap, and yeah, I can see where that doubt would come from. It's also one of those videos that's using sex appeal as a substitute for substance. I've been blissfully free of most of 2013's obsession with Cyrus, but, well, I guess you can see traces of it here, though without either twerking or wrecking balls.

Beyonce. "Drunk in Love." On the one hand, I was hoping Beyonce would classy things up a bit. (Nothing says class like "bootilicious. But c'mon--classier than "23" is a low bar.) On the other hand, the video is labelled explicit, and features Jay Z. It's got a slow start with a focus on the ocean. And then a much slower focus on Beyonce in a bikini, brandishing... a trophy? As you do. Man, she's got pipes, though. The lyrical plot seems to be about getting drunk, screwing, ("beautiful bodies grindin' up") and waking up the next day. I think I *might* have known that She and Jay Z were married. So this is part of the whole 2013 stealth album, huh?  I *eventually* get around to experiencing pop culture highlights. I can't say this is really my thing; there's not really much going on here. But when Beyonce kicks it up a notch, it gets impressive.

Kanye West. "Bound 2."   I was not expecting a Kanye West video to start with scenes of natural splendour and so forth. So it faked me out. Then it's back to the complaints about treacherous women. It's a juxtaposition that happens a few times, and it sort of works. But it also has "do you ever ask your bitch for other bitches" so... nope. Terrible. Also, I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a symbolic topless chick straddling his motorcycle, but that can't be safe. 

James Franco & Seth Rogen. "Bound 3." I didn't like This Is the End, but I like this. I think that's a note to go out on if I ever heard one. 

Later Days.

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