There are, officially, four Pharcyde albums. But I'm going to follow in the footsteps of an old college friend of mine who liked to deny the existence of a third Godfather movie ("It would have been terrible — I mean, imagine if Winona Ryder had dropped out, forcing them to cast Sofia Coppola as Pacino's daughter?") and say there are really only two: 1995's Labcabincalifornia and its predecessor, 1992's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, the group's debut album, released 20 years ago this week. (If you heard it around that time, please take this opportunity to contemplate the alarming speed with which you're hurtling toward the grave. This is going to keep happening. Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang both turn 20 next year; our commemoration-mad culture will not let you forget it. Deep breath.)
Bizarre Ride came out within a month of the most epoch-defining L.A. rap album of all time, Dr. Dre's solo debut The Chronic. It's convenient and tempting to view these albums, created in the same riot-torn city around the same time, as two sides of a coin — the hedonistic/nihilistic blockbuster that converted gangsta rap into a pop master-narrative and the goofball-surreal cult record whose self-deprecating sense of humor and no-joke songcraft poked holes in that narrative. The problem with that binary is that Bizarre Ride doesn't really have much to say about gangsta hegemony; when Fatlip, Imani, Bootie Brown, and Slimkid3 take satirical aim at their context, it's usually to mock the self-righteous solemnity of so-called "conscious" rap. Hence the voice insisting "We need some brothers to be, like, droppin' knowledge and writing good stuff" before "Ya Mama," a demented dozens routine ("Ya mama got snakeskin teeth!") complete with four-part barbershop harmony.
For the record, Odd Future's Tyler, The Creator is no longer directing some little piddling podunk music videos. Oh, no, no, no: Mr. The Creator is now directing short films. The new clip for "Sam Is Dead," a track off the recent group album OF Tape Vol. 2, comes complete with its own throwback poster heralding the footage as "A Film by Wolf Haley," which is what Tyler calls himself when he's directing stuff.
Nicki Minaj is in a bad position. She wants so badly to satisfy people and be all things to everyone; pop and rap, mainstream and underground, soft and hard, radio-friendly and NSFW. She wants to have street cred and still sign huge deals with Pepsi. She exists simultaneously as a female rapper surrounded by males and a pop star alongside Katy Perry and Rihanna in the sisterhood of the sparkling hot pants. Minaj's own oeuvre divides her fans into camps, and on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded she tries to please them all. "Starships" is for the Nicki fans who liked "Super Bass" but don't want "Stupid Hoe." "Stupid Hoe" was for fans of "Massive Attack" and her rawer, older mixtapes. As a result, she comes off sounding like neither Nicki the Barbie nor Nicki the Boss but Nicki the Overstretched. Like Garth Brooks, Eminem, and Beyoncé before her, she turned her split public persona into part of her gimmick, but you can feel her searching for where her actual self lies. Album lowlight "Marilyn Monroe" addresses the struggle of being a privately unsatisfied public sex symbol in the most hackneyed way possible, and feels written for somebody else.
So by now you’ve probably already seen the world’s no. 1 “Ni**as in Paris” fan/caroler. It’s too bad the Watch the Throne tour has come to an end, because — given the statistics, and Kanye himself showing some Twitter love — odds are at least even that homey would get recruited to perform a rendition or two (or eleven) at a live show. I’ve watched the clip enough times my brain now recalls this guy’s ad-libs before the song’s actual lyrics (If you escaped what I've escaped / OOOOOH, LET’S GO JAY!!!)
Hey, it's Rembert. We've never met, but you might recognize my name from the letters I've sent in years past:
2007's "HOW DARE YOU"
2008's "HOW COULD YOU"
2009's "SHAME, SHAME, SHAME"
2010's "HAVE YOU NO SOUL, BROWN MAN"
Due to your lack of response, I want to assume that you never received these letters, but I'm starting to believe you're just ignoring me. Anyway, Christopher, I'm writing you for a fifth straight December for two simple reasons:
Abel Tesfaye, the louche R&B don/prominent drug consumer that records as The Weeknd, has has the Internet firmly on his jock since he dropped his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, in March of this year. Then came another mixtape, Thursday, and “Crew Love” and “The Ride,” two collaborations from his Toronto pal Drake’s platinum-selling Take Care. But that’s not all for 2011! Last night, The Weeknd released Echoes of Silence, the third installment in the so-called "Balloon Trilogy." In the finale, Tesfaye brings his yarn to a thrilling conclusion, as the ragtag band of street urchins unite with the Ancient Order of Sea-Birds to unearth the sword of Antiochus and defeat the evil Malarrsak and his army of half-dead pickpockets once and for all. No, just kidding, it's more songs about sad partying and dysfunctional relationships with women! After a few spins, it's hard not to appreciate “D.D.,” a — hell yes — surlier “Dirty Diana” cover, as well as “The Fall,” a “can’t take me down” number laced by a woozy beat from steamrolling weirdo-hip-hop producer Clams Casino. There’s also a song called "Montreal," which is not about poutine.
It’s on! Yesterday on the radio show Sway In The Morning, Common confirmed he was taking shots at Drake on his new single, “Sweet.” How did we get here, to this wonderful place? And where will we go next? Grantland breaks down the beef.
Happy Holidays, Grantland. Here is your stocking stuffer for the person who has everything. They won’t have this, 'cause it didn’t exist until now: The Soulquarian Box Set. Put it in your phone. Put it in the cloud. Put it in your hearts and minds. Put it on Facebook. Santa has decided you were extra good this year.
While reading about The Black Keys having the best sales week of their career (206,000 first week sales; possibly related: they’re not on spotify) I got to wondering about the silent third partner on El Camino. Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse.
As you’re reading this on the internet, I can’t be sure you’re old enough to remember the song “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (released in 2006, just before Twitter). At the time our own Chuck Klosterman did a NYT profile about Danger Mouse in which he, Burton, likened his approach as a music producer to Woody Allen making movies, “And what I realized is that they worked because Woody Allen was an auteur: he did his Thing, and that particular Thing was completely his own. That's what I decided to do with music. I want to create a director's role within music.”
The rap crew is evolving. Historically, it’s been a conglomeration of artists, based around one star, and calling one geographical region home. Basically: Once the star would get on, the next logical step would be to put on all his boys from the neighborhood. This wasn’t always the best idea, of course; just because you grew up with a famous rapper does not necessarily mean that you, too, should be a famous rapper. That meant crew albums could be wildly uneven releases, with the star’s material flooded by inferior product from kids with whom he used to play dodgeball. For the conscientious rap fan, extended crew members could be objects of derision and mockery. A comically derogatory term was coined to connote those nepotism rappers: weed carriers.
I've heard it said nothing transforms a man like having a baby girl. So news that Jay-Z and Beyoncé are having a daughter could mean we will never see or hear from the old Shawn Carter again. Old Jay-Z: "hard dick and bubble gum". New Jay-Z: poopy diapers and baby food.
It’s the beginning of a new era in hip hop. The Old Man Rap era. And a lot of emcees are gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do. Hov, to his jeweler’s credit, has always talked more Maybachs and ice, than about his sidepiece and wife. So he won’t have as much umm, err, umm stammering to contend with as, say, Kanye. But here's five songs we still expect to be removed from Lil Hovita’s iPod.
The best thing about this year's BET Awards (and, for that matter, every year's BET Awards) were the interstitial cypher videos featuring some of the best, brightest, newest and most forgotten (Lady of Rage!) names in hip-hop.
We processed and parsed the 32 verses, spread out over seven clips, and came up with this ranking of the top ten performances. Following the list is a little commentary from our authors as well as the rest of the videos (you can watch the Rick Ross-starring Maybach Music cypher, above).
Editor's note: Chris is hungover. Rembert got 8 hours of sleep and has been running on Dunkin' since 7 a.m. Looks like the perfect scenario to talk about what's left in the year of rap.
Chris: “Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid year.” Famous Bronx MC, and Grantland interview subject, Don DeLillo opened his book Americana with that line. That’s sort of how I’ve been feeling about hip-hop as we wind down 2011. But we did not come here to bury rap, but to praise it. Rem and I went back and forth on what albums and events (okay, event) we were looking forward to, shuffled them around in order and came up with this handy guide to the Fall/Winter ‘11 lineup. By the way, we'd include release dates, but anyone who follows rap can knows that release dates are merely suggestions and sometimes even jokes (we see you Detox! Except we don't! Sigh).
Rembert: First off, Chris, the best way to cure a hangover is to stand in a freezing cold shower while drinking a full glass of maple syrup. Secondly, I'm extremely impressed by your starting rotation. I never expect people not from Atlanta to like Young Jeezy as much as we do, so good for you. Also, since you've got the Watch The Throne tour on your list and are making money, whereas I'm taking out student loans, feel free to splurge on an extra ticket.