Thursday, August 31, 2006

Game, Set, Match!

The legendary group The Roots dropped their 9th album a couple of days ago to much anticipation. When I read the email from our very own Brother Smartness about how he stayed up till 4am listening to the new Roots album Game Theory, I knew it was going to be quite entertaining. That is a mere understatement as I was immediately drawn in by the first track. From that point on The Roots deliver the kind of sound that only they can create throughout the entire album. Their music sounds live as if you are in front of the stage. Black Thought is in rare form with his punchlines, similes and story telling. They sample a few oldies and without totally disrespecting the original song, they create something new and "accessible" for everyone. You rock out, two step, wild out, or cruise. Each track has its own feel. Be patient with the track's intro/fade croon. They let Thought get going on his syncopated socio-politics, painted in turbulent Philly street stories of struggle and ambition.

Part of what makes Game Theory succeed is the Roots' ability to display current and personal events in their music. Confusion, loss (inspired by tragedies such as hurricane Katrina and J Dilla's death), corporate woes, double standards and war permeate throughout the album.Overall I think the album is definitely worth buying, especially if you are a fan. If you aren't a fan, it's never too late to jump on the bandwagon. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album 3.5 stars out of 5 which does the album no justice. Then again what do you expect from Rolling Stone magazine. To help out you itune people or limewire people, I will analyze each track and let you know if its worth the download or 99 cents.

1. Dilltastic Vol Won(derful)
The introduction was produced by the late great J Dilla. It's very short and has a classical quality to it, hence the name Dilltastic Vol Won(derful). The slow and melodic tones provide a great setup for Black Thought in the next track. Think of it as a boxer's jab, it's used to set up the knockout punch.
My prescription: Too short to pay 99 cents for but definitely worth a listen.

2. False Media
The album kicks off on an innovative note, as Black tackles deception over giddy hi-hats and thematic instrumentation. The hook of this song makes it more even more enjoyable: America's lost in west side a Littleton/11 million children are on ritalin/thats why I don't rhyme for the sake of riddlin/false media? we don't need it do we?/pilgrim slave/indian mexican/it looks real f*cked up for your next of kin/thats why I don't rhyme for the sake of riddlin/false media? we don't need...Then Black cuts in, the beat changes to one that seems a little chaotic but fits the message that he's trying to send: Rather be a criminal pro, than follow the Matrix...Send the troops to get my paper/tell them to stay away from those ain't over/see that's how we get your fear to control ya/but ain't nobody under more control than a soldier/and how can you expect a kid to keep his composure/when all sorts of thoughts fall for exposure...Black is a rebel refusing toaccept the "realities"that the media tries to pass as being "truth." He has tapped into the conservative nature of news today, especially during this time of the war on terror. Our fears are being used to control us and this track, with its musical instrumental is an attempt to scramble that message.
My prescription: Although the track is short it is definitely worth your 99 cents.

3. Game Theory
This track is vintage Roots Live. Black Thought's lyrics and delivery blend perfectly with the rest of the ensemble. Whereas he stood at the forefront of the group, Thought returns to form like Vultron. With the melodic intro: This is a game/I'm your specimen accompanied by the drumming of ?uestlove Black Bursts on the track rapping about the slums of Philly as well as making it and continuing to strive and "get cabbage all day." The highlight of the track is the hook that Black spits himself, it rollls off his tongue is so smooth yet very gangster. The surprise on the track is the new blood that The Roots introduce, Malik. His presence on the mic is one packed with hunger and thirst. It is clear that he is on a mission to show that he isn't just a sidekick of Black Thought but his equivalent. Now I won't go that far and say that he is as nice as Thought, but the kid does spit a very hot 16.
My prescription: Purchase this track but be ready for some heavy delivery from Thought and the youngster Malik.

4. Don't Feel Right
This track was doomed from the beginning. Not because its a bad song but because it was placed in between two bangers. The transition from Game Theory to Don't Feel Right is flawless and we immeditely hear the work of ?uest. The hook is quite simple and the the voice that's sampled is hard to distinguish but it fits together well with the theme of the song. Something about the sample seems out of place but as the beat continues to go all the "noise" that seems out of play continues to blend in harmony. Sex, drugs, politics, religion...forms of hustlin' a provoking line by Black that most of us had never thought about and causes us to think, "It don't feel right."
My prescription: Track is worth purchasing if you listen to the album in order instead of skipping around.

5. In The Music
It may be my favorite track on the album. It is definitely a banger that you immediately crank up in your car, ipod, disc man or the speakers in your house. The title of the song explains exactly what the mood of the track's about the music...the beat, the MC, the hook. It begins with drumming then moves to a bass and snare with echoes in the background. Then along comes the guitar (at least I think its a guitar) that gives the track this quality of tension. Malik B returns on and cosigns Black's narrative about street tragedies. Black spits: "Them young triggers lose lives by the minute there/They might start but the fight never finish there/They all f***ed up trying to get the ginger bread/A few stacks be the price for a n***a head/Cops and robbers, cowboys and indians/Splits and revolvers, Georgias and Benjamins/A celebration of your loss to your innocence/To your old self you lost any resemblance/They say the city makes a darker impression/The youth's just lost and they want direction/But they don't get the police, they get the protection/And walk around with heat like Charlton Heston, man." The hook: Its in the music/turn it up, let it knock/let it bang on the block/til the neighbors call the cops/the cops gon come/but they ain't gon do sh*t/they don't want no problem/what are y'all stupid? No we are not and we will definitely turn it up just to piss our neighbors off. This song is a preverbial "F" you to people that tell you to turn down your stereo.
My prescription: Purchase this track and be prepared for the emotions that will hit you once it starts. Side effects include reckless bobbing of the head (no homo), breaking stuff and all other acts of vandalism.

6. Take It There
Black begins this track without the company of a beat until some beat boxing beat (courteousy of Rahzel) kicks in. The beginning is laid back and Thought's flow is effortless as ?uest chimes in with the drums. The narrative by the voice we've come to love in previous Roots albums addresses us before the beat speeds up and the energy of the track picks up. Listeners of The Tipping Point will think of Boom and it's sequel Here I Come. I'm not quite sure what they mean by "Take it there" (kind of like what Young Joc means when he says "Its goin down"). Its open to any and all interpretation.
My prescription: The switch of the beat and the increase of the energy makes this track worth getting.

7. Baby
After In the Music, this track is my favorite. It's clearly single material, and it lightens up with facetious commentary takmy gnac on my $200-dollar suit and Stop being a backseat driver, man. Over a smooth track that's made for crusing and sippin gnac to, Black is telling a young lady (the "Baby") about her promiscuous boyfriend who is apparently cheating on her yet she continues to be with him. We all know this situation or know someone who knows someone. The only downside of this track is that it is 2 and a half minutes long.
My prescription: For you playas, pimps, and gnac sippers...cop this track.

8. Here I Come
On this track The Roots bring us their hip-rock music with an instrumental that is heavy with synthesizers and drums. Black rides the beat like a seasoned vet, providing a flow that is "strong" and "too militant." Dice Raw, along with the zealous Malik B provide the listeners with memorable verses. Raw claims to get money longer than the arms on Alonzo Mourning (which made me say "ok"). Malik's most memorable lines: Street apostle/pops should preach the gospel/still I'm hostile/sippin the deuce impossible/turn into monster/grouch, gimme the oscr/hit you like vodka...It is clear that this track is made for the featured MCs to step to the forefront and show their prowess on the mic.
My prescription: The beat is righteous. The MCs spit. Worth every penny.

9. Long Time
This track offfers sharp glimpses into Black Thought's grassroots autobiography. He rhymes about his life in Philly and "making something out of nothing." It's a tribute to South Philly and how he will never lose his ties to his humble upbringing. We all can understand these feelings as we all have strong ties to some place. Roots purists will heave a sigh of relief when they notice that Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella protege Peedi Peedi gives a run for his money on this track. A Philly native, Peedi Peedi (dropped the Crak after his prison stint) speaks on his beginnings: Live and direct, I don't need no mic check/remember mommy told me 'Peedi, you ain't write that...must have been the first time his mother discovered his writing. The beat is one that evokes feelings of nostalgia and fits perfectly with the vocals of Thought and Peedi.
My prescription: If you want to rediscover your roots and remember how things were when you were growing up purchase this track.

10. Livin' In A New World
In his track Black uses a megaphone to spit his stereotype based observations. This grabs your ears as everything he says is magnified x10. The hook is sang by John-John and he gives the listener a 1960s feel. This track is extremely short and caused me much dismay because the hook and the lyrical content had so much promise.
My prescription: Due to its short length it will cause you to thirst for more knowledge once its over. Purchase but be warned you will be disappointed when its over.

11. Clock With No Hands
Time waits for no man. This track is about the affects of time. Regretting things you've done or haven't done in the past. About the people you've forgotten or wronged. The young woman on the hook sings quite beautifully and compliments Black's rhymes about fake friends, turbulent times, and family woes. This song seems preachy but there are some things that need to be said and music is a great form of delivering a message.
My prescription: Heavy hitter. Delivers a good message without going Rev. Al Sharpton on you. Worth your 99 cents.

12. Atonement
Introspection continues on the J Davey-assisted track. This track is also very short as Thought only delivers one verse over a melodic beat accompanied by the same woman that sang the hook on the previous track.
My prescription: Short but sweet. Buy.

13. Can't Stop This
An 8 minute tribute to the late great producer J Dilla. Nothing more to say than that as J Dilla produced this track before his passing. The message is clear by the hook, time's are trying but you have to keep going. The loss he speaks of is not just of his dear friend or the victims of Katrina, he's also speaking of the loss of real hip hop. The remainder of the track is dedicated to artists, friends and family of J Dilla to show their love.
My prescription: If you're a fan of J Dilla (I know I am) then you should cop this track. The sample makes the song especially powerful.

Scott Storch's visible absence in production on Game Theory is obvious. Whereas The Tipping Point was fragmented, Game Theory is harmonious. Black Thought also steps his game up. Instead of verses filled with boastful rhymes, he plays on other strenghts such as: story-telling, creating visuals that everyone can "feel" no matter where they're from. In conclusion, I give game theory 4.5 out of 5 stars only because of the couple of tracks that are a couple minutes short of greatness.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where Is Slim Shady?

It has been some time since Eminem dropped his highly emotional track "When I'm Gone." Rumors have flown around the wire about his pending retirement as a performer and into a full time producer. He is still doing collaborations with artists such as Akon, Obie Trice (check out his new album "Second Rounds On Me") and Nelly Furtado supposedly wants to do a duet with Mr. Shady. Why the retirement after only 5 albums? Could it have been the murder or his dear friend Proof that drove him to retirement? Could it be the state of hip hop and rap music these days? In particular, the fact that you can make a song strictly based on a dance craze (i.e. "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," "Snap Yo Fingers," "Shoulder Lean," and all the Hyphy music). Or does he simply feel that he has nothing more to prove? Maybe it is all of those things. Maybe not. Only Marshall Mathers knows. One thing I do know is Hip Hop desperately needs Eminem.

When we think back to what hip hop was in the beginning: b-boying, breakdancing, MCing, DJs scratching and someone on the mic rocking the party. Grandmaster Flash rapping about the troubles that plague the ghetto. Then came Public Enemy, using the genre as a political weapon. NWA rapping about the slums of Los Angeles and the never ending racism of the LAPD. Fast forward to 1999 when the Slim Shady LP dropped. He played the race card for laughs, goofing on his role as the ultimate white geek, the "class-clown freshman/ Dressed like Les Nessman." Yet behind his comedic punchlines Eminem delivered some very heavy stuff about minimum-wage jobs, high school beat-downs and decidedly ill drug dementia. There was something real about his album that most MCs are afraid to tackle...Their own reality before they become stars. Whereas Public Enemy and Grandmast Flash rapped about the ghetto and slums, Eminem showed us the trailer park, the slums of white America that we don't hear about.

Then there's the side of Eminem that gets the most pub, the controversy. Whether its a song about killing his ex wife or a line that he spits: "I try to keep it positive/And play it cool/Shoot up the playground/And tell the kids to stay in school," Eminem has always found a way to grab our attention. Some call him crazy, I call him a genius because he's using music as a means to exercise is constitutional rights. As years past we slowly saw the transformation from the MC that tries to shock you to the MC that makes you hit the rewind button. Most lyricist stick to the same script when creating albums...if its money, hoes, clothes, dro, drugs and bling that sold records, all of their records begin to sound the same. But Eminem gave us something different once he passed the "broke and angry" phase. The "Eminem Show" is a perfect example of his transformation from the angry and controversial Eminem to the more introspective Eminem. Take the track White America where Eminem rhymes about White America actually accepting him: I never would've dreamed in a million years I'd see/So many motherf*ckin' people who feel like me/who share the same views, And the same exact beliefs/it's like a f*ckin' army marchin' in back of me..." But he doesn't abandon the fact that he's a white MC and preaches about its advantages and disadvantages: look at my sales, let's do the math, if I was black/I would've sold half/I Ain't have to graduate from Lincoln high school to know that...But nothing is as real as this tidbit:

When I was underground, no one gave a f*ck I was white
No labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up I was like
F*ck it - until I met Dre, the only one to look past
Gave me a chance and I lit a FIRE up under his a$$
Helped him get back to the top, every fan black that I got
was probably his in exchange for every white fan that he's got
Like damn; we just swapped - sittin back lookin at shit, wow
I'm like my skin is it startin to work to my benefit now?

The double edge sword of being a white rapper but Em never back down from tackling his own existence in the hip hop world.

His latest album, Encore, garnered mixed reviews but I thought it was a perfect blend of the old (tracks: #2, #7, #8, #11, and #13) and new (the remaining tracks). Of course everyone knows "Without Me" and "A$$ Like That" but the track that cemented him in history as the GREATEST rapper of all time was "Mosh." There has been no rapper willing to tackle such a heavy issue as the Bush administration since he's been in office like Eminem did. I'm not going to quote any of the lyrics, instead I'll leave you a link to read the lyrics yourself if you haven't actually sat back and listened to them:
Not only are the words powerful but also the video which slowly made its way to MTV until the powers that be had it pulled. The song asks for unity for people to come together for one common goal...end the Bush regime. He brought the listeners back to the days of Public Enemy, back when hip hop was political and was still "hard." Many artists are afraid of being political because they feel they will lose their street cred but Em knew that the biggest gangsters in America are politics.

In closing, Em's classic anthem "Lose Yourself" is one reason alone of why hip hop needs him. I read in an article fairly recently that Em tapped into Buddhism when he made this track. Perry Garfinkel wrote:

when Eminem bangs on about losing yourself ‘in the music, the moment', what he is really expounding is thepracticee of meditative mindfulness. And when Em says “I'll make a new plan. Time for me to just stand up and travel new land,' what he actually means is ‘I'm taking responsibility for my life and am on the path to enlightenment.'

I'm sure none of us would've thought about that but its not that far fetched when you think of Em's latest behavior: The lead single from the film 8 Mile brought home an Oscar and unlike Three 6 Mafia, it actually deserved such an accolade (sorry, not hatinJustust stating my opinion). Lyrically its very challenging, very gritty and highly catchy. Whether Em is talking about himself or the B. Rabbit (the line is very thin between the two) the heartfelt themes and words of this track haunt the listener. The fantastic line: Success is my only motherf*ckin' option, failure's not, finds as its counterpoint the line: Mom I love you. There's your controversial star right there.

Hip hop needs Eminem because he did what Vanilla Ice couldn't do, what the Beastie Boys couldn't do, make music that speaks to both light and dark skin. He has likened himself to Elvis in the past almost jokingly but they have a lot in common (despite the early death of course). But not only the racial factor, hip hop needs Eminem because lyrically he is a genius. His ability to switch up his flow in accordance to the track is phenomenal. He tends to outshine the lead artist when he's featured on a track (i.e. "Renegades"...Eminem even murdered you on your own sh*t). He's a trend setter who refuses to conform to societal norms or rap world fads. He has been true to himself since day one and continues to be to this day. His last solo perfomance is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Dublin, Ireland.

Welcome music lovers

With hopes of striking up even more intellectual discussion I decided to create a blog strictly dedicated to music. Whether it be album reviews, discussion of lyrics, or the never ending "best rapper ever" discussion, lets use this forum to settle these matters. I'm going to start off with a posting on why hip hop needs Eminem.