Posts from June 2002

20
Jun 02

r. kelly pleads case…in song

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r. kelly pleads case…in song: r. kelly delivered a new single, entitled — no joke — “heaven, i need a hug,” to chicago radio station wgci. listener response has been incredible — the song topped the station’s top 9 at 9 countdown. in the song, kelly takes aim at backstabbers, asks listeners to prolong judgement until all the facts are out there, and he tells the ladies to stop depending on men and to put their faith in the Man upstairs. having tuned in to the local urban stations in new york, i’m not surprised by the positive response since most new yorkers are either saying: (a) “let he who is without sin…” or (b) “wait until the facts…” and sometimes (c) “he’s in this position because he’s young, black, and wealthy…” dissenters are few but, as usual, they’re speaking for the Lord.

Reason to Rock: Rock Music as Art Form

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Reason to Rock: Rock Music as Art Form: I couldn’t begin to summarise this one.

Can I Get A Witness?

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Can I Get A Witness?: “The duo’s second full-length, Blazing Arrow, not only exposes the bulk of major label hip-hop for the soulless trip(e) that it truly is, but stands head and shoulders above the best that the underground rap nation currently has to offer … while it’s not really fair to call Blazing Arrow the anti-Eminem, its altogether more literate (not to mention less misogynistic) take on modern hip-hop will certainly appeal to those searching for something with more substance (musically and lyrically) than your average Top 40 fare.”

Oh … oh, my.

TOM’S TOP TEN!

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TOM’S TOP TEN!

Thanks to the usual sources (gabba.net, FilePile, record shops and now SoulSeek, which I’m on under the name “Groke”)

OUTKAST – “Land Of A Million Drums”
UNKNOWN ARTIST – “Dhol Beat To The Max”
TRUTH HURTS feat RAKIM – “Addictive”
MALKIT SINGH – “Tutak Tutak Tutiya”
BLAK TWANG – “Trixstar”
JOHNNY OSBOURNE – “Truth And Rights”
BEN SELVIN AND HIS ORCHESTRA – “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”
ENGLANDNEWORDER – “World In Motion”
MIS-TEEQ – “Roll On”
SAUMIL – “Kehna Hi Kya”

The Beautiful Anthem

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The Beautiful Anthem: Brazil has the best national anthem, sez the Guardian. Is this true? Fingers crossed we only get one more chance to find out this year. It can’t be much worse than England’s inert, interminable offering, the “Hey Jude” of the anthems scene.

The

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The NYLPM Archives get their six-monthly update. Relive all your favourite pop reviewing moments!

19
Jun 02

You might have noticed

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You might have noticed that it’s been almost a month since Freaky Trigger got updated. This is squarely down to the World Cup, which has been taking up most of my every morning for the last three weeks, neatly eating up a proportion of time I might usually spend writing. But I haven’t been completely idle – I’ve been working on the Focus Group, and a couple of pieces for when the football ends – and I’ve also updated the FT Archives with four old pieces:

– a Ned Raggett review of Earwig’s Under My Skin I Am Laughing. I think this is the first thing Ned ever wrote for us.
– Robin Carmody’s epic Battle for English Soul, a potted and idiosyncratic examination of certain strains and refrains in English pop.
– my celebration of London in the guise of a Saint Etienne album review, which has stood up fairly well I think.
– and my overview of exotica, not a piece I was that happy with at the time but again it seems to work better with hindsight.

Watch for more archive stuff – and new pieces – soon.

Timbaland: Greatest Pop Producer of the Last 10 Years? (96-Present Division)

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Timbaland: Greatest Pop Producer of the Last 10 Years? (96-Present Division)
People have perpetually been predicting Tim’s falling off since 1998 (cf. Simon Reynolds, et al only a year after his ascendancy — even yours truly was ready to pull an Et Tu in late 99.) But in putting together the third volume in my ongoing Tim’s Greatest Beats CD-R project, his CV over the last six-seven seems pretty fucking tight to me. Here’s the track listing:

Vol. 1
1. Aaliyah — Are You That Somebody?
2. Tim & Magoo — Clock Strikes 12
3. Ginuwine — Pony (Remix)
4. Aaliyah — Hot Like Fire
5. Ludacris — Fat Rabbit
6. Aaliyah — Try Again
7. Ginuwine — (Actually I forget which song I put on here.)
8. Tim & Magoo — Up Jumps Da Boogie
9. Tim & Magoo feat. Jay-Z — Lobster & Scrimp
10. Jay-Z — Nigga What, Nigga Who (Instrumental)
11. Aaliyah — One In A Million

Vol. 2
1. Missy — She’s A Bitch
2. The Lox — Ride or Die Chick
3. Ginuwine — Final Warning
4. Jay-Z — Snoopy Track
5. Memphis Bleek — Is That Yo Chick?
6. Missy — Hit Em Wit Da Hee (Remix)
7. Jay-Z — Big Pimpin
8. Nas — You Owe Me
9. Total — What the Dealio?
10. Tim & Magoo — Love To Love You
11. Playa — Don’t Stop The Music
12. Aaliyah — 4 Page Letter

Vol. 3
1. Bubba Sparxx — Twerk A Little
2. Jay-Z — Hola Hovito
3. Ludacris — Roll Out
4. Missy — Whatcha Gonna Do?
5. Bubba Sparxx — Bubba Talk
6. Tweet — Oops
7. Missy — Supa Dupa Fly
8. Jay-Z — Can I Get A? (I forget whether he actually produced this one or not, but I’m gonna say yes.)
9. Missy — Get Ur Freak On
10. Tim & Mag — Indian Carpet
11. Aaliyah — More Than A Woman

The story of the hiphop producer, however, is an inability to freely move around in a world they remake completely: The Bomb Squad, Marley Marl, hell, even The Sugarhill House Band. And even when they do remain artistically (if not always commercially) viable (Premier, Dre against all odds, the 45 King), their ‘wins’ are almost always strikes against the status quo, Oedipal battles against their odd, mutant children. With the Neptunes continuing (rock)slide into (artistic) irrelevance (which I attribute to their fetishization of the unadorned kick-thump of dancehall, which was always Tim’s secret weapon as well, making the drum & bass intimations the biggest red herring in pop between 98-00) and his ‘innovations’ still being seized upon by hiphop and R&B at large (coughcough Bollywood obsession), he’s still (nominally) on top of his game, but for how long?

18
Jun 02

VANESSA CARLTON – “A Thousand Miles”

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VANESSA CARLTON – “A Thousand Miles”

At first, I wasn’t all that impressed. The Proclaimers were willing to go 1,000 miles – 2,000 miles net (if you count the distances traveled by both brothers, ideally to different women). However, they were only willing to go 500 miles originally; the second 500 is tacked on as a concession to their fair lady, just to show off. “Ooo, look how far I came to see you! Wow, I’m exhausted! Love me!” Plus, with the two of them together, walking the 1,000 miles … if you were really in love, you’d go it alone, suffering the burden of this pure emotion by your own damn self. Sharing the load is too practical to be meaningful. Vanessa’s willing to walk a thousand miles ALONE just to SEE him, never mind falling down at his door (wherever that might be). That’s commitment. And her sly appropriation of The Magnificent Seven theme (right around the part where she sighs, “I miss you”) pisses all over anything related to that Benny & Joon sap.

When it comes to true love, guys are straight-up stupid pussies.

Expertise

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A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

Why is Rakim good? I asked Google this question and here’s what it told me: “Rakim’s peerless skills on the mic…the greatest MC the genre has known…to use Rakim [on a track] is to be hip-hop itself…Repulsed by the listless hip-hop of today? Paid In Full is your antidote.” I asked Ethan P this question and he said it was a right-place right-time thing, Rakim was the first MC to get metaphysical about hip-hop as an art form and it made his reputation. I asked myself this question – and I drew a blank.

Not because I don’t think Rakim’s good. I’ve been listening to Paid In Full a lot, I like it – but I don’t know quite why I like it. Fair enough, you say, you don’t have to analyse everything – just enjoy it! And I’d say certainly, but when I listen to Rakim I don’t feel like there’s anything happening which is beyond explanation, beyond expression. Never being quite able to say why a song moves you is one thing, feeling like you ought to be able to say it is another. To put it starkly – when I listen to Rakim, I feel ignorant.

I get similar mixed feelings when I watch the football – exhilaration, enjoyment, and a sense of being quite out of my depth. I’ve been watching every World Cup game I’ve had the chance to, and commentators in press and box have united in wondering at the excitement and unpredictability of this tournament – I’m with them so far – but at the same time bemoaning the death of “flair”. And here that prickle of ignorance starts up again – flair? What’s that? How do I recognise it? Where do I look? The Brazilians, apparently, still have it, so I watch them.

What I’m looking for in Brazil and listening for in Rakim is something to justify the fuss I’ve heard about them. And I’m looking and listening because I know that if and when I pick it up, if I recognise Rakim’s skills or Ronaldo’s flair, I’ll have learned something. I’ll have acquired expertise. Expertise can be factual, or technical, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I can become an ‘expert’ of sorts on World Cup football by memorising facts – who scored when and where and how. I can become an ‘expert’ on guitar playing by learning to play a guitar and understanding that on paper what Steve Vai does is quite technically difficult and what Steve Jones does is quite easy. But the expertise I’m talking about is different: it’s the ability to recognise when you’re getting something unexpected. A father and son might be watching Brazil play, for instance. From out of nothing, Ronaldo scores – a marvellous goal! For the son, this is the first goal he’s seen – it is magnificent, heart-in-mouth stuff. But is it perhaps more so for the father, the expert, who has seen hundreds of games in which there is no Ronaldo, or no ‘flair’, or no wonderful goal?

The question of what constitutes ‘flair’ in pop music – the question of why Rakim is the greatest MC ever – is a little more negotiable than questions of football. In sport there are results, after all: great players tend to inspire their teams, great teams tend to win things at least sometimes. Results are an imperfect guide, but a guide all the same. Whereas in pop music the question of why Rakim is the greatest MC is always surrounded by the question of whether he is. Even so this question is the crucial one for pop listeners. Do you try and recapture a time when everything sounded good, perhaps by hopping from style to style, or do you try and become expert at recognising brilliance – your own definition of brilliance – within a narrower frame of reference?

But is it really ‘your own definition’ you’re following? I am watching Brazil, trying to understand why they’re good, because other people have told me they are good. So too with Rakim: comments like “the greatest MC the genre has known” can’t be taken on faith by a critic, after all. They’re really a challenge and a promise – listen to Rakim, hear what I hear, and then you’ll agree. ‘Expertise’ means listening with other people’s ears.

We’re moving here from the sphere of the listener (or spectator) to the sphere of the critic – meaning, anyone who takes part in a public conversation about something. To talk about a record, or a football match, is to make your private experience of it suddenly accountable – and, you might think, expertise is vital in such circumstances. I’m more reluctant to talk about hip-hop and football than I am about rock music or comics, because I feel ignorant, unsure of what to value, or what to expect. Gradually I start to get over that feeling, offer an opinion here or there on a football performance, gingerly review a couple of hip-hop CDs. The bluff is successful: the sky does not fall in.

So, if I’m writing about music, do I need expertise or not? It would lend me confidence, that’s for sure. But it also traps me on a kind of competitive pundit ladder – forever triangulating what I think against what other people have said. So-and-so is overrated; so-and-so is underrated; she’s the greatest ever; he’s the worst this year; say I’m wrong, I dare you! Your credibility is determined by how much you can push against other people’s opinions while still staying on-message enough to be believed. “Rakim is the greatest MC the genre has known”; “France are the best team in the world”. There are the experts speaking. But in pop music, of course, there are no upsets, the experts can never be proved wrong. “Ja Rule is a greater MC than Rakim”; “Senegal will beat France”. Two statements that might be met with expert mockery – one can never be tested, one was.

And that untestability makes expertise a poisoned chalice for the critic – to understand why Rakim is the best, to become an expert and then to be recognised as such, your opinions and judgements have to fall mostly within the boundaries drawn by the existing experts. ‘Knowing what one is talking about’ sits awfully close to ‘knowing what is going to be said’: this is why most music criticism, like most football commentary, works as a comforting accompaniment to its subject. So maybe the question for critics shouldn’t be “Is expertise neccessary?”, but “Is expertise avoidable?”