Archive for the ‘Hip-Hop Editorial’ Category

Treach_Vinnie

As if Lauryn Hill getting sentenced to three months in prison on tax evasion charges wasn’t bad enough, another legendary New Jersey Hip-Hop act is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Naughty By Nature frontman Treach announced yesterday on Twitter that he was “firing” Vinnie, aka Vin Rock, from the group for undisclosed reasons, and has now released a diss record entitled “Tall Midget.”

This song is painful on several fronts. For one, these guys have been together over 20 years and should be able to handle differences behind closed doors and not like rappers still in their early 20s. Secondly, this song is bad — the chorus, beat and verbal attacks scream pure struggle. And as someone just old enough to remember Treach’s prime years (circa 1991-1995) when he was one of the genre’s best emcees, the massive drop-off in quality leaves you speechless.

Treach probably threw this together in the last 24 hours, but it’s still amazing that no one in his camp pulled him aside to flat-out tell him how wack this track is. There are only a handful of times when a diss is so comically bad that the disser comes out looking worse than the intended target. This is one of them.

Let’s thank the Hip-Hop gods that Vinnie appears to be taking the high road and won’t be penning a lyrical response.

For the younger heads, I’m sprinkling this post with some vintage Treach in case this diss is your Naughty By Nature introduction.

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Before the digital emerge, artists heavily relied on videos to push their music. For Hip-Hop, that promotional model reached its apex in the late 90s, when go to directors like Hype Williams could literally command million dollar budgets on 3-4 minute videos. The reason was a good video could not only stay in rotation for months, but it would make fans rush out to buy your music. That isn’t true today, and many emcees, especially those without major label backing, shoot simple videos almost like afterthoughts. Lil Wayne is hoping to change that with the release today of the socially conscious video “How to Love,” which his team has been lauding for weeks as a “game-changer.” The problem is that the song itself is a blatant, and not well-executed, pandering to pop audiences. Will that matter, or is the video strong enough in its message to give Tha Carter IV its final headed into next week?

The topics in the video are issues that will undoubtedly hit home for a lot of women: child molestation, unplanned pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and bad choices in men. The strongest asset of the video is the fact its a narrative that shows what shaped the protagonist’s mindset and eventual bad decisions. The video then flashes back and shows how that same character could have had a much different path with a stable family life. Aside from some nitpicking like not emphasizing the importance of a positive male/father figure in the flashback and the cheesy ending quote (“Thanks for teaching me how to love!”), it’s commendable that a rapper on Wayne’s level would offer this to mainstream audiences.

In the end, the visuals are strong enough that they enhance “How to Love’s” message, which came off much more hollow with just Wayne’s auto-tuned vocals to go by. The song isn’t going to convert most of Wayne’s hardcore Hip-Hop fans, but this song was never intended for them. Having been, however controversially, called the “greatest rapper alive” for a period in Hip-Hop around Tha Carter III, Wayne has obviously set his sights on becoming a pop star. And with “How to Love” being his second highest chart entry on Billboard (#5),  already certified platinum, and being lauded as a “great, creative song” on this very site by a 65% vote, it appears Wayne is on the right track for his pop icon goals.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

R&B star Chris Brown had a dressing room-trashing tirade following an appearance today on Good Morning America.

Brown was on hand to promote his new album F.A.M.E., which is currently #1 on iTunes and has spawned three #1 hits. Robin Roberts centered her interview around Brown’s conviction for assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna two years ago. The subject made Brown very agitated, and he attempted several times to refocus the interview on his new album.

According to reports, Brown quickly left the set after the interview and destroyed his dressing room, punctuating the act by hurling a chair through a window.

On Twitter, Brown complained of his past misdeed being used to define him.

“I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!!!” Brown fumed. “Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for their bullshit! All my fans!!! This album is for you and only you!!! I’m so tired of everyone else!! Honestly!! I love team breezy!!”

More information will be posted as this story develops.

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Temper, temper CB. Just when he starts making strides to get himself back to where he was a few years back, he shoots himself in the foot. Think about it. When confronted with a violent, shameful mistake from his past, he deals with it by becoming violent again.

I understand that he wants this to disappear. I can empathize to a degree with not wanting this issue to define the rest of his career. At the same time, he has to understand that viciously beating one of the most famous pop stars in music is going to resonate for some time. During that time, people are going to watch very closely how he carries it. And childish outbursts like this just gives more ammo for those who believe he’s truly learned nothing from the Rihanna ordeal.

Someone on Brown’s PR team needs to let him know that anytime he gets interviewed by a woman, the Rihanna issue is going to be mentioned for the foreseeable future. Domestic violence is something very dear to the fairer sex, and nearly all of them either have went through it personally, or know someone very close to them that’s experienced it. So aside from your music, they want to make sure this is not something still dwelling inside you. In a way, every time it’s mentioned it’s a great opportunity for Brown to reconnect and heal with the women that are still hurt by what he did.

Don’t be surprised if Breezy has another crying session on stage over this. This time, the specter of Michael Jackson won’t help him get over. Brown is still a very young man. When I look back on my early 20s there’s definitely an abundance of actions I’m not proud of. And luckily, my misdeeds did not have to play out in front of the entire world. But no matter the circumstances, you’re past never leaves you. It’ll be up to Chris Brown whether he lets the Rihanna mistake be a burden on his soul that breaks him, or an incident that strengthens his resolve and propels him to be a better man.

 

 

14 years ago today, I said “fuck Hip-Hop.” I was 15 years old, and I had just been woken up by my Mom, who told me it sounded on the radio like something bad had just happened to a prominent Hip-Hop artist. I was still entering complete consciousness when the host uttered the words “We would like to send our condolences to the family of the Notorious B.I.G….” Immediately, a wave of anger, disgust and shame overtook me. Not again. Pac and now B.I.G.?

My Mom looked at me with sympathy. Hip-Hop wasn’t her generation, but she connected with the spirit of the music through its use of samples. She had exposed me to my first Hip-Hop through her vinyl purchases of Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and the Fresh Prince. She liked Pac and Biggie, especially the former’s intellect, but couldn’t tolerate a lot of the misogyny prevalent on their albums. Even in her empathy, I could see some disconnect there. She had lived through the losses of musical giants like Hendrix, Gaye and others. But never from them killing each other out in the streets. This was not the Hip-Hop culture she had grown to love.

And was it still the Hip-Hop I loved? Originally, I had taken sides on regional grounds in the so-called “East-West” war.  I still loved Pac’s music, but felt he had “betrayed” his origins by turning into a Westside rider and going at so many East Coast rappers. I was a huge B.I.G. fan as well; Ready to Die was one of the soundtracks that symbolized my “innocence lost” and arduous journey from naive adolescent to psuedo-independent teenager. In school, classmates and I would debate who was “right” in the feud and which side would come out the winner. Ironically, we almost never looked at it as who would win a street fight despite the threats included in some of the rhymes. Our debates always focused on who was the better emcee and who would come out on top through the release of better albums. At our core, we still believed this to be entertainment and competition like the old battles.

Ismael AbduSalaam circa mid-90s

When Tupac died on September 13, 1996, it was a rainy day in northern New Jersey. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that Pac, who always seemed larger than life, was dead. No blaze of glory ending like the movies. No martyr sacrifice like some history revisionists try to claim. For all his potential as a transformative figure, he died slowly, ebbing away in a hospital bed riddled with bullets over a petty gang dispute. I mourned him for that tragedy as did all of Hip-Hop.

Biggie’s death was different. My sadness for Pac was replaced by anger. I thought Pac’s death was the wake-up call and something like that would never happen again. And yet here we were just six months later reliving pain from the nonsensical death of a another young, gifted and black young man. I listened to Ice-T try to play mediator on Hot 97 and assure us that people on the West Coast were not celebrating this death, all the while hearing from other people over there that many felt Biggie “deserved it.” I listened to Grandmaster Flash, one of the architects of this culture, break down and sob on the phone over what he deemed was the loss of the soul of Hip-Hop culture.

Was this the culture I wanted to commit my life to? One that destroys its brightest talents over bullshit? None of us pulled the physical triggers that silenced the lives of Pac and Biggie, but I felt Hip-Hop culture as a whole, from the journalists to radio stations and down to the fans, kept a fire lit that made this happen. Even their music itself sounded different. The song themes and albums titles (Ready to Die, Life After Death) all sounded like a surreal, sick joke. Our culture was not a savior, but another yoke that allowed us to reinforce the stereotypes and oppressions our forefathers fought against. I had had enough.

My “fuck Hip-Hop” phase lasted less than a week. Who was I kidding? You don’t abandon something you truly love…you fight for it. I had to be honest that our culture had been hi-jacked by a bunch of self-perpetuated bullshit, and that was the first step to fixing things. Over that next year, a lot of things happened in Hip-Hop. A few classics dropped in Aquemini and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Black Star dropped an excellent debut. Canibus and LL had a good battle without the extracurricular nonsense. The South got newfound national attention on the back of No Limit. Diddy, then known as Puff Daddy, became a star. Well, about that last point, I never said everything that happened was positive.

Today Hip-Hop is still my mistress. She’s loved and hurt me. March 9, 1997 is one of the more painful memories. Yet, the love has endured since I can remember. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Ether is one of the best battle songs of all time..”

It’s the debate that’ll never die. 2011 marks 10 years since Nas and Jay-Z went at it in their legendary battle. Visit any message board today and you’ll find posters still arguing over which emcee won this contest, critiquing who has the better career/ personal life, and if the two all-time greats are still engaging in a cold war of sorts. The latest two to offer their opinions are NBA players, and Lakers teammates, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest.

Both players are from Queens, and grew up on Nas’s music. Artest acknowledges this connection and potential bias, but gives Nas the nod. However, he does state when viewing overall careers, Jay-Z came out ahead.

“From a business standpoint, career moves, and longevity, Jay-Z won,” Artest explains. “You look at it from that battle, Nas [delivered] a pretty strong death-blow. Nas won that battle.”

Odom has a similar opinion, praising “Ether” as a seminal diss record, and better than “Takeover.”

“It’s tough, but Ether is one of the best battle rap songs of all-time,” Odam says. “Even though Jay had an incredible career, but just the song, Nas might of got him.”

In November, Jay-Z visited the Juan Epstein show and discussed his personal opinion on “Ether” vs. “Takeover.” Both hosts, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds, believe “Takeover” to be the better record. Jay-Z agreed, concurring that Ron Brownz’s beat was one of “Ether’s” biggest weak points.

The Lakers defeated the Suns last night 99-95, and will face the Bobcats on Friday (January 7).

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I think it’s safe to say this battle gets discussed more than any other in Hip-Hop history. It even eclipses Pac and Biggie debates since B.I.G. never released full-fledged, non-subliminal records back at Pac to make their beef an on-wax competition.

Regarding who won, I go with Nas. Too often, I see both sides try to belittle or downplay the impact of the other to make their points. Make no mistake, “Ether” and “Takeover” are both all-time great diss records. Jay had some sharp lines for Nas, and however subjective those lines about Nas’s album quality after Illmatic, he brought to the forefront an argument that had previously been confined to corners and barber shops. It was witty deconstruction so thorough that many claimed Nas’s career was literally over.

On Nas’s end, “Ether” refuted literally everything Jay said on “Takeover” line by line. He flipped Jay’s barbs, but upped the ante. So my flow was garbage on “Oochie Wally?” That wasn’t even my song, but Eminem “murdered you on your own shit.” Nas also brought a murmured fan discussion to the glaring forefront, and that was Jay’s liberal use of Biggie lines. For those who pay attention to lyrics, seemingly juvenile cracks like “Tae Bo hoe,” and lines about Jay’s appearance (“Where you abused as a child/ Scared to smile/ They called you ugly?”), are actually clever flips from Jay’s own rhymes on Blueprint’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Song Cry.”

The reason Jay-Z fell short with Nas is that he was the first one to “blink,” meaning the first emcee to drop a record that wasn’t great. “Takeover” was great, and then it was on Nas to come back equally as great, which he did with “Ether.” Then it was back on Jay, who dropped the “Supa Ugly” track. “Supa Ugly” was solid, but nowhere near the quality the battle had established with the disgustingly underrated “Stillmatic Freestyle,”  “Ether,” and “Takeover.” “Blueprint 2” came a little too late, despite being a very good diss outside of the goofy chorus. By then, popular opinion was firmly behind Nas, and he ended matters with perhaps the best lines of the entire battle.

“I was Scarface/ Jay was Manolo/ It hurt me when I had to kill him/ And his whole squad for dolo,” Nas boasted on “Last Real Nigga Alive.”

You know what the best thing is? That perhaps Hip-Hop’s greatest battle ended with the below picture instead of someone in the grave.

This commercial dropped earlier in the month, but surprisingly didn’t get much attention from the Hip-Hop community. It’s ironic, considering this clip is geared towards our culture. If you haven’t seen it, the woman is making cupcakes using Ducan Hines’ new Amazing Glazes. When she adds the black glaze to the cakes, they begin harmonizing. The last one is out of key until he gets his glaze face, which competes the song. I won’t front; knowing history, I was half-expecting them to belt out “Mammy” any second. This is not deliberately racist in my opinion. It’s just a goofy, bad idea when viewed in historical context. What it tells me is that Duncan Hines’ marketing department doesn’t have anybody in my age bracket that looks like me, because that person(s) would have let their colleagues know this was an awful idea. Duncan Hines would have come off better hiring Waka Flocka Flame to do a jingle.

What’s your take?

Hmmmmmm

Thanksgiving has rolled around. For the remaineder of the week, most Americans will stuff their faces with slaughtered fowls, and blow paychecks on shopping sales. The actual idea of “giving thanks” has been lost on many in this commercial age. For a few minutes, I take a look back on some of the things that have made me thankful to be a music and boxing journalist over the past year.

 

 

10. The 140 Pound Division

Ricky Hatton’s demise at junior welterweight signaled the emergence of several young, hungry, and talented fighters. Right now, there are three title holders looking to claim division supremacy in Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, and Timothy Bradley. Below them are dangerous contenders like Marcos Maidana, Victor Ortiz, and Andriy Kotelnik. Next month, Khan and Maidana do battle for Khan’s WBA title. In January, Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley unify their belts. For the remainder of 2011, boxing fans can expect several more clashes to determine who the man is at 140 pounds.

 

9. Bilal

After a near decade album drought due to label issues, Bilal came back in September like he never left with Airtight’s Revenge. Showing that wisdom and maturity has come during that nine-year gap, Bilal’s latest is not just a love album. It’s a musical tome on spirituality, economic hardship, and other social issues. It’s arguably the best work of his career.

 

8. Sergio Martinez

I always enjoy seeing someone who’s put in the work see the fruits of their labor. At 35 years old, Martinez has become a star courtesy of his 2010 dismantlings of Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams. Not only has this man secured the Knockout of the Year, but also the Fighter of the Year. And at an age when most fighters see retirement looming, Sergio Martinez may just be getting started.

 

7. J. Cole

Nas recently referred to Cole as one his “sons” in Hip-Hop. As an artist whose debut is still pending, J. Cole couldn’t receive a higher compliment. Cole has been keeping his name afloat with various guest spots, and the recent album-quality mixtape Friday Night Lights. Instead of sitting around and waiting for that Roc Nation push, Cole is taking a cue from his mentor Jay-Z and creating his own lane. If Friday Night Lights is what he can deliver with a mixtape, just imagine what the album will sound like.

 

6. Showtime

Without question, Showtime has been the network this year to think outside of the box in regard to its boxing programming. Instead of cluttering their roster with overpriced exhibition fights, Showtime execs put together the ground-breaking Super Six Boxing Classic last year. Despite the tournament being hampered by the pitfalls of modern boxing (questionable injuries, complaints on purse splits), Showtime has proven to be flexible and savvy in salvaging the round-robin tournament.

Next month, Showtime will bring their experience with the Super Six to a streamlined bantamweight tournament. And in early 2011, Showtime will bring attention to yet another overlooked division with a cruiserweight tournament. Boxing struggling? Not on Showtimes’s watch.

 

5. Nas and Damian Marley

When Nas and Damian Marley first announced Distant Relatives, many were highly skeptical. Sure, “Road to Zion” was good. But an entire album?! Nah, couldn’t work. What the pair delivered was an album that’ll enrich both of their musical legacies. Marley handled the beats. And Nas, who had no reggae background, was able to still maintain his lyrical chops in an entirely foreign environment. For most of the year, the pair has toured to critical acclaim with 2 hour plus sets that combines their solo material. Look out for Nas to return on the solo tip in early or mid 2011.

 

4. Big K.R.I.T.

The next generation of the southern emcee has arrived. The Mississippi native surprised many by seemingly coming out of nowhere with his K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape. With flows that hint at older influences like Pimp C, K.R.I.T. still carved his own unique identity by detailing his life and struggles to make it in the industry. To boot, he handled all the production on the project. Now that he’s with Def Jam, expect bigger and bigger from K.R.I.T. in 2011.

 

3. Manny Pacquiao

He hasn’t been able to secure the fight we really want, but Manny Pacquiao has been a great ambassador for boxing. For his last two fights, he’s competed at Dallas Stadium in front of over 40,000 people. In addition, his latest pay-per-view numbers have exceeded 1 million buys, tying his total tally with Mike Tyson. While his pound for pound rival Floyd Mayweather wallows in legal issues and head-shaking comments, Pacquiao has done the majority of his talking in the ring. In 2011, we’ll see if Pacquiao spreads his opponent list beyond his Top Rank stablemates.

 

2. Janelle Monae

It’s in vogue these days for artists to try to make their albums an amalgamation of multiple music genres. Most are admirable, but ultimately flawed projects due to the artist’s limited understanding outside of their “home” genre. That’s not the case with Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid, which seamlessly blended pop, R&B, soul, Hip-Hop, and big band orchestral arrangements. Sadly, the album and Monae are still flying under the national radar. But she’s continuing to make phenomenal music that’ll hopefully begin to catch on .

 

1. Kanye West

Yes, he’s still occasionally obnoxious. He’s prone to putting his foot in his mouth if he talks any longer than five minutes. His victimhood complaints about the Taylor Swift incident are downright nauseating at this point. With that said, no one has worked harder this year musically than Kanye West. His G.O.O.D. Friday series had a simple but fool-proof strategy; deliver album quality songs weekly leading up to the actual LP release. Most artists can keep that up for a month, but Kanye took it further. G.O.O.D. Fridays started in August, and will continue throughout the end of the year. The guests have included some of the industry’s biggest names in Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Ye’s G.O.O.D. Music camp.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was very good as well, and shows West experimenting with melody and rhythms not normally associated with a Hip-Hop artist. Look for Ye’s G.O.O.D. Music team to take center stage in 2011.