Sunday, November 30, 2008

Selected Retrospective: Ghostface Killah | Supreme Clientele

Four years after Ironman and a stint at Riker's Island, Ghostface Killah proclaims on Supreme Clientele that he doesn't mean to harm anybody, but that it happens when he encounters wack MCs. At first glance, this seems like another prideful boast in the hip-hop "I'm-the-best-and-you're-wack" continuum. Yet after digging the whole record, it becomes apparent that far from boasting, Ghostface was stating his mission.

The first five songs are about as unsurpassable as Ghostface gets, culminating with the unforgiving horns n' strings of "Apollo Kids." It's hard to understand how this was only his second record. True, he collaborated with some of his Wu brethren before, but that can't account for Ghostface going form solid to outstanding, can it? On "Nutmeg," Ghostface raps,
Scientific, my hand kissed it
robotic, let's think optimistic
you probably missed it
watch my dolly dick it
scotty watty cop it to me
big microphone hippie
hit Poughkeepsie crispy chicken verbs
throw up a stone richie.
Abstract, to say the least, but hard-hitting and unrelenting in its rhythmic pulse. In "One," the rhyme scheme for more than half of his second verse is based on the sound "ash" and its variations. He moves the accents of the rhyming words from the end to the beginning of lines, and sometimes the rhymes are only internal. Add his bewildering, spontaneous reversal of "supercalifragalisticexpialidocious" in "Buck 50," and it's all too clear that nobody else raps like this or would know how to. Wack MCs beware.

NOTE: The Bootsies for
Supreme Clientele also apply to Ironman.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Selected Retrospective: Ghostface Killah | Ironman

After superlative solo records by Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon (Only Built for Cuban Linx...) and Genius/GZA (Liquid Swords), it was Ghostface Killah's turn. His debut Ironman, released in 1996 and also billed to Raekwon and Cappadonna, makes its den in old soul samples and ripe tales of drug deals gone bad ("260," see video above), violent misogyny ("Wildflower"), and well, everyday gangsta shit. Wu-Tang architect RZA produced the whole album and his trademark hard bass drums and crisp snares, rolling basslines, eerie keys, and razor-sharp samples abound (see "Camay" and "Motherless Child" as ideal examples.)

Ghostface Killah here is beginning his assent to MC superiority. At his most unleashed, Ghostface is a free-associative MC, searching for words and phrases that might rhyme but will seldom make logical sense. No matter though. His kinetic, freeform rapping style is only matched by his barely controlled enthusiasm and the level of detail in his rhymes ("Grab the pliers for the channel/fix the hanger on the TV.") His gangster alter ego, Tony Starks (note the alternate spelling to the Iron Man comic book hero) would continue to reappear on future records, often concocting morbid tales of coke-slanging. It would be another four years until his sophomore record Supreme Clientele would be released to widespread acclaim.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grateful Dead biopic in the works

Steve Parish's recollection of thirty years on the road with The Grateful Dead, Home Before Daylight, is reputedly the source material for a Dead biopic. Jonathan Demme, Oliver Stone, and Sean Penn are among the filmmakers in the mix for directing duties, according to producer Stephen Emery. Neil Young and Bob Dylan have already agreed to perform on the soundtrack, with Bob Weir acting as musical director.

Mr. President, Barack Obama!

It's about time. Barack Obama, elected 44th President of the United States. Unbounded joy is an understatement. Every kid of any race or ethnicity in this country can now feel like anything, truly anything is possible. Including becoming President. Amen to that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bombass Groove of the Week #4

Some songs smack you across the face and say, "Heyo, drop your shit and listen to me!" "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "The Message" fall in that category. Other tunes just creep up on you. They might sound pedestrian at first, the aural equivalent of driving past a rolling green field. But upon revisiting it, you begin to appreciate how the wind unfurls itself on the blades of grass, how small birds surf that same wind, surrendering their internal GPS to the fates. Enter "Paper Planes," a single off M.I.A.'s second album,

Musically, the song opens by busting a hole through reality. The Clash's "Straight to Hell" guitar and bassline are the main skeleton of the jam, with some 808-style snare and bass drum hits courtesy of producer, Diplo. The rhythmic bottom of the tune is thick with G-Funk synths, finger snaps, and hiccuping hi-hats. Add The Clash's sample on top of that, and you have one of the illest beats of 2008. Part of me wishes Ghostface Killah would use the instrumental for one of his cokedrama tunes.

The chorus must be considered holistically, not just sonically or lyrically. M.I.A. sings: "All I wanna do is [four gunshot blasts]/And a, [cash register sounds] take your money." If that chorus isn't a straight descendant of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, nothing is. My cousin Jeremy and his wife Alex were upset about the glorification of violence, which was amplified by the chorus of kids singing the chorus and the poppiness of the melody. I can understand that. Kids who listen to the tune might sing along and think everything's all good, without realizing that, A), violence is bad; and B), what the song is truly about.

M.I.A. is a London-based Sri Lankan immigrant, whose dad used to be (or is, if he's alive) a Tamil Tiger. Life as immigrants, in England or anywhere else, is closely linked to how they are viewed by others - read: non-minorities. She suggests fake visas can be made in a jiffy; drugs are looking to be sold; and both can be delivered, no problem. It can be interpreted that the verses are from the immigrant's point of view and the chorus is the xenophobe's view of the immigrant. In the ending hook, she sings, "Some I murder/some I let go." No matter what or what for, she might kill somebody; or, then again, she might not. Moral ambiguity in the age of xenophobia isn't the exception, it's the rule.

The song is a cynical indictment of how immigrants and/or minorities are viewed by the majorities. In the video, she rides around in a skull & bones truck selling sandwiches, as she raps about visas and drugs. All the customers, including Mike D and Adrock from the Beastie Boys, pay with jewelry, not cash. That suggests that they've already spent all their money and can only use jewelry to buy the sandwiches, which are a cover for illegal shit. (Note that when she raps "I make 'em all day" referring to the visas, the sandwiches multiply on a cutting board.) Yeah, she's slanging, but people are buying, she seems to postulate. What does that say about you, homie? Or as political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel wrote, "[W]hen resources are so scarce that it is a question of one group or the other surviving, discrimination against outsiders...and insider favoritism are inevitable."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sarah Palin's First Amendment Rights

In yet another absurd, idiotic moment, GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin said her
First Amendment rights were being threatened by "attacks" from reporters.
"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told WMAL-AM host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."
Translation: "Mainstream media:" members of the media who disagree with her.

Given that Palin doesn't know what the VP's job is - even though it is explicitly written in the Constitution - it is safe to assume that she also never read the First Amendment, which also protects the freedom of the press. So actually, the First Amendment is what allows journalists to investigate and write reports about public figures without fear of retribution from the government. In fact, the opposite of what she said was true. I'm starting to think that Palin doesn't know how to read.