Monday, November 06, 2006

Following Footsteps into the Dark

One step beyond

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - "First of the Month" (Instrumental) (mp3)
(Purchase here)

The Game - "Why You Hate The Game" (f/Nas & Marsha of Floetry) (mp3)
(Purchase here)

"Y'all lazy... complain about labor pains / N***a, show me the baby"

How do you properly pay your propers? The thought crossed my mind a number of times during CMJ, a marathon dedicated to spotlighting "new" music. The week-long event still lives up to its name by highlighting numerous acts that hope to find relevance on the college radio circuit and beyond, though it has always made sure to include its past success stories: on one end, Stephanie McKay stepped out from the background and the Bird and the Bee touched ground in the east, while on the other the Knife made its U.S. debut and Cody Chesnutt debuted a new soulpera. That said, it was disappointing to see a profound lack of age diversity -- being considered passe after dropping an undie hit single a year-and-a-half ago is a shade sad, isn't it? Sure, the Fall, the Slits, and Suzanne Vega were plugged in amongst the PYTs, but few bands even bothered to mention their venue colleagues. In the increasingly rabbit-paced industry, must we all be so absorbed in our own "artist development," that we can't even give it up to our predecessors? Do they only serve as people to replace?

I've been thinking about propers since Eazy got his nod during Hip Hop Honors. Was happy to see Bone Thugs-N-Harmony get dressed to recap the hit that got them their national stride, an ode to their mentor ~ actually brought a tear to my eye (no Swaggart). Say what you will about the swagger (jack) of his son, but the folks on stage paid their respects. So, a quick nod to Bone's dedication to welfare. Because I'm reliving 1995 all over again.

Next week, hip hop fans will get to put their Game theories to test when The Doctor's Advocate kicks off a mad rush to the 2006 endzone. Sure, some expectations will be met, most won't, but this mixed bag of vets and (relative) newcomers is a good look. Each one can tell stories (or, at least name-drop) for days about the whos, whats, and hows of their upbringing, which can hardly be said for many young'ns comin' up. So, when the Game and Nas, two ems from opposite ends of the pop/class/coast/intellect spectrums, can pay each other back with a pair of verses, I'll believe a line about "rekindling" legacies.

Darker times lay ahead, so it may not be such a bad idea to ask for the help of our seniors.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Live at the Barbecue (All Day I Dream About...)

Once upon a time, even he was a sweet soul brother
(hit dustykid's page for more (and better) flyers)

A.G. - "Frozen" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Lyrics Born - "Lady Don't Tek No" (live) (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Most hip-hop performers will agree there is an art to hip-hop performance. If so, it could certainly use some refinement. Sure, most artists seems to be familiar with the general guidelines: crowd participation, usually articulated through call and response or some physical gesticulation like a wave of the hand or flipping the bird; yelling; declarations that affirm existence ("(fill in the blank) in the (mother-)fuckin' house!"); punctuating this declaration with the n-word (only if the artist is of African-American descent; Latinos choose to use this word, depending on their comfort level); more yelling; public product announcements, usually related to the latest product the artist has produced ("(fill in the date): cop that shit!"); punctuating this declaration with the n-word (see previous); praises and/or salutations to each of the sexes/places of residence/ethnicities (to which the audience responds with either a "hey!" or a "ho!", depending on sex); and some more yelling.

As deliberately engaging as these procedures are, they are also familiar to the point of being taken for granted. Whether a concert-goer has even been to a hip-hop show before is no longer an issue, because he/she can be exposed to these tropes through a litany of media sources: be it through the odd televised concert special or the more common music videos, commercials, movie scenes, etc. An audience member doesn't have to "be" hip-hop in order to be a functioning member of a hip-hop audience. As democratic a thought as that may be, it also makes for a predictable affair that can be bullet-pointed and checked with great ease, like above.

I imagine most hip-hop artists are aware of this situation, but in facing this dilemma are really confined to the limits of their creativity and resources. I say creativity because I am reminded of the first time I saw De la Soul and will always remember how Pos and Dove split the audience with such patience and humor, pitting each half of the crowd in a competition of hollers. Of course, I've seen the trick over and over, but seldom with any tact, grace, or even spatial awareness of where the dividing line(s) should be. This ain't rocket science, people. That said, the Juggaknots occasionally sound like rocket science, so you'd think they could handle a simple bit of crowd particip. At B.B. King's last night, no, they couldn't.

I also mention resources because, post-Roots, everybody this side of Hovi wants to have a house band. Sure, and big bands wanted to keep touring post-WWII. But who would foot the bill? Which is to say, rare is the group that has the business acumen, talented contacts, and musical vision to sustain a live live show (holla at the Coup).

Not to say lack of funds means lack of fun. Just a balanced combination between creativity and cash.

Going back to last night's show at B.B. King's (Prince Paul's Ill Out Crew hosted a lollapalooza featuring the Juggaknots, A.G., CL Smooth, Dres, Freddie Foxxx, and Stetsasonic ~ sounds dope, right?), I was pretty disappointed with, well, most everything. Either their stage presence was off, or the pacing of the show (nonexistent) marred their set. I don't have time to go into details, but I was disappointed to finally see A.G., only to watch him hit the aforementioned predictables over and over, over the course of a 15-minute set. I posted up the lead single "Frozen," because the low point of the show was when his DJ cut off one of his rants to announce the close of the set with a Madlib-produced "banger." Go ahead, take a listen. Sounds nice, right? IN YOUR FUCKING HEADPHONES. I want to give A.G. and his new record the chance to flourish out there, because it's quite impressive. But, fuck if anyone's gonna buy it after listening to this over a blaring sound system in the middle of a performance born straight from crash and burn.

I'd like to counter with an impressive alternative, a "this is how we should do it," Lyrics Born's live record. Sure, live albums are usually perceived as contract loopholes or the death knell of an artist's career. And, quite often, they are. So, where does that leave a live album from a rapper who is only one (two if you count a remix joint) album deep in the solo game? If you're one half of Latyrx, former digging partner and co-label honcho of DJ Shadow, tongue twisting freestyle extraordinaire, and a generally funky cat then the chips will be stacked in your favor. Since embarking on a solo career a couple years ago, he has worked hard to reach beyond his core underground hip-hop audience by recruiting a formidable band to reshape his modern funk revisions. The approach has worked, as evidenced by the sheer mania his tours have evoked. And peep how he pimps the classics (which were aother constant point of reference for last night's unabashedly golden era audience) before strolling through "Tek No."

Maybe I'll go into this in a column instead. But, rappers: please, get your live game together. I know y'all are like DJs, making records to tour. But if your live game is tight, you can be like Lyrics Born and his paltry discography: touring to make records. Like GZA said: "You got to diversify your portfolio, bitches."