14 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #14

Group Home, Livin' Proof (Payday/FFRR/PolyGram Records, 1995)

This album is infamous for the incredible beats, created by DJ Premier working at peak capability, and the supposedly sub-sub-subpar rhyming on top. People have dumped on the rapping here for years and years. Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker are both regarded by "real hip-hop" fans as almost the definition of wack MC's, who somehow lucked on top on the best beats Premier ever created. If only Nas had rapped on top of these beats for It Was Written (which, admittedly, would have made for a better album than anything Nas has released since Illmatic)... if only Guru had rapped on top of these beats and this had been a Gang Starr album... if only Jeru the Damaja had rapped on top of these beats... if only Craig G had rapped on top of these beats... if only Biggie had made this the followup to Ready To Die (which would have never happened because Puffy barely let two Premier beats on Life After Death)... if only... if only...

Yeah whatever. Dap somehow gets regarded as the better (or at least barely adequate) MC of the two rappers here, but he has a weird froggy lisping style that sounds odd and sort of dumb, if indeed adequate. Melachi the Nutcracker, though, gets slammed left and right for being one of the world's worst MC's. This shall not stand. Melachi is not even near the same league of pure lousiness as Plies or Silkk the Shocker, to cite two examples of truly garbage rappers. Melachi is an ultra-simplistic MC, there's no question about it, but he is incredibly entertaining on this album: his rapping is elementary as all hell, but truly hilarious, awesome and never boring (which so many more conventionally accomplished rappers can be - Saigon, anyone?) Melachi has a really cool, mid-ranged, raw New York rap voice which is full of a sincere teenage enthusiasm and passion that can't be faked. The obvious enthusiasm, and the fact that he keeps a straight face throughout, makes him a whole lot funnier and more entertaining than some generically competent gangsta MC talking about the same old shit would've been. He also makes his rudimentary raps flow pretty well, and sells them 100%. His great subject is how he will beat your ass, elucidated in the most elementally basic way possible. His rapping will have you in stitches sometimes. I mean, this guy actually raps: "Cause there's no tricks, when I let off clips! I leave bodies in ditches! Play bitch niggas like bitches!" That's right. "Bitch niggas like bitches." Twice in the same bar. He's at least 10+ years before Waka Flocka Flame would come around with "Hard In The Paint." Is it ridiculous? You don't say, Captain Obvious, now go buy a Papoose mixtape. Do you like it anyway? Uh, fuck yes you do, because Melachi is charismatic, young and gut-busting. There are lines like this all over the album. And they are awesomely funny. "Deadly like a rattlesnake, except I don't rattle." "Eating MC's like Jeffrey Dahmer!" "I'm outta sight on the mic! Do what you like! I hit ya moms in the head with a metal pipe!" Genius. Pure genius.

Of course, the beats on here are amazing. DJ Premier regularly gets worshiped by anyone who knows their shit as one of the best hip-hop producers to have ever lived. And this album is, well, livin' proof on that front. (Get off your "I hate puns" high horse and blow me.) The beats here are really atmospheric and jazzy, yet sound rough and have real impact. The rhythms are consistently hard-hitting, and the layered samples continually create melodies that end up sticking in your head. There's the ride-cymbal rhythm intersecting with the looped Nas sample and ghost piano note on "Inna-Citi Life." There's the contemplative, wistful bass line and pitch-manipulated strings on "Baby Pa" that come in after the gritty, assertive guitar line that soundtracked the beat before that on the same song. There's the stop-start rhythm, two-note bass thump, and chiming keyboards of "2 Thousand." Instrumentally, this album is what happens when a master beatmaker and producer with one of the most imitated styles in hip-hop is given practically free reign to create whatever the hell he wants. Even the two songs that weren't produced by Premier are good: "4 Give My Sins" features an incredibly beautiful introductory instrumental segment that unfortunately isn't elaborated on afterwards. Some great New York MC needs to hijack that segment for a beat someday. But the best song was released as the lead single. "Supa Star" is simply quintessential mid-'90's hip-hop - from the absolutely brilliant beat, to Melachi and Dap's extremely simplistic but technically competent and extremely real lyrics (even here, I'd give Melachi the upper hand), to the subject everyone can identify with - these two kids' reasons for wanting to become rap superstars, which are, predictably, related to getting the fuck out of the ghetto, and their dreams of what it'll be like to become rap superstars - it's just a classic song.

Livin' Proof is a great album with unconventionally awesome rapping that relies way more on force of personality and unintentional humorousness than any kind of superhuman technical rapping, and that's honestly just fine. You should really hear it someday.

It's Friday: Let's Piss Off Amanda Palmer!

It's been eons since we had a Friday Piss-Off, but that was just because nobody needed a shenanigan calling.
And then a benevolent god showed Kickstarter to Amanda Palmer.
Dear Amanda,
Full disclosure: I want to begin by letting you know that I'm not a fan of yours. I liked one Dresden Dolls record for a while, then, after a longer while, I liked maybe only half of the songs on it, then I just stopped listening to it, and I can't even remember the name of it. I remember it's the one where you and the drummer are dancing on the cover. No, I cannot be arsed to look up which one it is but you know the one I'm talking about.
Further, though I am a musician, I do not play any of the instruments you need on your upcoming tour. You need strings and brass or winds and brass, something like that, am I right? I don't play any of those. So there's that.
Now for the meat:
I'm writing to you in regard to your recent success on raising US$1,192,793 to physically produce, distribute, and promote your latest record, the title of which I can't be arsed to look up. Apparently it comes with a book? And there's an ├╝ber-swanky package that comes with a goddamned record player? You're selling fucking stereo equipment. OK.
That's a pretty ambitious project. Fuck knows I've never thought about packaging stereo equipment in with any of my records. But my records are also recorded on a budget of three or four Pabsts in a studio that's really just a corner in my quarters. (FYI, I live where I work, Mandy.)
Now, I know that much ado has been made about your recent $1.2 million dollar windfall. You've even disclosed exactly how you allocated that money. I tried to read your breakdown but, Jesus, lady... First of all, please please please learn that capital letters aren't merely for emphasis. They begin new sentences and proper nouns. Secondly, could you try an easy to read typeface? Try an Arial or a Verdana or a Trebuchet for Christ's sake. So, no, didn't make it through your accounting. Other people have been adventurous enough to strain their eyes reading that bullshit and they say you pay for some really unnecessary shit or you pay way too much for something that you could get manufactured or otherwise taken care of for much cheaper through another service provider... blah blah blah.
The end result is that you got a million bucks and you pissed it away.
Sure you have staff to pay, art to commission, all kinds of things that most musicians wouldn't even think of having. (Out of all of my friends and friends' bands, I can't think of one who has a staff.) But, hey, I get it. You had people on your payroll for this one very big extravagant project. You put together a whole new band, you have gallery showings and shit, there's that thing with the stereo equipment. And after paying for all of the parts and labor on this thing, you're broke all over again.
Thing is, your goal for the project was set at a hundred thou. (That's Kickstarter's maximum, isn't it?) What did you think you were going to be able to pull off for a tenth of what you ultimately brought in? Or were you counting on manna from heaven the whole time?
And now, after your fans have thrown you over a million dollars, you're asking some of them to play with you as part of an expanded band on your tour. You show up in their town, they go to rehearsal, they join you on stage that night. You go to the next town and hook up with the fans there.
And you're paying them in beer.
You're paying people who just gave you a million dollars in beer.
Again, I get it. You put that million dollars into the costumes and the paintings and the extra cool packaging and the turntables and you had to pay the pressing plants and the printers and your staff and all that. After pissing away all that money, there was nothing left to pay your guest musicians with. Unless, of course, you're playing in NYC and one of your touring bandmates insists on finding a band of pros that has to be paid. I guess then you can allocate the expense of paying a group of musicians in money and not beer. But why only one city or select cities? Why not all of the cities?
And I also get that you're putting it out there for your fans to decide if they want to be paid in exposure (which, hey, Mandy, "paying [someone] in exposure" is shady promoter / coffee shop owner speak for "not paying") and beer and, as you put it, hugs and high fives. You're not forcing anybody to do anything. Your fans can decide for themselves what they want to do that night: Stay home, go to the show, or play the show. It's on them what kind of experience they want to have that night.
And you're exploiting that; you know which one they'd pick.
After you take a million dollars from them, you ask them to play for free.
Now, there's nothing wrong with asking somebody to play for free. I've played for free a number of times. Sometimes to friends, sometimes for friends. But here's the thing, I've never given those people a million dollars. I'm sure I never loaned any of them more than a dollar.
You probably don't think you're doing anything that bad but consider the amount of time you've had to dedicate to defending yourself on your blog. That should tell you something: Most people - a group of people made up mostly of non-fans, true - aren't digging your monkeyshines. You say you basically can't afford thirty five grand, by your estimate, to pay for a string quartet and a brass section for the entire tour.
Mandy, baby, allow me to introduce you to your duh moment for the day if the idea hasn't already been pitched to you:
You asked for a hundred kay and pulled off a million. Stands to reason that you can pull in three hundred fifty kay by asking for thirty five. That will pay for the musicians and also pay for their...
• Hair (about US$19,000)
• Makeup (about US$36,000)
• Costumes (US$100,000, easily)
• Transportation & Gas (US$6,000)
• Lodging (US$12,000 if you slum it at a Red Roof)
• Personal Assistants (you might need to start another Kickstarter for them; I will say that I, personally, never pay more than fifteen large for a PA and that's a twelve month contract)
• Dog Walkers (you know, just in case)
• Catering (meals for eight every night, I'd say you're looking at US$67,000)
• Masseuse (keepin' 'em limber will set you back about US$85,000)
• Incidentals (no idea, so try to not break anything)
That will leave you with an extra twenty five grand that you can piss away on Coronas instead of High Lifes. Because you get to live it up only once, Mandy, may as well make it count, right? Or maybe you'll blow the money on more eyebrow ink. I'm sure the costs for that are insane.
But I know I can't talk you out of ripping off the musicians (yes, you are ripping them off) and I doubt I can talk you into finding a way to pay them, which is shitty considering you've got a tour rider and you're getting paid - by the way, is it a guarantee or a cut of the door? Well, I guess that doesn't matter after you high five somebody which is totally a viable form of compensation. So, since your mind is made up and anything I say here is an exercise in futility, all I can do is call shenanigans.
Hugs, Mandy!
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