Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Hip-Hop Sucks in 2009.


Really bad.

Driving through Florida today, I was listening to loud music as usual. Inspired by listening to the Green Lantern "mixtape" of the Beastie Boys called "NY State of Mind" as well as Justice's album "Cross," I became inspired to write this. Also lately (or shall we say, for the last 5 years?) I've been really fucking frustrated and fed up with the music I hear in clubs... particularly, American clubs. Particularly when it's not advertised to be dance/electronic, and is not in a big city.

What I hear is really shitty hip-hop. Why do you I hear really shitty hip-hop? Because for the most part, popular hip-hop lately has been, oh, 75% SHIT. I'm mostly talking about Southern stuff. "Meet me in the mall... it's going down" type shit. I literally heard a rowdy 4th grader singing this when I taught schoolchildren in 2006. He also sang "I'm in Love with a Stripper." Now you may think I'm some crazy liberal but I actually do care about the content an elementary school kid sings about. The point was appropriate though: the lyrical wordplay and musical value was at the 4th grade level. I don't even care to look up who "raps" that tripe.

Why are people still going nuts over hearing "does the sweat drip down my balls"? Does it really deserve that much fanfare? Where the hell is Lil' Jon now? Probably laughing at how much fucking money he made over the same riffs and talentless lyrics. This is music made by businessmen rather than actual passionate musicians, preying off the stupidity of mainstream culture.

What the Beastie Boys/Green Lantern mixtape made me think about was, where the hell is some good New York hip-hop? Green throws in the anthology of Beasties' acapellas over sick beats by Biggie, MOP, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, and 50. Maybe some of the new shit is NYC... I mean I really don't know, I don't listen to the radio. For at least down here in Florida, it blows. I'm hoping it's better when I head up to Manhattan!

"Apple bottom jeans." If I knew that I would never hear that song again, I'd probably be 3000% more happy and optimistic about life. As I check out another Flo-Rida song, "Sugar" (another song I've heard played but had no idea who the artist was), I'm reminded what really went wrong with hip-hop. It became pop. But not Run DMC or Rob Base type-pop. I mean REALLY pop. Because at least that old school stuff still sounded hip-hop... sped up samples, scratching, etc. "Sugar" samples one of the worst dance-pop songs ever, "Blue" by Eiffel 65. Almost as bad as sampling Alice Deejay. I guess I wouldn't be pissed at Flo-Rida if he claimed he wasn't making hip-hop at all, but hip-POP. That's fair. I also see that Soulja' Boy is on the charts too with some bubble-gum pop that I'm sure a lot of 14 year old girls are hoping is the ringtone their boyfriend hears when she calls. I just read the lyrics to the brilliant "Crank Dat" in about 3 seconds.

Here, let me quote some lyrics that I'm sure Eric B would be proud of --
"Haterz wanna be me
Soulja Boy, I'm the man
They be lookin' at my neck
Sayin' it's the Rubberband Man, man
Watch me do it, watch me do it
Dance, dance
Let get to it, let get to it"

From the Billboard Chart 15 years ago, here's some lyrics to "Regulate" by Warren G and Nate Dogg (classic) --
"It was a clear black night, a clear white moon
Warren g was on the streets, trying to consume
Some skirts for the eve, so I can get some funk
Just rollin in my ride, chillin all alone"

"Regulate" actually makes sense, right? And it tells a damn good story. So clearly, mainstream hip-hop was better at some point and is now deteriorating.

"I toss and turn, I keep stressin' my mind"

Now there have to be some saviors amidst all of this miserable music. I have to give props to a few people right now. I'm glad Kid Cudi outta Cleveland has been getting a lot of airplay and club play with "Day N Nite" with its hypnotic beat and thoughtful lyrics. Even more (pleasantly) surprising is that the Crookers' remix is being banged out as well. Of course, where was the first time I heard this song before hearing it in clubs in NYC and then elsewhere? The Dance Dept. Podcast outta mothafuckin' Amsterdam. Yes, Europe and the electronic dance scene as usual was breaking out what's hot and innovative in hip-hop.

I also gotta say I respect Kanye West for the last few years because even though "808s and Heartbreak" can be kind of dull sometimes, I love him for making a "concept" album with some 80s synth-infected romantic brooding. I will say that The Graduate was one of the best all-around hip-hop albums that was mainstream as well. He may have ALMOST made up for steppin' in with uber hubris at the MTV Europe Awards in '06, where he bitched about how he spent $1 million for a video with Pamela Anderson and thus should've been the winner, instead of the badass song by Justice VS. Simian, "We Are Your Friends." When I saw that, I thought, clearly this guy has no understanding of musical taste in Europe. At least it seems the man has learned some things since then, as he went on to collaborate with Daft Punk ("Stronger").

I'm also so glad that M.I.A. has made it big, from the ever-present "Paper Planes" song to the Grammy's to being one of TIME's Most Influential People. If you don't know much about her besides "Swagger Like That," well she's the daughter of a Tamil Tiger (separatist group in Sri Lanka), grew up in London, dated DJ with mad skills Diplo (check out his SICK remix of John Legend/Andre 3000 "Green Light" called the Diplo Dade County 1988 Mix) is adored in the indie-rock scene as much as the hip-hop scene, and is a visual artist who has sold art to people like Jude Law.

I'm glad to be leaving on a positive note. Keeping on that vibe, check out some of these artists, links, videos, etc.

Kid Cudi "Day N Nite" (Crookers' remix)

Charles Hamilton (this boy knows how to rap) "Brooklyn Girls"

Outkast feat. Raekwon “Skew it on the Bar-B” (classic from when ATL got my respect)

Hey what happened to peace…?


Why JUSTICE is one of the best (electronic) bands right now and could help dance music cross-over.

The French Blues Brothers?

I mentioned in another article on the state of hip-hop that there was incident at the 2006 MTV Europe Awards in which Kanye usurped the attention away from the Video of the Year, Justice vs. Simian “We Are Your Friends,” by storming the stage with immense bravado. That brought my attention, ironically for him, to the song he complained should have lost. This made me curious about the song, which I found online and saw the video on YouTube. (You can check out the clever video, with a lot of pranks played on blokes passed out after a party). It was my first introduction to the group Justice, an electronic duo out of France, who had remixed the song by Simian, a now defunct English rock band.

Needless to say, I found out Justice was EPIC. A clear extension of Daft Punk with electro-robotic and funky disco influences, I sought out some videos of their singles and performances. They belonged to a record label/dance music posse called “Ed Banger” headed by a French DJ named Busy P. These guys really, really know how to party. Check out this video here -, for the release of Justice’s single “Waters of Nazareth.” The whole crew is shown having a good time and spinning some real wild, rough-edged electronic music. They’re with DJ Funk (who looks like a lost member of NWA) out of Chicago throwing in some “Ghettotech” which shows these French dudes have some broad influences. I’ve never seen a group of DJs having so much fun, so I had to explore further.

The differences from Daft Punk make them very unique and allow them to be very popular at a time when electro house is getting a lot of buzz. First thing to notice, as you listen to Justice full-length album CROSS is their really epic, monumental sound – the first track “Genesis” starts off with deep, symphonic strings as though something HUGE is about to happen. I could see hip-hop heads digging this as a lot of mostly East Coast hip-hop has big strings as well. But their sound also melds in RAUCOUS guitar riffs and distorted synthesizers, getting them respect from metal-heads punk rock fans as well. Justice has even remixed Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” The grandiosity continues with “Let There Be Light,” – tremendous hi-hats and bass kicks with electronic squelches all blend in with a big bass riff. “Phantom Part 2” maybe my favorite track on that album, has guitar riff synths being balanced out by strings and a funky bass line.

Very distinct about Justice, as signified by the name of their first album, is all their mysterious Christian imagery. Their logo is a gigantic cross from their album cover to a grand lit up one is featured in their shows. And yet what’s intriguing is there is that it seems to be mostly just imagery as there are no lyrics of a religious nature. The song titles above, though, clearly are Biblical.

To bring in the indie rock crowd, Justice’s remix of “Electric Feel” by the Brooklyn band MGMT is so goddamned infectious that for me personally, I’ve kept it as my ringtone for about four months (the original is quite good as well). You HAVE to listen to it - They REALLY bring the funk on this one.
So basically, when you have an electronic duo with influences from funk, punk, metal, electro house, and hip-hop, you have a band that’s no less than fucking brilliant – not to mention something that anyone should be able to get into a bit at least. People for the most part, I think, like danceable aggressive music these days, and I’d think this is a far supreme alternative to CRUNK.

The other musicians in Ed Banger and associated acts are just as HOT…

Uffie – a real young American-French chick who has really simple but catchy rhymes with cut-up, fresh beats by French DJ Feadz. You might have, somewhere, heard her track “Pop the Glock.”

DJ Mehdi – Another smooth DJ who has this great track remixed by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter with a funny video featuring a car audio competition here -

SebastiAn – Saw a video of this guy throwing down his own dance remix of Rage Against the Machine “Killing in the Name Of” at the LA Viper Room and was blown the fuck away.

MSTRKRFT – A Canadian electronic duo featuring one of the guys from defunct band Death From Above 1979, these guys remixed Justice’s song “D.A.N.C.E.” (with a Jackson 5 like sound) with great success. The music video (remember those?) is probably the COOLEST I’ve seen in the last year. They've also worked with rappers Nore and E40.

Other artists of the electronic/electro/guitar riff/hard synth ilk...
Boys Noize
Simian Mobile Disco (what used to be the band Simian)
Kavinsky (if you really like 80s synths and Ferraris)

Et Justice Pour Tous…

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friends on Facebook Song

Here's the newest soon-to-be viral hit song entitled "Friends on Facebook" by my friend Christina Marquez. It's about the current state of affairs in the online world involving the ever-popular website. Enjoy!

Friends on Facebook - Christina Marquez

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Word "Like" (From previous Facebook Note)

In just about any verbal interaction you may have with someone between the ages of 15 and 30 you will notice a preponderance of one word littered throughout, seemingly indispensable to conversation. This word is "like."

Once relegated to movies about teens in the 1980s who grew up in the valley suburbs of Los Angeles (the "valley girl" stereotype), or perhaps never actually more common in that region but rather increasing in its infectious popularity, the use of this 4-letter word has reached ubiquitous, excessive proportions. Apparently, "like" has no less than a dozen or so meanings. There is one thing common to almost every usage of this word: it severely diminishes how intelligent one sounds when he or she speaks.

An example:

Sally: Oh hey, what's up?
Jordan: Ah, not much. I was just headed to my econ class. Hey, I didn't see you like all weekend.
Sally: I know...I was doing this paper on like Nietzsche and his views on like Christianity and's due Tuesday and I'm like freakin' out about it!
Jordan: Oh damn, good luck with that. Well you missed out on like the best opera ever...Tristan and Isolde was playing at the Hippodrome and it was like incredibly good. I was like, wow, this tonal progression!

Though discussing intellectual topics such as Nietzsche and operas by Wagner, the two people in this discussion are hampered by their use of "like" that it sounds like they could be talking about an MTV reality show and, like, the Jonas Brothers.

It was about 8 months ago when I started to pay close attention to my own use of "like" and that of others. I believe I was inspired to do this when reading some trivia about Indian brethren and ascendant actor Kal Penn, I saw that he was once in an acting exercise where the budding thespians were challenged to ad lib without using "like" whatsoever. First, in noticing how often people said "like," it was jarring and it completely distracted me from whatever issue they were speaking of. The caveat in picking up on the word in other people's speech was that it actually became VERY harsh on my ears and thoughts. Moreover, these were people as educated and smart as myself, and certain people stood out as being chronic offenders. Secondly, it took a fair amount of difficulty to consciously avoid my own use of the word when speaking to people; however, I became accustomed to it, and I knew my own speaking abilities would improve greatly. I wondered what it was about the word that made it SO common. I thought, are young people just not really certain of anything these days? Look at the statement "I was like upset that he wouldn't speak to me." Well, are you SURE you were upset? If you were, then why say "like upset"?

CHALLENGE - Be conscious of your own use of the word "like" and try to avoid using it. I promise you that your speech will dramatically improve into at least making you sound much more intelligent, or at least reflect the true intellect you have. I'll help by giving you some alternatives.

First off, you can eliminate "like" completely and not even have to replace it with any word at all. Example: "This TV I want to buy is like really expensive."
- "Like" is completely useless...yes, everyone's definition of "expensive" varies but that should be evident anyways.

"I was like, are you really going to charge me for sharing my buffet with my friend?"
- A common usage of "like" instead of simply saying "I said" or "I told" or "I asked" or any word that expresses that you verbally pronounced something!

"I'm really into shitty music, you know, like Nickelback and Fergie." - You can replace the dreaded word with "such as."

"She acted like I was a deviant when I ate that eclair out of the trash can." - Replace "like" with "as though."

Please don't call me an elitist or grammar Nazi. I truly want to improve the world a tiny bit with this Note and have my friends' language reflect their intelligence and possibly sophistication. Yes, I know, some of you are vagrant, drunken, uncouth sons of bitches...but you could be all those things and still be eloquent. After all, a 26 year old medical student who's about to treat patients' illnesses and "save lives" deserves not to come off like some Hannah Montana worshiping teenie-bopper.

Hello and Welcome!

Welcome, bienvenidos, namaste...
This is the first posting in what hopes to be a monumental, groundbreaking, and incredibly innovative blog. Readers should be prepared to be stupefied repeatedly by the material that should pop up on here. Stories that will capture the imagination. Thoughts on society that will no doubt shatter the existing structure. Political opinions that will range from ingenious to revolutionary. Opinions on music and the arts that will open you to the possibilities of the human mind. And women and men will wonder alike... how could such musings come from just one man? Well, it must be believed.

I hope you enjoyed my extremely hyperbolic introduction. We shall all see if my lofty ambitions take fruit. This is a blog for me to share my thoughts on society, politics, travel, the arts, medicine, music, and it is dedicated to, as famously written in the American Declaration of Independence, "the pursuit of happiness."

I shall also post some past musings I've had on a variety of topics that were previously posted on Facebook for my friends and "friends."

Thanks go to Dr. Bill for facilitating a terrific course that allows budding young scientists to tap into their right brain!

- Vinod