Mobb Deep – The Infamous…

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The Infamous has a very one-dimensional sound. Every song is a collection of street tales over hard drums with creepy piano lines. There is almost no variation.”Drink Away the Pain” deals with relationships, and it and a few songs have slightly softer drums. They do little to break from the general atmosphere of the problem. This is both the album’s biggest strength and weakness. Despite its simplicity, it’s one of the more confusing canonical rap albums.

The Infamous‘ main attraction is what it does to Gangsta Rap. Although most rappers use this sound just to tell you how tough they are, Mobb Deep add a layer of emotion. The piano hits and the hard drums are not just there to provide enjoyable and banging beats. There’s something cold and paranoid about them. The atmosphere is not of toughness, but of fear. Prodigy and Havoc sound more scared than confident.

It’s unique in a genre that’s known for its hedonism. It sounds pretty far from “Gangsta Gangsta” or Doggystyle. There’s a joylessness that’s all over the album. “Party Over” is about the party being over. On “Eye for an Eye”, they rap as if they stick together only for the sake of survival. The alliance doesn’t run deeper than that.”Drink Away the Pain”, although deviates from the gangsta stories, best illustrates this depth. Unlike a lot of songs where rappers talk about the pains of being an alpha male, sex in Mobb Deep’s world is just another drug that gets the pain away. Prodigy doesn’t sound like a tough guy who gets every girl on “Drink”. Instead, the messy world of sex is just as fucked up and hopeless as selling drugs in the streets.

This emotion layer is why Mobb Deep have been praised for being ‘real’, despite their background. Selling drugs and running from the police doesn’t seem very fun. The fear and paranoia in The Infamous makes it more real than any other rapper that’s confused over whether he shoots more niggaz or fucks more bitches.

The problem is, this extra emotional layer is the only thing the album has.

Mobb Deep don’t explore the street life from various angles like the Notorious B.I.G.. They only rap about the scary side of it. All they do is add an extra dimension, and not much beyonf that. Most of the songs are interchangeable. “Right Back at You”, “Party Over”, “Eye for an Eye” and “Shook Ones” are all variations on the same idea. They’re all really good, but they all do the same thing.

The problem is that Prodigy and Havoc aren’t very capable rappers. They’re competent, but they add nothing special to their raps. They’re both cursed with fairly generic voices and have few catchy lines. When Nas and Raekwon pop up, it’s a blessing just because there’s someone else rapping. The production is also one-note. It’s brilliant – every beat here hits hard, but they still all revolve around the same idea.

Only two songs manage to rise above. I already talked about “Drink Away the Pain”. The other great song is “Temperature’s Rising”, which has some coherent storytelling that make for the best lyrics in the album. It’s impossible to choose the third best song. “Shook Ones, Pt. II” is pretty good, but is it better than the hard drums of “Right Back at You” or the piano in “The Start of Your Ending”? It’s hard to choose a standout when all the songs sound the same.

It’s a good album, but it’s successful at just one idea. Don’t expect the variety of Ready to Die. The Infamous is just a single song looped for an hour. It’s a good song that I can listen to for more than ten minutes, but it begs for a standout. It’s better than most of the canonical rap albums I heard, but it beg for a “Life’s a Bitch” or a “We Can Get Down”.

3 shook ones out of 5

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Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart is the most famous African novel. It’s easy to expect it to give an unfamiliar portrait of an African society. Hopefully, it will be one that hasn’t been ‘Westernized’, and will show us the unique aspects of that society. It should be in-depth, and perhaps by showing the richness of that culture it will tell us how awful racism is, and that ‘black people’ are also people.

Achebe did show us that ‘black people’ are also people, but his method wasn’t to turn Igbo society into a tourist attraction.

Achebe’s Igbo culture doesn’t come off as very alien and different. That’s because Achebe doesn’t see it that way. If you grew up in Africa, it wouldn’t seem so exotic and odd to you. It would be the norm. Raymond Carver doesn’t treat his middle-class people as an exotic culture, and instead opts to explore the people in it and how they function in it. Achebe does the same thing here. He cares less about showing an exotic society than telling a story about human beings.

That’s why Things Fall Apart‘s themes and tropes may seem familiar. Maybe it’s not because White People ruined African culture, because there wasn’t so much difference to begin with. That leaves Achebe exploring his characters, without caging them in their culture.

Until the last part, where the White People appear, there’s barely any mention that these characters have dark skin. Instead, Achebe tells their stories dealing with topics such as parenting, childbirth, climbing the social ladder and masculinity. The last one is a big deal. It may be a common theme in a lot of Western literature, but anywhere that there are humans, there will be men and women. It’s a universal theme.

Things Fall Apart is actually more of a critique of the concept of gender, rather than embracing masculinity. Okonkwo being a protagonist doesn’t automatically means he’s supposed to be flawless. He’s not Atticus Finch. He’s sexist, but plenty of time that sexism is being challenged. In Igbo society, men are valued much more than women. “Women” is an insult. That’s why Okonkwo can deal with a son that doesn’t fit the traditional male role. He just calls him a woman and that’s it. When Okonkwo has a daughter that is much better than all his sons though, Achebe starts to question the sexism in Igbo society.

There’s a whole arc devoted to one female character and her devotion to motherhood. It’s not motherhood that’s been forced about the character. Ekwefi’s love for daughter makes her go against a spiritual custom. This is motherhood by choice. If Ekwefi’s motherhood is just a sign of submission, she wouldn’t have rebelled and went against the gods. However, she made a choice, and put what she loves above what society expects from here.

It gets even better when the White Man appears. Achebe’s sympathies may be with the Africans, and there’s no reason to expect anything else. However, it’s not the narrative of noble savages being trampled by the evil conquerer. The White Man doesn’t appear until the last part. By that time, Achebe lets us get used to the African culture, stop seeing it as exotic and start examining where it falls and succeeds. By the time the White Man comes, Achebe already gets rid of that simple narrative.

The part about the invasion is also less about the collision of ‘black’ and ‘white’ cultures. It’s about what happens in general when cultures collide. Just as we tend to view all of Africa as one thing, so do the Igbo view them as just ‘the white man’, although he could have come from anywhere in Europe. When they come, Achebe keeps viewing his own culture with a critical eye.

One of the best parts is Nwoye, Okonkwo’s bad son’s arc. The Christians offer a place for the weak to belong to. Igbo culture doesn’t just have outcasts, but is very mean towards them. They flocked to Christianity not just because the White Man conquered by force, but because something was missing in Igbo culture.

At the same, Achebe also criticizes the White People for their brutal treatment of Africans. That part is less novel, but that’s just because it’s a well-known story. Achebe criticizes less White People for what they are, but the exact method. White People became a problem not when they built a church, but when they decided that their rules should apply to every single one. It’s the lack of dialogue between the two cultures, the decision to stick to absolute morals that caused the destruction. Once one side decided to use violence instead of dialogue – it’s the White Man in this case – everything spinned out of control. Violence, and being unafraid of it, by the way, is seen as a desirable and masculine trait.

Do not get the wrong message, by the way. Things Fall Apart doesn’t say that African culture is obsolete and that the White Man somehow saved them. Rather, Achebe applies the same critical thought that any good author applies to his culture.

Things Fall Apart deserves its fame. Maybe, after devling deeper into African literature I will not find this so great. For now, this is the type of novel that deserves to be representative of the continent, if a novel can represent a continent. It doesn’t celebrate its culture and it doesn’t view its history as just bad people doing things. It respects it by treating it with the same critical eye that every other culture deserves. There’s no greater service to a culture than giving it an honest examination, not flinching from its flaws and successes. Some will think the familiarity is because Achebe is also a victim of Westernization, but perhaps ‘black’ and ‘white’ people are more alike than we think. Maybe, the missionaries have thought like this, Things wouldn’t’ve Fallen Apart.

4 yams out of 5

Avicii – True

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Despite putting a lot of effort into fighting against White People in the name of anti-racism, silly SJW’s forgot one crucial, undeniable fact about White People. White People can’t dance.

That’s not true. There are plenty of white musicians who made great dance music. Listening to True, though, makes you take that statement seriously. It has nothing to do with the so-called ‘country’ influence. In fact, Avicii fails to understand that genre, too. Is that cultural appropriation?

True doesn’t combine Country/Folk and EDM. In order to do that, Avicii would need an understanding of these genres, and to find a common ground between them. It can be hard with these genres, which are almost opposite. The difficulty is not an excuse for the lack of imagination.

“Wake Me Up” is a mash-up of acoustic guitars, typical serious lyrics about profound positive truths and a melodic drop, just in case Skrillex is too much for you. Most of the tracks are the same – the Adele-aping “Addicted to You” and “Hey Brother”.

As pop songs, they’re not too bad. Listening to them after people stopped blasting them from their phones, they’re actually pretty good. Avicii isn’t the songs’ strength, though. Whenever Avicii steps up to provide a melodic breakdown, he seems to be trying to combine beautiful melodies with the energy of Dada Life.

This doesn’t work. Dada Life get their energy from their aggressive, buzzing sound. Melody can accompny rhythm, but it can’t take its place. That’s the problem with Avicii. He thinks melody can lead a dance song, and that sticking an acoustic guitar makes your song country. It’s like a worse version of Anrew Huang’s 26 Genre Song.

It gets worse whenever Avicii doesn’t pretend to experiment. “Dear Boy” is stretched to seven minutes in an attempt to make us thing it’s progressive house. “You Make Me” is nonsense. “Hope There’s Someone” is a useless cover that also thinks there’s room for such seriousness at parties. At least, when attempting ‘Country’ Avicii had enough spark to attempt making a catchy melody. It was false experimentation, but Avicii believed he was stepping into something original. The more ordinary pop songs are Music For People Who Don’t Like Dance Music.

Only two songs here rise above everything, and oddly enough they come from the two styles. “Shame On Me” finally finds a bridge between Bluegrass and EDM, has the best melody on the album and a talk box. “Lay Me Down” is just a great pop song, and the only thing here that has a bassline.

Avicii became one of the most popular DJ’s because he delivers dance music that contains little of what makes it work, yet has all the apperance. There is a future for him, if he’s willing to give up making EDM and settle for Pop music. He does have a better touch with melody than other famous producers, but this isn’t the genre he should working in.

2 brothers out of 5

Focus (2015)

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Focus is a pretty meta film. Like the characters, it walks a very thin line. It’s never clear what it wants. It’s always on the verge of either fucking up big time or a major success. The end result is similar to the character’s end. They haven’t hit the bottom, but it looks pretty bad compared to the peaks.

The beginning is promising. Nicky (Will Smith) seems desperate to try to prove to us how cool he is, but the filmmakers know the life of crime isn’t that glamorous. Jess (Margot Elise) shows the humanity of her character so much that her good looks move to the back.

The traits of the characters drive the story. It may be about con artists and big money schemes, but the twists and turns aren’t as prominent as the characters’ reactions and relationships. Nicky is a jaded, borderline nihilistic person who cons only because he got nothing else to. Jess is a woman so excited by the thrill of theft that she could easily lose herself. There are a few key scenes which focus on schemes and whether or not they’ll fail. The intensity comes not from just wondering what the outcome will be, but how it will affect the characters.

The film doesn’t always go in that direction though. The most powerful scene is ruined by a monologue desperately trying to convince how cool Nicky is. It’s just a string of events less probable than Elvis Presley landing with his alien friends. They also fail at the climax. Instead of putting the characters face to face with being, for a change, out of control it hands it back to them at the last minute. It may be a clever twist, but it’s a cop out that prevents us from getting close to the characters.

There’s also a terrible, Tarantino-inspired soundtrack full of songs that tell you how cool these characters are because they’re, y’know, big time criminals in a film. The characters are in a constant state of paranoia and fear. They’re not glamorous criminals who smoke a cigar and suddenly their enemies die. Focus shows us the humanity of these people. The soundtrack wants to drown it out.

The soundtrack, coupled with the conclusions to a few great scenes try to negate this. It may seem clever to put such songs in what’s a pretty paranoid film, but this ‘contrast’ has been run to the ground. We get it. The soundtrack doesn’t match the emotions the character feel. When does this cliche keeps appearing because filmmakers are just awful at music? There isn’t an obvious antidote to this. It’s not like half the soundtrack is Front Line Assembly and Nine Inch Nails track. That would’ve made a bipolar soundtrack that expresses exactly how the characters feel. With nothing to contrast the coolness, the soundtrack is there just to drown out the humanity.

The attempts at making this another glamorization of criminals only prevents it from being a great film. The climax is less of a cop out than they hinted, and Smith’s and Elise’s great performances are enough to push the crappy soundtrack in the back. It’s not a brilliant film, but these are 104 entertaining minutes that show you that you don’t have to dumb down in order to make a fun, satisfying film.

3 stolen watches out of 5

The Prodigy – The Day Is My Enemy

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If your main gripe with The Day Is My Enemy is the lack of new ideas, maybe you should reconsider your status as a Prodigy fan. Maybe, all these years, they just weren’t for you. You thought they were, because they were brilliant. They were just brilliant in a field that’s less important to you. If you want to hear how far Electronic Dance Music can be pushed and still be banging, maybe you should try MUST DIE!, Jack U or Chemical Brothers.

The Prodigy’s sound is not original and never was. People were simply too stupid to notice the common ground between Dance, Rock and Hip-Hop. No classic Prodigy song is great because of its uniqueness. The Prodigy’s music always had one aim. It wanted to bang. It’s no different than early Skrillex. They found some variety in their sound, but the heart never changed. Even when they went from the Rave of Experience and Jilted Generation to the Big Beat of Fat of the Land, the music function in the same way.

The closest thing to a new idea in The Day is My Enemy are the few very rock-based tracks, the drumless “Beyond the Deathray” and the House-influenced title-track. Only “Beyond the Deahtray” is actually new territory. It’s an instrumental that’d be much more at home in Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile. Their music already flirts with rock, so when they shift the focus to the guitars and the vocals in “Medicine” and “Wall of Death” it’s logical progression. As for the title-track, there’s something unique in its house-inspired rhythm and how it sounds like it was recorded from a battlefield.

All the rest sees Prodigy revisiting old ideas, with various degress of success. The few experiments they did in Invaders Must Die are chucked away. Everything here is driven by aggressive breakbeats, lots of noises and shouting. Every track can fit an old album. “Destroy” is from The Fat of the Land. “Roadblox” brings back the fast pace of Jilted Generation. “Rok-Weiler” is from Always Outnumbered. “Wild Frontier” with its melody (and some of the best sounding breakbeats ever) can fit in Invaders Must Die. Even Flux Pavilion can’t add anything new. On “Rhythm Bomb” he just adds some wobble noises to typical Prodigy rhythms.

You don’t even need to get over the feeling of Deja vu. Almost every track here is a winner. “Ibiza” is the only track that could be left off and the album won’t be worse off. I understand the guys are pissed at the modern EDM scene, but the track only has a decent break and someone ranting over it with a heavy accent. Everything else here explains why nobody else pursues that sound. It will be very hard to beat Prodigy in their own. We’ve heard tracks like “Medicine”, “Roadblox”, “Wild Frontier” and “Destroy” before, but these tracks are just as good as the old ones. Prodigy’s discography isn’t too big yet, so as long as they’ll keep revisiting the same ideas with the same brilliance I’ll keep listening. The old sound of The Day is My Enemy isn’t the sound of old people lagging behind the times. It’s old masters coming back to explain why the sound was so popular in the first place.

3.5 roadblox out of 5

Ian McEwan – Atonement

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There are two competing novels here. One is driven by a character’s flaw and how it brought her to do a terrible thing. The other is a manipulative, Shawsank Redemption-like tale where the author takes a character who has it made and puts a lot of external troubles on it in order to make us sympathize. Surrounding these novels is some great writing that made you understand why so few authors try minimalism.

There’s no reason to sympethize with Robbie. He has no character. He has no flaw to struggle against. The trouble he faces is all external, and it doesn’t take any effort to just pile terrible events on the character. It’s especially easy to pile on these events, and leave the character almost unscarred to show us how strong and capable he is.

Maybe McEwan wants to inspire me to be good with Robbie’s character, but Robbie needs to have a character first. After being sent to the frontlines because of nothing, Robbie remains humanitarian and nice to everyone. He tries to save a woman and a child, and even a pencil pusher that’s almost being lynched.

Why should he want to save him, though? Robbie ate shit all the way. His only companions aren’t very pleasant. Why shouldn’t anger take the best of him? Soldiers are often angry at ‘pencil pushers’ and office workers. These people make a lot of decisions from behind their desks without seeing the bombings and the fighting. There’s no reason for Robbie to try to save anyone, let alone what soldiers especially despise. There is no depth to this ‘goodness’. It’s a hook to try to make us like Robbie, but that’s exactly what makes him so boring and unappealing.

Only at the end Robbie does something less than admirable, but McEwan doesn’t let all his events reach their logical conclusion. Robbie is barely scarred. All that needs to prevent him from hitting the bottom is some cliched crap about the power of love. Does McEwan thinks that after all Robbie went through, a women’s love is enough? That’s a recipe for cheap escapism.

By never letting Robbie succumb to the logical conclusion of going through hell, he paints a world of black and white. He doesn’t want to. He tries really hard to get to the emotional core of the characters. It’s espceially evident in the small characters and Briony, but all of them deserved so much more than being on a novel where Robbie stars.

Briony is, if not exactly complex, a real character. The deed she tries to atone for comes out of her personality. She does it not just to make the plot move because it’s the reasonable thing to do for a character who lives more inside her head than in the world. Everything else about her stems from this. All her other decisions and actions comes from her character. The end of her story is also consistent with her themes.

It’s almost misandrist how McEwan gives zero depth to the male character while writing Briony so real.

The post-modern Gotcha! at the end doesn’t really redeem this flaw. If anything, it just makes Briony far deeper and Robbie shallower. It’s a twist that serves the story, but it doesn’t excuse spending so many pages with someone with less character than a shovel. It doesn’t excuse the complete lack of even hinting at Robbie is not a saint. I recall how Atwood failed back in The Blind Assassin. Being sexually attractive is not enough to make a man a saint.

Between these two stories there is a lot of writing. It’s mostly descriptions, but if everyone described like McEwan then it’d make reading so much easier.

McEwan’s greatest prose is found in the middle, writing about the war effort. His attention to small details and every person who passes by is not because it makes it ‘more real’, or to pad the book in attempts to impress. He writes every passer-by like he’s the star of his own novel. Every one of them has his own little short story. They’re so good that you tend to forget Robbie is even there.

It’s so good that the bluntness can be forgiven. McEwan writes like a sledgehammer. He describes everything, and then writes a literary critique of it. This makes Atonement a funny novel. It’s both long and very easy to read. I’d normally attack an author for being that blunt, but it’s deceptive. The emotional insight he shows with the soldiers, both on the frontlines and the hospital contains much more than what he writes.

How an author can fail on what his story focuses and writes beautifully the sidelines is beyond me. Atonement is written by an author of great talent. There’s enough her to enjoy – Briony’s character, the various digressions and descriptions – that it’s easy to forget where McEwan fails. I’m really tired about reading about sexually attractive, righteous and perfect guys whose only troubles are external. It’s not a brilliant novel, but it has plenty of hints of brilliance.

3 nurses out of 5

Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth

Scientists successfully splice Woolly Mammoth DNA into Elephants

Finally, after thousands of years (Or millions, depending which book you read) humanity has made its first step towards manifest destiny. No, America is not the final frontier. Space is also not the final frontier. Neither of these frontier solve the crucial problems that people have been unjustly forced to deal with.

Our world contains no Woolly Mammoths.

The fact that people aren’t even aware that it’s a problem is proof that it’s a problem. Since both thinking and not thinking it’s a problem constitutes as proof in this case, I declare the lack of Mammoths to be set as the top priority at the UN.

We have made progress regarding our recognition of the problem. Ice Age was a pretty popular series of animated films, which starred a Woolly Mammoth. Skyrim, a terrible game known for committing the crime of not having Turn Based Combat with Pause Button, has mammoths in it. It wasn’t enough, though. Ice Age isn’t recognized as the most important film series. People still think Skyrim is at fault for not being Icewind Dale. No one is discussing mammoths.

Scientists do, though. After doing some reflecting, here are a few of the problems that we will solve by bringing back Woolly Mammoths

No More Countries

There will be no need for countries. Every place will be recognized as to whether it has mammoths or not, and it will be desirable to be only close to mammoths. Anywhere that doesn’t have mammoths will be abandoned. There will be no need to draw lines between zones. Mammoths know no bounds

No More Religious Arguing

Everyone will convert to mammoth worship. Atheism will become irrelevant. Who cares whether there’s a God or not? If he exists, he also worships mammoths.

People Will Stop Breeding

We will voluntarily extinct. Once the mammoth is back in the house, our job is done. We were put here to bring it back. It’s time for us to leave the Earth alone and let the mammoths enjoy it, instead of clogging it with more babies. Competing against them for resources is a crime punishable by being exiled back in time to an era without mammoths

Veganism Dies

We will have to eat any animal that is making the mammoth angry. You might see a contradiction here. We’re supposed to die off, yet also serve the mammoth? Yes. So long as we’re here, we need to do our best by eliminating anything that hurts a mammoth. We need to kill any animal that competes with it. We should also eat it, so the meat won’t go to trash.