Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

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The appeal of Boom Bap still mystifies me. I’m sure it gives the people who listen to it a comfortable feeling. They feel tough in how their beats are hard, but not too hard. The lyrics are about being a tough guy, but it’s never too vulgar. Boom Bap also makes you smart. It’s the Hip-Hop equivalent of boring Post-Punk. The main appeal of it is that it’s not accessible.

I know, I know. Talking about the fanbase takes us nowhere. Diving through the ‘wordplay’ and ‘metaphores’ of GZA or Ghostface never appealed to me because they never gave me a hook to latch on to. In fact, nearly every rapper that tries to sound hard over those type of beats comes off as pathetic. Smooth flows and jazz horns don’t sound tough, just restrained.

I was ready to dislike Big L. A Boom Bap album full of punchlines has nothing to offer me. Then I hear Big L talking about how if he has AIDS, then every other girl has it. The same songs include various threats of rape and murder and about how your family will be dressed in all black.

This is everything I wanted in street rap that’s about being tough. All those rap songs tell you how rough it is in the streets, yet they sound calm. Big L is angry. The punchlines aren’t just good on paper. I don’t want to hear anyone else say them but Big L. His performance is so energetic. It’s impossible to imagine him not rapping any clever lines. ‘Sounding hungry’ is dropped often in rap reviews, but there’s no better way to describe Big L. He’s immersed in the battle rap bullshit, sounding like he genuinely believes everything he says. Check his verse on “Da Graveyard” and how he loses rhythm because of how literally hungry he sounds. You can imagine him biting the microphone. Everyone else sounds utterly pathetic after him.

I always found ‘complex’ flows to be overrated. A lot of multi-syllabic and interior rhymes aren’t helpful if it’s just a string of rhythmless words. Expression is far more important. No one in Wu-Tang Clan can muster the same anger Big L does when he says he can’t afford the “O-R” in ‘poor’. Big L emphasizes catchy lines that stick in your head. His flow is clear and his to follow, rather than pile rhyme upon rhyme upon rhyme. After all, what’s the point of dissing sucka MC’s if the line doesn’t make sense?

Surprisingly, the beats keep up with Big L. It’s hard to imagine a Boom Bap beat fitting him (“Flamboyant” sounds better with Popeska’s bass growls) but they do. Although they never become true bangers, they at least don’t do the boring smooth crap. They’re skeletal, driven only by drums and basslines. There’s a roughness, often exeggerated to them. I can’t imagine Wu-Tang rapping over “Da Graveyard”. The drums are too loud. Even at their more atmospheric moments, they beat RZA at his own game.

Beats like “All Black” sounds detached from musical conventions. It’s deliberate. Like Big L’s demeanor and lines, it’s an expression of the personality. Besides punchlines, Big L has the street nihilist personality to give his raps context. Beats like “All Black” sounds like the producers couldn’t care about whether the beat is appealing or not. They lack the pretentiousness of RZA’s beats since they never try to be artistic using conventions. There are no sounds posturing as ‘weird’. The producers sound like they simply don’t give a fuck just like Big L.

The album as apparently ignored until Big L’s death. That’s weird, since the album doesn’t need a death connected to it. Sure, you can connect L’s nihilistic attitude but he doesn’t explore it like Biggie does. He simply does the Boom Bap thing much better than others. He has more passion, funnier and catchier lines, better beats and doesn’t obscure the songs behind ‘complexity’. It’s everything you wanted in a battle rap album. 36 Chambers is slightly better than this, but Big L almost tops it and he’s just one person. He’s that good.

3.5 families dressed in all black out of 5

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Massive Attack – Blue Lines

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Blue Lines is unlucky. It couldn’t rely on the huge influence it had for lasting critical acclaim. Everyone talks about how outdated this is and they’re right. Pretty much any work of Trip-Hop that came after this pushes the genre way more forward. You don’t have to look too far. Just listen to some Tricky, Portishead and UNKLE and you’ll find artists with a wider vision, a more diverse palette of influence and more conceptual depth. Their concepts are also so different that they hold Blue Lines back from being outdated.

Trip-Hop has a lot in common with other 90’s genres such as Gangsta Rap, Nu-Metal and Industrial Rock. It’s full of darkness, sexuality and general pessimism. The approach may be more artistic, but the negative moods remain the same. Blue Lines is the opposite. Instead of drawing abandoned and heartless landscapes, it’s enjoying life.

In truth, you shouldn’t compare it to other works in the genre. Even the influence have different filters. Massive draw from the smoother side of Hip-Hop and from the pleasant, easy side of Soul. ‘Easy Listening’ describes best the album. The breaks are slow, but funky and still hard. The rapping is so laid-back there are no rhymes to follow. Barring the oddly aggressive “Safe From Harm”, the singers sing about the virtues of love and being thankful.

Many artists have tried to make an album like Blue Lines. A lot of rappers made this type of ‘smooth rap’, but no one does it like Massive Attack. Unlike rappers who focus primarily on impressing you with rhymes (that are boring anyway), Massive Attack put more emphasis on mood. “Blue Lines” is better than anything by A Tribe Called Quest because of how precise it is in getting the atmosphere right. The break is rolling with a perfect balance between banging and not being too loud. The hushed rapping fits with the vibes. They’re not out to impress you. They’re chilling with you to the beat.

Maybe what people mean when they say the album is ‘outdated’ is because of how unambitious it is. The unassuming title-track makes it obvious. Unlike later producers who made huge statements with their albums, Massive Attack are trying to create good vibes here. Nothing here sounds revolutionary, like a new sound that inspired a lot of people. “One Love” is just a reggea song with more a Hip-Hop beat. “Unfinished Sympathy” is what happens when a Soul singer meets some Hip-Hop producer.

Yet this unassuming, unambitious nature doesn’t ruin the album’s quality. It’s only unambitious because its aim is to create nothing good vibes. The album is perfect when you hang out with a few friends not doing anything big, or when the party is at its end and most people have gone home. The atmosphere is still social and danceable, but slower and content rather than happy. It’s shocking to think this was released so early. This album was available for everyone, and smooth rappers couldn’t imitate it?

Blue Lines is an oddity in the Trip-Hop genre. It’s out of place in the canon because of how different then approach is. It may not be as deep as Mezzanine or far-reaching as Psyence Fiction, but there are few albums like it. Sure, there’s a lot of smooth Jazz and smooth Soul and smooth Rap. Massive Attack combines all these for an album that perfects the calm and social atmosphere. Forget about genres. It’s such a pleasant album that I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to like here.

3.5 blue lines out of 5

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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The album sounds exactly like the build-up, and that’s not an entirely good thing.

Starting off with a long digression about the days before the release is pointless. In the end, it’s boring and in a few years most of the listeners will have no idea what it was like. What you should know is that the album went through countless name changes and tracklistings. It was so extreme that even at the end, right after Kanye streamed the album in a party his mind kept changing.

At first, it’s an artist slowly discovering what their new album is and showing us every step of the way. When even on the day of release they keep changing it, dumping all the tracks and not releasing the album on time it’s clear something is wrong. Kanye is talked about like some mad genius, but these qualities are always struggling against each other.

The last two Kanye albums that got people so hyped were tightly focused. It’s bizarre to think the same Kanye on this album also made “Runaway” a few years back. That song goes for 9 minutes and doesn’t waste a single second. It’s the definition of ‘astonishing’. Here, Kanye West has no idea what to do in 2 minutes. “Father Stretch My Hands” is divided into two parts, both of which don’t make any sense. It’s weird melodic-Trap-Rap thing that’s cool on paper, but it goes nowhere.

Kanye is incapable of writing a Pop song here. He actually has a hook, but he never turns that song into an actual Pop song. He jumps from one section to the next. The music it has more in common with is that spastic Post-Hardcore thing Chiodos and Protest the Hero do.

What’s weirder is that this isn’t an artist just dumping ideas. Half of it makes sense as a whole album, and the other sounds like things Kanye just got out of his system. Tracks like “Waves”, “FML”, “Wolves” and even “Fade” point to a new direction for Kanye. They see him pushing further into the Alternative R&B movement, but still maintaining a lot of Hip-Hop influence and a free-from structure. They’re exciting in how weird and accessible they are at the same time. It’s what Pop musicians make when they feel brave enough.

Then there’s “Freestyle 4” and “Feedback”, where Kanye sounds like he’s spitting some verses that he had no idea where to put. “Highlights” is a great Auto-Tuned Pop song that gets lost. Why is “No More Parties in LA” here? It sounds like it belong in 2004. I’m sure many will be excited over it, but it sounds out of place and only reinforces the feeling Kanye had no idea what to do with this.

The structure of the album creates a weird effect. Almost every song sounds worst in it, yet the album works great as a whole. It’s easy to miss the beauty of “Waves” and “Wolves” when sit next to “30 Hours” and “Feedback”, but it’s fascinating to hear this from beginning to end. It’s not exactly a genre-bending album. Kanye’s too unfocused to this. The album is still varied and experimental, just because of Kanye’s nature. As scattered as it is, it shows that perhaps Kanye is incapable of making a bad album.

The result is a confusing album that challenges in a fun way. It’s hard to get a grip on what the album tries to be because there are literally two albums fighting for dominance. Listening to see it is seeing an artist who is now original by nature, who doesn’t have to try too hard to be weird. It lacks the focus of Yeezus, but it proves Kanye still has plenty to offer. He was just in a mental state that didn’t allow him to make a coherent album at the moment. Why didn’t he include “All Day” or “FourFiveSeconds” though?

There are also plenty of songs to take away from. In isolation, plenty of these songs work. They may less immediate, but “Ultralight Beam” and “Fade” are both new directions for Kanye West. The former is a weird Gospel number that doesn’t sound like anything. The latter jumps on the Deep House bandwagon, but destroys everything released today with how it progresses, until it reaches the brilliant lyrics (“I’ve been on my shit/Whole world on my dick”) and the breakdown. “30 Hours” is minimalistic and simple, but also beauitful in its serenity. Kanye even managed to produce the best skit of all time with “I Love Kanye”. It actually adds a lot, stuck in the middle of the album. If you need any further proof Kanye is off his mind in the best way, this is it. If the album wasn’t messy enough, Kanye pauses it to talk about himself.

The Life of Pablo is a big event, but the album is overall underwhelming. It’s scattershot and messy. It’s not just that Kanye can’t hold himself back, but that he doesn’t know what his album should be. He can’t even settle on the idea of ‘messy album with no direction’. Still, it’s fun to just hear him try to find sense, and it does have “Fade”.

Rihanna – Anti

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Rihanna wasn’t supposed to last this long. She’s talented and charismatic, but not enough. Her voice sounds unique now only because we’ve heard it in a dozen songs. She doesn’t have the iimmediatepersonas of other artists like Carly Rae or Melanie Martinez or Lana Del Rey. She always had good hooks and connections with famous DJ’s. That’s why so later in her career she could still make a crappy song like “We Found Love” a hit.

Her best songs were never creative. She just had good vocals and hooks. What makes Anti sounds so weird at first is because there was no build up to such an album. There was nothing weird or wild about Rihanna. She was always a conformist, so much so that she pretend to be a tough rapper on “Bitch Better Have My Money”. Even Bieber’s move to AltR&B makes more sense. He was huge. Rihanna doesn’t feel as huge as him, but just a talented vocalist with good hooks.

As brave as this album is, it’s misguided and pointless at the end. For a while I was sure it was incomplete, with the accidental leak at all. It takes a while until you realize “Kiss It Better” is pretty good. “Consideration” and “James Joint” are interludes which feel more like B-Sides recorded for the heck of it, just to try it. The pounding drums of the first track are interesting, but the novelty wears off quickly. There’s not much there besides Rihanna telling us she’s independent and we should respect her for who she is.

Who is she, though? When you adopt cliches that tell me you’re artistic, how artistic and original are you, anyway? Bieber didn’t just adopt the atmospherics of AltR&B. He experimented with it, putting the stripped-down “Love Yourself” right next to the moombahton of “Sorry”.

Anti is artistic and experimental in a predictable way. Instead of adding new things, it just removes club-friendly beats for ‘atmospheric and minimalist’ beats’. Instead of hooks, we get vocal acrobatics. Just because these things aren’t so radio-friendly doesn’t make them good.

These elements aren’t supposed to make your record inaccessible, anyway. Anyone who thinks experimental music is meant to be difficult on purpose never heard great experimental music. Experimental music ism’t merely different, but it find a way to make its difficulty and oddness enjoyable. Experimental music isn’t so much about ‘being difficult’, but about finding new ways to enjoy music.

Rihanna can’t find something to replace her club-bangers with. The last three tracks are all a throwback to ‘Good Ol’ Soul Music’ with vocal acrobatics. It’s just an obvious attempt to cater to ‘serious listeners’, sort of like how “Titanium” was for a while the only acceptable EDM song. What’s their point, though, besides being a throwback? Can’t I just listen to “Good Ol’ Soul Music” instead of Rihanna’s copy? Just compare “Never Ending” to “Stay”. The former is ‘stripped down’ by only having an acoustic guitar doing something in the background, and Rihanna doesn’t sound interesting. She just sounds serious.

Seriousness is another problem. A common misconception is that ‘quality music’ is always serious. It’s the sort of stupidity you expect from young people who just discovered guitars. Rihanna thinks that by never having fun we will respect her, but all it makes is for a joyless, boring album. The best tracks here are the most fun. The guitar of “Kiss It Better” and the bravado of “Desperado” are a lot of fun. Both are progress. They take the toughness of Rihanna and put it in a more melodic, soulful direction. It’s this mix of soulfulness and aggression which makes it genuinaly experimental, weird but fun.

You can imagine Rihanna in the studio, scowling like a character from Texhnolyze writing off ideas. A producer suggests bass wobbles there. Another one points out to Korn’s remix of “Bitch Better” and suggests adding a metalcore breakdown. Another one thinks that maybe she should try to rip off Black Moth Super Rainbow. “No,” Rihanna says. She’s a serious artists now, so we must not do something too crazy. Let’s just make everything vaguely atmospheric using a lot of small sounds and sings low-key. Let’s make none of the songs stick out, because serious artists make albums and not songs.

Too bad Korn’s addition of guitars to “Bitch Better” is wilder than everything here. Even if you take an album-centric approach, you still need songs that make the album worthwhile. I could enjoy an album full of “Kiss It Better”‘s and “Desperado”‘s. They may not be big singles, but they sound like complete songs with hooks. “Yeah, I Said It” just sounds like a collection of pseudo-atmospheric sounds and vocals. It’s almost a parody of alternative R&B.

Or maybe Rihanna just smoke a lot of weed and the whole album is meant to be enjoyed in a drug-induced haze. There are a lot of psychedelic albums that are very enjoyable without drugs, so I don’t see how it is a defense.

Anti is an important album, but only the surface. Rihanna officially becomes a ‘serious artist’ in the worst ways possible. It’s serious, uses the most predictable techniques to inform you it’s artistic but doesn’t contain an actual novel idea or weird. It doesn’t really challenge you or startle. It’s just boring and joyless most of the time. Rihanna could make a great album if she looked to “Desperado” but here, it’s mostly just posturing.

2 bitches who owe Rihanna money out of 5

 

Best Songs of 2015 – Part I

It’s been proven countless times. Music today is terrible, unlike music of the past. There’s no reason to listen to Enter Shikari’s experiments, Skrillex’s frantic energy or Martinez’s outcast pop when you can listen to Bowie’s outdated glam or Zeppelin’s pseudo-blues. Still, there are some good songs made today. This is the first part.

30. CHVRCHES – Leave a Trace

CHVRCHES’ first album was mainly songs about telling people to fuck off using cutsy synthpop. The new album is more varied but this song shows where their strength is. As always, it’s not explicit but Lauren’s harsh tone makes the line “Take care to leave a trace of a man” sounds so cruel. Lauren sounds hateful. She can barely view the guy who broke her heart as a man.

29. Barely Alive – Rough & Rugged

The Bass Music was scene was disappointing this year. The experimentation wasn’t as wide-eyed as before. Barely Alive still sound like it’s 2013, taking wobbles and mixing them in different types of beats. “Rough and Rugged” belongs in that unique house genre we don’t see enough of. It has a more complex, Hip-Hop influenced drumbeat. Plus, it’s full of tempo changes which gives a sense of structure. It’s a brilliant dance song, not just a DJ tool.

28. Of Monsters & Men – Wolves Without Teeth

This is the ideal music to play Skyrim to. ‘Glacial’ is the best word to describe it. Was playing Skyrim inspired them to switch to a colder sound? Everything sounds like icicles shivering in a cave. “Wolves Without Teeth” has the best melody of all the songs there. It helps it’s slightly warmer and less towards the epic side. It’s the perfect song to stroll in a snowy forest to.

27. Lana Del Rey – Music to Watch Boys To

Lana’s voice was always sexy as hell, but on this song she pushes it to the limit. It’s her sexiest song so far with the blunt statement on how she watches boys. There’s still an air of menace here, but the darkness in her music has been toned. Still, unlike a lot of singers who sing about sex Lana is actually being sexual.

26. Skrillex & Jauz – Squad Out!

I don’t know who’s most responsible for the brilliance of this. Jauz has been making great tracks and Skrillex has been moving away from wobbles. Still, he’s involved in a wobble-heavy song and the result is a throwback. It’s in the same style of Barely Alive but the wobbles are more vulgar now. The song is pure wobbles in a way that makes it border on a self-parody. It’s a trite expression, but it assaults the ears with wobbles more producers are killing for. It also changes as it goes on. Hopefully this trend will continue.

25. Insane Clown Posse – Mr. White Suit

They were never as bad as people said they are. They have a lot of horrible songs, but they also have a unique approach to Hip-Hop. No one sounds like them and no song by them sounds like “Mr. White Suit”. It’s a joyous song about a character who makes everyone’s life perfect. It has 3 hooks, all of which are incredibly catchy. The lyrics got no hidden messages about killing or kinky sex or bad humor. If this song was made by any other group, it’d get some acclaim.

24. The Prodigy – Medicine

The popularity of The Prodigy is baffling and obvious at the same time. They borrowed enough from Hip-Hop, Rock and Dance at an era where they all dominated the mainstream. Yet there’s something heavy about them. Their music is creative but it always takes a backseat to beating up the listener. “Medicine” is the best example of this from the new album. The vocals are what make the song. They sound wrong, like the singer is high on some drug and is probably talking to someone who isn’t there. I’m sure people have lots of great sex in their shows but songs like these make it feel like everyone just wants to beat each other up.

23. Faith No More – Cone of Shame

Thank God Patton discovered his voice again. He’s a brilliant musician who often gets caught up in being weird. “Cone of Shame” is an old-fashioned weird Nu Metal song with progressive elements. It builds slowly until it explodes into a climax where Patton alternates between screaming and singing in a clean, beautiful way. This isn’t weirdness for weirdness’ sake but an idea that changes and eventually concludes.

22. Bring Me the Horizon – Oh No

Listen to this and then listen to their debut. How many bands did such a radical change? Most of the new album is still rock, but this detour into gentle EDM is the complete opposite of their beginning and makes perfect sense. They borrow more from Nu Metal now anyway. There’s a unique class of break-up songs that sound both triumphant, accepting, sad and angry at the same. Sykes mourns the end while telling his lover to fuck off with a beautiful chorus that, hopefully, won’t be remixed in an Avicii song.

21. Papa Roach – Gravity

By this point, Papa Roach are a stadium rock band. That’s okay, because Shaddix is a good vocalist and they know how to write a hook. This attempt at making Hip-Hop again (And it’s their most Hip-Hop orientated song yet), like Horizon’s aforementioned track, is weird but they sound comfortable in it. Shaddix was one of the weaker rappers of the scene but here his voice is clear and he sounds like he missed rapping. The chorus is beautiful, too, sounding more tender than anything they made recently. It’s both a moment of tenderness and experimentation in the middle of an ordinary stadium rock album.

20. Carly Rae Jepsen – I Really Like You

Carly shouldn’t be a big thing. She makes simple, joyous Pop music about liking boys. Since now every Pop artist has a statement to make, her simple take on Pop is a statement on its own. Now that we forgot the endless parodies of “Call Me Maybe” we can enjoy this music for what it is. Until I heard this, I didn’t realize how much we needed this type of music. Carly sounds so happy as she repeats the word ‘really’ over and over. It’s a break from the Pop singers who are fine with misogyny to be with the cool guys and the messy personalities of Del Rey and Martinez. Now, I love the latter (the former can die) but we need this, too. Carly won where Swift lost. Unlike Swift, she sounds human, confused and excited about love.

19. Excision – Live Wire

Exicison used this as the final track for his mix. It’s not just because it’s brilliant, but because it disposes of all build-ups. The previous Bass Music tracks on this list still have breaks between the dros. Once “Live Wire” kicks in, it switches tempos constantly and proves how such a tiny change makes the same sounds feel different. “Live Wire” doesn’t add anything new, but it shows a producer perfecting his genre.

18. Primitive Race – Long in the Tooth

I’m glad someone decided 90’s Industrial Rock needs to come back. Everything that made that scene great is here. Raymond Watts is still an arresting personality with his vocals – menacing, badass and sexual in a way that sounds antisexual. The formula remains the same. Write a rock song and find enough bizarre mechanical sounds to stretch it to 5 minutes. Some genres are confining, but Industrial Rock isn’t.

17. Melanie Martinez – Dollhouse

I don’t get how Martinez isn’t bigger. Most Pop stars, even the sad ones, are personalities that society loves. Del Rey and Tove Lo have their troubles but if they were outcasts, they couldn’t complain about sex with bad guys. Martinez is an outcast, and just that makes her more original than all the rest. “Dollhouse” isn’t her best song but it’s the definitive one. It captures her aesthetics its themes. Her obsession with things having a nice cover to hide the terrible is here. The melody sounds like a nursery rhyme and the lyrics talk about a family which is dysfunctional underneath their perfect exterior. She could be more subtle, but there’s enough venom even in her worst lines to make them effective.

16. Fall Out Boy – Centuries

If you’re a rock band who fills up stadiums, songs about heartbreak start becoming less believable. You got groupies in the back. “Centuries” is a stadium anthem that sounds sincere. It’s the cockiest Rock song since Kid Rock’s Rap-Rock album. It makes most rappers sound humble. Stumpg goes on and on about how we will remember him for centuries and then others they’ll disappear soon. If I made a song as good as this, I’d be cocky too.

15. Crazy Town – Lemonface

Yes, they returned. They got critical backlash mostly for being in a genre that didn’t have a loty of mainstream bands. Their brand of Rap-Rock was closer to the wide-eyed approach of PWEI and Urban Dance Squad. “Lemonface” sees them going Industrial Rock, which they always flirted with anyway. You’ll hate it if you hate that brand of cocky angst rock that was big in the 90’s, but there’s something fun about how aggressive and happy it is at the same time.

Eric B. & Rakim – Paid in Full

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For an album considered to be so influential – Rakim is often said to ‘revolutionize MC’ing’ – it’s amazing how little sounds like it. A lot borrowed Rakim’s ‘smooth’ flow, but that’s one thing. This album’s approach and the rest of his followers are completely different. To be great is to be misunderstood, indeed.

Paid in Full has little in common with the boom bap era that followed. Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Black Moon, early Roots cared little how the music sounded. Or, if they did, it was so minimalistic it lost any kind of artistic merit. These were artists who relied on lyrics dense and complex enough to keep you coming. They turned down the musical elements so the lyrics would remain in focus, in a move very reminiscent of Leonard Cohen.

Some of them were successful at that – “N.Y. State of Mind” first grabs you with the quick flow, and then you notice the amount of details and catchy lines that bring its story to life. Some were just okay. Wu-Tang Clan had a macho bullshit charm but a lack of drums. Some were awful, like how the tracks of Things Fall Apart blur together or how Liquid Swords barely has any drums. This approach failed mainly when rappers wanted to convince you how great you are. Despite the rapper telling you over and over that his rhymes are dope and that he’s badass, the music that accompanied him was subdued, smooth and nearly non-existant. The instrumentals of Things Fall Apart and Liquid Swords don’t sound tough or confident but scared to catch your attention.

In Paid in Full, the music echoes Rakim’s sentiment. He’s as good as you heard he is. He’s less dense than GZA, but he’s far more quotable. Density is often a barrier to hide behind, anyway. Rakim sometimes doesn’t need to rhyme. A line like ‘Remember me? The one you got your ideas from?” stings, especially when you realize you know plenty of these lines already. Rakim’s strength is that there is a clear rhythm to his words, a rhythm that invites you more to try to rap along than to marvel at how complex it is.

The music behind helps to make Rakim’s boasts believable. There’s a reason why there are 3 instrumentals here. The beats’ purpose is not to provide background music but to express the same thing Rakim does. The drums are in the front. In “I Ain’t No Joke”, they’re stomping. “Paid in Full” has such a beautiful bassline and break – if someone told me it’s the best Hip-Hop beat he ever heard, I would understand.

When the title-track rolled around, it was clear the true followers of this album weren’t Wu-Tang, Nas or even Chuck D. This where the Big Beat movement started. The danceable break that sounds like it could go on forever in the title-track is what inspired that Properllerheads track from the Matrix and Chemical Brothers’ brilliant debut. It’s no coincidence that Kool Keith sounded more convincing than any rapper when he rode a Prodigy tracK.

There is toughness and confidence expressed in such danceable music. Dancing, after all, requires a level of confidence. Moving catches people’s attention, and their attention could mean negative opinion that some people can’t handle. That’s why people tend to drink before they feel like they can dance. That’s where we get the ‘wallflower’ trope. The rappers that followed turned down this ‘banging beats’ approach, as if dancing was for silly and stupid people. That only made them more musically narrow and scared.

It may seem like a too big conclusion, but the Hip-Hop community’s focus on lyricism always ended up missing a lot of the details. Even music that is driven by lyrics still needs music. You cannot push back the music with hopes the lyrics will become the focus. The focus will only move to how lacking the musical aspects are. Most canonical rappers turn down the musical aspects and all we get are impressive, but boring flows. Paid in Full is great at both worlds, and that’s why it deserves the acclaim.

3.5 breaks out of 5

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers

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Insane Clown Posse finally makes a consistent, great album. It seemed impossible. Carnival of Carnage and The Ringmaster contain pretty much nothing of worth. Even Great Milenko, which produced some fantastic songs failed as an album. They had a great foundation, but somehow for four albums they failed to even comes close to fulfilling the potential.

The reason Jeckel Brothers works is simple. While on Milenko they lifted their strengths to great singles, on Jeckel Brothers they take care of the weaknesses. There are songs here called “Bitches” and “Another Love Song” and they’re both great. That’s because the Clowns are less considered with being dirty and shocking, and more with this whole act of crazy killer clowns. “Bitches” sounds so stoned and out-there it’s hard to get offended by it. Ol’ Dirty Bastard appears in it to inform us that he’s willing to have sex with fat women when he’s smoking weed. This is how overblown this album is.

The theatrical side was always the Clowns’ strength. Whenever they stopped acting like Horrorcore rappers and tried to make a soundtrack to their Dark Carnival thing, they sounded focused and original. There are two interludes dedicated to the title characters, and they both work. Banging beats with carnival sounds, circus announcer vocals and melodic hooks were what made their best songs.

The Clowns translate this new found understanding of their sound to a strong, consistent set of songs. The album’s length also comes from it. They extend it to 17 tracks not to cover up a lack of ideas, but because they have a lot of them. Songs like “Mad Professor” and “I Want My Shit” wouldn’t work in Riddle Box, or even Great Milenko. Here, they’re amusing enough get by despite the underwhelming hooks. When the hooks are there, it’s good as always.

It’s also thanks to moving further to rock-like songs. Clark’s production hasn’t changed much. It operates in the same way as Great Milenko – guitar riffs, carnival sounds and anything else odd that he can get his hands on. The songs no longer sounds like they’re Hip-Hop with guitar noises added. “Play With Me, “Nothing Left” and “Everybody Rize” rely much more on hooks and melodies, and are closer to Crazy Town than anything else. The bolder approach suits them more. It allows them to play up the theatrical aspect, instead of just making bad rap songs full of cuss words.

Only two songs don’t really work, but even then it’s not as bad as before. “The Shaggy Show” and “Fuck the World” are decent ideas, but the former is boring and the latter has a stiff, annoying flow that’s supposed to be angry but is very unconvincing. It’s a waste of a good hook. They’re at least sound like they can improved upon.

“Assassins” deserves a special mention. The last hook descents into mayhem of gunshots, guitar riffs and screaming. It’s a perfect example of when the Clowns’ music really works, even if it’s a cover. Thankfully, Jeckel Brothers wasn’t a one off. Even when their later albums were underwhelming, they still have the same verve and spark they found here. I’d understand anyone not wanting to wade through the crap in their back catalogue, but Jeckel Brother is a unique album that deserves at least one spin. It’s amazing how they went from the dullness of Carnival of Carnage to this.

3.5 jugglers out of 5