Tag Archives: Eminem

The Singles, Part 3 — John Responds

by John Kuroski

I’m glad we were pretty different, which feels a little weird to say, because, in ten whole years, five of our picks (and three of our top six) were the same. Aside from those five, I had never heard six of your picks (“Grass,” “Seventeen Years,” “Everything Hits At Once,” “Hoppipolla,” “Stay Cool” and “Crying”). Which of mine hadn’t you heard, and were you compelled to listen? If so, I’d love to hear your reactions. You’ll find my reactions to yours below. But big picture, I’m not terribly surprised by either one of our lists. If I can be glib and reductive, mine seems definitely more mainstream and slightly more black. Like I said, I’m not surprised by either of those things, nor am I sure what to make of them, if anything. You notice any other big picture trends?

“Grass”
Since psychedelia, indie and Pitchfork make me hesitant, these guys are near the top of my didn’t give them a chance even though they probably deserved it list of the last decade. After a few listens, Merriweather is starting to take shape in my head. This is good too. Melodic and accessible in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’m not sure if either of those adjectives would/should be read as compliments. Either way, this is enough to keep me exploring.

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
Again, Pitchfork. So I didn’t listen to the album until December 2010, six years or so after it came out and plenty far removed from the hype. I literally couldn’t get past this song for at least a dozen listens. I would sit down to listen to the whole album and be so blown away by this song, that I had to stop and turn it off. I still can only barely recall the second half of the album. It’s all swallowed up by this song. Vomit of praise aside, they aren’t my thing, but still, it only barely missed my list.

“Stan”
Like I once told you, Eminem is very high on the list of people I respect but don’t enjoy listening to. I love his brand of asshole, but mostly I just can’t get past the voice. The only song on your list I just can’t embrace.

“99 Problems”
Twenty years from now (or has it already begun?), when hip hop gets the full canonization treatment, I’m glad that Jay will probably be at the top of the mountain. I love him, and it could be so much worse. That said, I’ve got plenty of problems with him. And that doesn’t surprise me. Like Elvis or Sinatra or Ray Charles or any other monument/ambassador, he’s just too big to not have some gripes with. This isn’t exactly the song to pin my Jay-Z hating on (although clearly I’m having trouble resisting the urge), but it does bring to mind two of his (for my money) dirty little secrets: 1.) for someone as good as he is, a little too much of his aesthetic identity hinges on his producers, 2.) although I have no idea what it was like to grow up the way he did, and although he has brilliantly used his autobiography as source material, and although forgetting those two things shows a fundamental misunderstanding of hip hop, I have, to put it glibly, gotten a little tired of hearing his life story, especially by the time this album rolled around, not just because he was more dollars removed from his upbringing, but because The Blueprint felt like the culmination of his past as source. Anyway, this beat is, though not exactly my type, very well done, as is the autobiography, so, like I said, this isn’t exactly the song to pin my Jay-Z rant to.

“All Falls Down”
Good choice and very eloquently analyzed. Kanye, more than anyone else, suffered on my list because of the singles stipulation. How about you (Kanye or otherwise)?

“Seventeen Years”
Not quite the up I was expecting, probably because it wasn’t quite the rhythm machine I was expecting, but pretty good. And guitar tones like that can make you forget about rhythm anyway.

“Stay Cool”
You’re absolutely right about Black Thought. It’s indisputable.

“Hoppipolla”
Not my thing at all, but I have a vague, totally uninformed sense that they do it well. Also, fuck Vanilla Sky.

“Everything Hits At Once”
Very close to the top of my all time list of bands I should have listened to more of, for every possible reason, except that I just didn’t get around to it. This one confirms that well. And has there ever been an ugly, white dork with a voice as sexy as Britt Daniel’s?

“Crying”
Up there with Animal Collective among bands to whom I unfairly gave no chance. Unfairly. Yeah, this is a great song.

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The Singles, Part 2

Jack emailed me with no introduction, only a prompt: favorite 15 singles released from 2000 to 2009. It’s an interesting proposition, because it limits the list in time, and because he stipulated that the songs had to have been released as singles. This isn’t the same as favorite songs. It requires overlooking favorite tunes and even artists. I immediately assumed Radiohead would make my list, but none of my favorites from their ’00s albums are singles, and Kid A yielded precisely zero singles (not even “Idioteque”). This is one of those lists that I’d revise if I remade it, as I’ll explain in a future post. For now though, here are my singles, along with some words about each.

15.) “99 Problems” – Jay-Z
The Black Album wasn’t the end, but it was a turn. A song so simultaneously funny and serious can’t help but be proud of how clever it is. As with his best (and his trunk…har, har), there’s more to unpack than meets the eye.

14.) “Seventeen Years” – Ratatat
Rock, hip-hop, and dance in equal measure. Hookier than most songs with words, too. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, there’s something wrong with you.

13.) “Everything Hits At Once” – Spoon
So they’re the decade’s most consistent band. They’re so understated and modest in their growth and manner that few realized they’re also one of its best. Proof: this song’s mastery of rhythm, melody, and mood.

12.) “Stan” – Eminem
Other than his mom and Kim, nothing inflicts him with more pain than his own fame. Luckily for us, that pain is his inspiration.

11.) “Hoppipolla” – Sigur Ros
A hymn of such hope and beauty, it may just be my desert island song.

10.) “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” – Arcade Fire
The song that sold me. Devastating beauty: more than any other contemporary band, they capture it.

9.) “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley
Infectiously danceable confusion and pain, for you and your grandmother.

8.) “Grass” – Animal Collective
The most concise and powerful example of everything that’s great about them: visceral, entirely unique, and damn catchy.

7.) “Stay Cool” – The Roots
Black Thought may be his generation’s most underrated emcee. But who cares? With ?uestlove’s Miles/J.B. horns, globalized keys, and strutting drums, it kinda doesn’t matter what the rapper says.

6.) “All Falls Down” – Kanye West
Shoulda been Lauryn on the hook, but no matter; unstoppable beat and maybe the best rhymes of his debut. It foresees his decade of triumph, angst, and lost humor.

5.) “Hey Ya!” – Outkast
There’s nothing like it. Catchy as fuck doesn’t even begin to describe it, though it is. Ask yourself this: how far is this from something you could write? Spoiler: pretty funking far.

4.) “Paper Planes” – M.I.A.
I know, I know. But the fact is its swiped Clash chords and gun blasts grab you by the collar, throw you to Mumbai, and then laugh in your face for buying its swag. When I first heard it, I thought it was crack; when I’m 90, it’ll still have me shaking my ass.

3.) “Crying” – TV on the Radio
Tunde Adebimpe’s voice could melt most pants off; his coo is this straight-up tune’s sturdy spine. While the beat incites us to dance, the mournful lyrics urge movement to stop the titular tears. If someone is crying as we steer toward the ends of the Earth, the outro’s horns and keys provide a lovely descent.

2.) “Someday” – The Strokes
Another song that marries bright chords with glum lyrics, with that drum and bass breakdown that perfectly reiterates their plea. Overhyped? No. This gem and its brethren slew nu-metal. If anything, underhyped in retrospect.

1.) “All My Friends” – LCD Soundsystem
The aging anthem. Perhaps, too, the decade’s most joyous melancholy. The real irony is that, ultimately, it’s timeless.

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Convo: Lollapalooza 2011, Saturday

This is the second part of a collaboration with Tea and Celluloid. She wrote up a review of day one, we collaborated on a podcast about day two, and I wrote a review of day three.

For our review of Saturday, we decided to record a conversation, rather than awkwardly divide up paragraphs or write by committee. Have a listen, here:

0:00 – The Black Lips
3:24 – Mayer Hawthorne
9:12 – Local Natives/”Tribal”
13:08 – Deftones
16:15 – Patrick Stump and Fall Out Boy
26:57 – Ween/Dinner
30:34 – Atmosphere
33:25 – Eminem
41:00 – Rap/Hip-hop and bad boys turned good/accepted

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I Got A Story To Tell, Part 2

When I first starting thinking about Part 1, I wanted to figure out not just why, but how I started listening to rap. My parents and friends didn’t really get me into it. I didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “You know? I’d really just love to jam out to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit.”

In my immediate recollection, I thought that for most of my childhood and adolescence, I was a rock-and-jazz nerd, the type who claimed to like pretty much everything but “rap and country.” Upon reflection, though, it’s clear that rap played in my ears about as early as I can remember. I have these vivid memories of my brother E’s bedroom, at 5 or 6 years old, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweats, dancing hard and arrhythmically to his Vanilla Ice and M.C. Hammer cassettes.

If trying to turn a skeptic, this is probably the worst introduction to rap one could conceive (other suggestions?). If you nostalgically think these guys were just fun, and not truly terrible at what they did, perhaps you haven’t listened to “Ninja Rap” in awhile:

Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before I had an album by a rapper who didn’t wear balloon pants. Indeed, the first hip-hop album I really remember loving was Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival, which E bought shortly after it dropped in 1997, the year that Biggie was shot, and (for better or worse) a new era of the genre was afoot. I was 11.

At this point, The Carnival was an anomoly in my fledgling music collection, which remained dominated by the popular alternative rock of the day. I spent much of middle school mocking and trashing the shallowness and showy gangsterism of popular rap while secretly bobbing my head to “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and “Ghetto Superstar,” two of the catchiest singles of their time, both of which can still light up a dance floor. It’s sad the performers on these hits left us before their time. I miss you, Mase and Pras.

While I loved these songs, it wasn’t until I was a high school freshman that I outwardly embraced some rap. E (3rd time this guy’s shown up; in conversations with friends, older siblings seem to play a big role in shaping these tastes) had been turned by some older friends of his, and his rap collection grew. On rides to and from school he would pump this stuff into my head, classics of the genre like 36 ChambersLife After DeathAll Eyez on Me, The Chronic, and Doggystyle. This year (2000-2001) coincided with the height of Napster’s popularity, and E exploited it to great effect, compiling mix after mix of hits, classics, and rarities.  Those mixes–and notably Doggystyle–cemented my appreciation of rap on a superficial level. Sure, rap could be shallow, sexist, homophobic, crass, stupid even. But some of it was damn good fun.

Certainly, this was the primary appeal Doggystyle held for me. Snoop Dogg was the most laid back motherfucker alive, as far as I was concerned. His casual vulgarity shocked me. Songs like “Ain’t No Fun” and “Tha Shiznit” contained a joyous, profane (and indeed, misogynistic) vitality that nothing in my alternative rock collection came anywhere near matching. Although the album was nearly a decade old when I discovered it, it was fresh to my ears, and entirely unique to what my friends were pushing on me at the time (mainly classic rock albums by Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead).

I loved the old Snoop and other classics from those mixes, but I still didn’t really respect the genre. Besides a few exceptions in my brother’s catalogue–such as some 2Pac and Big L–I loved the rap I was exposed to in those days because it was shocking, funny, or catchy. I didn’t love it because I thought it was great music. In this way, rap remained ghettoized from the rest of my music for much of high school.

Then, mysteriously, during my senior year one underground rap record took much of my high school by storm: Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary: Volume 2.  

It’s hard to overstate how strange this phenomenon seems. This album is still only a minor underground success–Immortal Technique isn’t even much of an underground star, in terms of popularity. And yet, in my small, 85% white and Catholic hometown, word of mouth and CD-Rs made it spread like a pregnancy rumor. I don’t have numbers to back this up, but R:V2 might have been more popular in my high school than in any other in America.

I can’t speak for my classmates, but Revolutionary: Volume 2 struck me for a few key reasons: One, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Instead of rapping about asses and chains, Technique rapped about his disgust with GITMO and Fox News. His raps gave voice to my teenage angst and anger about the War on Terror and the Bush Administration. The album is aggressive and powerful, even if its message is not always the most nuanced, and even if its political statements are sometimes over the top (it occasionally pushes 9/11-as-an-inside-job conspiracy theory). Still, political songs like “Peruvian Cocaine” and “4th Branch” have character and force that match any rhymes this side of Public Enemy; “Leaving the Past” is downright beautiful. In these songs and others, Immortal Technique can frighten and incite. Unlike some other rappers who glorify or even fabricate their violent pasts, IT makes his listener believe not only that he went through some hard-hitting shit, but more importantly, that he came up through a scary world that his listeners wouldn’t know, want to, or survive.

Perhaps the album’s greatest triumph is “You Never Know,” which to me, stands alongside classics like “Suicidal Thoughts” as among the most moving songs in all of rap. A story of lost love, “YNK” details Technique’s relationship with the woman that would have been the love of his life, it would seem. Not only does he respect her (unlike other women he disparages in his occasional rhymes of sexual conquest); he makes the listener believe that this woman’s death is the source of any misogyny he retains. Moreover, the heartache in his voice makes it hard to believe this story isn’t true. What was the last rap song you heard that made you feel for the MC? That nearly brought you tears? “You Never Know” does both.

Now, I’ve come to hold certain critiques of Immortal Technique. On his raps, he can sometimes be self-righteous, an egoist, a sensationalist, homophobic, and a conspiracy theorist. But I’ll probably listen to Revolutionary: Volume 2 for a long time, because it was the record that made me take rap seriously. On this winding path, it was probably the most consequential turn.

After R:V2, I sought out more socially and politically oriented hip-hop, falling inevitably on the more popular artists known for (and sometimes derided as) “conscious rap,” namely 2Pac, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and The Roots. In college I started to accumulate much more, and eventually embraced more mainstream rappers, in particular the Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie, OutKast, and Kanye West. I’m at a point, three years after college, where I don’t have the time or money to explore or buy all the hip-hop I want. I feel like I’m playing catch-up on two decades of classics–from Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest to Jay-Z and Eminem–discovering old albums like I did with classic rock when I was in high school. It’s exciting and invigorating. By dismissing an entire genre, especially one as large and diverse as hip-hop, I didn’t realize what I was missing out on–a veritable golden age that passed while I was growing up. It took me far too long to love hip-hop, but better late than never, I suppose.

I realize that tracing this path is probably not very interesting to the few people who may read this, and I apologize for navel-gazing. But I want this blog to be more exploratory than explanatory. I want writing to help me organize my thoughts and to help me understand the world around me. I’m just trying to figure out how I got here.

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