Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Proceed with Caution

Hip Hop Pet Peeve: When someone tells me I’m not a real Hip Hop fan because I don’t like their favorite artist.

Buuuuuut….

If someone were to mouth the words, “I don’t like A Tribe Called Quest,” I would not only take it personally, I would likely shout out expletives, and categorize them as an idiot. A Tribe Called Quest is, hands down, the best Hip Hop group coming out of the 90s. I would even argue, they’re the best Hip Hop group ever. Of course the groups before them are to be revered and honored for setting up the Hip Hop scene, but Tribe took it to a whole new level with their jazzy sound & quirky style. In fact, it is because of A Tribe Called Quest that I transitioned from passively shakin’ my thang to rap on the radio, to listening, studying, and exploring Hip Hop music as a genre and culture. So, when I heard that there was a documentary on the group, I was excited. And when I heard that Q-Tip took issue to the final product, I was still excited about seeing the documentary, though, I did proceed with caution.

If you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy the movie—not because the director, actor, Michael Rapaport, did something new and amazing—but because you love Tribe, and they’re in it telling a part of their story. In Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, you get a peak into the making of this Hip Hop mega-group—you see Q-Tip show us how he samples some old school tracks to make some of Tribes biggest hits (wish there was more of this!), and you get to reminisce with the Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and, sometimes, Jarobi, on how the group went from being a couple of kids rappin’ around Queens, into an international, Hip Hop super-group.

A Tribe Called Quest w/ Jarobi

However… if you love Tribe, there will be moments of flinching, because (surprise! aurprise!) there’s fighting, and no one likes to see the people they love fight. It’s even more awkward to watch grown men fight. But isn’t that the age-old story of the demise of the super group (plug in The Supremes, The Beatles, The Fugees, Destiney’s Child here)?

In the first few melancholy minutes of the film, there are shots of the group performing at the Rock the Bells tour in ’08, and when Q-Tip is asked if the group will perform together again, he says no. Phife aggressively says the same thing, and DJ Ali, well, he just looks disappointed. In fact, throughout the entire movie you barely hear from the man who “speaks with his fingers,” as Phife says. You just see him in the background of Phife’s and Q’s arguments, looking disappointment, and probably thinking, “When will these grown-ass men stop arguing?”

(the preview is true to the film: starts out hyped, and then just gets sad)

Now, are we really surprised by the arguing between group members? This is what happens when teenage friends become incredibly successful together, and, then, work together for 10 years. I didn’t necessarily need a documentary to harp on it. Nor did I need the very sad scene when Phife and Q get in each others’ faces before stepping on stage at Rock the Bells in San Francisco. Scenes like this made me wonder about the intention of Rapaport. What was he trying to reveal when including this particular scene, and when harping on the classic music-group-fall-out between the star of the group (Q), and his talented, but overshadowed partner (Phife)? Of course, there needed to be something said about why the group separated, but we, or at least I, didn’t need that to be the premise of the last half of the story. A Tribe Called Quest is so talented, and interesting that the film didn’t need to rest on drama to be successful, but maybe, being an actor, Raparport is too Hollywood to realize that.

So… would I recommend it? Sure– but only because I recommend anything with the Tribe stamp. Like I said, if you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy parts of it. But, precede with caution– there is some ugliness. In fact, wait for it to get on Netflix so you can fast forward through those scenes.

One of my favorites!

Watch out Yeezy & Hova, Nastradamus is Coming for You

After being underwhelmed by Hova & Yeezy’s Watch the Throne album, I was grateful when my friend, Anjali, told me that Nas has some new stuff out (why didn’t I know about this?!). After listening to a few unofficial releases on youtube, I’m happy to hear that despite Nas’ previous assumptions, Hip Hop is NOT dead.

In Hip Hop terms, Nas is considered one of the fathers of Hip Hop, yet after being in the game for almost 20 years, he maintains his straightforward, street-intelligent flow, while mixing in old and new sounds. In “Nasty,” which was released on itunes yesterday, Nas comes strong with his delivery, matching his don’t-skip-a beat flow with hard drums playing in the backdrop.

In an unofficially released single, “Who Are You,” Nas slows it down and gets serious. He addresses Black intellectuals who have turned their backs on poor Black communities, and who have ridiculed these communities.  Each verse sets up different scenarios where he names examples of Black-on-Black, classist prejudice. In the chorus he asks, “Who are you trying to tell me who I am/
Tryin’ to box me in /Tryin’ to find who I am.” After one chorus, he responds to those who try to compartmentalize him and his community, and proclaims, “I’m Idi Amin/
I’m Marcus Garvey/
8 Track Brown/
I’m Muhammad Ali/
I’m Reginald Lewis/
George Washington Carver/
I’m Nas with incredible music.”

If these two songs are any indication of what’s to come up in his next album, then I think Jay-Z and Kanye West may need to step to the side of their throne.

Nas’ 10th album is reported for release before the end of the year.

Notes on Jay Z’s & Kanye West’s Watch the Throne

 

 

Whether a hater or lover of these big heads of Hip Hop, today marks the release of this year’s most anticipated Hip Hop album. Below is a song-by-song, quick, no-frills review of Ye’s and Hova’s collaborative effort, Watch the Throne. Today, I listened to the album twice and simply sketched out how I felt about each song. Here we go…

1. No Church in the Wild (feat Frank Ocean)

– I can move my shoulder to this…

– It’s “religion” meets a drug dealer. I don’t think this will be making church debuts.

2. Lift Off (feat Beyonce)

– Why don’t I ever like songs with both with Jay Z & Beyonce? The song sounds like it’s struggling for momentum.

– And can someone please get Kanye off that synthesizer pipe? Please!

3. Ni**gas in Paris

– I call this Ghetto Bourgeoisie

 4. Otis (feat Otis Redding)

–  The album’s second release, this is the obligatory “I’m the King of Hip Hop; Kiss My Crys-tal.”

–       Love the intro and the build up of Otis Redding’s smooth old-school-Black-man-voice trailing through the entire song.

–       A nice chemistry of both voices & style.

5. Gotta Have It

– My body snakes when I first hear the beat… that’s a good sign.

– Kanye West welcomes his listeners with,“Hello, hello, hello, white America, assassinate my character / Money matrimony, yea they tryna break the marriage up.”

– Contains samples from James Brown’s “Don’t Tell A Lie About Me and I Won’t Tell The Truth About You.”

– Again, Jay Z & and Kanye successfully choreograph their flows nicely together.

6. New Day

– A lyric-letter to Rap Moguls’ hypothetical sons, full of promises of how they’ll do right by them in the hypothetical future. Jay Z promises, “So at 13 we’ll have our first drink together / Black bar mitzvahs, mazel tov, mogul talk.” I see a hypothetical “Father of the Year” award.

– Contains synthesized samples of Dr. Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Seriously? I take this personally.

 7. That’s My Bitch

– Stupid title.

– Has a hyped “take-me-back-to-the-80s/90s” beat that was co-produced by Q-tip.

–  Kanye disappoints me. Jay Z’s flow is better. Favorite lyrics: “I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice / But why all the pretty icons always all-white? / Put some colored girls in the MOMA / Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Wyldna / Don’t make me bring Thelma in it / Bring Halle, Bring Penelope and Selma in it.”

8. Welcome to the Jungle

–       Obviously a Swizz beat– the sound is good in theory, but I had a headache at the end.

–       A lyrical confession about all the woes in their lives.  I was touched for a minute, then I just got bored.

9. Who Gon Stop Me

–       (sigh)

10. Murder to Excellence

–      In regards to sound, well-orchestrated.

–       In regards to content, it’s a lyrical map of the unfortunate trend of Black genocide: “Heard about at least 3 killings this afternoon / Lookin’ at the news like damn I was just with him after school / No shop class but half the school got a tool / And I could die any day type attitude / Plus his little brother got shot reppin’ his avenue / It’s time for us to stop and re-define black power / 41 souls murdered in 50 hours / The paper read murder / Black on black murder.”

–       Overall, solid song.

11. We Made It In America

–       Throughout the chorus, Frank Ocean croons, “Sweet King Martin / Sweet Queen Coretta / Sweet Brother Malcolm / Sweet Queen Betty / Sweet Mother Mary / Sweet Father Joseph / Sweet Jesus / We made it in America / Sweet Baby Jesus / Oh sweet baby Jesus.” Kind of weird song to have after “Murder Excellence,” where it clearly states that ‘we’ all haven’t made it.

–       Not feelin’ it.

 12. Why I Love You feat. Mr. Hudson

–       No thanks.

13. Illest MotherF**ker Alive

Best part of the song, Hova announces: “Michael Jordan swag, yall think Michael Jordan bad / Ni**a I got a 5 more rings than Michael Jordan had / Elvis has left the building now I’m on the Beatles ass / Ni**as hear Watch The Throne, yeah it’s like the Beatles back / Bey Bey my Yoko Ono, Rih Rih complete the family / Imagine how that’s gon look front row at the Grammys.” Oh snap. It’s like that?

14. H*A*M

–   H*A*M stands for Hard As a Muthaf***er. But how am I supposed to take someone seriously when they rap, “I’m about to go H*A*M?”

15. Primetime

– I enjoy the production of the song—the sound is very cinematic, sound effects and all.

– Lyrically, it’s, just, well, fine.

16. The Joy (feat Curtis Mayfield)

–       Probably one of my favorites in regards to production. Verry Dilla-esque, but is produced by Pete Rock and Kanye West

–       Strong in regards to flow and lyrics– a good song to end the album.

 

Did the album meet the high expectations? Of course not, nor did I expect it to. I think it’s evident that towards the end of my private listening party, I was not inspired. As expected, the album was mostly two very successful men in Hip Hop rubbing their balls, and reminding us how much money they have… yes, boys, we get it– you’re rich. There are a few tracks that will make it to my playlist (“No Church in the Wild,” “Otis,” “Murder to Excellence,” and “The Joy,” to be specific), but I’m think I’m ready for Jay Z to (finally) retire, and for Kanye West to just chill for a bit.

 

 

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl Brings Awkwardness to the Rap Game

I came across raving reviews for The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (ABG) a couple times this week, and finally took some time to watch it last night. As my fiancé snored next to me, I was laughing, screaming “I know, riiight?” and saying “uhh uuh!” throughout the 6 mini-episodes. I decided to save episode 7 (which was in such high demand, that when it aired, it crashed the “Watch Party” website) for today, but first made my mom and fiancé watch the first 6 with me. Together, we laughed, related to her awkward misadventures, and said, “Uhh uuh!”

The reasons why this show is better than any other (mis) representation of people of color on network television run plenty. If you’re awkward (which describes most of the company I keep), you’ll relate to the protagonist, Jay (played by the show’s creator, Issa Rae), and her inner narrative, which runs in the backward as we watch her do things we have all done before. You know, like trying to recover from waving at someone who, actually, was not waving at you, or unsuccessfully pretending you have swag at a party when you feel completely out of place. Continuing the relatable factor, you will probably find that some of the cast members are like characters in your own life—her problematic white boss with braids has made many appearances in my life.

All the delightfully staged awkward moments aside, one of the most endearing nuances of Jay’s character is that when she’s alone in her room, she raps.

But the thing you need to understand is, Jay is like me. I’m assuming she’s college educated, she has probably been accused of “talking white,” and as the title of the show indicates, she’s awkward. So, when a cover-your-eyes bit of awkwardness then cuts to her expressing her emotions vis-a-vis self-written rap lyrics, you can’t help but cry, “Yes!”

And don’t get it twisted—we’re not talking “treat-me-like-I’m-a-Nubian-Queen” spoken word type of rhymes, but good ‘ol raunchy, angry “suck-my @##?!!” Lil’ Kim gangsta rap. There’s nothing more golden than watching a relatable character valley girl her way out of mis-happenings, and then watch her go hard on her “microphone,” which, I think, is a pen, or sometimes a travel size hairspray bottle.

This, my friends, is entertainment, and Hip Hop at its best.

If you want to find out why The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl tickles me, my mom, my fiancé, and my awkward friends (as well as other viewers), check out episode 1 (below) or go to  http://awkwardblackgirl.com/. I doubt you won’t make it to episode 7.