One of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my short career as a music writer came on Monday evening, when I spent six hours following Just Blaze around; the print-edition article should be out soon. I saw him drop hundreds and hundreds of dollars on obscure-ass records, I heard him talking about his favorite member of Brand Nubian (Sadat X), and I got to meet Saigon, Alchemist, and, surprisingly enough, Dan the Automator (they shop at the same record store). And now I’ve got two and a half 90-minute Maxell tapes full of great quotes, which I’ll probably be pillaging for blog purposes over the next couple of weeks. Here’s one that probably won’t make the article:
“To be honest, the past couple of years, hip-hop has been like I don’t know. I’m not going to take the typical route and say it’s the South because I don’t consider them not hip-hop. You listen to the majority of their music, and all those beats sound like a beat you might’ve heard on an old Just-Ice or Beastie Boys album, a little 606 or an old Mantronix beat. I’m not mad at them. They’re rocking 808s, cool. There’s some I like and some I don’t like, but instead of sitting there and complaining about the South, you just have to make quality music. All of the other areas like the West and the South that have had their reign, they made it by sticking to their own. New Yorkers will say that whatever music’s hot, those are the records that we’ll make. Lil Jon gets hot, and all of a sudden every East Coast rapper has a record with him. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s a difference between collaborating and making blatant attempts to save your career by jumping on a bandwagon.”
See that? Just Blaze, like damn near everyone else who’s working in rap music these days, has a lot of problems with the places the music is going. He’s also an East Coast guy, and the decline of New York as center of the rap universe has been frustrating for him. OK. But here you’ve got the guy responsible for half the great East Coast rap singles this decade, and he’s blaming the state of the industry on something other than Southern rap. He’s blaming it on laziness and trend-jumping and general lack of artistry. He’s thought about what’s going on, and he’s taking steps to correct what he sees as problems. Now compare that with 50 Cent on MTVnews.com yesterday:
“A lot of the music that comes out of the South is kind of simplified and I think it’s kinda ’cause they just wanna have a good time,” he explained. “They don’t wanna think about what [they] just said. … They really didn’t make sense, but they made sense in a way and they just wanna hear something while they’re actually partying and it works for them. But when they don’t take the time to make it the highest quality possible, it hurts the actual hip-hop [genre]. People wanna make music they can get away with as opposed to the best possible music they can make.
“They’ll lower the grade of music,” he continued. “It changes the range you can go and then it causes confusion amongst artists that don’t have their own direction at that point and they all start making music that is similar. Like if the record comes out and it’s a hit and it’s the simplest thing on the planet, all of a sudden the new artists start writing records that are similar to that hit. Their motivation is to have a project that’s successful and that will allow them to move out of the financial situations that they’re in when you’re in the ‘hood or in the ghetto. They make it sound like the record that they hear playin’ on the radio as opposed to just creating their own lane.”
I could be wrong here, but it looks to me like 50 is blaming the South for influencing people to make novelty club songs, instead of blaming the people actually making these songs. Consider for a minute: the guy who wrote “Candy Shop,” still the dumbest #1 single this decade even post-“Laffy Taffy,” is talking shit on an entire region for making “simplified” music. The more you think about what 50’s saying, the more annoying it is. 50 has made good music, but it’s not like he’s revolutionized rap on anything other than a business level; he’s manufactured and marketed a grim and uncomplicated cold-blooded persona and taken it to unprecedented levels of fame, so if anyone in rap is responsible for lowering the grade of music, it’s him. (And I like 50; I’m just saying.) Also, how often does 50 think about what he just said? And does he realize that the single best rapper he’s got in his camp is his only Southerner?
When Ghostface’s Fishscale comes out at the end of the month, it’ll be the best album of the year. Until then, though, the year’s best rap album (the year’s best album period, as far as I’m concerned) comes from a former associate of Young Buck, Juvenile. Reality Check happens to be the most popular album in the country as I’m writing this, and it’s also a very Southern album. It leans heavily on synth blips and enormous trunk-rattling bass. It has a bunch of songs about selling drugs and at least one song about butts. The only non-Southern rapper on the album is Fat Joe, now attempting to save his career by doing his best to make himself an honorary Southerner, like he did on the “No Problem” and “Go Crazy” remixes. More than anything, the album leans more heavily on the grain of Juve’s voice than on anything he actually says. He’s older now, and his greasy, curling N.O. drawl now has the weight of experience behind it. It’s not the Johnny Cash/Scarface thing where the strain in his voice lends him an instant authority; it’s more a wounded, damaged rasp, like he’s been through things you can’t even imagine and he just knows that things are going to get bad before he has time to adjust, to the point where even his dis song against Lil Wayne ends with an anguished conversation with God. “Get Ya Hustle On,” of course, is the Hurricane Katrina song, striking because it’s more pained confusion than righteous anger: “Whoadie, you really feeling your folks / It’s them crackers behind the pencils that ain’t hearing us, though / We starving; we living like Haiti without no government / Niggas killing niggas and them bitches is loving it.” But even the stuff that predates Katrina has this raw bleakness. The masterful “Sets Go Up,” which sounds the way I hoped microhouse would sound before I ever actually heard it, is based on Juvenile’s set of four rules, the second of which is “never turn my back on my city,” and that song’s been on mixtapes for more than a year. Lyrically, “Rodeo” is nothing but a standard strip-club anthem, but the slow, mournful Cool & Dre beat and Juvenile’s sad, bluesy growl (and the song’s video) show the dark side of the sex industry even if the words of the song don’t. Reality Check fizzles out before it ends, and there’s an unbelievably wack Brian McKnight song that some people inexplicably like, and most of my friends are not into it at all, so there’s a very slight chance that I could be wrong about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty great anyway. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than The Massacre.
In unrelated news, Jay-Z is now grabbing lunch with Bill Clinton. I told y’all.
And in even more completely unrelated news, I did a Stycast. It has a Bouncing Souls song on it. You should listen to it.